Disclaimer- I don't own any of the Final Fantasy characters in this story.
Author's note: Gods, I've been building up to this chapter for 6 and a half years! The last chapter. The final entry in the saga. Trevor and Kaiten's last adventure together. I've had a lot of fun writing this series and will never forget writing it. I hope you all continue to follow my writing through Micro God, Luminarium (distant future), and The Book Was Better review show, if I can ever find the time and the right programs. XP
In the meantime, please enjoy the final chapter of Shattered Mind: Control…
Chapter 16: One Last Curtain Rise…
Six months later…
Alexandria in the late fall was lovely. Now that the mist was gone, everyone could see into the valley below. The deep green of the grass far below stretched far into the horizon, and the rocks of the cliffs all around reflected orange during sunset. Evil Forest had a slight tinge of brown from the few normal trees within it. The rest was a mix of dark green and black, possibly having been replaced with a new master of the forest. I decided I might need to take care of that on my next day off.
Decorations adorned the town and the airship lot was full. Nobles and royalty from the neighboring nations had been invited. The entire kingdom was roaring with delight for the Queen's upcoming birthday celebration! For half a week already, the citizens cheered for their beloved ruler who graciously watched over them. Balloons and streamers hung from every street, vendors had specials on all their wares, and even a few new products. The 'Alexandros Spiced Rum' one pub sold was nice, but the 'Garnet-Heart Pie' needed some work. It was like a runny cherry pie, and its biggest problem was that it wasn't cake.
By now, everyone knew what Garnet Til Alexandros and her team of heroes had done within Memoria. We had all gotten special credence in a national ceremony. Lindblum, Burmecia, the many villages throughout the kingdom, and even the survivors of Cleyra were invited to celebrate.
Amarant was the only one who hadn't stayed to receive an award. Something about not wanting to be recognized. Instead, he wandered off, back into the streets. It was almost sad seeing him go, since he was still an integral part of the group. I made sure to tell him to come back and visit. He just grunted.
Quina was thanked by Dagger herself. The Qu were a highly isolated race and rarely met with humans or Burmecians, so one getting international attention like this was especially noteworthy. Quina was also offered a job as Alexandria's head chef. He would work in the kitchen, experimenting with whatever he chose to, using the freshest ingredients with all the assistants he would ever need. Satisfied with his first meal to the point of obsession, Quina ended up eating a dinner meant for seven people. Fortunately, it was just a get-together for our small band of heroes.
Eiko was without a real home and had grown too fond of the rest of us to go back to Madain Sari. Fortunately, Regent Cid stepped up and he and Queen Hilde adopted the little girl. Eiko seemed marvelously unprepared for royal life since she had basically been raised by moogles for the last two years. Cid said she spent her first month running around like the rambunctious kid she was while giving the servants cute nicknames like 'Moma' and 'Potato'. Cid said he was working on her behavior.
Freya went back to Burmecia. The Cleyrans had been gracious in aiding Burmecia in its dire time of need and even offered further aid in reconstruction. After Brahne's death, while the rest of us had been traveling, Cleyra and Burmecia had been working together to rebuild. Refugees from Lindblum even returned home and there was a lot less work to do than I had thought. Freya had been honored and given the rank of Commander of the Dragon Knights by the King of Burmecia himself. She even found her lost love, Sir Fratley, though he still had amnesia due to combat. They still spent their first night sitting under the stars together.
Speaking of Freya, a friend of mine responded to my invite to the ceremony. Seki, the Dragon Knight who had become a refugee in Treno, even brought all her kids with her. After the ceremony I reintroduced the two together again. Neither could believe the other was still alive, and I made sure to keep Seki's life in Treno a secret. They hugged, shared tears, and shared beers, while I took the kids off Seki's hands for a night. Seki had moved back to Burmecia and retired from military life, preferring instead to raise the kids as their adoptive mother. They all seemed a lot happier now that they were out of that dark, dingy city and back into their drenched, washed-out city. Burmecians are weird like that.
Vivi had been given a unique offer as well. Even though he had never technically belonged to any nation, he said he preferred to live in Alexandria, since that was where most of his friends lived. As such, Dagger gave him citizenship and he was made an ambassador to the Black Mage Village. The Black Mages were seen as regular people and their village was recognized as a sovereign state. Vivi had already earned their trust and was the perfect person to fly out once a month to conduct trade and diplomatic missions. I had to fly with him on the first three missions until he got the hang of it on his own. I think he just wanted me around to hang out with.
Steiner retained his rank of Captain of the Knights of Pluto. He said his position was at the Princess' side for the rest of his life, vowing to assure her safety. Instead, he was honored with newly polished armor and weaponry for his entire squad. He was so proud of it that he even wore the armor our private dinner later that night, watching it gleam in the open hall. He was only mildly infuriated when Quina ate all the food.
Dagger was already queen and she found the idea of rewarding herself absurd, so Lindblum and Burmacia did it for her. The three countries formed a pact, swearing off wars with one another so that another Mist War would never happen. The agreement also led to an increase in trade, which helped bolster the rebuilding nations. Now that the mist was gone, villages started popping up in the valleys between the nations, increasing farming as well. Cleyra had been invited into the
alliance, but they declined, preferring their isolation so they could live in their own peace. The Alliance, as the new pact of nations was called, and Cid crafted a seal to represent the newfound relationship. Three interlocked triangles met with a smaller circle within them, symbolizing the nations of the Mist Continent and their importance within the world as a whole.
Zidane and Kaiten were both given awards, even though neither were present. Kaiten had left Lindblum for his journey days before, and we still had no idea where Zidane was. Zidane had earned the Diamond Sigil, for acts benefiting the whole of Alexandria, far above and beyond the call of duty. According to Doctor Tot, the award had only been earned twenty-seven times in the last thousand years. A portrait of Zidane was also set to be painted and hung in a special hall. When the artist complained he had no one to paint, Dagger told him to wait. Zidane would be back.
No one knew how much Kaiten had fought, lost and sacrificed more than I did. Though Dagger gave him recognition in public, his reward was kept confidential, known only to her, Steiner, Beatrix and myself. Kaiten was to be given citizenship to Alexandria if he chose, as well as recognition of his rank from Terra. He would be allowed to prove his loyalty to Alexandria and achieve a military career.
As for myself, I had been presented a new rank, created within Alexandria's government. I was made Guardian of the Kingdom. It was largely an inflated title, but I was treated the same as a Captain in the Army, able to give commands as I saw fit. I was Dagger's bodyguard part of the time, and I did patrols through the city other times, working alongside the Army or the Knights of Pluto. I assisted the Kingdom when I could, like accompanying Vivi on his diplomatic missions, as well as aiding nearby villages from monster attacks and bandit raids. Dagger and I both knew that it wasn't a permanent position, but it allowed me to watch over her, like I had promised Zidane, until he came back.
As part of the Guardian rank, I had been given a new sword and armor. The armor had been crafted out of mythril to match my Terran armor to replace the missing breastplate. The sword was a large broadsword with a subtle edge. It was adorned in gold and sapphires, made more for decoration than actual combat, but I accepted it all the same. I knew I wasn't likely to use it since Crimson and Azure were all the blades I needed. Still, it would make a lovely decoration once I had a home built.
As Guardian and bodyguard to the queen, I was granted a room within the castle. I wondered about life after Zidane's return and seriously considered life in the military, though with Steiner around, I wasn't sure of my chances of a promotion. I could probably take a transfer to captain easily enough, but beyond that? That was far in the future, so I didn't even worry about it.
I also thought about housing. During my patrols into the city, I would scan the apartments on the eastern side of the river. They seemed like the nicest place in town, and within my price range, considering what I was getting in my pay. The fact that it was where some of the city's cutest girls also lived was almost irrelevant. Wouldn't dad be proud to see me now?
Dad… I thought about him a lot. I thought about my real body laying in that hospital bed, tended to, but basically dead. No soul meant no recovery. How long would dad watch over my lifeless remains until he gave up? And speaking of fathers, I had someone to contend with in this world. Shortly after we came back from Lindblum, I had to meet Captain Delores.
We had met in the garden in the castle where I first met Captain Delores and learned about his son. Before I could get a word in, he told me how proud he was of me, and that he loved me. He said he wished he had a hundred troops as capable as I was. He told me everything a good father said to his son. That only made telling him the truth harder. Trevor Delores was dead, and his father deserved to know.
"Trevor, I… I don't understand…" Delores told me. I could see tears welling up in his remaining eye. "Why would you tell me something like this? Was it something I did?"
"No, Captain… Sir," I struggled to say. This was almost as hard for me to say as it was for him to listen. Even now I wasn't even sure what to call the man, much less what to say to comfort him. "I don't want to live a lie. Your true son died to bring my soul into his body. My partner and I killed the man responsible though."
Delores sat on a stone bench next to the fountain in the center of the garden. He thought his son had been missing, and that he had found him when he saw me in Cleyra. His real son had been dead the entire time, having gone missing the night of Dagger's abduction. I thought it best not to approach him. "But how is it possible? How could you not be Trevor?"
I told Delores what I could about Terra, the Invincible, and the feats capable of with soul power. Delores was too heart-broken to fully grasp everything about what I was saying, but he understood what he had to. I thought about telling him how I was lost to my own father, but decided against it. I had no idea what the Captain was going through, and I wasn't about to patronize him. When I reached out to comfort him, he pulled away.
"Please," he asked. "Just let an old man mourn his son alone for a while."
"Yes sir," I said quietly. With nothing left to say, and nothing to say, I just left him there. I asked Beatrix to watch over him and make sure he was alright. She was shocked as Delores was that I wasn't his son, but she understood how much support he needed now and left to see him.
With my business concluded, the only thing left was to make a life for myself here in Gaia. I often considered finding a way back to Earth, but the cost was too high. Killing someone was bad enough, but destroying their soul to use as fuel was monstrous. I tried not to think about it as best I could, but it was hard to avoid a stray thought sometimes.
As we drew closer to the Queen's birthday, security got ever tighter. Patrols increased within the city, the gates were monitored more sternly, and every airship coming into the city had to be registered to land in advance. Most of them belonged to nobles from Treno, or they were shuttles dropping people off from around the continent, but we had to be careful. Rumor had it that an international group of thieves posing as actors would be arriving.
I was on patrol near the airdocks the day of Dagger's birthday when the alarm rose. The watchtower saw an unregistered airship coming our way and called down to the rest of us in a panic.
"Load the cannons and take aim," I commanded the soldiers working the defenses. "But take your hands off the triggers. Someone hail the oncoming ship. Tell them to land in the fields in the distance so we can board and inspect them."
The radio technology Regent Cid had traded with us was one of the most useful advances we had seen in a long while, allowing us to communicate between our defense towers and the main castle without running back and forth. We were also able to contact oncoming and outgoing ships, though that was mostly the airdock's job. However, security trumped here, and I got to take charge.
"They're not responding sir!" the communications officer said. "Either they're ignoring us, or they don't have a radio in place!"
"Not responding?" I repeated. Alexandria and Lindblum had optimized all their airships with radios, meaning this one was either an older, privately owned model, or they were openly hostile. Either way, I signaled the cannons to keep their target in sight.
"I see him!" the watchtower suddenly called down. "It's the Invincible! Repeat, the Invincible is coming! It's flying straight for the castle!"
"The Invincible?!" I repeated. Was it Kuja? This was what I had readied the city's defenses for. The game never answered whether he was truly alive or not, so even I didn't know what to expect. There was no way we were going to be caught off guard. "Raise the alarms! Contact Captain Steiner and General Beatrix! Have them mobilize their troops at once! Cannons, take careful aim! I want a wall of cannonballs to knock him off course! Get him away from the city!"
My communications officer radioed the castle while the cannoneers readied their shots. Our defense array had a dozen cannons on a raised platform, so we didn't have to worry about collateral damage in town. I covered my ears as a round of shots rang out through Alexandria as each of the cannons unloaded their fury, one immediately after the other. As expected, the Invincible was agile enough to evade our first volley, but instead of approaching further, it landed in the field outside of town. Perhaps Kuja was trying to come here on peaceful terms, or perhaps it wasn't Kuja at all.
"Ready the cannons again, but hold your fire," I commanded. "I'm going out there. If it looks like he's going to take off again, open fire immediately and take him down. His main cannon takes a few seconds to fire, so even if he's attacking, you'll have a few seconds to take him out. Aim for the red eye on the underside of the ship."
The soldiers worked quickly, reloading their cannons and holding their aim. Meanwhile, I tore down the winding stairs, running to the streets. I could make it to the city walls in a matter of minutes. Getting inside the ship and inspecting it when I got there would be another matter though. Steiner was already gathering five of his troops and leading them to the western gate. Five was better than he usually got from his blundering squad. They had been improving since Steiner returned.
"Steiner!" I called out as I caught up. "Got my message?"
"About the Invincible, yes," he admitted. "I rounded up what soldiers I could. The rest are still on patrol. Do you really think it's Kuja?"
"No idea. The game doesn't say whether or not he dies."
"Kind of a gap in the story, isn't it?"
"Sometimes it builds tension, and you don't always have to give the audience all the answers. There are plenty of stories out there where characters are just ignored off page and never reappear. But if it is Kuja, I don't think he's here for anything sinister. Why else would he land outside of town?"
"A good point. I'll make sure to keep that in mind during his interrogation."
Citizens of Alexandria gathered in the streets cautiously to see what the big deal was. By now, everyone knew about the alien ship landing outside of town. Mothers gathered their children together and guided them into their houses as we ran passed. Men gathered tools and whatever weapons they had, but Steiner bellowed for them all to stay put. We would take care of this.
Beatrix and a division of one hundred soldiers were already on the scene when we arrived outside the gate. She had her troops spread out, thinning the lines so fewer of them would die should an attack come. However, for all the setup we saw, the soldiers were all very calm. Ready for battle if need be, but calm.
"Diana?" Steiner called as he and I pushed through the ranks. Beatrix was at the front, her sword, Save the Queen, in hand. But she held the tip to the ground, holding herself back from battle. "What's going on?"
"Adelbert," she greeted coolly. "Calm down, it's not an emergency."
"The city alerted, the guards mobilized, the Invincible of all ships arrives, and it's not an emergency?!"
"What's going on?" I asked, looking at the ship as it rested in the field. The Invincible was resting on the ground, its usual hum running. I couldn't help but look at the red laser port and remember the last time it had been used on the city. "Who was piloting the ship?" It was only after I asked that I noticed him, standing around, backpack held by one strap over his shoulder, like nothing was amiss. Just like the day he had left.
"Kaiten?!" I said cheerfully. I grinned wide as we approached each other. He dropped his bag to the side and the two of us reached out for a short bro-hug. "Are you back? You've been gone for months! And how'd you find the Invincible? I thought we lost it in Memoria!"
"Relax! One question at a time!" He hoisted his bag and started walking towards the line of soldiers. I kept close to him as we strolled together. "Geez, you're acting like you thought I was dead again."
"Well, considering how many times you've died and come back, I might as well think you've gone out to find God or something."
"As if. I just needed to clear my head. And stop hovering around me!"
"What's God like? Does he like pancakes? Tell me he likes pancakes!"
"Lieutenant Kaiten," Steiner greeted. His expression was gruff, as the situation seemed to call for, but gave Kaiten the respect he deserved. Kaiten returned the favor with a nod.
"That was uncalled for," Beatrix approached. "You've terrified half the city and put the Royal Guard on alert!"
"Then tell the guards to back down and the citizens to relax. The Invincible is mine."
"Hey, I called dibs!" I was quick to point out.
The three of them ignored me. "Bringing that ship here was reckless. In addition to the upgraded security within Alexandria due to her Highness' birthday, you've brought a known enemy ship to the capital!"
"Two things," Kaiten said, holding up as many fingers. "One, shut up. Two, it's not an enemy ship. It's mine, and I intend to use it to help Alexandria, if I'm paid enough."
"Trevor, talk to him, will you?" Steiner asked, putting himself between the warring soldiers. "Diana, remember, he did help save the world."
Meanwhile, I grabbed Kaiten and took him ten feet away to talk. "Hell of an entrance," I said.
"You always did have a strange fascination with those," he remembered. "Anyway, what's her problem? Is she still pissed off because I beat her in combat in Burmecia?"
"She's just on edge, always on the lookout for the next Kuja, just in case. After all, it's Dagger's birthday and last year she was kidnapped, albeit consensually. And if I remember that fight, Kuja got a hit on you as well. But anyway, you didn't answer my question. Are you back for good?"
"For now," he said. "I've decided to get a job and move to Alexandria, if the Queen doesn't have a problem with it."
"Actually, you've been granted citizenship. It was your reward for saving the world in the ceremony you missed."
"Well, that takes care of one problem. Now I'll just have to find a place to rent. Think you can lend me some Gil? I'm a little short these days."
"I can do that," I said. "Free room and board inside the castle means I can save my money pretty easily. Also, part of my job means patrolling around town, so I think I can help you find a place. What kind of work were you gonna try out? You could join the military here. Dagger said she would reinstate your rank and everything."
"You still call her that?"
"One of the many perks of my job. I can tease a queen and get away with it." My sinister laughter caught even Beatrix's attention until Steiner pulled her back.
"Cute. No, I was going to try my hand at mercenary work."
That puzzled me for a moment. "You're gonna be a merc? I'm not sure how crazy Dagger'll be about that."
"It isn't much different from my last job. Besides, guard duty is too confining for me. I need to be able to travel and stretch my legs. That's what I loved about Special Forces. And one more thing," he said, pausing for a moment. "I'm going to need a partner."
I eyed Kaiten for a few seconds, sizing up his offer. "You want me to join you? You want me to be a merc?"
"I'll still be calling the shots, but yes, I could use your help."
"Why do you get to call the shots? I was the one who got us through most of the storyline!"
"Because I'm the company CEO and founder. Besides, how much military experience do you have again?"
"Uh… I'm the world's first Guardian of the Kingdom?"
"That's your title?!" Kaiten blurted out, not even trying to hide his mocking laughter. "Please tell me you didn't choose it yourself!"
Suddenly, Beatrix's patients wore off. "FINE!" she shouted. "I'll go report to the queen. Make sure he doesn't cause any more panic!"
She stormed off in a huff, pulling her division of soldiers back as well. Steiner could only sigh as Kaiten and I approached him. "Tough break big guy?" I asked.
"I convinced her not to arrest Kaiten for disturbing the peace," he said. "She doesn't lose well."
"Damn. Hope that doesn't mean you'll be sleeping on the couch."
Steiner stood up tall and resumed his authoritative appearance. "I'm going to ignore that you said that. In any case, you'll have to leave the Invincible here. We don't want to rile the people more than they already have been."
"Fine," Kaiten said. He turned and looked up at the airship. "Invincible, lock procedures Alpha-One-Alpha." After a moment, there was a sharp CLANG coming from the ship, as if someone had snapped a lock over it.
"Did you just put an anti-theft lock on the Invincible?" I asked. "Why would you put an anti-theft device on the Invincible?"
"To make sure no one steals it, obviously."
"You did that just to keep me from taking it, didn't you?"
"Well, I have been inside your head."
Steiner ordered his men to line up towards the city. "We're going back. Hopefully we can convince the citizens to relax. Trevor, don't forget you're still on duty, so don't slack off just because Kaiten showed up. Beatrix is still angry at Tantalus for kidnapping the princess right under her nose last year."
"Right," I called back as he left. "I'll patrol until the Prima Vista shows up and try to stay out of the way."
"Thank you," Steiner said, stepping back into the gate.
"Speak of the devil," Kaiten said, pointing to the distant sky. "Look."
Coming over the walls of the city, the Prima Vista II was on approach. The theatre ship flew slowly as it neared the landing pool. It looked just like it did in the intro to the game. I had come in late, so I never even got to see the play. Seeing the ship from this low angle gave me the same sense of majesty that I had felt the first time I had ever played the game.
"They're early," I said. "We should head back to the castle. The play is going to start at sunset. The streets are gonna be pretty crowded, so we should head in now."
"Might as well," Kaiten shrugged. "I don't have much else to do anyway. Not like I've opened shop yet."
The new Prima Vista II looked almost the same as the first ship. Six tall steeples rounded the edges of the airship, each topped with twin propellers spinning lazily. The figurehead at the front of the ship was of a mermaid, tail wrapped to the underside. The wide windows dotting the ship and its steeples were multicolored, shining a rainbow of colors into the depths of the ship. Most notably was the stern, which hosted a large stage. Several traveling airships like this one existed, but the Prima Vista was the largest I had ever seen. I almost had to wonder if Tantalus had stolen it.
By the time Kaiten and I reached the castle, the Prima Vista had already landed, splashing down in the large pool by the river. I saw Benero and Zenero, the short, odd little helpers Tantalus employed, already setting things up for tonight's show. The hardly regarded me as I let myself on the stage. I looked back over the pool, chuckling to myself as I remembered how this adventure had all started right here in this very arena. I tried to see where Trevor Delores must have fallen from the bleachers and where my soul was transferred into his body. I had a sobering moment, remembering the cost of everything up to this point, but trying to convince myself it was all for the best. The world was safe, and soon Zidane would be back with Dagger. Everyone would have a happy ending.
"Hey, you coming?" Kaiten called from the curtain.
"Right," I corrected myself and got back on task. "Sorry, just thinking."
"Remembering how your story started?"
I chuckled. It had been one year ago today that I was dropped into Gaia. So much of the world here had changed, and so much of it thanks to me. So much of it still looked the same, but there were a great many improvements. Lindblum was repairing, Burmecia was almost fully restored, Alexandria was under better rule, and Kuja was gone and probably dead. International trade was up, villages were spreading, and I had my own fandom, complete with cute girls left and right. Dagger often joked that I was trying to replace Zidane as our group's womanizer.
"Yeah," I finally answered. "I guess there isn't much left to do but reminisce. That and get ready for the party tonight. Don't you get nostalgic about it all too?"
"Little bit," he said. "I passed through Dali on my journey for that very reason. The village is doing a lot better. They've expanded the farm and there was no more underground factory from what I could tell."
"We're gonna have to sit down so you can tell me everything you did. And you still need to tell me how you found the Invincible."
The curtain ruffled on the stage behind us. I had to look for a moment, but at the corner in one of the wings the curtain furled and flapped in the wind. I stepped towards the wing of the stage and threw the curtain back. Blank, Cinna, Marcus, and all the others would have been working to get ready for the play, but it was someone else who greeted me as I gazed into the recesses of the airship.
"Zidane," I smiled. "About goddamned time you showed up."
Zidane stayed to the shadows, signaling for me to enter the wing, behind the curtains. I turned to Kaiten and told him to wait for a minute as I stepped inside. Kaiten just waved me off and took a seat on the edge of the stage, looking out over the water.
The curtain cut off the light from Alexandria for the candle light of the backstage instead. It was dim, but I could still see Zidane clearly. He looked a little frazzled, but was otherwise no worse for wear. "Good to see you again," I said. "Knew I would."
"Hehe, yeah," he agreed. "Can't get anything passed you. Thanks for the advice inside the tree though. Looks like you saved me once again."
"Glad to help. What about Kuja though? Were you able to save him?"
Zidane's expression dropped. His lower lip hung open and he turned away, which gave me all the answer I needed. "I… Kuja, he…died while I carried him out of the tree…"
"Hey, it's alright," I said. I clapped him on the shoulder to reassure him. "You did the best you could, and made it out alive. Besides, Kuja still died heroically, despite how he lived."
Zidane stood up straight, but folded his arms. "Thanks Trevor, but… I came to accept that a while ago. Kuja was my brother, but now I need to move on. Besides, there's so much for me here."
Zidane smirked, edging back to the curtain. He chanced another glance out for only a moment, then relaxed the curtain again. "I may have been trying to see her before the show. I'm a little nervous since I've been gone for so long. You see, my plan was—"
"Join the play in secret, cover yourself in a heavy cloak, pretend to be Marcus and profess for love for Dagger right there on stage in front of the entire kingdom?"
"I forgot that this was all a game in your world. Of course you'd know my entire plan…"
"Heh, sorry buddy."
"But if you've seen the play, you know what happens, right? What does Dagger think? Will she like it?"
"You know I don't have to tell you that," I said. "What do you think she'll do?"
"I'm hoping she'll race down from her seat and plant a big kiss on me."
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised. "Well, one can hope for you. But anyway, I'm sure you have to prepare, and I think this is good enough for my security sweep of the airship. Just promise me you won't try to kidnap Dagger again. Beatrix is on edge enough as it is."
"The plan is just like you said," he explained. "Nothing more."
"Good," I smirked. "I'll have Dagger in place in time for the show. Just give a hell of a performance. Good luck!"
I slipped out from the curtain and back on stage, but not before Zidane called out, "It's bad luck to wish an actor luck before a show!"
"You don't need it!"
Kaiten heard me coming and stood, giving himself a moment to stretch from his short break. "Are you ready to go?"
"For now," I said. "I'll need to report in to Beatrix and let her know everything is safe, then I'm on bodyguard duty for Dagger until the show starts. Why don't you come with me? We have an extra seat waiting just for you. It's one of the best in the house! Fifth row, center."
Kaiten shrugged. "I've never been much for theatre, but I don't see much else to do, so I might as well. How's she been by the way?"
"Dagger's been fine. She's a little hesitant to make some of her decisions, and she's a little naïve, but she's doing a good job."
"Sounds like someone else I know."
"Haha, fuck you."
Reintroducing Kaiten to Beatrix and Dagger was simple enough. Dagger admitted she didn't know much about Kaiten, but was willing to learn about one of my friends. Beatrix said she would stay with Dagger for the rest of the evening just in case Kaiten was trying something. I did what I could to keep them apart, but fortunately, Kaiten felt comfortable with his sense of superiority that he didn't feel threatened by Beatrix. I guess arrogance could be a good thing every now and then.
As evening fell, the royal guests arrived. I always thought the final cutscene looked too rushed in the game, like it had been written and made months before the rest of the story had been plotted out. That would explain why Dagger's hair was longer than it was now. It also left out the dinner party Dagger held before the play.
Regent Cid took one side on the long dining table, sitting between Hilde and Eiko. Hilde seemed to have recovered completely from her time as Kuja's captive, and she and Cid seemed closer than ever. She touched his arm, leaning on him from time to time, though custom seemed to frown upon it. Eiko was still a rambunctious kid, but was no doubt receiving manners lessons. She had a brand new purple dress with white frills, which she quickly ruined by splashing soup on herself during the first course of dinner. She sat still for the first half of dinner, then insisted on changing seats with the Regent so she could sit closer to Dagger and they could chat. She called it a need for "girl talk".
The King of Burmecia also joined, along with Puck. Puck looked way out of character in his red suit and black tie. I almost wanted to put a powdered wig on him just to see what he would look like. However, unlike Eiko, he fit the behavior and appearance of a royal child, sitting calmly and speaking in turn. Unlike Eiko, he didn't fidget or bounce around. It was hard to believe he was once the kid who ran away from his entire country just out of boredom. Still, his transformation wasn't total. Before dinner, he asked if Vivi was around so he could slip out and hang with the little mage. I told him Vivi wasn't due back from a diplomatic meeting until after dinner. Puck just sulked like the child he was.
Beatrix and I were in charge of guarding Dagger as she sat at the head of the table. Beatrix actually allowed herself to lighten up for the first time all day when Dagger insisted the general try Quina's new quiche recipe. Kaiten would have joined us, but declined, preferring instead to eat at the Bronze Cup Tavern in town. He said he would have looked out of place at the table, but promised to join up before the play started.
Finally, the hour of the play was upon us. Simple fireworks lit up the sky one at a time in the dark sky. They reflected off the pool, giving two shows at once. Citizens of the town gathered along the rooftops, watching for free while the nobles and honored guests took the seats directly in front of the stage. Dagger, as queen, was given the best seat: a large, silk chair sitting in a balcony overlooking the stage. Regent Cid and the King of Burmecia were granted seats at her side in smaller, but equally comfortable silk seats. Beatrix and Steiner took their spots, standing side to side at the back of the balcony.
The rest of the World Heroes were given an entire section in the middle of the house, just underneath the balcony. Freya arrived with the king, having invited Sir Fratley. Quina brought food out from the kitchen in buckets. What I had first thought to be popcorn or something similar turned out to be a pail of sausages. The smell and his hasty, open-mouth chewing nearly made me sick. Amarant came back to us, bringing Lani along with him. He pretended to be disinterested in the reunion, but Lani sat next to him nervously. It was obvious she was focused, but not in the play.
Eiko stayed up with Regent Cid so she could talk with Dagger. At this rate, she was going to talk the young Queen's ears off. Eiko didn't seem to have anyone close to her age to talk to in Lindblum, so this trip was a blessing to her. Vivi came back via airship, running to the audience and leaving himself out of breath. Puck was waiting for him and within minutes he was talking about pranks they should pull together.
I was given leave for the night. With Steiner and Beatrix guarding Dagger, they were more than enough to keep her safe. I kept Crimson and Azure with me, but left my armor in my room within the castle. Kaiten joined me after dinner and the two of us sat together in the middle of our group of heroes. It felt funny sitting around all these friends, knowing what we had all done and how strong we were collectively. I felt proud and amazingly accomplished.
I considered myself, as an Earthling in this strange world, making a life for myself. Then I looked at Kaiten, a Terran, who was also making a new life for himself here. It was such an odd pairing of heroes, but we had done it. We had made it to the end of the game. I could never have a simple life in this place between my friends, my powers, and this very world, but I could definitely make a name for myself. I had become a hero, just like I had always wanted.
"What are you giggling about?" Kaiten asked, elbowing me in the ribs. "The play's starting!"
The audience clapped wildly as the fireworks finished in one massive display. Sparks flew over the water and rooftops, lighting the night sky for several seconds. The band erupted into fanfare to the delight of everyone watching. The crowed exploded into cheers, and even Kaiten started clapping. Amarant and Lani were the only ones not caught up in the moment.
The crowd died down as Baku walked onstage, dressed as King Leo, in a green robe with red trim. "Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight's performance is a story that takes place long, long ago. Our heroine, Princess Cornelia, is torn from her lover, Marcus. She attempts to flee the castle, only to be captured by her father, King Leo. Tonight's story begins when Marcus and Cornelia decide to run away together. And now, Your Royal Majesty, Queen Garnet, Lord Steiner, Lady Beatrix, noble ladies and lords, and our rooftop viewers, Tantalus proudly presents 'I Want to Be Your Canary'!"
The play almost seemed like a slight retelling of last year's, except Marcus wasn't captured in this version and Cornelia didn't sacrifice herself to save her father's life. I laughed as I thought about my entrance in the play, pole-vaulting into Steiner as the play collapsed into all-out combat against the castle guards. Did that really happen only a year ago? It didn't feel that long ago. So much had happened and I thought about how much stronger I had become.
On stage, Cornelia and Marcus discussed running away together. Marcus acted as himself, instead of Zidane in disguise like the game. He wasn't much of a hero to look at, but Ruby played Cornelia brilliantly, making their love seem genuine as she fell into his arms and practically melted. They met in secret and for a while, it seemed they would be able to get away together. Marcus explained he would have to disguise himself, but they could escape the country together by boat. However, their plan had one major flaw…
Blank, playing himself, overheard all their plans. Being loyal to King Leo and his country, he realized the damage Cornelia's departure would do to the country, mostly involving her betrothal to the prince of the neighboring country. So, after Marcus had departed, promising to meet Cornelia the next night, Blank struck. He knocked Cornelia and kidnapped her, returning her to her father.
When Marcus returned the next night, he was covered in heavy garb, hiding his face and body. Cornelia did not come out to greet him. He stayed, waiting for hours for a girl who would not come, dodging palace guards and Blank, unable to fight for being horribly outnumbered. As dawn broke, Cinna approached, warning Marcus that the boat would have to leave soon. Marcus refused to leave without Cornelia, even as Cinna left him behind.
With nothing left, Marcus looked up to the twin moons in the sky above. He raised his arms, appealing to the heavens, asking for their aid. "I beseech thee, wondrous moonlight, grant me my only wish!" With one quick motion, Marcus grabbed at his cloak, tearing it off, only to reveal our missing thief instead. Zidane threw the cloak to the ground, took one step towards the apron of the stage, and finished the quote: "Bring my beloved Dagger to me!"
Dagger was stunned, to say the least. I had been looking up during the reveal to see her reaction. She went from intently listening to the play, to surprised, to utter shock. She turned away from the balcony and immediately bolted through the castle, pushing her way through her guards to reach the audience.
Confused nobles stood from their seats and looked around. This wasn't in the play they remembered. Was the queen suddenly part of the performance? Who was this new character, and who was this Dagger he called to? They didn't have long to wonder as Dagger tore through them all, pushing her way into their lines, and shoving several of them out of her way. In the rush of unexpected romance, she didn't care how she looked, not even pausing as her crown fell to the floor as she rushed up the steps.
Dagger threw herself into Zidane's arms, nearly sending them both to the floor. Zidane stood fast though, supporting her light frame easily and holding her close. Dagger, with tears in her eyes, shouted at Zidane, calling him an idiot, and slamming her fist into his chest several times. However, Zidane took the hits, pulling her in closer and stroking her hair. Dagger calmed down at once and her tears soaked into his vest.
Half the audience cheered in delight at the romantic gesture. The other half, particularly the nobles, looked on in confusion at the un-queenly behavior. They were eventually caught up in the moment and half-heartedly applauded as well. Even Regent Cid and the King of Burmecia gave a standing ovation to Queen Garnet's lost love returned. Our own group of World Heroes exploded the loudest, with cheers reaching the rooftops to see Zidane returned and to see him reunite with Dagger. Even Amarant and Kaiten were standing and clapping along.
After a minute-long embrace, Zidane cupped Dagger's cheek and brought her lips in to meet his. She blushed wildly, embarrassed to be seen like this before the applauding crowd, but she didn't resist, pointing her toes out to better reach him. When they broke apart, Dagger led Zidane off stage, towards the castle, picking up her crown along the way, and they both returned to the royal balcony. When they were seated again, Baku came back out on stage, declaring that romance had won, and that a second play was being prepared after a brief intermission. The audience settled down back into their seats as gossip was already spreading about Queen Garnet's unknown lover.
"So, I guess that's it?" Kaiten asked, leaning back into his seat. "No more foreknowledge? No more predicted plotlines? No more game?"
"I guess," I said, looking up at the night sky. "It almost makes me wish I had told everyone my secret as soon as I got here. I'm just glad I was able to do some good."
"Cleyra still exists, Vivi is alive, the King of Burmecia is alive, and the world is safe from Kuja… Yeah, I say you made a difference."
"Yeah, well, I never would have gotten through without your help and absorbing your Purple Magic, so you've earned just as much credit as I have."
"If you insist," Kaiten smirked. "You never actually answered my question. Will you join me? I'm going to rebuild a team of specialists, and you're the best man I can think of to join me."
"Trevor McEvoy: Mercenary…" I said aloud. "I kinda like it. What are we gonna call ourselves?"
"I haven't come up with a name yet. Perhaps that's something else you can help me with."
"Why not reform the Spectral Knights? I mean, you were the Lieutenant and in charge of it all."
"No, the Spectral Knights have earned their rest. There will never be another team like them ever again, so I say they've more than earned the right to keep the name for themselves."
"Alright," I nodded. "Still, life as a merc…"
"We can go on plenty more adventures," he said. "We both know your team didn't explore most of the planet. There are lots of other places that might need our help. Daguerreo and Mognet, for starters."
"Adventure, huh? That is pretty tempting." My hands found their way back to my short swords. "I guess Dagger won't miss one bodyguard. And I promised Zidane I'd watch her until he got back. Besides, I have a feeling they'll need a lot of privacy in the coming days."
"So you're in?"
"I'll resign tomorrow morning. Dagger will understand."
Kaiten let out a deep, grateful laugh, the kind I had never heard from him. He seemed almost relieved as he reached out and grabbed my hand to shake it. "This is the start Trevor! We'll both remake our lives here, together! A sole Terran and a lone Earthling defending a world of Gaians! We'll be the things of legends, turned to songs and plays!"
I could only smile as Kaiten listed off the things we could achieve together. I had never seen him this excited before. He seemed genuinely happy, for once. Admittedly, I felt a pang of regret for my own plans. I had hoped to explore Oeilvert and the Desert Palace to find a way to understand Terran technology. If I knew how it worked, perhaps I could find a way back to my real body, back to my world and to my father. But then, I would be depriving Kaiten of his best friend and partner. He would go back to the way he was, sullen and antisocial. And the others would miss me as well. Was it right of me to spend my time searching for a technology that likely didn't exist anymore? And one that came at so high a cost I would be remembered as a murderer if I attempted it? No, I decided. That would not be my life's ambition. Here, I had friends, a partner, magic, a business, a future… Gaia was my new home.
My place was here, among heroes.
I'll take a moment here and apologize for the chapter being two days late. I know this was the final chapter and all, but I wanted it to be absolutely perfect for all of you, so I took the extra days, editing, reediting, rewriting and going over everything (god help me if there's a typo in there somewhere XP).
I also wanted to end this by once again thanking all my reviewers, for whom I persisted in writing every month (with only a few missed deadlines XD). You guys have been an inspiration in your dedication.
-TailedCharmer, my first regular reviewer.
-Solark, my oldest (on again, off again) reviewer (can you believe he's been around since chapter 3 of Issues? XD).
-Dragoon Swordsman, one of my earliest concrit reviewers. Always did look forward to his input.
-Tabansi 232. Her story, Flipped Up Reality, was an inspiration and was largely why I started Shattered Mind. It's just a shame she didn't continue her story, though, it might have been to my benefit since everyone would be talking about her story instead of mine if she had. XD
-Blaze Shadow, another old reviewer, still around today.
-Argus456. It's amazing how many of my reviewers have been around since Issues. XD
-Yuleen75, created the first bit of Shattered Mind fanart. And really, how many fanfics have their own fanart? There's a link to the art in my profile if you wanna check it out (do it o.o).
-Glacilius Caelum. HI KEITH! I MENTIONED YOU! :D
-NewtThatGotBetter. Had a lot of fun PMs with this crazy person! XD
-The Duelist of Dawn. I swear, I'm going to try to read your story. It's not often you find a talented person who creates an SI that gets all the way to the end of the game. ;)
-Dreylen, same message to you as Duelist. I started your story and intend to finish it with the new free time I should have now. :D
-Ezakiel, one of my older reviewers, all the way back in Anger, with often some of the longest reviews, and you all know how I love me some long reviews! XD
-D3athrav3n92. A fellow anime fan always willing to gush when I do something right.
-Chang-Tong. Always gave big reviews, and somehow always found my gaping flaws in my chapters. God only knows what she'll find within this chapter. XD
-Hikari No Aijou, came in and started pointing out some of the more in depth points within the story. Very unique perspective which I always look forward to.
-Grey Grapevines, huggysupreme, minkeypaws, The Tiny Pea, CSOmega, Shameless-Ceyt, Aleks the Lighthearted, Puck of Cleyra, FF and STH, Cherie R. Lynn, Welded, Aurineko, Sylph Writer, Shikyo no Kyuofu, Jj David Lee, Elia41, XtremeManiac33, and everyone else I may have left out! :D
Though I've been building to this point for years, I haven't exactly been looking forward to it. I've loved every minute of expanding on these worlds, creating and watching Trevor and Kaiten both grow. In many ways, I'm at a loss for words. I'm going to miss writing for these guys and for all of you. Now I'm going to have to find something more to fill my time at home. Sure, there's my Micro God series (which I hope you all stick around to enjoy XD), but I always looked forward to writing Shattered Mind each month and seeing what all of you thought. Your reviews meant so much to me. All the constructive criticisms, compliments, jokes, and complaints for every cliffhanger (and in one reviewer's case, constant threats of lawsuits XD), all were special. Shattered Mind has really become something important to me. You know, I kind of have to wonder if this is what it's like to be a parent and watch your kids grow up, knowing you have to let it go in the end…
I'm going to miss it…
…Ok, fuck it, I lied! MORE CLIFFHANGERS! XD
A cloaked figure scurried along the quiet rooftops, hidden in total darkness by the night sky. While fireworks erupted over a cheering crowd in the theatre pool, the spy had stolen into the city, unseen, unheard, unknown. Trained for years in espionage and stealth, the man had no trouble making his way onto the rooftops and towards an old, decrepit chapel, deeper into the poorer end of the city. Only small puffs of dust under his feet followed him.
After escaping deep enough into the aging city, he finally came upon his target. Without breaking his stride for an instant, he leapt, slipping through a broken windowsill on the steeple-crowned tower. His hand darted out and caught the rung of a ladder with inhuman accuracy, and he slid down the abandoned tower to a boarded-off room. The chapel had been condemned after Bahamut's attack on Alexandria. A fireball struck the street outside, pelting the chapel with stone and debris, damaging it beyond repair. The rounded wall threatened to give out at any time, but it had stayed strong all this time. It made for a perfect hideout for the group.
The figure landed to an open room. Several other cloaked figures turned to face him, all masked by shadow. They all looked at him hopefully as the spy spoke up.
"It's him," he said. "No doubt in my mind, he's alive and in the city!"
The mood in the room lightened, but only slightly. The details of the mission were only confirmed now. This changed nothing. One lone figure stepped forward with his arms clasped behind his back. "You look troubled. What else is there to report?"
"He seemed… complacent. These people are our enemy, so I think they might have brainwashed him." Some of the figures groaned, some shouted. One just grunted as he leaned against a wall, his wide hat pulled low. "And that's not all. Apparently, the three largest governments of this world have combined into one allied force. We can't run a rescue mission without pissing off the entire continent!" The spy pulled out a flag from his pocket. On it was a design of three interlinked triangles with a circle at their center. "If we attack one, we attack them all. These Gaians may be primitive, but we're outnumbered 100,000 to one. No matter how good we are, there's no way we can match those odds."
The lead figure took the flag, rolling it over his hand. He looked back at another hooded figure and snapped his fingers towards the kindling in the fireplace. The second man flicked his wrist up, shooting a stream of pure fire until the kindling was ablaze. "It's true," the leader started, "that we've never faced an opposition this strong. Outnumbered, surrounded by every available army in existence, on a new planet, all to rescue one man… Oh yes, we're in for a challenge this time."
He took one step forward towards the flame, and the face of Aitris Naze lit up. He knelt down, still talking into the fire. "We have not come all this way, survived an exploding planet, for nothing. If Gaians and a false Terran blew up our planet, we'll find a way to ruin theirs, and we'll save the LT in the process. We'll avenge Terra, and restore our good name!"
The rest of the men in the room cheered, pushed to action by Aitris' powerful words. He tossed the flag into the fire, causing the flames to grow, showing the faces of the rest of the Spectral Knights. Each was armed and ready to fight.
"Today, we go to war with the world!"
Shattered Mind: Control, complete.
Shattered Mind: Clarity, coming July 9th 2013.