The Third Part 2
I preferred to wander out into the ruined world of Terra, rather than do nothing in Bran Baal. The shattered glass walkways and spiralling buildings and motionless void below me were somehow more interesting. I found my favourite perch on a mangled tree trunk shaped like a hand, sat down and just thought about things.
Not long after the destruction of Alexandria, I went further out than usual. There was nowhere decent to sit down, so I walked on. Startled by the flash of the watery void beneath the towering, desolate cityscape that indicated a breach of the planet's aura, I was even more surprised when Garland appeared out of nowhere and began reeling out instructions.
"Mikoto, Second has arrived. I must return to Pandemonium to secure the Invincible, but I need you to lead him to the Gate. Kuja is likely to be close behind him, so get him to Bran Baal as soon as possible. Do you understand? This is it, Gaia will soon be assimilated!"
I nodded. "I understand."
"Prepare him for our encounter, but don't tell him everything. I doubt he remembers much. Leave the re-telling of the full tale to me!"
Again, I nodded. Garland faded into nothing, and I turned, spotting a group of figures making their way towards my location.
It was Second. He was dressed completely differently. His hair had also changed slightly. For a moment I hoped he'd call my name, but he didn't. I sighed, and got on with my work.
They followed quite easily. Second was determined to catch me up, and I had to run fast to draw him towards Bran Baal, tempting him with snippets of information. When we neared the entrance to the Genome settlement, I turned to face him.
Not a spark of recognition flashed in his eyes. He seemed more angry than anything else. I was too weary of living to feel any pain at not being remembered.
"This is where you belong," I continued. My voice sounded so strange, so cold and distant. I rarely used it anymore, even when talking to Garland. A nod or gesture usually did the trick. "The place to which you shall offer yourself . . . is here."
Hurriedly, I dashed into the village. The Genomes weren't even disturbed by the commotion. Second was. I watched discreetly, still coming to terms with the rejection he had dealt me. Second was charging around Bran Baal, looking for somewhere to rest. Apparently the girl he'd been with had fainted. Garland has secured the Invincible. Now I had to lead Second to him.
One of the Genomes had pointed out my room. Second and his group of friends had vanished inside. I lingered by the steps, staring into the lake and thinking hard.
I didn't have to wait long. A small girl with a tiny horn in the middle of her forehead came charging out, assaulting my brethren with questions. Eventually, she latched onto me.
"Huh? Found ya!" she yelled triumphantly. I turned languidly to face her. "You're that girl, right? It's your fault Dagger collapsed, you know . . ." She seemed to get her priorities in check. "Oh, never mind. Say! Don't you have any medicine at all?"
She was referring to the dark-haired woman who had fainted. "She will soon awaken," I said.
"How do you know?"
I didn't have time for this. "Where is your man?"
The girl blushed and began to stutter. "Are you talking about Zidane? Even I never called him that! But too bad for you! He and Dagger are super-hot for each other! You don't have a chance with him."
So someone had named him in the end. Zidane . . .
"Tell him I am waiting in the underground laboratory," I ordered tonelessly, and walked off towards the Crystal chamber. The girl protested until I moved out of hearing range. Descending the steps to my place of birth, I watched the Genomes forming new members of our species in the life cylinders until Second . . . Zidane . . . approached me warily.
He took one look at the Genomes floating in the tanks, and sighed heavily.
"So that's what this is all about . . . Geez . . . I should've guessed . . . So, this is what you wanted to show me?"
I nodded stiffly. "Yes. I'm glad you understand.
"I don't wanna understand! Sorry, but I'm not like that. I mean, all these guys with tails, who look just like me . . . They're a bunch of zombies."
"They are my peers. We are Genomes," I stated flatly. "We live in this village."
"Genomes?" Zidane looked as though he was having trouble believing this. "Is that what they're called?"
"Not just them, but you and me, too." I began to automatically recite my lessons. "It is the name of the seed given to all of us. Its name is Genome."
Zidane swung around angrily and kicked at a stray cable on the floor. "Talk about a let-down. Who would've guessed that the home I've yearned for would be a dump like this? No wonder I never found it. It's not even on Gaia!"
I was now thoroughly puzzled by his behaviour. "Why are you not happy? You have returned to the place of your birth."
"Happy?" The word burst from his lips with such hatred that I mentally recoiled. "You guys can process that emotion? Look at 'em!" He flung a gloved hand at the nearest Genome. "Look at all their blank faces!"
Anger began to swell up inside of me, but as usual I could not express it outwardly. "What can we do?" I demanded in a lacklustre monotone. "After all, we are made that way. And we are built to work together as soulless Genomes."
"What's it all for?" He scowled at me. "Get to the point already! How come I grew up on Gaia if I was born here? I'm alive! I have a soul! Why is everyone here so -"
"Because you are . . ." Garland's words came back to me. I kept the end of the sentence as vague as I could. " . . . Special."
"We are mere vessels," I intoned. "You have been given a greater purpose." Undeniable respect tinged my next words. "The will of Garland is absolute . . ."
"Garland? Who's that?"
I started walking towards the stairs. Zidane followed quickly. His movements were filled with a buoyancy I had never before seen in a Genome. That his speech patterns and dialect had changed also made me feel strangely wistful.
"Garland watches over this planet. His mission is to restore the people of Terra."
Now Zidane looked confused. "R-Restore the people of Terra? You mean, people besides these guys here?"
I sighed. "They are merely vessels. So am I, and so are you." He bridled at that, but didn't interrupt. "But the true people of Terra have been asleep for ages, waiting for their time to come. When the time is right, the light of this planet will turn from blue to red, and Gaia will become Terra."
Zidane was waving his hands to halt my words. "Wait a sec! So the people of Terra are out to take over Gaia?"
I shrugged. "What else can there be? Terra has always absorbed new planets to survive. And when the time comes, the souls of the people of Terra will occupy the Genomes. Such is the restoration of the people of Terra."
"Why do they have to be so tedious? Why can't they just wipe us out with magic like they did in Alexandria?"
"Once, Garland tried to use a more forceful method, but failed."
"Then he should just quit and leave Gaia alone!"
I began to recite again, as if he had never interrupted. "Because of his failure, he was forced to wait a long time . . . To wait until Gaia's civilisations had gained tremendous power." I paused dramatically. "The power to use eidolons."
Zidane deflated. "So that's why you attacked the summoners' village and Alexandria."
"Planets have a cycle of souls. Souls are born from the planet, and then return to it. Garland planned to gain control of that very cycle . . . and you were supposed to help him achieve that."
I had said enough. "Garland is waiting for you. Come." I beckoned him forward.
"What do you think you're doing? I don't care about this Gaia and Terra stuff!"
He came along anyway, though. A Genome's curiosity never leaves him, I suppose.
I led him to the Gate. He spoke a little, but was mostly despondent. In twelve years I hadn't seen him, but he didn't know me at all. If I hadn't retreated so far into my own mind, I might have broken down and wept.
As we approached the tree that led the way to Pandemonium, he stopped. I wondered at the reversal of roles. Twelve years ago, he had shown me the way to Garland. Now it was my mission to re-educate him in his long-forgotten purpose.
"Hey! Where are you taking me?"
"I told you," I informed him calmly. "You are going to see Garland."
"Yeah, of course." Now he looked impatient. "But this way is a dead end."
"There is a way." I pointed to the shimmer of energy between the knotted branch and the ground. His eyes widened. "See? You may find him through the portal. He awaits where the souls sleep. The floating castle where souls bide their time until their restoration . . . Pandemonium." I allowed him to absorb this information, before asking, "Will you not say farewell to your friends?"
Zidane crossed his arms, his tail twitching irritably. "I don't care what I am." He seemed to be talking to himself. "I was born here, wasn't I? If so, then I am an enemy of Gaia."
I regarded him with cold, cold eyes. They had begun to lose that quality that separated me from my soulless Genome brethren. "You learn quickly."
"Make no mistake," he growled. "I won't join your side. I just . . . If we are relatives, then . . ." He set his jaw and stalked towards the tree.
"Then I want to take care of this little family matter myself," he finished determinedly.
He vanished with a flash of light. I stared at the place where he had been a few seconds ago.
I won't join your side . . .
We had always been on the same side, Second and I. Kuja, I was never sure of, but Second and I had been together. And the way he had aimed the anger of that comment directly at me . . .
. . . your side . . . Our side? What side? I was neither of one viewpoint or another - this was my purpose. Whether or not I agreed with it, I had to fulfil my destiny. He would soon learn.
"Now you listen to me!" someone yelled in a high-pitched voice. I was so tolerant of pain that I only mentally winced, turning slowly to face the little violet-haired girl from before. Three of Zidane's other friends stood a short distance away, trying to make themselves look threatening. "Where did you take Zidane?"
I sighed. "He went on his own to see Garland."
"Garland?" The little girl pouted. "Oooo, that's a sinister name! But Zidane wouldn't just leave us hanging!"
Hanging? Such strange Gaian slang, I thought. "He went . . ." I paused. "Yes, he went to find out the reason for his existence."
"Liar! That's a terrible lie!"
I had never in my life told a lie. I had never had need to. I decided I would never tell a lie, either. Lying was for the cruel and the deceitful. But, nevertheless, I had to deter these Gaians from interfering with Garland's plan.
Very coldly, I said: " 'I am an enemy of the people of Gaia,' he said as he walked through the gate to Pandemonium."
For the first time, the little girl seemed fearful. She whirled around to her companions. "We . . . we gotta tell the others!"
They charged away. I shook my head at my tactics when they could no longer be seen.
"Heaven grant the wandering souls eternal repose . . ."
Right now, Second . . . Zidane . . . would be learning all about his origins and his future. It had been two or three hours since I had led him to Pandemonium. For some reason, I didn't think he would approve. His words came back to me.
You're the only person who'll be aware when Garland messes up . . .
I stared down into the liquid void below Terra's ruined civilisation. Zidane wouldn't want to fulfil his destiny when he found out. Gaia had warped his priorities and changed him considerably. What would Garland do with Zidane when he refused to take over from the doomed Kuja? Hugging my knees to my chest, I shivered.
I am the Third. I am Garland's back-up plan. I didn't want him to harm Zidane, and not just because he'd been my first friend. When Kuja's limited lifespan finally gave out, Zidane was supposed to take over. If not, then it would be my responsibility.
But that was my destiny. There was no point mulling over something I couldn't change.
Every hair on the back of my neck rose to attention as I heard nervous laughter a few dozen metres away. Immediately, I ducked behind the clump of strangely malformed Terran plants I'd been sitting on. My eyes widened at the sight of Kuja, climbing out onto an outcrop that overlooked the void below.
"I can't believe I actually returned to this place," he said to himself in his whimsical voice. "But . . . soon . . . Soon the power will be mine alone." There was something about his expression and his tone that disturbed me. Much had changed since I had last seen him. He laughed again.
"Just you wait, Garland! And you, too, Zidane! I'll exact sweet revenge upon you both for insulting me! I'll make the people of both Gaia and Terra know whom rules over all of them!"
He broke off into wild laughter. I saw his eyes gleam as they caught hold of the Invincible, hovering serenely in the sky over Bran Baal. It was then that I realised his intentions.
Garland had to be warned! I sprinted away from my hiding place, charging along the fractured roads and diving over rubble. I was panting for breath when the gates to my village appeared on the horizon, and held my ground by the transportation panel that led up to the infamous Terran ship. I immediately set about switching off the power.
"Hello, there," a low voice said somewhere behind me.
Standing, I glance back, narrowing my eyes at Kuja. "You will not take the Invincible. Garland's will is absolute."
Kuja pursed his lips amusedly. "I recall you . . . from somewhere."
I tensed, standing my ground.
"You were just another Genome. You shouldn't be acting on your own," he said wryly.
"I'm like you," I said softly. "I am the Third named one."
"What?" Kuja's vaguely feminine features contorted angrily. "He gave another a soul? Why didn't he just leave it to me?"
"He doesn't trust you. As you plan to overthrow him, you know he was right not to put any faith in you."
"And you . . ." He sneered derisively. "You hope to usurp my prerogative?"
"I don't hope," was my flat reply.
"So his brainwashing worked on you, then?"
"It is not brainwashing. It is our purpose. You are wrong to try to change your destiny." I wondered how he would take the news that, now that Zidane had reappeared, his time was severely limited. I didn't want to be the one to break it to him. Although I didn't care for my own fate, I didn't want to leave Garland without an angel of death.
"I'd ask you for your name, but it is not important." Kuja waved a hand delicately through the air. "Now stand aside. I have business to attend to with that foolish self-proclaimed God."
"Don't make me kill you."
I didn't move. Kuja's expression hardened. He flew at me with breathtaking speed and fluidity. Although I knew his magical prowess was formidable, it had never occurred to me that he might be physically strong with such a slender, fragile appearance.
"Move!" he screamed.
He hit me with full force. We both tumbled onto the teleporter, and the world around us blurred as we were transported to the central area of the ship, Invincible. I had no weapons, but I lunged at him in my entirety, using fists and feet to try and push him back onto the teleporter and send him away.
A shattering spell threw me to the floor, panting and limp. Kuja was far too powerful for me.
The Genome grabbed my collar and held me out over the teleporter.
"Don't interfere! Garland has had this coming to him for a long, long time!"
He dropped me. I hit the faintly glowing surface and found myself back by the entrance to Bran Baal. I tried to get back on the ship, but Kuja had hurriedly moved it out of range of the teleporter I was next to.
Garland had to be warned!
I charged back into Bran Baal. Zidane's friends seemed to have disappeared. Only the Genomes were there, going about their usual business. Their intended future was in jeopardy!
I didn't know where Kuja, Garland or Zidane were, but I started to head for the next teleporter, hoping it would be within range of the Invincible. Kuja planned to kill Garland! My only remaining friend . . .
I was running so fast that I almost didn't notice the flash of light on the near horizon. Skidding to a halt, I froze, my eyes widening.
A figure was floating up from a distant platform, glowing with crimson fire. I could feel his soul crying out piteously, and I knew it was Kuja.
He had found out. I felt a deep sympathy for him, wondering why I could share his vivid emotions. But what was he going to do? Would he just fly away, never to be seen again?
Fear clutched my heart as a rain of fire abruptly exploded from the figure. It struck a collection of the spindly towers that were Terra's trademark. Their single, slender support stands snapped under the weight of the destruction, plummeting into the void.
"Mikoto . . ."
"Garland!" I looked around, but my master did not appear.
"I'm sorry, but you won't be receiving any further orders."
Garland's muted voice laughed. The noise played on my mind like a fall of feathers. There was undeniable affection in the sound. "Forever asking questions . . . I want you to run. Escape. Kuja will destroy Terra. He has far surpassed my expectations and he is too dangerous. You will die if you don't leave here."
I sagged against the nearest wall, shaking my head. "Don't . . . go . . ."
"Too late, I'm afraid . . ."
His presence faded.
No good. He was gone. I turned and watched the now burning horizon. The other Genomes weren't even flinching. They watched with a mechanical curiosity. How could I ever care for such heartless creatures?
Bowing my head, I pushed past them, dragging my feet as I walked back into Bran Baal. I made my way to the Crystal chamber, and then descended the stairs. The Life chamber was empty. Two Genomes floated in the cylinders. Sighing, I ejected them. They weren't yet ready but I thought they might like to see what they were missing before they died.
Died? We were hardly alive anyway. Even I, the Third, possessing a soul as I did, felt nothing anymore. Life was just a state of existence, nothing special or important.
The released Genomes dusted themselves off and trudged upstairs, vanishing out of sight. I had spent my entire life alone, and now I would die alone. Feeling numb and emotionless, I turned away from the life cylinders and waited for the inevitable.
The ground above rumbled and shook with tremors. It would not be long now. And then . . .
"What are you still doing here?! We need to evacuate!"
I turned, zombie-like. He was perched on the stairs, his eyes wild.
"What's the point?" I said softly. "They're only empty vessels . . ."
He nearly fell backwards with shock. "Stop talking like that! Do you really believe what you just said?"
I lowered my gaze. My eyes burned, but, as usual, I drew back the tears. "Unlike the rest of them, Garland gave me a soul, that I might replace you and Kuja." I swallowed heavily. "But Garland is . . . dead. Terra will soon be destroyed. What's the point?"
Surprisingly, he did not get angry with me. Instead, he completed his walk down the stairs and moved closer to me. "I asked myself the same question."
"And did you find an answer?"
He bit his lip. "No," he admitted. "But maybe the point is to just try. It's gonna be hard . . . but I've got my friends. It isn't too bad."
I remained silent. Friends . . . something I had always been short of. Even Garland had been distinctly lacking.
"Hey, what's your name?"
"Huh?" That caught me off-guard. Few people had asked that question for a decent reason. I looked up at Zidane sharply.
"Garland gave you a name, didn't he?"
No, you did . . . "My name is . . . Mikoto."
He grinned radiantly. Just looking at his warm expression made some of my doubt melt away. "Mikoto, huh? That's a nice name . . ." He clasped my shoulder. "A lot of people are gonna call you that from now on. You have to find the answer yourself. It'll be hard, but you can do it. Let's go to the new world, Mikoto! There, you can find your answer . . ."
I hadn't kept his promise. I guessed I should try and make amends for that now.
He held out his hand to me. Shakily, I accepted it.
And we walked out of Bran Baal together.
The next twenty-four hours were a revelation for me. After spending so much time in Terra's dead landscape, Gaia was a complete and utter surprise. I had seen it through the Invincible's eyes, true, but it wasn't the same as seeing it up close. The small black mage had kindly led us to his village. He seemed to understand us a lot, and me in particular.
I had still been in a state of shock at the time. Sitting inside the Invincible, I was the only Genome not wandering around the interior and Learning new things. Vivi had came and sat next to me.
"Uh . . . hello," he said uncertainly.
I didn't reply. My purpose had not been fulfilled. There was no chance now of any of my kind completing their destinies. Our lives were practically worthless, a waste of space. Even Zidane's words hadn't any effect.
"Are you all right?"
I looked down into his glowing eyes. Once again, I could feel his soul. If I concentrated, I could feel anyone's. In the hours we had spent moving from Terra to Gaia and then across that world, I had begun to grow accustomed to the differences in a person's soul and how that affected them personally. But my fellow Genomes' emptiness was painful and cold to feel.
Vivi's soul was warm. It revealed a degree of uncertainty even stronger than mine. But the little black mage was at least making an effort.
"No," I replied truthfully.
He twiddled his thumbs. After a while, he asked, "What's wrong?"
"There is no point in this anymore. We Genomes no longer hold a purpose. You should have left us to our fate."
"I know how you feel," Vivi said, surprising me.
"How could you?"
"Kuja made us . . . the black mages . . . to be used as tools of war. After the situation changed, we were no longer needed."
"But you have a soul. Only Garland could infuse a body with a soul."
"Well, I'm different to the others. But . . . you see, some of them started thinking for themselves. They sorta . . . made their own souls, I guess. They even built a village and started to live the way they wanted to."
I shook my head in alarm. "That doesn't sound right at all. How can you make your own soul?"
Vivi seemed to be thinking. "Maybe . . . maybe a soul isn't something physical. Maybe it's just an awareness of . . . feelings and stuff. That's what happened to the others. They became aware."
I considered this. "But why do they still continue to try to live? They have fulfilled their purpose."
"Well," the black mage said in staunch defence, "they found their own purposes. They live because . . . because . . . they want to."
"I . . . don't understand . . ."
Vivi suddenly sat up. He adjusted his hat and dusted himself off. "Don't worry, Mikoto. I have an idea. I'll show you!"
His reason for running towards the bridge was only apparent when we landed near a forest on a dry and dusty continent. The sky was swollen and purple in the distance, and I could feel Kuja somewhere near the energy build-up. But I didn't have time to think about that, for we were welcomed into the Black Mage Village.
It was so different to Bran Baal. The atmosphere was no longer dead and sterile, but vibrant with activity and life. Creatures called insects buzzed around lush, exotic plants. The dirt trails were warm underfoot where they had been baked by the great, blazing sun. Terra's sun had always been obscure because of the Light. The little buildings, shaped like the smiling faces of black mages, inspired feelings of friendliness and hospitality.
The Genomes were already wandering around, Learning new things. The black mages were answering questions as best they could. They had expressions and they had feelings. It was true. They also had souls. I could feel them buzzing in the air around them.
Could my brethren also grow their own souls?
For the first time in a long while, I was hopeful.
But then I remembered it didn't matter. Kuja was still at large, and would ravage this world with a vengeance. We were dead Genomes walking.
We spent the night there. In the morning, I found Zidane and his friends preparing to leave. Despite the inevitability of a global apocalypse if Kuja was not stopped, I decided to try to save them.
"You haven't got a chance," I said coldly. "You saw Kuja's power. He destroyed a world by himself . . . You don't have a chance of defeating him . . . You'll all die."
Zidane seemed to lose his composure for a second. To my left, Black Mage No.24 said: "Wow! This girl knows lots of difficult words!"
That broke the hard silence that had descended over us. Zidane grinned and moved closer to me.
"Doesn't she? She's a bit cynical, but take good care of her." He winked at me. "She's kinda like my little sister."
A dozen protests tried to escape my mouth at once. All that eventually came out was, "Wha -"
He turned to me directly. "Mikoto! Listen to your big brother and make some friends!"
For the first time ever, I blushed. "H-How silly!"
With an agile jump, he landed down by Dagger. I had become acquainted with all of Zidane's friends, from the amusing Quina to the stoical Freya, and I liked them all. Such varied personalities . . . it was a first for me to experience them.
But they were leaving. I watched them disappear into the forest. They were extremely hopeful. Cynical? Was I? Maybe it was time I gave them a chance . . .
I liked the Black Mage Village.
I had thought I had learned all there was to learn, but the black mages showed me different. I watched them from a distance at first, observing the way they live for the moment. In accordance with the burial area at the edge of the village, I learned that they could survive for around two years. After that . . . they stopped working. Two years was not a long time. At first I wondered why they bothered to achieve anything if they would die so suddenly. But the longer I spent in the Black Mage Village, the more I grew attached to the place, to the people in it . . . and to my brethren. One or two had begun to show signs of independent thought. I took it on myself to help them along.
I realised that, if my lifespan were only a maximum two years, I would want to get the most out of it. My original purpose no longer seemed as important. I looked at it this way - if I had to carry on living, I might as well make myself useful.
It went a step further. I started to enjoy helping my fellow Genomes think independently. I did make friends. The earliest Thinkers of the Genomes had also shown some indication of emotion. I hurriedly tried to draw it out. I remembered Zidane's original description of a Name, and started labelling those who became aware.
In the end, I noticed that I was enjoying myself. I still showed a noticeable lack of emotion, and I guess that was by force of habit. But I did feel things, even if I didn't always express them.
And then, it happened.
The purple, swollen sky screamed, throwing out waves of energy in a motion that forced many of the trees of the surrounding forest into the air. I somehow knew that Zidane was finally confronting his destiny. But the mountains and the forest hid the Iifa Tree from view. I listened with all my heart, but felt nothing more.
And then a large ship landed in the vicinity of the village. The black mages and my brethren and I rushed out to meet it. Scorch marks lined its outer surface, and smoke billowed from its engines. Garland had been more of an authority on airships, but I could tell this one had suffered some extensive damage.
Abruptly, people began piling out of the ship. In particular, several women in armour were helping another, who seemed to be injured in some way. As she looked up wearily, she caught sight of me and the other Genomes.
"Wait," she said weakly. "I'm . . . seeing double. Triple. Quad . . . whatever. Where did all these Zidanes come from?"
Some of the others pushed me forward.
"Who are you?"
The woman smiled. "My name is Beatrix. We just helped escort Zidane into the Iifa Tree."
"I am Mikoto, his . . ." I hesitated. "We are his brethren."
The woman named Beatrix widened her eyes slightly, but nodded briskly. "All right. We need to fix the Red Rose for when they return."
"The black mages will help," I said, and waved them forward. They immediately began moving inside the ship.
"Thank you," she said. And then she collapsed.
Apparently, Kuja had sent a wave of silver dragons to contend with the Invincible. Beatrix had been injured when the Red Rose had been struck, and they had retreated here. We settled her in the guest room, with her faithful followers, and then I watched the black mages and engineers attend the ship. One question nagged at me:
How would they know when to return?
I found out a few hours later. Kuja's soul screamed with a burst of energy so powerful it ripped through me. I knew that it was time, and hurried to Beatrix.
"You need to return."
The woman sighed. "I can't. But . . . I want you to go instead. Tell Cid! Hurry!"
The Red Rose wasn't nearly as stable as she ought to have been, but we had no choice. I fulfilled Beatrix' wish and stood on the bridge of the majestic ship, watching the skies fall away below us, and the mountains follow them. The aggravated landscape was calming slightly - one way or another, it was all coming to an end.
Another ship became visible as we neared the Iifa Tree. It was keeping its distance. Someone hooked me up to its bridge.
"This is the Red Rose," I informed them curtly.
"You're not General Beatrix. Who are you?"
For some reason, I almost smiled. I was beginning to enjoy answering that question.
"My name is Mikoto. Everyone is alive. You are very close to them."
"What?! How do you know?"
I paused, trying to think of a plausible explanation. In the end, I chose my gut reaction. "I can hear him . . ." I whispered, and left it at that.
Time slowed to a crawl. Zidane and his friends reappeared, and I never figured out how. My sensitivity to my brother's soul was becoming incredibly sharp, and I could feel his weariness as if it were mine. But . . . there was a problem.
"Farewell, Zidane . . ."
I had to stop myself from yelling at my brother to leave Kuja alone. But it was obvious that the Second had not changed as much as I'd thought he had. I watched with a heavy heart as he turned back to the Iifa Tree.
Zidane's friends all departed on a ship, after a somewhat short goodbye. Kuja's ebbing soul was somewhere in the depths of the Iifa Tree. I stood at the base of the humungous growth, watching a faint figure make an apparently suicidal attempt to enter the tree. I barely breathed as I waited to see if it would reappear.
Kuja's soul faded first.
After several more seconds, Zidane's also vanished from my senses.
We had always been a breed apart, us three. I wanted to cry, but nothing would come out. I simply stared at the Tree, thinking.
The only two people who really, genuinely understood me, who understood what had happened, were gone. Narrowing my eyes, I realised that it was now my responsibility to teach this to my brethren. The Genomes had to know what had been sacrificed . . . what had been changed. I now knew that life never followed a straight path. We are able to make our own choices.
Sadly, I started back.
That was eight months ago.
Kuja . . . what you did was wrong. But you gave us one thing . . . Hope. We were all created for the wrong reason, but you alone defied our fate. We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever . . . to remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason - that our life has meaning.
I always talked about you, Zidane. How you were a very special person to us, because you taught us all how important life is. You taught me that life doesn't last forever. That's why we have to help each other and live life to the fullest.
Even if you say goodbye, you'll always be in our hearts. So, I know we're not alone anymore.
Why I was born . . . how I wanted to live . . . Thanks for giving me time to think.
To keep doing what you set your heart on . . . It's a very hard thing to do. We were all so courageous . . .
What to do when I felt lonely . . . that was the only thing you couldn't teach me. But we need to figure out the answer for ourselves.
I'm so happy I met everyone. I wish we could've gone on more adventures.
But I guess we all have to say goodbye someday.
Everyone . . . Thank you. Farewell. My memories will be part of the sky . . .
Now I stand near the entrance to the Black Mage Village. You'd be proud at how far we've come since then. I know I didn't keep my promise properly at the beginning, but I've more than made up for it now. Seeing the expressions on their faces where before there was nothing always reminds me of you. If you're watching over us now . . .
I look up.
Standing at the gate of the village is a Genome. My feet become rooted to the spot. When I make no move, he does. He comes so close that I can see the happiness in his eyes.
"Long time no see . . . little sister."
I blink. "But . . . but . . ."
The Second. A thief. A Genome. Zidane. He has gone by many names in the past. At present, none of them will form on my lips.
His expression turns sad. "What, no happy welcome? Still no emotion?"
Something inside me melts away. Tears begin to spill down my cheeks, and my chest hitches with sobs. Now he looks surprised.
"What the -"
"Zidane!" I cry, and throw my arms around him.
As he returns the embrace wholeheartedly, I begin to think that this is, quite possibly, the best moment of my life.
All characters and the main theme are owned by Squaresoft.