Flare held his eyes closed against the blank white world that he was soon to die in. He'd been alone for mere seconds, but already his time had run out. The singularity of his own creation continued to pull him back, now with increased intensity. Flare stumbled as he was drug closer to death.
He'd accepted his fate and made peace with it. That didn't change the fact that the prospect of imminent death was terrifying.
The part of Flare that refused to quit made him lunge forward, futilely trying to pull away from the singularity's grasp. His back grew hot as his magic, in the form of pure fire, continued its exodus from his body. He moved a foot forward and then two, but the little momentum he had, slowed as he barely gained an additional inch. The suction grew further, and he was pulled back, losing the distance he'd struggled to achieve. Every muscle in his body grew tight as he resisted the death he knew was coming.
His breathing grew ragged and he became light headed. Blood, hot and sticky stained his tunic red. He'd lost too much. He just wasn't strong enough...
Flare let himself relax. This was it. It was unavoidable, he was going to die.
"Wroff not let Flare die!"
Flare's eyes shot open as the familiar voice boomed around him. The caveman stood to his left and with incredible quickness grabbed Flare by his arms and began to pull him away from the frenzied singularity.
The shock of Wroff's appearance caused Flare's mind to go momentarily blank. The caveman shouldn't have been there. Flare had seen him depart through the Gate back to his own time.
Or had he?
He'd seen the others depart, and he'd said his farewells to Wroff, but had he actually seen the large man go through the Gate? Tearing his eyes away from Wroff's massive form he looked behind him. A lone red Gate still spun.
Wroff hadn't gone through it.
"You can't be here!" Flare yelled. "Dammit Wroff you're going to die! Drop me and go through the Gate!"
Wroff pulled him further toward the red vortex, his muscles straining with the effort. "Wroff not die! Flare not die either!"
Having come so close to the singularity Wroff should have already been trapped, yet it was clear he hadn't been. Then Flare understood. Wroff had no connection with the Chrono Key, nor did he have magic of his own, not even the innate potential for magic. As long as the caveman didn't walk straight into the singularity by his own accord, it could have no power over him.
As they moved further away from the singularity, the force pulling on Flare only grew. Wroff had made it further away than Flare had, but it wasn't enough. "Let go of me and get through your Gate!" Flare yelled frantically. "You can't save me, Wroff! It's just not possible!"
Wroff looked at Flare, his eyes shining with determination. "Wroff strong enough to save friend!"
With a yell of defiance Wroff released his grip on Flare's arms and instead grabbed him around the torso. He let out an agonized scream as his arms were burnt by Flare's fire, but the superior grip gave him the edge he needed to overpower the singularity.
The sickening smell of burning flesh seared Flare's nostrils as he was marched steadily away from the singularity. He started to yell out again for Wroff to let him ago and escape, but his voice caught in his throat as an unparalleled pain pierced him.
Unlike Xavius's soul, which had not fully attached itself to Flare's body, Flare's own soul could not simply get pulled out. It would take death to separate his soul from his body, but the part of Flare's soul which housed his magic had been brought to its limit. The core of Flare's innate power began to rip from his body, rendering his mind blank with pain. Flare's scream mingled with Wroff's.
"WROFF STRONG ENOUGH TO SAVE FRIEND!"
With the final bellow of defiance Wroff stepped backwards into the final red Gate. The world began to spin around Flare, as the already unfathomable pain somehow grew more intense. Flare's mind reached its limit, his scream dropping away into silence as he fell mercifully into unconsciousness. The last vestiges of his magic were torn from his body and soul, flowing into the singularity.
Flare's unconscious body, his soul magicless but intact, instead traveled through the Gate with Wroff.
Summer had come and gone, and if the chilling breeze was any indication, autumn was fading into winter. The cemetery was empty when Refla crested the hilltop and reached his destination.
He carried with him two swords. His own katana, as well as a perfect replica of Crimson Eon.
Flare's tombstone was easy to find, and Refla walked to the empty grave. "Taban thought ye should have this," Refla said, holding the replica out toward the grave. "Because we didn't have yer real sword, he went through all the trouble just to make ye another one, to enshrine yer grave with."
Refla admired the craftsmanship of the blade for a moment, Taban was truly unparalleled at the forge, then he examined the small slit at the tombstone's top surface. The stone had been made from the beginning to hold the katana, but it had taken Taban time to forge the adornment, and it had remained empty until that day.
"The others are all comin' today to pay some more respects to ye," Refla said as he propped the naked blade against the gravestone. "I told 'em that I wanted to come first an' present the blade to ye me self. They all think it's got somethin' to do with me bein' the one who trained ye with the sword, but it's not."
Refla drew his own katana from its scabbard, holding it before the gravestone, he began to unwrap the old gray cloth from its handle. "I just thought ye'd like to have the real thing."
With the cloth gone, Refla admired his sword, the Crimson Eon, for a moment and then slid it into place on top of the tombstone.
He'd once seen a knight's grave decorated in a similar fashion, though, it had been Taban's idea to enshrine Flare's grave in this way. Picking up the replica, Refla slowly began wrapping its handle with the aged cloth. "I guess it's time we had a talk. All these years I've kept a secret from you," Refla said with his natural voice, dropping the accent he'd invented for himself all those years ago. "Part of me wished I could just tell you everything, somehow change your fate. I'm sorry that I couldn't. In the end it just wasn't worth the risk. Xavius had to be beaten, and if I tampered with how events played out, how I knew they were going to happen, then I risked the very real chance of ruining everything that you were fighting for.
"In all of my life I never faced a more difficult decision. I apologize for not being able to do more for you."
Refla breathed in the crisp morning air and stared blankly up at the sky, taking a moment to think. "Everyone thinks that your dead, of course. You're not, but that doesn't change the fact that you got some difficult times ahead of you. You'll wake up in an Ioka tent, together with Wroff, to find that the two of you are both alive and well. He got some bad burns from saving your life, and you lost quite a bit of blood from that sword wound. Still, you're alive, and after wholeheartedly believing that you were going to die, you never feel more thankful for that life.
"Later, you realize that the time stone is gone, dropped, perhaps sucked into the singularity that came so close to being your real grave. Without it you can never go home, never get back to your friends or to Gina. You'll think that you regret living then, and for a while you'll fall into a depression that'll come closer to finishing you off than that damned sorcerer ever did.
"It'll pass. You'll be indebted again to Wroff and his family for pulling you out of it. The Ioka save your life by getting you to realize that you should still have a life, and you'll realize that you were being a hypocrite. That even though with your last words to Gina you told her to live a happy life, that you were doing exactly what you had feared she'd do. Killing yourself with grief, and in doing so, you were dishonoring the memories of all those friends you'd never see again.
"In the end you accepted that you had a new life, and you chose to live it. It took time, but slowly you started over, a new life, and in some ways a new identity. The thing you didn't think would ever happen, happens, and you take a wife. Wroff's sister no less."
Smiling and shaking his head, Refla continued his conversation with the empty grave, "You have to give Rasha credit, she never gave up on you no matter how pathetic you insisted on being. I think you'll be happy to know that you hated yourself a little for taking a wife that wasn't Gina, no matter the circumstances. You'll also be glad to know that you do forgive yourself, and never again fall back into that black depression that almost claimed you before.
"In a way you get to live the life you always wanted. Being a famed warrior, having a family, both a wife and children, that you love. The circumstances, the people, places, and even times, are different, but your life is a pretty good one all the same.
"Then everything changes again. You find another time stone, not even knowing it's really the same one you had all those years ago, and however improbable, time travel is thrust upon you again. Needless to say, you have plenty of adventures both before and after you rediscover time travel, and in the end you finally make it back home, but not in the manner you ever imagined. When you do make your return to Truce, you happen upon yourself as a child, and come to a revelation that shocks you to your core.
"The day you realize who I really was, who you really are, is one of the strangest you'll ever remember. You talk through it with Rasha and both decide that there's really no choice. From then on, you both take new identities. No longer are you Flare and Rasha, but instead Refla and Shara. In some ways this twist of fate is painful, having to watch yourself grow, knowing that the life you want will never be, but it other ways it's wonderful. All those cherished memories get to be relived. Even if you might as well be another person entirely. Watching yourself grow up and mature is a most bizarre experience. Maybe not so odd as an old man talking to his own grave though."
Letting out a guffaw of laughter, Refla turned to look down the hill where three people had begun to make the climb to the cemetery. Gina, Taban, and Lara. The young women only now starting to show signs of their pregnancies. Refla scowled back at the empty grave. "Do ye realize how irresponsible it was to go and leave her with child when ye knew there was a chance ye wouldn't come back?" Refla growled at the tombstone, momentarily reverting back into the comfortable accent of the man he'd become. "I'd 'ave had a mind to slap ye in yer head with a warnin' to leave yer fool pants on, if it wasn't for things I've grown to suspect. Those time traveling heroes the Ioka tell stories about were lead by a young man Ayla used to think was your father, but after hearing his name, 'Crono', I became certain that he's actually your son, my son.
"And I couldn't very well prevent the birth of the man who'll save the future, no matter how irresponsible your choice was, besides, Gina seems truly happy, and she's got friends who'll help her out. I'll never be able to be a proper father to the boy, and in a way it feels more like I'm his grandfather. That'll be the role I play, and one that I think Gina will appreciate. Oh, and Lara's having a baby soon too, again I believe it'll be the girl named Lucca from the Ioka stories, though I'll not be certain until the two choose a name."
As his friends approached Refla grew silent. Together they would pay their respects to Flare, and honor the memory of the friend they all held dear.
Life would continue, as Flare had discovered it always did. Sometimes things didn't happen the way they were expected to, but they always continued to happen all the same. People would age, and change, and grow. They'd make mistakes, and share triumphs. There would always be days of celebration, along with days of tragedy. Time would pass, and people would live their lives, ultimately unaware of how those lives would turn out.
But even with all the uncertainty the future held, Flare knew one thing was for certain.
He had a new generation of heroes to train.
*Author's Note: And here it ends. The fanfiction that's taken me far too long to complete, and for that I must apologize. Hopefully those who stuck through to the end enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. Thank you all.