(-blows dust off account-) Hey, I remember this place...
(-ducks as furious insults, rotten produce, and possibly a rabid poodle are thrown in her direction-)
Um, yeah. Hi. I'm not dead.
Okay, so it's been like two and a half years. Or three. Or something. Depending on the story this is, since I'm crossposting this set of Author's Notes in both 'After You' and 'The Dying of the Light.' I know it's been a long time. I'm hoping people are still inclined to read my stories, even though looking at them after three years all I can say is "Holy fuck, these are absolute crap." I apologize profusely to anyone who has sent me emails; I haven't been replying to them because I haven't checked the account I have listed because I think it's, like, dead. I'll change the email address listed in my profile as soon as I figure out how to upload chapters, given that I don't remember how to do anything on this site.
I've improved significantly in terms of skill level as a writer since I last touched any of my fanfic, but you won't see evidence of that for the next couple of chapters because they were written way back when I was actually posting. In the meantime I've finally come into my own as a writer, to an extent, as I've explored stories with my own original characters in my own original world and even started playing with a novel. (EDIT: I just actually reread the fic and I'm less inclined to post this chapter and more inclined to delete my entire account. Go Abby, queen of the suck. This stuff is downright embarrassing.)
I will continue to work on 'After You' and 'The Dying of the Light,' although my focus has shifted to my original work so progress will be slow. (Also I kind of forget how I meant to end them. But I'm pretty sure I wrote it down somewhere.) I will probably not, however, be starting any new stories. There will probably be some oneshots here and there if inspiration hits, and I'll do my best to finish my works in progress, but to be honest that's probably it.
I apologize profusely for my extensive absence to anyone who actually read and liked these stories. I'm a bad person, and should be eaten by an armadillo. While I can't read the emails I've gotten I've read every review, and I appreciate them very much. Real Life is not being nice to me these days, in fact it's being very mean, so those of you who left me feedback and support have my gratitude. They put a smile on my face at a time when very few things could pull that off.
SPECIFIC TO 'THE DYING OF THE LIGHT' –
This fic has a very special place in my heart. Nothing I've written, not even what I've published, has changed my life the way this has, because I've met a variety of very special people because of it. Some of them have come and gone (for better or worse); some are still dear friends and have, despite geographical challenges, become in-person friends. At the risk of sounding cheesy and acceptance-speech like, I'd like to lay out vast amounts of love to Kitsune-Eyes and darkintrigue especially, because they are my bebes and I adore them and I never would have met them if it hadn't been for this piece. Kitsune-Eyes is in fact probably at fault for my return for several reasons, not the least of which is OMGCIRAANDDARIUSHAHAHA. Don't ask, folks. Really. Anyway, she'll probably cowrite a scene or two from this fic at some point.
Also shoutouts to Pierson and Ref (where the fuck are you guys?), Angelprinzess, and any of the old prereading crew who might see this.
I don't own FFVIII. Don't sue. W00t.
THE DYING OF THE LIGHT
Chapter 9: The Beginning of the End, Part I: Of Truth and Temptation
There are so many little dyings that it doesn't matter which of them is death.
- Kenneth Patchen
"My beloved senshi of the ocean, please forgive the intrusion into your domain."
Neptune stood, empty and beyond being riled at the mockery and scorn that saturated the voice of the woman standing before her. Even if this had been an intrusion – which of course it was not; this was no longer her domain, it was her gilded cage - the woman before her would not apologize for it or for the thousands of far worse deeds of the past and present.
The woman's amber eyes flashed with irritation, but her voice became light and false with cheer and innocent curiosity. "No response, Neptune? No more anger? No more hope? Poor little water goddess, is this a bad time?"
Neptune managed a tiny smile at that: the indifference that consumed her meant that she had even the tiniest amount of power over her adversary, after all. "This troubles you? But of course; it is no fun twisting the knife in one who is already dead. A corpse feels no pain. State your reason for being here or kill me outright, but for Serenity's sake get it over with, unless you intend to bore me to death."
That one oh-so-significant word slipped out, and Neptune realized it only a split-second before the eyes of the woman before her leapt with triumph.
"So even you – even you! – still remain loyal? How is that possible?"
Neptune straightened. "If you believed that just because I no longer hold out hope for the future I would allow your vision to poison me, you are more of a fool than you take any of us for, which is saying something."
There was a pause; Neptune could feel the water around her strung with the same tension that coursed through her. It was as if she was in a desperate battle – it felt just like old times. But oh, so different; her companions were far away, and her enemy was one she could not touch.
"But you must choose sides, don't you see?" The amber eyes glinted, the bejeweled head tilted to the side. "You will be dragged into this, whether you like it or not. This is the final event; this is the swan song. There are no bystanders, now. There is no such thing as peace; there is no such thing as neutrality." She paused for effect. It was not necessary; the next words – only a whisper – were strong enough to nearly send Neptune to her knees. "There is only Silence."
The fountains that ringed the room tinkled on, light and musical, as if they didn't notice or care that the world had just been turned on its head. The voice of the woman before her seemed, to Neptune, very far away, but the words were calm, and crystal clear: "You remember Saturn, don't you? She's finally been reborn."
Squall awoke in a place awash with light.
Because it was so dramatically different from the last place he remembered – the land inside the Gate of Shadows – it took him a few moments of staring up at bright nothingness to remember what had happened. "Rinoa..." She was here. How was this possible? The answer was obvious, and the light around him shrank back from the guilt that rolled through him. He'd been too late; he'd spent too much time in the In-Between, in the garden, in the Gate of Shadows, and in the meantime she had died as well. She must have. But where was she now? He couldn't see her. Of course his ability to look for her, Squall discovered, was somewhat restricted by his complete inability to move. Now when had that happened? "Squall, you silly, don't try to move. You're hurt. Just stay still and let your body recover, all right?" It was her voice. And then she was in his line of vision, her beautiful face framed by her dark hair, her hair haloed by the bright sunlight above. She looked like the angel he'd always known she was. But what in Hyne's name was she talking about? "What is this place?" He croaked. "Is this the inside of the Gates of the Light? What happened to you? Who killed you? I'm sorry, Rinoa, I'm so sorry..." "The what?" She asked, laughing and tilting her head as she grinned down at him, then smoothed something warm and soft and wet – a cloth soaked in warm water, he assumed – over his forehead. "You must have hit your head harder than we thought, Squall. What on earth are you talking about? I'm not dead. Nobody's dead, although you had us worried for a while." Now this was a startling new direction. "I'm...not dead?" "Of course not. You've been asleep for a few days, and you were hurt pretty bad, but you should be fine once you've had some time to recover." "But...Ultimecia, she..." "Ultimecia? We defeated her, Squall! You did most of it, actually, and you almost got yourself killed, but she's dead and we're all alive, so everything's fine." That wasn't right, Squall tried to tell himself. He had died, and he was on a mission to... He couldn't remember. "Listen, Squall, you had a pretty wild dream – you were thrashing around, talking to someone named Elios about a queen or something – but it was just a dream. You have to remember that."
Because it was so dramatically different from the last place he remembered – the land inside the Gate of Shadows – it took him a few moments of staring up at bright nothingness to remember what had happened.
She was here. How was this possible?
The answer was obvious, and the light around him shrank back from the guilt that rolled through him. He'd been too late; he'd spent too much time in the In-Between, in the garden, in the Gate of Shadows, and in the meantime she had died as well. She must have.
But where was she now? He couldn't see her. Of course his ability to look for her, Squall discovered, was somewhat restricted by his complete inability to move. Now when had that happened?
"Squall, you silly, don't try to move. You're hurt. Just stay still and let your body recover, all right?"
It was her voice. And then she was in his line of vision, her beautiful face framed by her dark hair, her hair haloed by the bright sunlight above. She looked like the angel he'd always known she was.
But what in Hyne's name was she talking about?
"What is this place?" He croaked. "Is this the inside of the Gates of the Light? What happened to you? Who killed you? I'm sorry, Rinoa, I'm so sorry..."
"The what?" She asked, laughing and tilting her head as she grinned down at him, then smoothed something warm and soft and wet – a cloth soaked in warm water, he assumed – over his forehead. "You must have hit your head harder than we thought, Squall. What on earth are you talking about? I'm not dead. Nobody's dead, although you had us worried for a while."
Now this was a startling new direction. "I'm...not dead?"
"Of course not. You've been asleep for a few days, and you were hurt pretty bad, but you should be fine once you've had some time to recover."
"Ultimecia? We defeated her, Squall! You did most of it, actually, and you almost got yourself killed, but she's dead and we're all alive, so everything's fine."
That wasn't right, Squall tried to tell himself. He had died, and he was on a mission to...
He couldn't remember.
"Listen, Squall, you had a pretty wild dream – you were thrashing around, talking to someone named Elios about a queen or something – but it was just a dream. You have to remember that."
This is just a dream, I told myself. Remember that.
It wasn't hard to believe that wherever I was, the place wasn't real. It was dark and cold and empty, and the only movement came in the form of tendrils of the smoke – or was it mist? – that curled around my legs and made it impossible to see my feet.
I started forward, not knowing what else to do.
"Quistis?" I called tentatively. "Seifer?"
I was answered only by the oppressive silence.
"Shit," I muttered. What was this place?
I turned around in a circle twice, seeing nothing in any direction. The third time I turned, however, I got a surprise.
There was a creature about a foot tall in front of me. The mist obscured all but his head from view, which I was grateful for; he (was it a he?) was the most profoundly ugly creature I'd every seen, and if I got the full frontal view I was sure I wouldn't be able to stop staring – which, the hostility in his eyes told me, was not something he'd take too kindly to.
He opened a mouth of jagged, gruesome, dirty teeth and jabbered at me in a harsh, guttural language.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, too numb with fear and confusion to speak any louder. "I can't understand you."
"What are you doing here?" It sounded angry, almost offended. "You're not allowed! You're not dead!"
"YAAAAAAAAAAH!" Zell screamed.
"Zell, for Hyne's sake, do shut up."
Zell was so startled at the familiar voice – and its calm tone – that he clamped his jaws together and blinked. He had expected Ultimecia, but, he mused, she was probably much more concerned with Rinoa and Quistis at this point.
"Now," said Edea, who despite their defeat looked as regal and composed as ever, "what are you doing in the library? To be perfectly honest I was not entirely sure you could read."
Zell leaned against the bookshelf, sulking. "Pleasure reading."
Edea rolled her eyes. "You're acting too guilty to be looking for comic books. Everyone saw you, Quistis, and Rinoa together for two days before they mysteriously disappeared. Suddenly Irvine and Selphie are gone too, as is Seifer. Are you telling me you know nothing of this?"
"Look, it was all Rinoa's idea..." Zell trailed off. "Irvine and Selphie are gone?"
"That's what I just asked you."
"How do you know Seifer is gone? How do you know he was ever here? None of us saw him."
"You assume, Zell, that if you, Rinoa, and Quistis did not encounter Mr. Almasy, no one did?"
"You saw Seifer?"
"Didn't we just establish this fact?"
Zell's mind was switching topics at light speed. "Back up. Are you telling me I'm the only teenager in the castle?"
"Unless you count Laguna."
"Laguna's in his forties!"
"Zell, have you ever actually met the man?"
"Well, okay. But still! What the hell am I supposed to do?"
Edea leveled a stern look at him. The GFs might have blocked most of his memories of the orphanage, Zell thought ruefully, but that look was all too familiar. "That, I believe, was my original question. Only more politely worded."
Zell looked at the floor. She can help, a tiny voice in his head said. You think you know the first thing about research? And she was a sorceress. She might know about this stuff with legends and dreams. What can it hurt? You trust her, right?
"See," he said slowly, "it began when Rinoa started having these dreams..."
"What's wrong with her?"
Quistis looked up at him, as if to say How the fuck should I know, she just passed out, and even if I did how would I tell you?
Quistis arranged the other girl's limp body on the ground, with Rinoa's head on her lap, and started going through the basics: pulse rate, breathing regularity, temperature...
"Is she going to be all right?" Seifer asked in a low voice.
Quistis sighed and looked up at him again. She tried, briefly, to convey her irritation at the interruption but did not have the heart to tell him off – as much as she could, not being able to directly tell him anything – when she saw his face. This Seifer was a stranger, more concerned with others' welfare than with his own ambitions. She found herself liking this new Seifer and missing the old one at the same time – this one would be of more use and better company, but the old Seifer's careless attitude would have made her less worried.
Either way, she admitted to herself – though this was something she wouldn't tell him even if she'd been able to – she was glad Rinoa had talked her into letting him come along.
She sighed again and looked up. When she caught his eye, she put on her firmest expression and pointed sharply to the ground. His pacing was putting her even more on edge than she was already. He complied, and folded his legs as he sat down across from her, laying his gunblade Hyperion in his lap.
She turned back to Rinoa, and for a while, they two sat together in silence. Quistis looked over Rinoa, but could find no indication of what might have caused her sudden fainting spell. Seifer, obviously thoroughly frustrated at not being able to help but at the same time not about to say something, drew pictures in the dirt with a stick. When he spoke, it was softly, and the words were almost choked out – he didn't want to say them, but keeping silent would be worse.
"About before," he whispered. "When Squall was – I mean, before the – you know – I'm just - "
Her head snapped up to look at him again. She wanted to cover her ears and shout No, don't tell me this, I don't want to hear an apology, it's too late for apologies, your apology doesn't change the fact that you did what you did, it doesn't change the fact that Squall is dead...
But of course she couldn't. She couldn't because it was just as much her fault as anyone else's and because she was jealous of him, and his ability to apologize. He could say I'm sorry, those two little words that meant nothing and everything, and she was beginning to doubt that her own voice would ever come back.
But he never got a chance to say it either, because at that moment Rinoa's hand, which Quistis had been holding loosely in her own, tightened its grip briefly.
Quistis looked down sharply, but Rinoa was still unconscious.
"Squall...?" The dark-haired girl whispered.
And then Rinoa's body started convulsing in a violent seizure.
The water of the moat was cool, but not cold, and perfectly clear. When Selphie stepped into it, however, the water seemed to glow at the contact. Irvine, who had been about to step into the water with her, jumped back and blinked at it.
She turned to glower at him in the darkness. "Don't be a baby. I told you, I won't let you drown."
Irvine continued to edge away, and the ire on his companion's face, he noticed, grew in direct proportion to how far from the water he moved. "Drowning is no longer the problem, Sefie. The problem is becoming a giant glowworm before my time."
"This reaction just means that this moat is bioluminescent."
"...Yeah, that would probably be very obvious if I knew what the hell it meant."
"It means there's a rare form of microscopic organisms called dinoflaggelates, also known as single-cell pyrodinium, living in here which makes the water glow like that when it's disturbed. It's generally called a bioluminescent bay, although in this case it would be a bioluminescent moat. And in all likelihood, there's nothing else in here."
"Do we still have to swim?"
"YES!" She hissed fiercely, startling him enough to make him jump.
He paused, knowing the next comment would piss her off but not willing to risk it. "You realize that these dino-glow-y thingies may just be some sort of warning system? Like spotlights?"
"'Course." She was lying; he could tell from her tone. She hadn't considered that. "But how else d'you think we can get across?"
"Not enough. They don't have the strength to carry us all the way over, and we don't want to spell giving out halfway over, falling in, and making a huge splash. Even if Ultimecia doesn't notice the light, her guards will notice the noise." She moved into the water. "C'mon. Don't be a baby. It's really warm."
He slipped in cautiously behind her, watching the water glow as he moved in. "This isn't so bad. I can sorta stand here; I'll need help getting across the deeper water, but – "
Something smooth and snakelike coiled itself his ankle, and dragged him under the water. His hands scrabbled against the wall of the moat, but he couldn't get a handhold. He reached for his gun, but whatever held him knocked it away as it pulled him under. His lungs filled with water as the creature towed him further down.
He needed to survive, he told himself firmly; how could she do it alone?
But his limbs wouldn't obey him anymore, and as he was pulled ever deeper (far deeper than the depth of the moat should have allowed) even the bioluminescence of the water around him faded to darkness.
"That's not possible." It can't be possible. Please, Serenity, Hyne, don't let it be possible.
"Yes, well, that's what I thought too, but apparently it happened anyway."
"But she...she can't be reborn. You know that as well as I."
"Oh, do I?" the woman said with a laugh. "I seem to have forgotten."
"You did nothing of the kind," Neptune snapped. "You knew. You've been waiting for this. I waited for this forever, and it never happened. I couldn't afford to wait any longer. But you could, and now it's happened, and - "
"What, you aren't eager to see her again?"
Neptune's anger was suddenly ice all through her. She embraced it; she hated it. It went against everything she had ever been. But she needed it.
Her daughter needed it.
"I never wanted her to be born again in this Hell-world of yours!" Neptune shrieked. "You'll not have her! You try to entrap her and I'll destroy you – no matter what I may once have been!"
The voice of the woman before her addressed Neptune as if soothing a particularly dim-witted child. "Neptune, darling, you are in no position to make such threats."
"And you are in no position to embrace her return," Neptune rasped.
"Why is that?"
"Because..." Neptune trailed off, remembering the last time she had told the woman before her about the rebirth of Saturn. It had been centuries ago, but she still remembered. Because the woman before her had not been then who she was now. Everything was so confusing; everything was so hopeless.
And suddenly, everything was so clear.
"...when Saturn is reborn, it is the end of the world..."
Standing over the woman swathed in aqua-colored silk - the prisoner-goddess – the woman said nothing as Neptune looked up at her and whispered the end of her sentence. "...but that's what you want, isn't it?"
END OF PART 9
...okay, yeah, I'm probably an evil bitch with a cliffhanger fetish. Oh well. PLEASE REVIEW ANYWAY. Reviews are thrived on. Motivation, ladies and gents. I'm also discovering this spiffy new review reply thing that wasn't here back when I left in the days of yore. I can also guarantee a reply if you contact me by email or through livejournal, both of which are on my profile page. The next chapter will be up...when I find the disk it's on. Go me.