~ Epilogue: Salvation ~
Standing in the doorway, she closed her eyes, as the words stung like a thousand needles piercing her skin. Even in the darkness she could see swirling light, as her heartbeat resonated in her chest like violent thunder. Yet, he sat on the bed, never betraying his calm.
“You remember that I knew a few in my lifetime. They're not all bad.” His words soft and reassuring; he pushed back the little girl's hair with his fingertips.
“But if one tried to kill us, you would protect us right?”
“You and Mom… with my life.”
The young girl smiled proudly. She sat up quickly, hugging the man sitting on the edge of her bed. With equal tenderness, he returned the gesture, lightly patting the child's back. Gently he laid her back down, pulling the quilt up to her chest.
“Now, are the nightmares gone?” She nodded, trying to remain brave. “Good, now get some sleep, okay?”
Little eyes darted around the room nervously, before pointing to a shelf. “Dad, can I sleep with Cactuar, please? Just one more night…”
He sighed, “I thought we agreed to keep him up there, so he could watch over you.”
She buried her face under the covers trying to reason, “I know. But Dad… he could watch me from down here too.”
The bed creaked as he stood. She emerged from her hiding place, as footsteps softly echoed through the room. Trying not to tremble, she held out delicate fingers, reaching for her stuffed companion. “Thanks Dad. I'll make it tomorrow night without him. I promise.”
“Elizabeth, don't ever make a promise you can't keep.”
“…I'm sorry.” Her tiny voice quivered knowing how seriously he took promises.
He smiled at her, hoping that his tone hadn't sounded too harsh, some habits still remained. Bending down, he gave her a kiss on the forehead. “It's okay, but we'll try without Cactuar tomorrow…and if that doesn't work - we keep trying until it does.”
“I love you.” Her words were barely audible, but he heard every syllable.
“Love you too.” With that, he patted her head and turned off the light. He could hear her sitting up, starting to protest in the newfound darkness. Before she could object, he quickly flipped on her nightlight. “Don't worry, I could never forget.”
“She doesn't know what she's saying. She can't.”
The name came out as a mere sob against his chest, “…Squall.”
He held her tight, smoothing down dark hair. “Now don't make me go get you a stuffed Cactuar to sleep with, alright?” She had to laugh between tears. She too nodded her head, just as their daughter had done.
Stepping back, he forced her to look directly in his eyes. Carefully, he placed a hand on her cheek, affectionately caressing her skin. “She is not scared of you, she is scared of a concept. You are her mother, and she loves you with all her heart.” He wiped away her tears from, pulling her back into his arms. The minutes passed as they just stood in beautiful silence. Still her body trembled within his arms. Finally, he took a step back, leading her toward the balcony doors.
The July heat sweltered outside their townhouse, and upon contact with the air, their bodies began to sweat. She moved to the edge, wrapping slim fingers around the brass railing.
With her other hand, she pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail, she could feel his presence move beside her. Together, they stared off into the city's vast horizon. The radiance of the capital shimmered from the lights, as the whole metropolis illuminated like a beautiful glass crystal.
“I never could have imagined Esthar to be so beautiful…or so unbearable hot,” her voice rasped under the humidity.
“It's certainly no Balamb. Then again, I can remember at least one day back there that it was this hot.” His intonation turned slightly mischievous as he moved his eyes to her.
“Oh hush up,” she ordered, playfully tapping him on the wrist. “Do you really have to mention that now?”
He moved forward, capturing the hand that she had just moved, wrapping his fingers around hers. “Now and every chance I get. We could go out in the car for old time's sake.” Her body shivered, even in the pungent heat… He immediately assumed the reaction was from his comment, referring to a lifetime that no longer existed. “I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking.”
“No Squall,” she lowered her head shaking it slightly. “It's not that… just it came today.”
He moved behind her, no longer concerned about the sweltering temperatures. Wrapping both arms around her waist, he pressed his body next to hers.
“Why, why do you do this to yourself?” His words sent tingles deep into her soul as they danced on her ears.
“I know. I know…but please…”
It killed him every year. The words were never going to change, forever etched into history. Maybe it was his curse too. So every year he protested the rite, knowing it was a hallowed ritual that he would inevitably honor.
“Where is it?”
“On the table.” Her answer was short and direct.
Tender arms retreated from their security, as he loyally obliged her request. In a moment's time, he came back with a leather-bound manual. A cool breeze picked up like an ominous ghost seeking its redemption. It churned almost vehemently, covering their bodies with goose bumps. He turned on the veranda light, and a thousand insects seemed to emerge from their hiding place amongst the shadows.
Together they sat down at the table; he started searching through the book for the chapter which he had helped define. As he skimmed through the pages, she leaned back in her chair, ready to hear the words that never would fade with time. Reaching his destination, he looked over to her, silently wishing this could be the last year... She seemed so tranquil; he only wanted to save her from this annual torment… save her from the demons. But he couldn't, he knew it. So like the true knight, he began reading the words embedded for generations to believe.
Garden History: Post Ultimecia Conflict
After the defeat of Ultimecia, a new evil emerged, not from the future, but within Garden's own walls. One of the six chosen to fight for our future was infected with a disease so deadly, it killed many of those touched by its presence. Rinoa Heartilly, daughter of Galbadian General Caraway, was entrusted with the embodiment of a sorceress. As with many of her predecessors, she chose to utilize the power as a dominating force.
Although much controversy surrounds her latter years, many facts have been conceded to by both Garden and Galbadian sources. To gain supremacy among students at Garden, she knighted the first Commander of Balamb, Squall Leonhart.
With her force growing stronger in Balamb, she managed to also knight the then President of the Galbadian Republic, and leader of The World Council, Jefferson Mitchell. After a failed coup to overtake Balamb Garden, she fled, managing to stabilize several of her loyal troops. For two years they laid in wait, preparing for a final assault on all Gardens and their known allies.
During this period, Squall Leonhart went on to wed one of the other of the fated children, Quistis Trepe. It was then that the sorceress' hold over him was relinquished, as he denounced her publicly. In denial and self doubt, Leonhart could no longer live with the guilt he carried concerning his relationship with the accused murderess. It was his self-destructive behavior that led him to carry on countless extra marital affairs, including one with his administrative assistant, Lauren Rachels, which would later produce a child.
During her time of corruption, Sorceress Heartilly gained absolute control over then President Mitchell. Garden banded together with the supporters of the Republic, capturing the sorceress in a worldwide manhunt. On the day of her execution, she claimed one more victim, the President himself. It was in his final moments of life that he was able to take hers.
The group who once saved the world from Ultimecia eventually united together to save the world from another of Hyne's decedents. This time, the faction also included Seifer Almasy, an exiled Balamb Garden student. Almasy went on to serve a three year term in Galbadia for treason against his adopted homeland.
Quistis Trepe, former wife of the commander, went on to leave the Garden system, teaching in the private sector. Her efforts in the capture were rewarded with the Galbadian Cross, the highest medal possible for non-citizens of the Galbadian Republic. The three remaining 'original saviors,' Irvine Kinneas, Selphie Tilmitt, and Zell Dincht, were also awarded the medal of valor from the Galbadian government.
The first Commander of Balamb Garden, and sitting member of the world council, Squall Leonhart, went on to continue his work in Esthar. Where he currently resides under the protection of Estharian laws.
Reports of any link to Trabian council member Richard Bennett and the sorceress have been disproved. Evidence surfaced showing that Renee Bennett, and her deceased daughter Allison Bennett, were murdered by Bennett himself. Any kidnapping allegations were dismissed when both bodies were discovered in a nearby cabin.
It was also in this time that the financial corruption surrounding the newly structured World Council was exposed. The political organization formally disbanded one year later, as both General Caraway and Richard Bennett were found to have been at the center of the investigation.
Due to both of their deaths, the truth was taken to their respective graves. Bennett killed himself after being charged formally with the double homicide of his wife and eighteen-month-old-child. In an unrelated incident, Caraway was killed in a hunting accident while traveling abroad near the edge of the Shumi land.
On a final note, the supposed 'confession' of President Mitchell was later proved to be an elaborate hoax by Heartilly's loyalists. Both the Garden Education System and the Galbadian Republic have agreed to that fact.
After her execution, Sorceress Heartilly's ashes were allowed to be spread on Galbadian soil, after much protest from its citizens. It was only with the recommendation of the other 'saviors' that the request was granted, as they lobbied in her favor. Her remains were eventually laid next to her mother.
He closed the book, watching a flash of heat lightening illuminate above the distant skies. Every year for the last half decade, he read the same printed text to her. Every year at Garden he attended a memorial service for Ellone, and her. And every year he worried about her sanity just a little more. The knight had always been able to pull her back, but he feared a time when she would be unreachable. He could hear the hurried gasps, as she tried to regain a steady rhythm in her breathing. Her pain killed him. It always had.
“No!” she cut him off, still out of breath. “She's dead. Elizabeth might hear you. Somebody might hear you!”
He sighed angrily, shoving the goddamned book off the table. Maybe this year was it, the final time he would give into the pressure to read the fucking lies. But he said that every year…
The name still killed him to whisper, even as it rolled off his tongue. He stood, pushing his chair away forcefully. Walking over, he kneeled in front of her. “Look at me.”
She snapped her head toward him like she wanted to yell, but she couldn't. Instead, all she could see was the guilt of his own infidelity clouding his eyes. Even after all this time, she focused only on the life that she'd left behind, forgoing his anguish…forgoing his past.
“I'm so sorry, Squall.” She pleaded, begging for forgiveness. Leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around his neck, glad for the life they had… no matter who they were.
“I know. I know you are.” He always forgave her, no matter what. It was his curse, it was his saving grace. He laid his head on her stomach, as she continued to hold him close. It was the same question she asked every year, and the same one he couldn't answer. Yet with each passing hour, the moment of their judgment was approaching.
“When do we tell her the truth?”
“I don't know. When we are ready.”
The fact remained, would they ever be ready? The seven-year-old had heard the lies since she was born into their sin, even moving half way around the globe didn't change their reality. But she was strong, she was like her parents, she would prevail. She was still 'Allison' in their hearts, but now only known by one of her other given names.
He moved his hand underneath her camisole, lifting up the silk only slightly. Running his fingers over her smooth abdomen, he felt no imperfections…not even a scar. He softly kissed her belly, and she reacted, laughing at the feathery touch of his lips.
“What are you doing?” she questioned, tilting her head accusingly.
“You really have to ask?” He let the material fall back to her stomach, as he stood up reaching for her hand. He intertwined their fingers, helping to her to her feet.
“You're impossible, Squall.”
“And you're beautiful.”
Commander Leonhart, Squall Leonhart, Knight, Lover, Dad… all just labels for the same person. She was right about one thing, the titles do not matter, it is only what each represents that counts. Almost eleven years have passed since Ultimecia's demise…and almost six since 'Rinoa's.' I learned once it was easier to live the lie, but now it is the lie I prefer to live…
History itself can be twisted, manipulated by the highest bidder. In fact, we are all gods, if given the proper catalyst. With enough capital, anything can be bought, even the lies that we are predestined to repeat each day. It is the lies we have chosen, and the lies we are damned to endure.
But I do so willingly.
This is the life we wrote, we determined our own fate. The sorceress is dead to the world, but alive to the ones who keep her secret. For reasons apparent, she doesn't leave the safety that Esthar provides…that Laguna provides. In a strange twist of irony, she is once again a prisoner within four walls. Her current name just a title printed on a piece of paper, the true owner of the name lays somewhere in the ocean's depths. Gone. Decayed…a part of history that will not be printed in the text. Another orphan lost by time.
Every year new textbooks are issued to students at Garden, every year 'our' history is written a little more. I, the adulterer husband of Quistis Trepe, and she, the forgotten savior of the world. All that remains of Rinoa Heartilly are the lies, but there was no other road for us to take.
This way, at least we travel together.
It is fate that the true dementia of Jefferson Mitchell will never be known. Again, it was the history that we dictated. This way the world can have their good and bad, their black and white…it can have the answers it so desperately seeks.
My sorceress very much still holds her powers, and I still hold the responsibility as her knight. Her only knight…ever. There exists no way of separating, nor sealing, her powers as the world believes. But the world can sleep better at night believing in the lie…our daughter can sleep better at night believing in the lie.
The friends we had once now reside all over the globe.
Quistis did move into the private sector and Seifer did serve his time in prison. Their road has not been easy, nor paved in the fairytale ending they thought they'd found. But their feelings do exist…as does their relationship. It is not a love of paper cards, or fresh flowers…but of understanding and desire. I hope that history will be kind to them, but only time will tell. Selphie and Irvine are still together. I wonder if their relationship was predestined in the stars, or only a chance meeting by the tides of fate. Zell married, he has two girls now, one more on the way… I think it was hardest to lose contact with him… That is what we decided, and we must live with the regret. Most of our past ties have been cut for obvious reasons, even with Garden.
They hid our secret, and we hide theirs.
In one brief moment, all time became one… Crossing generations, breaking all known physics, she took one moment and twisted two passengers of this world together. Two life forces connected by their powers. In one minute, two bodies switched and what could have been…what should have been…became only a faded memory to a few. With the power of two sorceresses, the impossible came to pass.
The blade of a madman, cutting not only through flesh and bone, but through space and time itself. Not piercing his intended victim of the present, but one of the past...exactly two years and one week in the past. Yet for awhile, Rinoa and Ellone's life forces became one.
And so now destiny is set. It is written by fate, it is written by the events of the past, present, and future. It is written by 'we' the ones with the resources to buy it. The ones who once aimed to stop Time Compression…now must secretly guarantee its survival. Without it, Garden fell to Galbadia. I did not survive, Rinoa did not survive.
Do you believe the history that you have come to accept as fact, while some great heroes are nothing more than a footnote in a textbook? Is yesterday's past being rewritten as you breathe by the highest bidder? Some are elevated to the stature of hero, while others pay the ultimate price. The blood that is shed today is in vain, as the only truth is found hidden among the crimson lies.