Find Me in the Ashes


    There wasn't much there anymore. Not nearly as much as he could recall in the vague memories that dwelled in the recesses of his soul, but that didn't show him much to begin with. Still, it was a pity to see such a pleasant looking town shaken from prosperous and quaint to nothing more but rubble, cracked and withered, piled on either side of a central path. What was once the town's inn was barely discernable as anything but a lump in the ground surrounded by planks of wood and crumbled bricks of adobe. The weapon shop across the path was just the opposite; a small crater with wood and adobe littering its perimeter. More or less, the town would be nothing more ever again. The people who had led their quiet lives here had either moved on to Lindblum or had died on the day of the catastrophe.

    A single figure stood with his hands in his pockets and the breeze rustling across his face. Far before him, all the way on the other side of the broken land and shattered buildings, he could see the fins of a windmill poking from the ground like hands from a grave. That was where he needed to go.

    Even though it was his first time anywhere near the dead village, he could reminisce about memories that don't belong to him, or the one from which the memory was recalled. His eyes shifted towards a well that wasn't there (unless the gaping hole in the ground would count as one) and wondered, idly, where the children that once ran and laughed and talked beside it were now... after all that time...

    ... It's here.

   The figure's smooth stride brought him before a tangled mess of ruin. It was there that a windmill stood, and a secret was buried in the basement. He knew it had once been a prominent part of life in there, towering over the people and other structures. It was there that grains were ground, and the dark secret beneath was powered.

    It was there that a gnarled root of the Iifa Tree plunged through, like a sea serpent trapped with the curve of its neck forming an arc over the surface of a solid sea. The root itself was enormous, perhaps several meters thick, and it's "hide" was lined with miniature roots that curved and wrapped along the surface like sickly green veins.

    Apparently, on the day that the Iifa awakened, one if its roots decided to find a new home embedded in the soil beneath the helpless village. The windmill was collapsed around it, a withered dagger through a withered heart. He would feel saddened by the sight, such an innocent looking building literally mauled by an angry presence that it would never know of, if it did not bring himself a certain pain to look upon.

    He took a moment to tilt his head back, raising a hand to hold the swaying brim of his hat from over his eyes, and watched. Tattered flags suspended from the veins of the windmill waved, scratching slightly against themselves in the warm breeze.

    It was sunny that day.

    A segment of wall was still standing, though the doorway was now doorless; splinters jutted out in all angles from where the hinges were still connected to the wall. He maneuvered himself "into" the building, pressing himself against the doorframe to keep his robes from getting caught onto the remains of the door, and glanced around where he could. Occupying a majority of the space was the root itself. Sitting right beside the door was a steel dome with a handle.

    ... there.

   What he wished to see was down there. Crouching over the dome, he grunted and pulled up on the handle. A rush of air took its leave from the basement, hissing and whooshing through the robes of their savior to escape into the blue sky. Following after was a peculiar stench taking part of rotting flesh and part dust. He coughed, raised a sleeve to cover his nose, then began to climb down the ladder.

    Time wasn't kind to the basement level. From the platform that the ladder dropped down onto, he could see little. Torches could be made out, fixed to walls along the tunnels, but there was no light other than that shining through the portal back to ground level. Narrowing his eyes and raising a hand, he called a sphere of flame to light his palm and his way to where he wished to go.

    He sprang down from the platform and almost slipped onto his back when his feet made contact with the ground. Covering the floors was a thin sheet of dust and cobweb, untouched ever since the day of Iifa's retribution. Grumbling something beneath his breath, the figure continued forth, stepping lightly to avoid finding his feet slipping beneath him.

    The stench was growing stronger as he progressed.

    The tunnel widened and from what looked like a tiny window, he could see light pouring into the bleak darkness. To his left, what looked like fencing scattered around a smaller derivation of Iifa root; a large chunk of vegetation nestled against the wall. He paused to look at the root, paying particular attention to where the root burrowed into the ground, when he noticed just what was making that horrendous odor.

    Crushed and rotting, a Chocobo's leg peeked out, half buried beneath root and packed dirt. The rest of the carcass must have been smashed beneath the bulk of the Iifa root when it first lodged itself where it was. Looking carefully, he could see deep red stains on the walls...

    He shuddered, almost gagging at the same time, and quickly resumed his walk.

    The being passed by another chamber in the long series, glancing momentarily at the barrels and boxes stacked or knocked aside, and continued on until the tunnel tapered down to a thin passageway. Holding his hand up, he could see the glints of silvery  metal suspended near the roof, as well as the conveyer belt that wrapped through one half of the path.

    ... no, not yet.

   Stepping forth again, he found himself in yet another chamber. On the far wall stood double doors, and near those was another passage. Some sort of machine occupied a corner and even more boxes were scattered about. He raised his head and could feel what had happened, could see and smell all that his ancestors had.

    Again, he shuddered. Again, he moved on.

    He took the double doors, pressing hard to open the doors. Immediately, he was aware of the dwindling presence of something evil, and looked down to see wisps of grayish gas rolling lazily about his feet. Standing against a far wall was a cryptic machine. It resembled a large furnace even in the perpetual darkness that had soaked into its home. He stepped deeper into the chamber, cupped and raised his hands... and froze.

    Jutting vertically through the machine was another root, perhaps the same thick one that had destroyed the windmill. Threads of green, proper tentacles of olive, had latched all down the sides, as if trying to snake along its base to lift it straight out of the ground. Barely any of the original machine was visible under the coating of noxious green.

    ... here.

   He glanced around and spotted a torch on the wall, which he approached and then lit carefully. Firelight spread across a good half of the chamber.

    More memories came to him; blurred pictures of black faces in black boxes, and barrels stuffed tight. Eggs rolled off the production line and were forced to hatch to let the child inside be taken away to an airship and castle on the other side of the mountains.

    Mages falling. Falling... Feathers. Thunder. Fire. Falling...

    They had lied. He had lied. He tricked them, he gave them false hope, he broke them down. He caused it all. All of it, all those years...

    He had taken away everything by giving them what would be considered by many as the greatest gift of all. It was for that, they had been made bitter and resentful. And it was for that that they learned. It wasn't as simple as they were made to think...

    The Mage could only stare. His hands, relieved of holding the fire, hung at his sides in tight knots of fingers. How he wished that he could have been there to repay him for the gift. He could, of course, destroy the place; burn everything with the powers he held within him. No one would miss it, especially not any of the others. The machine was brooding before him, helpless to defend against any act he could inflict upon it.

    "Damn it all," he whispered harshly. "Damn it all... Damn him, damn you..."

    The machine offered no reply. The dying remnants of mist continued to dance...

    He could still smell the rotting flesh. He could feel his head start to spin, and he could feel nausea begin to twist within his gut. "All of it.... it's all because you had to have... power..."

    The machine was silent still. The Mage lifted a palm, shaking fiercely. "Because of you.... because of you..."

    ... there had been so much pain.

    'You exist only to kill.' Is that what they said? What he said?

   He smirked; that's what he could do. He would kill.

    A spark. A tear in his awareness erupted into blind rage, and the blazes of Firaga engulfed the machine as well as himself in the grasp if burning agony. He shrieked and thrashed in the sudden plight in which he found himself, fearing once more that which he wanted.

    Seeing it fit of himself, he raised his palms once more, forcing his thrashing and writhing to subside, and cast another round of flaming death unto himself.

    As he fell, he could see... The machine, taking the appearance of a flaming skull, gawked at him through the super-heated air. He hit the ground. Fire was spreading quickly, over him and out to engulf the rest of the basement as if fearing the impurity that stalked and stained its halls.

    The smell was strong again, stronger than it ever was before... But he learned to smile.