Disclaimer: Just in case you happened to be suffering from the delusion that I own the rights to FF6 or any of the characters you recognize here, I don't. Wish I did, but alas, some things are not to be... Square owns everything, I own nothing, and I have no money so suing me would be a pathetic waste of time.
Author's note: This is basically a FF6 novelization, and I'm trying to stay true to the spirit of the game, and the characters' personalities as I see them, but I also intend to change or add quite a bit, for the reason that what works in a video game doesn't always make sense or sound right in a story, even a crappy fanfiction one. Plus I don't want this to be just like playing the game all over again.
"Blind circles, moon and sun
body willing, mind undone
one pain ending
while another begins"
Let the Truth Sting, by David Grey
The world was white and grey, windblown, drifting, as utterly painfully silent as the static inside her own head. Cold. There was cold, inside and out, and emptiness hanging in the air and emptiness behind her eyes, and every feather touch of the senses – clean sharp taste of winter, smell of snow, prickle of snow on skin – skittered around the outside of the emptiness and was gone. There were words; they had no meaning, yet they were trapped for a moment in perfect, lucent clarity before the wind rose again and snatched them back into the white silence.
And yet there was still something that watched from outside the noiseless place – fragmented, chained, barely conscious, but not blind and still struggling to stay afloat in the ebb and flow of dark tides. It would be easier to let go, to let herself be washed away, rocked into sleep by that static lullaby, and yet… drowning might be a pleasant death, in the end, but it is death nonetheless. She couldn't put such ideas into words or thoughts, didn't know the purpose of words anymore, but there was still a part of her which clung to consciousness with the mindless, instinctive will of an animal in a trap.
She watched. She could do nothing but watch, observing from outside and far away, and try to find what it was the wind had stolen. She watched, and she saw pale slender hands – her own? – resting motionless against metal so cold that she registered, distantly, a sensation of pain. She saw metal all around her; she was nestled in it, protected, caged. A hulking suit of mechanical armor… a war machine, an ambulatory weapon – i not so different, then, from myself. /i That thought danced across her mind too quick to catch or understand, gone before it could be registered, but it left a burning trail in its wake. For a moment she felt fire surging upward though her veins to fill the place it had left, but then the cold slammed down again like a hammer against the anvil of her mind, and all was as it had been before – freezing and blank.
The order came to march, and she saw herself obeying. She saw the snow fall in swirling eddies across the field of her vision. She felt the light prickle of cold as it melted on her bare arms, felt the stinging wind as it whipped across her face, blurring her sight with reflexive tears, but she never shivered and almost never blinked. She was aware that time was passing, or perhaps that she was passing through time, but one moment was indistinguishable from the next. She marched.
And then it was different.
Buildings rose up ahead of her, sudden and treacherous as icebergs through the fog of snow. A town built of wood and steel, with clouds of steam and coal-smoke hanging above it, a town sleeping safely in the arms of a jagged mountain range. The guards met her at the gate. To the silent observer peering from behind blank eyes they looked pitifully, painfully frail. They were shrouded in white robes and veils that hid all but their dark eyes, but no mask could conceal the bleak defiance that they clung to, or the resignation buried beneath. They readied their weapons, moved by that strange, meaningless challenge in their eyes as surely as her own body was held on puppet strings and moved by a stranger's design. They stank of fear.
An order came. Fire rose in her again, rushed along her veins and filled her with burning power, this time without her volition. She could feel it being directed, channeled, and though the command came from outside, it was by her action, her instinct, that the fire came. And they burned. Flame seared through cloth and flesh, dancing brightly in the chill air. They died. She marched onward with the heavy tread of steel, over the still smoldering ash and the fading screams, into the city. More guards stood in her way, and she saw the knowledge of their own death flickering in their eyes. Those slender ghost-hands danced over the controls without thought or hesitation, and they died. She killed them, over and over. They burned like paper dolls, and their ashes drifted on the wind, indistinguishable from the blowing snow. The part of her that watched over her own shoulder knew that she was killing them, and tried desperately, helplessly to care.
And then it was different again. The killing had stopped. The fire in her receded, not disappearing but burning low and quiet, kept at bay until her masters needed it. There was no snow, no ash anymore: she was inside the earth, in a tunnel of arching, rough-cut stone. Onward. Deeper, along the tunnel, down and down into the dark. Voices from behind ordered her onward, and she obeyed, but this time there was something there, ahead of her, buried within the heart of the mountain. She could feel it, drawing her, calling her. Something reaching out across the emptiness, through the wind and static and silence, a lifeline for the broken part of her to grab onto and follow up out of the depths. Fire flickered and danced somewhere outside of her reach, but it was not her fire: this was life and warmth, where she was ash and burning death. She wanted to touch it, to be a part of it, to let the cleansing fire wash away the chains that held her. Even within the emptiness she felt some echo of that yearning; it went deeper than conscious thought, and so slipped below and around the walls of ice and darkness that kept mind and body apart and enslaved. She piloted the mechanized armor blindly through the maze of tunnels, mindless still, but with purpose. Her masters followed, believing it was their orders that guided her steps.
And finally, after a time that might have been minutes or hours, or no time at all, she reached the source of the calling. A block of some shimmering substance stood before her, rough and multifaceted; it might have been ice or crystal, or it might have been something utterly different. She drew closer, unable to turn or look away, pulled forward like the moon pulls the tides. The air around her hummed and crackled with power as she stepped forward, her skin tingling with electricity, her hair drifting about her head in a silvery nimbus. She could see, now, what was calling her from within the crystalline depths. She caught only an impression of what it was that lay dreaming within the ice… a rainbow of feather and scale, huge, ancient and serpentine… beautiful… before her eyes met, and were caught by, the creature's fierce, inscrutable gaze.
The world shifted and cracked wide beneath her
She fell, tumbling downward through rushing wind as static howled in her ears… drowning in a sea of white noise and emptiness… tossed by stormwinds and battered by waves of burning ice. She was lost in a torrent of flame and fury, fire coursing through her veins, cleansing her and burning her from the inside out. She heard a scream from somewhere far off, somehow both clear and distant enough to make itself heard through the storm, and she wondered vaguely if it might have been her own…
and then the chaos receded, and she was floating on the edge of dream, caught up in the vastness of an alien will. She felt the chains on her mind being gently lifted, the walls of ice melting and washing away.
-- There, child. These chains cannot hold you – see? The crown is nothing but metal and dead magic, when seen from outside. They will not be able to catch you in that trap again.
The words – no, not words, nothing so simple or remote as mere sound given meaning – echoed inside her head, slicing cleanly through the blanket of fog that had enveloped her, and was now melting away as if evaporated by the morning sun. The static that had filled her head was fading, to be replaced with… pain. Pain and emptiness, a void which cried out to be filled with… what? Memory? Flame and wild magic, or a stranger's touch, or simply words in the dark?
She reached out as reflexively, as desperately as a frightened infant, and was met with a strange, distant empathy.
-- you freed me
-- I showed you the way to freedom /i
It was a struggle to remain conscious. She was exhausted, she realized, tired to the bone. She kept feeling the dark fingers of sleep reaching out to take her, and she fought for the strength to stay alert. It frightened her, the idea of letting go her newfound freedom, losing control again. She clung tightly to wakefulness, and yet she knew she was fading.
-- I don't understand. I can't… I…
The world was dropping out from under her feet, her head spinning with fatigue and pain.
-- You know I cannot. You have the strength to help yourself, but you must find it.
Darkness reached up to claim her.