Author: Vrazdova PM
FFVI: One year after the Collapse, Locke awakens on the Solitary Island to find that the world has drastically changed. This is a dark reimagining of the "World of Ruin" half of the game in which everything has been switched around.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Angst - Locke & Celes - Chapters: 18 - Words: 82,705 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 06-06-12 - Published: 03-30-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7971397
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 12 – About the Souls You Kill
Shadow moved slowly about a rocky cavern, his steps weighted back by something he couldn't yet see. A disheveled young man with a patch over his eye fell into his arms, staining his coat and cape with blood. He continued to walk, half dragging the man. He had to keep moving. They had to get to the next town.
Shadow stopped and the man was on the ground. His companion rolled to his side and looked at his own hands, shining red but muddled with dirt.
"Is that… my blood?" he asked. Shadow did not reply; no words came to his mind, nor a voice to his tongue.
"Clyde, you gotta go," the man continued. "I'm just slowing you down."
Shadow looked around but saw mostly empty darkness. A shape like a dog ran by in the distance.
"Is that… my blood?" a voice repeated, more like a whisper in his ear this time, and Shadow turned to run.
"Wait, Clyde! Before you go… do me a favor."
No, no, no. He knew what was coming next. He'd gone through this before.
"Take your knife and finish me off."
"Think of what they'll do to me if they catch me alive!"
"I'm trembling, Clyde. I've never been scared before in my life and now I'm trembling like a bitch."
He turned back around to find that in place of the bandit was the body of a young girl.
"Do it," she said, though she seemed lifeless. Her face was obscured by a mess of curly blonde hair. "Don't leave me here! Don't leave me!"
Though he had every intention of staying, his legs started to pick up on their own. He took off in the direction of the dog, and he felt like he was sprinting though he covered very little distance. A train whistle blew from somewhere far away. And then, from much closer, the sound of a woman's shriek caused his eyes to open suddenly. Even before his vision completely adjusted to his surroundings Shadow could see he was not alone in the room.
- x - x - x -
Locke awakened sharply at the cry as well. His body acted automatically, jumping toward the door and reaching for the handle. Then a faint glow caught the corner of his eye and he had a moment to wonder why the door was now closed.
When he turned around, he found himself facing the effigy of Rachel, whose skin was completely drained of color.
"What the f–"
He was certain he wasn't dreaming, but he clutched at his face to be sure. With his other hand he grasped the door handle, still anxious about the yelp outside.
"Locke, I've found somewhere that we can be together again at last," said Rachel, smiling, and her voice – so familiar – sounded so strange somehow, like an echo.
Locke's eyes darted around the small room as though looking for an explanation. Was this a ghost? An illusion? A trick? Rachel reached out toward him and when she touched his arm, he was actually surprised to feel solid flesh, having half-expected her hand to pass through.
"Aren't you happy?" His heart raced but not entirely in a good way. He hated the way it sounded when this… projection of Rachel said his name. It wasn't right. But it was. It was her exactly. So why did it bother him so?
Because she was dead.
He wrenched the door open behind his back and slipped out into the main room, shutting it swiftly. The lanterns were all extinguished but he could hear a struggle in the far left corner. A woman's voice sputtered and gurgled painfully. Stumbling as he ran, Locke could make out the shape of a large, long-haired figure stooping over… his hands wrapped around Celes' neck.
The intruder seemed to be too preoccupied with his victim to hear Locke approaching, which allowed Locke the opportunity to fold his hands and bash the man sideways on the head. However, instead of making contact, his limbs passed through the figure like a specter, causing him to be thrown to the floor.
He cursed as he picked himself up. And then he realized, incredibly, who was Celes' attacker: the late Emperor Gestahl.
"Traitor!" Gestahl hissed, and his fingers pressed even deeper into his ex-General's neck. "Ingrate! I raised you and gifted you with magic and you betrayed me!"
Celes' arms thrashed helplessly and sparks glittered at her fingertips, but she was unable to conjure spells in this frantic state. Locke was on the verge of panicking – he couldn't summon magic himself without the aid of Magicite and clearly this enemy could not be harmed by physical force. And he feared trying to pull Celes to safety lest he injure her seriously.
"Shadow!" he called in desperation and tried the assassin's door, only to find it bolted. "Are you kidding?" he cursed. With no time to meddle with locks, he kicked the door as hard as he could. The old wood was weak and splintered easily. Inside, he found Shadow literally wrestling his own demons.
Shadow leapt and swung a blade at a strange man with an eyepatch. The weapon passed through his body like air.
"You have no problem brandishing that knife at me now, do you?" taunted Shadow's guest. "A bit too late, Clyde. You should be here instead of me…"
"Magic!" called Locke from the sidelines. "Try magic if you have it!"
Then a sudden thought struck him, as both an idea and a fear: "Terra!" He ran to her door, foregoing conventions of decency, and swung it open. The green-haired girl was sitting on the edge of her bed, wide-eyed, facing a young woman whose features reminded him so much of Terra herself. Though he could hear no word pass among them, they seemed to be communicating. Terra covered her mouth with one hand and tears began to fill her eyes as a bright light emanated from the visitor. Locke was temporarily blinded, and when the light died down, the stranger was gone.
And then there was that moment of recognition he saw in her eyes once in Narshe, and once again in Zozo, so long ago. Terra looked over at Locke, and suddenly the pieces of her mind fit back together.
"Locke!" she cried out, running over to him, an incredulous look on her face.
"We can catch up in a bit – but Celes needs your help now." The two hurried into the main room to find the other woman unconscious, her attacker just retrieving her Runic sword for himself.
"Gestahl...!" Terra growled, a sudden hatred filling her expression.
"You, too; ungrateful! Traitorous!" the old man spat, and he lunged with the stolen sword. But Terra was swifter, quickly conjuring a fire to burn the wayward soul.
"You deserve no afterlife."
Gestahl shrieked – not from the pain, but from the knowledge that this time, his existence was truly ending. And soon the former Emperor was gone forever, his soul destroyed just as his body had been by yet another turncoat of his army.
Terra then rushed to Celes' aid, and Locke went back to check on Shadow. He found him sitting alone in his room; the one-eyed man nowhere to be found. Locke opened his mouth to speak but Shadow cut him off:
Locke backed out and immediately headed for Daryl's room. He was worried at the fact that he hadn't heard anything of her during all the commotion. He knocked on the door and hesitated, waiting for an answer. When a call of her name elicited no response either, he gently pushed the door open, bracing himself for another nasty surprise.
What he found wasn't pleasant, but it was still a relief. Daryl was standing by the window, elbows leaning on the pane with her head buried in her arms. Her shoulders heaved in great sobs, and Locke felt guilty for walking in on such a personal moment.
"Are you okay, Daryl?" he asked softly. After a moment her back straightened and she turned to face him, wiping her eyes.
"It's so much harder saying goodbye face to face... It's not fair."
Locke waited for her to continue.
"Setzer came to me. Or – his soul, I guess. Now I feel so much more regret at having left him years ago... How cruel of me to make him think I was dead."
He felt a bit of a pang in his chest for his own sake – he would've liked to have seen Setzer again, but then... it was true that parting would perhaps be more painful than it was worth.
"Is everyone safe?" Daryl asked, trying to regain her composure. "It sounded frantic out there. I'm sorry I did nothing to help."
Locke shook his head. "I think everyone's okay for the most part... I need to check on Celes though. Will you be all right?"
"Of course." And she looked away. "I may just be lost in my own head for a bit now."
"Please let me know if I can do anything," he said as he stepped back toward to the door. Daryl gave him a gesture that said he should be tending to more important things, and so he hurried back to where Terra was kneeling beside Celes. A few lanterns had been re-lit, revealing a mass of terrible marks and bruises around her neck and collar.
"She hasn't awakened yet, but she's stable," said Terra, a healing spell glowing at her fingertips.
Locke's mind was reeling from everything that had just transpired. Friendly spirits, malicious spirits – were they even spirits at all? – who could touch humans but who could not be touched... Why? And how?
A small sound broke his thoughts. Locke and Terra turned their heads to see Rachel standing at the other end of the room by Locke's door, looking sadder than he had ever seen her. His stomach dropped as he stood and slowly walked toward her.
"I don't... What is going on?" he asked, a tone of defeat in his voice.
"I see you have your own life now... I should have figured."
"Is it really you, Rachel?"
The girl nodded and clasped Locke's hands in her own. She looked so much younger than him now, and he wasn't sure what to say or how to react. He figured if he'd ever had this opportunity, he would be near ecstatic, but…
He moved to touch her face but his hand could only pass through. He found it vaguely grotesque, but all he felt was a sort of numbness inside.
"This Phantom Forest has become a haven for those unsettled," she explained. "But we cannot go further than its perimeter. The train to the last land has stopped running. The tracks are all broken…"
After a pause, his words poured out, "I'm sorry about before. So many awful things have been happening; I didn't think you could be real. Or I thought you were going to… I don't know." Try to take me with you.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and though he could feel her body pressed against his, he was unable to return her embrace. "I know we live in different worlds now, but I still get lonely. It's terrible to say I'm waiting for you, isn't it? Most people adapt and are content where they are, but I've been pining over solid ground. I don't want to go back. I don't want to be alone," she sobbed.
Locke never thought his heart could possibly break in so many pieces. Had she been able to come to him like this years ago, he might have been more inclined to stop his breath and join her. But his life was very different now, and it would be useless and selfish to die for old love. And… he had further selfish reasons to stay alive today.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," he said quietly as his hands dumbly stroked the air about her. "I wish things hadn't ended the way they did. I'm sorry for everything. It's all my fault."
"No." She looked up at him. "You did nothing wrong, and I shouldn't be going on like this. Your life has moved on and… that's wonderful. I'm grateful for the time we had… I wish you the best."
She looked over at the two young women at the other end of the room. Terra sat on her knees and faced the floor solemnly. Celes, now awake, had propped herself up on her side and did not bother to turn her gaze when Rachel's eyes met her own. Her expression, as usual, was unreadable.
"Please be happy." And Rachel leaned up to kiss his lips. It was strange feeling her touch but not her warmth. He thought he could feel a sliver of his soul being sucked away, but he knew he was imagining it.
When they parted, Rachel turned toward Terra. "If I may ask of you… I'd like to be released from this limbo too. I'll never make it out of here, and the time that passes is agonizing. I feel as though I've already been here for an eternity. Please… burn my spirit…"
Terra looked torn and her eyes darted to Locke's. "It's a terrible way to go…" she said nervously. In truth, she even felt bad for having delivered Gestahl's fate with such a cold heart, regardless of all the atrocities for which he was responsible.
"Please, I'm suffering. I want to leave with mostly good memories." Tears began to stream down her cheeks. "I need to go now or I'll be trapped here forever."
Celes gingerly pushed herself up to her knees, her face slightly flushed. "I can deliver you mercifully," she said. Her eyes lingered momentarily on Locke's, and then she looked back to Rachel. "If you would like."
The girl nodded. And though she visibly trembled, she smiled brightly as a swirling light began to glow at Celes' fingers.
"Goodbye, love," said Rachel, and she held Locke's hand one last time. Her image began to fade as the Holy spell consumed her. And Locke did not pull away even as it burned at the flesh on his hand and wrist. When the heat and light subsided, Rachel was gone forever.
The silence between those left was dense.
"Thank you," he eventually said, and he looked like he wanted to say something more. But then he turned and left to tend to his wound alone.
Celes let her weight collapse onto a nearby bench. Her sister in arms sat down next to her and for a long time, nobody spoke. At some point, Celes looked over at Terra.
But on her tongue, too, words stopped short. So she simply allowed her barricade to break down and she leaned toward her companion. Terra gently pulled her down and rested her head in her lap, and Celes let her to stroke her hair until she fell into an exhausted sleep.
- x - x - x -
The general mood was quite somber once the sun rose. No one had gotten much sleep, and the night's events weighed heavily in everyone's hearts. The crew lumbered around the still-parked airship awkwardly in silence, none wanting to be the first to discuss what they had just experienced a few hours earlier.
Locke apologized to Daryl about the door he had kicked in, but she waved it off. "The whole interior needs to be redone anyway," she said, the usual bounce to her voice missing.
"Wait, where is Shadow?" Locke wondered aloud. The assassin was no longer in the room with the damaged door, nor was he anywhere else below the deck. Locke ascended the staircase and unlatched the portal to the main level.
"Ahh-h...?" he breathed in surprise as he peered around. The deck was filled with ghostly figures. In the morning light, it was much easier to see that their feet didn't quite touch the ground, and their bodies were just shy of being opaque.
Terra appeared behind him. "What is it?" she asked. Locke stepped aside so that she could witness for herself the strange sight. The spirits moved about slowly or not at all; it was if they were simply loitering. When Terra continued out onto the deck curiously and walked among them, they paid her no mind.
"Ah… excuse me…" she tried, and her hand – rather unsurprisingly, by this point – passed through the shoulder of a man. He stopped and faced her.
"Are you bringing us away?" he asked.
"I don't know what you mean…" she shook her head.
The man's already downtrodden expression seemed to fall further. "We all perished when the world fell. But we have been unable to find rest. The forest is filling up and there's nothing and no one to bring us to the end. What's more, it seems as though others who had previously died without peace have been thrown back here too, seeking settlement for the ills in their lives… There's nothing we can do; we're trapped on this island…"
Terra was hesitant to respond. "We… cannot save you, I'm sorry…" She better understood Rachel's plight now, but she couldn't suggest they destroy every soul in the forest. It didn't seem like a solution, and she couldn't bear to do it anyhow.
There was perhaps far more wrong with the world than she could have imagined, when her mother's ghost had reawakened her mind the night before. "Life itself has been violated and torn apart. The world has become something completely new and terrible." She had expected destruction and poverty, but a world where even death was no escape…?
Daryl had followed closely behind at the notion there was something afoot outside. From the portal beside Locke she spoke to Terra:
"We can't solve every problem. I know what you're thinking; you all seem to have this in common – but it just isn't something any of you or I are capable of; not right now. We need to keep moving. Just continue on toward your main goal."
The ghostly man nodded, having already accepted his fate, and shuffled away to leave the airship.
"This is depressing. Where the hell is Shadow?" said Locke quietly. He looked toward the forest; it was so thickly overgrown that he could hardly see beyond a few feet in. "I don't think any of us should necessarily start wandering around in there looking for him just yet, do you?" Daryl shrugged uncertainly.
"What if he's in danger?" asked Terra. "He shouldn't have gone alone."
Locke sighed in frustration. "Let's wait a half hour. In the meantime, we can come up with a plan if it does come down to some of us going in."
- x - x - x -
"I'm over it. Why do you keep following me?" The man with the eyepatch was sitting on a tree branch that overlooked a small lake in the midst of the forest.
"If you were over it, you wouldn't still be here, Baram," said Shadow from the ground below.
"I was never really settled in life either, so it seems appropriate. I'm sure I'll see you here someday for good as well."
"Why didn't you come for me the last time I was here?"
"You were too far gone, Clyde. I can understand a bit of overcompensation, but becoming a killer for hire after you couldn't bear to put one man out of his misery?"
Shadow snarled. "Don't preach at me. You were scum too. We both were, and always have been."
"Well, it's touching that you've finally grown up," said Baram as he jumped down from his post. "If you're trying to apologize, I accept it. I don't care. Move on with your life, while you still have one."
"I am. That's why I want to ask you something."
- x - x - x -
Locke and Terra were reluctantly preparing to enter the Phantom Forest. They were default for the mission as Celes had locked herself in her room and no one really wanted to face her just yet. Daryl paced anxiously on the deck. The spirits had all gone but she clearly wanted to leave as soon as possible.
"Okay, well… we'll be back in a bit," said Locke, twirling a dagger absently. His left hand was bandaged but he hoped it wouldn't hinder him too much. He was also banking on the fact that Terra was indeed fully recovered; however, she too was only armed with a borrowed knife.
Just as Locke began to descend the rungs down the side of the airship, he heard a faint buzzing sound. Peering over his shoulder, he saw a figure flicker into view at the edge of the forest.
"What the hell, Shadow!" he called angrily and pulled himself back up to the deck.
The assassin said nothing as he easily leapt to the first rung and scaled up the side of the ship. Locke caught him roughly by the shoulder as he started to walk past.
"All right!" Locke shouted, seething. "I know we all have things we don't want to talk about, but we need to start working together – otherwise we're just traveling aimlessly, or tiptoeing around each other. From now on, for as long as we're all together, everyone stays informed of everything at all times. If something's bothering you and it affects someone else, come out and say it. If you want to go somewhere on your own, tell the others so we know where you are. We can't afford to be acting like a bunch of strangers."
"About time you grew a pair and took a stand," said Shadow, a smirk in his voice.
"Fuck off. We need to seriously start thinking about where we're going next, and what we're going to do about the Tower."
"Well I'm glad you asked before you started raving, because I have some information that may be of use to us." Locke had about had enough of Shadow's sarcasm, but he waited for him to continue. "First is that Thamasa is obviously not on this island. It no longer exists as a settlement. However, according to those who have perished since the Collapse, the Thamasians have returned to their nomadic roots and are currently wandering the Veldt. They figure if they keep moving they'll avoid the Light of Judgment, as they rightly feel they are at risk for being a target due to their magical abilities."
"And is there anything of particular interest to us among these people?" asked Locke, still somewhat impatiently.
"If it means anything to you, neither Strago nor Relm are among the souls wandering this forest. They are likely still alive, and we may find them among their people. They could be of great aid to us with regard to the Tower."
"...Sounds good, then," said Locke simply, looking to the others for agreement. As his eyes swept around, he caught a glimpse of Celes standing in the shadow of the doorway to the cabins. "So unless anyone disagrees, shall we head to the Veldt?"
After a moment of mutual silence, Daryl made the first move. "All right, let's get the hell out of here."
Chapter title taken from: Weh - "Sealing Fates"