I do hope you all don't mind slightly cliché sickly sweetness. I got the idea for this epilogue some time ago and couldn't resist writing it.
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A quiet scratching drew Shadow out of his dreams. He stretched and yawned, then leaned back into the old blue armchair. The old man might holler at him fit to wake the dead when he discovered the former assassin deliberately napping in his chair, but in Shadow's estimation this time the old coot deserved it after what he'd done last night. Five blasted hours Shadow spent lugging the monster's corpse back to town so the old fool could do a detailed study of it. It was long past midnight by the time he got in, well after Strago and Gungho who both claimed sudden flare ups of various joint problems that prevented them from helping. If they tried to pull that stunt again Shadow swore he would burn the old coot's stupid book!
He felt a twinge of pain in his left shoulder and reached up absently to rub it. It was sometimes hard to believe that half a year passed since Kefka's death. The skies were still red and very little grew, but slowly things were improving. A tiny vegetable garden sprouting at the back of Thamasa was proof of that. The multitude of injuries that nearly killed him in the madman's tower sometimes reared their ugly heads as little things like this twinge in his shoulder that would get worse if he overexerted himself in any way. It was likely they would never truly disappear.
Whatever it was scratched at the door again. Reaching up he adjusted the scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face before rising. Today it was orange. Try as he might to convince Setzer to bring more scarves of darker coloration on his triweekly visits they always went missing soon after they arrived. Of course, Relm had a handy supply of brightly colored ones to take their place. She might still be put out about his insistence on keeping part of himself hidden, but Shadow hoped that this little game of hers was compensation enough. While he loved Relm very much and a large part of him wanted to show her the truth, it was because he loved her that he didn't. He couldn't bear to lose her or drive her away. Someday he would tell her . . . but not now.
He padded past the paneled off corner of the room that contained his bed and dresser. Strago had been good on his word. The only downside of the arrangement was that the responsibility of answering the door, sometimes at all hours of the night, was left to him. It still baffled him how a town as tiny as Thamasa could have quite so many troubles. They weren't large troubles, certainly, but that didn't stop the mayor or barkeep or someone's spouse from banging on the door two hours before dawn asking for help dragging some sort of drunk home, driving off a monster, or scaring some sense into a few troublemaking youths. Shadow was amused to find his services particularly in demand for the last one. There was something to be said for having such a reputation and he was coming to find he rather liked being referred to as the town's boogeyman.
Shadow paused a moment before opening the door and the scratching creature on the other side let out a muffled bark. He chuckled quietly and shook his head. Interceptor truly was been getting spoiled here. Without any real work the dog was allowed to wander as he pleased. He'd taken to roaming in the woods, sometimes for days at a time. But Shadow never worried. Interceptor would always be back. Interceptor barked again and pawed at the doorframe. Much longer and the dog would probably start to try to dig in!
Shadow opened the door to reveal Interceptor sitting on the stoop. The big dog wagged his tail and dropped something at Shadow's feet before stepping back and looking up at his boss proudly. 'Look what I did!' the dog's sparkling eyes seemed to say. Shadow leaned over and picked up the squirming black bundle of fur. The puppy squeaked happily and tried to lick his face.
"So this is what you've been up to, 'Cep."
Shadow stepped outside and looked around. It wasn't long before he caught sight of three glinting pairs of eyes behind the woodpile. The mother lifted her lips in a silent snarl: she was no dog, but a gaunt shaggy furred brown wolf of some type Shadow was unfamiliar. He'd have to ask the old man once he'd finished examining that monster corpse. The two pups at the wolf's feet seemed have inherited their mother's disposition as well as her fur color; they hung back with her and one of them even did its best to growl. Nothing like their, Shadow glanced between the black pup's hind legs, brother. But the shape of their heads and the set of their ears made it very clear who their father was.
Interceptor barked happily and trotted over to the woodpile. He ignored his mate's warning snap and picked up one of the brown furred pups. With a waving arched tail he carried it over and set the squirming thing down at Shadow's feet, then turned to go back for his remaining pup. Before Shadow could pick up the brown pup it scurried back to its mother. The second brown pup did the same, scampering in its father's shadow as he trotted back to retrieve the first runaway.
Shadow threw back his head and laughed. The noise must have startled the puppy in his hands because the little thing started to yip and struggle. He kept laughing till the door leading to the upper floors of the house opened and Relm came skipping out.
"What in the world is so funny?" she demanded.
Still chuckling he turned and held out the wiggling black pup.
Relm's pretty hazel eyes lit up. "A PUPPY?!" Once transferred to Relm's arms the puppy decided trying to get as far away from the crazy man as possible was much less important than trying to lick this new person's face.
"He's Interceptor's," Shadow told the enraptured artist, "There are two more outside."
"I'm going to call him Smudge," Relm declared as she squeezed herself into the doorway by Shadow's side, "Because he has a smudge of brown on his nose." Shadow barely resisted the urge to cringe. It appeared Relm inherited the propensity for giving things silly names from her mother's side of the family. Together they watched Interceptor futilely trying to herd the rest of his family towards the house. The mother wasn't likely to friendly up soon, if ever, but the pups were another matter. With a little time and patience they should turn out just fine. Beneath his gaudy orange scarf Shadow grinned.
Relm put the black pup down and watched him bounce back to his siblings. The two brown pups sniffed their brother curiously while the mother vigorously licked and nibbled his fur. Interceptor barked one last time at his stubborn brood then flopped down in an exhausted heap.
His and Relm's laughter must have piqued the old man's interest, as Shadow could hear him emerge from the shed out back that was his workshop. He limped around the house and stopped dead at the sight of Interceptor being attacked by his rambunctious pups.
"Well!" Strago exclaimed. His eyes moved to examine the mother wolf crouched behind the woodpile. "Unconventional, but it might not be a bad cross . . ."
"The black one is mine," Relm piped up, "His name is Smudge. We're keeping them, right?"
"The house is barely big enough for one dog, never mind four," the old coot muttered. But the way he studied the pups and their mother with great interest said otherwise. If Shadow were to guess, the idea of training wolf-dog hybrids piqued the old man's interest. Also, the concept of having a live monster living in such close proximity, even a common one like the mother wolf, must have some sort of scholarly value for his little book.
Shadow interrupted whatever observation Relm was about to make with a commanding growl. "Vindication and Valiant."
"What are you muttering on about now, boy?" Strago grumbled.
"Vindication and Valiant," Shadow repeated, "Those are the brown pups' names. Interceptor is my dog, these are my pups. I'm giving Relm the black one and they're all staying."
Like hell he was going to let that old man have even a chance of saddling one of these pups with a stupid name. The old coot squalled, more angry at the way Shadow spoke to him than the idea itself, Relm stuck out her tongue at him, and Interceptor wagged his tail. Shadow leaned against the doorframe with a smug smirk blooming under his scarf. As he had done over four years ago he tuned out the old fool's prattle in favor of his own thoughts. Things were not the same, nor would the ever be. Strago finally stopped his caterwauling and Relm pulled out a sketchpad and started to record the scene before them, with the black pup chewing on Interceptor's tail and the brown pups taking turns trying to pounce on his head. Shadow looked up at the crimson sky and wondered if Baram and Reina were laughing at him.
Looking back Shadow realized his life contained a lot of new beginnings. From setting out on his own with Baram as a foolish boy to leaping towards certain death trying to stop a madman from becoming a god, each one unfolded into a new chapter of his life. They were his second chances, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and gods know how many more. He wasn't about to count them. In truth, they were more chances than a cowardly killer like him deserved. His eyes wandered to the great burial mound in the cemetery that could just be seen through the trees. Why did a monster like him get so many chances while noble good people did not? He shook his head. That was a question for the gods, not a mortal like himself.
He crouched down next to Relm and softly called Interceptor's name. The big dog shook his puppies off and stood, trotting to Shadow with a wagging tail. As Shadow hoped, the puppies followed their father's lead. The black one darted immediately to Relm, who picked him up and started to show him to her grandfather. The brown ones were more cautious, but eventually both advanced close enough to sniff Shadow's outstretched hand.
"You're going to help me train him, right Shadow?" Relm asked.
"Of course," he replied.
Yes, his life was full of second chances and new beginnings. This was one was undoubtedly the best of them all.
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I started writing this in my freshman year of college and now I'm starting my first year of grad school. Five years . . .
First and foremost I want to thank anyone who has ever read this story and doubly thank anyone who took the time out of their day to leave a review. Knowing that people enjoyed and appreciated this tale as much as I did was a huge confidence boost and really kept me going even when the dreaded writer's block struck for months at a time.
Second, I want to apologize for not having Shadow reveal his identity to Relm. My beta reader expressed his opinion on the subject with a video: search Trolling Saruman on youtube, it will be the first result. It never seemed like the right time to do so. By the time I felt Shadow might have worked through enough of his issues I also felt it too late in the story to throw such a big wrench into the mix of his and Relm's relationship. Strago isn't stupid and he knows exactly who Shadow is. To tell the truth, Relm probably does too, in her subconscious. She's no idiot either. But she isn't about to admit that the person she now loves and respects like a father is the same man who abandoned her as a child just yet.
And this story shall also be told.
But before that, I plan on writing several short stories that will act as epilogues for other members of the party. The ones set in stone are Gau, Cyan, Terra, and Setzer, though I have an idea for the Figaro twins as well. Then I'll begin work on the sequel, which will take place in the Dragon's Den and will potentially have three distinct storylines with three sets of main characters to go along with it- one for each path of the Dragon's Den. If this idea gets off the ground it will be the most ambitious project I've taken on.
It's also highly possible I'll be going back and editing some of Sketchpads. Particularly in the early chapters to get rid of a few annoying plot holes. Nothing big, just changing around a sentence or two because I'd like this story to be as good as it can.
I'll also be posting some side projects I wrote and never ended up bringing to light. Not too many, just the ones I feel are actually worth something. Nothing Final Fantasy VI, but a few Fire Emblem, one or two Final Fantasy V, maybe a Final Fantasy VII one. And, oh dear, there is that one cracktastic Fullmetal Alchemist thing I wrote where General Armstrong kills Hitler . . . don't look at me that way, it was a request from a friend that I popped out in half an hour yet it somehow still turned out weirdly funny.
Thank you again, everyone. It's been a pleasure writing for you.