Blood and Lilacs Chapter 4

Freedom Falling

By Danica Li

Balamb; seaside city, home to fish chips, shrimp boats, annoyingly persistent street vendors, and of course, Balamb Garden.

 A lone figure leaned against the smooth stone balcony.  The rosy light of first dawn played soft pastel colors over the metallic shell of Garden, and over the side of her pale, drawn face.

 Although Balamb sunrises merit some recognition too.

 The coming dawn pressed against her senses.  Even with her eyes closed, she could feel it coming.  It was a sort of sixth sense cultivated by clandestine missions.  Being a SeeD trained one to notice such insignificant details.

 A sudden gust of wind blew her hair back, streaming from her face.  She closed her eyes, and leaned forward, mentally trying to clear the cobwebs in her head.  She felt tired, and a little sad.

 She also felt at peace with the world, something that had eluded her since Time Compression and Ultimecia.

 Since Squall and Rinoa, more specifically.  Seeing them together, day after day, was like a dull toothache, painful and persistent.

 She liked to think of herself as an independent woman; relying on no one but herself.  But people, particularly men, took it the wrong way whenever she politely refused an invitation out to coffee or an offer to go dancing.  She was labeled by the various egos she unintentionally insulted as cold, prudish, an ice queen. 

 Of course theTrepies, those poor, misguided students who had nothing to do but to follow some poor instructor around all day, didn’t help at all.  It annoyed the hell out of her, but what could she do about it?  Everything just seemed so trivial after Ultimecia.

 Sometimes the solitude of her life bothered her.  Now was one of those times.

 The cool breeze prickled along her bare arms.  Again, she cursed her decision to come out here wearing nothing but a sleeping gown, a strappy white affair that left her arms completely exposed. 

 In her defense, she hadn’t been thinking.  After experiencing some late night insomnia, she had gotten up and wandered around, with that edge of tiredness still clouding her mind.  Her feet, seemingly having a mind of their own, had carried her to this balcony just outside the Training Center. 

 She didn’t know why she had come here; this place had its share of bad memories.  Bad memories that she liked to pretend didn’t exist, that had never happened in the first place.

 She watched in melancholy as the sun rose above the calm waters of the ocean, its reflection playing a myriad of pink, purple, and orange over the endless waves.   Facing a new day with not even a wink of sleep, and Quistis was already counting the seconds until her next caffeine fix.

 Overworking yourself again, Instructor?  Trying to make up for the fact that you didn’t really think you deserved it when Cid gave you back your license?

 Heaviness dragged at eyelids, and she forced back a yawn, checking her watch.  She had exactly one hour to take a shower, grab breakfast, and get that coffee that she had been thinking about.  Hell, if she was lucky, she might even be able to slip in some fifteen minutes of rest.

 One more look at the rising sun, and she turned to go, eyes only half open.

 There was a movement off to her right, a barely-there rustle, and then numb warmth spread across her stomach.

 The warmth that was followed, inevitably, by fiery agony, then by nothing at all.  And it was the last that Quistis feared the most.

 Ingrained training kicked in, and she threw herself to one side, tucking her body into a textbook shoulder roll, and came up on one knee, as a creeping red stained the torn front of her gown.  Eyes registering what her mind was too tired to comprehend--the gleaming golden eyes, the slightly fetid smell; as the blue dragon attacked again, moving silently, swiftly, lethal claws extended and slashing for her throat.

 With the sweet rush of danger in her veins, she collapsed to the floor and rolled aside again, trying to lure the dragon away from the entrance it was blocking.  She reached for Save the Queen on the way, a natural reflex--and came up with nothing but a handful of torn white silk. Cursing, she gripped the back of the creaking rails.  Her mind analyzed the situation coldly.

 Weapon, magic, Gfs absent.  Entrances blocked off.  Sleep deprived.  A recipe for disaster.

 It came at her again with a snarl of rage, leathery blue wings beating at the air.  This time, with the fine edge of adrenaline quickly wearing off (this is what you get for not sleeping), Quistis wasn’t fast enough to get away, and as she flung up her arms to protect herself, the dragon slammed into her, clawing viciously.  Her blood sprayed in a fine red arc, and a cry of pain forced its way out of her gritted teeth.

 What the hell is a Blue Dragon doing in the Training Center?

 She was knocked up against the precarious railing, and the blue dragon tore bloody furrows into unprotected arms.  Uncoiling tired muscles, she lashed out with her feet, only remembering too late that she was wearing bunny slippers.  The shock of impact against a leathery hide vibrated all the way up her legs, and her nerves went dead.  Cursing, she snapped the heel of her hand into the snarling snout right in front of her, and the dragon’s head cracked backwards with a hollow thunk. 

 protect your vital areas don’t let it get at your throat

 Her arms were slick with blood; she could feel herself tiring, and her breath came in harsh pants.

 Then she missed a block, her arm slipping sideways, exposing her throat, and she thought she saw a flash of triumph in the feral multi-layered dragon eyes before it—

 --Backed away?

 Quistis could feel her meager strength sapping out of her, draining away like the blood that flowed from the burning cuts.  With a groan she collapsed onto her hands and knees, and watched with blurring eyes as a crimson pool formed on the floor.

 That can’t be...all mine...

 Her head swam, and she felt claws digging into her shoulders, wings beating against the air as the dragon fought to lift her dead weight.  Rivers of warmth ran down from where pain ripped into skin.

 Burning--in her head, her arms, her stomach.  The rush was gone, replaced completely with the agony of wildfire. 

 Dimly, the tearing in her shoulders came to her, the growls of the blue dragon as it fought its battle with gravity.

 Why doesn’t it just gut me and be done with it?

 And then a snarl of victory, as it lifted its prey unsteadily. 

 She was so tired, and it was so easy to make excuses, to give up...

 Her eyes were closed, and she could feel the bright warmth of the sunrise even as she felt herself being dragged over the balcony.  The red orange lights lingered on the inside of her eyelids.  She knew what was below: the razor-edge spinning spokes of Garden that would no doubt chop her into bite-sized bits. 

 Is this how Quistis Trepe goes out?  With out a fight, and to a freaking blue dragon?

 It seemed so sardonic to her—the same institution that had given her a life, a purpose, would now, ultimately, be her death.  If she didn’t know better, she would’ve thought that the Blue Dragon had suddenly grown a sense of irony out of nowhere.

 They hovered there for what felt like an eternity, and it seemed like the dragon wanted to gloat, from what she could tell by its triumphant howls.  But Quistis felt the claws, slippery from her blood, losing its grip on her distantly aching shoulders.  And she felt the moment when one slipped, and then the other.

 Everything is so distant.  It’s like this isn’t even happening to me.

 It was a strange sense of freedom, this falling.  The wind buffeted her long hair all around her, long gold strands clotted together, and she felt the warmth of the new day press against her closed eyelids.

 Her stomach dropped from underneath her, but she didn’t utter a sound.

 I guess I always thought I would die in combat, and everyone would remember me as a hero and there would be a memorial and maybe even some schools named after me...

 She was waiting for the end, waiting for death.

 It never came.

 With a thud, she landed (on what?), her breath exploding out of her.  But there was no new pain, no sensation of being ripped into many little pieces.  Just a sense of...floating?

 Cautiously, she opened her eyes--and pushed herself backward with a muffled, “Hyne!”  Spinning just inches below her were the spokes of Garden, the dangerous machinery that kept Garden afloat.  And below that lapped foamy waves, with the Balamb shore nearby.   

 She staggered up on the semi-solid air, her feet sinking down into the magic, swaying haphazardly. 

 Where’s the dragon?

 She looked up at innocent blue skies clear of flying menaces.  Pressing a hand towards her stomach, she ripped off a piece of her nightgown and used it to staunch the blood flow.  The cuts on her arm were shallow, and the gashes on her stomach--well, they weren’t shallow, but at least they weren’t life threatening.  In fact, the burning was beginning to go away.

 Idiot!  You’re showing all the signs of going into shock! 

 Her mind was disoriented and she could feel the beginnings of numbness, but she knew that it wasn’t herself that had cast the float spell. 

 A float spell...?

 Hardly anyone was up at this time in the morning.

 From her vantage point, she could see the Garden entrance, just off to her left.  She looked up at the shining gray wall of Garden, and from all the different balconies, there was one that caught her eye.

 It wasn’t the one she had fallen from.

 A figure stood there, highlighted with the light of the coming dawn, glowing a fuzzy yellow.  For a moment, it was motionless, then with a flash of black cloak and ebony hair, it was gone.

 She thought she heard echoes of laughter floating towards her, gentle tinkles of amusement as lovely as the sound of wind chimes.

 Did I just see...? 


 Nothing makes sense anymore.

 Dimly she wondered how long the float spell would hold.

 Then she wondered nothing at all as her eyes rolled up inside her head, and blackness claimed her.

Chapter 5

Danica Li's Fanfiction