by Lassarina Aoibhell
Warnings: Language, spoilers. A few gruesome images.
Disclaimer: I don't own characters, places, or games. Though I could do with owning Celes and Locke o.O;;
It hasn't changed much.
When I was a child, Cid used to bring me here while he performed his experiments. At the time, I didn't understand the strangely beautiful creatures kept in glass tubes. Cid said they were "specimens" and ran around to each tube, checking off things on his clipboard. I remember thinking they all looked so sad.
One in particular always drew me. The glass tube contained a beautiful violet-skinned woman with blue hair, wrapped in a purple sarong. Icicles were constantly forming at the top of her tube, and the glass fogged up because it was so cold inside but warm in the Research Facility. I would spend hours sitting in front of this tube, pretending to talk to the woman inside. I remember she always had such painfully sad eyes, like someone was slowly pulling her soul out.
She's not in the tube anymore. I wonder if they finally succeeded in robbing her of her soul. There's a savage-looking grey wolf there now. He used to be on the other side of the room. He snarls at me when I take a step closer. These poor creatures....what has Gestahl done to them in his lust for power?
"You want to help me..." The soft, sorrowful voice comes from the beautiful white unicorn in the next tube. "But I haven't long to live....Just as Ifrit did before me, I will give to you my power..."
The flash of white light nearly blinds me. When my eyes have adjusted, the beautiful Espers are gone and in their place, grey stones imprinted with crimson runes float in the tubes.
"What are you doing there?" It is Cid, of course. He still wears the same yellow lab coat, splattered with coffee stains, ink smears, and what looks like tomato sauce. His trousers are rumpled and his shirt has certainly seen better days. Graying black hair sticks up at strange angles all over his head, and of course he's holding his clipboard. He is trying to look menacing, but he's still just kind-hearted Professor Cid to me. It's hard to feel threatened by a man who used to sneak you chocolate chip cookies as a supplement to the terrible army food.
His eyes pop when he sees the tubes, and he races to the nearest one, the one that held a wolf a few moments ago. "W...what's this?" He stares into the tube as though the stone will answer him, then studies the dials at the base of the tube. I know the look on his face: intense concentration as his brain sorts, considers, and discards theories at light speed.
"So...." He taps the glass lightly with his fingertips. "Esper magical power can only truly be transferred when one of them passes away."
The glass tubes shatter and the grey stones float toward me. Edgar grabs them and stuffs them into the special pouch we've been using for the Magicite. I barely register the names written in runes: Bismark, Fenrir, Unicorn, Maduin, Carbuncle, and others.
I take a deep breath and step forward. "Professor Cid." Yes, he belongs to Emperor Gestahl, but he's never been twisted like some I could name. He has a good heart.
"General Celes!" His face splits into a huge grin. Then he notices the three men standing with me. "And who might these dubious characters be? Your troops?" He eyes Sabin with a healthy respect for his muscle, then gives Locke a skeptical once-over.
I've lied to more soldiers and diplomats than I care to count, but I still can't bring myself to lie to the man who raised me. "No....you see..." How do I explain this?
His eyes narrow. "Can it be true that you came here as a spy, seeking to cause an uprising?"
Damn Kefka for trying to corrupt one of the two good men left in the Empire!
The look on Locke's face....Damn it. I should have just killed myself in the prison at South Figaro. I should have known better than to try and build a new life....
"Celes...?" That doubt hurts me more than anything Kefka or Gestahl ever did.
No. Not that laughter. Damn it, not now!
"So that's it!" Kefka laughs again and prances around the facility. Hasn't anyone ever told him that red and green should only be combined in Solstice decorations?
Kefka struts across the metal grates of the floor like he owns the facility, and examines the nearest tube. "Magicite....Cid, you miserable blockhead!"
I bite my lip to keep my retort back. It will not do to piss him off before I get him away from my friends....No. Allies. They do not trust me. They are allies, not friends.
"Now...General Celes!! The game is over. Bring me those Magicite shards!" He wags his finger at me like I'm a six year old child.
"Celes! You....deceived me?" Locke sounds so wounded.
"Of course not! Have a little faith!" Quickly I dump the Magicite pieces in my hands into Edgar's bag. They'll need the power more than I do right now.
Kefka laughs so hard he doubles over. "She has tricked you all! Celes, that's so....YOU!"
I'll kill him for that. I'll skin him with my Runic blade and feed him his own entrails an inch at a time as I pull them out of his body. Then I'll peel strips of muscle from his bones to braid into the garotte I'm going to strangle him with.
But first...."Locke....please believe me."
I try to catch his eyes, to make him understand, but he looks away. "I...."
"NOW!" Kefka shouts, motioning to the Magitek guards behind him. "Exterminate all of them!"
No. I won't let him do this.
I don't know the right spell, but I can feel the air singing with magic. It's spilling out of the Esper tubes faster and faster, no longer contained by the special glass. I put my hand on my Runic blade and pull the magic into the sword. With it comes the knowledge of a spell I can use to pull people out of an area. I direct it at Kefka and the Magitek soldiers, drawing more power into the blade and pouring it into the spell.
"Celes!" Kefka's voice cracks. Good. I hope he pisses his pants too. "W...what are you doing? Stop it!"
Not a chance.
I feel the spell swirling around me, nearly complete. But there's one more thing I have to say. "Locke....Let me protect you for once." I blink back a tear. Imperial Generals do not cry. "Maybe now....Now you'll believe me."
The flashing shades of green-gold-grey-black-silver-green-purple light are painful to my eyes, but when the dazzling colour fades, we are in the forests outside Tzen. The Magitek guards are somewhat stuck, their armour being too big to let them pass through the trees. Kefka landed in a briar bush.
"Nooo! My robes! My new robes!" He tries frantically to disengage the fabric from the thorns without snagging it. I'm so amused by that, I don't even mind the rosebush that thinks my arm is a tasty treat to gnaw on.
"Over here, General!" A leather-clad Imperial recruit stumbles into the clearing, and his eyes pop when he sees us all. An odd squeak emerges from his throat.
Leo's face has never been a more welcome sight. His military composure is a bit shaken to find the four of us here in the middle of his training ground, but he controls himself well. "General Celes, General Kefka," he says courteously. "To what do I owe the honour?"
"That little bitch has betrayed us again!" Kefka rages. "Arrest her!" He's much too busy with his clothing to do it himself, it seems.
Leo sighs. I can see from his eyes that the last thing in the world he wants is to put me in chains and drag me back to Vector. "General Celes, do you give me your word as a warrior you will not try to escape?"
"That is not good enough!" Kefka shrieks.
"Celes's word as a warrior is one I trust," Leo says calmly. "She will not try to escape." The look he gives me warns me that I'd better not. And I won't. I'll go quietly, and let them kill me. If I've learned nothing else since Locke rescued me in South Figaro, it's that no matter how hard I try, I can't erase the past. I can't even begin to build a foundation for the future. Hope is useless.
The Magitek guards climb out of their machines and help detangle Kefka from the briar bush. He seethes and studies a rip in his robes.
Maybe he'll get new ones that don't offend the eyesight of everyone around him.
Nah, that would be too much to hope for.
We set out for Vector, marching along in silence. It's rare, very rare, for Leo to pull rank on Kefka. I'm glad he did it now. Marching in chains would be a bitch.
We enter Vector and Leo, with an apologetic look, leads me to the main building. I know where we're headed.
At some point, Kefka disappears to handle some piece of insanity or another. Leo continues on his way to the brig.
He does me the favour of choosing the cleanest cell. I walk into it without a protest. He walks in behind me.
"Now wait a minute, YOU aren't under arrest," I point out.
"Why?" he asks me. He's not referring to incarceration, either.
I play dumb. "What do you mean, why?"
"Celes." He isn't amused.
He's also another person I can't lie to. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Gestahl and Kefka haven't completely destroyed the scraps of humanity that linger in me. It gives me the tiniest little spark of hope. Maybe I'm not quite the demon I thought I was.
"Because I watched my soldiers kill five year olds and destroy lives for no reason." I stare at the thin rune scars on my right hand, the ones that mark me as a recipient of a Magitek infusion and give me the ability to use my Runic blade. "Because this power I have that should be used to protect and defend was used to kill, pillage, and conquer."
He nods and stands up. "They should have given you a choice, like they gave me."
As the cell door shuts behind him, I stare at my scarred hand and wonder if I would have made a different choice, or if I would have grabbed for power with both hands and never looked back.
I'll never know.
After eight days of sitting here, I'm getting very bored. Leo has brought me a couple of books to read, but he's busy training new recruits, and I can't expect him to spend time on a traitor anyway. I have memorized every tile in the floor, and I've spent much more time reviewing my memories than is healthy for me.
The main door of the brig slams open. Heavy booted feet clomp past my cell, accompanied by loud shriekings and curses. The commentary is virulent enough to draw my curiosity, and I peer out of the grate in my cell door. Eight Imperial shock troops are wrestling Kefka into the cell next to mine. His vocabulary is impressive, moreso than most of the cadets I've trained. The soldiers lock the door and march out in formation. Kefka continues to rage at nothing.
Sometime later, the foul language stops and maniacal laughter echoes through the brig. Simultaneously, the entire building starts to shake. It sounds like someone outside is throwing around powerful fire magic and making things explode. I wonder who was stupid enough to attack Vector.
From the sounds of it, I probably won't be bored for too much longer. I suppose dead is an improvement on bored.
The door to my cell flies open and Leo barrels in. "Celes, get moving. The half-Esper girl has opened the Sealed Gate and the Espers are all here, hell-bent on destroying the people who captured their kind. Get moving, dammit!"
For Leo to swear at all is sufficiently unusual that I grab my cloak from the bed and follow him. "Leo, what is going on here?"
"I've talked to the Emperor and we've come up with a plan. He's agreed to forgive your treason if you cooperate. You're going to Albrook to await some members of the Returners, who are going with us to Crescent Island to try to talk to the Espers and calm them down. Gestahl has decided to end the war. I don't have time for more information than that. Wait for me in Albrook, and see if you can find some decent mercenaries. We'll need all the help we can get." He hands me a Break Blade and drags me out of Vector, into chaos.
People are screaming and running around aimlessly. There's fire everywhere, bathing this strange scene in a surreal crimson glow. It reminds me of Maranda, and I have to swallow hard to keep my meager lunch in my stomach. I don't have time for this now.
"Here!" Leo throws me a small traveling pack. "Go! Now! That's an order!"
I make my legs start moving through the destruction. Part of me recoils in sheer horror. Another part coolly catalogues the damage and calculates the cost of rebuilding.
Part of me, a very small part, smirks in satisfaction that the Empire is finally getting what's coming to it. But it shouldn't be like this. These are innocent civilians who have been ground under Gestahl's heel for nearly thirty years. The people who should be suffering are Gestahl and Kefka, and those soldiers--many of them--who took delight in killing, raping, and plundering.
I want to cast Cure on the injured that I see, but Cid and his helpers are already working on it, and I haven't got the magic energy to spare. I'll need it to keep myself healthy on my way to Albrook.
I walk out of the inferno that is Vector and head south.
It is strange how resilient people are when you get right down to it. Despite being conquered by the Empire--as all of the Southern Continent has been conquered--the people of Albrook go about their normal lives. The weapon, item, and armour shops are doing a brisk business. Most of the townspeople can't afford relics, but the shopkeeper doesn't seem to be suffering a lack of income. The bar is hopping, though the waitresses look exhausted.
The Imperial freighter arrived yesterday, almost at the same time as Leo. I introduced him to the dark-clad mercenary who gives his name as Shadow. I recall Sabin having mentioned that the ninja was a good fighter. Leo seemed pleased.
I'm perched on a supply crate, polishing my sword, when Locke and Terra walk onto the ship. I'm glad she's all right now; she looked terrible in Zozo. She seems to have managed to get back into human form rather than her glowing Esper state. And Locke is safe!
They are talking to Leo. I slide off the crate and walk onto the ship in time to hear him say, "Another of the Empire's generals, and a person I hired in town will be traveling with us. Let me introduce General Celes, and Shadow."
I salute to him and nod to Locke and Terra. She smiles sweetly. Locke makes an odd choking sound and his face turns red.
"Is something wrong?" Leo asks.
"No..." Locke replies, but he's looking at me with a strange mix of loathing and happiness on his face.
I can't stand to be here. I turn and walk back down the gangplank, and go back to the Inn, to the room I'm sharing with Leo. Maybe I can have some peace.
The sunset light slants through my windows, limning everything in crimson and gold. Leo walks in quietly and settles on the edge of his bed. "I think this mission has a good chance of success," he says.
"Good." I stare at the painting on the wall. Quite nice for amateur work.
"Get some rest," he says, pulling off his boots.
Hours later, I know the exact number of ceiling tiles. I think I've counted them eight times. I should be asleep. We're departing with the dawn tomorrow. But instead I'm tossing and turning. Finally Leo sits up and turns toward me.
"You know them."
"Yeah." I fiddle with the tiny braids in my hair.
"Friends or enemies?"
"Does it matter?"
"I don't know, Celes. Does it?"
Silence descends, and hangs heavy in the air as pale streaks of moonlight creep through the window. "I thought maybe I could be friends with them. I thought....maybe they would look past the blood on my hands and see me. But...."
"But?" he prompts gently.
"In the Magitek Research Facility, when Kefka showed up....I saw the look on Locke's face. He was sure I had betrayed them...."
He sighs. "Celes, trust takes time. Give him the benefit of the doubt."
"Why should I? He didn't extend that courtesy to me." I blink back tears. The last thing I need is for Leo to turn away from me because I'm a pathetic weakling. "I'm going outside."
"Be careful. I know you're a capable woman, but some of the soldiers who don't know you might get ideas," he warns.
The cold, bloodthirsty smile I wore so often during battle comes easily to my lips. "If they do, they may find their 'ideas' separated from them with great swiftness," I reply softly as I walk to the door.
Outside, the sea breeze is soft and silky. It feels good on my hot face, drying the tears that insist on forming in my eyes. Thin, wispy clouds race across the moon, concealing and then revealing swathes of stars.
Peace is such a rare, rare thing to find sometimes. Especially when the blood on your hands won't wash off no matter how hard you try. But the stars aren't asking me for anything. They're just there, bright and beautiful and clean. I wish.....I wish things could be different....I want to be like those stars...Clean....
The door opens behind me. I don't have to look to know who it is. I turn my face away.
"Come on...!" he mutters. "Why won't you speak to me?"
I can't answer him. I don't know what to say and I'm afraid I'll cry.
"Celes....Even if it was only a little, I doubted you..." Well, no kidding. I saw it in your face.
"But I'm still your friend..." His hand brushes mine.
I walk away, because I don't want him to see my tears, and I can't hold them in any longer. Imperial Generals do not cry. Particularly not when anyone else can see them.
"Celes!" He sounds so frustrated, and so hurt.
It gives me a little hope....
But in the morning, when I try to speak to him, he brushes me off.
Imperial Generals do not have hope. It is just a fading dream, like love. Good things do not come to murderers, even repentant ones. Someday, I'll remember that lesson. Until then....
Oh, Locke, why can't you trust me? Just a little? ....Please?
Well, I hope you enjoyed. C&C is more than welcome. :)