"One More Song"
by Kris Schnee
The boy with the green clothes regained consciousness on a hard steel surface. He was on a staircase, actually, with the corners digging into him everywhere except where the shield on his back covered. A deep, throbbing chord came from dozens of coffin-sized pods arranged in tiers beside the staircase, and the room's light was dim red from above.
A slim blond man with glittering eyes knelt beside him. "You're awake," he said.
The boy leaped to his feet, drawing his little sword reflexively.
"Hey! Relax, kid. We need your help." Even as he said it, Bright-Eyes had one hand on the hilt of a gigantic broadsword sheathed at his back. "We're the good guys."
So the boy sheathed his blade, tentatively, and Bright-Eyes nodded. "I had a feeling I needed to come back here. Something's still not right."
The boy scratched his head through the green hood he wore, remembering. "The Moon?" he said at last. Was it still falling? He could hear wind howling outside, and some of the cold leaked into this strange dim room.
"Moon? No, it's a meteor, and we don't have much time left. I thought that when my friends and I defeated Sephiroth, it would be over, but..." Bright-Eyes nervously looked up.
So did the boy. There was a skylight in the ceiling, and the dim red light came from a flaming ball of rock which hung in the sky, perhaps hours from striking the world.
"I don't know who you are or where you come from," said Bright-Eyes, "but I'm sure we need you now. Come with us; the airship's outside."
* * *
The boy was amazed by everything he saw aboard Bright-Eyes' flying ship. It was full of machines he'd never seen before, and stranger people.
A red lion/wolf creature stared at him with one sharp eye, shaking its head. It turned to Bright-Eyes and said, "You think the Lifestream brought this boy here? What can he possibly do?"
"I don't know, but he fits somehow. How could he get way up into the Nibelheim Mountains and find the Shinra lab, and still have no idea where he was? He's even wearing the Planet's color."
"Boy," said the red beast. "Where are you from?"
"The woods," said the boy, confused. Flame-spitting engines roared to a one-two beat outside the ship, holding it aloft with no destination.
"Oh, that narrows it down. I don't see how you're going to help save the world."
"Knock it off, Red," said a large black man with a mechanical arm. "I trust the hunches of our resident hero." He clapped Bright-Eyes hard on the back with his good arm.
The boy took off the pack he wore and knelt on the bright metal floor to pull out his tools -- bombs, a bow, and a bundle of masks which wore the faces of monsters.
"What's that you have there?" said Red, moving closer. The boy could feel the beast's hot breath on his face.
"Masks," said the boy. "I make these when I heal people with my song."
Red and the others had no idea what he was talking about. So the boy explained in a torrent, his memories of an endless series of journeys thrown on top of one another and making their way to his lips in no particular order. In his mind there was a mirror, a sleeping princess, an island, evil faces, more than he could remember, and he'd never once had anyone to just listen to him and there was a madman laughing at him and trying to bring down the Moon...
"Kid!" said Bright-Eyes, gripping him by the shoulder. "I know you've got problems, but we haven't got all day to hear them. I'm sorry." But there had been something in the boy's convoluted story which seemed useful: he could heal tortured spirits.
Metal-Arm looked at Bright-Eyes and saw him nod, then turned to the old man at the ship's wheel. "Yo, captain! Take us to the Crater."
Bright-Eyes helped the boy to his feet. "I know someone you can help," he said quietly.
* * *
The boy knew the song by heart and often hummed it in his sleep, but it had only helped him once. The memories were confused and repetitive and he had no idea why he was always pulled from place to place to do the same things again -- and he shook his head to clear away those thoughts. Bright-Eyes and his friends had brought him to a howling crater with cracked stone walls towering above, and a deep round pit full of swarming black and white motes below. A burning meteor, much like the leering moon he remembered, hung in the sky so that the tiny people in the crater were ants between a giant mortar and pestle.
"Can you see it?" asked Bright-Eyes. "He's still here somehow, hating us."
Metal-Arm stood off to one side, leaning against the cliff's stone wall. "I can't see nothin' down there."
The boy looked into the pit, seeing memories in the random black-and-white swirl. And... "I can hear something," he said. Deep in the pit, something still lived, and its thoughts were angry notes -- a melody which lashed out at being used and set apart, and which longed for release.
So the boy said, "I can do something," and from his belt he pulled the small, shimmering blue ocarina he always carried. He played the little flute often at night, since there was never anyone to hear him play the same song over and over and complain.
The acoustics in the crater were incredible. Every note carried and echoed from walls smoothed by some recent eruption. There was no need to try another instrument, so right away the boy stared down into the crater's bottom and took a breath. Black energy seethed and rumbled discordantly below, making the boy nervously fumble with his flute and almost drop it.
"Careful!" said Metal-Arm.
"Quiet," said Bright-Eyes. "Let him concentrate."
And with its simple melody the music seemed to say:
Give up your grudge, your heart's chains
Rest, and burn no more.
The angry, swirling lights below hissed and faded to a deep grey haze, and the pit disgorged a brightly colored treasure. It was a jungle mask, somehow appropriate, with two large, staring eyes and a heart-shaped face fringed with spikes. It landed on a red stone ledge near the boy, clattering to a stop. The boy stretched out his hand to it, with some inkling that if he could only get the mask, his work would be finished. Time seemed to slow more and more as his hand moved closer, until...
"What are you doing, kid?" Bright-Eyes called to him, and the boy realized that the ground beneath their feet was shaking and beginning to crumble as well. "We've got to get out of here!"
"Again," muttered Metal-Arm.
But the boy couldn't look away -- he had to get that mask! He took a step closer, towards the cliff's edge, feeling pebbles slide past him into the deep pit below.
"Forget it!" Bright-Eyes shouted. The blond man stepped over shaking rocks, coming to stop the boy before he did anything stupid. But at the last moment, the boy leaped desperately at the ledge with the mask, coming close enough only to knock the treasure from its perch and into the pit along with him, just out of reach.
The last they saw of the boy was of him falling into the grey ambiguous haze at the crater's bottom, frantically clutching his ocarina and trying to play one more song.