Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > The End of Times

The Bittersweet Comfort of Knowledge

by DevilishKurumi 0 reviews

It's the end of the world as we know it... [Character Death, Character Mutilation, Character Bad-Stuff-Happens-To. See inside for full warnings.]

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama, Horror - Characters: Adelbert Steiner, Amarant Coral, Beatrix, Blank, Eiko Carol, Freya Crescent, Garnet Til Alexandros, Marcus, Other - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2006-04-26 - Updated: 2006-04-27 - 3728 words

They reach the ruins of South Gate by nightfall.
The entire area is flattened - even the mountain has been smoothed out and other than the large hunks of debris around, Steiner's sure that they can traverse the gate in a day. It's all downhill from here.
They make themselves at home in the ruins of one of the guard posts - it looks more like a circular garden fenced in by low, broken rock walls than a tower. There's a stove lying on its side and Amarant, at Lani's insistence, manages to push it up and prop it into position with some heavy stones.
"I'm going to inspect the surrounding area," Beatrix tells them.
Steiner almost says he'll go with her but she's giving Amarant her, "may I please speak with you" look. He's had that look cast on him before - granted, that was when they were rivals, not husband and wife - and he knows it's better not to interrupt whatever she has planned.
The bounty hunter follows with a mumbled, "I'm going with her."
Lani stretches and looks around, before saying in her barely-too-loud voice, "Hey, knight. Help me find some wood to start the stove."
He looks at her for a moment but she's already searching the rubble, so he joins her. Garnet is sitting with her back against the wall, legs pulled up to her chest and forehead resting against her knees - she must be very tired.
They find a suitable amount of wood and Lani suddenly exclaims, "Perfect!"
She uncovers overturned and shattered pots to reveal a few near-ripe potatoes and some carrots with green tips. Steiner's mildly surprised that there would be any type of gardening going on here but... he knows how guard duty can get.
She points to the stove and so Steiner unloads armful of wood - he hadn't carried as much as he would have been, if he had had...
But why think about it?
Lani comes over and manages to procure a chipped and severely dented pot from the rubble that must have been a storage cabinet at one time, and takes to unloading the heavy bag on her back. He turns away and goes back to Garnet, who raises her head and looks around when she hears his feet crunching gravel.
"It's me, your Majesty," Steiner intones lowly, sitting beside his queen and looking at the sky above. He smiles, kind of - he doesn't think he can really smile properly anymore. "Feels so familiar, doesn't it?"
"Yes," she agrees in a quiet, somewhat heavy voice. "I feel like I'm just closing my eyes. Like I'll open them in any moment, and he'll be standing there asking me what we should do with the provisions to make it seem less like last night's meal..."
Steiner looks at his Queen and tries to think of something to say. He needs to reassure her when he's not sure himself... He hates lying and so when he tries to say, "Everything will be alright," it feels coarse and thick and just /wrong/.
So he instead puts his arm carefully over her shoulders and pulls her close, opting out of words. She turns her head and presses her face against his collarbone, and when her shoulders start shaking, he does his best to comfort her.
He just doesn't want her to hurt.
Blank tries to keep himself still but he feels restless - his chest is painfully tight and it's hard to breathe, but he hates staying still.
He tries to remember what he had been talking about a few minutes ago but can't quite remember... though he does recall Marcus telling him that he was delirious.
It's too damned hot and the bed that Marcus had found for him is tilted downwards, lacking its legs on one side and being propped up using rocks for the third leg that is missing as well. It smells like blood and it makes him feel sick. Maybe it's not the bed, really, but the flag he's wrapped in. That could be it.
"Marcus," he calls hoarsely, before remembering that Marcus went looking for Benero.
Benero's such a coward.
His breathing hitches and he closes his eyes because even with them open he can hardly see.
He feels sick, like he's going to throw up; and sick, like he's got the worst fever possible. He wishes they knew what was wrong with him so Marcus could fix him. Marcus is really good at fixing things. He wonders if his brother could fix Baku or at least Cinna.
He giggles and remembers they'd have to find all of either first, before anyone could fix anything.
God, his head hurts.
Though both Amarant and Beatrix are wandering through the ruins of the tiny South Gate town, they couldn't be more distracted from the rubble. Both of them know what's coming; it's only a matter of time before one starts the conversation. Amarant's not partial to ice-breaking.
Beatrix finally caves, asking, "What was that about?"
Amarant doesn't know if the General would understand what, exactly, had happened in the forest - or on the plains - but he supposes he might as well tell her. Women get... weird if you don't tell them things.
"Gravity isn't all that strong on Gaia," he tells the woman, sorting through broken and unbroken items from the shop. "You have to get a lot of it in one area to make it do anything other than keep our feet relatively planted on the ground. That bug was... well, he was big. If I wanted to grind him into the stone like that, I needed a lot of gravity in one area. I kind of... made a hole where we were, so it'd only affect the bug... And then told gravity to focus itself on the ring around us."
He sits on one of the stones and grumbles, "I usually don't use that kind of magic... much less use it on something so large." He snorts, "I'm surprised it didn't get squashed... must've had a tough hide."
"When I got near the bottom," Beatrix tells him, crossing her arms and leaning against a once-tree, "It was..."
"Squashed? I guess it was worth it, then."
"That doesn't explain what happened in the plains today."
Amarant sighs and scratches his head - he feels a bald spot and winces, pulling a few dreads over the area to hide it.
"You know that saying... uh, the rule of threes, don't you?"
"Rule of threes?"
He closes his eyes. "Whatever you do dole out comes back three-fold." He crosses his arms and tilts his head back, eyes opening on the vast expanse of stars. "It's not really so much with knights and princesses and mages like it is with... um, me. You can't disrupt gravity without it getting you back."
"So... in the plains, you were suffering from all the gravity you put on that monster?" She frowns, "How are you still alive?"
"That wasn't nearly a quarter of it. I figure I'm going to be making up for that little stunt for the rest of my life. It's not like gravity wants to kill me - it just has to settle into the pocket I made."
"Then why hasn't it affected me yet?"
He looks at her in confusion. "You didn't cast anything. Why would it hurt you?"
"I was in the pocket?"
He shakes his head. "Doesn't work like that. Just... you're not gonna get anything back, so don't worry about it. A few more pressures on me can't hurt much."
"Where in the world did you learn all of this? I wouldn't expect a..."
Amarant smirks, "A lowlife to know anything about anything?" When she nods, kind of reluctantly, he shrugs. "I've got hobbies. I've also come across an array of magic a lot more useful than black or white. You just... gotta know what you're doing when you mess with them." He chuckles, "I knew this one that was pretty nice for working with Vivi... Don't use it so much anymore, because making people weak against magic doesn't help me."
"When did you learn the gravity trick?"
Amarant raises an eyebrow, "I wouldn't call it a /trick/. Tricks are easy to learn. That one took me a good long time. No one's seen me use it, except.... the monkey saw it once." He looks away, "Told me about the rule of threes when it came back to bite me in the ass that night."
"Zidane knew a lot of things, it seems..."
"...I don't like talking about him in past tense."
Beatrix sighs and looks away. "...Neither do I."
Blank's body absolutely aches. Actually, he's not quite sure if it's in pain, or if he's just completely numb and hallucinating the pain. His skin is slick with sweat and he can't find a comfortable position on the lopsided bed - every way he turns just adds pressure to his chest and makes breathing that much harder.
He gasps and wheezes on his side and tries to sleep, but he keeps thinking that just over twenty yards away his friends are all lying there... For the most part.
He hears soft-soled boots crunching against the splintered wood and rasps, "Marcus?"
There's no response and he decides he's hallucinating again. He opens his eyes but it doesn't make much difference; night's settled and besides, his vision is so blurry now...
He gags on bile and a hand rests on his shoulder. "Marcus?" he asks again, but he knows it isn't his brother - this hand is soft and smaller and it's not a firm grip like his.
He's sure he's still hallucinating, but it's a damned good one. He starts coughing - his body must be trying to fix him - and feels something wet against the back of his dry throat.
"Shh," a soft voice - perfectly matched to the hand on his shoulder - calls, and the hand moves up to his hair, smoothing it back and reminding him of one of Baku's girlfriends, back when he and Zidane were only about five. They had gotten a nasty bout of pneumonia and she had stayed up with them.
He had liked her. Baku had too... but he guesses she didn't like any of them much, because she left pretty soon after that.
The hand moves to the belt around his forehead and deftly unbuckles it, pulling the slimy leather away and feeling his temperature out.
"You don't have a fever," the soft voice echoes. "...You're too cold."
"...'m burnin'," he mumbles weakly. The hand pulls back and he feels something warm drape over his shoulders.
"I'm so sorry."
He wheezes and tries to focus his eyes, but all he sees is a glow of white in the dark. "...'s okay, not y'r fault."
The hand comes back and he feels the someone sit on the side of the bed. The voice tells him about the business district, and about how the Burmecians came back and helped, before going home to check on their lands. He nods in acknowledgement as the hand smoothes his hair back and occasionally uses some scrap of cloth to wipe away the sweat. The voice tells him that it's going to be alright, and unlike Marcus, it sounds one hundred percent sure. It tells him that yes, people have died, but they're alright, and in the grand scheme of things, they've gotten off pretty easy.
He asks if Marcus will be okay, and it responds that he will, because he's not going to be alone. He asks if he's going to die and it says, honestly I don't know, but I don't think so. He smiles and quips that hell, at least it's being honest, and then asks if Alexandria did this.
The voice wavers but then says not directly, no. Garnet didn't do this.
At the queen's real name - not Dagger as Tantalus still referred to her - Blank feels suddenly very tired.
Heavier boots are tromping around outside of the broken building and the hand suddenly pulls away.
"I'm going to go now, okay?" the voice asks.
"This is a stupid question," he rasps, "But are you an angel?"
The voice giggles. "No, silly - though, that's very nice of you. Most people call me a brat. I'll see you again soon, okay? Your friend's back and I can't have him seeing me right now."
"...Alright," he gasps, "Thank you."
"Your welcome." The soft leather shoes move away and he knows he's alone.
Marcus comes back in a few minutes later and asks, "Where did you find a quilt?"
Blank hears the question, half-muffled through his head, and smiles. "I made it up."
Garnet isn't sure if she's the only one awake anymore. She knows that Steiner has dozed off, and that Beatrix had gone back out after supper to scout ahead... Lani had yawned noisily about an hour ago, and Amarant...
Amarant's always quiet.
She sits up from her spot between where Beatrix will be and where Steiner is, and refrains from looking around, so as to save herself the letdown.
The fire crumbles suddenly, and she hears a branch settle heavily on the ground, so she asks, "...Amarant?"
"What?" the bounty hunter responds lowly.
She stands unsteadily and steps to the side, away from Steiner, before making her careful way to the warmth of the fire. She bumps into Amarant's arm and determines that he put it out to stop her from walking into the fire, so she asks, "Is it alright to sit here?"
He grunts and moves something away from her before muttering, "Yeah, it's alright."
She carefully sits down and crosses her legs, looking in the direction of the heat from the fire.
"How does South Gate look?" she asks.
"Completely decimated," he responds, and she hears him pick up the stick again to poke the fire. "Not a lot of bodies, though. Don't think there were many here when Bahamut came through."
He adds, after a moment, "If it was Bahamut."
Garnet looks away from the fire.
"It's creepy, you staring at me without seeing me."
She blushes and looks the other way. "I didn't mean to."
They again hit uncomfortable silence and Garnet sighs quietly to herself.
"...You should wash your face," Amarant says suddenly, quietly. "You still have tear-tracks."
She blinks and then rubs at her face. "Oh, no..."
There's a hissing noise and then he takes her hand away and puts a warm, wet scrap of cloth into it.
"...Thank you," she mumbles, feeling very foolish, and wipes at her face. "Is this better?"
"No," Amarant sighs quietly, "Now you look like you're about to cry again."
She closes her eyes and holds her hand out, palm up, with the rag. He takes it and she curls her hand into a fist and punches him on the shoulder - it glances to the side but it's still effective.
"What the hell was that for?"
"For being an ass."
She looks towards the heat of the fire and he chuckles. "You've got better aim than I do."
She's quiet again and feels tears prickling at the back of her eyelids, so she closes her eyes and wipes them away. She shouldn't be crying - she doesn't have time to cry. She needs to be strong like everyone else because Zidane would hate for her to be so upset over him. "It's alright," he'd say, "Don't cry just because of me! You know I hate it when beautiful women cry."
Her hand is suddenly pulled from her knee and she blinks. "What are you doing?" she asks Amarant.
"Giving you something."
She frowns and looks in his direction, hearing him rustling through his bag.
She feels him press something into her hand and then close her fingers with a strange sort of care around a group of stems - they must be stems because they're too loose and... alive feeling to be just sticks.
"What is it?" she asks, pulling her hand back and using her other hand to feel the stems upwards. She feels several thick clumps of small, leafy flowers.
He coughs and says quietly, "Flowers."
She almost wants to laugh at his kind of bashful statement, but there's a certain heavy feeling emanating from the bounty hunter that keeps her from doing so.
"They're from the Ice Cavern," he mutters, and she hears him poking at the fire again. "Picked them there because... well, it doesn't matter anymore. They're probably no good..."
"I'm sure they're beautiful," she sighs, "But you know I can't see them."
"...Eh, you'll eventually get your sight back. They'll be around."
She almost cries but says instead, "They'll wilt long before I get my sight back, Amarant."
He chuckles. "No, princess, those flowers don't wilt."
"All flowers wilt."
"Their ancestors grew only around the fountain of life," he says, voice gaining a kind of reverent tone, "And the only water they got was from that fountain. Eventually, some people found the fountain but didn't know what it was. They picked the flowers around it because they were rare, and eventually the flowers were growing all over the place. No one's seen one wilted... even the ones that the people first picked." He chuckles, "At least, that's what Lani told me."
"Yeah. She talks an awful lot." He's quiet again and mumbles something under his breath about new claws, before saying in a low voice, "The mon... Zidane. He told me that whole spiel too."
"He'd stay up late, and I don't sleep much. We talked, every so often... he found one of those flowers when he was scouting ahead. Told me about it - said more than Lani had."
Garnet closes her eyes and thinks about this. In the four years she had been with Zidane, he had never mentioned late night chats with Amarant... then again; he never thought some things were important. He talked with everyone, and it was stupid to think that he wouldn't have talked with Amarant at least once.
"...I'm not going to be very well off for the next few days," Amarant cuts into her thoughts. "If I start... well, this is one of them, but if I start talking strangely... just don't worry about it, alright?"
"Does this have something to do with whatever happened on the plains?" she asks, "Because I might be able to..."
"...It does, but you can't do anything. Just... hold onto those."
"...Amarant, why are you giving me flowers?"
He makes a noise and mumbles, "Everyone else had seen them. It's supposed to be... good luck, or something, to see them. And, you know, you're our healer. I figured you should get a chance to see them - since we need a healer more than ever now."
Garnet feels the flowers in her hands and then smiles. "This is the most I've ever heard you say, Amarant."
He breathes out heavily. "I've got hundreds of things to say, princess... but now's not the time."
"Why in the world not?" she pouts slightly, trying weakly to play with him.
"...There will never be a good time to say what I want to say." He shifts and then says, "You should go back to Rusty and get some sleep. We might reach Lindblum by sundown, if we wake up early enough."
Garnet wants to press the issue but knows better. Instead, she merely nods and asks him to help her in the right direction.
He stands and helps her up, hand on her shoulder and moving her away from the fire and to Steiner.
When she settles back down into her spot, she hears him move away, heading back towards the fire.
"...Thank you for the flowers."
He doesn't respond and that relieves her, because if he had she just might've started to cry again.
She's been having this... strange feeling, for the last few days. It's like a heavy weight has settled in her stomach and every time she tries to rid herself of it, it only grows.
Her dreams have been more incoherent than normal. All she can gather from them is that something is happening on the Mist continent... but for some reason, she can't bring her brother's face to mind.
That disturbs her greatly, and so she goes to see one of the few people who could help her.
He's standing at the graveyard, as some of the old models used to, and as some of his older brothers had, and she lowers her eyes for a moment to the rows of graves, all fenced in now with a fairly nice wooden fence that Haruko and Tomo had made for the village.
He feels her presence before he sees her, and turns his head to face her. "Good morning," he greets amiably. "How are you doing today?"
She smiles, though she doesn't feel like she should, and responds, "I am fairly well. Yourself?"
"...Okay, I guess... I'm still upset about Mr. 87..."
"My condolences. I know you two were close."
"It's okay." He turns fully to her and frowns. "Mikoto, what's wrong? You look... upset."
"...I have a bad feeling in my stomach," she tells him honestly. "And I can't quite get my brother's face correct in my head. My dreams are giving me bad feelings towards the Mist Continent. It feels... very turbulent... and I don't have any sense of my brother at all."
Mikoto's feelings have always been very... attuned to the world - she says it's because she spent so long studying Gaia, but it's really just how most Genomes are. She just never lost the ability. When he hears her complaints, he always takes them very seriously.
"When I got a bad feeling, it was right when Mr. 87..."
Mikoto suddenly feels a little ill. "You don't think that... perhaps...?"
"...I don't know, Mikoto. I hope not, but... Everything's been feeling strange lately. Like..."
"...Yeah." He turns away and looks to the graves. "I don't want to give you advice if I don't know everything, Mikoto."
"...I understand," she responds, and leaves him alone. She can find someone else to talk to... so long as she doesn't start a panic.
Pitsel Ornitier kneels down in front of grave three in row six, the closest row to him. "...Dad? What's going on?"
He knows he won't get an answer, but there's no harm in trying.

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