A/N: Again, been a while. I've been trying to push this chapter out for some time, but my computer access is strictly limited. However, now that it's out, I feel I could have done a lot better with it. Writing has become a lot of work, but that doesn't mean I won't do it. My current job likes to sap my time. Now I'll be starting at the University of Oklahoma, so even less time I might have. I'll hopefully be able to finish the next chapter within the next month or so. I believe there are at least two more chapters left in this trilogy. Then it's done! :D Thanks to all those who've been sticking it out to the end. It means a lot to me. I must finish this story. It's already complete in my head, but to put it on paper would mean that I can actually finish a second piece of my work, albeit not original, but something. I've realized that I write more when I'm in school. Perhaps a distraction from the homework assigned, but it's always been a comfort to be able to pull out a pen and notebook and jot down all my chapters for this fic on paper. I've done it with every chapter. At least written a summary of the chapter. Anyway... happy reading!
Swirls of fog raised overhead like a docking port on a cold night at sea. A muggy air sealed the evening sky which streamed grey, wispy clouds over a creamy moon. Wind fluttered against my hair strewn about my face. A weight pushed against my stomach, rocking to and fro in a seesaw game that felt like sea sickness.
A crescent of gold bounced up and down against the unlit horizon like a tree ornament batted lightly by a curious child.
Propping myself onto my elbows, I sat up just to have the weight shift onto my hips. I came eye to eye with a young, blond boy clad in a white shirt and khaki shorts.
He smiled as if the sun winked at him. "You woke up!" he squealed, jumping about and punching the air. "Mommy's awake!"
I could not help but smile. He reminded me of Elario, the boy in which my family took in along with Autumn and Hana. "Yes, I am awake," I giggled.
He turned and tackled me in a tight embrace. "Mommy!" He nuzzled my hair.
Mommy? I carefully pried him off. "I... I'm not your mommy..." I said slowly and carefully.
The smile only widened. "Yes, you are!" Stubbornness proved that he would not be dissuaded by any extent.
"I... I don't have any children..."
He shook his head. "You are my mommy. The pretty lady said so."
He pointed to the edge of the jetty we sat on. A lovely maiden draped her legs over the water and bowed her head.
Though far away she emanated grief. A grief heavy enough to traverse the air around. What caused such great pain? Almost one that seared me at just a glance.
I stood with effort and started toward this beauty. Golden hair fell around her in the moonlight giving rays of palor-rich light. I wondered if she held the gift of the Siren by how much I was drawn to her and how much her grief repelled me. A beckoning by a gentle tug... and a repulsion by a swift, unseen backhand; a wave of sorrow. But no song swam from her lips...
As I came closer, I narrowed my eyes in wonder. How much she looked like the boy beside me was remarkable despite the fact of how much the boy cleaved to my palm with his tiny fingers wrapped taut around it.
Finally within reach, I stopped and drew in a slow gasp, feeling the warmth of my blood leaving me frozen in shock. I dropped the boys hand and ran toward her. Her breaths came with great effort.
"Cosmos..." I muttered through threats of tears, dropping beside her and taking her shaking, cold hand.
Blue eyes drifted into mine, darting over the details of my irises. I did the same, looking for a sign of prolonged life. "Terra..." she gasped through shudders.
"What happened to you?" I couldn't stop shaking. Seeing her in this state made me feel... so helpless.
"You gave up order. I took the blame."
"Blame? What blame?"
"To ignore one's calling... and set lose a gift powerful enough to judge the great... can cause the world to collapse in the wrong hands. Because of your sin, you've been banished here."
"I... I thought my duty was over..." I swallowed, knowing that if I cried, I wouldn't be able to converse properly.
"A being's duty is never complete until they die. You never cease to be a sister or a daughter. Just like he," she motioned to the boy, "will never cease to be your son."
The child smiled warmly.
"But... I never conceived..." I countered.
"You died with child. His spirit sought you here. He is rightfully your son. Yours and Kuja's; the son of the Angel of Death."
"Oh..." I looked to the boy. The warmth of the sun filled within me and I reached out and scooped him up into my arms. "I..." my voice cracked. "I'm glad... I got to take a piece of him with me... And I'm glad... to have you here..." I said to him. My body shook now with tears as I held him close. My greatest treasure.
This moment beccame more than enough for me. I pulled him away to get a better look at him. He had red eyes; like my fathers. And blond, cropped hair; like my mother's. The same devious smirk I'd grown to love reflected on his face.
"See? I told you so," he said with an evil grin.
"I'll accept responsibility for that terrible mistake of disbelieving you."
Cosmos smiled at the two of us. Though I could see her eyes glisten with unshed tears. Fully attentive, I signalled for her to tell me what triggered her sadness.
"I have failed. You lost. It wasn't supposed to turn out this way." She talked more to the wide expanse of water before us than to me.
Closing my eyes, I offered a sigh of regret. When she spoke again her voice was different. Muffled and distorted. She spoke in and out of frequency, her words stringing forward in formation then bending backward in distortion like a time flux. Her mouth moved when I finally looked back to her. What was I hearing?
As I thought this, her voice plummeted deeper; masculinesque. I blinked. What brought about this change?
"-gone through ye files and it seems ye qualify for this mission."
Her face morphed and stretched, changing to that of a man. Cosmos' form stood and she approached me, standing much taller than her normal stature. A giantess whos structure changed until her shoulders broadened and her torso grew.
With the transformation complete, I stood before a bearded and uniformed officer who beamed with delight at me.
Clothing shuffled behind me and I torned only to gaze almost nose to nose with Vesper. Only he appeare dmuch younger and had a bandage over his cheek.
"Thank you, Captain," Vesper saluted. "I'll make preparations immediately."
The captain laughed heartily. "C'mon, Evans! Loosen up!" He gave a sloppy salute. "Ye just escaped a scrap and ye acting like ye got a stick up yer ass! Mayhaps someone can lodge it out of ye?" he gaffawed.
Vesper tightened his lips in sourness. What kind of crude captain had they put him under.
"Wipe that sneer off ye face, Evans. Doesn't suit ye. And ye'll learn to have fun with the crew once ye relax. They don't like ootsiders, so keep your trap shut and laugh with 'em. Ne'er at them. Ne'er laugh when they don't. Might insult 'em. And drop that pride ye picked up after that scrap. It ain't good for ye. Lighten up. Voyage starts tomorrow. Be at the docks one hour ere dawn."
Vesper nodded and gave a small salute.
In return Captain Borghen rolled his eyes and gave a sloppy salute. He would learn, wouldn't he, I wondered.
A hallway formed around the three of u. One in which my fther turned and marched away through. I followed hastily. Why couldn't he see me? As I rounded a corner I nearly smacked into him. Reaching out my hand to touch his shoulder, my fingers slid through his body like air. He gave no sign of feeling and thus failed to react.
"Dad? What are you doing here? Why can't I touch you?"
He glided down the halls until turning left into a room of noisy men tossing clothing and papers about while chatting and munching on a box of goodies.
"Oi! Cappi's bitch is back!" one of them shouted.
At once they pelted piles of clothing at him which he failed to dodge. A shirt and a pair of underpants hung unceremoniously over his head.
"One scuffle and he's already got you licking his boots. Though I can't say he's wrong. Broke the chap's arm, ye did! Got away with a small cut. Now that's luck for ye!" Laughter lightly brushed the room.
Vesper removed the garments from his head and tossed them aside. "I'm going to accompany all of you on the next voyage."To the Northern Lands?" another asked, peering up from a book with disgust.
"Aye," nodded Vesper.
From the back of the room there was a distinct grunt and shuffle of feet. Heavy boots grated the floor and shook the room with each solid step. Everyone silenced at once like the halt of a chorus. A giant draped in a grey sea coat that chased his ankles approached Vesper. He grinned, showing his teeth in amusement. Railed breathing could be heard throughout the room. "First new recruit in seven months and he's selected for voyage not even a day after his selection trial?" he grunted disapprovingly. "Doesn't even know what he's in for."
Murmurs of agrement escalated in the room.
"I do!" he interjected, face red from irritation.
The man's glare centered on Vesper, challenging him to speak against his word.
"I do know," Vesper breathed deeply, holding his head high to level his gaze with this giant. "We're exploring the Northern Lands to obtain knowledge of the north cultures. To expand our influence and obtain theirs; bring it back to Lindblum and distibute it among our own people."
Insults and uncontrolled laughter roared around him. Now some of the men threw whatever they could at him. Paper, clothing, armor and even weapons. With a laugh, the giant took him by the shoulder and wrist, holding him still. In one swift movement, he jerked Vesper's arm toward him with an audible snap which made Vesper tremble without sound.
I winced and tried to pry the giant's hand from my father's wrist only to have my fingers pass through them both again and again until my panic turned to frustration. With a sharp yell, I glared up to the giant and raised my fist, connecting it with the base of his jaw.
To my astonishment he faltered and let go, staring with a dazed expression at the empty air before his eyes. Jeers of excitement and chants of enthusiasm erupted from the now-borne crowd which had started fighting amongst its comrades.
Vesper escaped before they could finish him off, slipping through the bunks like a cat on the run from hounds. His body moved like liquid over tables and chairs and around bed poles.
I continued to stare at my fist, confused as to how-after being unable to touch anything here-I made contact with the giant whose face was developing a knuckle shaped bruise beneath his crimson beard.
So as to not lose track of my father, I turned and started after him. We were in Lindblum Grand Castle, I determined from the royal family crest along the hall and the bird's eye lookout point that revealed the city at twilight.
On he walked leading the way up to the highest point of the lone tower we traversed, bracing his shoulder with his free, uninjured hand. Finally outside on the balcony he plopped himself against a stone pillar and looked up to the sky with tears in his eyes.
The bulge in his shirt foretold the fact that his shoulder had been dislocated. Sitting beside him I looked up to where he stared. Above us was the Summer Triangle; Vega, Denub, and Altair.
For the first time since I'd ended up here with my father, he smiled. Laughed even. His euphoria grew louder until he clenched his teeth and threw his shoulder back into place with a deep grunt. A single tear rolled down his joyful face that hid the glossy-eyed stare of despair.
Just like that the world vanished into ash, burning away from the center of my vision to the outer layers of my peripheral view. An abstract scene of the night sky rippled into nothingness.
"Mommy?" came the echoed call of my son from the darkness.
~FFIX~ Tears of Rejuvenation~
Something glinted at the tip of Julian's rapier as he started to dislodge the metal from his sister's bosom. He narrowed his eyes in the dimness, gazing into the bloody abyss where the last pulses of her heart continued futilely to pump blood into her hardening veins. He knelt, pressing his gloved hand against the edge of the abrasion, tugging the flesh open a little farther, aware of the bones protruding against his fingers. Her sternum poked up at an odd angle as if something had imploded just below her chest.
The metallic smell of her blood thickened the air around her, infiltrating his nostrils to the point where he felt sick.
Pushing two fingers into the wound, he clutched the reflective glint between them and carefully pulled the shard of what felt like glass out. He inspected the smooth surface of its outer shell which resembled a broken crystal. Could this be the real source of what Lord King Mateus believed to be called the Arbitrator? Whatever it meant he merely repeated the words he was instructed. He truly knew nothing of the Arbitrator or its properties and just accepted its existence as a mechanism of ultimate judgment.
He was about to inspect the opening for more shards until the one between his fingers pulsed with the life of an otherworldly heartbeat. Streams of metallic light embraced his wrist and traveled up his arm, snugly wrapping itself like a snake as it coiled toward his neck. He panicked, sending a cry to pierce the stagnant air and hurled the shard from his hands where it merely hovered in place to taunt him as he flailed about trying to free himself. The air came in gasps as the metal pushed closer to his neck, threading more streams up his body to brace itself through his struggling. The metal held tighter, threatening deep lacerations and cutting off blood flow to his arm as he clawed at the lethal device.
Air flowed thinly through his pinched trachea. His lungs hysterically demanded oxygen to feed the fear sinking through his shaking body. With not enough to meet demand, all he could register was the solitary glow of blue light in the center of the room where the crystal which fed his sister's life energy lazily pulsed. A newborn star taking its first few breaths outside of its mortal vessel like an infant eager to walk;o eager to use its unsung voice but patient enough to emit the same pure, unwavering signa again and again to its own melodious metronome. These were his thoughts as his knees smacked against the ground and he came eye to eye with that glorious beauty; the same hypnotic sphere that caged the newborn star.
From behind this great wonder a figure disshelved itself from the inner wall of the room, making its way toward him until she came into visibility beside the orb. At once Julian remembered himself and bowed his forehead, bumping it against the floor. The tendrils of her elongated fingers stroked the sphere lustfully.
Julian opened his mouth to speak as he glanced up, but she had vanished. "Gone?" he wheezed, clutching the metallic streams that had morphed into the shape of snakes and pressed themselves deeper into his temples. Hot iron grazed his skull and then pierced through, leaving him screaming into deafness beside the corpse of the woman he betrayed.
~FFIX~ Tears of Rejuvenation~
I found him. Whatever else happened didn't matter because of this discovery. And now I vowed that until I felt better, I would not relinquish hold of him. My treasure.
"Mom," he whined. "You're SQUISHING ME!" He tried to push me off with both hands, but I refused to let go and refused to open my eyes. That scene... vision... had been so sudden and everything had changed so quickly that I did not long for it to happen again until I knew for sure that all was well again. At least as much as it should be. He sighed and patted my back. It did well to calm my neurotic state enough so I could let go.
"You stared into nothing forever. I couldn't wake you this time! Nothing worked!" His voice and body shook as he retold the events. I had gotten used to losing consciousness... if I hadn't, I'm sure I'd have a panic attack by now and even lose all sense of sanity.
"I visited my father." Simply put, I thought.
"Heh, yeah. He spoke little of his time as a sailor when he was alive. Come to think of it, he told me nothing but his life as a blacksmith. I was young when he passed. He spent much of his time graphing and designing new models for swords. And then even more time crafting his masterpieces and teaching Uncle Ember all he knew. All I wanted was his love and attention. As a child I mostly focused on what was before me; I never asked about his life before his apprenticeship."
He smiled brightly. "What were you like before you became my mommy?"
I held back my laughter. "Just an ordinary girl." He didn't need all the lovely details of my travels just yet... Later, much later.
"So you're with your daddy when you stare blankly like that?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Okay... but you'd better come back. I'll be the one protecting you if it happens again," he pouted with a sharp crossing of his arms.
With my guardian looking up at me, I wondered how it were possible that I could be seeing these visions on this plane of existence. Garland...? The sphere maybe? Somehow the crystal had to be sifting my father's memories into my head here... Before I could try and piece the how of that circumstance together, the world dissolved, leaving chunks of blackness across my vision.
Impuslively, my hands reached for my son and I hugged him close. But I could soon no longer see, feel, or sense him anywhere.
Vast seas were to my left and an endless desert beside me. I acknowledged it immediately. We were close to, but not near Desert Palace. I turned to see a platoon of soldiers in formation with their hands at their sides taking in the words of their commanding officer who trapsed back and forth over the sandy shore.
"If you meet resistance, take them down. We are not here to negotiate! For the Empire of Lindblum! All must fall under the lead of Cid Fabool VIII!"
I spotted my father in the crowd by his shocked expression. Most of his comrades glanced to him out of the corner of their eyes just to watch his mouth drop. Some chuckled. They had been expecting this. Anger welled within my gut and my gaze snapped to the Captain. How dare he lie to my father! I leaned down, scooping sand into my fist and then threw it at him. It vanished from the air before it had a chance to connect. The captain only blinked and then started them off marching through the barren lands to the northeast.
We walked for half a day before skirting the edges of the mountain. The Captain refused to go through the mountain pass, wanting to avoid alerting anyone of their presence. He had a target. How long had he known of Madain Sari? He was already unbearable enough with his talk of bloodshed. It was hard to quell any distaste I had for the man. If only I could touch him, make him feel my anger; but I knew that would only cause a great discord in time. There was a reason why I was only allowed to speculate memories. Good thing too.
The Summoner's village was much larger than I had ever known it. Almost as vast as Lindblum even. We walked right into the village. Bright eyes of the natives blinked up at the force, darting from their armor to the weapons dangling at their waists. The captain took advantage and started shouting commands at the startled people, gathering them together and sending troops to scout those in hiding. Everyone was treated horribly; no restraint was even used for those who lacked the strength of defense.
As soon as the commands were issued, resistance began. Wild beasts tore through the air and broke through the ground beneath the platoon's feet, sending some careening into their other comrades. Other beasts stampeded through the streets, knocking down everything in their path as some sunk their teeth into the soldiers and then dragged them wherever they pleased as long as their casters consented.
One in particular jumped at my father, knocking him off his feet and proceeding to claw at his chest. He let out a groan of pain, trying to push the monster from him, but it only lowered its teeth to his arm, biting down hard enough to send blood splattering over his face. "Get off!" he hissed, clenching his teeth tightly to keep his focus on the creature.
My legs were moving before I registered them. But by the time I had reached him, he had drawn his sword with his free hand and proceeded to swipe at the creature's face until it retreated and its caster had dismissed it. He lay there for a moment, keeping his sword at his side as he felt for the wounds on his chest which liberally yielded blood to drench his black shirt. His breathing seemed fine and he just seemed tired. There was little I could do. Though there was too much going on around him. Loud explosions followed by waves of high heat doused the newly born battlefield as people—both soldiers and summoners—were thrown from different sides of the street followed by the creatures that were summoned.
The streets were soon bathed with blood as the soldiers mercilessly drew their blades and cut down everything that put up resistance. However, the summoners acted in kind and brought their own power against the forces of Lindblum. Soon enough each side was scarce in number. My father never stood. Not once. He had closed his eyes and looked quite content, blocking out everything that took place around him. He never had any real friends in his platoon he felt he could care for. And if he resisted the summoners it would be futile.
As the howls of war died down, he cracked his eyes open to greet the setting sun and rose to his feet slowly, dropping his sword and walking out with his hands above his head. He wanted no more of this. A peaceful visit had soured with the captain's unwise decision. That was all. He didn't wish to understand more. He wanted to leave. He heard footsteps behind him. Glancing about, he noted his fellow officers had followed his motion as he walked all the way back to the ship.
On board, not a word was spoken. Some of the mousier of the soldiers clapped him on the shoulder and motioned for him to take the helm. After a brief disclosure, he learned his captain had been killed. They disembarked back to Lindblum in silence. Survival almost felt like the other side of death with how melancholy the air hung about them.
I stood beside my father, watching his expressionless face calculate their destination by the map of the skies as well as the direction of the sunset. He pulled out a compass to check his decision and nodded, turning the helm gently. He could at least return his fellow crew to their homes and families.
"Captain…" one of the soldiers addressed, walking to Vesper.
He glanced over. "Your captain is dead."
"Captain Evans…" he started again.
"I am not YOUR Captain!" he snarled.
Silence hung heavily over them.
Vesper sighed. "I never wanted bloodshed. I sincerely looked forward to good trade with that village. But YOUR Captain saw nothing but an opportunity to Kill and to Steal! He got what he deserved. A land-bound death. Not one at sea. But a grave in the dry dirt of his abhorrence. Isn't that what every sailor fears? Separation from the sea?"
The man blinked, looking like Vesper had just spit between his eyes. "We never wanted this…"
"You all knew! All of you! You and your lot are no better than murderers!" I cringed at the anger in my father's voice. His frame shook with restraint.
The man licked his lips. "We simply followed orders. We could not deviate."
"Then why accept the mission with such lustful hopes? You and your lot sicken me. If you try to wipe his name clean of sin, then I'll order you to walk the plank right now! I'll not travel back with such a disgraceful crew!" Vesper drew his sword and pointed it right at the man's chest.
I backed away instinctively. He rarely drew a sword on anyone. The sailor reacted the same and finally shut his mouth before walking off. With a heavy sigh, Vesper sheathed his blade and continued redirecting their course.
The vision did not vanish this time, but continued to a different time. Vesper stood before Cid Fabool IX. He dropped to one knee and removed his cap, staring at the floor before the Regent's son.
"As you know… or you should by now… my father has passed. While you were on your voyage," Cid said, pacing back and forth. "And you're asking to be discharged from the navy? I would highly suggest against it."
"My captain is dead."
"But your crew is alive."
"My comrades… are alive, yes," Vesper corrected, raising his gaze to Cid.
"For the hours you sailed back with them, you were their acting Captain."
"I am no leader…"
"Only the best are so humble," he chuckled.
Vesper closed his eyes, trying to regain his patience with the new Regent. "Sir… Your Majesty…"
"Cid is fine," he said warmly.
"Your Majesty… I know nothing of leadership."
"Ah, yes, in your files it says all you know is blacksmithery. That is more than most of my official captains. All they know is how to yell and shout. My father was never articulate in choosing militia potentials."
"I'm not interested…"
"You handled the situation better than most. According to your 'comrades' you waited until a small ceasefire and left a pointless battlefield."
"How is that village?" he interjected.
Cid appeared grave. "Their defenses are very low. They have little they can live off of for at least five years."
"Shouldn't we focus on helping them instead of appointing militia?"
He chuckled. "My poor boy. Would you accept help from a country that declared war on you? They won't trust us for a very long time. It's best to let native countries build themselves back up…"
"No. Interference will only distance us from them. Leave it be."
Vesper looked down.
"But you can become the captain of my naval force to make up for your blunder."
He gasped and glared up at him. "I just said NO!" The Regent quirked an eyebrow which caused Vesper to choke down his bitterness. "Are you… coercing me?"
"Maybe," Cid grinned.
"I want you in my militia. That is all. Captain Vesper Evans. It even has a nice ring to it, don't you think?" Cid glanced off to the distance and mouthed it over again.
"You're in way over your head here. I'm not doing it." He rose to his feet and walked over to him.
"I'm the Regent. I could make it a royal command."
Vesper went pale. Regent Cid walked to his desk and wrote down the 'royal request'. He smirked up to Vesper who bit his lip as the Regent signed it. "There. Now you're the Captain of the Royal Naval Force of Lindblum. Congratulations!" He forcibly shook Vesper's hand and shooed him out of the office.
Vesper bit down curses the whole way. Eventually he gave up and left to his barracks. He just wanted to sleep…
~FFIX~ Tears of Rejuvenation~
Julian took deep, railing breaths as he tried to choke up liquid that sped up his throat. The sickness hit him so suddenly it knocked him to his knees. Pain bristled through his back and extended out through his limbs. Without warning, fire chased after the pain until he lost all balance and coordination, stumbling into the wall beside his sister. And then the highest noise he had ever heard blared into his ears until he could no longer hear himself scream.
Silence became Shangri la as noise ceased, leaving him in a dull, granite room with heavy tools laden upon hooks that dangled from wooden boards around the room. A quiet fire ticked lightly in the corner. Julian watched it with wide eyes and backed away quickly. He hated this room. Hated everything about it. Especially that blaze… He shuddered and turned away only to see a young boy with black hair staring at him. For a moment this made him take a step back. He would not mistake his own childhood identity. Why was he staring at a younger self?
The boy investigated the room and then checked the doorway to the shop, making sure that there was no one watching him. He then took his father's metal hammer into both hands as he approached the table beside Julian. At once Julian tried to wrap an arm around the boy to keep him from moving forward. But, as always, something that has transpired cannot be undone.
He walked through Julian and toward the fire. Grabbing a hot metal slab that rested on the hearth, he set it down onto the table. Hoisting the hammer above the metal, he brought it down hard on the table, but lost his balance and hit the table itself. His grip loosened on the metal rod which then soared into the air, smacking him in the face and sending embers into his eyes. A long, red line splotched his cheek from the base of his jaw to the corner of his eye where the bridge of his nose began.
Whimpering and crying issued between screams as he clutched his face, moving about the room simply to quell the pain. He blindly stumbled back into the hearth. The back of his shirt scorched with fire which drew out a piercing yell.
"Julian!?" Came a concerned shout from the doorway. Seconds later, his father was dowsing the fire with a water spell and then stripping the melted cloth from his burned skin. He hushed his injured son and expertly healed him within minutes before letting out a long sigh. "Why did you come in here without my supervision? This isn't a playground…"
Young Julian sniffled and nuzzled his father's leg, drying his tears on his trousers. Vesper decided to end the scolding by patting his head. At least he found him in time. Young Julian blinked and saw several silver sparks in his vision that ceased to go away. No matter how many times he opened and closed his eyes, there were spots distorting his peripheral vision.
Older Julian looked to his younger counterpart and shook his head. The silver specks remained even after all these years. It was a punishment. It didn't bother him until now. The Embers burned the lens of his eyes back then. His father didn't need to know.
"I just wanted to be like you, daddy," younger Julian whimpered between sniffles.
"You want to be a blacksmith?"
He turned to look up at him, his eyes and face red and still healing from the burns. "You're always talking to Ember. I want to talk too. I want to learn how to weld!"
Vesper shook his head. "We'll discuss that at a later time…" His gaze followed to the fire. He doubted Julian would ever go near that hearth again. And he was right. Since that day Julian avoided that place.
Though he felt bad. Something had happened. Though he failed to recall… Something to do with Terra… What was it?
He clutched his head trying to remember. He had protected her, right? She was okay, wasn't she? Terra was… dead…
He gasped as if he hadn't been breathing for the past minute. He failed… and he had been the one… It all came back to him like a blast-driven nightmare. He slew his little sister… Why had he done such a thing? After all the promises…
A light chuckle brightened the darkness he'd surrounded himself in. A dark, beckoning chuckle that gripped all of Julian's focus. He turned only to see the one who had brought him his orders. "My Queen…" he spoke before he could stop himself and dropped to one knee as if commanded like a puppy. What was going on? Why couldn't he control himself?
His eyes stayed to her bare feet and he waited like a statue as she approached. With long nails, she brushed the underside of his chin and drew up his gaze to look at her. "My poor little puppet… you realize what you've done…" she smirked, letting the venom of her words lather over her tone. "You've killed your sister. Isn't that wonderful? Now you are free from her imprisonment."
"I-imprisonment?" he choked, finally able to get the word out. "I'd no idea I was a prisoner of my family."
"Ah, but you are. All family becomes prisoner to their kin. It takes away all desires of the self and replaces it with longing and despair. You could hardly function when you lived with those Evans'. Now you needn't worry about your precious sister… or your brother."
He glared. "Where is Ferris?"
"My, my. What a tongue you have against your master. Good dogs can still be beaten." She smiled lavishly and backhanded him to the floor. He let out a yelp and rolled onto his stomach. He was not a fighter… he could not possibly win against this woman. Despite the fact she knew he lacked strength, she did nothing to hold back and delivered a solid blow to his chest, knocking the air from his lungs until he coughed uncontrollably. Sifting her hands through the roots of his hair, she grasped a fistful and yanked him to his knees. "Ferris…" she breathed lustrously against his cheek, planting a kiss on his skin, "is currently being treated." She trailed her tongue over his jawline and then threw him to the floor with a laugh.
He glared up at her and then his gaze softened until tears dripped down his cheeks. "I did fail. I could not…" he trailed off.
Ultimecia raised her hand and snapped her fingers, filling the room with fire around Julian as she turned to leave. He stared at the flames emptily and laid back on the ground as they ate at the darkness around them. With their light it still appeared he was in a void of nothingness. The air grew thick and heavy with heat that infiltrated his lungs. In his despair he refused to cough. Why live? He'd failed… He closed his eyes and voluntarily stopped breathing. This was best. Suicide should be enough to atone. Ferris… was okay, or so the witch had confirmed.
"I don't like cowards…"
"What?" he mouthed, opening his eyes to look around him.
"And I'm not afraid of anything either… why are you so scared? Get up! Fight me!"
Julian shook his head and closed his eyes again. Hallucinations had started.
"Come on!" A boot nicked him in the side. "Are you a man or aren't you!? Why are you so afraid?"
"I'm not afraid!" He rolled onto his side, clutching where the boot hit. His injuries pulsed with the movement so he bit his lip to stop the pain.
"Then stop acting like a child and FIGHT ME!"
The voice emanated from the fire about him. Flames billowed up before him as a woman with long, mahogany hair stepped through brandishing an ax. "We've been here before…" she stated, standing tall amongst the array. Her chestnut eyes examined Julian.
"What do you…" he trailed off as she smirked and lunged herself at him, drawing the ax back and preparing to swing it into his side.
"Fight!" she commanded.
Taking a step back, he raised his arm in just enough time to create a barrier before him which the ax bounced off of. Julian stumbled a little from the force but quickly regained his footing. "We don't have time for this, Lani!"
Lani laughed. "You said that too. Isn't it funny how cliché you can be with yourself sometimes?"
"You've got to get out of here! It's dangerous!" he ordered.
She quirked an eyebrow. "Really? What about you? How bad do you think those burns are?" She motioned with her ax to his chest.
He looked down to see his clothing had been charred to the skin.
Lani grinned. "You're going to die here? Wouldn't it be better if you could fight me for real again someday? I don't like losers who self-mutilate themselves just because of one mistake. It's stupid!"
Julian swallowed and looked to the flames about him.
"Now what are you going to do about them?"
He moved his arm over the fires which were extinguished under crystals of ice. As he looked back up to her, he heard the sound of cloth flapping in the wind and only stared blankly up at the room where his sister's body waited.
"Lani?" He shook his head and knelt to Terra. A shaky hand stroked the pale, cold cheek of the fallen girl. "What compelled me to do this to you?" His words came out through sobbed gasps.
Terra lay still. He thought she would just sit up and hug him, tell him it's alright. But that's what he tried not to expect of the dead. Though they looked like they would smile and tell you it's okay… their glass-eyed gazes would never move from the fixture they were set upon.
He looked to the crystal which glowed warmly before him. Just as Mateus entered the room to see Julian, he picked up the sword that lay inside his sister's chest. Carefully, he wiped it clean of blood.
"Finished?" Mateus asked with a look of skepticism.
"Yes, Master." Julian nodded, offering a bow.
Mateus smiled, looking down to the girl's form. "Kuja will not like it, but this is something I deemed necessary."
"Since when do you care about what others think?" Julian asked, trying to sound aloof. If there was any sign that something had changed, he did not want to make it apparent.
With a shake of his head, he said, "If I did not worry about what my comrades believe or think of my actions, then there would be more than just hell to pay if I made any kind of mistake. Fortunately, I am not a fool."
"Of course," Julian agreed, clutching the sword tighter. "But it makes you no less ignorant." With his trademark smile, he raised the sword.
"What do you mean?" Mateus demanded angrily.
Julian swung the sword down, slicing right through the orb before them. It went from a dull blue to a rich and then deeper violet at the seams of the cracks until it completely broke and then filled the room with ultraviolet light which spread out into tiny flares that resembled the night sky. They pulsated momentarily before gathering just above Terra, stitching back the shard first which hovered above her body and then fell to her side, and then focused on stitching her tissues back into one; layer by layer.
Mateus growled when he saw her hand twitch. "She's alive!?" He turned, wishing to see no more and stormed out of the room. Cries of injured soldiers made his path until they faded into small grunts from a distance.
Dropping to his knees, he clutched Terra's hand in his. The sword lay placidly on the ground between them, glowing a dark shade of purple. Slowly, the warmth returned to her hand and then she finally cracked her eyes open to look at Julian.
~FFIX~ Tears of Rejuvenation~
"Where are we going, mommy?" the boy asked, clutching my hand tighter as we walked.
I stared ahead at the light. "I'm… dead… right?"
"Isn't it right… to leave limbo and continue on?"
He didn't answer and looked down with a pout. "Shouldn't we wait for daddy?"
I smiled. "Yeah, but he's going to take his sweet time… And make a grand entrance… like the narcissist he can be sometimes…" I rolled my eyes.
The boy stared up at me with a smile. "But we have to. We're family."
Something in his gaze made me feel nostalgic. He had his father's way of making me do what he wanted when I probably didn't want to. But that was the wonder to our relationship, I supposed.
I turned away and started back to the docks where we began and then stopped. A heavy pull tugged on my mind like a lingering, death weighted realization. Not something I could immediately understand or register, but that sinking feeling that one gets when one forgets an important detail that could be detrimental for that split second that it is realized.
"Mommy?" he tugged on my arm which felt heavy as stone. "What's wrong?"
"It's time…" I said blankly.
"What do you mean?"
Understanding of my own words I knelt down in front of him and stroked his hair. "Listen… everything is going to be alright…" I held him close. "I'll see you again. But you won't remember… okay?"
"Mommy? No. That's not okay! What do you mean I won't remember? Where are you going?" He clutched onto my sleeve, pulling and tugging. Tears appeared on his face as fast as he could smile.
"Shh… it's alright." I knew it. I was alive. And he could be too. But… as strange as it was… it was just as hard to explain life to the unborn as it was to explain death to the living especially when they're young. "We'll be together again… I promise. And you will get to live… and breathe. And smile. And laugh. And you'll FEEL it. It'll be something amazing. Something to look forward to. There's so much I want to show you. And teach you!" My excitement only bristled his fear.
He full out cried. Snot even dribbled down his nose as he embraced me around the neck. "Don't leave me!"
"I won't. You're coming with me."
"But you said I'd forget you, mommy! I don't wanna forget anything! I want us to be together! Don't leave!"
"But I want to live. Just as you should want to."
"Why? What's so important about living!?"
"It's not something… I can explain…" I said carefully. "You'll just have to find out on your own."
"NOOOOOOO!" He screamed, making me cringe.
Before I could give him any comfort, I could no longer feel him. I looked around and saw nothing. A purple light rose before me and I listlessly approached it, reaching my arm out. At once I was pulled forward and into the encompassing warmth. I knew he was still with me. There wasn't any possibility that I had left my unborn son behind.
I awoke to see the concerned, blood-stained face of Julian. I wanted to smile and hug him, but all I could do with the energy I had was grasp his hand. That was enough. We could stay like this for as long as he wanted. My hand rested gently on my abdomen. Yes, I hadn't left him behind…