A/N: I know I haven't been updating much of anything lately, but now that I've finished the Forever Strong series, I have to admit... I feel very weird and exposed when writing. It's not like I'm writing in the nude (though I plan on doing that someday before I die XD), I just feel like a good chunk of me is missing.
Post-note: It's done, complete with an ending fit to end any horror story (I should hope). While it certainly was not my best work, I still am proud of it nonetheless, I s'pose. Oh, and I am aware of how inaccurate my Japanese may be, but live with it. XP
Sheena immediately perked up. "Zelos... did you hear that?"
He blinked, "Hear what?"
Sheena opened her mouth to speak, but quickly shut it in fear of repeating the accursed line, instead saying, "Just... be wary."
Zelos nodded as she pulled back from his arms, but he made sure to keep one hand on her shoulder—just in case. Sheena turned swiftly on her heel, facing the ocean that stretched for miles beyond. It was calm and tranquil as the moon and stars flittered about on its surface, but the waters, once warm, gradually grew chilly with the advancing and receding tide.
"Do you feel it getting colder?" she asked, not waiting for a response. "That's what happens whenever He comes... we've gotta get out of the water!"
Zelos then grabbed her by the wrist and began running for the shore. While she was startled by his sudden action, she pushed that aside as the familiar rush of adrenaline returned to her.
As they splashed recklessly through the water, Sheena began to notice their steps becoming slower and more rigorous with each stride—as if the ground beneath them had begun to erode away. If they stopped, they'd surely be swept up in the currents.
"Hurry! We've got to keep running!" she urged him. However, at her word, he came to a complete stand still and turned defiantly to face the ocean before them. Any trace of tranquility had long since disappeared and a vicious storm now brewed over the horizon; every step taken bringing it closer and closer to the two.
Panic-stricken and obviously perplexed by his unexpected choice of action—or lack thereof—she, too, stopped a-ways from him, prepared to run at a moment's notice. "Zelos, what are you doing? We have to run!"
"No," he stated. His voice was firm and decisive as he boldly stood his ground, the storm ahead flashing brilliantly in his eyes and the wind whipping his hair behind him. "If you want this to end, we have to stay and fight."
"Are you crazy?" she screamed over the howling winds.
He faced her, completely solemn as the storm continued to approach. "Sheena, you may not be proud of whatever may've happened in the past, but you've gotta accept the fact that it did happen. The only reason these nightmares or spirits exist is because they're blinded by their emotions too much to see the truth—they've died!"
Sheena shook her head in disbelief, "That's ridiculous!"
"Maybe so," Zelos said, his gaze returning to the squall roaring in the distance. After a moment, he looked back and stretched out his hand to her. "...But I'd rather try something ridiculous than live the rest of my life in fear. C'mon, let's not run from this one."
She took one last look to the shore before hesitantly stepping closer to him. As she did so, the ground beneath her had already seemed to erode away; regardless Sheena plunged into the artic waters until her hand connected with his. Zelos pulled her up next to him on the thinning land on which he fearlessly stood.
As the storm grew nearer and nearer, the winds howled ever more ferociously, whipping by them like a thousand tiny blades; still they remained firmly planted. Over head, the dark clouds flashed with lightning and cackled with thunder while the cold waves swelled and crashed loudly all around them.
She squeezed her eyes shut and unconsciously clung to him as the peak of the hurricane hurled towards them. It slammed into them without mercy, and she could feel herself starting to slip. Luckily, Zelos still had his footing and managed to hold her tight.
The frigid gusts numbed her body and mind, but in her soul she felt a cold—unfamiliar—apprehension constrict her. Scenes flashed before her eyes, all of which seemed so achingly recognizable, yet she could not place a name to any of them.
But then she saw clips from her life—accepting the task of killing the Chosen of Sylvarant, her various attempts, joining forces with the group from Sylvarant and aiding in the Ritual of Regeneration—all of which instilled a rising anger within her. This rage, too, was foreign. Like a burning inferno, it consumed every emotion that was not malice filled or fiery, leaving her thirsty for revenge like a wild animal. The fire only grew as she witnessed herself successfully making the pacts with Undine, Efreet, Sylph and finally Volt; she couldn't take it any longer, she felt as if she was being consumed by the flames as well.
And in an instant, the fires dispersed in a medley of hundreds of voices.
We can't exist like this...
What good will it serve?
It's only human nature... it's something we must shed...
The ground around them became solid once more as the waves retreated back unto the sea. The flames that had danced about sizzled away, leaving a single pile of dying embers in their wake; everything seemed back to normal... However the line between illusion and reality still seemed blurred as shapes shifted into trees, shrubs and lastly, her comrades asleep around the ashes of the fire.
Sheena picked herself up off the ground slowly, looking at her surroundings.
"Go back to sleep," she heard Zelos say from behind her. "It'll be another couple hours or so before everyone else wakes up."
She did not respond, instead staring at the glowing embers with wonder until they finally became mirthless. Hesitantly, she whispered. "...Do you think it's over?"
"Hmm? What's over?"
She frowned, looking over at him. "You don't remember withstanding the storm? Or..."
He shook his head. "It was probably just a dream. You fell dead asleep after we got out of the ocean—it's been five or so hours since then. Nothing's happened that I know of,"
It didn't make any sense, any of this. In the east, she could see the first light of the sun peeking over the horizon; this was real—it was over. She didn't know how—or why, really—but she knew if she wanted solace, there was still one thing that remained unfinished.
"How long did you say it would be before everyone else woke up?" she asked Zelos, rising to her feet.
"A couple hours," he blinked. "Why?"
She picked up her belongings and headed for the rheairds. "I've got one thing left to do; I'll be back before they wake up."
The sun had scarcely begun its ascent in the eastern sky when she docked her rheaird just outside the village of Mizuho. Naturally, the clan of ninja was already awake and active as those younger than her meditated and sparred against one another in the training grounds behind her.
Sheena paid them no heed as she ventured towards the reservoir before the Isle of Decision, aptly named Kontan no Nai no Kosui—or the Lake of Fallen Souls. It was here that they scattered the ashes of those who perished in the Volt incident years ago; it was also where one was to go to seek guidance or forgiveness.
Abiding to the ritual, she lowered onto her knees and offered a prayer unto the fallen. Once finished, she reached for the flowers that surrounded the tarn, plucking one from the earth. Gently, she removed the petals one by one and tossed them unto the waters, uttering a name of one who died in the incident with each petal.
She waited patiently as the petals whimsically floated and waltzed about on the glimmering surface—should any of the petals fall into the depths of the water, it meant she would not be forgiven.
One at a time, the petals drifted back to the shore, devoid of the waters' touch.
Sheena smiled in relief. She retried a small wooden pail lying a few feet from her used as part of the ritual. Carefully, she dipped it into the crisp morning pool until it was filled to the brim, and then poured it over herself. Though the waters were cold, the sent a warm chill through her entire being.
Everything was as it should be, and the spirits were finally calm.
Rest in Peace.