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

Around The Edges

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: 2006-08-26 - Updated: 2006-08-26 - 4541 words

The Black Mage Village had been previously the only place Steiner remembers there being thatched huts. And, it's obvious from the lack of life around the place that there has been an attack. However... buildings are still standing and some even still have roofs - just holes in the walls instead.
"How is it possible?" he asks Zidane's sibling. "Alexandria, Lindblum, Burmecia - they were all destroyed. Yet you remain relatively intact."
Mikoto - he forces himself to put her name against her face, rather than Zidane's - turns to the knight and says, voice flat and unassuming, "There was great sacrifice to keep us alive. Follow me."
She doesn't answer questions, Steiner notes in annoyance, but they still follow her around the corner and towards the graveyard. The knight remembers Vivi spending much of his time here... and now he spends all of it.
It's definitely grown. There are many more graves and quite a few are very fresh.
At first, it's as if they're looking right at Vivi all over again - but when the little mage turns and faces them, it's clear that this boy is just that - a boy.
He's dirty and beat up, with a black eye and some cuts on his chin, but he sees them and smiles in contentment. Like everything's alright now.
"Hello," he says, with a voice a little deeper than Vivi's. He's a little taller than the other mage had been. "Thanks, Mikoto - I'm glad you could find them."
"My brother's mate is still in the forest, with the little girl," the Genome drawls, "I suppose I'll go retrieve them and... find them somewhere to rest."
"That's a good idea," the boy nods.
The girl turns, and trudges off.
"Some of them still have trouble with emotions," the boy sighs, "I'm sorry if she said anything a bit abrupt. I'm Pitsel Ornitier... Vivi's last son."
"Pitsel..." Beatrix murmurs, and Steiner forces himself not to look at his wife too long.
"What happened here?" Amarant asks from behind.
The mage sighs and shifts his hat - a nervous gesture Vivi had. "We expected something was going to happen - Mikoto had a... premonition, a few nights before the attack. But we didn't think the Eidolon would attack Conde Petie first... so, we didn't have time to warn them." He gives them a weak smile, "Some dwarves are here, though - they were trading with us when it happened."
"Was it Leviathan?"
Eumol's voice is hoarse and unfamiliar sounding to Steiner, but when he looks back he wishes he hadn't. It's obvious from the Burmecian's fur and expression that he doesn't enjoy the sun and heat, and he looks sick and weak.
"No," Pitsel mutters, "Um, I don't know the name, but it was a dragon. A big, bronze scaled dragon."
"But... How could Bahamut do this?" Beatrix asks, "Bahamut doesn't have the precision involved...."
"There was another Eidolon," the mage tells them, expression turning dark. "The one who sucks up everything."
"Atomos," Amarant supplies.
"They got... into a fight. We could see it from the clock tower... They were near Conde Petie but it was like they were fighting over who got what. Bahamut did something and Atomos..."
Pitsel looks to the graves and says, "Atomos got killed. And Bahamut... bit him." The mage turns back to look at the group and Steiner isn't surprised to see fear in his eyes. "Bahamut bit him and this weird... blood, I guess... fell from the sky and then Bahamut... changed."
He shudders. "Then... he went for Conde Petie. And then... us."
"How could you have gotten out with less damage than even Lindblum?" Steiner asks, and though Pitsel at first is kind of shocked by the question, he sees nothing but reverence in the knight's eyes.
So, he tells them. He tells them that Bahamut swung in low, but the trees are protected so none would burn - and then he came for the clearing. He tells them how all the older mages came together and formed a spell to knock the Dragon King from the sky - and how it failed.
And then, that they had cast one last spell over the Village, that had reached most of the people and most of the buildings before Bahamut breathed fire over them. It had been white magic, awkwardly remembered from long ago training sessions with their former Master, and it had saved them all... at the cost of the mages' lives.
And he tells them that other than the mages and a few Genomes in Conde Petie, no one died, and buildings that would have fell stood... and Bahamut had taken it as a sign, or maybe a warning, and had left them.
And then Pitsel sighs, looking relieved, and says, "It feels good to have people here who know what's going on outside of the continent. I'll take you guys to the inn, and we can get you some food and water... and then figure out what the next step is."
They follow Vivi's son and Steiner wonders if this is a sign that things will be better from here on out.
The inn is in the worst shape out of all the buildings, but it also seems to be the most populated. There are many Genomes wandering about nearby, along with two or three mages and about six dwarves. The dwarves, probably knowing more about devastation than the others, are setting and bandaging wounds the best they can.
The Genomes have changed, subtly, over the years. Some now have narrower eyes, longer noses, and harder, more pronounced facial bones; others have tanned under the sun; even then, a few of them have hair that has changed color, growing either almost white or almost brown, and all shades between.
They still have their tails and still have a sense of facelessness - but there's an underlying personality in each one. Steiner can feel it and loves it, because it reminds him of Alexandria for some reason.
Pitsel gets them water and strange Outer Continent fruit, and then asks, "Did you guys come out here to check the rest of the world, or...?"
Beatrix speaks before anyone else. "We came because Lady Eiko believes there might be answers in Madain Sari. It would be more informative if we spoke with her and Her Majesty."
She stands and looks towards the ruined inn.
Amarant growls, "When did you three get to be the fucking leaders, huh?"
The General turns and glares at the bounty hunter. "When it became apparent that the rest of you are inept at both keeping your mouths /shut/..." Her eyes slide over Lani and then hit Steiner, "...And at opening them."
She turns, and marches off - Pitsel looks at the group with wide eyes, and then quickly follows.
"Fucking bitch," Amarant snarls, standing and sneering at the inn.
Steiner feels something white hot come over him and he stands, grabbing at the hilt of his sword awkwardly. "Everything you say is full of /hate/, you dumb criminal!"
"It doesn't fucking matter anymore, you moron!" Amarant waves a hand at the village around them, their shouting match earning a small crowd. "It doesn't fucking matter what I say! Your wife's a bitch, your Queen's incompetent, Zidane's dead!"
"Shut your mouth, you wretch," Steiner hisses. He doesn't recognize his voice.
"Call me what you will, you crippled shit - in the end I'm going to come out fine and you're going to fucking die because you don't realize that all that matters now is not getting blown to pieces by fucking animals!"
For some reason the knight doesn't realize his sword is drawn until he sees the tip pointing directly at Amarant's throat - and for some reason he doesn't bother to drop it.
Amarant glares, smirks, and rasps, "Go ahead. Dare you. Fucking dare you."
There is absolute silence in the village and Steiner's never heard anything quite so demanding as Amarant's challenge. It's a threat as much as it is a challenge, because if he were to fail -
There's something deceptively soft about Lani's eyes when she steps up to him and puts a hand on the hilt.
"Don't," she commands, applying force and pushing his arm back and down. "He doesn't get it." His sword is now at his side and he's properly disarmed under her gaze.
"Fucking coward," Amarant snarls, turning on heel and stalking off.
Steiner tries to glare at Lani but he realizes she's not trying to protect either of them. So he looks away and sheathes his sword, and she steps back and looks at Eumol.
"Come on, rat," she drawls, voice back to a quieter, normal tone, "Let's go find out where we're staying here."
The Burmecian looks from her to Steiner and the makes an obvious decision, following the bounty huntress quickly and keeping his ears flat.
Steiner sees the crowd try to disperse and makes it easier for them by desperately trying to march in the only direction no one else has gone in - towards the graveyard.
Mikoto finds herself wandering again. For the past few days since the attack, she has taken to circling the perimeter of the village, with little goal or thought to the act itself. Most of the walk had been spent in contemplation about her brother's fuzzy image in her head... but now, she knows why she can't see him correctly. For some reason, it hurts more than she had expected.
The Genome crosses the bridge leading towards the chocobo hut and realizes that she is approaching the tanned woman from the Mist Continent. She is alone, sitting cross legged in the shade of what's left of the mill, looking pensive and reflecting Mikoto's mood perfectly.
She wonders if it would be rude to interrupt the other woman's thoughts but finds herself walking towards her nonetheless.
"I do not know you," Mikoto says.
The woman blinks but doesn't look directly towards her, and so Mikoto steps directly into her field of vision, earning a glance. "However, I did hear the arguments inside the inn over you and your friends. Is it true you can't hear me?"
/She's not bad/, Mikoto decides as the woman blinks again, trying for confused.
"It's surprising that someone without hearing could see what those two were yelling about, and intervene so promptly. Yet, I suppose it's possible..."
She sits across from the woman and asks, "Am I speaking slowly enough for you to understand what words I am saying?"
"...Yeah," the other responds, leaving the sentence sounding oddly unfinished.
"What is your name?"
Names have become important to Mikoto in a very short period of time. While other Genomes are struggling with the concept of individuality, she has already grasped it. She knows how to speak like a Genome, and how to speak like Mikoto... the fact that her voice is naturally expressionless and that she has forgone using most contractions in her speech simply deceives most people.
Mikoto flicks her tail and then says, "Do you know what happened to Zidane?"
Lani looks away. "Ask someone else. I didn't know the monkey."
"I see."
They sit there for a while in silence and then Mikoto sighs and asks, "Why are you lying to them?"
Lani doesn't answer.
Amarant feels almost dirty skulking outside of the ring of people, but he doesn't feel like he should be too close to any of the group at the moment. Hell, the only reason he's listening to Beatrix right now is because he needs to be informed. Fuck, if he had it his way...
"Her Majesty has decided that she and Lady Eiko leave for Madain Sari in the morning. If all goes well, we will return within a few nights."
"We?" Amarant snaps. "I wasn't aware that a two-bit General was Queen."
Beatrix's eyes flash and if Amarant weren't feeling a little sick he would probably have returned her new glare more fiercely.
"Master Ornitier and I will escort them," she responds, voice stiff and unpleasant.
"Beatrix," Steiner says, and Amarant looks at him in surprise. He's actually going to ask? "I would like to join you."
Her frown deepens and she tells him, "No."
Amarant almost laughs at Steiner's expression, and then feels nauseous for wanting to laugh at all.
"Steiner," Garnet cuts in, not looking really at the group but more upwards, towards the sky. Amarant tries to imagine her face without tearstains but can't. "I know you want to come with us, but..."
"I understand, Your Majesty."
"We should get some sleep," Eiko tells them, and Amarant wants her to stop looking so worried over everyone. She's not old enough to worry.
Zidane's Sister speaks out from the corner of the group. "Since we have huts now... unoccupied... and since the inn is destroyed, Pitsel and I assumed it would be more comfortable for you to stay in the vacant homes during your stay. I assume this is alright?"
"That would be fine," Garnet smiles, corners of her lips a little tight. "Thank you, Mikoto..."
Zidane's Sister leads them away from the ruined inn and Amarant finds himself slinking the opposite direction. He doesn't want some fucking dead mage's house. He doesn't fucking need it.
It's already dark and the moons have only barely risen. That's how it is in the forests. He wonders if he can disappear inside this particular forest, like he could at home... or if these trees know him and don't want him.
He can't stop thinking about Zidane. Or, not Zidane. He can't stop thinking about "Zidane's Dead" and how that made Garnet break and how he didn't mean to say it so loud because he knew she /would/.
He's pretty sure he hates Zidane. He knows he never liked the damned monkey like everyone else did, but now that he's free to think about it... Yeah. He hates Zidane. He hates Zidane because he was always rash and always lucky - and Amarant was always rash and never lucky. He hates Zidane because he won everyone's trust and respect - two things Amarant has never desired but has always envied. He hates Zidane because he pulled everyone along and then disappeared to who-knows-where for however long...
He hates Zidane because he let Garnet go, and then swept her back up when he got the chance and then left all over again.
Amarant decides he hates Zidane because he -
"Amarant, right?"
The bounty hunter turns and glares at Zidane's Sister and tries to put Zidane's name to her face.
"What do you want?"
"...My brother's mate wants to speak with you."
He hates Zidane because of /that/.
"She's not his fucking mate anymore," he snarls.
"I realize that," she responds in that flat voice. "However... old thoughts do not die as easily as the people they represent do." She turns and says, "Follow me," and for fuck if he knows what reason, he follows.
She takes him through the village and to a hut on the far edge of the walkway. There's only one candle lit in there and he can see the glow reflected off of Eiko's hair as she stands outside, waiting.
"I can take him in, Mikoto," Eiko says, smiling at the girl who looks /just like Zidane/.
"Goodnight, then," Zidane's Sister says, leaving the two alone.
Eiko lowers her voice because there's only a thin, makeshift door separating them from Garnet. "Amarant... Please don't...?"
"Don't /what/?" he asks, and he wishes he didn't sound so hostile.
"Don't... don't do anything dumb."
She leaves him with that and he wonders how she categorizes dumb as he pushes the door to the side and enters the hut.
There are two beds, both makeshift hay ones, and Garnet is sitting on the better built one, staring vaguely in the direction of the door.
"...Amarant?" she asks, and god damn her voice is already starting to crack.
She's quiet and he's quiet, and then he goes and, though he feels like he shouldn't, he sits next to her on the straw.
"I... I know... I know you didn't mean to - to... and I'm sorry."
"No, you're not."
She turns her head in his direction and she looks confused and hurt and wrong, and asks, "How do you know?"
"Because if you were sorry, you wouldn't be crying."
She turns away and wipes at her eyes and Amarant almost gets up and walks out, because she just wanted to false apologize, and this is a dangerous position for him.
But then she whispers, "I don't know if we'll come back from Madain Sari," and he wouldn't leave for all the gold in Gaia.
"I wanted to... I wanted to say thank you, because... you said it," she rasps, "You said it when no one could. I don't want it to be true but... but Z-Zidane's...."
He shouldn't but he kind of takes pleasure out of saying it now, "Zidane's /dead/."
She winces and then nods. "And... I didn't want... If I could, I would-"
"You can't so don't bother wishing."
He thinks it's when he first talked to her - actually talked to her and didn't just grunt and shrug her off - that he first realized she wasn't a princess. Well, not exactly a princess. The others treated her with a slight air of royalty and she accepted it but she didn't like it. So he made it a kind of mission - a side quest to unraveling Zidane - to push that air as far away as possible. He used "princess" like a pet name and would call her woman instead of "Dagger" or fucking "Garnet" and he refused to bend to any of her more royal orders.
Even when Zidane confronted him and told him to lay off, that he was being too mean.
Because he said it near Garnet and she turned and just glared - and he was silenced and Amarant was left to be smug.
And then she started talking to him more. She asked him questions while he was up for guard duty and she wasn't asleep like the others. Stupid questions, really, meaningless - where are you really from, how old are you, what do you like to read - the normal, everyday questions people ask new acquaintances when they don't know what else to say. And even though she was just asking out of fucking curiosity, or maybe as a kind of sideways "thank you for noticing"... he kind of liked it.
And then Zidane fucking wandered off and she stopped talking to everyone but the council and Steiner. And then he came back, and boy she was happy when he treated her like a queen. And if Amarant and she ever talked, he would call her princess like a pet name and she would smile and take it but not like it.
And he fucking hates Zidane and doesn't want him back.
"I just wanted to... I just wanted to tell you that /I don't know/," Garnet finally says, and Amarant thinks that's probably the one thing she could do to make him feel so -
"...If you want, I'll go with you."
"I don't want you to," she tells him, honestly, "I don't want you to because I want you to stay here and sleep, and... and stop for a while. You... you were so angry today, you yelled at everyone, and... and I think it's because you need rest."
He wants to tell her it doesn't matter if he's tired or not, because it won't change anything if he sleeps... but she looks honestly worried and it reminds him of night talks without Zidane around.
"...I'm not angry now," he tells her honestly. He wants to add to it but he won't.
She looks around and then smiles slightly. She tells him, quietly, "I never liked it when they called me princess, but I never minded it when you did the same. And..."
She reaches out a hand and when he feels her warm finger tips against his neck he can't breathe. She feels out scars on his neck, up to his face, feels the stitches in his eye and feels the unevenness of his beard. And she says, "If things had been different..."
"They weren't, so don't bother wishing," he rasps and it feels as though he's going to pass out. The only thing on his mind now - the only thing he wants to think about - is escape and he stands, pulling out of her hands and moving towards the door.
He didn't know her arms were long enough but she grabs his hand and he wishes he could tear his hand away and walk out and leave it at that.
"If things had been different," she murmurs, "I would have..."
"You wouldn't have done fucking /anything/!" he snarls, and he can pull his hand out of her grip now, and he finishes with, "You wouldn't have done anything differently."
And he walks out even though she's blind and can't go after him.
"I don't have time for this, Steiner."
Beatrix's back is to him and he wishes with all his heart he had the strength to turn her around to face him. But he keeps his hand to himself and simply watches her pack food and fill canteens.
"Why won't you allow me to come with you?" he asks, trying to at least gauge the damage being done.
"We already have enough people to pack food for. Any more and the cart will not handle it. This isn't up for discussion."
"Beatrix, if this has to do with what happened on the ship-"
"What, exactly, happened on the ship?" Beatrix snaps, turning around and placing a hand on her hip, right above the hilt of her sword. "Are you referring to how you and that bounty hunter had something to hide - something that cost us a ship, the life of an Eidolon, and nearly our own lives?"
"...She had said she had told Lady Eiko her suspicions," he mutters, before frowning and realizing she was wielding a double edged sword. "And what of you and that great oaf Amarant? You yourself are hiding something from us all regarding him - something that Fenrir warned him of! Do not assume I am the only one hiding things!"
"What's going on with Amarant is only an immediate danger to him, not to us. You put us all in jeopardy!"
"I did /nothing/!"
"And/ that is why we nearly died/!" Beatrix snarls, eyes narrowing and hand almost grabbing for her sword. "Just stay out of the /way/! If you wish to do nothing then do not complain when we grant you that wish!" She turns away and continues throwing food into sacks, ignoring Steiner utterly.
After a few moments, Steiner tries one last time.
"I want to /help/, Beatrix!"
"You /can't/!" she exclaims, putting a hand to her forehead and then taking a breath. "You can't help, Steiner. You can't handle your weapon and you can't make decisions regarding confidentiality."
She turns and he hopes he doesn't look quite as devastated as he feels. He must not be doing a very good job at hiding his feelings, because her eyes go soft and she sighs. "You aren't well enough right now, Adelbert. Please... you have nightmares and you aren't physically fit for travel. And without proper training... it's hard for you to use your sword. Once this is over, everything will be fine."
He wants to explain to her that he's perfectly fine, and the travel would only help him hone his skills, and that he doesn't even remember the nightmares, but something in Beatrix's pose tells him that she's too far out of reach... anything he might say would be lost in translation.
So he nods, and says, "I understand, Beatrix," because while she might call him Adelbert it doesn't feel right for him to call her by her first name. "Everything will be fine. Take care on your journey."
He turns and leaves and doesn't expect a response.
He doesn't get one.
Other than expanding the perimeter, the Black Mage Village hasn't changed very much. All the new pathways still lead to the original ones, and all of those lead to the graveyard. Therefore, Steiner isn't incredibly distressed to find that he has unconsciously made his way there... just disappointed that he isn't alone.
Lani is sitting at the fence, back to the pathway and eyes wandering over the first row of graves.
He says, "Excuse me," before realizing she can't hear him.
Still, her head turns and she looks at him for a long moment before responding. "Hi."
He wants to be surprised at this. He really and truly wishes he could be surprised, but he had a feeling. He's sure everyone does.
"At least it's just you," she mumbles. "It might be a problem otherwise."
Steiner doesn't want to answer so he decides to forgo words - instead he comes to stand next to her, looking out over the rows out of her sight.
"When?" he finally asks.
"...After I had that hallucination," she sighs. "Guess it knocked everything alright."
"Far from a hallucination," he tells her.
Lani makes a noise and doesn't respond directly.
"Your lady being a bit chilly tonight, good sir knight?" she asks, and he knows she's asked him that same thing before.
"As shrewd as your partner in your personal inquiries, aren't you?"
She winces and looks away. "Amarant's got his own issues, you know."
"Are you going to sit down, sir knight, or are you too good to sit like the rest of us?"
There's no malice in her words and so Steiner sits, crossing his legs and examining the frayed edges of the play clothing he's been wearing for so long. Perhaps they could find something more suitable in the Village.
"Looks good, for all the crap we've gone through," Lani drawls, and he blinks his gaze away from the frays and to the bounty huntress, who's pulling a small satchel from her belt. It's about the size of a coin purse, and she opens it and pulls out a tin, like the one for the flint.
She grins sideways at Steiner and says, "That... Genome, yeah? That Genome girl, the one who keeps saying she's Zidane's sister..." She holds out the tin and opens it, showing him the galenas rolls inside. "She's not bad. This stuff grows all over the Outer Continent, it's not like home."
"And she knows your hearing's returned?"
Lani frowns and pulls out two rolls, ignoring Steiner for the moment and fumbling with the matches. She lights the two and then offers one to Steiner. The knight hesitates because Weimar and Laudo always smoked together and were never very alert during the ritual - then he remembers that neither Weimar nor Laudo are alive to serve as an example. He takes the roll and breathes deep.
"Kinda nice out here," Lani sighs after a while.
"...Better if it weren't the end of the world."
They sit in silence and Steiner follows the smoke up to the clear dark sky above.
Later, he returns to the hut to find it empty - and the fact that he's not surprised almost hurts more than the sudden abandonment.

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