Thinking about the End
Maybe it was the sound that drew me to the water, or maybe it was the promise of the cool sand under my toes. Perhaps it was the vision of the full moon reflected on the gentle waves, or just the nothingness that spread out before my eyes. All I could see was ocean and stars set upon a velvety black sky.
It didn't really matter that this shore was so far from Balamb Garden. Didn't matter that the plains were rife with monsters or that the water was too cold to be standing in. Tears fell on the still surface of my reflection, turning the scowling face into nothing more than swirls of oceanic blue and pearly white light. I walked a bit farther, feeling the pebbly ground of the ocean's bottom turn to sand under my bare feet. By now, the water was already up to my thighs, and the bottom of my skirt was soaked. None of that mattered... I just didn't care. Hesitation, though, caused my eyes to wander back to the shore where two white shoes waited, half covered in sand. Beyond that, the lights of Garden shone almost as brilliantly as the moon. There was a party going on there, a graduation of sorts for the SeeD cadets who had passed their exam today. Squall, Selphie, Zell... Seifer had not passed, which disappointed me a bit. I would have comforted him. I'd wanted to comfort him, but he wouldn't have remembered me. The party was an opportune time for me to sneak out of there, when everyone was busy in the ballroom. Nobody saw me go, and no one would care that I wasn't returning.
My hope had risen to the stars when I happened upon Garden. Seifer was there to greet me as he hurried between classes. He was still the same - rude, and tactless, yet intelligent. When I offered him a hug, he declined, mentioning something about a no affection rule. Then, I'd laughed his statement off, thinking that perhaps he was just too cool to be seen hugging his older sister. When I saw Quistis later that day, she was 'too busy' to engage in a conversation with a visitor, and kindly brushed me off. Selphie was much the same. She tolerated conversation for a few minutes before hurriedly rushing off to do other things. By this time, it was obvious that my years of absence caused then to somehow... forget who I was. Before Zell ran off, I managed to ask him if he remembered a girl named Ellone.
Looking over his shoulder, he told me that he'd never heard of her.
I didn't see Squall until the next day. He was lying on a bed in the infirmary when I arrived, unconscious due to some sort of training accident the night before. When he opened his eyes, I was there, and judging by his expression, he had forgotten me, too. My own brother... I muttered something to him before running off to the guest room the headmaster had graciously provided.
If no one remembered you... did you even exist?
I don't know how I made it this long.
I was at my wit's end.
This was it. There was no going back.
"What are you doing there?"
"Wha...?" My whole body jumped as the voice spoke up. I hadn't even heard anyone coming, yet as my head turned - slowly - I noticed the man standing just behind my shoulder.
"I said, 'What are you doing there?'"
"Who are you? Did you follow me?" I threw out some questions as my eyes darted between this man and Garden. He seemed to be pretty young, with fiery red hair and eyes the color of polished emerald. His hands were hidden in the sleeves of a long red robe, and from what I could see of his face under the shadow of a hood, he was very tan. Smiling, he answered me.
"I followed you. Sort of." He paused, looking at the water as if debating whether or not to continue. Thankfully, he did. "I'm a guardian of sorts for your brother, and I saw you leaving. So..."
"Wait. You knew Squall was my brother? No one knows that..."
He continued as if I hadn't interrupted. "...So I came after you. I don't want you to die because of us, Ellone."
"What do you mean?" I squinted my eyes a little, trying to remember if I had met this man before. I didn't have any recollection of seeing him, and yet he knew my name, and my relation with Squall.
"We survive in the memories of whose we protect. Sometimes... sometimes we have to move memories aside, so that those that depend on us can feel our strength. They appear to forget these memories." He looked at me, a regretful expression in his eyes. "It cannot be helped, child. It's just the way things are."
There was a slight pause then, where neither of us said a word. The only sounds were the crickets, the slowly rolling tide, and perhaps a little of the music coming from Garden; I couldn't be sure at that point what I heard, as my mind was racing and dragging at the same time. About the only thing that my fevered brain could comprehend was that this new friend was a lunatic. This revelation caused my feet to move of their own accord, taking me farther out into the ocean, far enough to where I wouldn't be able to hear the music anymore, or hear the crickets, or even the tide. I was going somewhere where many had gone but none had come back...
"Don't take another step."
"And you're going to stop me?" I turned around, fixing the stranger with my gaze. There was actually quite a bit of distance between us now, which was a little surprising, considering it seemed like I hadn't gone that far. Even as I tried my best to make what I thought was a challenging expression, the man's stare was much more intimidating. Though it remained quite neutral, there was a spark of something in his jade eyes that was almost frightening.
Alright, then. I lifted my foot, feeling the pull of water at my ankles once more. The ocean was freezing, as well it should be this late into autumn, and the pull of water was almost tantamount to shackles, icy cold steel that tried to hold me back... Tried to keep me from pressing on. I'd been held back too long, from all I loved and knew, from all of life. Life... if it could even be called that. It wouldn't stop me from welcoming death with open arms. The shackles broke free from around my ankles, and that eternal step continued as my toes sought for the sand that was only a couple inches away.
My eyes closed in that moment, and then there was nothing but Winhill and the people in it. Of course, there were the houses, too... Such beautiful, rustic things that I'd never had time to appreciate. Uncle Laguna was there, and Raine... Hyne, how I missed her. She was the only one I'd ever called 'mother.' And yet they all said, "Ellone is such a happy girl! Look at her smile! Look at those dark eyes! She looks just like her mom..." It wasn't until later in life that I realized I wasn't related to Raine at all, that she had adopted me when my real mother died. That didn't matter though, because I was a Leonhart. I was /Raine's/ daughter.
I was reconsidering.
My foot touched the sand...
"Ah...!" Something sharp stabbed through the sole, right through the arch and between the soft part and my heel. It wasn't just a small little pain, either, and as my balance failed, I started to topple forward into the waves. This was it. I just wouldn't stand up.
Strong arms caught me with a surprising delicacy before my face met with the water. My eyes shot open, met with the sight of swirling blood, glowing faintly crimson in the light from Garden. There was more, though... The sight of my savior's feet, neatly tipped at the ends of his toes with dark talons.
"I told you not to take another step."
Gently, the arms that held me from the ocean spun me around, so that I would be looking at the man's face in mere seconds. How had he reached my side so quickly? And how had he known that there would be something sharp at the sand ahead of me? More questions... My life was already full of questions, and I didn't need more. Tears finally stung in the corners of my eyes, and in the silence, they made several audible trickles into the water. "Why didn't you let me go?" I sobbed, looking up into his tan face, and the alluring green eyes. They seemed to carry such wild, uncontrollable fire, and yet they were tender at the same time.
"Because I wish to protect the sister of he that could defeat me in battle. You were precious to him once, and you will be again." His shoulders rose and fell with every breath he took, and each time the man exhaled, a tiny puff of his breath materialized in the frigid air. But the puffs of steam seemed more tangible than normal, almost as if somehow, his breath were warmer than usual... After a while, he opened his mouth to speak again, and the steam continued to dance along his cheeks and around the folds of his hood. "I am taking you back to Garden."
Again, I felt the feeling of helplessness descend upon my mind, and I closed my eyes one more. Instead of tears now, there was the sound of blood dripping into the water. I didn't want to chance a look at the injury... That sort of thing always made me ill. As we made our way from the water to the sand, I noticed that it was with little effort that the man carried me, and there didn't seem to be any motion as he stepped. It was almost as if he was floating over the ground...
"Why do you care?" I asked, looking once more into his face.
"Because, it was our fault that you have been left behind." The eyes flashed red for a brief moment. "And though I have little use for humans, I have a conscience, and respect for a few. You are one of the lucky ones." The corner of his mouth turned upward in a tiny smile as he continued. "Besides. You have within you the strength of the lion, just like your name suggests. I have seen Squall's memories, and I approve of your sacrifice. You left on your own free will, to save those you cared for."
The light of Garden's halo steadily grew brighter, and the sounds of the celebration within increased. Squall was probably inside, celebrating with Quistis and Zell... Or, if I knew him at all, he was brooding in a corner while Quistis kept an eye on everyone and Zell ate everything that didn't eat him first. The memories of the Orphanage were bittersweet for me... A time when I was both a scared child, and a responsible older Sister. The memories of my brother and the others, though, were happy ones, and I felt the smile returning to my face.
"They will all remember, in time," The man said.
"...Who are you?"
He walked right pat the guard at Garden's gate, and it seemed more than coincidental that the grey-haired man was looking away long enough for us to slip past. His trek continued, toward the infirmary, and I suddenly remembered that I was bleeding. Finally, I looked at my foot, appalled to see the red stain growing even from the top. Whatever I'd stepped on, it had gone clean through. Uttering a stifled cry, I allowed myself to cower back as far as I could into his robes.
"This girl needs help."
I was suddenly surrounded by halogen light and pristine pearl. The hospital, and I was face to face with one of the nurses. As the woman pointed to a bed, the stranger continued. "She was putting her feet into the water, and stepped on a rock."
"Her skirt is all wet..." The nurse said. I felt the man's body shift as he turned to look at her, while simultaneously lowering me to the bed.
She gasped. "...I'll just... go get some clean sheets."
"...Yes," he responded.
I felt the bed under me then, cold compared to the man's arms. Again, he looked at me, offering that strange smile with warm, green eyes. "You should hang on to life, child. There is much you can still live for, and much you can teach." With those last words, he turned to go... Already, I figured it out. All the legends, the ability to read minds, thoughts... I knew that it meant something when a Guardian Force had deigned to rescue a mere human.
I could persevere.