She looked so bitter.
So very, very bitter.
Her eyes were tight long before their time, restraining tears of blind accusation. Her youthful skin, unusually pale, seemed unhealthy. Sallow. Her hands were wringing in utter frustration, strangling a hapless book to a death that was beyond it. Her dress, normally neat and tidy, was creased. Worn. Unattended to in the daily chores. She wanted something, she needed something; but what was it? What, exactly, was this young woman's difficulty?
It took a few days of investigation to discover the problem. She was lonely. Her boyfriend had stopped writing letters after the end of the world. An end that had done away with so many poor lives, her significant others' included: and she was slowly beginning to recognize that fact.
The bold knight of Doma, bearing in him a similarly painful scar, watched her through her kitchen window for the third evening running. He saw in her a mirror of his own pain, his own torture, that he could not help his beloved in a time of need. She, too, had not been there when her young soldier, wounded as he was in Mobliz, endured his death pains. In light of their situation, Cyan's pain seemed somehow shallow, as he at least had been able to hold his deceased wife in his arms one last time before the end. This young woman had endured no such convenience. Her relationship had suddenly been tossed into anonymity. There would be no closure: instead, the dull ache of knowing that, more than likely, her lover was dead.
The knight understood her pain. He understood it all too well. And now, having existed for so long in a hopeless world – nearly seven months – he decided he would have no part of it. This girl, whom he watched through veiled windows, sniffling pathetically, not noticing the armoured man who always came to watch her, would be given a ray of hope.
He would give her hope. Hope that he, himself, had none of.
"Thou thou thou thou!"
The loudly enunciated words reverberated through his skull as powerfully as a blaring trumpet pressed against his temple. Cyan, Retainer to the Lord of Doma and recently self-dubbed knight-errant, rolled forth from his stony stoop and crashed to the ground with a decidedly unmanly shriek. His armour clattered loudly against the cobblestone street, drawing a few stares from passer-bys.
Atop him, crouched and looking ready to pounce, was a young boy. His hair, garb, and demeanour practically screamed bestial. Most who witnessed the event would not have been surprised if the little creature had deigned it necessary to sink his teeth into the elderly knight's neck.
Instead, however, the boy proceeded to fling his arms around his captive's neck, exclaiming "Thou, thou!" to the world. To their further astonishment, the man, who had at first seemed both fearful and angered, had begun to laugh merrily. He rose, dragging the boy up behind him – the later assumed a piggyback position, lessening the considerable strain on Cyan's throat – and tried in vain to face his friend. The entire ordeal ended with Cyan spinning around in several large, somewhat annoyed circles, telling Gau to get off. Eventually, his beaming labour did, leaping from off his shoulders and landing nimbly on the smooth stone sidewalk.
"Saints be, Gau! I thought you were dead!" Cyan grasped the boy's wiry hand in his own, and the two engaged in a vigorous handshake. Gau, not entirely sure what was going on, simply went along with it.
Gau danced about on the street. He looked rather like a monkey, capering frantically and turning cartwheels. All the while he spouted off the word "thou", a phrase that had annoyed Cyan to no end months earlier. Now, however, it was a word of joy to his ears.
Cyan had to grab the boy in mid-turn to restore order. "Come now, do not be in such a frenzy. Ye be attracting a few stares." He motioned to the people assembled, all of whom watched the display with either amusement or concern in their faces. "This way, Gau, this way." He shuffled the excitable boy off of the road, throwing one final look at the girl's house before disappearing with his charge into a small alleyway.
They exchanged greetings and tales. Cyan, for his part, had spent his time wandering around the continent, not trusting himself to sail alone on any boat. His life had been relatively uneventful: he'd taken it upon himself to protect anybody he'd come across from the numerous demons that now held the world in a vice grip. He was good at fighting, and the function of defender seemed a natural thing: however, it had come with relatively little gusto. His continued existence seemed relatively ashy in his mouth when he considered the fact that he had probably been lucky. Nobody else had survived.
He felt vindicated to be dead wrong. He also felt very stupid, too, for having doubted his friends so much. When had the great knight of Doma become so pessimistic?
For his part, Gau was relatively scant on details. The boy had never been particularly descriptive in his stories, and the last seven months had evidently done little to improve his skills. Cyan suspected he would never know the full extent of the boy's journey. Nor did it particularly matter, as he seemed perfectly healthy, both mentally and physically.
Gau's agenda, however, was very plain: keep up the mission. Kill Kefka. Save the world. Even if they were the only two left to fight on. And Cyan agreed fully with him: they would have to head out – eventually – and beat the madman who had ruined existence. But. . .
". . . must we partake of this journey right away, Gau?"
Gau blinked, cocking his head to one side quizzically. "Uuuh?"
Cyan began to fidget nervously. "Um, well. . . it truly is of the utmost importance that we defeat Kefka, but, I have some things to do first. . . must ye abduct me immediately into this venture?"
Gau scratched his scalp, flicking aside some small piece of unmentionable. Cyan shuddered. "Why no now?"
"As I said, I have things I must attend to. You see. . ."
"Yes, things. . . ye must tru-"
Cyan slumped. Gau may not have been the most linguistically empowered member of the team, but he was no idiot. Little slipped by his gleaming eyes and sharp brain. "Very well. Come this way, ye snooper."
The pair returned to the street. More than a few curious eyes alit upon the pair, wondering just what they had been up to, secreted amongst the fetid refuse and lukewarm pools of sewer water. Cyan dragged the ragged little boy over to his previous lookout, seating Gau upon the rocky steps that Cyan had frequented for three days. With a single, weathered finger he pointed into the house where, drying dishes, his girl stood. Lola.
"Do you see that woman there, Gau?"
"She has. . . had. . . a boyfriend in Mobliz. He once sent letters to her all the time, but now, he has passed away. I cannot say that for sure, but from what I've heard of Mobliz, it seems easy to say as such. I have been watching her, and she always looks so sad. It is. . . difficult, to explain, but I. . ."
Cyan tossed his companion a little glare. "I want to help her. I want to make her feel better. For her sake. She looks so mournful. I can hardly bear to see it."
He rested one palm against the cool stone. "I cannot explain it, but. . . I simply have to help her. It tugs at my very soul. I know this is an inadequate excuse, but – "
"I go train on Veldt. Prepare for fight Kefka. When ready, come."
Cyan turned to look at Gau. He had expected a longer argument. He even looked for one. But where he looked, he saw only an empty stairway, and heard naught but the rapidly retreating patter of unclad feet.
Cyan put his plan into action quickly. The entire scheme seemed embedded into his brain the moment he knew that Gau was gone. Every stage of it coalesced instantaneously, all ordered and planned as though Cyan had been concocting it for ages.
First, locate a base of operations. It would have to be a very remote locale, one isolated from any chance of interference in his plans. There would be no chance of young Lola discovering who was playing the part of her deceased boyfriend. Cyan quickly discovered such a place in the largely abandoned mountains around Zozo: its inhabitants, who consisted mainly of monsters and brigands, would not care a whit about his plans to keep the woman happy. Their presence also created a zone in which most travellers would not want to traverse, thus allowing Cyan a protected element of secrecy, not to mention a steady stream of creatures to hone his skills against. He was, of course, still at war.
Second, purchase materials necessary for both beginning and then perpetuating the charade. Silk – of all available colours -, scissors, pens, paper, a large mirror, bird feed, several carrier pigeons, common clothing, hair dye and gel, a camera, a few flash bulbs, a desk, candles, matches, and, of course, food.
Third, gather info about the boyfriend. His likes, dislikes, quirks, habits, appearance, and so forth. Cyan had to be very careful in this regard, as Maranda was not the largest of towns, and gossip about this person or that travelled quickly. Eventually, he managed to persuade most people he accosted that he was compiling a sort of town roster that would eventually detail general information about every person in Maranda. Most people he told of his plan found it curiously eccentric, but went along with it anyway. Cyan even managed to discover a few tidbits from the girlfriend herself, though in her case he took pains to disguise himself.
Fourth, set everything into motion. Over the span of two weeks, Cyan slowly but surely moved his new acquisitions – via Chocobo-drawn cart – to the mountains. He managed the somewhat considerable expense of the entire endeavour by killing any monsters he happened upon during his journeys. Soon, his own little office and home was set up, complete with provisions, furniture, and a chest for his own personal effects.
Cyan had, during the third phase, managed to procure a picture of the young man in question via the town librarian. He had evidently been quite the go-getter: member of the local soccer team, son of a chocobo breeder and gaining his own reputation in the field, winner of a great many school awards, and, of course, conscript in the Empire. The photo was of the young man, decked out in his fancy new armour, looking incredibly miserable. He was moments away from being led off to serve in the army.
He looked so very distraught. Cyan could only imagine what was going through his mind at that moment, that moment which was now caught in all its static agony.
Fetching his mirror, Cyan cut his hair. He trimmed it nicely and neatly, parting it down the middle, allowing formerly restrained bangs to flow forward. It all puffed up nicely on his skull. His long, flowing tresses fell to the floor in large clumps. It had been ages since he'd last cut his hair.
Then he attempted to dye it. Dumping a full bucket of water on his head, he initiated the slow, arduous process. Dye was a new element in the world, only recently created, and Cyan seemed rather inherently to distrust the entire process. His concerns came with good reason: twenty minutes into the whole ordeal his scalp began to itch violently, enlightening Cyan to the fact that he was allergic to whatever goop he'd just put on his head. His legs began to flail about instinctively, dashing him around his tiny cave dwelling madly, until he got it into his head to dunk himself in the second bucket of water he'd put aside for just such an emergency. Unfortunately, the water seemed to make things even worse, and the itching would not subside for nearly an hour. Upon inspecting his head when the feeling had worn off, Cyan noticed a considerable rash spreading across the skin below his hair. He cursed most violently, and for some time.
Soon after, he realized that the camera only took photographs in black and white, and renewed his cursing. It would not be until nightfall that Cyan, under a candlelit vigil, decided to end his pained sulking and begin his efforts anew. He tried on his clothes; carefully sorted out his hair by hand, as he'd forgotten to buy a comb; carefully clipped off his moustache; and, so as to disguise himself further, smudged dirt on his face.
His work completed, he snatched up the photo, studying the young man. The man he was trying desperately, for the happiness of one sorrowful woman, to imitate. And then he gazed upon his own reflection in his mirror, comparing both visages.
They looked nothing alike. The young man had a squat head, while Cyan's was far more ovular. Cyan was too tall. His face was far too worn, aged through years of battle and concern. Even after a year of hardship, Cyan knew her boyfriend would still have looked rather fresh-faced. It wouldn't work.
Cyan took a picture anyway, blinding himself with the flash. Despite the supernova in his eyes, however, he could tell just from looking and comparing the two photos that the girl would not fall for it.
And what if she did? What then? Would she take the letter, and the photo with it, and feel the urge to rush to her beloved's side? Surely, simply telling her to stay put would not restrain her. Would she run to ruined Mobliz, where she would likely only encounter profound disappointment and despair? Would Cyan go and intercept her there, and tell her the truth, only for her to think him scum? Or would she just die along the way, killed by voracious demons?
What had he expected out of all this?
Cyan crumpled the fresh picture. He sank against the side of his hovel-like dwelling and sobbed, wishing that his wife and son were there to make things right again.
Just what the hell had he expected to do?
Lola, as always, rose early. She pushed her way out of bed, staggering sleepily to the kitchen. Her mind flashed briefly to her boyfriend – it always did, frankly – but soon jumped, just as quickly, to other matters.
Breakfast was at the top of her list. A small, aching knot in her stomach informed Lola that it was time to eat. Gazing out her wide kitchen window, eyes travelling up to the twilight sky, she distractedly grabbed a loaf of bread and slid two pieces into her small oven. Toast sounded good. She set the knob for five minutes and let the bread brown steadily as she let her thoughts wander, simply looking out the window. A vacant stairway lay some distance from her home.
There had been a man in her view, so many times, just sitting on the steps she gazed upon now. He had always seemed so lost in thought, brow knitted in concentration, as though her were searching desperately for both a question and an answer. She'd even talked to him – once – but didn't believe for a second his alibi of creating a list of town members. He'd always just seemed lost.
She sighed. Even that man was gone now. Most women probably would have thought him some kind of stalker, as it was obvious he was looking at her house: Lola, however, merely missed his presence. Too many things had changed in the world; now she'd just lost another fixture of life.
Her thoughts threatened to dip back into the greatest loss of her few years when a tapping sounded on her windowpane. She blinked, a little confused, and the incessant summons repeated itself. She gazed upon the source to find a snowy white pigeon perched on her sill. It had a small bundle attached to its leg, one it looked in a hurry to be rid of.
She opened the window. The pigeon hopped in, dragging its burden behind it. Working delicately – a capability she would have thought beyond her, so sleepy as she was – Lola worked the string off of the little bird's leg, and snagged its package. The bird simply waited on the sill, completely domesticated and friendly towards humans.
Lola observed the thin, rolled parcel she had just received. It was a letter. The writing was high and thin, very neatly done, and almost artistic in construction.
Cyan sat in the dark, still pondering his choice. One hand idly fed his remaining carrier pigeon some choice grain. Why had he? Was it to amend something? She probably wouldn't believe it. She would probably, in fact, feel highly insulted. What had he been thinking?
"Oh, mine head is plagued with demons." He sighed and set the pigeon gently aside, leaving its food on a soft piece of cloth for it to nibble at. He strode out of his cavern, kicking his discarded camera out of the way. He'd sent no photograph. The thing was now as it had always been, a technological piece of junk, and of no use to the knight.
She probably wouldn't even write back. Cyan sighed again, deeply, eyes watching the receding sun.
The returning pigeon landed, almost silently, on his shoulder, and it took Cyan a moment to register its existence. He blinked in surprise – especially upon noting that it bore a letter. And it was not his own, for the paper he wrote on had a yellowed tinge to it. He'd chosen as such to simulate the supposedly poor conditions in Mobliz.
Carefully unwinding the string from his bird's leg, he unfurled the note, perusing its contents.
After several minutes, a disbelieving and somewhat rueful smile blossomed on his lips.
"I think," he considered thoughtfully to himself, "that it be time to implement step five: flowers."
NOTE: You know, I'm not sure at all what my opinion is on this one. It's not good, or great, or fantastic; nor is it dull, or bad, or horrible. It simply is, in my mind. Go figure.