A Good Little Girl
I had three mothers. The first one was frail and white, with eyes so pale you sould see right through them. I remember her most in wintertime, when the snow was falling, and she was wrapped in layers and layers of blankets. When she breathed, the air turned to mist in front of her and then fell apart in the air, and she would stand there amiling at the snow, just breathing like that.
I remember my first mother's arms. They were so strong for such a slender lady, or else I was too little to be stronger. When I was tired or angry or sick, those arms would hold me so tightly that it seemed the whole world could stay in her arms and sleep soundly for a million years. And sometimes, sometimes she'd let the dragon hold me too. My first mother's dragon was everything she was, and more. It was whiter and stronger and frailer and softer and so beautiful-- but it didn't have her arms. It was mist, white mist, just like what left her mouth the day she stopped breathing. The day the fire came. The day he brought it.
"What?!" I cry, swinging myself around. He COULDN'T have just said what I think he said.
His eyes are so distant, so... cold! "Come on. Get off the Big Whale." He means us.
I stare at him in utter disbelief. She looks as if her heart has been ripped out of her chest. "Cecil," she almost says, and her eyes are big and blue and fearful.
I see that look on his face again. He's struggling, just like when I first saw him, when I first called to Titan to bury my white mother's murderers. The cold face wins over again, and he stares her down like a wayward child, tells her sternly that it isn't safe. "There's no guarantee of safe return this time," he says, and that it's best that she and I leave.
A thousand words come to my head, but none of them makes it to my mouth. I can only shake my head and look at them all-- the prince, smiling insolently at me (I shoot him my nastiest glare); the dragoon, turning away his head, turning it away from Cecil, and her... and her as she runs away, weeping, off the ship just like he told her to.
I had three mothers. When I look at her now, it's hard to imagine that sweet, child-like Rosa was the second. When the mist drew away my first mother into its unbreakable embrace, it blew a dying girl to where he had kept the soldiers from making me die.
I saw death in the north where he took me to bring her back. Death was in this bird, this fish; laying behind the next door, the next puddle. A phoenix feather he placed on my eyes; it was soft and warm and strong like white arms pulling me away from a burning stove. Death was in a gash across a girl's ches, in the eyes and heart of an old man who had called me talented. When Rosa's eyes flottered open, it was like a prayer against death. And she smiled at me, and it was then I saw how blond her hair was. It was almost white.
At night, when we stayed in our tent, she would comb my hair as I lay sleepy with my head on her lap. I remember him, too. I knew very well the slight tightening of her cool hand against my shoulder, knew very well the small, fearful noises she made when he sat there breathing raggedly, as if it hurt him mortally when the dark helmet was taken off. He would tell her he was fine, that it was nothing to worry about, but it seemed that he was so much less invincibly with that helm no longer hiding his face. She only held me closer and moved the little comb through my thin, pale hair, and whispered to me that everything would be all right, all right, all right.
The ice stood like a titan before me, and their faces like misty ghosts. "It's because her village was destroyed by fire," he said; (no, my village was destroyed by YOU) and the memories came unbidden to me. Right there, a man was lying, his face turned to a black hole by the living fire. Right there was the charred skeleton of a house and I didn't know who was inside. The smell attacked me again, and I wanted to throw up and cry, because that was where my mother was, there, and she died perfect and unharmed until the fire came and ate her. She was black, she was black, when the fire finished with my white mother! (I can't TOUCH it, I'll be HURT!)
And my second mother knelt in front of me and smiled again. Everything was going to be all right. And as the ice melted into steam that rose misty into the sky, she hugged me with different arms than my first mother. Different arms, but warm.
He doesn't look at me, but he means me too. The dragon knight doesn't look at me either. The prince doesn't have the grace for that. He grins stupidly at me again.
"Now, Rydia," he says, putting his arm heavy and tight around my shoulder and turning me towards the exit. His mouth is moving rather suspiciously close to my face. "Be a good girl and stay home."
I shriek, and punch him in the gut as hard as I can. "Think it's sweet of you to say that, hotshot?!"
A little girl. That's all I am to them. A little girl throwing a tantrum because she can't go and play with the grown-up... men! I can't stand to see them look at me like that, or NOT look at me like that, anymore. Angry and sad and confused, I leave them. I run quick as I can across the main chamber, down the landing stairs.
I stop on the last step and lean against the metal railing, a little girl's angry tears blurring my grown-up eyes. They blur the pale image of Rosa who is standing on the grass-- the grass near Mysidia and the ocean where I went home all those days or years ago.
I had three mothers. When the huge serpent drew me into its watery mouth, I wasn't scared at all. I had heard the name Leviatihan at home where it was safe, just as I had heard the name Leviathan shouted frantically on deck, where it was not. There was only the smack of the ocean on my stomach as I hit it, and then there was warmth. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I was standing in a room before him and my third mother.
Her name was Asura, and she looked vaguely human then, like a dark cloud in a queen's robes. But sometimes her face would flicker golden, like cat eyes peeking through a mask. The serpent king was the same way (how I knew it was him I don't quite remember, or know)-- he looked like a monarch made of shadows, except for the shade of blue that would flicker across his face or hands.
"Why am I here?" I remember asking. I wasn't scared before, but shadows of shadows seemed to be everywhere, floating around me and looking at me-- "I want to go home."
The lady looked at me, and I think that if she were human she sould have smiled. "You are home, my child," she said, and her voice was quiet and alien and low. "You are Rydia, and I am called Asura."
"I am Leviathan," the king said in a strong and whispery voice. A serpent's voice. "You are the last Caller of Mist, and since we live only to be called, we have brought you here."
"A refuge, if you will, my child," she said.
"A refuge. Until you come of age," said the serpent monster king.
"Yes," said the lady. "Your people have called his place the Land of the Summoned Monsters, have they not?"
"Oh!" I pleaded, "But I have to go back! They need me!" (and their ship was ruined too) "I have to go back and.. and help them!" "Who?" said the serpent king.
"Everyone!" I cry, and I mean it. "You see, there's this Dark Knight...."
The Queen and King made a strange sound, and it took me a few moments to realize they were laughing at me. Laughing at me!
And so I told them about him, glaring loudly. "There's a Dark Knight. His name is Cecil and he killed my mother." (Not a waver). "He burned Mist too." (Why am I not crying?) "But he saved my life! And now he's at the bottom of the ocean," (thanks to you) "or something. Or else he's wandering around somewhere without anyone to be able to heal him if he gets hurt!" (because Rosa's gone) "And if we don't find all the crystals, then the world will be destroyed, even this place!" I took a deep breath. "So I need to go back."
They studied me. "How old are you?" Asura asked me suddenly.
"I'll be eight next month."
And that was how she made me stay there, there with her, the shadow of a golden queen. That is where my memory explodes into a recollection of trillions upon trillions of moments or minutes or days or eternities, whatever they were or are. There were parts of the sky that fire would seem to glow at me from, stones on the ground that would take me somewhere else, there were shadow creatures that gazed on me as if I were a princess or a god. There were strangely familiar things, too-- a chocobo having friendly conversation with a cloaked and shadowy monster, a worn book that a man in town used to have sitting on a human's bookcase. Little shadow children who wanted to know why I didn't have fangs.
I grew up first so that I could be strong enought to fight for him; then his face started to blur in my mind, over time. But I remembered my cause. Oh, I remembered that every second of the years I grew up, in the place where the years are seconds themselves. I think my third mother knew this, knew it as she taught me of my people and her monsters, and taught me the magic she knew to teach.
That magic was for healing, not for me. She knew that when I grew up and it was time for me to go, and she asked me if I still wanted to help him. Cecil.
I told her yes, I did. Not that I longed to see my human world as well.
She wanted to know how I wanted to help him.
I didn't know what she meant at first. I think she meant it to be like that. What do you mean, what do you mean, I asked. And she told me to think about it.
There are no stars in the belly of the world, where the monsters sleep, but if there were, I would have stayed awake looking at them that night. Instead I asked the glowing fire in the ceiling what my third mother meant. How I want to help him... and then I knew.
"Asura!" I told her. "Asura, I don't want to help him!"
"You want to stay here? Rydia...?" That look on her blackness, the shade that could never be flesh; it could only be joy.
"No," I said softly. "I want to go back. But it's my fight as much as his.... I don't want to be his. I want to fight with him, for my own reasons." (For our common cause).
"I knew you were no white mage, child," she said, nodding. "I see. It will never work for you the same, now that you've realized that yourself."
She was right. It felt as if a part of me were gone forever, and in truth, it was.
As I turned to go up through the caves to the human world again, she called to me. "Come back and see us again, someday. It... it gets very lonely, sometimes, down here."
She had seemed so ancient, so wise, so golden: but at that moment, I realized that she was terribly young as well. So young, and old, and lonely, and a monster, and a serpent's queen.
I left her as her opposite. Human, and a caller, and a black mage that was no one's.
"ASURA!" I call to the world. "Asura, mother, help me, I hate them!"
She is there. "It has been so long, child... was it really long enough for you to hate them?"
"A minute! A minute is all it took! He made me go away, mother, me and Rosa, both of us. Take me home, mother, take me home!"
"Didn't you come home now, Rydia? You're with people again."
"I hate people, mother! They think I'm useless! Little! A girl!"
"Aren't you a girl? That is what you humans call your females, right?"
"Yes! But... oh, I don't know what I am anymore, or what I want to be! Maybe I'm a monster like you, maybe if I were a monster I would be stronger, and useful!"
"It is not a question of usefulness, child. He disposed of the healer, too--"
"But I'm NOT Rosa! I'm NOT a healer! I'm not my mother, I'm not Rosa, I'm not YOU.... I'm not sure what I am! Oh Asura... please, take me home....."
"You are a Caller. That is what you are." And she is gone so quickly, just a faded figment of my mind.
I sit there for a moment. Then I see Rosa. She's so young now, shorter than me-- struggling to climb back up the landing platform with her slender lady's hands.
"Rosa!" I call.
"Rydia-- I have to go back. He needs me... I need him..."
I look up at her. "Wait for me, would you?"
She smiles like a new day. "You're coming too!"
"Of course I am," I tell her. "It's my fight too. And I'm the only Caller you have."