This story is dedicated to Snow Duchess, for her very inspiring story "Bare Necessities", and Elessar, for hinting that maybe I should give it a shot. Thank you both for giving me an opportunity to explore a character who has influenced almost every aspect of my creative life: I hope I haven't wasted it.
Disclaimer: Squaresoft/Square Enix owns all the rights to Final Fantasy VI.
The Purity Of Her Anguish
I am not the woman who is writing this.
The woman who is writing this, the voice I am trying to channel, was never given the chance to exist. She was taken away long before she learned to write, scarcely after she had learned to talk. Her voice was smothered beneath the dreams of others, to which she became a surrogate. They poured the blood of another species into her, and it froze whatever she had left: they bound a sword to her hand, and it coarsened her flesh and spirit alike. All that was left to her was regret, and a vague understanding of what she might have been.
I am no more, and no less, than the product of that feeling.
I remember very little of the past, that time during which she and I coexisted, the time before she died. I remember pain, from overtaxed muscles and sparring wounds: I remember mental exhaustion, from trying too hard to develop abilities that I never should have had. I remember falling asleep during the day and awakening in darkness. I remember crying.
What I cannot remember is the moment when she vanished, and I was the only one left in our body. There is no clear division between the days when I told myself that my life would improve and those during which I became resigned to it. I didn't wake up one morning to find her corpse on the floor: it was not torn from me, like so much else has been before and since. No. The truth of the matter is far more terrifying.
One day, she simply stopped speaking, and I have never heard her again.
Of course, I tried to find her. I searched for her in the pages of books that were taken from me on the pretence of their frivolity: I hoped to find her reflected in the faces of friends who all seemed to vanish as soon as my tutors learned of their existence. When this failed, I turned instead to practice fields and blunted swords: amid the clashing, through the veil of sweat, pain, and blood, I continued to search.
Eventually, though, even the desire to find her became faint, and I was left with no choice but to move on. Like everyone else, I did what I had to in order to survive. I knew nothing but what the Empire, the omnipresent 'They', had told me, so I followed them. I froze what they bade me, cut down what stood in their way. I never thought twice: I did not even ask 'Why'.
That is, until they told me to destroy Maranda.
I left Vector with a full unit of soldiers, most of them equipped with Magitek armour. I remember feeling proud of the fact that I didn't need to rely on such a crutch: I remember the feel of my sword hilt as I caressed it, and the warmth of the chocobo on which I rode. I remember smiling at the thought that I alone had been entrusted with such a task, that I had proven worthy of commanding this small army. I remember vowing that I would not disappoint Gestahl, that not even Kefka would find anything to laugh at when I returned. I remember thinking how happy Leo would be, to see me ride back through the gates of Vector as the conquering heroine, Victory personified. I remember how benevolent, how beautiful, the smile that I imagined on his face was to me.
I will never know if it would have been such in reality.
War is a strange thing. In theory, in the books and the motivational speeches, it sounds glorious, as though it is all confetti and rose petals. No blood is spilled but that of the evil ones, who are so clearly distinct from the rest of us in the eyes of our leaders. On the battlefield, I was told by everyone, one finds the purest elements of human nature, and is forever altered by this contact with them.
Leo told me some variation of this, as well: when he said it, however, it did not sound quite so much like a vision of divinity.
I stood on the outskirts of Maranda the entire time: my boots did not touch one flagstone on the roads that my commands scorched. The actual slaughter is a blur to me now: I can hear my own voice shouting for the soldiers to charge, and see the first of the townspeople vanish in a blast of Bolt Beam. I can smell the sickening mist that seeped from the Item shop's broken windows, the stench of too many herbs burning in unison. I can hear the curses of the single farmer who broke through the front lines and charged me with nothing save a shovel and his courage: immediately thereafter, I see his body shattering bloodlessly on the ground.
As his frozen remains melted, so too did my idealism.
There was a heroine's welcome awaiting me in Vector. Gestahl gave a grand banquet, with me as the guest of honour: Kefka, near the end of the head table, did not make a sound. When the time came, I stood and recited the speech that I had prepared before my departure, though I no longer believed in the glory of war, or in the infallibility of the Empire. It sickened me that the soldiers listening, wolfing down their thin stew at endless tables, swallowed it as easily as they did their food.
I spent a few days by myself after that. Leo came to visit, but I told him I was still tired: when that excuse became too thin, I complained of illness. Even Gestahl came once, and I spent a short time dutifully listening to him extol the virtues of my victory, and the gains it had brought us. I listened to the words I had worked my whole life to hear, and heard only that farmer's last cry of rage before he was silenced by my glacial reflexes.
It was only then that I realized what had killed the girl I had been.
Shortly thereafter, I escaped from Vector. I put on my sword belt and travelling cape, packed some Potions, Ethers, and gold, and told the palace Guardian that I was going to Tzen to inquire about a sword I was having made by a blacksmith there. Instead, I went to Albrook, and bought passage to South Figaro aboard a merchant liner. When the captain recognized me, I gave him all the gold I had brought with me in exchange for the promise of his silence.
When we docked at Figaro, there were at least three squadrons of infantry waiting, supported by two Magitek soldiers. I did not resist, even when they chained me in the basement of the largest mansion in town, though I could have used my magic to do so more than once. I was tired of fighting.
I said nothing in my defence during my interrogation, even when the threat of execution began to be whispered among the guards while they thought me asleep. From the officials who questioned me, I learned that Kefka had taken advantage of my flight to plant documents in my chambers that implicated me as a spy for the Returners, and that Gestahl had ordered me treated as any other traitor. If I had had the strength, I would have laughed at the absurdity of it. I, who had all but extinguished myself in the service of the Empire, was to be killed for trying to destroy it on the word of a madman, when all I had done was dare to search for myself outside its rapidly-expanding borders. It was unfair, nothing like the justice that I had tricked myself into thinking I served for so long, and I began to see death not only as a consequence of, but a release from the consciousness of my own stupidity.
And then, he came, dressed in merchant's clothing, and you know the rest already.
I have travelled the world, and seen many things. I have been welcomed back into the Empire's fold, only to be betrayed once again, this time at Gestahl's side instead of at his hands. I have fought alongside a woman for whom Magic is as natural as breathing: I have held Magicite in my hands, and absorbed the power of yet more Espers. I have come face to face with the hatred of the institution I once served, borne its wrath as no more than I deserved. I have battled countless monsters, and become guilty of the crime for which Kefka framed me, all in the furthering of that one, purest element of human nature: the instinct to survive.
Through it all, I have been unable to find her, the girl who died in my cell of a room all those years ago. No matter how many continents I explore, how many monsters I cut open, how many people I allow to spit at my face, I never will. I know that now: she is dead, and gone, without a single trace. I did not dredge up the painful memories recorded in these pages because I believed they would lead me back to her: I did it because I thought that she should have a proper tomb, like Leo. She was good, like him; she was innocent, like he was not. She deserves it, perhaps even more than he, because she never had a chance at anything more.
It does not matter that laying the dream of her to rest will leave me with nothing worth having.
Tomorrow will probably be the last day that we spend hunting Cactrots in the desert of Maranda, trying to learn the ultimate Magic before we face Kefka. We may even rest at the Inn there, which has been rebuilt more than once since my first visit. The townsfolk tolerate my presence, perhaps because they realize that I am their only chance to be free of the Light of Judgment, but I do not feel comfortable around them. Even if they can forgive me, I am nowhere near being able to forgive myself. I cannot forget the people who were victimized by my naiveté, the Espers who gave their lives to repair the catastrophe that I helped set the stage for. I cannot forget the Esper whose soul I carry alongside my own, or the girl who took my potential for anything deeper than shallow humanity with her into oblivion. I cannot forget anything, and so, I will do the next best thing-- I will tear down the Tower that stands as a monument to the shame of the Empire, to the consequences of my sinful stupidity. Thus shall I atone: it is a fitting end.
Destruction is, after all, what I was bred for.