I never did ask it aloud, but the question never stopped running through my mind. Every step took us farther away from where it all had ended, and yet it kept bringing me right back; back to the throne of the fallen goddess.
Back to the question of what, exactly, we had fought her for.
Freedom? In the abstract, maybe. Survival? Just mine, to be honest. That particular burning question tended to melt away in deference to others: who the Brood were, why they were hunted, what lay beyond the outer sea, what happened to the world, and so on. Perhaps understanding the whole thing was motivation enough, at least at the time.
Now, however, Myria was dead; or at least as dead as one can expect of a goddess that is no longer needed, that had to be banished by the very people she sought to protect. We were free from her protection, whatever that meant. Humanity could go on its merry way, free from divine intervention, as it always had. As it, perhaps, was meant to.
Which brings us to here. I can see Wyndia from where we are now, walking along the highway. Walking straight into a phalanx of soldiers who, to put it lightly, won't be too happy to see me. Nina assured me again and again that somehow we'd work things out; clear my name, set the story straight, whatever it took. Rei and Momo also offered to vouch for me, and they follow us even now - though they keep a conspicuous distance from Nina and I, one that couldn't be anything but intentional.
The quick wink Rei offered just five minutes ago was particularly telling, though my mind is just a little bit elsewhere.
(Freedom), I keep thinking, (we fought to be free of her.) Then I wonder just how much that means when almost nobody in the whole world knows what we just did; how much that means when I'm about to march straight into a prison cell.
"So, what was it for again?" I finally speak, more to myself than any of my companions. I'm not sure what kind of answer to expect; I'm the only one that really had anything to gain.
I'm none too surprised when Nina answers. "You know that already," she says, softly. Without even looking, I could see the concern in her eyes. She knew me enough to know when I was doubting myself, although Rei once remarked that pretty much everybody knows when I'm doing that.
"Yeah," I reply, "I know. It's just hard to see sometimes."
She quickens her step, joining at my side. "What do you mean?"
I think back to the other side of the sea; ruined cities, endless deserts, desolate wasteland as far as the eye could see. "The freedom to make mistakes," I say. "Even big ones."
She bobs her head gently in acknowledgement. "It's...not exactly something you
expect to fight for. Much less against..." she pauses, carefully choosing her words, "against someone that didn't..." again she stops, visibly reluctant.
I take a stab at finishing her thought. "Didn't really mean us any harm," I say. "She thought she was doing the right thing, trying to protect the world; what was left of it."
"I guess that's what it means to really be free," she muses. "To be allowed to...fail."
We walk in silence for a short while. I glance over at her, in time to catch her as she does the same. She briefly looks away, a faint blush on her cheeks. I smile, and so does she.
Our group rounds a corner, starting towards the entrance to the city proper. Castle Wyndia towers over the city, its windmills spinning contentedly, its gates wide open and waiting.
"You know," she says out of the blue, "there is something else."
"Hmm?" I look over again.
"Something else we fought for," she clarifies.
I raise an eyebrow; she has my undivided attention. "What do you mean?"
"It's not just the freedom to make mistakes," she says, giving me a small, but growing smile. "It's also the freedom to correct them."
I blink. "That's a freedom?"
"If it were a responsibility, we'd have to correct those mistakes. If we had to do it, everybody would." She makes a short gesture, indicating the city before us. "We don't have to. But we can."
"Huh." I scratch the back of my head. It makes some sense to me, or perhaps I simply couldn't refute her at the moment. "Maybe..."
"Well, that's what matters, isn't it? Being able to make things right? Knowing that the world isn't perfect, and trying to make it better?" Another smile. "Even if it's just for one person?"
Subtlety goes clear out the window. We're right in front of the city gates. One of the guards is eyeballing us; he knows Nina, and from the look on his face he knows the rest of us too. He makes a gesture to his companion, and the two start towards us.
I smile back at her. "Well...ready to make another mistake, Princess?" I ask, jokingly.
Her eyes are warm, sincere, caring. It's my turn to turn a little red. Before I even realize it, she slips her hand into mine, giving it a soft, reassuring squeeze.