A/N: All righty, let's try this again. My name is Wakizashi, and I published this first chapter about a million years ago under the name 'That Much Brighter'. But then I was without the Internet, so I couldn't update it. But now I'm back! Huzzah! Anyway, I think you'll like this one. If you're a Final Fantasy IX fan, which you must be if you're here, give it a chance, because I'm quite proud of it. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy IX. If I did, I'd be working on an FFIX television series instead of sitting here writing about it.
Requiem for an Angel
a Final Fantasy IX fanfiction
Chapter One: Rally-ho
Claire Giovannucci was fed up with people. She was normally a very tolerant person; at least, in her opinion. But today, something was different. She didn't know if the earth's axis was off center, and it was making everyone fifty-eight times nastier than normal or what, but she was getting sick of it.
She awoke that morning to the pleasant sounds of the couple in apartment 3A screaming at each other; apparently about something mind-numbingly trivial, like taking out the garbage. The couple's fights were frequent, however, so Claire assumed that this act of ill will was an isolated occurrence. So, after taking a shower and fussing with her hair - silently thanking the gods of styling products - she ate her usual breakfast of coffee and a bagel like all other New Yorkers, careful not to wake her roommate Sophie, who worked nights, and prepared for another merry day at the salon.
Before she made it to her front door, though, Claire was shown another example of human heartlessness: a call from her little brother Richie, who was only eleven, informing her that her pet tarantula, Snuggles, was dead. Claire was devastated; she was not allowed to have pets in her apartment, no matter how small, so she had had to leave her poor mexican red-kneed tarantula with Richie. She had visited every chance she had gotten, but with her job and hectic life, it was hard to find time. And now her brother had to be the one to convey the literally crushing news: her own mother had killed Snuggles with a rolled-up copy of the Times. The funeral was still being scheduled.
So, considerably less buoyant than before, Claire had left her apartment building and walked the ten blocks in the crisp, early April air to her place of employment, the Shear Perfection hair salon; or as they insisted on calling it, "clinic".
Claire liked her job. She had graduated from beauty school at the tender age of nineteen, and now, only a year later, she had found a job she genuinely liked. Sometimes it annoyed her when her customers eyed her with a certain wariness, but she supposed she could understand how they felt. She was young, after all, and thanks to her diminutive physical appearance, she looked even younger. At a prodigious five feet one inch, she had a pixie-like fragility about her, which was, if anything, accentuated by her chin-length, gravity-defying brown hair and liquid brown eyes. She tried wearing tall shoes to reverse the effect, but it didn't seem to work. She couldn't count how many times her uncle had asked her, "How old are you now, Claire? Fourteen?"
Yes, she was young, but she was good at what she did. And normally, her clients loved what she did with their hair. Except today, when the entire world insisted on being evil.
One after another, every customer she catered to was snotty and indecisive, unable to commit to a specific hair style. When they finally decided what they wanted done, Claire had done it, simply glad to wield the scissors. Once she had finished, either the client hated it, or he or she whined and complained about how long it took, or how expensive it was. She bit back the urge to tell them to go somewhere else next time, but her manager had been very clear about not driving away business.
And so it was all day: people coming in and out, unhappy with their lot in life and taking it out on Claire. At one point, a man coming in for a trim attempted to use a phony credit card, and then accused them of extortion when they refused to accept it. Claire would not have been surprised if someone had called in a bomb threat before the day was done.
Thankfully, her shift was over before anything like that could happen. Severely drained and still grieving over the loss of Snuggles, she hoisted on her shoulder bag and walked out of the hair "clinic", nearly forgetting her day's tips, meager though they were. She didn't feel like walking home, no matter how short the distance, so she hailed a taxi. That idea was quickly abandoned when the sleazeball driver kept coming on to her with his sicko grins and eyebrow wiggles. Feeling faintly nauseous, she ordered the cab to a stop and scrambled out, not bothering to wait for correct change.
And then came the defining moment of Claire Giovannucci's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: it began to rain.
Wanting to scream her frustration at the heavens, she began to run the rest of the way to her apartment, her tall black boots squelching on the wet sidewalk. But it seemed the rain was bent on thwarting Claire's efforts to stay dry, because it was soon coming down in torrents, and she had to duck under the nearest covered alleyway. Her hair was drenched and weeping beads of water.
She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to keep warm. She knew that the rain wasn't the result of any human malice, but it upset her all the same. All day long, she had witnessed proof that most people had nothing better to do than bring pain to each other, and the sudden downpour almost seemed to illustrate the point. God help the earth if everyone possessed a firearm, she thought bitterly. She clutched her shoulder bag tighter, ready to throw in the towel on humankind and hoping she wouldn't get mugged.
Sighing softly to herself, she waited in the dark alley for the rain to lessen. Finally, when it seemed a second Great Flood was in the process of drowning the city, it seemed to let up, if only a little. Claire was about to go out into the street and brave the storm when a bright blue light suddenly shone somewhere behind her. She turned around to face the source of the light and gasped in surprise.
The strange blue glow was coming from a single point of light no more than ten feet away from her, almost blinding in its brilliance. Her heart pounding with fear from this unknown phenomenon, Claire began to back away. But even as she retreated, the light grew brighter and even more dazzling, until it was almost white. She was aware that her breaths were being drawn in as ragged gasps, but she was almost oblivious to anything but the blinding glow.
Then, helpless to avoid it, the light enveloped her. She brought her hands up to her face to shield her eyes, and then just as quickly as it grew to its brightest point, she saw nothing but blackness.
The first thing Claire noticed was the searing pain in her head. And then, slowly, she became aware that she was lying on her back, and that a rock was jabbing her in the hip. She opened her eyes, squinting against the unexpected light of a warm, sunny day. Did the rain stop? was her immediate thought. Her eyes seemed to take forever to focus, but when she finally was able to see the welcome sight of a clear blue sky, it was abruptly blocked by a large, bulky shape.
Before she could even wonder what the obstruction was, it spoke, scaring the living crap out of her.
"Rally-ho, lassy! Did ye take a knock tae the hede?"
"AAAAGHHH!" She sat up straight, rigid as a board, to come face-to-face with a short, squatty person with greenish skin. Taking in the squashed features and flattened nose, she decided the only place where she had seen such an individual was in her grandmother's front yard. It looked like a lawn gnome. Except uglier.
Claire quickly scrambled to her feet, gripping her shoulder bag protectively and ignoring the throbbing pain in her head. The gnome - or dwarf; she wasn't really sure when it came to short-person formalities - wore an expression of confusion on its wide face as it looked up at her. "Sorry tae frighten ye, lassy," it said. Judging from the pitch of its voice, it seemed to be a male. "But it bain't safe oot here nearin' the Sanctuary. Ye could get hurt."
She nodded dumbly as she tried to decipher his odd accent. Looking around for the first time, shock quickly overpowered her fear. She was standing in a clearing, soft grass under her booted feet. Surrounding her on three sides were sheer cliff walls. A long, winding path lay beneath her feet, leading up the canyon behind her. The rock walls were red in the midday sun. Her bafflement only made her head hurt worse. It had been almost six o'clock in the evening before she had... what, fallen asleep? No, that didn't seem right.
Remembrance of what had happened washed over her like a tidal wave. The rain, the alley, the blinding blue light. Had that been responsible for where she was now?
Where was she now?
She turned to the gnomey-dwarfy-guy to ask him, and found that he had just spoken to her. She blinked. "What did you say?" she asked, her voice sounding hoarse in her ears.
"I said, what's yer name, lass?" he repeated.
"Oh," she replied, remembering her manners. "It's Claire. Claire Giovannucci."
The dwarf nodded slowly, puzzling over this new information. "Well if that bain't the strangest name I ever heerd," he said thoughtfully. "I'm William! Glad tae meet ye!" He raised his large hand in greeting.
Claire mimicked the gesture, still numb with shock. She cleared her throat, and when she spoke again, her voice was clearer. "Where am I?" she asked him.
William looked at her as though she were daft. "That were a mighty knock tae the hede indeed, if'n ye dinnae ken where ye are!" he exclaimed. Gesturing expansively at the surrounding canyon walls, he said, "This here be the Conde Petie moontain path. It leads tae Conde Petie, hametoon o' the dwarves. And tae the west," he added, pointing vaguely in said direction, "is the Sanctuary."
"Sanctuary?" she heard herself echo.
"Ye're as ignorant as the newcomers that came aboot two years ago," he said, shaking his head in disapproval. "The Sanctuary's where all the couples receive the blessin' after undergoin' the Ceremony. Ye can see it, once ye go up higher."
Not bothering to ask what the Ceremony was, Claire looked to the west. She thought she could see the very tip of some massive object, but she couldn't tell what it was.
"Ye shouldn't be oot here," William chastised. "There're all kinds o' horrid beasts runnin' aroon' oot here."
Claire swallowed involuntarily. "Beasts? You guys have beasts?" Having no clue were she was was bad enough; to discover the place was infested with monsters was almost too much to bear.
William sighed wearily. Apparently he had never met anyone who didn't know what he was talking about. "I best heist ye back tae Conde Petie," he said, leading her up the path. "Maybe Father David'll ken what tae dae wit' ye!"
As they walked together, young bewildered human and exasperated dwarf, they gradually rose above the canyon walls. The warm sun on Claire's shoulders was a nice change from the dreary streets of Manhattan, but she still had no idea what had happened, or why she had been transported to this bizarre place. She wondered who the heck Father David was. Probably Conde Petie's leader or holy guy or something.
Her legs were getting tired by the time the "hametoon o' the dwarves" came into view. It was without a doubt the strangest town she had ever seen. The entire structure was some sort of giant lopsided block of stone, perched precariously over a deep crevasse. It was held up by a pair of strange arching branches, and despite its dangerous position, it looked surprisingly stable.
Her squat companion let out an "Ah!" of exclamation, pointing to the west once more. "Can ye see it?" he asked. "Can ye see the Sanctuary?"
Claire followed his finger and finally got a decent look at the so-called Sanctuary that the dwarf kept blathering on about. What she had expected to be an architectural construction was instead an enormous withered tree, towering over the plains that surrounded it. Tangled roots sprung from its thick brown trunk, and a thin layer of mist was settled between the cracks. All was dry and shriveled.
She arched a dark eyebrow. "That's the Sanctuary? No offense, but it's not exactly awe-inspiring." She took another look at the tree. It looked extremely dead. "What happened to it?"
Another sigh of impatience. "Yer questions're makin' my hede ache!" complained William. "Follow me now, we're almoost there." As she trailed dutifully behind the strange little person, they made the rest of the trip to Conde Petie in silence.
Claire would almost have been grateful for the rest, but the sensory overload that greeted her in the village was enough to dispel any feelings of relief. Before she could even take in the oddly pleasant surroundings, friendly but persistent dwarves - of both gender - closed in on all sides, bombarding her with questions and remarks in their... interesting dialect. They wouldn't even let her in until she had said "Rally-ho".
"What a bonny lass! William, did ye find yer true love at last?"
"What were ye doin' on the moontain path? Dae ye wannae get yerself killed?"
"Giovannucci? What a funny name! And such funny clothin' as well! Where dae ye hail from?"
"Ye're sae thin, child! A boiled owl or a bit o' oglop stew would do ye good!"
Claire tried to answer their questions as politely as she could, but she felt as though she were Alice, and had tumbled down a rabbit-hole into a far stranger Wonderland than had ever been written about. She wondered what her brother would think of this place. He was always reading novels about dragons and elves, or playing fantasy video games. He would sure get a kick out of these dwarves.
She felt a sudden pang as she thought of Richie. She wasn't sure about the geography of this place, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she was far away from Manhattan. What would her friends and family think when she didn't pick up the phone, or open her door? Would they be worried? More importantly, would she ever see them again?
All this Claire pondered as her short acquaintances pummeled her with questions. Now I know how William felt, she thought with a touch of irony.
Either Darcy Skywatcher or Helen Birdkeeper - she couldn't remember, and they both looked the same - was asking her about her hair when someone entered the room who was decidedly not a dwarf. No, she thought, definitely not short enough for a dwarf. This person was tall, and draped in a hooded cloak. Beneath the folds of heavy fabric she could tell it was a man, and a slim one at that. His head was bowed, hiding his face from view, but as he walked past her their eyes met briefly, and she caught a glimpse of icy blue.
Whoa! was the first thing that came to mind. She watched, fascinated, as the cloaked man passed through a door at the far side of the room, which led to some sort of shop.
She had to follow him; it was that simple. Maybe he had some answers as to where exactly she was, and how she had gotten there. Surely someone knew, and what could it hurt to ask?
Smiling and nodding apologies, Claire escaped the clutches of her dwarfin interrogators and walked through the door into which the tall man had entered. She found him standing before a display of fruits and vegetables, talking with the shopkeeper. From where she was, she couldn't hear what they were saying, but as she got closer, she could make out their words.
"I dinnae ken wha' tae tell ye, laddie," the dwarf-woman was saying, "but we oonly sell two kinds o' bread. We have yer oat-bread an' yer wheat-bread, but tha's all we got."
A soft sigh came from under the hood. "The only shop on the Outer Continent, and they only sell two kinds of bread," the man muttered. "Very well," he said irritably, "give me the wheat. And two bottles of milk. Money is no object."
Ooh, a rich boy, thought Claire, rolling her eyes with a smirk. Still, his voice was melodic and pleasant to listen to, with a strange, exotic accent that she couldn't begin to place. And what was he talking about? The Outer Continent? Was that where she was?
"There ye go, laddie," said the dwarf, transferring the bag of groceries to the man. The hand that reached out from under the cloak to take the bag was pale and slender. "Heist ye back again soon!"
"Yes, I don't doubt it," he replied under his breath. He turned away from the grocery counter and walked to the exit with the bag hanging from the crook of his elbow, only to find Claire standing in the doorway. He stopped abruptly and stared at her, his blue eyes burning into her from under the hood. There was a short silence, but he was the first to break it. "You are in my way," he stated bluntly.
Her first response was to raise an eyebrow involuntarily. Her second was to clear her throat. "I'm sorry, sir," she replied slowly, "but I was wondering if you could help me."
Surprise registered in those frosty eyes before they narrowed warily. "Help you?" he repeated suspiciously. "Me?"
"Y-yes," she began, unsure of how she should describe her predicament without sounding insane. If, indeed, she wasn't.
Before she could stutter out a hesitant "You see", however, he gave another weary sigh. "I'm dreadfully sorry, but I don't have time to answer questions. I've already spent too much time here as it is." His tone was far less apologetic than his words, and as he spoke his foot tapped impatiently on the stone floor.
Claire frowned. "But I'm not asking for very much of your time," she protested. "I woke up outside Conde Petie, and I have no idea how I got there, so I was wondering--"
"So you had too much to drink last night and passed out on the mountain path. Is that really such a mystery, little bird?" the man interrupted, resting his hand curtly on his hip. Claire fumed at his impudence. "I am in quite a hurry, so if you don't mind..." Before she could react, he plucked her bodily off the ground and set her down away from the doorway. "Good day," he called with false cheer over his shoulder as he left the shop.
Sputtering with indignation, she stomped heatedly after him and began to yell at his retreating back. "Fine, you know what? Forget it! Apparently whatever you've got going on is infinitely more important than what happened to me! And for your information, I'm not even old enough to drink!" she snapped. "Man, and I thought people in New York were rude!"
Abruptly the man stopped, and slowly turned around to stare at her. "What did you say?" he asked in disbelief.
"Oh, so now I finally get through to you," she said sarcastically. "Maybe I just don't feel like talking to you anymore."
Suddenly the breath was knocked out of her as the man pushed her against the hard stone wall, causing her to drop her purse. His hand gripping her arm tightly, he hissed, "You wouldn't speak to me so if you knew who I was."
"Well then, lucky me," she coughed.
He cocked his head slightly to the side, and he released his hold on her. She picked up her purse and backed quickly into a corner, beginning to suspect that this place she had been transported to wasn't all green grass and friendly dwarves. "You don't know who I am?" the man asked, regarding her intently now.
Claire scowled at him. "Why would I lie?" she shot back, rubbing her sore arm.
A silence followed as her words hung in the air. Then the man took a step closer to her, which in turn caused her to shrink back against the wall. Slowly he raised one of his hands and drew the hood back on his cloak. A cascade of long silver hair immediately fell down around his shoulders, his bangs falling against his forehead and framing his face. Strangely, a spray of white feathers jutted out from the top of his head. His face was pale, his features soft, and his blue eyes peered at her from under long, curling lashes.
He was, in a word, gorgeous.
As Claire stared dumbly at him, he took another step forward. "You really... don't know?" he asked again.
I wish I did, she thought, but didn't say it out loud. Instead, she shook her head. "I think it's pretty evident that I don't know much of anything," she replied. "I don't know where I am, or how I got here, or how far I am from home..." She sighed and looked up at him expectantly. "Well, you've got me curious now. Who are you?"
At first he didn't answer. Then he raised his hand and, as she watched, a green light began to glow; not unlike the strange blue light she had seen in the alley, but more calming. She began to feel sleepy, and her legs became incredibly weak. Her knees suddenly gave out, but before she hit the ground, she was caught by a pair of masculine arms. As her head lolled back, she gazed up into those riveting eyes; like a clear winter sky reflected on the ice of a frozen pond. Before Claire's own eyes fluttered shut, she saw his pale lips curve in a smile.
"There will be plenty of time for that later... little bird..."
So! That's that. But don't worry, there's more where that came from. That is, if you want me to continue. So leave a review and tell me what you think! Does it show promise, or am I wasting my time? If I get enough positive reviews, I'll continue, so get those fingers typing! Thanks,