Lord of Valhalla

In the realm of darkness and chaos that had become his new home, the gloomy gray skies no longer existed, and the dead sands of crystal shards and ground-up crystals were now carpeted in greenery as far as the eye could see. The chaos appeared as small pools of glowing blue water. Instead of stark stone buildings with the occasional climbing, flowering vine, they were now covered in moss. Patches of daises glittered under the sun, as far as the eye could see, and crystal energy constantly shimmered in midair.

It could look however they wished. Or, however she wished. It was her realm now. He was the Guardian of this place, the Lord of Valhalla, but she, with raw crystal energy and time energy constantly bleeding through her, could shape this land of chaos however she pleased, the true ruler, a child in mind and body, in control of everything here.

She had chosen greenery and daises. Always greenery and daises. Facsimiles of life.

None of it was real. It was a fanciful dream.

A nightmare he could not escape.

This was his punishment – eternity, permanently separated from the rest of humanity, until all things ended and he could face the final judgment. Until then, he could wander aimlessly about the land, choking on the memories of the crimes he had committed, the sins he could not be absolved of, the forgiveness he could never have and never earn no matter how he desired it. He deserved this endless nightmare. A thousand years, a thousand lifetimes, could never absolve him of what he had done.

His eternal charge seemed happy here, and he smiled for her sake. He had to. He had done this for her, and finally gotten what he had set out for in the first place.

Having had a taste of what could have been, though, his heart ached like nothing he had ever known.

Yeul always saw him smiling, or expressionless, or looking content, or at least he tried to make sure that was all she saw out of him. The sorrow, grief, regret, frustration, and rage came when she looked away. Noel had said, in the old Valhalla, that he had wanted an endless dream of protecting all the Yeuls for all eternity. Back then, he had believed that it would bring them boundless joy. Back then, he had believed that all he could ever want would be right there at her side, forever, consumed as his heart had become by her.

That had been before she had dragged him back from death countless times, before she had chained him to the world's end, before she had demonstrated her inability to grasp the concept of "letting go".

His yearning for death would go unrequited.

Forever and always.

But he deserved this end. The death of countless innocent lives on the old Cocoon had been a last-ditch resort, but one he would've done had he been pushed that far. As it was, he had caused Etro's death and the suffering of thousands, even millions, of innocent lives. And for what? For Yeul? Or for himself? It had brought him nothing in the end – not freedom, not happiness, only sorrow, and memories.

The daises were endless, stretching from shore to shore, the air thick with their scent. Golden sunlight and crystal energy turned the land into a shimmering paradise. The carpet of green grass felt springy underfoot, and the morning brought droplets of dew to everything. She had made the land beautiful. Her smiles were radiant. Her joy of just being with him was completely boundless and eternal. Sometimes, it was like the old days, on Gran Pulse, when they had come across fields of flowers or puffballs in the air, floating on a warm wind, and she would catch them and laugh and smile and forget about her troubles for a while.

Caius's smiles then had been tinged with sadness, but true and real and bright.

Now, they were strained and bitter.

One day, she caught his look of sorrow before he could hide it, and asked what made him frown and his heart feel so heavy. It was then he realized she'd probably felt his true feelings long ago, and he was only fooling himself if he thought he could hide them from her forever. He made a valiant effort, sure, but she saw right through it.

"Did you see the way she looked at me?"

And with those words, the truth came up and cut him as if someone had casually rammed a knife in his gut.

"She?" The girl's face, no longer framed by the headdress of her old occupation, frowned, a sign of confusion he knew very well. "If you speak of Lightning, she fully understood your fate. You know this."

"Her eyes, they… I can still–"

Closing his own eyes to the nightmarish dream around him, the false paradise, the girl who loved him, he recalled an image that had haunted him for a long time.

"I can still see them. There was so–" His voice cracked; he paused to wait for it to mend itself. "So much anguish."

"Your fate had already been sealed. She understood this."

She hadn't had to come after him and try to save him from his bitter fate. If anything, he would have understood if she had just left the temple and never looked back. It had been a waste of time seeking him out and listening to him speak of his fate, but she had done it anyway. Only after he had forced her to go had she finally left, but even before her emotions had returned – even before the fullness of her free will had returned – she had looked at him in a way that haunted him during his long, sleepless eons in this place.

He had not gotten the chance to apologize, or tell her that he wished her to be happy in the new world, as she so very much deserved to be. Would she think of him? Would her mind sometimes wander to him alongside all of her other memories of the old world? Or would she forget, as he wished she would, and be unburdened at last?

"I hope she is happy there."

Yeul laid a hand on his. "I am sure she is. Now, free your mind from those worries. Be happy. It is my gift to you to share this paradise with me."

Somehow, he smiled at her. "Of course."

The facsimile of days passed one after the other without much variation, except for the occasional warm rain or the kiss of a cool morning mist on his skin. In the fields of daises, there was little variation there, either, though this is where he often found himself, surrounded by memories of Yeul, but trying to get away from her. It felt as though he was never alone here, but then, he had never been elsewhere, either. He could be strong for the girl and her many forms, as he had always been, and show her he could at least pretend to be happ. But when his mind wandered during one of the warm rains, and the scent of the flowers grew strong, and puffballs appeared in the air and floated through the glittering crystal shards, he was grateful, for the gray clouds hid the blue sky and the rain hide the bitter tears that chose that day to finally slip free.

The sky reminded him of her eyes, and no matter how often he wrenched his mind away, it eventually came back to her.

"Do you want me to remove her from your mind, my Guardian?"

She could do that, he knew. She was strong enough. She could pull the warm thoughts of his beautiful warrior goddess out of his heart and send them floating into the wind, where they could go somewhere he could never find them again, and all he would be left with would be the memories of endless warfare and the anger he felt toward the one who wouldn't let him have what he wanted. Part of his sorrow would be gone, and with time, the rest would fade as well, and he would live in eternal bliss with the one he loved most in all of existence.

"No, this is something I must conquer on my own."

She didn't understand all that well. The part of her that understood the heart best had gone to the new world with the others and left no traces behind. This girl could not understand how he felt. Of course, he did not fully understand or grasp how he felt, but he knew it had to be conquered for sanity's sake.

When he returned to the daisy field some days later, he found something new: a small bush with tiny red buds and fierce little thorns all over its beautiful green stems. It had only just started growing, perhaps within the past few days, springing from the turf and looking strong and beautiful in the midst of the soft white daises with their bright yellow centers surrounding it. When he looked at it, he felt something new, something warm, and decided that it was something that needed to be protected and loved.

Yeul did not know of the roses for many days, and a single bush was easy to hide.

Somehow, though, they spread from a single bush to dozens of them throughout the field, and their petals swirled through the air and shafts of sunlight and crystal shards. The wind reeked of their crisp scent, so different from the earthy smells of Pulse or the delicate ones of the daises. The next time he went out to the field, he stretched out in it, content to watch the petals float about.

She found out eventually, and though she said nothing, he sensed a dark impulse that touched her heart and refused to come to light.

The first rose bush grew the strongest and fullest, its blooms at least the size of his fist, the petals the same lush red as blood, but sweeter and purer and far more beautiful than any drop he had ever seen. It was the one he loved most, and tending to it kept his mind off the endless nightmare stretched out before him.

"They are flawless, my Guardian."

When he brushed his fingertips against their velveteen petals, he could do little else except agree. "I must ask, did you plant them here, for variety's sake? They appeared out of nowhere one day from this single bush."

Her green eyes were unreadable. "I had nothing to do with this."

"Then… where did they come from?"

For the first time, she reached out and physically touched the blooms; he withdrew his hand to let her concentrate on them. She would know their point of origin. With her ability to touch every point in time in a place where time meant very little, she would be able to tell him the truth. He trusted her to.

"Why did you not take me up on my offer?"

He blinked. "What offer?"

"To take her memory away from your heavy heart." Her hand dropped away from the flowers as if they had scalded her, and now the dark impulse was back in her eyes, though accompanied by sadness. "You came here and shed tears over her memory, didn't you? What is it about her that fascinates you so?"

He felt his brow furrow. "What does it even matter?"

"It is because of you that these grew."

"Forgive me, but I don't understand how I could have done this. I've not your power, Yeul."

"The soil had been touched by your heart, and from the chaos sprang a memory planted by you. You sowed them."

In disbelief, he stared at the soil beneath the bush.

"Let me take her away, and give you peace."

Anger burned through him; he jerked away from her. "No! I will conquer her. I must. If you take her memory away, what does that leave? The man who was. I do not wish to be him anymore! He broke her heart and took her world away from her! He ruined families and innocent lives and killed out of selfishness! The only way those who had fought so hard to save Pulse and Cocoon could finally be peaceful and free was if they got a new world instead of their old one, free of false gods! I took that from them!"

"Why allow those memories to disturb you? You cannot change any of it now."

He laughed, not really knowing why, and felt something burn his eyes. The life he could have lived had been stolen from him, and worst of all, he had done it to himself. All the things that had befallen him had been his own fault, and he had no one else to blame – not Lightning, not Yeul, not even Etro, but himself, for his weakness, cowardice, fear, selfishness, and refusal to listen. This doom had befallen him because he deserved it.

"How dare you want me here with you."

"I love you, Caius. I need you."

He laughed harder, but his throat tightened up, cutting him off with a slight choking sound. "How could anyone love me, the monster, Guardian of the underworld, Lord of Valhalla, the man who had taken everything away from her? May she forget about me. I deserve to be forgotten!"

"Are you in love with her?"

Tears nearly slipped free, but this time, he caught them. "Leave me, Yeul."

There was no hesitation this time before she vanished in a swirl of chaos, inky black against the beautiful paradise she had formed for him, and he glared at the roses, wishing he had the heart to rip them out and crush them, but it was all he had left of the beautiful warrior goddess who had, through pure accident, shown him a glimpse of what might have been, had he made just one choice differently, had he just stopped and thought a moment…

What was her real name? The sound of her laughter? Did her skin feel soft? Could she had been willing to try and help him, had be but allowed her to?

Rose petals flew through the air, brushing his cheek, and when he raised a hand, some of them landed in his palm, soft and smooth against his skin. No doubt her skin felt like these petals. She had been beautiful like the flowers, strong like their stems, her heart surrounded by walls like the thorns adorning the stems, and when he brought them closer and breathed in their scent, he wondered if she smelled anything like them.

No, he wasn't in love with her – not exactly. Just with her memory, with her strength, her beauty, with the thoughts of what could have been.

He cradled the petals for a long time, his form a dark, dreamlike contrast to the cheerful nightmare around him.

If this story, the origin of the first rose bush, and the ending don't prove that I'm a hopeless romantic sap, then I don't know to tell you. I tried to leave as many hints as possible about the significance of the rose bush, and the petals in the ending, without stating it outright. This came out of a discussion with a fellow member of deviantArt, so some credit for the story goes to her as well. Thanks for reading, and please drop a review for me!