This chapter was incredibly difficult to write. Not just the content itself, but the sheer length – 35 full pages, the longest single document I have ever written. Now, after almost three full years of work, it is at last done. My only hope is my usual spelling and grammar slip-ups are at a minimum, and the grand final scene pleases everyone. So, yup, 35 pages, three times as long as previous chapters. Go get a snack, take a bathroom break, and enjoy this final chapter of Shards of Memory.
Shards of Memory
"Thinking of you, wherever you are. We pray for our sorrows to end, and hope that our hearts will blend. Now I will step forward to realize this wish."
"I can see him coming Mama, he's coming!"
Terra smiled as Thomas jumped up and down excitedly. The Falcon was visible on the horizon, the airship descending as it came closer. She was eager to see Setzer, Celes and Edgar again. She wanted to make sure they were safe after all that had happened. She had seen her children in the village and was overjoyed to find them all completely unaware of what had happened. Terra could only surmise that Shinryu had told the truth, that their worlds had been in some sort of time stasis without their Crystals.
She had tried several more times, in private, to manifest her powers. They refused to awaken, and Terra had sadly accepted that once again her Esper self was gone from her. The familiar feeling of being cut off from the world had sunken in, her sixth sense blinded. Though she was genuinely happy to be home, Terra still silently mourned the second loss of her magic.
"Cloud…" she thought, looking up as the Falcon's shadow loomed overhead, the airship slowing to a stop. She wondered again if he had made it home, and if Luneth and Golbez and the others had been fortunate enough to do the same. Shinryu had said he didn't know what would become of Golbez and Jecht, and Terra worried their spirits may have been lost somewhere out there. Cloud and Luneth she could at least be fairly certain they had gotten home successfully.
The Falcon stopped some distance from the ground, its propulsion propellers slowing to keep it hovering in place. The hatch on the bottom of the craft swung open, a steel panel under it sliding up and a rope ladder dropping to the ground from within.
"You first," Terra said, looking down at Thomas. Thomas cheered and ran up to the ladder, scurrying up it quickly. Terra took her time doing the same. She was eager to see her friends, but for some reason a bit reluctant as well. It had been so long. She neared the top and looked up at the hatch.
"Well, come on. Fuel isn't cheap you know, if you're having hesitations we can just leave now," Setzer called down to her, leaning his head out. Terra stared for a moment, but eventually smiled. The wandering gambler was just as she remembered, cloak flapping slightly in the wind, face giving her a slight smile to know he was joking.
"That'll be fine, thank you Setzer," she said, climbing up the rest of the way. Setzer turned to the wall and pressed the control panel to retract the ladder into its holding.
"I stopped to pick up Celes on the way, was gonna go get her on the way back-"
"But she wanted to see me and spend some time with me before we got to Figaro," Terra finished, remembering the conversation from before. Setzer gave her a confused look at the ladder finished retracting and the hatch closed. "I was just thinking the same," Terra explained.
"Yes," Setzer mumbled, still confused.
"Mr. Setzer?" the gambler looking down to see Thomas pull on his coat. "Is it true this is the one and only airship in the world?" he asked. Setzer smirked and knelt down.
"Well, a few old imperial fleet vessels are still kicking around down south, but they don't work mostly so yeah, this is it," he replied. "You're Thomas, aren't you? Terra's told me you've been waiting to fly on this ship."
"Where is Celes?" Terra asked. She was happy to see Setzer, but she really wanted to meet Celes again. The former general was like a big sister to her, and Terra hadn't forgotten the sight of her spirit floating in the Void. Did Celes know anything about what had happened, or was she as oblivious as the rest?
"She's up on the main deck," Setzer said. He looked back down at Thomas. "So, would you like a tour? I'll show you the blackjack table I just bought for the lounge."
"Setzer," Terra said, warning in her voice as she walked to walk towards the ladder that led to the rest of the craft. A humble and a gentle rumble let her know the airship had begun to take flight again. "You are not teaching him to gamble."
"What? It was an innocent question and an equally innocent offer, nothing more, I had no dishonorable intentions," Setzer said defensively. Terra shook her head and climbed the ladder. The Falcon's inner mechanics clanked and turned beneath the catwalk as she walked across it, gears cranking and chains and pulleys turning. On the other end of the catwalk was a door leading deeper into the ship's bowels, and a ladder leading to the lounge area. Terra climbed up it, emerging on the balcony overlooking the gambling tables and bar below. Setzer and Thomas began to climb up after her.
"Go ahead and give Thomas the tour," she said, stepping back to give them room.
"Of course," Setzer agreed. Terra looked at the ladder leading up to the deck of the airship. She approached it and hesitated for a moment before climbing. At the top of the ladder she pressed the small button set in the wall between the rungs, and the hatch overhead retracted. The underside of the Falcon's balloon filled the field of vision above, and the scent of the air changed. Terra climbed up onto the deck, and the airship's pilot turned from the controls.
"Terra!" Celes smiled, approaching her. "Good to see you." Terra stared for a moment, then lunged forward. Celes was caught off guard but stood her ground as Terra embraced her. "Um, hello," she said awkwardly.
"You're safe," Terra whispered. Celes, above the rest, she was worried about. Seeing her spirit in the Void, Terra had no idea what was going to become of her. But the former general, like the rest of her world, seemed to be just as Terra had seen her that fateful day so many months ago.
"Is there any reason I ought not to be?" Celes replied, stepping back. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Terra shook her head. "Everything is fine."
"Barret's going to be coming over later," Tifa said. Cloud was lying on his back on a trolley in the garage, Fenrir mounted up on cinder blocks over his head. "He needs to talk to you about Reeve, sounded important."
"Right," Cloud muttered. He reached his hand out. "Can you grab me that little flashlight off the bench?" Tifa looked over and reached to pick it up. "Thanks," Cloud took it from her and switched it on.
"Need help down there?" Tifa asked, coming around the other side to see him better.
"No, just needed a light," Cloud said. He stuck the small light in his mouth and shined it on the interior of the engine, holding up a loose bit of metal Tifa didn't recognize with one hand and reaching out to grab a screwdriver from beside him with the other.
"Alright. When you finish up there, come in for lunch, between whatever Barret wants and that Mideel delivery you're not going to get much of a dinner," Tifa said, standing up. Cloud made a grunt of acknowledgement, and a few seconds later heard the garage door click closed. He finished tightening the loose screw and began to put the engine back together.
"Feels like I'm going through the motions," he mused, the flashlight between his teeth starting to make his jaw ache. He was still hesitant to accept that everything had just snapped back to how it was before. That in mind, Cloud had decided to change things, as much as he figured he could. He had been working on Fenrir when Barret came to see him the first time, so now he was taking care of it before Barret arrived. He knew it didn't make sense, but it was still somehow putting him at ease, doing things in a different manner than he had done them that day, as if by changing his actions he could avert the events of the past.
Cloud had spent a few minutes trying to manifest his powers, but they didn't. He couldn't conjure anything, and the world was once again closed-off to his senses. He supposed that was to be expected, the powers of light supposedly came from Cosmos and were passed down, now with her and the rest of those involved in the cycle gone, there was nothing to draw power from. Still, Cloud was disappointed. He had liked that power, and had been hoping to keep it. But it likely would have raised too many questions if anyone saw him using said powers here, so perhaps it was for the best.
Other than that, Cloud had begun to re-discover the odd sense of listlessness that came associated with the end of an adventure. It wasn't all that different from when he tried to adjust to a normal life after Sephiroth's defeat at the Northern Crater. Cloud had mixed feelings towards the idea of a 'normal' life, the entire reason his life had taken the course it had was because he wanted to be a famous hero. Now, he didn't much know what he wanted. Looming over his life in the wake of Sephiroth's death there had always been some sort of shadow, an odd sense that there was more, a sense that had been justified when Sephiroth had returned. Even after Sephiroth was slain again and Vincent had taken care of Deepground, he lived his life with anticipation of the next threat coming.
"But there won't be a next threat anymore," Cloud thought. Sephiroth was well and truly gone, he felt it in his bones and his body that his archenemy had died for the final time when he watched him vanish into particles of light. He fears were not going to be realized again, not by any obvious threat anyway, and there was no point fearing what couldn't be anticipated.
"So is this really it? Just a normal life now that all the enemies are dead?" Cloud thought for a moment on the stories he'd heard from his friends. Tidus was living a normal life with his girlfriend, while Firion had taken to travelling the world fighting injustice. The former was confusing, but the latter…Cloud had to admit it didn't sound horrible. He liked being able the world as he did when he ran his deliveries, but the only problem was that with Shinra and Rufus reformed there mostly was no injustices to fight. Unless he cared to fight petty crime there would be no point to doing as Firion had.
"What, then?" Cloud pushed himself and the trolley out from under Fenrir and he stood up. He turned the key and the engine started up, the metallic rattling that had prompted the maintenance was gone. Turning it off again, Cloud wiped his hands and face off with the rag hanging from the handlebars. Walking to his workbench he took a drink from the bottle of water there and turned to lean against the bench, staring at Fenrir.
He wasn't sure he could leave, even if he wanted to. Would it be fair to Tifa, Marlene and Denzel to abandon them? Sure he didn't often see them since he was away on deliveries, but he came home to them, and they were still his family. He didn't want to lose that. But the idea of settling down to a mundane, average lifestyle now…there was something discomforting about it, the thought of him just living out the rest of his life.
"Well, at least I've got plenty of time to think about it. As long as I need," he resolved. Cloud took another drink, and set the bottle down. Another thought occurred to him, and he reached into his pocket. Finding nothing, he began to pull open the drawers on the bench. The second one he tried was locked, and after unlocking it he found two glowing green orbs inside.
"That's right," Cloud remembered, "I grabbed them in preparation to go to Mideel…" picking up the orbs, sensing their energy and identifying them as Thunder and Cure, Cloud looked back in the drawer, confused. He pulled it out as far as it would go. "Fire…"
"Come on, hurry up slowpoke!" Luneth crossed his arms as Arc ran to catch up to him, panting slightly. "Back in our adventuring days you could outrun a Behemoth in your sleep," Luneth teased. Arc stopped in front of him and hunched over, his hands on his knees.
"That was three years ago Luneth," Arc groaned. "You've been exploring all the time ever since, I haven't." Luneth laughed and turned to look over the village sprawling before them. "Why'd you wanna me to come along anyway? We just saw Refia last week."
"Topapa said Takka had something for us to take to him, so I might need help carrying it. It'll do you good to explore more often," Luneth replied. The early morning had gone as he remembered it, the elder telling him the Kazus blacksmith had some special item to be delivered to Ur. Luneth remembered being sent to get it later in the day, and he would be able to take it home by himself, but he wanted Arc along. He wanted to see their band back together again, the four of them united if only for a few minutes. Speaking of which… "By the way, I was thinking of heading up to the castle to see Ingus once we're done here, before we head back to Kazus."
"We can't make the forest in one day," Arc shook his head. "We'll take back whatever Topapa needs and go tomorrow. We can cross between the mountains that way, save a bit of time."
"Fine," Luneth rolled his eyes. He was already considering such anyway, especially since it was getting late and the 'quick' journey from Ur to Kazus had been longer than he had expected. He had made sure his family and friends were safe at home, but he still had to check on the others. "Come on," Luneth waved Arc forward, heading towards the shop marked with a hammer and anvil signing hanging over its door. As they approached an older man in blue overalls emerged.
"Ah, Luneth, Arc!" Takka smiled. "Just in time, we were about to close."
"Hi Takka. You got something for us I hear?" Luneth replied, crossing his arms.
"Refia was just putting the finishing touches on it inside, go take a look, it's pretty impressive," Takka said. "I was heading out back to get some firewood, one of you boys care to help?"
"I will," Arc nodded. Takka grinned and waved Arc around the back of the smithy. Luneth pushed open the door to head inside.
"Luneth!" Refia looked up from a drawing she was examining and stepped back from the desk. "Good to see you," she said, embracing him.
"Same to you," Luneth replied, blushing. Refia pulled back, not noticing his face, and turned to the shop.
"It's back here," she said, leading Luneth into a back room. Luneth followed somewhat apprehensive, knowing what he was going to see already. "There it is," Refia said, standing back to let him in. Luneth walked past her, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat.
A suit of red and gold armor hung on a wooden figure. Luneth approached cautiously and ran a finger over the chest piece. Days ago, he had worn this same armor in battle. The day of the cataclysm, he had come to Kazus to pick up this armor, a tribute to the ancient drawings in the Altar Cave of four legendary knights for the Crystals. Refia had designed it for his measurements and asked him to try it on. He had just barely finished slipping on the helmet when the Crystelle attacked, and he'd been drawn into the other world with it still on when he had woken up.
"I had an artist in the village expand on those old carvings a bit, they weren't very detailed," Refia said behind him as Luneth examined the armor. "We went through two or three versions before we found a design that looked right to us. Topapa had us craft it for your size. Wanna try it on and make sure we got it right?"
"I'm sure it fits fine," Luneth whispered, suddenly overcome by emotion. He had of course been relieved and happy when he saw he was home and everything was back to normal, but seeing the armor here and now, he was suddenly fearful. If he put the armor back on, would the Crystelle rise again? It was irrational, Luneth knew, but it was what he was worried about now.
"Okay. Not sure what Topapa plans to use it for," Refia shrugged, drawing the sword from the sheath on the back of the armor and looking it over. "Maybe you'll be sent out into the world to fight evil again, this time as the legendary 'Onion Knight', hm?" she teased.
"Yeah…" Luneth shrugged. He watched Refia give the yellow blade a few practice swings before she returned it to the armor, and thought back to his conversation with Terra the night before the final battle. He'd been trying to work up the confidence for this for a few months, before the cataclysm that is. Now with all he had been through… "Refia?"
"Hm?" the redhead replied, brushing off the chest of the armor.
"I was thinking if, maybe sometime soon, you'd want to ride the airship," Luneth said.
"I'd love to!" Refia smiled, looking over at him. "Where'd you want to go?"
"Nowhere in particular, just flying around, enjoying the sights," Luneth replied.
"Sure then. It'll be good to see Cid again."
"Not with Cid. Just me," Luneth clarified, realizing he had phrased his question poorly. Refia's hand slowed, and she gave Luneth a curious look.
"Luneth, are you trying to ask me on some sort of private airship ride?" she turned around. "Some sort of romanticairship ride?"
"W-What? Ah, I mean, no, no!" Luneth said quickly, shaking his head and looking at his feet to avoid her eyes. "I just meant as friends, um, you know, since I don't see you often anymore, and uh, well…"
"Oh," Refia said. Luneth lifted his head to see her standing right in front of him, hands clasped behind her back. Luneth stumbled back at the close proximity, his back hitting the wall. "Becaaaauuuuse, if you were asking something like that," Refia said, taking a single long step to close the distance again. "I would say yes." Giggling at his wide eyes, she leaned in to plant a kiss on his cheek, then slipped out the door back to the main shop. Luneth blinked, his face red as her hair, and touched his cheek where her lips had been.
"The Dollet people are experiencing a sudden rise in monster attacks, they don't have much in way of paying, but it could be a nice goodwill act. A lot of people are still suspicious of SeeD after the war," Quistis said, reading off a clipboard.
"Right," Cid mused, lifting a hand to his face. "Are the monsters particularly strong?"
"Doesn't say, but given the region it's unlikely," Quistis replied.
"Hm, could be a good training exercise for the cadets, if we send them with some official SeeDs for supervision. Squall, what do you think?" Cid looked up at the Garden commander. Squall was staring off into space, his face blank. "Squall?" Cid repeated. Quistis slipped a hand under his face and snapped her fingers. Squall jerked slightly and turned to her.
"What?" he said, irritated.
"Have you been paying attention?" Quistis asked suspiciously. "Dollet has asked for help with some monster attacks. Cid suggested sending some SeeD members with cadets to clean it up."
"…sounds fine," Squall nodded. "Zell's been getting antsy lately, could send him. We keep him around here with nothing to do and he'll end up getting on the wrong person's nerves."
"You want Rinoa with them too?" Quistis said.
"Rinoa…" Squall's girlfriend – he had never gotten used to the idea, but it was an accurate description of their relationship – had joined SeeD shortly after the second Sorceress War. She said it was to be closer to him and learn to take care of herself better. Squall didn't see the point, but he knew there was no point arguing since everyone else had thought it was a great idea. He sometimes wondered what the point of his position was when he instantly yielded to the opinions of his friends regardless of his own thoughts on the matter. Cid had jokingly said that this was precisely the point, he knew the most famous SeeD members personally and could take their opinions at a level that Cid himself couldn't.
"You've only sent her on a single mission since she joined, and she's starting to get suspicious if you're sheltering her or not," Cid reminded.
"That's not it, with her Sorceress powers she doesn't need to be any stronger, she's just a distraction here, making me worry about her for no reason," Squall thought. What he said was, "I know. If she's okay with going, she'll go. Quistis, you mind helping Zell keep an eye on them?" "Can help keep an eye on Zell too."
"Sure," Quistis nodded. "Also, Headmaster, we've gotten word from Trabia, they're asking if we could send them more funds for the re-construction effort. Galbadia has already allocated as much as they can spare for this month."
"I'll look at our budget, depends on how much the Dollet transportation costs run us," Cid nodded. "It isn't easy getting materials out there even with Esthar's technology. And we still haven't found a suitable Headmaster for them, Selphie can't run that place forever. I told her it would be simpler to just send the students to Balamb or Galbadia."
"They've got their pride to hold onto, not gonna happen," Squall shook his head. He was paying half-attention now, mostly so Quistis wouldn't bother him again as he thought. He wanted to go off and find Rinoa, see her again after coming home. He knew she was somewhere on the grounds, but duty called, the Headmaster and the Commander needed to go over the day's business in the morning before personal matters could be addressed.
"There's one other matter…" Quistis mumbled the comment slightly, and Squall's attention perked. She always read in a clear voice, she only mumbled when the topic of discussion was a particular former cadet. "Winhill has complained the three SeeDs we sent them to help with their monster patrols are overcharging them."
"Winhill?" Cid was confused. "We never sent any SeeDs to…" suddenly he realized what the message meant, and sighed. "I thought we told those three to stop calling themselves SeeD."
"We did. Seifer's response was quite eloquent, as I recall," Quistis confirmed. "We could send another squad to talk to him, use force this time if needed. This is the third time this month those three are doing business pretending to be SeeD."
"They causing trouble?" Squall asked. A part of him itched to track down his old rival again. The memory of Seifer's body in that glowing purple bubble was now fresh in his mind. The idea that Seifer could have been called to serve Chaos in Ultimecia's place was unsettling. He knew that Seifer had matured a bit since the Sorceress war, he had stuck around Balamb Garden for a few weeks and everyone was surprised by his change in behaviour, but eventually he took off with Fuiji and Raijin declaring he had no business with Garden anymore. Had Seifer gone back to his old ways, that he was suitable to serve Chaos? If so, Squall had to deal with it before Seifer did something drastic.
"Not that we've heard, aside from the usual rudeness and the mentioned overcharging," Quistis said.
"I'll get a message together to be sent, we're calling them in. I'll talk to them personally," Squall said. He wanted to see Seifer in person, see for himself how he was. All the reprimands from Garden had come from Cid or Martine, and once Martine had sent a trio of SeeDs lead by Irvine to speak to Seifer, but they had been ignored. However Seifer wouldn't be able to ignore a personal summons from Squall, his ego wouldn't allow it. At least, Squall hoped that was how it would be. There was a knock at the door, and the three turned their heads.
"Hello?" Rinoa stuck her head through the door. "Am I interrupting?"
"Actually we're just finishing," Quistis smiled. "Here to see Squall I assume?"
"If he doesn't mind," Rinoa said, giving him a coy look. Squall rolled his eyes. Inwardly though he was happy she had decided to seek him out, saved him the trouble of finding her instead.
"Yes, well, as Quistis said we're done here. I have business to attend to in the city, I trust you two can handle the Garden in my absence," Cid said, standing up. Squall and Quistis stood up as well and stood at attention and raised their hands in salute. Rinoa moved out of Cid's way at the door, nodding at him as he passed. Squall watched with a combination of amusement and exasperation – Rinoa had never picked up standing at attention and saluting to superiors in Garden. Squall had explained it to her four times, he wasn't sure if she didn't care or was forgetting.
"I'll just show myself out," Quistis said, stepping around the table. She closed the door behind her, leaving Rinoa and Squall alone.
"What?" Squall asked, turning to her.
"Do I need a reason to see my boyfriend?" Rinoa said, feigning being hurt. Squall didn't buy it, and after a few moments she dropped the act, switching into what Squall had silently dubbed 'serious mode'. Though he supposed it would be more accurate to use the word 'stubborn'. "I want to know why you haven't sent me on any field missions in three months," Rinoa said. "Everyone else gets one almost every month, I've had one."
"We were just discussing that," Squall muttered. "You're being sent to Dollet, monster attacks. Zell and Quistis will supervise."
"Really?" Rinoa asked, surprised. She regained her composure and nodded, a satisfied look on her face. "Good. Glad to know you appreciate my talents around here."
"I always appreciate having you here," Squall whispered. Rinoa reached up to his shoulder and pulled herself up to kiss him. Squall knew she liked it when he was more open about his affections for her, even if it was just in private.
"So, when are we going to be able to spend some time together, Mr. Commander?" she teased. "It's been a week since I've been able to talk to you outside the Garden."
"I'll talk to Cid, when you return from Dollet I could probably slip out for a few hours," Squall replied.
"Great, see you then!" Rinoa grinned, planting another short kiss on his lips then turning and almost skipping out of the room. Squall watched her go unable to stop himself from smiling. He hadn't realized until now how much he had really missed her in that other world.
"Good to be home…"
Bartz grunted and pulled himself up the cliff face, his muscles straining. Looking up to see how much further he had to go, he called on the last of his strength and pulled himself up again, his hand finding the ledge he had spotted earlier. Bartz climbed to safety and took a moment to catch his breath. He looked at the climbing hook snagged on the rocks and grabbed it, pulling his bundle of supplies up to him. Several feet away the ledge twisted further up to a cave.
"Snack time," he said between breaths, untying the bundle and taking out some preserved meat. He bit into it eagerly, his stomach rumbling. The adventurer remembered being hungry at this particular point when he had lived through this day before. It was odd how well he remembered the day of the cataclysm when at the time events had been a blur. There was a sudden earthquake, a rock slide, and the sight of Crystelle before he fell down the mountain and blacked out.
Bartz supposed he was different from the other Warriors of Cosmos. He was used to being on an adventure, not seeing his friends for a long time, and inversely meeting lots of new people. He missed the nine of course, especially Zidane who had been one of the best friends he'd ever had. But Bartz had learned to move on quickly. It was the nature of the life he lived, he never knew what was going to come next and when things would change. That was how he liked it.
"Now, if I remember all this right, the treasure should be in that cave," Bartz thought aloud, reaching for his canteen. He had asked Faris to ferry him to a mountain in the east near the old Ronka Ruins, words of a powerful sword lying buried deep within it. Bartz had found the weapon the first time he had lived through this day, and used it to fight off a handful of Crystelle before he slipped off the path and was transported to the other world while unconscious. Thus he knew exactly where he was going, it was just a matter of retracing his steps. Finishing his meal, Bartz took another drink from his canteen and then packed up. Carefully standing up on the narrow ledge, he slowly edged towards the cave entrance and ducked inside. As he recalled it was dimly lit from slightly luminous yellow crystals lining the inside.
"Okay, I don't remember any monsters in here the first time," he mused, following the path as it sloped down into the mountain. The path was narrow, and Bartz had to turn to the side in some areas to squeeze through. The slope also grew steeper, forcing him to take careful steps to keep his footing. Finally the path widened into a cavern, and Bartz took a moment to rest. At the opposite end of the cavern, sitting half-buried in dirt and dust, a treasure chest lay.
"Score," he grinned, approaching it. Bartz hefted up the lid, his grin growing wider. Just as he'd found it before. Bartz reached into the chest and withdrew the Brave Blade, the red sword glowing in the light of the cavern's crystals. He gave the sword a few practice swings. When he had been called to serve Cosmos, she had granted back to him the abilities of the crystal shards Bartz had taken years ago. He had taken back the forgotten art of mimicry, able to manifest the weapons of his comrades in battle at a whim. Thinking back, the adventurer wasn't sure why he chose that specific skill, when he had mastered an assorted variety of fighting techniques in the past, both with magic and weaponry.
"Time to go," Bartz said, unsheathing the sword on his back. It was just a simple iron blade, nothing special, and he tossed it away to store the Brave Blade in its place. It was a bit loose but it would do for now. He turned and began to make his way back up the steep ramp down into the cave. Much as he had the first time he'd come there, he wondered how it was that such a powerful weapon came to be hidden here. He was sure the scholars at the Library of the Ancients would know more about this place, if he could get over to them to talk to them. Struck by an idea as he emerged back at the top of the passage, Bartz drew the Brave Blade and looked around.
"No reason I can't grab another souvenir, for them," he said. Finding an appropriate target, the mime sliced the blade at a larger piece of crystal protruding from the wall. The crystal fell to the ground, and he knelt to pick it up. The crystal piece didn't glow as brightly as before, the stub he had cut it from was still emitting the same light though. Bartz looked the crystal over a bit. From the right angle, with its color and glow, it reminded him of Zidane's Crystal. Bartz let out a small sigh and tucked it into his pocket.
"That one'll be for me." He found another crystal shard and cut it apart to take to the library. The other he resolved to keep a reminder of the good friend he had made from another world. Bartz left the cavern and tied his climbing rope around a rock, lowering the bundle of supplies tied to the end down the edge.
"See ya around, Zidane. Maybe," he thought as he began climbing down. "It was a fun adventure."
Cecil ran his hand along the cool stone wall of the stairwell to his tower. He was still somewhat in shock, the full realization that his family was safe and he was home with them again not yet dawning on him. He had seen Rosa that morning, waking up to see her lovely face framed by the morning sun through their window, and though Ceodore was away from Baron on an errand with Kain and the Red Wings, Cecil remembered from his first time living through this day they would return soon. He was eager to see them, his son and best friend. His family could truly be reunited.
"Well…perhaps not fully," Cecil thought. He had hoped when he had begun to vanish that somehow Golbez would find his way back to their world, and perhaps when he awoke he could search the castle and find his brother waiting for him in some chamber or another. But there was no sign of Golbez, and he had been keeping an eye and an ear out for him. Shinryu had said Golbez's fate was unknown to even one as powerful as the dragon, yet Cecil had hoped. He believed Golbez's words the prior night, that he would consider returning with Cecil to their world. Was Golbez simply unable to accept his offer due to whatever circumstances he found himself in when the world collapsed, or did he choose not to accept it after all and sank back into death? Cecil decided he would likely never know.
"I cannot think such thoughts. This should be a joyous time for me," he decided. He of course mourned Golbez's second death and the loss of his brother for the third time, but there was more reason to be happy with the day than to be dismayed. He was home, he had woken up to the sight of his wife for the first time in months, and soon his son and rival would return. Cecil had plans to speak to the castle's cook that day to arrange a feast. His family would likely be confused, but Cecil could excuse it away as some celebratory meal for the return of Ceodore and Kain. He would also have to speak to Rosa and see if he could arrange for her or some other noble to oversee the kingdom for a day or two while he took out an airship. He wanted to reacquaint himself with the world and the comrades he had living in other kingdoms and villages, even if only for a short time he wanted to see them.
Cecil reached the bottom of the stairs and pushed open the door to the west courtyard. Three guards ran past in the company of a black mage, narrowly missing him.
"What's going on?" Cecil asked. The guard in the back turned to him and quickly snapped to attention and saluted.
"Apologies for our rudeness, sire, urgent business in the prisons," the guard reported. "We've apprehended a man who was making a ruckus in town, but he's a bit hard to detain."
"I see. Carry on, see that he isn't harmed too greatly," Cecil nodded. The guard returned the gesture and ran off, entering the door that led to the prisons under the castle. Cecil looked up at the tower that housed his room and wondered where Cid was. He couldn't recall from the memories of the day when he had lived it the first time, but he thought perhaps Cid was with the dwarfs. He remembered the old engineer setting off in his airship approximately the same time Kain and Ceodore departed, perhaps a day or two earlier, but he didn't remember the destination.
"Let go of me!"
Cecil frowned and turned his head. A faint but unmistakable voice protesting, muffled somehow. He heard a clash of metal, and quickly realized where the sounds were coming from. Throwing open the door to the prison, Cecil descended the stairs, hearing more shouts and the sounds of a struggle.
"Recast the binding!" a call came.
"I can't hold him much longer!" a second voice said. Cecil rounded the corner, and stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening. The black mage he had seen earlier was holding out her hands focusing energy into a line of energy along the floor in front of her, a thin blue barrier rising from it. A guard lay unconscious slumped against the wall, five more holding chains attached to cuffs on the prisoner's wrists, trying to pull him towards a cell. Cecil ignored all of this, his eyes fixed on the prisoner himself as he tried to pull himself back.
"Brother!" he shouted. The assembled group turned to him, and the prisoner stilled. Golbez, still clad in his kilt and cloak
"Release him, now!" Cecil ordered. The guards looked between their king and their captive, confused.
"Sire, this man–"
"Get those chains off his wrists or I'll remove you from your posts and do it myself!" Cecil said, growing angry. The guards rushed to action now, one of them unlocking the cuff on Golbez's left wrist and tossing the keys to the others to unlock the right. Cecil approached them as they worked, stopping before Golbez as he was released.
"Brother…" Golbez whispered, watching Cecil intently. To Cecil's surprise, it was Golbez who made the first move, stooping down to embrace him. The younger brother returned the elder's embrace.
"How did you come here?" Cecil asked as Golbez stood back up. Before he could answer, Cecil held a hand up to silence him. "No, this is not nearly the place." He turned to the guards. "Tell the cook to prepare a meal, immediately, and to expect us shortly."
"Yes, sire!" the guards nodded, running off.
"Can you walk, did they hurt you?" Cecil asked.
"I am fine," Golbez replied. "And this meal you have ordered entices me."
"Share it with me, and I hope you'll return the hospitality by sharing an explanation," Cecil said, gesturing with his arm. Golbez nodded.
"I shall explain what I can," he said, following Cecil out of the prison. "I awoke on the shores of the beach to the east, when I went to Baron to discover what was happening, I was still disoriented and knocked over a guard. They brought me here."
"My apologies, they didn't know any better," Cecil mused, heading up the stairs.
"Nay, which is why I do not blame them, they were only doing their duty," Golbez responded. The two emerged into the courtyard, and Golbez stopped.
"What is it?" Cecil asked, noticing.
"Painful memories. Fleeting when I came here last. Now, clear as day," Golbez muttered, looking around.
"You will learn to cope with them, as we all learn to shoulder our burdens," Cecil soothed. "Besides, I intend to see to it you have no choice." Golbez looked at him quizzically, and Cecil smiled. "I would see that you spend a great deal of time here." Golbez chuckled slightly, and for the first time he could remember, Cecil thought he saw some of the troubled clouds behind his brother's eyes clear.
"I would not mind that."
Tidus stretched out his arms as he surfaced from the small lake in the Besaid woods. After travelling with his comrades to fight the forces of Chaos for so long, he had been surprised to realize just how much he missed the water. After getting back and making sure his friends were alright, the first thing he had been able to think of was going for a swim. Tidus supposed that was a consequence of being raised in the blitzball lifestyle.
"Trained ever since day one…guess you really meant it when you said that was your dream, huh dad?" he thought, looking up at the sky. Tidus had to admit he was disappointed his father hadn't survived the war between Chaos and Cosmos. His father had been robbed of his life by Sin, the same way he had, but Tidus got a second chance to return. Didn't Jecht deserve the same? Tidus's train of thought was broken by a head of light brown hair bursting up through the water's surface.
"I told you I could do it," Yuna said with a smile, gasping. Tidus returned the gesture. He'd wagered she couldn't swim to the other end of the lake and back without going up for a breath.
"Yup, proved me wrong," he agreed. He had been surprised when he returned to Spira to learn Yuna had begun to learn blitzball in his absence, her sphere hunting group even taking the place of the Aurochs in a tournament. Tidus had eventually left the Aurochs to return to Wakka's leadership to captain Yuna's Gullwings. The two teams had a friendly rivalry as a result of their captains being such close friends. The Gullwings had taken the championship last year and were looking to do it again this year.
"I'll bet I could probably make it faster than you," Yuna mused, drawing Tidus out of his thoughts.
"As if, you forget you're talking to the ace of the league here," he said with a grin.
"I've been improving a lot since you let me move up to a fielder position. Don't underestimate me," Yuna warned.
"I never have," Tidus said softly. Yuna's challenging smirk shifted into a tender smile, and she dove under the water. Tidus let out a small growl and ducked after her, irritating his girlfriend had taken a head start when he wasn't ready. He quickly noticed that while he was catching up, he wasn't doing it all that quickly, and pushed himself faster.
"She's been training more than she's let on," he realized. "I thought she was improving a lot faster than the others during our training sessions." Yuna took to blitzball surprisingly easy, having excellent reflexes and being aware of other players even if they weren't in her immediate view. She would probably become one of the league's best players if she could take tackles better. Tidus liked that idea, training his girlfriend to be an ace player and the two of them dominating the blitz tournaments together.
"Training her to be an ace," he thought as he saw her reach the end of the lake and turn, only feet ahead of him. Tidus kicked off the dirt and pushed himself after her. Yuna's legs began to pass by his head, but he was unable to catch up and Yuna surfaced at the far edge of the lake.
"I told you," she laughed as Tidus came up beside her.
"You cheated, I wasn't ready," he grumbled.
"Hey, what's that thing you keep telling the team?" the former summoner teased. "When a true blitzer squares off with his opponent, he's gotta be ready for anything." Tidus stared at her for a moment, then splashed her and began to climb onto the shore. Yuna sputtered and glared up at him, stretching out her hand to grab the back of his pants and pulling him back into the water. She giggled and got out as Tidus thrashed for a moment, trying to regain his bearings at the unexpected attack.
"That's not fair!" he sputtered as he climbed after her, Yuna already vanished down the path back to the village. Tidus let out a small growl and started after her. Judging from the sun it was around lunch time anyway, and he was getting hungry.
"Tidus!" Tidus jerked at the sudden call of his name and saw Yuna running towards him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, speeding up.
"It's...Wakka was coming to find use, he's…at the beach," Yuna hesitated. "Tidus…"
"What is it?" he yelled, confused.
"You need to go see for yourself," Yuna said, biting her lip. Tidus looked at her strangely, then ran down the path and through the village. As he ran through he passed by Wakka standing at the door of his house talking to Lulu, the two turning as he passed. Tidus neared the beach when he suddenly heard shouting and tried to pick up the pace.
"I told ya I'm fine, hands off!"
Tidus's eyes widened, the bend turning to the beach. That voice….
"Dad!" he called, rounding the bend. Tidus halted, his suspicions confirmed. Letty and Botta were standing slightly to the side as Jecht shakily stepped out of the surf, holding his head. The rest of the Aurochs stood watching, whispering between themselves. Jecht looked up and caught sight of Tidus.
"Whoa…must 'ave hit my head pretty hard back there," he mumbled, coming towards Tidus. His eyes flickered around, disoriented, before locking on his son while still half-closed. "Wha…? T…Tidus?"
"Dad…" Tidus slowly walked forward until he was in front of Jecht, the older blitzball player stumbling a bit, his head low between his hands.
"This ain't a dream or something, is it?" Jecht muttered. "Because my head is pounding like a shoopuf's hooves and I wouldn't mind waking up now."
"This isn't a dream dad," Tidus almost whispered, stilled in shock. Behind him Yuna and Wakka came closer, Yuna gasping as she saw Jecht.
"Oh…well that's good to then, means I'm really back," Jecht blinked, still confused. "How about giving the old man a hug?" Tidus smiled and stepped closer, opening his arms. Suddenly Jecht spun around to the side, wrapping his arm around Tidus's neck and trapping him, his eyes wide with excitement.
"Ya could at least be happy to see me, ya runt!" Jecht laughed, giving Tidus a noogie.
"You old bastard, you were faking it?" Tidus cried, beating his fist on Jecht's back and trying to pull his head away. Jecht didn't even seem to notice. "Let go of me!" Jecht lifted his arm, leaving Tidus to fall backwards onto the sand. Behind him Yuna and Wakka were barely stifling their laughter. Tidus growled and glared up at his father, standing over him with a cocky grin and his hands on his hips.
"Hey, don't gimme that look, you're happy to see me and you know it," Jecht teased.
"Don't flatter yourself," Tidus snapped, standing and brushing himself off. Jecht shook his head and looked away, his arms going limp.
"Geez, I roughed you up a bit, but you don't have to take it so-" Jecht was cut off by Tidus suddenly lunging forward, slamming his shoulder into Jecht's stomach. Jecht grunted as he was caught off guard and had the wind knocked out of him. He stumbled back and fell spread-eagle on the ground. Moaning slightly, Jecht lifted his head to see Tidus assuming the same pose he had taken a moment before.
"Welcome back, old man," he said, holding out his hand. Jecht looked at it suspiciously but eventually took it, Tidus pulling him to his feet. "You hungry? I was thinking of heading into the village for a snack a few minutes ago."
"Sounds good to me," Jecht nodded, walking toward Besaid. Tidus followed him with Yuna and Wakka, a smile on his face.
"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" The bandit snickered in his hood as his two accomplices hauled away a large treasure chest from the back of the noble's carriage, heading deeper into the woods. At the front of the carriage pulled by a Chocobo, the noble's driver had a dagger to his neck by a fourth assailant. "By the way," the bandit gestured the tip of his sword at the noble's hand. "I'll take those pretty rings of yours, too."
"My daughters gave me these," the noble hissed, clasping his other hand over the rings.
"Well then, perhaps you'd like to be buried with them?" the bandit snorted, raising his sword to the noble's throat. The noble glared fiercely as he pulled the rings off one by one, then held them out. The bandit swiped them and jumped down from the carriage. The bandit by the driver jumped down as well and the two fled.
"These morons will never learn," the leader snickered as he and the fourth came up to the two who had taken the chest. The leader pulled his hood down, exposing short hair. "Now, let's open her up and check out the haul," he said, pulling out the key the noble had given him. Unlocking the chest and swinging the lid up, his eyes widened.
"The hell?" he roared. The chest was filled with sand and dirt. Digging his hands into it to search for something of value, he came up with nothing. "Noble was cartin' dirt around?"
"There's gotta be something inside, check deeper," one of his men suggested. The leader began to respond, when there was a distant crack. The four turned, but the forest was empty.
"The idiot wouldn't have followed us, would he?" one of them whispered.
"Doesn't matter who it is, they're a dead man," the leader growled. "One of you go check it out, now." One of the other three nodded and headed into the forest where he thought he had heard the noise. The leader turned back to the chest and poked his sword into the dirt and sand, feeling around. He felt the tip hit the bottom of the chest and pulled it out.
"Nothing…the hell?" he growled. Suddenly, one of the remaining two men cried out, his sword dropping to the ground. The others looked at him to see him clutching his hand, hissing in pain. A narrow cut had been sliced over the tip of his hand. The leader looked around and spotted an arrow stuck in a tree a few feet away, the end still vibrating from its impact.
"Drop your weapons and step away!" a voice rang out. The leader jumped to his feet. "If I can do that to his hand, imagine how easily I could get your chest," the voice warned. The leader scowled and opened his hand, dropping his weapon to the ground and taking several steps back. His remaining minion followed suit. With a grunt, Firion dropped down from the tree, bow in hand. Drawing his sword and pointing it at the three bandits, he pushed them further away from the chest and their discarded swords.
"Firion!" the former rebel turned his head to see a small band of lightly armored knights coming through the trees on Chocobos. At the front of the group, a knight with a more elaborate crest on his armor held up his hand to halt the advance. "Impressive work, our King's trust was well placed."
"Perfect timing Orlan. Tell Lord Mortigan I am thankful for his assistance, he played his part perfectly," Firion said, sheathing his sword. Orlan dismounted his Chocobo and approached Firion. "There's a fourth in that direction, he's unconscious and bound, ready for your retrieval."
"Certainly. The Kingdom of Kashuan is indebted to you, we're been trying to track down these thieves for weeks," Orlan said, giving the three a disgusted look.
"You bear to debt to me, no more than I hold you to repay one," Firion replied, shaking his head. "Pass along my greetings to King Gordon, and that will be payment enough."
"Consider it done," Orlan nodded, holding out his hand. Firion shook it. "If you need anything though you need simply ask, you've earned it."
"All that I need, you see before you," Firion spread out his arms. "If you can handle them now, I'll be off."
"Very well. Another thank you," Orlan replied. Firion turned and began walking into the forest, leaving the Kashuan knights behind him to bind the thieves he had subdued.
"I must admit, I am eager to see Gordon again," Firion thought, the sounds of his temporary allies fading as he put distance between them. He had paid many visits to his former comrades during his travels, in fact he had seen Gordon three days ago when he had arrived as Kashuan, lured by rumors of bandit attacks on nobles travelling through the eastern forest on their way to Bafsk.
"Three days…or many months, in a sense," he rationalized. He was certain Gordon was safe, of course, everything else was back as it was. He had been disoriented when he awoke in the forest, asleep underneath a camouflaging green blanket in the branches of a tree. Then he had remembered his actions before the cataclysm, and remembered the capture going smoothly before the cataclysm, it was only when he had departed that the Crystelle had begun to appear in the trees, the new enemies a sign of something gone terribly wrong. When he had awoken that morning he heard the sounds he had heard that same morning long ago, the bandits slipping through the trees towards the very bright and very noisy carriage driving along the path. Firion realized the situation, collected his wits and sprang into action. So it was he was quite literally immediately thrust back into his old life again.
"The tale hasn't ended. Only the latest chapter," Firion said aloud. Now, with the rush of the capture over, he was taking time to consider his return to his world and what it meant to him. His rose was still pinned to his breast, but of course no Crystal manifested from it. Part of him wondered if it had merely been a dream, but he knew better than to assume such. If it was a dream it was certainly the most vivid, detailed and lengthy dream he had ever known. But the excitement of the battles, the faces of his companions, and the energy of the Crystal he had taken from Mateus were too real to be figments of his imagination. Even if he had no physical proof. Travelling with companions again after being alone for so long had been an adjustment, but a small one. And the rebel realized he had missed the company and the security of travelling with others.
"Of course, it would be unreasonable to travel this path with others," Firion thought, stopping in the woods. Maria and Guy were leading ordinary lives back home in Fynn, occasionally assisting in the training of guards at Hilda's request. Firion hadn't seen them in a long time, and he missed them often. He was sure they understood why he felt he had to leave, to continue to make a difference in a world he had seen first-hand needed to change. He hadn't asked them to come with him either, he wanted them to be happy and peaceful. But now he was wondering…Firion mentally plotted a course in his mind, his travels familiarizing him with the world's geography to the point he had memorized much of it.
"I'm not too far from Bafsk…" he mused, thinking. The Liberty, Cid's airship that Fynn had taken control of after the war, stopped at the village on a regular basis. Firion thought back on his step-siblings and Hilda, and began walking again, the edge of the forest coming into view on the horizon.
"Maria, Guy…see you soon," he whispered, turning to the north.
The pounding at the thick bedroom door grew louder, and Zidane let out an irritated growl.
"Highness, please, the King of Burmecia will arrive within the hour, and we need time to see you're properly dressed and presentable!" a loud voice came through the door.
"Zidane," Garnet said, trying to extract herself from her fiancé's grasp. Zidane had both his arms wrapped tight around her, his face buried in the crook of her neck. "He's right, we can't stay like this all morning," she warned.
"You're the queen, they'll wait," Zidane mumbled. Forget the morning, he wanted to stay like this forever, just leave their meals by the bedside. Garnet's hair smelled like flowers…
"The King might, Steiner won't," she replied. Zidane made a face and lifted his head.
"Buzz off, Rusty!" he called. Steiner must have heard him because he dispensed with the pounding and opened the door.
"You have been warned about this!" the knight lectured, walking over to the bed. "You and the queen will not share a bed until you are wed!"
"We didn't do anything," Zidane said, rolling his eyes. "You were making too much noise." Steiner's already red face grew redder, and he reached for Zidane's tail waving in the air, but the thief was already out of bed and on the other side of the room by the time his hand had gotten there. Garnet watched with a small smile. This wasn't the first time Zidane had snuck into her room in the early morning to be with her, and Steiner always reacted the same way.
"Steiner, Master Zidane was in his room when I checked in on him this morning," Beatrix said from the entrance of the room. "He has been here no more than an hour, and as you can see they are clothed. Nothing happened so there is no need to be so angry."
"He is still keeping her from performing her royal duties, we've an hour until-"
"Steiner?" Garnet said, standing up from the bed.
"Er, yes Highness?"
"Of course Highness," Steiner replied. His eyebrow twitched as he registered what his queen had said. He shot Zidane a dirty look. Zidane recognized it, it was Steiner's 'you did this to her' look. He grinned in response.
"Beatrix, would you help me dress?" Garnet asked, walking to the room's walk-in closet.
"Of course, Highness," Beatrix nodded. "Zidane, if you please."
"No problem," he said, walking out of the room. Steiner followed him out, pulling the door shut behind him.
"So Rusty, wanna grab some breakfast?" he asked once the knight was in the hallway.
"Zidane," Steiner said, exasperated. "You know I do not oppose of your marriage to our queen, and I do consider you a friend. But please, try to allow her to maintain some sense of honor until you are officially her husband. There will be a lifetime of romantic and sexual interludes after the wedding."
"Trust me Rusty, if I wanted to do anything with Garnet, we'd be doing it, and you wouldn't be stopping me," Zidane said, folding his hands behind his head with a smirk. "So chill, alright? I've snuck into her room plenty of times just to lay with her, there's nothin' dishonorable about that."
"As long as it is just that," Steiner warned. "As for your invitation I must decline, I've duties of my own to attend. However, I received a message from Baku, he and Tantalus are in town, if you'd care to give them a visit."
"Sounds great," Zidane nodded, walking past Steiner. He had teased Steiner a bit more than he usually did, deliberately thinking back to the old times during their quest to defeat Kuja. He really did think of the knight as a friend, and was happy to see him. Tantalus's arrival was fortunate too, Zidane could go see his old family. Thinking back on them though reminded Zidane of the events of the cataclysm, when he had gone into town to visit them when the Crystelle attacked. Zidane had fought to try and get back to the castle to find Garnet, but hadn't made it in time before he blacked out and re-awoke in another place with Cosmos standing over him. It was why the first thing the thief had done when he woke up that morning was sneak into Garnet's room to see his future wife, content to just lay with her watching and holding. Zidane had missed her more than he had admitted to himself during the adventure.
"Just one more month. 'A lifetime of romantic and sexual interludes'. I like the sound of that" he thought to himself. Steiner and Beatrix had all but forced him into observing the standard rules of royal engagements, allowing a year to pass before the marriage. If Zidane had had his way he would have put a ring on Garnet's finger and carried her across the threshold of her bedroom the same day he had come back to her. While Garnet had submitted to their demand, she later gave Zidane a coy smile and said that as long as she remained pure, there were no rules on how the betrothed had to behave over those months. Zidane had quickly taken to thinking of Garnet's room as 'their' room, slipping out of his room in the castle in the early morning to see her, and occasionally sneaking out in the evening to spend the night with her.
Zidane descended the grand staircase in the main hall of the castle, a few servants smiling at him as he passed. He casually strolled out the castle gates, following the path down to the city. Growing anxious at the thought of seeing the members of Tantalus again, he picked up the pace. The thief was almost tempted to ask his friends if they wanted to hatch some sort of legally-ambiguous scheme again, for old time's sake. He considered it for only a second though before brushing it away, it would only cause further friction with Steiner, and Beatrix and Garnet probably wouldn't be too pleased with the idea either.
"Gotta admit, after settling down for a while it was nice to get back out there and travel," Zidane mused. Meeting Bartz and Squall and fighting Kuja again had gotten his blood pounding from the best times of his thieving days. He of course adored Garnet and was looking forward to being her husband, but he missed the old times often. Zidane wondered if Garnet felt the same, he knew she enjoyed their travels back in the day as much as he had. With her being queen now there would be no more of it unless there was some political trip to take.
"Sucks. Just how it goes I guess, get a cute wife, lose the adventurer lifestyle, cute wife vanishes, adventure to get her back." Zidane thought, sighing slightly. He missed the old quest, but didn't regret it for a second the battle with Chaos. He had had his fun, but in the end the only thing he cared about, the thing always on his mind, was getting his home back and returning to the friends and family he loved. The same as all of them had. He had never been more relieved than when they began to fade away from Shinryu's sight, Crystals in hand.
"No, not fade," he corrected.
"We just returned…to where we belong. Home."
Night had fallen, casting Baron Castle into shadows. Cecil was in the eastern tower, watching Rosa sleep, hair falling over her face as she breathed steadily. He had been unable to sleep for an odd reason. The night had gone well, Ceodore and Kain had returned with the Red Wings, and together with Rosa Cecil showed them the returned Golbez. Rosa and Ceodore has been openly happy to see him, while he and Kain merely exchanged stiff greetings, though Kain was visibly surprised to see the warlock again. The evening meal had been filled with questions for Golbez, largely how he had managed to come back to life and return to earth. Golbez mumbled through such questions, the clearest answer Cecil could decipher was that he wasn't sure, or didn't want to discuss it. Of course, even if Golbez had an answer he couldn't supply it, the two of them would then have to launch into a lengthy explanation of their quest in the other world. Cecil planned to tell them, but tonight was not the night for such.
Rosa turned over in her sleep, and Cecil stood. He didn't want to wake her moving about their room, and it helped him to wander the castle when he was kept awake on nights like this. He gathered a white robe from a hook on the wall and slipped it on to cover himself. Descending the stairs to the second floor, Cecil glanced at Ceodore sleeping against the far well. His son was a light sleeper, and though he mumbled as Cecil descended, he didn't awaken either. Cecil climbed down the next flight of stairs to the bottom floor and slowly pushed open the doors of the tower. Taking a moment to breathe the different air, he looked up at the lone moon in the sky. A pity that Golbez's wish, the restoration of the Lunarians, apparently hadn't been granted.
Cecil saw movement and turned his head. The shoulders and head of a familiar figure in a black cloak came into view on the balcony overlooking the courtyard. Golbez didn't notice Cecil, walking to the edge and leaning over it, his arms folded over his chest. Cecil watched him for a moment and then moved to the door to the Red Wings barracks. Being silent as he could, the paladin crossed the room and slipped up the stairs. Golbez didn't hear him as he came up, his back to Cecil. As Cecil came closer, his brother turned his head.
"You should not be out in the night in such scant garments," the warlock said, looking forward again.
"Your own attire is just as unfitting," Cecil replied, noting his brother's cloak and kilt. He thought his saw him shivering a bit.
"It is not a concern to me," Golbez countered. Cecil didn't respond to that, taking a moment to let his brother get accustomed to his presence.
"I have a statement, and a question," he said finally. Golbez nodded. "It is my wish to tell Rosa, Ceodore and Kain about our quest to destroy Chaos. And I wish you be there, tomorrow, when I do. There will be questions I likely cannot answer."
"Say no more," Golbez nodded. "I will supply what information I can. Is that your question?"
"No. I want to ask how it was you were restored," Cecil explained. Golbez let out a low murmur.
"I am afraid I do not know the answer to that," he sighed
"Then just tell me what you can," Cecil coaxed. "I have been informed you stayed behind fighting the Crystelle. What then?" Golbez thought.
"Though Jecht and I were greatly outnumbered, we fought valiantly, staying at the top of the stairs to keep them from flowing out and overwhelming us. However, after a time we began to tire, and when it felt as though I could swing my sword no longer, a great tremor shook the Chaos Shrine. The Crystelle faltered, and Jecht and I watched they begin to light up in while light. I merely blinked, but when I opened my eyes anew, I was in a black abyss."
"The Void?" Cecil asked.
"Perhaps, but I cannot say with certainty. I saw nothing, sensed nothing, not even my own form. Then, I heard a voice call from the darkness. It referred to me by name, and asked me what fate I would wish for myself, should my world be restored and you survive." Golbez looked Cecil in the eye. "I told the voice I would live again, my magic and my strength returned to me, that I may go home. And then, I suddenly lost consciousness. I awakened on the beach outside Baron. The rest I have told you."
"I see," Cecil crossed his arms and thought. "This voice, how did it speak?"
"Shinryu," Cecil said with certainty. "The divine dragon revealed itself to us and spoke before sending us home. It said it didn't know your fate, but I suppose it had not gone to you yet."
"No, this was not Shinryu," Golbez shook his head. "I thought perhaps so myself, the voice sounded old and powerful. But before it sent me home, it spoke of a deep shame, and claimed that it was destined to fade from Shinryu's sight."
"Hmmm….curious," Cecil mused. "Whatever entity it was that saw fit to deliver you here, I am grateful."
"As am I," Golbez nodded. A long minute of silence passed between the two brothers, merely watching the skies together. "I have a request of my own," Golbez said.
"Not tomorrow, perhaps not the day after, but someday soon, I would like an airship," Golbez said. "There is a location I would like to visit, and would appreciate your company."
"What location?" Cecil asked.
"Mt. Ordeals," Golbez explained. Cecil understood immediately, and nodded.
"Of course. I do hope though you remain around long than just enough to do that," he reminded.
"Indeed. Part of me wishes to take to the skies alone and seek my atonement in my own way. But for now, I will remain here. My family deserves my attentions before my shame." Golbez smiled at Cecil, and Cecil returned it. "If you do not mind, I would retire now. You said you would have lodgings prepared?" Golbez said, turning away.
"Yes, the western tower should have a bed at the top floors. We use that tower as storage, but if you want it I can have it cleared out."
"A single floor will suffice, I think," Golbez replied, walking towards the stairs. "Good night, Cecil."
"Good night Golbez." The warlock stopped at the top of the stairs, and look over his shoulder.
"There is one other thing," he said slowly. "I will remain here, but on one condition. As it was your suggestion of such before, I would appreciate being known by my true name in these walls." Cecil nodded.
"Very well. Good night Theodore."
Golbez turned his head forward again and descended the stairs quietly, leaving Cecil alone to look up at the lone moon and utter a short, silent prayer of thanks.
The fires of the night's feast were still burning bright, casting a glowing light into the sky. On the beach looking out into the sea, Tidus didn't notice. Once the village had heard that Sir Jecht, the legendary Guardian, had returned, a hasty celebration had been organized. Jecht – of course – lived it up, telling anyone who asked and a few who didn't about his travels with Braska and Auron. Even Yuna, Wakka and Lulu had been listening intently. Tidus supposed he couldn't blame them, they were raised on tales of Jecht's heroism with the two, of course they'd want to talk to him, now that they weren't meeting him in anticipation of killing him.
"He really hasn't changed much at all, has he?" Tidus thought. He adventures through Spira had allowed him to see his father in a new light, see that he really wasn't as mean and heartless as he thought growing up. But the love of fame and attention, that was all genuine. Tidus had sat off to the side during the feast, pretty much everyone's attention was focused on Jecht so no one had said anything. He hadn't noticed if anyone saw him slip away when night had come either. He doubted it.
"Wonder what he's gonna do now." Jecht had expected to not survive the battle, he said as much himself. Tidus had no idea how he was going to live now. Would he want to travel, settle down in Besaid? Tidus supposed he could see Jecht moving to Luca to be near the stadium. He heard footsteps behind him, and let out a breath.
"Hey, Yuna," he muttered before she could speak. "Yeah I left, don't make a big deal out of it. The old man wasn't even paying attention to me, it's not like he'll care."
"Actually, I do." Tidus made a face and groaned as Jecht sat down beside him. "Was wonderin' if you were gonna come over all night, all your friends had," Jecht finished.
"You could have just said something," Tidus shrugged.
"It wasn't about asking," Jecht said, looking over at him. "Really, what's with you? I didn't expect tears and a hug really, but you should be happy."
"I am. Just bugs me how you forgot about me once you've got the crowd of fans cheering your name."
"Eeeeh, they're just fans, they come and go all the time, just show off a bit and they'll flock to ya. The people who really matter, they're the ones you gotta work to keep." Tidus looked at his father to see him smiling slightly.
"You getting' soft on me old man?" he asked.
"Nah, just telling it like it is. You mean the world to me kid, I would have thought I've proven that by now. Sorry if I got it into your head I thought otherwise when you were a brat, but hey, now you can learn right?"
"I guess…" Tidus mumbled. Jecht rolled his eyes and turned his head forward, father and son watching the crashing of the surf on the sand. "How'd you get here anyway?" Tidus asked.
"Dunno," Jecht shrugged. "Me and Golbez were fighting off the Crystelle, when all of a sudden the place shook. Next thing I knew I was in some dark void area, and a voice was whispering to me, asked if I wanted to go home. I said hell yeah, and I blacked out. I woke up with those Auroch guys standing over me on the beach."
"Right," Tidus said. "So what happens now then? What're you gonna do?"
"I've been thinking that myself. Don't really know. I wanna visit Zanarkand again, for old time's sake. Get a look around, try and figure some stuff out. Wouldn't mind settling down somewhere once that's done. Luca's still got the blitzball stadium, right?" Tidus nodded. "Could look at that, maybe join their team."
"The Goers are former champions, until the Aurochs and the Gullwings came around," Tidus snickered. "Now with me and Yuna in the game and Wakka's team in shape, they're a bunch of washed-up losers…you'd fit right in."
"Yeah? We'll see," Jecht smirked. He stood up and held out his hand. "For now, c'mon. Yuna told me to go find ya." Tidus took his father's hand and was pulled to his feet.
"It is good to have you back. Really," he said. Jecht nodded, and started back to the village.
Moonlight streamed through the window, casting silver beams of light across the floor and the bed. Chest rising and falling softly, Cloud lay in bed, eyes looking up at the ceiling. He had been trying to fall asleep for an hour, but sleep wasn't coming. Something wasn't sitting well with him, he wasn't sure what but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was forgetting something. Barret had come and gone, the day had gone by, no disturbances. Everyone was safe, everything was quiet and as it should have been.
Suddenly, Cloud sat up, eyes wide. Thinking for a moment, he got out of bed and crossed to the closet. He pulled his clothes on, slipped his feet into his boots and headed out into the hall, quickly and silently heading downstairs. Entering the garage, he pressed the button to open the garage door and looking around. He picked his keys up from the workbench and climbed on Fenrir. He turned the motorcycle on and revved the engine slightly, trying to be silent, before riding into the night.
"I have to see…" he thought, turning down the highway. "If it's there…"
The wind ruffled Terra's hair as the Falcon flew through the night, the ocean below sending the scent of salt and sea life into the air. Setzer had set the ship on auto-pilot and retired to take a nap until they reached Jidoor. Terra suspected the gambler was irritated at being kept up so late, but she hadn't been able to help herself when they had reached South Figaro.
As she remembered, she was supposed to be meeting with Celes and Edgar to discuss the reconstruction efforts of the various cities, but she had diverted their attention to heading north to Sabin and Duncan's dojo. If Terra had been able to have it her way they would have flown around the world seeing all her friends again, but that wasn't going to happen of course. She settled for the five of them having a meal together. They had acted normally, talking of Narshe's resettlement and the rebuilding of South Figaro and other cities.
Terra had been silent through much of it, simply enjoying their company again. She had also been thinking. About Cloud, herself, her home. Terra was still dismayed that she couldn't join Cloud, but she wasn't going to just fade back into a normal life yet. She had thought of something during that meeting, and it helped alleviate her sorrow.
"Terra." The young woman turned to see Celes climbing up onto the deck. "We're alone now, so talk," she said sternly, coming closer.
"About what?" Terra asked.
"You were quiet all night, after the way you greeted me earlier I know something is going on, it doesn't add up," Celes explained. "So talk." Terra blinked and thought.
"I…this will sound crazy, but it's the truth," she said hesitantly. Celes gestured for her to continue. "I was taken somewhere…there was an attack on South Figaro, something happened…" Before Terra could stop herself, she began to tell Celes everything. The Crystals, Cosmos, Chaos, Cloud, all of it. Celes waited patiently, not saying a word but Terra knew she was listening. She lost track of time telling Celes about her quest, the return of her powers and her struggle to control them, the death of Kefka, her growing feelings for Cloud, the destruction of Sephiroth with him. She finished with the meeting with Shinryu, and the sight of Celes's spirit lying dormant as a potential Warrior of Cosmos. When she finished, Terra suddenly felt tired and leaned against the mechanical shaft behind the Falcon's control panel. Celes was silent for a minute, her arms folded.
"Quite a story," she said finally. "I don't think it sounds crazy at all, considering all we've seen."
"I was so happy when we got back and you were safe. The rest, I was just thinking, and enjoying being with you all again," Terra explained. Celes nodded.
"I'm sorry you had to go through all that alone," she said.
"I didn't. I had Luneth and Cloud and Golbez to help me," Terra replied, shaking her head. "And what I did go through alone, I shouldered it and kept moving on. I'm glad it happened, I was able to come to peace with my powers at last. I miss them now, even. If I could have the choice I would want them back. I'm not sad this happened at all."
"I'm happy for you then," Celes smiled. Terra hesitated, then spoke again.
"Because of all that happened there, I want to do something, and I need something from you. I was going to trust Setzer to do it, but since you know now, you'll understand."
"I want you, and Setzer…to take the kids of Mobliz away," Terra said, closing her eyes. "Thomas, Duane, Katarin, everyone, I want you to take them somewhere safe, where they can live and be happy."
"Why?" Celes asked, confused.
"I…I'm leaving them. I want to see this world again, and prove I'm strong enough to see it alone," Terra hesitated as she spoke. "I know it doesn't make much sense, but I want to travel again, I want the adventure. Mobliz as it is will fade away over time, nothing I do will change that." Terra opened her eyes. "I stayed there because I belonged there, but now, no one does. The kids deserve to be allowed to grow up in the normal world, Duane and Katarin deserve to raise their child in a normal home, and I…I need to find a new place. A new home to belong to."
Celes moved closer and put her arms around Terra's shoulders. Terra returned it.
"When will you leave?" Celes asked.
"I don't know. Soon, though. I don't know where I'm going, but I know there's somewhere out there I have to be, a place to find," Terra said.
"You don't realize it, do you?" Celes shook her head, amused.
"I know exactly what you're going to look for," Celes said softly. "You want to try and find him. You think there's a way to Cloud's world."
"I…maybe. I don't know," Terra sighed. "I wanted to go with him, Celes, I had committed myself to go to his world that because there was nothing left for me in this one. But if I have to stay here, then I'll find something else to live for. Even if it's a foolish hope, we need something to believe in, don't we?"
"I suppose," the former general agreed. "Alright, then. I understand. When you choose to go, I'll talk to Setzer. I could probably help Duane and Katarin find a place to live in Jidoor, the rest, maybe Kohlingen or Maranda."
"Thank you," Terra nodded. Celes looked over at the sky.
"He must have been really been something, that Cloud. To win over your heart like this."
"W-what?" Terra gasped, Celes turning to walk to the hatch. "No, no, he didn't, I, we were good friends, I mean, he…it's not like that," she said, aware of how pathetic it sounded.
"Then why did you just stutter so much?" Celes asked, giving her a coy smile. She went below decks, the hatch sliding into place. Terra let out a low chuckle, her face hot. She knew, on some level, Celes was right. Terra didn't want to put the word to the feelings, but it was hard to deny the emotions themselves. She walked forward to the balcony, the moon just barely visible below the edge of the Falcon's body above.
Fenrir slowed to a stop, and Cloud turned it off. Swinging his leg over it he looked up at the building before him – the Sector 5 church. Taking a breath, he stepped towards the doors and carefully pushed one open.
Down the aisle, a small patch of flowers bloomed in the dirt showing through the broken floorboards, beams of moonlight shining down on them. Behind them, set in a block of stone, the Buster Sword laid, blade untarnished and gleaming. Letting out a breath, Cloud approached, boots echoing off the walls. He walked around the flowers and climbed up the small stairs on the church's old altar, kneeling before the blade. He reached out and slid a hand along its length.
Impossibly, less than 24 hours ago he had wielded this same sword to destroy a god. Or was it the same? He had just willed the weapon to appear to him, and it had. Had Cloud just manifested a copy from nothingness, or called the real thing to him? He didn't remember the sword being here when he had visited Midgar before. Deciding it didn't matter, he leaned his head forward slightly.
"Zack…Aerith…" he thought silently. It had been with Zack's blade and Aerith's Materia that he had dealt Chaos his final blow. Their powers combined had brought the god to his end. "Thank you…" Looking over at the flowers, Cloud remembered a time, months ago, when he had met another woman in this same spot, and like the last the meeting had changed his life forever. He was already beginning to miss her. She wanted to come to his world with him, and thinking back he realized he wanted her to come with him, too. She wanted him to show her his world, and he wanted the same. Cloud wanted her back.
Terra tucked a loose bang over her ear and draped her arms over the railing, her clothing ruffling in the wind. Frowning at a small itch, she reached down to scratch her thigh. She felt something solid hit her fingertips and looked down. She lifted her hand to reach into the folds of her skirt, finding a pocket. Her fingers hit something cold and hard, and Terra stilled. She brought her hand out and turned from the balcony, slowly opening her fist. Her eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open slightly.
"It can't be…"
A small, glowing green orb pulsed in her hand, her hand and lower arm basking in its light. Terra stared in disbelief, swirls of color washing over the orb's surface.
She'd forgotten about it, that day long ago in the Forgotten City when it had saved her life. The Fire Materia Cloud had dropped and she'd found in the city. She thought she had lost it somewhere along the way. But how could it be here now? Shouldn't it have gone back to Cloud's world?
"If it's here…" Terra whispered. She focused and inhaled as she felt a tingle of energy from it. It wasn't her own like she was used to, but she recognized it. The Materia orb still crackled with magical power. Smiling slightly, Terra took it between her hands and brought it to her chest, cherishing it. Even if she couldn't have her powers back, the Materia's power was active. A memento, so she'd never forget. A reminder that it was all real.
Closing her eyes and bowing her head, Terra stood on the bow of the Falcon, the Materia warming her hands. With her eyes closed and her hands clasped around it, she didn't notice the orb start to glow brighter. It wasn't until the gentle pulse grew deeper that she opened her eyes and hands. The Materia orb flashed, the warmth from it growing hotter, but not painful. Terra let go of it, growing nervous, but the orb remained hovering in the air, particles of light drifting up from it.
With a burst of green light the orb shattered, glowing green bands of energy winding out through the air from it. Terra took a step away from the bow and looked around as the bands began to encircle her, winding up and down her arms and legs, leaving particles of light in their wake. She was surprised, but not frightened. The light was oddly soothing, and as they began to touch down on her skin, they were warm, her skin glowing green.
Terra blinked as she heard a voice whisper in her head. She'd heard it before, somewhere, but she couldn't figure out where. The light particles flowing around her sped up, green bands of energy circling her limbs and torso. Terra closed her eyes and bowed her head as her entire body lit up in the same light.
Cloud stood up from the Buster Sword and closed his eyes. Now, three of the most important relationships of his life, three of his dearest friends, ran through this place. The emotions of it all hit him, and he shook slightly. Turning away and stepping down the altar before he was overcome, he rounded the flower bed and walked down the aisle. Cloud put his hand up to push open the door of the church. The dirty stained-glass windows on the doors were reflecting an odd glow, and Cloud turned to see the flowerbed lit up in green light.
Particles of light began to stream down from the rafters, gleaming in the moonlight. At the same time, wisps of green energy floated up from the flowers, weaving through the air. The green light swirled over the floorboards above the flowers, making a familiar shape. The light particles gathered on the pattern made by the green energy, covering the green until the form filled out and completed itself.
A humanoid form of green and white light appeared laying on the floorboards. The lights gleamed and blinked as one for a moment, then with a bright flashed dispersed into the air, the tendrils of green energy trailing back into the flowers. Cloud lifted his arm and turned his head away as the lights went brighter, turning back as they died down.
Curled up on her side, her back to Cloud, Terra lay on the floorboards of the church, a low blue aura over her body. Staring in disbelief, Cloud stood silently, until after several seconds Terra moved. She murmured softly as she put her arm out to push herself up. Her eyes opening, Terra stilled as she stared at the church altar, remember the location.
"Terra," Cloud whispered. Terra slowly turned her head, and when she saw who was behind her turned around fully.
Not another word was said as the two stepped forward and embraced, their arms wrapped tightly around each other. Their eyes closed, each savoring the reality of what was happening.
"How?" he whispered in her ear.
"I don't know…your Materia, somehow…" Terra replied. Warm tears leaked from below her eyelids, running down her cheeks. Cloud cracked open his eyes, and lifted his head as he saw something. He gasped, and Terra stepped back.
"What's wrong?" she asked. Cloud continued to stare, his mouth open, and Terra turned around.
Standing behind the altar, the flowerbed still lit up in a green glow, a figure stood next to the Buster Sword. Watching them silently, the figure simply smiled. Terra realized who it was and looked up at Cloud.
"It's her, isn't it?" she asked. Cloud smiled softly.
"Thank you," he whispered. The figure slowly nodded, dispersing into green energy and fading away, the glow of the flowers dying down to nothing. Cloud looked back at Terra and put a hand on her chin to tilt her head up, placing a short kiss on her lips. Terra brought her hand up to cover his, her eyes shimmering.
'Come on," Cloud said, gesturing to the door. "You have to meet them." Terra followed him down the aisle of the church to the outside, but stilled when they got there.
"That…again?" she said hesitantly as Cloud climbed onto Fenrir.
"Yeah, it's safe, put your arms around my waist," he assured her. Terra took a nervous step forward and swung her leg over the motorcycle, her hands clasping over Cloud's stomach. "Hang on," he told her.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Hey," Cloud replied, pulling on his goggles. "I won't hurt you. Don't be afraid." Terra's hands tightened their grip, and she laid her head down on Cloud's back.
"…I'm not," she said, realizing it as she said it. Cloud smile, and hunched down.
The engine revved, and roared to life as Fenrir sped off through the ruins of Midgar.
"And who knows, starting a new journey may not be so hard…or maybe it has already begun."
There are no words to describe how I feel right now. This is easily the longest time I have worked on a fanfic, and the longest time I've worked on any project ever. Almost 300,00 words, 41 chapters, and in-depth exploration of characters and plot like I've never done before. My everlasting gratitude to everyone who read this, even if just a chapter, you helped motivate me to take this project to the scale it ended up being, letting me know you liked it and wanted me to continue. If you have them, I'll be happy to answer questions about the story, anything you were unsure of or whatnot, so say so in your review. Also a small reminder of this fic's TV Tropes page, be sure to take a look and help me fill it out if you frequent the site.
Aside from a few small stories and one-shots, this has been my main focus over the course of the writing, now that it's done I'm genuinely not sure where fanfiction will go for me now. I have ideas for another fic, a dystopian Final Fantasy crossover universe acting as a sort of crime drama mystery. I may decide to go with it, the basic idea is fleshed out but I haven't begun writing it yet. If you're interested then of course add me to author alert and keep an eye out. I doubt it'll be up any time soon, I have other projects to work on and am ready for a break from writing, but by no means am I calling this the end of it all. I don't know when, and I don't know what for sure, but there will certainly be more stories.
And thus, I have nothing really left to say. Thank you very, very much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this final chapter, and be sure to check out my other stories, both those already on the site and those to come in the future.