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

Fear of Water

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 - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2006-05-23 - Updated: 2006-05-24 - 3507 words

It had taken them four days to get to Lindblum, and another five to leave, and ever since they had stepped foot outside of the crumbling walls of the city things have been strange.
For one, the land all around the marsh had been charred and burnt from Bahamut, while the marsh had been absolutely fine. They had talked with Quale briefly; the Qu had given them food and promised to go to Lindblum and check food and water supplies.
After that, it was all a matter of following Eiko's orders.
The little girl is /different/. Granted, Amarant hasn't seen her in four years, but still. She's aged, yes... but she's aged as people do when they've faced more grief than their years allow. She even has tiny, almost imperceptible wrinkles around her eyes - the kind that Lani spends ages on, trying to cover them up.
But she's still annoying as hell and her added mystery doesn't help matters much. She's been leading them for the past three days in the general direction of Burmecia, but with a little western movement that makes Amarant wonder if she even knows where they're going.
The skies are already starting to cloud in the horizon and he has a feeling rain's coming.
Eiko is humming at the front of their group, heading steadily towards the clouds and the sunset, and he wonders what the hell she's doing.
"We're going to need to stop soon," he says to her from his place near the back of the group. It's kind of like old times - if he had enjoyed the old times, he might not be in such a bad mood.
"I know," Eiko responds loftily.
Garnet is walking beside her with their hands clasped together, and Steiner and Beatrix are close behind, like the royal guards they are. Lani is in front of him, eyes lowered strangely. He doesn't trust that. Lani's not the kind of woman to look docile at any point in time and if he weren't so wrapped up in other things he would question her about it.
As it is, the moons are already starting their ascent - one waxing and the other waning. He only understands the basics of the lunar cycles but they always seem to be in counterpoint - it's very strange to one night look up and only see one moon in the sky when you're expecting two.
But it's been six or seven days since he had his last Whatever - he's not quite sure because no one seems to want to tell him how long he had been out for. He's leaning towards seven but it doesn't really matter. He hopes that maybe that had been his last one and he won't get anymore...
Hoping, though, has never been very trustworthy.
Lani looks up suddenly and her eyes dart around like some kind of cornered animal or something and it doesn't fit her at all. He puts a hand against her shoulder and she looks at him for a long moment.
"...I don't know," she finally responds to his unspoken question.
"We'll stop up there," Eiko says easily, pointing in the distance at a treeline. Steiner makes a noise but none of them disagree - they've been sleeping on the plains for the past two days and, as much as they don't like forests, a plain is more prone to attack.
The blue moon is a few degrees higher when they reach the treeline. Eiko is taking them towards the center and he realizes that the forest is really not that big. Not big enough for a giant centipede, at least.
They settle in between three large, leafless trees, and Lani starts towards the west, going for firewood. She doesn't admit it out loud, but she kind of thinks it's the only thing she can do for the group that's been kind of watching her back. She doesn't really care about any of them - other than Amarant - but she's not going to just lounge about while they at least attempt to help her.
She's mildly surprised that Steiner offers to go with her and accepts it, despite Beatrix's slightly bemused look. That woman's thinking about other things, however, and almost immediately turns away.
That annoys Lani. Does Beatrix think she's not worth worrying over? What a bitch. Just because her nose is all fucked up, and she's not as goddamned uninjured as the Alexandrian...
She cracks branches harder than she had wanted to and earns a confused look from Steiner.
"The hell are you looking at?" she snaps, and growls at him. He frowns and quickly turns away to a dead sapling, stripping away the dry branches relatively easy, considering his...
She doesn't really like thinking of everyone else's problems - it takes away from her own.
They return within about ten minutes with a fair bundle of wood, and dump it in the ring of rocks Amarant's set up.
The bounty hunter digs through his bag and procures a box of flint that an old man named Locke had given Steiner. He doesn't know why he's suddenly the items carrier but he doesn't mind so much - it gives him something to worry about other than himself.
Lani's already made the fire so all he has to do is light it, but when he reaches out to strike the flint against the steel bar from the box his hand starts shuddering. He draws it back to himself and grabs it, feeling as though he's going to tear it off if it keeps doing this. He hands the flint and steel to Lani and sits back, half-curling around his hands.
Eiko looks to her big brother in sympathy. She hates that he has to go through all of this, but Madeen had warned her. "There will be casualties," he said, "And there will be pain. People will not be as they were."
But what was she going to do, avoid them? Not help them? Never! She wants and needs to help them, because Ramuh couldn't help and neither could any of the other Eidolons. They had sent Dagger and the others on a wild hunt into who knows where, with no direction.
She smiles at Dagger, who returns it gratefully, if not a little half-heartedly.
The fire is started and they all move in a little closer and hope that tonight will be like the last few nights; hope that no Eidolon sees their fire and comes to investigate. They're all wondering where they're going - the only one with any clue is Eiko, and she only has vague ideas about going to see Vivi. Not that that makes any sense, because Vivi can't help them.
Still, it's a purpose, and the one thing she learned in the post-Kuja Lindblum is that people like having purpose.
By mid-morning, Eiko has gotten them packed up and on their way to the Burmecian side of the forest. Steiner tries to put his thoughts in order and finds it very hard.
He knows that Eiko knows more than they do. She knows where they need to go - at least, she seems to - and she's doing a good job at leading them. Even Lani, who seems to hate the little girl, is following without complaint.
Lani worries him; she gives off a bad, dangerous feeling but he's not sure what kind of danger she could possibly present. She's with Amarant, and he trusts Amarant fairly well. If Amarant isn't worried...
He turns his eyes onto his wife and finds nothing really there but a wall. The last week and a half have left Beatrix looking with apprehension at the future, not allowing herself a glance to anyone else. He wonders if she's trying to protect everyone from the future... or if she's simply trying to protect herself from everyone else.
He wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. Beatrix has always been very solitary - even when others rely on her, she stays on her own. Steiner had confronted her about it once, and was simply dismissed with, "In times of turmoil, it is best not to rely on those who may fail you."
This makes him ache a bit now, because it means she thinks he can't support her if she needs it. She is a contradiction in the fact that she can be both completely selfless and yet utterly selfish at the same time.
It drives Steiner crazy.
"What's all of this?"
Steiner turns his eyes to Eiko, and finds her looking around in confusion. He follows her line of sight and sees that the entire field in front of them has become soggy, muddy, and not much unlike the marshes, though the water is murkier and there's a lingering smell that doesn't sit right with the knight.
Amarant paces forward and gets about ten feet ahead of the group before he is up to his knees in the filthy water. He turns to them, crosses his arms, and growls, "We can probably walk it."
Without much hesitation, after seeing Amarant's position, Lani hitches her bags higher on her back and starts after her comrade.
"Dagger," Eiko says, "We're going to have to walk through some water, okay? Don't worry, though, it'll be fine."
"Alright," the Queen responds quietly and together, the two summoners follow after the bounty hunters ahead.
Steiner looks to Beatrix. "Shall we?"
His wife is already starting ahead.
The water reaches up to Eiko's waist but not much higher. However, they can't see the ground below them and so they are sliding through very carefully, in case something might be lurking just beneath the surface, ready to trip any of them up.
"There's the entrance to the grotto," Eiko says suddenly, pointing, "I can see it!"
Amarant squints and asks, "Who the hell is that over there?"
Lani yelps and tumbles forward, falling into the water with a heavy splash. Her hands catch the floor and so she doesn't /drown/, luckily. Before anyone can ask her what happened, however, she raises her hands up with thick, matted clumps of fur and flesh in their grips.
"Oh fucking god damn it /that is fucking- /what the /hell/!"
Lani throws the clumps away from her and shudders, pushing her hands just under the surface to get off the rotting meat.
Her eyes grow wide - much too wide, Steiner doesn't think that a woman like Lani should be shocked over anything - and she pulls back sharply, grabbing at Amarant's belt and struggling to get up.
"Get me out of this water Red get me out, now, let's go-"
The hunter isn't paying her attention - his eyes are locked on a soaking grey-white furred paw reaching just barely out of the water, dislodged by Lani's kicking around.
Eiko puts her hands over her mouth and grabs at Garnet's arm, turning her around as Amarant reaches down and tugs on the hand, ignoring Lani's fists pounding against his shoulder and telling him to just leave it /alone/-
The Burmecian corpse is bloated slightly and its blackened tongue is hanging out from limp jaws, one eye almost completely melted away, with the other white and glossy. The skin and fur is nearly peeling away from the heat and water and bugs.
"Amarant!" Lani shrieks, "Leave it /alone/!"
Amarant drops the hand but the body is sucked under the water slowly, lone eye gazing at them mournfully before being pulled under.
"This whole fucking thing's full of dead Burmecians," Amarant growls, grabbing Lani's shoulder and glaring at her angrily, "Damn it, woman, stop being a fucking coward and let's /go/."
He points ahead and Lani shudders; it takes a good two minutes before they start moving again.
They get closer to the entrance and they can see a large wagon on the large stone terrace at the entrance of the Grotto. Figures are moving about and Eiko shouts, "It's Puck!"
She picks up her pace and so everyone else does as well, pushing through the water and mud and probably bodies too.
The mud suddenly gives way to stone and they're moving up the slope to the entrance. A guard yells and Puck turns, fists clenched and ready for an attack.
"Puck!" Eiko exclaims, letting go of Garnet's hand and bounding forward, tackle-hugging the lanky Burmecian king and nearly sending him toppling over.
"Eiko, you're alive!" the Burmecian chokes, voice dry and hoarse from the sun and lack of water. "I can't believe it..."
"What happened here?" Beatrix asks, voice low and steady and her eye not quite meeting the Burmecian guards around them as she examines the Grotto's entrance.
The doors are busted open from the hinges, bent outwards as if pressed upon by a great force. The locks are completely useless and the massive handles hang half out of their sockets.
"...There was a flood," Puck says at last, height matching Beatrix's line of sight just so he can stare her down. "We... haven't gone through yet. We're not sure what's inside."
"Judging from that marsh," Amarant growls lowly, "There's probably nothing nice."
"Eiko, I looked everywhere for you!" the king changes the subject flawlessly, holding the younger girl at arms length, "Where the hell were you?"
"...I was... I was with Madeen. Don't worry too much about me, Puck, I'm alright. And, I want to thank you for coming back to help Lindblum."
Puck looks away and says, "It wouldn't have made a difference if we had come here first."
One of the guards looks ready to say something but he holds his tongue and simply looks on silently.
Amarant is examining the doors and he finally says, "We're going through here, aren't we, brat?"
Eiko pulls back from Puck's arms quickly and blushes a little, tittering nervously.
"I don't know... Is there another way through?"
"We're... outside the Grotto?" Garnet asks, speaking up for the first time in a while.
Puck looks at the queen in confusion and asks, "What happened?"
"Oh..." The queen frowns and sighs, "Forgive me, King Puck. I... I have been temporarily blinded."
The guards murmur amongst themselves, only to be silenced by a fierce glare from both Amarant and Puck.
The king turns back to Garnet and nods, adding, "We are. Another week of walking would take us to the North Gate, but..."
"It would be faster and safer through the Grotto," Amarant growls. "The floodwaters drowned everything in there, so there aren't any monsters... and the gates will all have been pushed open by the force of the water."
Puck gulps but nods. "I agree. It would be faster to go through the Grotto, but..." He looks to the guards, "Some of us have family and friends inside."
Amarant makes a noise, a lot like a snake, and snaps, "Well, they aren't inside anymore. They're all in /there/," he waves a hand at the marsh, "You can sit out here and flounder but I'm going to go through here."
He doesn't wait for agreements or arguments - he simply goes.
The group watches his form retreat into the shadows, but is disturbed by a loud thud. The youngest guard, with his ears back against his skull and his helmet missing, has a large knapsack on his back and is looking at the king expectantly.
"We're following Lady Freya's friend, aren't we?" he asks, shifting the weight on his back and running a paw through his silvered hair, pushing sweaty fur out of his eyes.
Puck looks to the Grotto and, with a feeling of great trepidation, nods. "Yeah... We're following him. Grab what you can and let's go."
The inside of the Grotto is completely ripped apart. Some stones, already loose from years of wear, have come completely out of the pathway and are lying as much as three meters from their original holes. The entire tunnel is cool and everything is dripping with water, still soaked after so long. It smells stale and has an underlying, putrid smell that makes Puck almost want to throw up. It's not that horrible, really, but he knows what it means.
Amarant is a thirty or forty paces ahead of them, his huge frame only barely visible in the dark. They should have brought a candle.
He almost thinks they should have brought Vivi.
The youngest guard is just in front of them, and every so often between the quiet muttering of the older guards, he can be heard humming out an old Burmecian song about spring rains.
Puck wants to know, very badly, why Eiko is suddenly here and why she is holding on to Garnet's hand so lightly. The queen should have a cane, or something, in case Eiko lets go... Then again, Eiko wouldn't let go unless she needed to.
It's strange... just a week ago, he had thought for sure Eiko was dead... but here she is. He had almost thought that he would never see her again.
He wonders who is in control of Lindblum at the moment and finds the question rolling off his tongue before he can stop it.
His voice echoes off the walls and comes back sounding wet.
Eiko looks to him, smiles, and says, "They're all the rulers right now. I have authorized some people from different parts of the city to do certain things. Don't worry, I have it all figured out. When I get back, I'll start them on rebuilding... right now, we're just trying to /live/."
"And what of Alexandria?" one guard asks, looking briefly backwards but not halting his steps.
"We... We trust our people to do what they think best for Alexandria," Garnet mumbles.
"What if they think you are not best for Alexandria?"
"Hey," Puck cuts in, "What exactly are you trying to say, you old-"
"If that is what they decide, I won't object."
The Burmecians - no, everyone really - looks at the queen in confusion.
Amarant makes a noise from up ahead.
"I suggest," he growls, "That if you have family from the Grotto, you should either get ready to check bodies for them or close your eyes."
They pass through a gateway and the young guard's humming halts.
The large antechamber smells heavily of death, decay, and mold. Because the room was built with a basin shape for the floor there are about two inches of water still lying on the ground, the wood of flipped over and destroyed furniture is already starting to mold.
There are bodies everywhere. Most of them are lying face down or on their sides on the ground - but there is one strung across a shattered chandelier and another with its head smashed between two broken beams on the wall.
One of the guards visibly forces down bile and Puck almost has to do the same. Only, he doesn't because he is really just thinking about Freya now.
After his father had died, Freya had taken up council with him and had advised the young Burmecian on what to do next. He had only been about ten years old then, but the dragon knight had helped him through a rocky start. In turn, he had leant an almost sympathetic ear for her problems concerning Sir Fratley, Amnesiac Extraordinaire.
The only reason he's thinking about her instead of all his people is that the body in the chandelier is a dragon knight. With a sudden jolt to the present Puck realizes he even knows the knight's name, and has had his family in the castle more than once.
Eiko grabs his hand and says, "If you want to close your eyes, I'll lead you through."
He refuses silently and they work across the debris-covered floor.
They are nearly to the other side of the room when Amarant halts, turning in half circles and clenching his fist in preparation.
"Something's here," he growls.
The guards ready their pikes and when everyone is completely still, they can hear rustling from the other side of the broken doors.
From the darkness in the doorway they can see shining eyes, and there's a soft clunk as something heavy hits the ground. A moment later and they can make out the shape of a Burmecian, about average height but emaciated, and then a dry, raspy, almost familiar voice mutters:
"Of all the people in the world..."
Another clunk and Puck realizes the Burmecian is holding a thick, heavy branch. She's dressed in a tattered and barely recognizable dragon knight's uniform, her hair thin and tangled and her muzzle muddy and damp from the tunnel.
Amarant immediately drops his offensive and his eye gets this incredibly confused, almost painful look.
"/Freya/," he rasps and Puck can see it, even if he doesn't believe it.
"I never expected /you/," the dragon knight wheezes, dropping the branch and falling forward. Amarant catches her and looks completely shocked that his hand can so easily wrap around her arm and she must be so /light/.
"Freya," the bounty hunter growls, "/Freya/."
But it's no use - Freya Crescent, last surviving dragon knight, has fainted dead away.

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