By twentysix years of therapy
Ultima Weapon's broken, battered carcass lies in a mangled heap, its armour broken beyond repair and the beast it rode lifeless without the animation of its master. Rinoa casts a cure over the three of us--herself, Zell and I--and then looks at me curiously.
"What?" I ask her, wiping the blood off Punishment.
"What did you Draw?" she asks. She nods towards Ultima Weapon. "It didn't feel like any magic I've ever seen."
"You can tell that just from watching him?" Zell asks her, running a hand through his spike of blond hair.
She gives him a brilliant smile. "I could feel it. I'm a sorceress, remember?" He shrugs, and Rinoa turns back to me again. "So what is it, do you know?"
I give a brief nod. "She's a Guardian Force Ultima Weapon had Junctioned. Her name is--"
--oh shh my darling silent now can't you feel it can't you know it listen carefully now feel it deep inside your mind let the syllables reverberate inside your heart and touch the very core of your soul what is it then my precious little lion--
There is darkness.
I am suffocating.
--Don't be afraid.--
My eyes are open but I see nothing, not even blackness. I swallow hard but air doesn't exist, and nothing fills the vacuoles in my lungs with oxygen. But there are no vacuoles, and there are no lungs, and there is no me.
--You are here.--
There is no here.
--Then what is this?--
We are nowhere.
--Who is "we?"--
And then I know. In the back of my mind I feel the awesome sweep and glory of her, seeing-not hearing-not feeling-not tasting-not smelling-not but knowing that she is here. She is here, and I am here, and there is no one else in our universe.
I reach for her. It is beyond the scope of my imagination to see her as she really is, so she places a gentle thought into my head. Mechanical and motherly, her touch scrapes cold metal against my consciousness.
Her voice is like no other creature; she speaks simultaneously in a thousand voices pitched a thousand ways with the scream of feedback just low enough not to overshadow her words, yet she is still ultimately feminine.
She gives me the gift of the sight of her and so I see her in my mind's eye for the first time; she is so immense I cannot see all of her and yet I do all the same. Her mechanical torso, vaguely shaped as that of a woman, is sculpted blues and purples, ending in a point. The huge disc resting on top of her body is studded with lights and has a religious diagram etched into the underside. Brilliant white lights pierce through the front underside of the disc, shining golden. What could almost be metal wings slide back elegantly and a rich red cape flows stark in the darkness.
--Yes,-- she whispers to me, and I feel a knife cutting into flesh that doesn't exist, and then--
we're by the seaside and he tells me to go first it won't hurt me but i'm scared because it's dark and the cave is dark but he hits me and my nose begins to bleed and i wanna cry but i can't because he'll laugh at me so instead i run back towards the stone home but he tackles me and says that if i tell he'll beat me up but he doesn't scare me he doesn't because he can't hurt me and i tell him that and he kicks me hard and says he can but i'm weak and stupid and i miss my sis and that hurts and it's not the same as what he can do and besides i bet if i wanted to i could learn to make sure he couldn't hurt me anyway and make him go away and leave me alone because Seifer's mean and i don't like him
--things I never needed anyway are sacrificed to her for the kindness of her companionship.
--I will be yours, Squall.--
Somehow, I don't think she will belong to anyone, least of all some worthless mortal.
A thousand tiny bells ring all at once, bubbling lightly. With some surprise I realize it's her laughter, clear and gentle without the hiss and rasp of static. --Of course, dear one,-- she says, sounding amused. --Of course, my one and only.--
With some surprise I notice I'm breathing again.
--Wake up!-- she says gaily, the interference not stealing the life from her words. --Open your eyes, sleeping lion heart!--
As she commands, so do I obey. And so I am back to where I never left, opening my eyes to see Rinoa and Zell staring at me strangely. Rinoa... an aura of inherent exquisiteness flows through her, around her, and for a brief second I can see this, the perfect delicacy of her. I see her how she truly is, and a feeling of profoundness fills me.
"Oh..." she breathes, reaching up a hand to touch my face. She stops short, her eyes questioning.
I blink, and then everything is as it always was; she is a simple girl with Lallapaloozan eyes and chemical streaks in her hair. "What?"
"I saw--thought I saw something in your eyes," she says hesitantly.
"An after-effect," I say, rubbing my scar.
"So... you okay, man? Looked like you spaced out for a sec," Zell says, shifting his weight. "Like, freaky spaced out. It was like, you know when you're looking at someone who's asleep and their eyelids are twitching, right? It was like that, 'cept a hundred times faster. Was that Eden?"
I give him a sharp nod. "Yes. She's Junctioned to me."
Rinoa looks concerned. "You'll be okay?" I shrug. She smiles slightly, then nods towards the ascending stairs. "Shall we go back?"
It is dark by the time we make our way back to the surface, despite the fact that all of the monsters disappeared after Ultima Weapon's death. The others are waiting just outside the Ragnarok, seemingly deep in conversation.
"Hey! We're back, and we kicked some major ass!" Zell whoops, thrusting his fist into the air. "Plus, Squall picked up a new GF that he hasn't shown us yet. We'll tell you guys all about it!"
"We were just starting to get worried," Quistis says. "I'm glad to see you back safe," she says, eyes flickering to mine, then drawing away to the thick ribbons of blood staining my clothes.
"Nah, it was totally in the bag," Zell grins. "So what did you guys get up to?"
Selphie sneaks a look at Irvine, then giggles. "Oh, nothing much. Haven't seen anything since you guys left, not even a single monster."
"We were planning what we're to do tomorrow," Quistis says, assuming her role of Instructor. "I believe it would be a good idea to check out the Centra ruins. After all, it's rumoured to have a GF lurking about as well, and after actually finding this place," she gestures with her arm to indicate the Deep Sea Research platform we're currently standing on, "I have a feeling we might get lucky. We can discuss it further once we settle inside the Ragnarok and get the three of you cleaned up, but I had figured that you two" here she nods towards Zell and Rinoa, "might want to rest after spending all afternoon down there, especially if you had to kick ass," she says with a wry smile in Zell's direction. "Irvine's already volunteered to go and I've been studying the ruins so I'll go as well. And I hardly need to ask you, Squall, do I?""Of course," I say, Eden's words echoing inside my head. Of course. Of course. "Selphie," I say, glancing in the spunky brunette's direction, "could you take us somewhere with an inn and lots of hot water? I'd really appreciate a shower," I say.
"No prob, Squall!" she says, giggling. Then she races towards the Ragnarok, its doors opening like magic to allow her entry. Irvine tosses me a look as if to say "I'm not responsible for her," then runs after her.
"After you, O Fearless Leader," Quistis gestures grandly. I suppress the urge to roll my eyes, and with Rinoa at my side I return to the dragon-ship.
It was a pleasant overnight in Winhill, but Shiva's stubborn refusal to speak to me has dampened my mood somewhat. Nevertheless, I am ready for whatever challenges the Centra ruins may throw at us. Quistis says that according to legend Odin rules the ruins by placing mental challenges rather than physical, but I am prepared for a fight nonetheless. One should always be prepared for a fight. It was something I learned a long time ago, when--
When was it? I can't remember. I can't remember much of my childhood anymore. The Guardian Forces do take little pieces of your mind as their resting places, wiping out anything else they may have been used for, but I suppose the trade-off is more than fair.
Though in the middle of a vast, lifeless plain, Odin's castle is in an area suddenly rife with trees. The Ragnarok is forced to land some distance away, about seven minutes' walk, just far enough for the monsters to be bold. Rinoa, Zell and Selphie stay on the ship as planned and the three of us set out.
Irvine, Quistis and I have been able to avoid the monsters thus far, but a high-level jelleye comes shrieking at us from behind. Irvine wings it with a reflexive shot, sending it skittering backwards and allowing Quistis and I to prepare ourselves.
The jelleye rights itself, flapping madly. Quistis tags it with her whip, the spiked end tearing a large rip across the monster. The wounded, bleeding jelleye thrashes around lashing out wildly. It screeches, folding in on itself and spinning around wildly, its blood splattering over my companions and I. Irvine yells in disgust, although I barely hear it. A thin line of its blood runs down my face, pooling above my upper lip. I frown in distaste, and it trickles down further. I taste it and tense to spit it out, but something inside me makes me pause. I run my tongue along my lower lip and the blood spreads over my taste buds slow enough for the distinct elements to be tasted in succession.
Need crawls through my bloodstream with electric fingers.--Yes...-- A divine sigh.
The handle of the gunblade slips through my fingers.
I leap forward and rip the wounded jelleye from the sky, my leather gloves sure even through the slick of its blood and the violence of its thrashing undulations. It pulls in on itself, its tentacles fluttering in preparation for a spell and I reach for the hunting knife strapped to my right leg. It draws smooth and without resistance through the spasming, gurgling creature's midsection.
On command of instinct and the quiet, eager whispers in my head, I tear the blade through it again and again, ripping through flesh and cutting through its hollow fragile bones with fearsome strength. Snarling, I bite the tip of my finger, yanking the glove off my hand. Spitting it out, I transfer the ruined jelleye to my naked left hand and free the right, letting the knife drop unneeded to the ground.
My fingernails dig into a split and rip open the jelleye's centre, exposing the inside of its chest cavity to air for the first time. It twitches weakly, as it still lives, and I lean forward.
The taste of its blood as it pumps from its veins as if especially for me makes my mind cloud and my body surrender to need. Closing my eyes, I bite down on its flesh and tear free with my teeth, chewing on the tender meat. Its taste is strongly unique, spiced with the magic it has stored within itself. I feel revitalized as the mouthful slides down my throat; I can feel it as it makes it way down my oesophagus and into my stomach to be disassembled to its elements.
I bite into the bloody creature, gnawing at its flesh even as it is still attached to the living animal. Its fading bucking adds to the glorious predatory feeling driving me on. My teeth meet its heart, cutting almost all the way through the powerful organ. It is tough, but even chewing on it while the blood gushes into my mouth gives me a rush. I lick my lips.
The jelleye is dead.
My eyes seem to close of their own accord. I open them, and suddenly stagger backwards. The wretched, mangled creature drops from my arms and lands in the grass.
My eyes sting with blood and my vision is tainted crimson in one eye, creating a disturbing illusion as its sight is combined with the other's pure vision in my brain. I take a step and end up lurching forward several paces as my actions begin to register.
"Oh, God," I mumble, nausea pounding in the back of my throat. On reflex I gag, nearly keeling over, and then all that is in my stomach is spewed messily back out onto the remains of the monster. My mouth burns with the regurgitated stomach acid. Then, covered with the blood and gore of something devoured, I fall backwards and lose consciousness.
--Do you forgive me?--
--Squall? Do you forgive me?--
--Little lion, could you not feel the energy it gave you? The life you drew into your own? Did it not revitalize you?--
--It is a part of you now, strengthening you and making you stronger. And there are other things, delicacies that will fortify your spirit, your speed, your vitality; every part of you can be improved through this.--
--Listen, Squall... can you not hear it? Can you not feel it?--
--It is a part of you now.--
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