(A/N: Because of this site's new rule that long author notes are no longer allowed to be posted as singular chapters, you may find the credits, author rantings, dedications and an english translation of the Free Bird song on my website, in the WA3 fanfiction section. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.)

FINALE - Free Bird

= = = = = =

kuon no shijima yagate sora ni
aoku aoku tokete nijinde
mahiru no tsuki no usui kage wa
sugu ni sugu ni mirai wo yobu

daichi no ibuki ni
tsutsumaretara doko e namida kaeru no
kizutsuite mo inochi wa
yasashiku tsuyoku naru yo

mugen no inori sasagenagara
ima wo ima wo shizuka ni tojite
kikoeru neiro mori no kanata
hayaku hayaku koe ni kaete

sekai no subete ni
yurusaretara ai no imi wakatta no
namidatsu hi no kumo kara
hikari ga fui ni mieta

= = = = = =

Miles away, underneath the wasteland sky, Kaitlyn pulled Gallows's coarse brown blanket over her small body and tried to get to sleep, continuing to find herself counting every little star that graced the night sky draped above her. Looking over the distant beauty of the faded Hyades constellation, she knew she was tired, more exhausted than she had ever felt in her life. They had been hiking at a steady, if not slow pace for the sake of Kaitlyn's health, but the long journey the girl had undertaken a few days ago still affected her constitution slightly, making her wearied and drowsy no matter what. However, it was impossible for her to sleep.

And it wasn't just the simple fact that she had a giant Baskar priest sucking his thumb a few feet away and snoring, she didn't mind that, after having gotten used to the way Dario snored, that was easy to ignore. Virginia and Jet were cuddled underneath the same blanket, heads nodding against each other and breathing deep. Jet was still pretty bruised up from the long fight that had nearly killed him, and Virginia had taken it upon herself to become his overprotective attendant. What surprised them all was the silver-haired android didn't object to the treatment, maybe he was finally getting the hint that she liked him? Kaitlyn sighed, closing her soft grey eyes and rubbing the faint bruise on her cheek, beginning to disappear as time passed on. Romero had been mean, Antonio was funny and cheerful, and Dario had been nice and slightly bashful. And, Ravendor had acted, well, apart from his failings, just the way she had expected an uncle to act. Now they were all gone.

Rolling over, it was hard to accept that everything was over. Something felt wrong, kind of unfinished, even though everybody had all gone home, or found their places of rest. True, her father still hadn't returned to a human form, but he remained just the same person he was on the inside, and that was enough for herself and her mother. He had his soul back, and it didn't matter what shell it inhabited, Clive would always be Clive. No amount of separation, memories or pain could ever change that. One question still remained, though. Why did she feel so anxious in this way?

Actually, it kind of felt like she was waiting for something.

Their camping trip was guiding them gradually to Little Rock, a nice location that had a much lower monster population and some interesting history. The ARMsmith Annette also lived there, an individual that the little girl was quite eager to meet. For some reason, she had a great burning desire too see this mystery girl, although she had never even heard about her before In her little life. This trip was in some ways convenient to her intents, but Kaitlyn had gotten an inkling that their journey there had no purpose but to entertain her for a few days, and she went along for the ride, if only to keep them all happy. It was the least she could do, after the all the insanity of the past week. Truth be told, she needed a little time out herself. The little girl clutched at the covers with her tiny hands, realizing something she had long overlooked.

Wow. Daddy's right. I have grown up…

Kaitlyn had never thought about the world, the people around her, or even herself in this way before, she found herself bearing an entirely new perspective on life, nearly an adult one. She had grown from this, more than she could ever imagine. The world was not innocent, and neither was she, she had seen with her own eyes the things that made it a sad and lonely place, she had seen Ravendor's pain, and knew that the sorrow was a part of everyone, a simple fact of life, a human emotion. Ravendor had suffered terribly and perhaps even unjustly, but that was what had kept his soul human. Kaitlyn could no longer call herself innocent, or naïve. She knew, she understood the pain…

And because of it, she could love everyone else all the more so, because she understood that a distinct, singular moment in time would never last forever. Kaitlyn had known Ravendor only briefly, for a few days at the most, but that small meager amount of time had been very precious to her, invaluably so. Everything was important, everything was special, even the sadder or bitter times. Without them, there would be no difference between happy and sad, and then nothing would have any meaning at all. The little girl smiled, she finally understood.

So, what would happen to everyone now? Her father, her mother, the drifters that were sleeping peacefully around her, would everything just go back to normal? Her grey eyes dulled in confusion, would they just ignore everything? She rolled onto her back, remembering how heavy her father's gun had felt in her hands, and, without even any hesitation, she had-

Her thoughts quickly cut off, the girl sitting up and looking around the campsite. Something had felt strange, all of a sudden, and the weariness had left her body almost instantly. Kaitlyn tidied her golden hair that was messy from tossing and turning all night, her gaze darting around the stony clearing upon an elevated plain that appeared to be very much like the huge stone quarry of her recent memories. The place where she had played her most fun game of tag ever. It may have been her tired ears playing dastardly tricks on her mind, but Kaitlyn could have sworn she heard something, the sound of footsteps crunching in the gravel that seemed to come from far away, but also very close at the same time. They softened upon each step, slowly fading away.

Slipping on her white shoes, dirty from the dust that rose whenever she scuffed her feet, Kaitlyn brushed aside her blanket borrowed from Gallows, courteously gathering it up in her hands and spreading the cloth over the young priest who had offered it to her for the evening. Gallows muttered something and grabbed an armful of it like a teddy bear of some sort, nuzzling his face into the scratchy cloth. She would not need it for a while, at least. The campfire was a little more than embers, smoldering smoke rising into the dark atmosphere. They had better remember to put it out early the next morning. Her eyes adjusting to the lack of light outside the camping area, Kaitlyn strolled off into the unknown darkness, following the sound of those footsteps.

Jet muttered something in his sleep as she left, probably sensing her departure but too sleepy to wake up and do something about it. Virginia shifted and put her arm around his stomach, her head resting serenely on his shoulder. The little girl paused and looked at them over her shoulder, giggling at the scene that would occur in the morning if Virginia chose to wake up before Jet. She vaguely hoped that Jet was an early riser. Rubbing her bare hands together from the ironic coldness of the wasteland in the middle of the night, she marched on, knowing that she had no choice but to follow.

And there it was again, the sound of close footsteps in the darkness ahead of her, the girl picking up a sensation that was mild and sad, but at the same time tinged with relief and memory. How she knew all this information from seemingly nothing was too difficult to understand, but she still followed it anyway, it had a familiar quality that the little girl could just not place. It disappeared as she scurried over to a complex rock formation, the stones pushed together so they almost resembled a dying tree, a thick and sturdy base with jutting bastions, like a trunk and branches. Without arguing with it, her instinct told her to climb up there. She obediently complied.

Kaitlyn set her foot into the first foothold she could find and hoisted herself up a few inches, realizing the truth. This rock didn't just look like a dead tree, it was one, perfectly petrified in the mold of it's former self. Many years must have passed from after this tree had died, it was somehow magical, and it's twisted and gnarled shape was like a witch's hand, or the hunched body of a mourning widow. It actually gave the arid desert a sort of forlorn quality seen in melancholy pieces of artwork, but that melancholia held it's own degree of beauty. Concentrating and grabbing each little hold she could possibly find, Kaitlyn scaled the tree like a true rock climber, trying not to look down.

On the thickest and most sturdy branch, she flopped down and caught her breath, drained from working so hard. The branch was hugely thick and she could sit on it easily, the wind whistling through the tree's limbs ruffling her golden hair. It was a little too cold for her up here, though she could see the encompassing highlands excellently from this point of view. Her spirit fell when she could no longer hear anything else except for the wind and the silence, had she missed it? What was she even looking for? Swinging her legs off the branch and sighing sadly, she realized she had accidentally disobeyed her mother, running off and away from the others, where she was meant to stay. Kaitlyn had broken her promise. She went a little red and moved to climb down the tree, hoping to get back to camp before anybody noticed her absence.

"No, please do not go just yet. I need to speak with you."

She froze, her heart leaping into her throat and she nearly slipped off the tree branch in fright, grabbing onto the grainy stone for balance and keeping herself seated on the wide limb. Turning sharply and swinging her feet onto the branch, she faced her assailant purposefully, little hands balled up into fists. Who in their right minds would be sitting up in a tree in the middle of the night? Asides from herself, of course. She couldn't really do anything, she was too little, but Kaitlyn remained on the defensive anyway.

All the force left her hands instantly, sliding down to rest by her sides. Mouth open in a tiny gape, her soft grey eyes widened considerably. That initial state of shock lingered for a long time, about twenty seconds passing before Kaitlyn realized it was rude to stare and coughed embarrassedly, hardly daring to believe what she was seeing could be real. "Uncle… Ravendor..?" She whispered, clasping her hands together and blinking unbelievingly. Kaitlyn was positive that he had not been there a second ago. In fact, the tree had been completely bare, vacant, except for herself. She was supposed to be alone.

Ravendor brushed away his fringe with a languid motion, nodding slightly at her stuttered sentence. He reclined casually in the nook between the petrified trunk and branch like a comfortable seat, an oily white rag and his Peacemaker ARM receiving a good polishing in his hands. Hale and unhurt, he regarded Kaitlyn benevolently through emerald green eyes that were finally devoid of pain. "It is good to see you again… Kaitlyn." He replied, his voice strangely lacking the snobby refined air that was always attached to his words, it sounded kinder and a little different, though she could not place exactly what it was that made him sound that way. It was like, he was talking, but the words were not coming directly from his mouth, though his lips moved in the formation of the words flawlessly.

It was he who Kaitlyn had followed through the darkness, and she felt her little chest becoming tight. "But, but, I thought you were…" She didn't know how to finish her sentence, just shaking her head at the end. This was impossible, she had been there when he had died. Ravendor raised a hand, noticeably pale in the starlight, lacking their leather gloves and completely free of the scarring that Clive had given him. Along with the wounds, his claws and tail had gone, so too had his wings. He looked completely… normal. Like a regular human untouched by anything that could offer him pain.

"You do not have to say it," He reassured her fondly, light breezes blowing his dark ponytail to one side, "I am here, see?" The bandit tapped his chest, where the bullet had torn through his heart, and pulled lightly at his long white jacket, proving that he was solid and not just a hallucination. One leg dangled off the tree branch while the other was stretched out in front of him, it looked like he had been there for a long time. Slotting his pistol back into it's hidden holster, he held his arms out for Kaitlyn to enter them, which she did. He was indeed quite solid and warm, not a figment of her imagination. "There was one last little loose end that I had to tie up, so I decided to come back. I came here to tell you something very important, Kaitlyn. Something that you will need to hear." Ravendor said, patting her lightly on the back.

Her shock and confusion gave way to intense delight, the child grinning happily and squeezing the man tightly. "I missed you! Mama and Daddy were so sad when you left! Mama cried and cried and I thought you were never coming back, but now you're here and Daddy can be happy again! Uncle Ravendor, we can go home and be a family!" She babbled out all the tension in her heart without stopping, but all Ravendor did was just nod slightly and listen quietly, looking off into the far away horizon, where the great expanse of eternity lay. This world, this Filgaia was huge and unforgiving, he had witnessed firsthand it's unbridled cruelty, and was a wiser person because of it. Unconsciously, he rubbed the area on his arm where his tattoo used to be, a small grey moth flitting across his vision.

"Kaitlyn," He said solemnly, moving his hand up to stroke her soft golden hair, "I came to say goodbye."

She froze her little speech then and there, in mid-sentence, glancing up at Ravendor. He looked serious and sad, but not in a deeply depressing way, just wistfully regretful. "Goodbye?" She asked, voice shaking, "Why? Where are you going?" She pulled on his clothing, trying to get him to answer her as quickly as possible. She could not believe this, she had found her long lost uncle, and now he was leaving? The little girl shook her head in the negative, her breaths uneven from the rushed talking.

"Well, that is a very complicated question." He told her. "I am going far away, past everything anyone has ever seen or known, to a place where I will be welcome, and where I will be needed the most. I think I have finally found that place." He said cryptically, as if it needed no further explanation. Leaning his head back, he rested on the tree trunk and looked upward at the decaying branches. This world, though slowly replenishing itself, was just too faded for his liking. He couldn't take it anymore, Filgaia, and so he was going to go away, separated from thought and mind, until he was healed enough to return. He needed, so very badly, to rest. Maybe someday, when the grass would be green, the seas crystal blue and the lost children unforsaken, he might come back. But that would probably not happen for a long time, so he smiled.

Looking back up at him, she noticed that the bandit leader had tied his dark hair back into a ponytail using her light blue ribbon. Somehow, it made her feel better to know that he liked her gift enough to be using it, and touching the silver cross resting on her front, she wondered of Ravendor felt the same. But, she was still a little confused over his last remark. "What would that be like?" Kaitlyn asked him quietly, secretly pulling up the sleeve of his jacket to look at his tattooed arm. Her eyebrows knitted together, the markings were gone, banished, no longer there.

"I do not know, but I believe I shall find out very soon." He said, shifting himself up so he could sit on his knees and look at Kaitlyn better. The hug broke and he placed both hands on her small shoulders, looking at her evenly in the eyes. He smiled bemusedly, she looked so innocent, so naïve, but beneath the childlike exterior, she had an incredible courage and determination. When she grew up, Ravendor knew that Kaitlyn would be beautiful, both inside and out. Just the way she used to be. "Will you make me a promise, Kaitlyn?" He questioned her softly, "One that you can never break?"

"Well, of course I will." She assured him with a troubled look on her face. Ravendor's eyes, they looked both sad and happy at the same time, it was impossible to comprehend or understand. The moon emerged from behind a thick cloud and bathed the area in pale light, the smaller branches of the tree casting a series of contrasting shadows over Ravendor's face. She had never seen the anyone look so sincere before in her life.

He closed his eyes, giving her his last and most final request. "Always remain a good girl, Kaitlyn. Live a happy and meaningful life, do not give up on anything, never let grief or loss get you down. Take special care of your parents for me, and when you see them again, please tell your mother and father that I love them and think of them always. Promise me. This is goodbye, Kaitlyn. You will not see me ever again in this particular guise. I am sorry." He murmured while feeling the cool night air brush against his cheek, glad that for once in his existence he could feel such comforts without the constant burning pain of his degenerating blood, his sin and his taint, finally gone. Everything was gone, he had nothing left, but strangely, it somehow made him feel happier, now that he had nothing to lose. Ravendor stood up, perfectly balanced on the thick tree branch, his long jacket billowing out behind his body. He looked down at the little girl and saw that she was crying, remorse flitting behind his mercurial eyes.

The moonlight showed Kaitlyn one last thing as she looked up to meet his eyes, something she should have noticed from the very beginning, but shock and happiness had robbed her of that use of intuition. Almost as if he could read her mind, he nodded, making her blood feel as cold as ice. Ravendor's chest did not rise and fall with breathing, he did not take breath at all. Yet he was still warm and she felt a soul within his solid body, what in the world was he? Confirming her speculation, he answered. "Do not worry about it," He advised, "You are only dreaming, after all. Soon, you will awaken, and be prepared to face tomorrow with the memories of yesterday. It is more than what I could have done." Ravendor smiled. "Now, promise me."

"I… I promise." She vowed between hiccups, wiping away her tears with the sleeve of her dress. Ravendor patted her on the shoulder and at last dropped his hands to his sides, looking up and to the side slightly, as if he had just heard his name being called. He knew within his heart, it was time for him to go. Kaitlyn blinked away her tear-filled vision and evaluated Ravendor as he walked past her slight form, perched on the furthermost point of the bough and remarkably keeping his balance. He turned to her and smiled sadly, remembering the few good points of his life. He had learnt, and in his own way, he had grown. Maybe next time, things would be better. Kaitlyn somehow knew this, perhaps, from an inkling of the memories she had once lost. The girl smiled through her tears. "...You really are a dark angel, aren't you?" She said.

His smile became a nearly arrogant smirk, flicking his long ponytail behind his shoulder and facing out into the winds that blew his hair and coat back, he looked contented, like a heavy weight borne all his life had fallen away and left him to do as he pleased. The unkind world and it's brutal rules could not hurt him anymore, he was free. Absently, he rubbed the spot where his old scars used to be, forgiving Clive and extinguishing the hate that burned foully in his heart. It was gone. "I will… I will be watching out for you, Kaitlyn. You have a guardian angel in me, I can assure you. Just please, please stay as kind and as gentle as you already are. Goodbye, Kaitlyn Seraph Winslett." He said with finality, clenching both of his hands, pushing off with his feet, and leaping, coat trailing behind him as he hit the dusty land below.

He started to walk down the elevated plain, hands in the pockets of his coat and gazing straight forward into the night, a smug grin on his pale face. He headed west, making absolutely no noise, but his body was somehow illuminated by the moon and starlight, like a beacon that was slowly moving away. "It is over…" He whispered quietly, hardly believing it himself, "It is finally over…" The realization almost made him want to laugh, out of sheer relief. Kaitlyn squinted to follow his movements, and he stopped for a short while to wave happily, saying his very last farewell.

It built up in her chest like a great hiccup, a desire to say a thousand things at once while he was still in earshot, she raised her hands to cup her mouth and hollered as loud as her lungs could provide, pouring her emotion into every word. "I love you, Uncle Ravendor! Goodbye!" Ravendor still waved, and she felt contentment envelope her mind. Something told her he had gotten the message, and it was returned.

An ambient cawing startled Kaitlyn out of her skin, Kestorael swooped down low over the branches and perched neatly upon her little shoulder, berating her for leaving the safety of the campsite. Breaking her concentration, she looked away and got a soft peck on the side of her cheek mildly, a motion used by birds as a greeting. Oh well, she knew that at least one of them would find out. Stroking the cool feathers on the raven's wings, she glanced back at the spot where Ravendor once stood, hearing the dark-haired man's footsteps fading into the night, feeling relief, forgiveness, and completion building up in her heart. For him, it was the end, finally, a happy ending, his ending.

Like the sigh of a spirit, or the footsteps of a ghost, he was gone.

-fin-