Epilogue: The Farplane
Arelle led the small party into Guadosalam. Sam walked beside her, chatting lightly about his adventures in the Defense Force. Behind them, Paine and Baralai walked together, holding hands in companionable silence. Lissira brought up the rear, hanging farther back as they approached the Farplane. She had never been here before, and frankly she was a little creeped out by the thought of visiting with the dead. She preferred the Al Bhed theory, that pyreflies reacted with the memories of visitors to create images of loved ones long gone, but her mother didn't believe that. "If that were the case, wouldn't I have seen your father when I came looking for him, all those years ago? I didn't find him here because he was still out in the world." Liss could see the logic in Arelle's reasoning, but she was still reluctant to agree.
Too soon, they had reached the entrance. A glowing barrier hung before them. Arelle paused, then turned around. "Liss, are you ready?"
Liss stepped forward and nodded. She opened her mouth with every intention of saying "Yes," but she found the word "No" popping out instead. Her hand flew to her face in shame at her weakness. "I'm sorry, Mother. I guess I'm just scared."
"There's no need to be afraid," said Baralai. "The Farplane is a blessing. It allows us to find closure when our loved ones pass on." He laid a gentle hand on Liss's shoulder. "Come on. We'll all be with you."
Liss looked at Paine, who nodded, although she also looked a tad nervous. Then Liss turned back to her mother. "Okay," she said. "Let's go." She reached over and took Arelle's hand, and they stepped across the threshold together.
Her first impression was the sound of rushing water. She walked up to the edge of the platform and looked down to see a field of flowers sitting by the side of an endless waterfall. Then she noticed the eerie cries of the pyreflies and shivered. She paused for a moment to look around her. A handful of other pilgrims smiled and nodded to their loved ones. Some cried, but most looked content. Paine and Baralai stood to her left, on the other side of Arelle. Liss took a quick peek, hoping to see her fabled Auntie Kera and Uncle Xan, but to her surprise someone quite different appeared -- the great warrior Nooj. Paine stood perfectly still, hands clasped tightly in front of her. Baralai laid an arm over her shoulders and leaned his head against hers. It was clearly a private moment, and Liss, feeling like an intruder, looked away.
Sam was on Liss's right, talking quietly to a woman and two teenage girls. Liss knew that this was Sam's family, lost in Sin's last attack on Kilika. He and his father had escaped only because they'd traveled to Luca several days earlier to prepare for that year's blitz tournament. She ached to reach out to him, to hug him and make all the pain go away, but Sam had said he would want to be alone.
All possible distractions exhausted, Liss looked back to her mother, who smiled. "Now picture him," said Arelle.
Liss obediently shut her eyes and called up her strongest mental image of her father -- a huge man with graying hair and a scarred face, heavy with stubble, wearing dark glasses, towering over her in the front yard. She heard Arelle gasp, and she opened her eyes.
He hung in the air before her. Not the grizzled, weary veteran she had met briefly as a child, but a vibrant warrior who looked at least twenty years younger. He wore a brilliant red coat over a black armored shirt, one arm left bare, his jet-black hair pulled back but for a few wisps in the front. His face was serious, his eyes -- both of them -- a rusty brown. He did resemble the painting of him as a youth that resided in the Hall of Guardians, but that was like a bad recording in comparison to this image. She stared at him, trying to memorize every feature. Slowly, she began to realize that her mother was talking to the apparition, and tuned in to her words.
"...that I never visited before. Well, not since I knew you were here. But Paine was coming and invited me along. Your niece has grown into quite a woman, very influential in Spira's new military. She's one of their most respected fighters and teachers. I hope Kera and Xan are proud of her. Anyway, I decided it was time -- time to see you again, and for your daughter to meet you. You remember Liss?" She turned to Liss, who found that she had nothing to say.
"Say hello to your father, Lissira," Arelle said gently.
"Hi," she whispered, mouth completely dry. She cleared her throat and tried again. "It's... nice to see you again." And all of a sudden, it was true. So what if this was just some sort of shared hallucination borne of Arelle's memories? Her mother took solace in it, and Liss could take comfort in that. And Liss found herself intrigued by this glimpse of Auron as a young man.
"See how tall she is?" Arelle said. "And you should see her with a sword! She's gone off to the military as well, and by all reports she's becoming a fine fighter herself." She paused, looking over at Liss, as if wondering what to say next.
"Mother? Do you want some time alone?" Liss asked.
Arelle shook her head. "No, please stay." She squeezed her daughter's hand. "Everything I have to say, you can hear." She returned her gaze to the floating specter. "Well, that's why I came. To show you your daughter one more time, and to tell you that I love you. So much, Auron, and I..." Her words trailed off, and Liss could see her struggle with them. When she started to talk again, it was almost a whisper. "That's why I didn't come before, you know. I was working so hard to live without you, even before I knew that you were dead. I was afraid that if I saw you I wouldn't want to keep living, that I would do something rash to join you here. I knew I needed to stay alive for Liss, so I wouldn't risk the temptation. And then you came, and I got you back and lost you forever all at once, and it hurt so much that I couldn't bear the thought of seeing you. But now..." She sighed. "You're here, and you look so peaceful, and happy, and young again -- you seemed so old and tired the last time I saw you, liked you'd aged thirty years." Tentatively, she reached her free hand out toward the vision, as if to touch it, then stopped short, curling her fingers into her palm. "I love you, and I always will." She drew her fist in to her chest and placed it over her heart. "But seeing you like this finally gives me the strength to go on alone. I hope you don't mind." She fell silent, and gazed at him for a few more moments. Then she nodded. "Farewell, my love," she whispered. Then she turned away, looking first at the ground and then at Lissira. "Are you ready, or would you like a few more moments with him?"
Liss surprised herself by saying "I'd like to stay. Just for a little while."
Arelle nodded. "Take your time, darling." She squeezed her hand, then left.
Liss sat on the ground, legs crossed, and looked up at the man who was her father. She lost all track of time as she studied his face, looking for traces of herself and of Paine, wondering what it was about him that made her mother love him so much, that allowed Arelle's feelings to live on for so many years after his passing.
"It's a mystery, sir," she murmured. "I wonder if even you know the answer." She shook her head and stood up. Looking around, she suddenly noticed that she was alone -- Paine and Baralai had left, as had Sam and all the other pilgrims. She turned back to Auron's ghost. "Well, time to go. Nice to see you. I wish I could have the chance to talk with you again. Maybe in the next life." She turned away from the vision to make her way to stairway.
She stopped dead. Had she imagined it? Slowly, almost fearfully, she turned around.
There he was, standing on the platform, looking exactly as he had when she'd first met him: hair shot through with gray, left arm tucked inside his red coat, right eye lost to some long-ago battle.
"Ahh!" Liss jumped back, and turned to run for her mother.
"Please don't," said Auron, in his quiet yet authoritative voice. Liss turned back to him. "She has finally made her peace with me. And that's what I want for her. I doubt that this would help."
Liss considered his words, then nodded. "Okay. But then why--"
"You," he replied. "The fayth owe me, so they gave me solid form, just for a little while, so that I could spend some time with my daughter."
He reached a gloved hand out to Liss. Trembling, she took it. It was solid, the grip strong. "F-Father," she said, haltingly, the title feeling strange in her mouth.
An undecipherable expression passed across his face. "Well. No one has ever called me that before. I... well." He looked her up and down. "You really are tall!"
She smiled a little, and blushed. "I remember saying that to you once." He was taller than she, but not by much -- her memories of a huge man must have been colored by the fact that she'd been much smaller then. But he was incredibly muscular, with impossibly broad shoulders.
Auron chuckled. "So you did." He continued to take her in. Then he sighed softly. "Lissira. I haven't much time. But I want to take this opportunity to do something that no one else can do for you. I want to tell you about your mother." And so he did. As they stood there, father and daughter, holding hands on the Farplane, Auron told Lissira all about Arelle -- what she was like as a little girl, their childhood days in Tzeki, how they fell in love, their stolen moments over the years, the pain and joy they had shared. As he spoke, Liss watched his face, saw it soften at the thought of Arelle, and knew that he loved her still, even in death. Her heart broke for them both.
When he was done, he dropped her hand and reached up to stroke her face gently. "Lissira," he said softly, his deep voice full of sadness, "I'm sorry I wasn't there when you were growing up, that I never had the chance to be a father to you, that I cannot be with you now."
"Oh, Father," said Liss, as tears pricked the corners of her eyes, "but you are with me. Every day. In my heart, and in my sword."
His remaining eye widened. "You carry the sword?"
She nodded, stepping away from him, making room to draw the weapon from its scabbard. She held it at attention in both hands, then turned it flat and presented it to him with a small bow.
Auron reached out carefully and ran his finger along the edge of the blade. "Ah, Masamune. Nice to see it again. You've kept it well honed, and the enchantments seem to be holding. But can you use it?" And he pulled a simple katana from his own back.
Liss straightened and flipped the sword back into battle position. She met his eyes. "Ready," she said. And for a few joyous moments, they dueled. It was immediately obvious to Liss that she was no match for Auron; dead or not, he'd have her bested within moments at his full strength. But she could anticipate his movements, blocking every thrust, forcing every parry. She had never enjoyed swordplay so much, not even fencing with Paine. She found herself regretting his early death more than ever -- there was so much she could have learned from him!
After one last bone-jarring clash of blades, Auron dropped his sword, face crinkling into a smile. "Excellent work, my girl! You do honor to the sword, and to me."
Liss sheathed Masamune and bowed again. "That is all I have ever wanted to do."
He nodded solemnly. Liss was suddenly too overcome with emotion to speak. Instead, she stepped into his arms, laying her head against his broad shoulder with a sigh. He squeezed her tightly, gently kissing her hair, then released her.
"I should go," said Liss. "Goodbye, Father. You can tell the fayth that I owe them one, now."
Auron nodded. "Goodbye, Lissira. Keeping making your mother and me proud."
She turned and walked away.
I clung to physical form long enough to watch her go. This would be my last chance to see my daughter in life, and I wanted to make the most of the moment. "Father." Lissira's voice echoed in my head, simultaneously warming my heart and ripping it to pieces, filling me with regret that I would never know this beautiful young woman.
Still, I was satisfied. My life for hers, and Relle's, and the future of Spira. The trade had been worth making. The world was hers, and nothing could take that away from her. And as she returned to it, walking across the threshold, I stepped backwards and melted back into nothing.
A/N: Thanks to anyone and everyone who made it here with me. This ended up being a much longer journey than I ever expected it to be, and I appreciate you coming along. Special thanks to everyone who ever left a review, either praise or crictism -- especially the criticism, which helped me make many improvements as I continued writing. I write for myself, but it's so gratifying to know that others are enjoying my work, too. See you next time.