Knights have figured greatly in a great many histories - most especially the highly inaccurate but well-written Romantic Historie of the Worlde - because of the fascination that many historians have held for these men (and on rare occasions, women) who sacrificed their own standing in society to aid those who were almost universally considered outcaste....
Dr. Franz Odine
An Extended Treatise on Sorcery
Lying on a cot in the small orphanage - the place he'd lived as far back as he could remember - Seifer daydreamed. Although, he didn't really consider it daydreaming - he considered it planning, planning for his future.
I've gotta get strong, right? So that no one else can ever beat me. And I've gotta learn how to use a real sword, a gunblade, not those dinky play swords that Matron lets me play with sometimes, but a big one that people'll gawk at 'cuz it's so cool, and -
He was interrupted by a scream on the other side of the wall. "Sis! Where are you??"
Darn it, he thought angrily. Can't that sissy ever shut up!? I've got important things to think about! Briefly he considered kicking the wall - that worked sometimes - but then again, Matron might come back in and yell at him, and having her yell at him made him feel bad 'cuz only boys got yelled at by their mothers, or grown-ups at all. Or at least only boys let grown-ups yell at them. Men could stop them one way or another, and if anyone - even Matron - ever dared to do that to him once he was a big, strong warrior, he'd show them!
The screaming on the other side of the wall was getting louder and louder. Seifer snorted. Squall, you're nothing but a stupid little crybaby. And about some girl! If he listened, he could almost make out what they were saying in there. The others were probably listening in on them right now. Seifer didn't want to; he had better things to think about.
Things like the future, which was what he'd been thinking about most those days. He'd been having those dreams all of his life, the ones where he was powerful, the greatest fighter in the world. Everyone had flocked just to see him. He'd grown up to be the strongest, fastest man alive, and everyone knew it. Especially Squall, and that chicken-wuss Zell - his favorite part of the dreams was the look on their faces when they saw how much everyone loved him.
He liked those dreams; they always made his days seem shorter. And he knew that someday they'd all come true; he'd make sure of it. The faster the days went, the sooner he'd be the great warrior that he was dreaming about. Time was passing way too slowly for him. He was going to find a way to make himself that perfect fighter, somehow. Nothing was gonna stand in his way!
"No! I'm gonna go find her! I'm gonna go find Sis!"
"Squall!" Quisty was screaming after him. "Come back! You can't go out there!" Soon everyone was shouting, crying, calling for Matron. It happened all the time, and Seifer hated it. True, half the time he'd been the one that caused it, but it was still annoying; they just couldn't have any fun while Matron was around.
Well, he wasn't going to get any more planning done that day, he thought bitterly. Might as well go out and see what was going on. Besides, it was fun to pick on Squall when he got all emotional and weird like that, almost as much fun as it was to call Zell a chicken-wuss. Squall almost always would fight back in that mood, and Seifer liked getting into fights, because he was almost always stronger than anyone else who would dare to fight with him. He liked being stronger than the other children; it meant that he'd be stronger than them when he was an adult, too, and he needed to be strong to fulfill his dreams. The perfect fighter would have to be very, very strong - stronger than any monster in the world!
He jumped out of the bed and banged through the door, looking at the others. Zell and Irvine stared back at him, but Selphie and Quistis were too busy screaming for Matron to turn around. "She's already out there, dummies!"
Zell bridled - he always did whenever Seifer insulted him - but Irvine held him back. "How'd you know? You've been stuck in that room all day!"
"Cuz I heard her say she was gonna go out to look at the ocean for a second! If you guys weren't so stupid you might've heard her too!" The boy grinned. "An' now you're all gonna be in trouble for lettin' Squall run out, ain't ya?"
"Wait a minute, did ya hear something?"
Seifer was about to interrupt him - but then he heard it too. He couldn't describe the sound - a weird humming noise that made him think of dark lightning.
"Matron!" Irvine said exactly what they were all thinking. The quarrel forgotten, they all ran outside to see what was happening to Matron, Seifer naturally in the lead. He got to the door first, stared out at the scene, feeling more than a bit afraid.
"Who's that!?" Selphie whispered, sounding nearly hysterical.
Seifer didn't know either. He couldn't see it clearly. It stood in front of Matron - taller than she was, dressed in clothes that he'd never even imagined before - clothes that were all torn and shredded. It trembled, as if all of its strength was gone -
No, not it. She. The stranger had half-turned towards him, as if sensing his presence. He could see that it was a woman, like Matron, but much prouder. Stronger - only she wasn't strong anymore. There was blood splattered on her face, and the cuts and tears in her robes showed where she'd been hurt in other places. One of her huge black wings was half-dangling, ready to fall from her body. She reminded Seifer of one of Matron's stories, the one about an angel - only this one wasn't a peaceful angel like that one had been. That blood... he was certain, somehow, that someone had done that to her on purpose.
A sudden spasm rocked her body, almost driving her to the ground. Matron was there, walking towards her; the stranger was standing behind her, trying to hold her back, but he couldn't. He looked scared of the woman, but angry at the same time.
Did he do that to her??
She spoke, but he was too far away to hear her words. He saw one hand - wrapped in red velvet, or perhaps stained with blood - reach out towards Matron, as if she were offering her something. He saw Matron's eyes, frightened but determined to... what? Something was going to happen out there, something big...
There were footsteps behind him, but he ignored them; they didn't matter. His eyes were fixed on the scene in front of him.
It all happened so quickly.
One second, the woman was reaching out to Matron, frozen in place like one of the pillars behind her. Then, the next moment, he saw a purple light glowing from within her body, making her skin look almost like glass. It was writhing inside of her, almost as though it was begging to be freed. He couldn't see her face, but there was pity on Matron's face, the same look she had whenever she saw someone in pain...
The voice echoed in his mind as the light grew stronger and stronger. For a moment he almost imagined that she turned to look him in the eyes....
"I... must not cease to exist.... Time is..."
The light exploded. Beams of violet shot from her stiffening body, rising and falling to shine on Matron. Now both of their faces were hidden; yet, he was sure that they were in pain... especially the strange woman.
"I must not die!"
It was a howl of pure pain that cut straight to his heart. How could he just stand there and watch this happen? He had to do something!
His body was like a coiled spring as it jumped from its hiding place, started to run. He was sure that he had to help her, somehow; it was clear to him that she needed a protector. Someone had done that to her, and there was no one to save her. He had to -
A hand locked itself around his wrist, pulling him back. He snarled, like an animal. How dare you...
A voice screamed. "Seifer! Are you crazy??" It was Quisty. Of course, that bossy little brat that thought she could tell everyone what to do. She was holding him back - and he didn't like it. At all.
"Let me go," he snarled. "Now..." He had to get to her. Nothing else mattered. Nothing.
"Help me... the future has yet to pass...."
He pulled as hard as he could, and felt Quisty's grip on his arm loosen - and tighten again, joined by two others, stronger than she was. They were pulling him back, away from the woman, away from where he had to go.... Seifer was tough, tougher than any of them, but he wasn't strong enough to push all three of them away. Not yet.
He tried, though. He thrashed and pulled as hard as he could. But they overpowered them, drug him back, screaming at him. "Seifer, no!"
"You can't go out there! She'll hurt you!"
"Damn it!" Matron would've screamed at him for saying things like that, but he didn't care. "Lemme go! I've gotta help her!"
"But there ain't nothin' we can do!" Zell was being a chicken-wuss, like always.
"I don't care! I've gotta help - I've gotta go save Matron!"
"There is... no need for that, Seifer." The room seemed to darken as the woman herself glided into the room, her long black hair in disarray. Even the children, young as they were, could tell that something was different about their Matron; her eyes were staring out into nowhere, and her feet moved wrong, like she was gliding and not walking. But her voice was the scariest thing; instead of sounding warm and loving, it was cold, almost black. "I am well... very well."
Even Seifer froze and stared. "M... matron...?" Zell was stuttering like an idiot, and for once Seifer didn't' feel the need to call him a chicken-wuss because of it. He - all of them - were backing away from her, frightened for some reason that they didn't totally understand.
"It's... all right," she finally managed. "I will need to rest for a moment... please do not disturb me, children."
For once, all of them listened to her without saying anything smart or whiny about it. They just ran to their beds, scared. Even Seifer was scared, although it wasn't quite for the same reason. What happened to her? Where did she go...?
He barely even noticed when Squall came in.
"Hey, why's everyone goin' to bed now?"
Seifer didn't sleep very heavily, even as a child. A quiet footstep into the bedroom was enough to wake him up, although he was smart enough not to jump out of bed, or even stir.
The noise was coming from behind him. He could feel something... odd, some kind of weird darkness that was swirling around just behind him.
"Child...." a voice whispered. M... matron...?
It was Irvine's voice, but he didn't say anything else; he just seemed to curl up and fall deeper into sleep. Then Zell yawned - That moron, she's gonna know he's awake! and muttered something sleepily before he, too, seemed to go still.
Seifer knew that his turn was next. He was determined not to let her know that he knew she was there. Why is Matron doing this?
He felt a gentle hand on the base of his skull, pressing down through the blankets. She murmured a few words that he didn't recognize... then paused.
"What is this...?"
It was like a voice talking in his head. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter so that she'd think that he was asleep, and maybe leave him alone.
"Perhaps there is more to this one..." The hand seemed to loosen its grip for a moment. But when it tightened again, it almost hurt, even through the thick fleece.
"I will test you, Seifer."
The boy opened his eyes, trying to bully his mind into not being afraid anymore. But he was afraid; the orphanage, and his bed, were gone. He was alone in a black, featureless void, with nothing below his feet. It was a lot like being nowhere.
He looked around him sharply. Someone was talking to him - a woman. The voice was eerily familiar, but he was trapped in that strange place - maybe she had taken him there. Reality was locked away from him. He knew that he should know who was speaking to him - the voice carried a great deal of importance, somehow. But it would not come. The name was lost.
Or had he ever known it? He didn't know, but he knew that he knew her, somehow.
"Yeah?" He answered gruffly to hide the fear and confusion in his voice. "Who's there?"
... such a frightened child...
That made him angry. "I'm not a child," he answered hotly.
Impossible. Her voice sounded a bit strange - he couldn't place how, but it sounded unusual, like an accent that he'd never heard before. You are still a boy.
"That's not true!" He forgot his fear as he shouted at her. "I'm not a child. I'm not like them! I'm not a wimp, and I don't need to be protected!"
At last, the dim light that surrounded him like fog flared brightly against the darkness. It reached out through it, pushing it aside, revealing the woman who spoke to him - a sight that made Seifer step back without knowing what he was doing. His eyes widened, and one hand clenched into a tight fist as he looked at her...
Her face was painted with streaks that snaked onto her face from beneath the headdress, streaks the color of ashes and blood . She wore wings - black iron wings that twitched listlessly against her back, exactly as if they were real. Her clothes were made of rich-looking cloth - low-cut robes of fine red velvet, pants of a silken material shot through with many colors, golden jewelry. But it was the woman herself that drew his attention - the bloody gashes that split her body, the mottled bruises on exposed flesh. She lay curled beneath him, red eyes open wide. They were fixed on his face, but he somehow knew that she could not truly see him.
He didn't have to think - he just ran. This time, nothing was going to hold him back. But why wasn't he moving? Why was the ground sinking beneath his feet, leaving him walking on nothing? Or was there a ground at all? But he didn't move, whatever the reason - the woman never came any closer. He couldn't get to her.
How strange... The calm tone of her voice shocked him. How could she remain so calm after going through so much? It startled him into stopping, into looking into her eyes. "What... what's strange?"
You do not kower, Seifer. The bloody figure rose from the ground. He could see light shining off of the blood that still flowed from her wounds. It probably should've scared him witless, but it didn't; he just stared in fascination. She was so noble, so sad. What kind of monsters would hurt her like that? You do not kower before me... you do not kry out in fear, or try to escape from me. You are no ordinary child. Nor will you be an ordinary man.
"Who..." He swallowed hard. "Who did that to you?"
It was...She tried to pull herself to her full height as she spoke - but something painful seemed to strike through her body, and she convulsed again. A sharp cry of pain escaped her lips as she dropped to her knees.
Seifer didn't hesitate. Something in her tragic figure touched him deeply. He wanted to help her. He hated those people who had hurt her so badly - he despised them with all of his soul. He wanted to find a sword and drive it through their chests, and watch them bleed to death. They deserved it. All of his fear was forgotten, and his anger had found a new target.
He tried to run to help her, but the ground that appeared beneath his feet was even softer and more treacherous than before. It slowly pulled him down, no matter how hard he tried to pull away from it. "Let me go! Let me go, dammit! I've gotta get over to help-"
No, he heard her voice say. One eye, dark and full of pain, regarded him with sadness. Perhaps you are too much the boy, now.
"Then tell me what I gotta do to grow up!" he screamed.
Everything froze - Seifer, the woman, the ground that had tried so hard to keep him down, all of it. Something half-forgotten glowed at the corners of the boy's vision, but he tried his best to ignore it, concentrating on her.
I kannot, she finally replied. No one kan tell anyone else how to grow up. They must diskover it for themselves.
Nothing could have hurt Seifer more than those words. He felt a burning pain in his jaw, and winced as he ran his tongue over the spot, pushing a tooth out of its socket. With a sudden burst of panic he felt that they were all loosening, losing their cohesion. He was losing his cohesion.
"But I wanna grow up! I wanna be grown-up now!"
And why is that, child?
"Because... because I..." I want to be a hero... no...? His old dreams suddenly didn't seem good enough anymore - they seemed childish, immature copies of what real men fought for. Fighting just for the sake of having everyone love him wasn't right, something told him. It wasn't the way adults would think.
But then... what? It had already come to him, a flash of inspiration. "I wanna help you," he managed through the pain in his mouth. "I wanna protect you from people like that... that jerk who hurt you!"
He could see that his words were having a very real affect on the woman. Her body seemed to be healing as he spoke - he could almost see the cuts sealing, the bruises fading. And the look in her eyes had morphed from sadness into something almost akin to joy. A Knight... The always-soft voice almost seemed to whisper.
Yes. "Yeah, that's it! I wanna be a Knight - your Knight! I don't ever wanna let those people hurt you again!"
The void around them shattered, falling to the ground in razor-sharp shards. Once again, Seifer acted before he had time to think; this time, he was able to run, to leap at the woman and cover her with his body. It was all the protection that a child like him could give her. He squeezed his eyes shut, expecting to be impaled at any moment...
The final blow never came; nothing landed on him. Nor did he ever hear anything land at all. He opened his eyes - and she was gone, no longer under him...
Instead of panicking like a child, he tried hard to master the fear, to reason it away. She couldn't have been hurt, he told himself, if she'd been capable of moving. But where was she?
He opened his eyes to find her standing before him - completely healed, tall and proud among walls of stained glass set in patterns meaningless to him. She stood in front of a great throne, covered in jewels that were set in mystic runes, and gilded with both gold and silver. Beyond her a choir seemed to chant words that he couldn't understand, but that seemed to hold immense power just beyond his mental grasp. And she stood there among it all, in clothes that had seemed merely beautiful when they had been torn and tattered by the fights, but were now nothing less than magnificent - like a queen's robe. Seifer scrambled to stand up so that he could kneel before her; lying sprawled out in front of her hardly seemed dignified.
She bowed her head to look at Seifer; he could see the sad nostalgia in her eyes. It has been a long, long time since anyone has wished to be my Knight. With a sweep of her arms she regarded the room - beautiful, but cold, almost freezing. I have been alone and hated by all for a very, very long time, longer than you kould komprehend. It is a great injustice...
Seifer agreed with her. It was an injustice, and he didn't like it at all. "That's terrible! They can't do that to you!."
But it seemed that she hadn't heard him. But do you think that you are kapable of being my Knight, Seifer? A boy kannot understand sacrifices that are necessary for a true Knight. A boy kan only see the present; he does not learn from the past, nor kan he see the possibilities of the future.
The child smiled, noticing that he was healing in a dim sort of way. "I know, Ultimecia." The name came naturally to his lips, although he had no memories of hearing it before; he didn't stop to wonder why he'd known it. "But I'm gonna be a man someday."
A good answer. However, only time will tell if you will retain that spirit until you are a man. And if you do, then perhaps you kan then be my Knight... Her gaze swept around the room once again, and she sighed. Yet, you should surely kome to fear such power, Seifer. There is no more painful a fate than being alone for so long, being skorned by all who witness you. Loneliness is suffering, and by sharing my fate you will share that loneliness. You will break all of the ties with those you love today, or will love in the future. None will accept you in their homes; you will konstantly be running away from rage and hatred. And any who dare to insist on sharing your fate will run with you, hunted and denied a true home until they have tired of such a life, and run from you like all of the others before them. Your heart will be broken a million times before you are an old man, and each second of life with such a heart will seem an eternity of pain. I am not so sure that yo u kan accept such a destiny.
"But if I don't, you won't have anyone to help you. You said that yourself." Seifer shook his head, made his own gesture - a sweep of his hand. "I won't let them do that to you anymore! I can't!"
Then perhaps I will allow you to be tested. If time kan make you into a man, then I will accept you. Witness the kovenant I will make with you, Seifer. She waved her hands, creating a sphere of green and amber fire that hovered just in front of her, illuminating her pale, beautiful face. All I have to give you is a fragment of my own power. I will give you this gift, so that you will be better able to serve me when I return to you.
"But... but when'll that be?"
For the moment, Seifer, I kannot remain here; I must rest for a time, rekover my weakened powers, or else no Knight will be able to save me from the danger that I will face. When I am able to return to this time, I will kall you to me - you would not be able to escape me. This power will draw you klose to me if you have bekome a man; it will be my beakon. Her hands moved away from the fire, allowed it to drift towards the boy - it wavered hot and bright in front of his eyes, but he could not tear them away, no matter how much it hurt him. But first you must accept this kovenant, Seifer. I kannot force this power upon you; it kan only be given as a gift. And once you accept the gift, it - and I - will be a part of you forever.
Seifer narrowed his eyes. "What if I don't take it?"
Then you will never be my Knight. I kannot allow you to serve me as you are. You would bring ruin to us both.
The flame hovered near him, so close that a single step would allow him to touch it. The heat and the colors of the flame seemed to intensify the sound of the chorus that sang behind her, singing those strange words that made his blood tingle in his veins. It hung like a small sun in the royal chamber.
What will you do, Seifer?
He wanted to touch it, wanted to be her Knight - her champion in a world that had left her all alone. But the fire... it was so hot, so painful to look at. It scared him - she scared him, on some level that he didn't fully comprehend. She attracted and repulsed him all at once in a way that he couldn't grasp...
Will you step forwards and claim the gift, or will you run away and forfeit it? You kannot stay where you are. You must decide which road to take. Will you remain a boy?
The glass around him shuddered, and he heard cracks forming - huge cracks, reaching to the very firmament of the strange throne room. The light that had streamed through the windows was fading to nothing.
Or will you become a man?
Seifer's voice cracked as he spoke. "I'll be..." His gaze hardened upon the fire - and he was seeing not only the brightness, now the only brightness in the strange room, but also all that it represented. Power. Honor. Destiny.
He took the step, reaching out for the gift that his lady had offered. "I'm gonna be a Knight!"
His fingers had barely even brushed the globe of flames before it shot towards him; for a split second, Seifer was deathly afraid that he was about to be burned alive, that he'd been tricked. But it was only for that second; he soon felt the fire melting into him, filling every fibre in his body with a strange new warmth - alien, to be sure, but somehow it felt a part of him already.
So be it. She spoke with a terrible finality - and her hands began to fade into the darkness, followed by her feet, then her legs, and on through her body.
This time, Seifer made no move to help her; he somehow knew that she was not in danger, that she was merely taking her leave. "I'll wait for you," he whispered.
And I for you, my Knight. Do not forget the gift I have given you. It will awaken within you as I approach you, and will grow stronger once I have found you again. Do not forget... Her voice was fading along with her body. Her last words were little more than a whisper - Do not forget my name...
Seifer watched her fade, watched all of it fade. "Ultimecia," he said again, rolling the strange word over his tongue. It really was a beautiful name. "I won't forget you. I'll find you someday... I promise."
Seifer opened his eyes with a start, surprised that he'd heard his own voice - and found himself standing outside, waist-deep in the ocean near the orphanage, his pajamas soaking wet. Raindrops were pelting his exposed arms and face like nails.
...a dream. It was all a dream.
He looked at his own hands, at the too-pink skin that covered them. He felt a bit weird, like something was humming inside of his body, but it wasn't very strong at all. He furrowed his little brow and tried to concentrate on his hands, on making something happen - but no. Nothing happened at all - all he could feel were the raindrops that fell on his outstretched hands.
It seemed that all he had left of the dream was the name.
He rolled it over and over in his head, trying to understand it. The vision had seemed so real, like all dreams felt while the dreamer was asleep... it hadn't felt like a dream at all. But it had to be a dream, right? And Matron had always said that dreams didn't mean anything, that they always went away for good when he woke up.
So if that was true, how had he learned the name? He'd never known anything like it before. It was too... real, somehow, to have been a dream - that was the only word that had described it. Dreams always seemed completely unreal when he finally woke up, but this one seemed to have some truth to it....
You will remember... my name.
Yes. He'd remember the name, one way or another. He'd remember it, even if he had to forget everything else in the world. And someday...
"Look, Matron, there he is! He's in the water!"
The other voices shocked him out of his reverie. "Huh!?" He spun around, nearly losing his balance as he saw Matron and two other small figures - Zell and Squall, most likely - running after him into the water. "What're you guys doin' here?"
"Seifer! Oh, thank goodness you're alright..." Matron splashed out into the water, pulling him into a tight hug and lifting him up out of the surf. Matron was Matron again, the scary woman gone - but Seifer didn't care. He had a new Matron, in a way - someone who would see him as an adult, not as a child who needed to be babied all of his life. "I was worried sick!"
"You were walkin' in your sleep," Zell said in that squeaky voice of his. "Squall 'n me saw you, and we got scared..."
"Why? Just 'cuz you're a chicken-wuss who can't take care of himself doesn't mean -"
"Seifer!" Edea chided. "You could have drowned out here! You should be thanking Zell for saving you, not making fun of him!" With that she put him down in shallower water, water that only reached up past his ankles.
The blonde boy hung his head, trying his best to look contrite even though he was really mad. He didn't want to be rescued. Men never needed to be saved, and he very much wanted to be a man. "Sorry, Zell," he managed.
"That's better, Seifer. Now let's all go in - this storm is going to get much worse. It's not a good idea to stand in the ocean in a thunderstorm, is it, children?"
Seifer didn't answer; he knew that already, and didn't much like to be patronized. Men weren't supposed to need to be told what to do. But he wasn't a man yet, it seemed; Matron could still order him around, and get him in a lot of trouble. Someday, though... someday, when he'd grown up he'd -
"Seifer, come on! I don't want you catching cold!"
He paused as he turned to look out at the gray, gray sky, feeling the rain strike his face. I'm gonna remember you, he said quietly. I promise. I'm waitin' for you. But out loud he only shouted, "Coming, Matron!" With that he turned away, trudging out of the water - only looking ahead, never behind. The raindrops beat a pattern on his skin that seemed to tell of future glories. He had a new childhood dream now, a better dream - a more grown-up dream.
And he wasn't going to let anyone - Matron, Squall, Zell, or any of the other little brats - take it away from him. He'd kill them all first.
Seifer smiled as he walked away from the calm ocean, taking his first few steps towards destiny.