Originally written for the SMASH! 2012 Fanfiction Competition; Winner of Category 2 (quote prompt)

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy Type-0 or any of its characters, they remain the respective property of Square Enix and I make no profit.


"Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well."
—Josh Billings


He did not choose his cards; no, rather the cards chose him. Mother had said that they would not choose their weapons; the weapons would be the ones to choose them. And so, as a card materialises in his hand, he knows that from then on, the cards will be a part of his life.

He tilts his head to the side in mild confusion, inspecting the card that has appeared in his hand. He turns it over once, twice, feeling the instrument between his fingers. To think that this card will be his weapon is an unusual thought, but already an unspoken bond has been created between boy and card.

Looking to his friends, his classmates, he notices that no two people wield the same weapon; everyone is unique. No one else will fight with his cards, and in turn the cards will only listen to one person as their master.

His cards are his, and his alone to play.

...

It is his first mission, and he doesn't hesitate for a moment as he deals with the oncoming number of enemies. He knows exactly where to strike to deal the killing blow; a card across the neck; a card to the leg; a card to the back of the head.

His partners, Nine and Queen are alongside him, spear and sword in hand as they cut a path through the onslaught of soldiers. He decides to focus on his own enemies in front of him, executing his attacks fluidly and swiftly. With a stretch of his arm, a flurry of cards leaves his outstretched palm, killing a soldier to his right. At movement to his left, his cards come to his aid, forming a protective shield around him. He moves in sync with his cards, and his cards mirror his actions.

A soldier falls and a card returns to his hand bloodied, but he pays it no attention as he takes the same card and slices the throat of the next enemy coming towards him, bathing the surface in even more blood. A body drops at his feet, but his face is hard, cold and seemingly nonchalant. Taking lives is something he should be fearful of, but he is not; he has been trained for this all his life, and he knows what must be done.

When the mission is over, he looks down at his hands, dipped in crimson, dirt and sweat. His attire is similarly tainted, marked in stains that no amount of cleaning will ever wash out. He looks to the figures of his comrades, whose appearance also match that of his own, their weapons carrying the bloodstains of first battle.

It is the start of war, a battle that he must fight. He doesn't know who or what he is fighting for, but he has grown up waiting for this day to come, and it is all he knows. Today is only the beginning; in time, many more enemies will fall victim to the boy and his cards; it is the only way he knows how to play them.

...

He stands atop the terrace, leaning over the railing and humming words to a song that are like a distant memory to him. Casting his eyes to the sky, it comes as a pleasant sight to him to see such a comforting shade of blue; so different to the usual smoke-filled, reddened sky that he is used to seeing on the battlefield.

Taking his cards from his pouch, he plays with them, creating patterns in mid-air and twirling them from one hand to the other. They dance beneath his fingertips, following his will and doing what he commands. He can almost taste the irony, seeing these seemingly harmless cards, which have killed more people than he can count. He is the same; a seemingly innocent boy turned child soldier. The thought is enough to twist his mouth into a wry smile.

The blare of an alarm sounds, shattering the peacefulness of the moment. He is already moving when a small beeping in his ear indicates that someone is attempting to contact him via his earpiece. An attack is starting, and he knows that he will be needed. With a single click of his fingers, the cards return to a neat deck in the palm of his hand, and he pockets them ready for the mission at hand. His school, his country is calling him; he is being forced to play his cards once again.

...

Pain settles on every part of his body as he takes shallow breaths, his chest rising in small gasps before he coughs weakly, the sickly taste of blood and bile rising in his throat. He has reached the end, and he knows this time that there is no way out. But perhaps it won't be so bad, he thinks to himself; he won't be alone. His friends are alongside him; like him, they are in pain; they have cried, and now they have no tears to spare. They fought and did all that they could.

He leans against the girl to his side, her frail fingers gently closing around his hand. He can feel her shaking; he knows that she is scared, that they are all scared. One by one, the room grows quieter as another friend of his ceases their breathing. Even the fingers that once held his have now slackened, growing colder with every passing moment.

Craning his neck towards the sky, he looks back and wonders if he did the right thing. If there had been another way, would he have taken it?

He played his cards as he was taught, and now there is one last card waiting to be played. His eyes feel heavy-lidded as sleep slowly catches up to him, however this is a sleep he knows he will never wake up from. He's struggling to keep his eyes open, but he knows he will join his friends soon. His last card flutters in his hand until a light breeze blows it from his grasp, and he watches as it dissolves into a golden shower of light, creating a rainbow in the sky.

For the first time in his life, he allows himself to smile, to truly smile for once. Picturing the rainbow again behind closed eyelids, he smiles with contentment and takes his last breath.