The Midgar Ruins Part 2
He traveled through darkness, falling quickly, but landed without much pain. As soon as he hit the ground, he moved out of the way, knowing that the other two would follow him, even if they did not know it. Zerik stood, brushed himself off, and looked around.
It was dark, gloomy, but a small amount of light made it possible to see. Sight, however, was not a comfort. What he could see was only shapes and shadows, scraps of metal tossed about, other things he did not wish to identify. He wondered what inhabited such a place as the ruins. Uncomfortable ideas filled his head, and so he turned back toward where he'd come, just as Loften fell through.
"You should move," Zerik told him, but Loften only gave him a blank look and stayed where he sat. "Just don't blame me."
A short time later, as Loften finally decided to move, he was halfway to his feet when Marlene came toppling through the opening, pushing Loften to the ground.
"Ouch!" Marlene exclaimed, trying to pull herself to her feet as Loften muttered something under his breath and moved away. "Sorry."
Loften shrugged. "It was my fault. I should have listened to Zerik; he told me to move."
Standing nearby, Zerik merely watched as the two found their stances, then turned toward him.
"Well?" Marlene demanded.
At the same time, Loften asked, "What next?"
You wait for the fourth to arrive. Zerik could not decide how that had suddenly arrived in his mind, but he accepted it as truthful. "We wait for the fourth to arrive."
"I thought you said the fourth died."
A new one has been chosen. "A new one has been chosen."
Puzzlement crossed Marlene's face. "Oh," she said simply, then turned away, folding her arms as though cold, rubbing her upper arms rapidly with her hands. "When will--"
"I am here."
All three turned, three different expressions frozen upon their faces. Marlene wore a startled look, her mouth hanging slightly open, her eyes wide. Zerik's face was pulled into a frown, showing concern, and Loften's face was masked with an emotionless expression.
The girl who stood in front of them was tall, slightly taller than Loften and Marlene, but shorter than Zerik. Her arms were long, like branches of a tree. The girl's hair, the color of dark cinnamon, was pulled behind her face and tied with a piece of twine the color of her sea-gray eyes. She wore a plain white dress and walked barefoot toward them.
"My name is Phaia," she said in a smooth voice, looking at Zerik, then Loften, then letting her gaze stop on Marlene. Zerik looked at her eyes, which at first had seemed simply gray, dull, plain, but had somehow drawn him in. There were dark circles under her eyes, like she hadn't slept in days, that contrasted with how pale she was. It was as though the girl had never seen the sun, and there was a strange, sharp innocence about her, standing against the bleakness of their surroundings; she wore white in a world of gray.
"You are the fourth," Zerik stated, his voice soft.
"I am the fourth," Phaia agreed, nodding, but not turning back to Zerik. She kept her attention upon Marlene, moved toward her, and took her hands. "You are Marlene."
Nodding, Marlene said nothing, and Phaia moved to Loften, taking his hands and saying his name. She moved to Zerik, took his hands, said his name. Her hands were warm, and she smiled, then left him and returned to standing in front of the three of them.
Marlene asked, "What do we do now?"
Shaking his head, Loften took a step toward Phaia, shook his head once more, then stepped back again. "Zerik . . ."
"We must move toward the center of the town. That is where everything will happen. That is where everything will start," Zerik told them, turning his head toward the direction they were to go. Mimicking Marlene's stance, with his arms folded, he turned his head to the sky where, barely seen through the masses of gray metal, the faintest hint of purple faded into black. Night was upon them.
They slept in great discomfort, scattered about in the ruins, laying on anything that would provide them some measure of ease. Marlene lay awake long after she knew the others had fallen into slumber, her breathing quick and shallow, strange fears crawling across her back with sharp, needle-like claws. Being in complete darkness would have been better than the small amount of light they had. With darkness, she would not be able to glance at shadows, at unknown objects; her imagination would not be able to transform harmless materials into dark, dangerous beings bent on hurting her.
Her thoughts drifted back to the girl named Phaia. They had not asked her where she'd come from, or how she'd suddenly appeared there, and she did not volunteer the information. The girl had brought food with her, and water, which they'd consumed on their walk.
Still somewhat in shock over what had been happening the past few days, Marlene had said little to anyone as they moved slowly forward. Occasionally, Loften had spoken to her, but the others had remained silent. The absence of sound had strung out between the four, somehow binding them in a way that speech could not; somehow, as they'd moved forward, observing the actions of one another, they'd come to know more about each other than they would have had they asked questions. In silence, they were free to watch; in silence they were free to wonder.
There was something to be learned in every action made. As she lay in the darkness, Marlene listened to the breathing of the others, Zerik's ragged, broken breaths, Loften's light, careful inhalations, exhalations. She listened to the steadiness, evenness of Phaia's breathing. No other sounds moved to her ears, save the occasional movement of wind sighing over metal, the scrape of movement upon the floor.
Marlene was afraid to sleep. If she fell asleep, she did not know what she would see. Would Jessie come to haunt her again? Would her thoughts fill with fire and blood, with terror, as it did every night? And so, Marlene preferred to stay awake, deciding to brave the night with all its unknown sounds, rather than drown herself in the sea of unconsciousness.
For a while, she was successful. Her fear prevented her from even feeling tired. But the night dragged on, and pulled her with it, so that, at one point, she was no longer certain whether she was sleeping or yet awake. Eventually, sleep overcame her, spinning a web across her eyes, trapping them closed.
He turned in circles, gazing at the room in which he stood. The place was made of gold; it was made of liquid fire that both burned and froze at the same time, spinning and spinning around his vision, twisting his senses, changing his emotions.
From nowhere, from everywhere, a voice called out, "I will place you high on my counsel."
Visions flooded through him. He tried to push them away, but could not. It was how it was meant to be; it was that simple. Fire sent chills through him.
"You will have everything."
"Why?" he asked, and his voice seemed small, empty in the large chamber. He felt so alone, so completely alone.
"We have need of you."
And he awoke.
They continued on almost as soon as they woke. Loften, blinking sleepily, walked beside Marlene, behind Phaia, who was positioned behind Zerik. Picking their way over rubble, through twisted alleys and parts of houses, they moved ever closer to their destination, to their destiny.
To break the monotony, Loften whistled a tune his mother taught him, a lullaby from when he was a young child. Though he'd long ago forgotten the words, the sound was still soothing to him, the way it flowed. He could hear the exact way the tune was meant to sound, haunting; it somehow reminded him of the autumn, the trees near the mountains dropping their leaves, the strange, damp, earthy smell of the approach of winter. The problem was, he could not decide where that memory came from. Loften had lived his entire life in Junon, save an occasional trip to Costa del Sol.
That memory was only one of a disturbing number; they came to him like dreams, only far more real than a dream could ever be. A smell would send him reeling into a place far from his home, where the trees grew tall and people spoke in strange, lilting tones of things he could not recall knowing. The ocean, something he'd grown up knowing, smelling, breathing, was a mystery to these people whose source of water was a river, bluer and clearer than anything he'd ever seen, flowing down from the mountain, cold as ice, sweet as spring.
"How much longer, do you think?" Marlene asked in a hushed tone. She'd quickened her pace, and her breath was short, rapid. Her cheeks were flushed, likely due to the cold, and he could just barely see her breath painted upon the air.
"I don't know. I've never been to Midgar before. I mean, before it happened. I was pretty young then. You would know better than I."
"Yes, I suppose," she told him, her head down. She said softly, "But, I was also very young when I lived here. I don't remember much about it." Shaking her head as though to rid herself of something, Marlene tilted her head upward. The wind pushed her hair behind her, twisting it into knots. That morning, Marlene had painstakingly brushed her hands through her hair, clearing it of tangles, only to realize that all her efforts would soon be for naught. With a ragged sigh, the girl turned her attention back to the others ahead of them, where Phaia had stopped. She'd turned and looked at the two, her strange eyes seeming to go straight through Loften, piercingly; he knew the girl must be able to see everything he had ever done, and everything he ever would do.
Beside him, Marlene had also fallen silent, and stood stationary, paralyzed to the spot. For a long, endless moment the three watched each other, none saying a word, none moving. The wind flew past them in a furious gust, tangling hair and chilling ears, hands, but they paid it no attention.
Turning, Zerik called back at them, "Hurry. We're almost there," and the spell was broken.
They moved again, toward the center of the city.
The four never reached the center of Midgar.
Instead, when they were less than halfway there, Zerik stopped suddenly. A wild look on his face, his hair snarled, his eyes wide, he proclaimed, "This is as far as we go. No further."
Phaia watched him carefully. She watched him more just as carefully as she watched the others, weighing his actions and reactions, watching how he stayed aloof, just slightly away from Marlene and Loften. Unlike the other two, she could not instantly know how he felt.
It was easy to know Marlene's emotions; she was so open, even if she did not try to be. The girl, slightly younger than Phaia, was filled with turmoil, and a strange, profound exhilaration. Marlene wanted freedom, and she wanted to be protected, to be safe in her home, curled on her father's lap, away from the darkness that was their world. She was confused, because she did not know what was happening, or why it was happening to her, but Marlene also felt free, like she never had before, and these feelings came to Phaia clear, sharp, clean. Never before had she been able to feel someone else's emotions so perfectly.
Phaia was born able to feel other people's emotions, what her mother called extreme empathy. She had not asked for it, and at times it drove her nearly mad, the jumbles of feelings that mingled with her own. When she was younger, she had been unable to decide which emotions were her own, and which belonged to others. The death of her parents had not helped matters. She blamed herself for their deaths, and always would. Even though she'd only been seven then, she knew it was she who had caused them to do what they had done. Her mother, who had always been a delicate flower, sensitive to everything, though not empathic as Phaia was. The woman simply had not been able to cope with her daughter, whose moods would change so dramatically, so quickly; one moment she would be happy, the next moment terrified, angry, hungry, filled with sorrow. There were times when Phaia had woken in the night screaming, shouting of things she had no right knowing, and couldn't have possibly comprehended. Then, one day, her mother had no longer been able to take it. She'd packed her belongings and crept through the house, leaving the small Gongaga Village at night, during the worst storm they'd seen in ages.
That night, Phaia had woken screaming, as always, but that time it was because she knew her mother had gone. Shrieking, the seven-year-old had run into her father's room, woken him, and watched in futile as he, too, ran out into the night, intent upon finding his wayward wife. All that night, Phaia had sat in the empty house, swaddled in blankets, rocking back and forth and letting tears stream down her face, waiting for her parents to return. All that night, her emotions were her own, because she would not allow any others in, because she needed her fear, her pain, to keep her alive.
Her parents had never come home.
A few days later, their bodies had been found, somewhere near the Gold Saucer, ripped to shreds by some unknown beast. They'd been together, though. And Phaia knew that her father had found her mother, and that they'd continued on to the Gold Saucer, not wanting to keep the daughter who could not stop herself from feeling other people's pain.
Phaia went to live with her grandmother in a tiny village that had suddenly sprung up near the mountains, a town they'd named Jeumant. Eventually, Phaia had learned to block out emotions that were not her own, and when her grandmother had died, two days after Phaia turned sixteen, she'd been able to take care of herself.
Loften's emotions were not quite as easy to understand. They were jumbled about, twisted, distorted, so she guessed that most of what he felt was confusion. He'd come to Midgar because of the dreams, because of the girl, Jessie, who called him there. Marlene, too, had those dreams, along with images of fire and blood. Those two had something to discover in Midgar, something about their pasts.
She had no such dreams. Instead, she'd suddenly known that she had to go to the Midgar Ruins. Although she wasn't certain how she'd suddenly been there, standing before Zerik, Marlene, and Loften, she knew that it was right. She knew not to question how it had occurred.
The one who puzzled her was Zerik. She could find no emotions from him, at all; it was as though a deep emptiness, a long, dark, void had settled itself into him, blocking everything out, closing everything in, keeping his feelings silent. It bothered Phaia that she could not see into him. It bothered her that she did not know his purpose with them.
It made her afraid.
Sitting, Marlene gazed at Zerik. He stood with his back to them, his arms akimbo, brushing his hair back with his long fingers. They'd stopped, as he'd instructed, and were waiting for whatever it was that had called them there. Zerik had told them it would come.
The girl Phaia was some distance from her, seated upon a rock with her knees drawn to her chin, also watching Zerik. Loften, seeming distracted, sat by Marlene, humming a tune.
Father will be so angry with me, she thought, taking deep breaths of cool air. He will be angry, and worried as well. What did he do when he woke and found my note? I told him I'd be back soon, as soon as I could be. But I don't know anymore.
If she closed her eyes, she could almost see him there, in Kalm, as he would have reacted when he found her missing. He would shout and, in a fury, ride off toward Midgar to follow her. Marlene had known what he would do before she left, yet she'd gone anyway. And she no longer knew why she'd felt compelled to do so.
"Do you know what will happen after we meet this--whatever it is?" she questioned suddenly, standing and moving toward him.
He turned quickly, as though she'd startled him, his eyes wide rivers of blue. "I think--" Zerik began, then cut off.
Marlene turned in the direction he was suddenly gazing.
A young woman stood in front of them, pale, a sorrowful look upon her face. "I am Jessie," she told them, but Marlene already knew that. Marlene recognized her from the dream. "I'm Jessie, and I'm sorry."
The girl named Marlene asked, her voice low, quiet, as though she already knew the answer, asked "What are you sorry for?"
Bowing her head, the woman moved toward Marlene, and sat near her, looking at her curiously. "I knew you once," Jessie said, a strange, almost disbelieving look upon her face. She raised one hand toward Marlene, who flinched backwards, then let her hand simply stay there, in mid air, afraid to move it, afraid to touch. Zerik watched as she slowly brought her hand back toward her, curling her fingers, letting them fall gently upon her own cheek. There was such infinite care in the way the woman moved, such amazement, wonder, that Zerik realized the others were watching her, too.
That wasn't why Zerik watched her.
He watched her because, unexpectedly, he was frightened of her. At first, he hadn't been certain what he was seeing, because Jessie had appeared so suddenly, and she had seemed just merely an illusion, his eyes playing a trick upon him. But then she'd spoken, and Zerik had realized what was wrong.
He could not simply see Jessie. He could also see through her.
"You were so small then, so small," Jessie told Marlene, her voice dropping.
Slowly backing away, Marlene demanded, "Who--who, what are you?"
The girl who, to Zerik, was translucent, shook her head slowly, gazing away from the others. "How is your father? Is he doing well?"
"My father is fine," Marlene answered immediately. "You are going to tell me now what's happening, all right?"
With a sigh that seemed too real for someone who Zerik was convinced was merely an illusion, Jessie stood, wrapped her see-through arms around herself, and looked upward, then whirled suddenly around, dividing a determined look between the four of them. "All right. I did not mean to summon you here. They told me I had to. It wasn't my choice, please understand this. I did not mean to, to pull you into this. They wouldn't tell me why the four of you were chosen, or why the other girl was, the one who--died. It's all a part of a plan. The Lifestream--" Jessie broke off, shaking her head violently. It was though a war were being waged within her, and she appeared to be losing.
Phaia took a deep breath and stepped toward Jessie, saying, "Calm yourself. Finish telling us what needs to be said."
Nodding quickly, Jessie continued speaking, her voice abruptly emotionless. "There were people in Midgar when the town was destroyed. Many of these people were able to escape, but most of them perished here, trying to flee. I . . . I was k-killed before then, the day you left your home in Midgar, Marlene. You went to stay with, with the mother of the girl who saved you. Later, you left Midgar all together. But you should know this already. I don't know why I never made it into the Lifestream. Wedge did, but Biggs and I, we were left here." A strangled look crossed Jessie's face, and she fell suddenly to her knees, one hand pressed into the tainted soil of Midgar, the other covering her face. Jessie made a sound, a scream, a cry; Zerik could not decide what exactly it was. Whatever the sound was, it shattered something within him, pulling at him, until it was difficult to breathe. He wanted to scream for the girl to shout, but was paralyzed, unable to move, to speak, to make even the slightest of noises.
Gently, Phaia knelt near Jessie, placed one hand near the young woman's shoulder, but did not dare to touch her. Perhaps Phaia knew, as Zerik did, that it would be impossible to touch Jessie, because she was not truly there.
Ghost was not a word that would accurately describe what Jessie was. Neither was spirit, or phantom, or apparition; she was not anything Zerik could put into words, and that, as much as anything else, frightened him.
Without standing, Jessie went on, her words barely audible. "We were left here, in Midgar. Others, too, who have died in Midgar, never make it to the Lifestream. I don't know why." Her words came in short, gasped breaths, and she paused between everything she spoke. "But--that day, when so many people died, we who were already dead flooded with the anger of the dying, the pain, the sadness, and-and, I don't know. But how can we be dead, if we still have emotions, still think? We are invisible to the world. There are so many here now. And, The Four, they have need of you, to help us reach the Lifestream. That was why you were brought here. It has nothing to do with your parents, Marlene, or your father, Loften."
For a moment, no one said anything. Silence fell about them; even the wind stopped blowing. No sound could be heard, not even the sound of breathing, because all four had stopped, bewildered, and Jessie's breathing was not audible.
Marlene gave Jessie, who had stood, a curious look, then broke the silence. "You said you are invisible to the world--"
Zerik looked around, suddenly realizing they were no longer where they had been.
"Do you see now, why I am sorry? Until the task is completed, you cannot leave. I'm so sorry, so very sorry."
Instead of being surrounded by rubble, they were surrounded by metal structures. Zerik could hear the false laughter of children echoing in his ears, reverberating through him. When he turned back to Jessie, he realized that he could no longer see through her.
"What in the hell did you do?"
Marlene's face turned pale as she, too, realized something was wrong. Her voice on the edge of panic, she asked, "What happened? Where are we?"
Moving to her side, Loften looked at their surroundings.
Phaia, eyes wide, mouth slightly open, had also turned to gaze at the strange occurrence. She turned back to Jessie, a question formed upon her lips. "What are we supposed to do?"
But Jessie was gone.
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