The Dying of the Light Chapter 4

Broken Glass

By Luna Manar

"Too much done to undo
No one I can run to
I need one more chance
To live my life again…"


{You…you are not like us… What are you?}

Leviathan hissed threateningly, snorted boiling steam. His neck was poised and ready to strike, his head level with Griever’s stare. The two Guardians, the only immortal creatures left standing on the barren piece of floating land, circled each other slowly, each waiting for the other to make a move.

{Speak, you damned creature! Has this entire battle been child’s play for you? You walk into the fangs of the Guardians instead of attacking those we protect. What power do you take from us?} The only answer Leviathan received was a "test" strike from one of Griever’s hands. The Water Guardian pulled his head out of Griever’s long reach, continuing to circle and shriek. {What are you made of? Why do you obey Ultimecia’s foul command? Have you no will of your own?}

Griever made another lunge, this time with more purpose behind the attack. Leviathan evaded the strike and backed away a little, his long body coiling up, his head lowered until it almost touched the ground. He screeched and flared his spiny wings, shaking them as a pit viper would rattle its tail, sending showers of icy water outward upon his enemy. Griever shook off the wetness with a brief shiver, and continued to advance slowly. The lion-like beast seemed hesitant to attack Leviathan, as though suspecting some sort of cunning ploy.

In reality, Leviathan was buying time, trying to think of a way to defeat this monster who seemed to have no weakness. The Water Guardian could see no soul in Griever’s eyes, only hatred, fury, and a frightening, hollow intelligence that betrayed no notion of mercy. {Perhaps that is why,} Leviathan thought, {we cannot compete with you. This is a realm of spirits, and you have no spirit to speak of. Just a body, living, but empty! Only by destroying Ultimecia do we destroy you. And where is she? Sitting on a throne, laughing, I suppose? You horrible beast, are you nothing but a puppet of her will?}

There was no being here that could equal Griever’s strength. Leviathan could fight him, but would it be a useless attempt? He feared so. Time seemed hung up on a hope that victory could yet be had against doom. The image was frozen, Guardian vs. Guardian standing off in the false light of an endless sky, the leader of freedom’s efforts dead on the drifting floor, his love powerless to help him, his friends incapacitated in the dirt. The universe waited for some decision to be made, some movement, some spoken word. There was only silence. And then a roar.

Griever jumped, wings opening with the abruptness of a steel trap. He bolted past Leviathan, who twisted around and cried out in rage as the black-violet monster vaulted over him—not to attack Leviathan, but to attack the Guardian’s allies. His human allies.

Leviathan was not slow, despite his size. With the grace of any other serpent, he whisked himself from one place to the next, rising up to hold himself between Griever and his targets: the unconscious Zell and Irvine. Leviathan knew what Griever planned to do, and knew that in her weakened state, Rinoa could not hope to protect herself or anyone else against it. He also knew that he could not allow Griever to succeed in his plans. Positioning himself as a living barricade between the humans and the monster, the Water Guardian shrieked again, stretching his liquid body and raising his head higher until he towered over Griever, who watched with unnerving calm. Leviathan flared his wings as far out as they would go, his scales glistening and sparkling every hue of blue, green and indigo. He cried a warbling challenge to the unstoppable beast he faced. {You believe you are invincible? Then fight! Fight me, Griever, and spare none of your cursed power!}

Rinoa felt rather than saw the skies around her darken. In the remaining light, the shadows of two Guardian Forces clashed. The Shadows loomed over her, twisting and battling until she had no more heart to watch. She cried out and turned away as Griever landed his first successful blow on the gemlike beauty of Leviathan’s hide. Rinoa did not want to see her Guardian bleed. She was certain the sight would make her sick. Red was not a color that belonged to gentle Leviathan.

But she heard the screams of her Guardian, and felt it in her heart when his body jerked in pain. Her shoulders jerked, as well, but it was the pain of tears, not claws, that tortured her. I’m sorry, Leviathan, she cried in her mind. If I could do something…

{It is not your place to defend me,} came the answer, the mental voice ginger and sympathetic. {It is mine to protect you. And that is what I will do, even if it costs me defeat. Do not weep for me, Rinoa. I only do that which I am meant to do. For that, I wish no pity.}

Rinoa brushed away a tear, one of few, for she had little left with which to cry. Then at least let me hope.

{That, you must do, for without it, defeat is inevitable.}

Thank you.

{Always, Rinoa. Always.}

Unseen, the shadows raged on.

Leviathan fought as he never had, twisting his body to avoid Griever’s claws, taking every opportunity to wrap his coils around his enemy’s throat, limbs and body. He did not aim to win this battle; only to force Griever into releasing all the energy gleaned in the previous fights with the other Guardians. If Griever used whatever weapon he had stored up to defeat Leviathan, then he could not use it on Rinoa’s shield. Griever had defeated all of the other Guardians by wearing them down, bit by bit, until they had no strength left in their bodies to fight. But Leviathan had one unique quality about him; his elemental form could not be absorbed or destroyed by Griever’s power. Where fire could have been stamped out, water could slip away; where wind could simply be inhaled, water could not be breathed; where stone could be broken, water could reform. Leviathan’s wounds healed as swiftly as they were inflicted, closing up like parted liquid. There was no energy for Griever to absorb, because water relied solely on the energy of the universe for its power. The Water Guardian could forsake his serpentine body and take any shape he wished, and Griever could not injure him or tire him. And so Leviathan dueled.

Only when Leviathan was in a solid form could he harm Griever. Fortunately, he could switch from one form to another in an instant, and not all of him had to be solid or liquid at once.

Griever swung at Leviathan’s head, but his claws passed through it with only a huge splash as a reward. A second later, a heavy and very solid tail crashed against his side in retribution, and sent him reeling to the ground, which was slowly breaking up beneath the constant battling of the giants.

One would not have thought Leviathan could fight so viciously, nor move so quickly. His body whipped one way, then twisted and streaked in another direction, stopped, turned around for a snake-like strike, once, twice—then he was water beneath Griever’s claws. Twice he ducked underneath Griever, entwined his body with the creature’s feet, and solidified for long enough to wrench his enemy sideways and send him to the ground.

He learned early on that magical assaults were useless; whatever form of water he threw at Griever, the monster would either deflect the rush or part it effortlessly before it could touch him. Leviathan’s only course of attack was a physical power-struggle and contest of speed and cunning. Griever was almost as fast as he was, and could move with all the agility of a human martial arts specialist—something Leviathan had never seen before in a creature of Griever’s size and shape. Except, perhaps, one Guardian who was not present…

In fact, the beast moved in a very humanlike way, although with a distinctly feline aspect. Griever used every part of his body as a weapon, from his claws and teeth to his bladed wings, tail and thorny crown of blood red spines, and he wielded each with the ease and skill of a master: his tail he swung like a huge bladed mace, while his powerful wings served as twin swords and shields. He used no magic. His hands and feet were his deadliest weapons. He fought like a trained soldier.

Like a SeeD, Leviathan realized in astonishment as he was caught unexpectedly in the face by one of the sharp feathers of Griever’s right wing. Screaming in rage, the serpent knocked Griever to the ground again with his heavy tail, but Griever showed indications of his more feline characteristics, flipping over in midair before he had a chance to hit the ground, and landing squarely in a catlike crouch. He was in the air again before Leviathan could catch him off guard.

Squall had indeed invented the ultimate Guardian, adaptable, quick to learn, impossible to tire, with the physical abilities of both animal and human. If only he were on the same side as the rest of the Guardian Forces! Leviathan was pushing himself to his limit simply to keep up with Griever’s speed. The Guardians kept in close quarters, matching each other strike for strike, reflex for lightning reflex.

Leviathan got in two lucky strikes, stabbing Griever deep in the shoulder with his sharp beak, then dipping his head and rearing up, ramming his backward-facing horns upward into the lion-beast’s chin, spraying a shower of hot blood and hurling his enemy head-over-heels to the edge of the deteriorating ground. Before Griever could even hit the ground, Leviathan was there, and followed up with another thunderous blow from his tail, knocking Griever even closer to the edge. Griever was about to jump to his feet again, but Leviathan had already encircled his left hind leg. The serpent gave a twist and kept Griever from getting up, stabbed the clawed hand that reached up to grab his head, then began to curl his body, shifting from solid to liquid again and in the process forming a wave that crashed into Griever, wetting the ground beneath the enemy Guardian and causing him to begin to slip over the edge.

Griever’s claws grappled for purchase on wet ground that came up muddied and slippery in his paws. The living wave washed over him, reshaping itself to culminate under his wings and shove him, finally, off the edge and into the air amidst a cold spray of hissing water that reformed into a serpent for just long enough to swing a powerful tail at him. Griever reached for the tail, but missed. Leviathan dove below him just before he righted himself in midair. Griever whirled and pumped his powerful wings once, twice, carrying him up—

His wings swept downward, and Leviathan’s tail came at him in just that instant, snapping like a flat-ended whip against the joints that connected wing and shoulder. There was a deafening crack, like the snapping of a tree branch, and a scream of rage followed by a hiss of triumph. Griever’s left wing twisted back unnaturally, and the astonished Guardian began to fall, his limb broken at the hinge. Careening out of control, he roared furiously as he tumbled, flailing, into the clouds below.

Leviathan watched as Griever fell, waited until he could no longer see the accursed Guardian’s plummeting shape. Longer still, he waited, until he was certain that the beast was gone—for how long, he could not be sure.

Reverting into a semi-liquid form, retaining the serpentine shape without any texture to his watery flesh, Leviathan returned to the crumbling landscape, slithering quickly toward Rinoa.

Rinoa seemed more exhausted than Leviathan, still breathing heavily from the adrenaline of awaiting the fight’s outcome. She stared up as her Guardian became solid again, beaming at him in disbelief. Nearby, Zell and Irvine were beginning to recover, still dazed, but aware enough to have realized what had been happening. They, too, gazed upon the Water Guardian in disbelief.

"Way to go, man," Zell blurted in shocked tonelessness. "You kicked his ass. I dunno how, but you did it."

Leviathan glanced at the bewildered SeeD. {There is no way to know how long it will take Griever to recover. Judging from his resilience, I would guess only a few minutes. I have bought a little time to think. That is all. Much as I wish it were true, Zell, I doubt that I truly "kicked his ass."}

"So, big guy, what do we do? The other GFs are history."

Leviathan sighed a fine mist, looking fatigued and sullen. (I wish I had an answer…)

An answer…I wish I had one. All out of options. No more Guardian Forces left to fight this demon beast. Have to get back. Have to find a way. This wasn’t death. This was limbo. Can I take control again? I can’t remember what it’s like… How to breathe? How to see? What am I doing here? I can’t move…my body. It was dead. That was it, of course, the key to all this darkness. But I’m still here. If they can repair the damage…maybe I can come back. That was all the body was, after all. A machine that no longer functioned. So it’s just a question of fixing it. I could…come back. But there was no connection with the physical world, except through a corpse. No way to send a sign to them, so they’d know…

What if I can get it to work, for just a few seconds? That’s all I’d need. Concentrate hard enough. Give it just enough life to awaken. Just a mechanism, like anything else. I think I’m starting to understand. Get the machine to "boot," give it power for just long enough to send a single message, before it shut down again.

Before it could die a second time…

Leviathan’s head snapped up. He twisted his long body around to scan the barren area. The clouds were darkening around them. A distant roar had echoed in the distance. Griever. {He is returning.}

Zell dared to touch the serpentine Guardian, knocking on the side of Leviathan’s translucent scales to get his attention. "There’s gotta be somethin’ that can kill this thing, right? Nothing’s totally invincible." His hand came away dripping with cold water. Blinking a couple times at his wet fingers, Zell shook away the moisture as he heard Irvine cock his gun.

"If there’s anything that comes close, Griever is," Rinoa supplied tonelessly. "He’s absorbing all the GFs’ energy. Leviathan only won that skirmish because he didn’t use much magic. I think the only way to hurt him would be through physical injury."

{Even then, he heals himself instantly. It would have to be a terribly powerful force, to have any hope of incapacitating him. Also, Griever still has all of the raw energy he absorbed from the other Guardians. He could use it at any time, and if he chose to, he could easily destroy this floating platform, and everything on it. I tried to get him to expend the magic on me. He never did.} Forlornly, Leviathan began a slow pattern with his body, encircling Rinoa and the others. His body elongated as he moved, stretching until he’d coiled himself, layer upon layer in a circle. It created a wall of protection around them, and he spread his spiny wings over the top of the enclosure, effectively sealing them in.

Irvine peered up the steep walls of blue scales, which were quickly turning transparent. In a few moments, they might as well have been surrounded by a fortress of bubbly glass. "What’s all this for?"

{I used much of my strength fighting...I am still weakening. I have retained this form for too long…I will exhaust myself, soon. But I will stay as long as I can. If Griever returns and tries to attack me, he must have Rinoa’s wall to contend with.} The Guardian cast the young sorceress a serious stare. {I ask of you a most unusual favor, Rinoa. When Griever returns, you must erect your shield. You must protect me. He cannot be allowed to reach me. The only chance he has of breaking your shield is to use his stores of magic to overwhelm you—I saw he did so once before.}

Rinoa bowed her head. She trembled, remembering Quistis’ screams.

{If he uses that power again, as much as he’s built up, I will be your only defense against him. This wall may protect you from a single such attack, but no more. Once he has used his weapon, I will be…defunct.}

Zell folded his arms. "You mean vaporized." He hadn’t meant any joke.

{Essentially.} Leviathan nodded his long head. {Once I am gone, you will have only Rinoa left to protect you. I can’t even promise you I can save you. But if the time comes, I will try.}

The roar sounded again. This time, it was much closer.

Rinoa looked up, her eyes widening slightly in fear. She took a deep breath. The air shimmered. The shield was back up.

"What is goin’ on, around here?" Zell turned around and around, staring through the glass water. The skies had turned black. Only the faintest hints of light could be seen peeking through clouds that seemed to be getting closer and closer to the piece of flying land.

Rinoa shook her head. For once she was not looking at Squall. She, like Irvine and Zell, was staring wide-eyed at the darkening world that encircled them.

Lighting flashed close to them, striking bright and blue. Rinoa bit short a startled cry, and ducked closer to the ground. Zell and Irvine backed into each other, ended up holding each other by the shoulders in order to keep from falling. They quickly let go, dusting themselves off, both looking a bit undignified. Irvine took up his gun, and Zell adopted a fighting stance.

Another roar. Rinoa shivered. He’s close—

More accurately, he was back.

Griever shot upward from beneath the ground, passing so close, his razor-edged wings caught the edge and knocked off a large section of floor. As the disembodied pieces fell into oblivion below, Griever turned in the air, slowed, and then propelled himself toward Leviathan’s makeshift fortress with three hefty strokes of his wings.

He slammed into Rinoa’s shield at breakneck speed, bouncing off as if he’d hit a rubber wall.

Rinoa choked on a scream, shaking from the crushing blow. She slammed her eyes shut, concentrating on keeping the barrier up, while at the same time planting her arms against Squall’s chest to keep herself from falling forward on her face.

Her eyes opened suddenly. She nearly forgot to breathe. Beneath her fingers, had she felt…movement?

Only through extreme effort was she able to keep herself focused enough to keep the shield up as Griever crashed into it again. The frustrated beast screamed and clawed at the invisible wall. His roars mingled with the thunder, and his eyes flashed like the lightning around them. It was beginning to rain.

Zell glanced at Irvine. "Is he causing this storm?"

Irvine shook his head and shrugged. "I dunno. Could be."

Rinoa wasn’t paying attention. Her attention was divided almost evenly between keeping her shield up and watching Squall. She placed her hand again his cheek. He was getting colder as the moments passed.

"Rinoa! What’s happening?"

She looked up to see Griever ripping through her shield. Oh no! She must have lost her concentration. Quickly, she tried to strengthen the barrier. But Griever was already halfway through it—

<Not so fast, Top Cat! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size!>

If Leviathan had been capable of smiling, he would have. {Quetzal…} The Water Guardian watched in growing satisfaction as the huge thunder bird plunged, shrieking, from the black clouds. Before Griever had the chance to react, Quetzalcoatlus had plowed into him, knocking him away from the shield, which Rinoa was quick to reconstruct.

Shimmering appreciatively, Leviathan let out a nasal cry of hope. If anyone could outrun or outmaneuver Griever, it was the Master of Lightning. Quetzal might not be able to defeat Griever, but Leviathan knew the electric bird had bought them all valuable time.

Quetzal made no attempt to keep from gloating. <Timing’s everything, ain’t it? Guess that means you’re all wet, ya big water snake!!> He twisted away from a furious Griever’s swiping claws.

{Don’t use your magic on him!} Leviathan warned, ignoring the smart comments. {He’ll only absorb it!}

<Oh, really? Just can’t stay away from the tough crowd, can ya?> Flipping backward, Quetzal avoided yet another of Griever’s swift strikes. In one instant, the huge bird was facing the twisted Guardian head-on. The next, he’d vanished as a bolt of lightning came his way, disappearing into the current, passing through Griever’s left wing, and reappearing behind the beast. <That’s okay. I’m just playin’ with ‘im right now, anyway.>


Quetzal would say no more. Either he was too busy, or did not wish to elaborate.

Zell smartly thought better of watching the contest. "So he’s buyin’ some time. Let’s think, people. Any ideas?"

"Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it." Irvine glanced from the battle outside to Zell, then back again.

Zell’s eyes widened. "Can’t believe I just heard those words come outta your mouth, man."

Rinoa snapped at them both. "Seriously. We need to think of something. Leviathan," She tilted her head back to make an attempt at meeting the Guardian’s eyes, "You said Griever might be defeated if something hit him with enough non-magical power. Is that right?"

{I believe so.} The big serpent bobbed his head in agreement. {It’s been proven he can be injured, physically.}

"Is there anything you know of here that can create the kind of power we’d need to do that?"

Seeming to hesitate, Leviathan stared down at her for a long moment. {I’m afraid not,} he said finally. He didn’t sound overly sure of himself. It was an odd quality to his "voice" that Rinoa didn’t like.

"Are you sure? You sound like that’s not all there is to it."

Leviathan glanced at her again, and again he sighed uncertainly, {I’m…quite sure.}

If Rinoa hadn’t known better, she’d have thought he was keeping something from her.

The air began to buzz with an odd energy that drew everyone’s attention back to the battle outside. Rinoa’s words caught in her throat. Griever had Quetzalcoatlus in his claws, both of the bird’s glowing wings forcibly pinned to his sides. Quetzal was squawking and shrieking in protest, but was trapped. As they watched, Griever began to visibly soak in the Guardian’s powerful elemental strength.

Leviathan bowed his head in sorrow as he saw the bird’s struggles begin to weaken. {Alas, Quetzal, you played too rough, it seems.} In a matter of moments, they would be right back where they started.

Quetzal gave one last screech as Griever threw him roughly to the ground. Strangely, the bird did not vanish. He simply laid there, darkened, prone—and seemingly very much alive.

Leviathan puzzled over this. Was there some sort of limit to how much power Griever could absorb? He had not drained Quetzal completely. Why?

So saturated with power, Griever spread his now-glowing wings over the limp form of his last victim, and turned to face Leviathan’s humble wall. Teeth bared, eyes flashing, the demonic Guardian lifted himself into the air with little more than a light fanning of his wings. The beast closed its eyes, and seemed to go into a light trance.

{This is it,} Leviathan warned, panic threatening to grip his heart. {He’s summoning the power he has taken from us!} 

A little farther…try to remember what it’s like… Something to hold onto. Some memory, or image. What was it like? I can’t remember! What was it like to breathe? What was it like to speak? When did I ever pay attention to things like that?

Sorceress memorial. He brought the memory back, replayed it. He remembered, his heart was pounding. He’d opened his arms and caught her, held her tightly. All the while his heart had been drumming, and…he remembered listening to himself breathe. He remembered what it felt like.

Desperately, he tried to recreate the sensation. Come on! Damn it! Just one breath. One breath would bring him back for long enough. Even if his heart couldn’t utter so much as a murmur. Just for a moment…

…I have to be stronger than this!

Squall did not live within any perception of time he’d ever been able to define to himself. He lived only within Ultimecia’s time-compressed world, where there wasn’t any time. At least, there wasn’t if you could avoid perceiving it. He didn’t think about time now. He pictured the place where he lay, pictured Rinoa kneeling beside him, her hand on his chest, her attention fixed on something that to him, was far in the distance. He concentrated again, forced his lifeless body to breathe inside this timeless existence. A weak, barely perceptible puff of air escaped his numb lips. Not enough. He had to try harder. There would be no waking this body. All he could hope to do was control it, force it to move with his own power…but he doubted he’d have the strength to keep it up for long.

Another breath, this one deeper. He felt a pressure, somehow, as if by forcing his body to take in life-giving air, it was responding by trying to pull him back into itself. He relented to the pull, feeling a familiar self-awareness fall across him like a web of clingy tethers. He tightened the grip of that conscious feeling by forcing yet another breath. With a suddenness he hadn’t expected, the strange snare solidified, and he was entrapped inside his shell of a body. Amidst a momentary feeling of panic, he forgot to make himself breathe, and the network that had seemed so impenetrable a second ago began to break apart at the seams. Regaining his confidence at this short letup, Squall breathed in again. The walls swallowed him once more, and this time he didn’t fear them; this body was dead. Without his power to move it, it could not sustain itself. It was a strange revelation to him. He’d often heard death spoken of as a release. It had never quite occurred to him that one was so literally a prisoner in life.

It was easier to command his breaths, now, though they were still weak, and practically useless. He couldn’t feel anything, but he was aware of his physical being. If he could just concentrate through the murkiness of his consciousness…

Can’t feel anything. Deaf…probably blind, too. Nothing’s working. It was a bizarre experience, like pushing buttons on a broken assembly line. Apparently if he wanted anything to happen, he’d have to work every pulley himself.

He could still see Rinoa, not with his eyes, but with his…spirit? But he didn’t believe in ghosts. Whatever he was, he could "hear" with the same strange, incorporeal sense. At least in that way, he was still separate from his body, and those were two things he didn’t need from it. All he needed to figure out was how to move and speak. That would be difficult enough.

But he had to. He had a knowledge of this world, now, that would help them fight Ultimecia, if he could live one last time… It was possible. It had to be.

If Squall could have squinted with effort, he would have. Instead he felt a sensation he remembered as warmth kindle somewhere inside him, as he struggled to make himself move. The shallow breaths were becoming easier with practice. He was only half-certain he was actually moving at all. He strained further, trying to remember a time he used his hand to gasp something.

The image came clearly. He’d knelt by her bedside, and his heart had felt swollen with pain and fear. Desperately, he’d thought of something to do, some way of reaching her—taken her hand, and held it, feeling how cold it was and willing his own warmth to go to her, that he might somehow bring her out of her cursed sleep. The memory of feeling her hand in his, wrapping his fingers around it in silent agony… ‘You smiled when our eyes met. You were so full of life…’

The recollection itself was almost too much to bear, but he held onto it, relived the pain, the fear, the frustration and anger. He let the emotions fuel him, let them culminate into that one vital strength, that ultimately powerful sensation that could tear down the walls that souls built around themselves.

Just enough. Just a few moments…

The hair rose on the back of Rinoa’s neck. She closed her eyes, blocking out the sight of Griever. She was certain she was about to die. Any moment now, Griever would release another deadly shockwave of pure force and magic, and this time, she doubted anything would be able to stop it. Not her barrier, not Leviathan’s. Only a moment ago, she thought she’d heard Squall’s voice, whispering her name. He was waiting for her. He’d be there to meet her when she died.


She trembled. The voice was so real, it was as though he were there next to her. But so weak and tired-sounding…not surprising, either, after all he’d been through before his death. Rinoa’s eyes brimmed with tears she’d thought had run dry with the rain. Together, they would face torment by Ultimecia’s hand forever. Maybe, if we’re with each other, it won’t be so bad… Who was she kidding? Ultimecia would tear them apart from each other just to enhance their torture.

It was so unfair. Squall would go mad, alone. And she would go numb without him.

Something brushed against her hand. Startled, she snatched it away. Her gaze froze, as did she, when she looked down to see what had touched her.

She stared in frightened bewilderment as Squall’s fingertips shuddered and then went limp, once more resting lifelessly atop his stomach as they had been only minutes ago. As Rinoa watched, his chest rose slightly in a shaking, forced breath.

Squall was alive!

Rinoa forgot about Griever completely. She forgot about Leviathan, Zell and Irvine, and grasped the hand that had tried to reach her. "S…Squall?" She lightly touched his face with her fingertips. He was still cold. She saw no more movement, and the hand she held was heavy and motionless. But she knew what she had seen. "Squall, I’m here. I heard you…" Her tears were now falling freely.

But it looked as though she’d been delusional. Squall didn’t move. Rinoa gripped his hand tightly, refusing to believe what she’d seen had been a hallucination.

His eyelids quivered, and his fingers curled in her hands, as if trying to return the grip. Shaking from excitement, Rinoa obliged him, pressing her hand into his palm so he could grasp it. "Can you hear me?" she whispered, then repeated it louder when she realized how quietly she’d said it. "Squall, can you hear me?"

Squall did not answer. Again his eyelids fluttered, and his meager grip on her hand strengthened slightly for a second.

Rinoa watched him, her excitement dimming. He was obviously alive, but it was strange…she did not see him breathing, and he was still cold, colder than any living being should be. She could feel no pulse in his hand. No color had returned to his drained face.

Finally, after multiple attempts of what appeared to be tremendous effort, Squall’s eyes parted halfway. Rinoa swallowed her heart. He was blind, she was certain; he didn’t focus, stared straight out into a distant nothing. His eyes did not so much as expand or contract in any kind of reaction to the light.

With evident difficulty, he blinked once, and took in another slow, labored breath. Rinoa watched with mixed feelings of helplessness, sadness and amazement. How could anyone live like this? It made her feel ill, watching him struggle.

"Squall," she tried again, gently. "Can you hear me? I’m right here…"

‘I’m right here.’ Squall strained to listen to her words through the strange sense he possessed that wasn’t quite "hearing."

He wished he could hold her, wished he could cry with her, wished most of all he could actually feel the warmth of her hand in his. He wanted nothing less than to answer her. The wish, the need burned inside of him, agonizingly pure, though he could feel nothing. His numbness hurt that much more. I’m here, too! he cried without sound.

He’d learned something from controlling this dead thing—no matter what was done do "fix" it, this body would never truly live again. It lacked a very vital ingredient: life. This body was not something he could simply reinhabit, nor would it start working again once it was repaired. It needed life to function, life to keep him here, contained in this physical world. Life had left him when he had died. It was something that no one could ever give back to him, and his still heart ached in sorrow for this fact.

Even if he managed to speak to Rinoa, it would not be long before his body became completely incapable of containing him. After that, he would lose her, for good. There was no escaping this reality. And what would he do without her? Where would he go in this damnable, lonely blackness called death?

Who’s gonna keep her safe? She can’t fight alone. Damn it! He wished he had the release of tears. He was sure that if he could, he would have let them fall. But the longer he waited, the deeper his body sank into the mires of death. Let me answer her. Let me wake up, he pleaded to fate, to life. Like a maddened beast, he writhed and struggled for strength in his pit. No more separation.

Let me out of this cage!

Squall’s eyes managed to open again, barely, blindly, but enough for Rinoa’s resolve strengthened, along with her hope. She watched in awed, bewildered silence as he blinked once, took a solid breath—the first she had seen so far—and fought to speak with that breath.

His voice sounded watery and decayed, thick and toneless as if his tongue was numb. "Where are you? …Can’t see."

"I’m here," she whispered right away, rubbing his icy hand to try and warm it. "I’m right beside you."

"Turn…my eyes," he croaked on the last of his single breath. He forced another. "I wanna face you."

Haltingly, Rinoa did as he asked. With the greatest care, she lifted his shoulders up and cradled his head in her arms. She turned his head toward her, casting an eerily lightless stare on her face. She fought against a knot in her throat. "There. Is that…better?" She licked her dry lips, feeling uncontrollable shivers course through her. She saw no life in that dead gaze. If he had not spoken to her a moment ago, she wouldn’t have believed…

His eyes closed again, mercifully breaking that soulless stare. "I wish I could tell." Squall shuddered with the release of another breath, and he lay still again for a few more long moments.

Rinoa slowly began to get an awful, skin-crawling sensation, like she actually was holding onto a corpse, cradling it like a dead child. She felt no heartbeat, no warmth, and it looked like Squall only breathed when he was about to speak. Still, unless she was imagining it all (at this point, it wouldn’t have surprised her if she was), he was clearly holding on somehow. How, she couldn’t begin to imagine. Tentatively, she tried a healing spell, one of the strongest she knew. Nothing. No light, no change. It was like casting magic on a rock.

When his eyelids parted again, the blank expression assaulting her once more, she knew he could hear her, and took the opportunity to talk. "What can I do? If you can, tell me how I can help you—"

She stopped speaking. His hand clutched at hers, and his head swayed ever so slightly from side to side. Another forced breath explained his abrupt response. "…You can’t." Slowly, his blank expression took on a hint of sadness. Though it could have been a trick of the darkening skies, his eyes seemed suddenly moistened, where before they had looked dry and opaque.

Rinoa frowned defiantly. "Why not? I’m not just going to let you d—"

"It’s too late," he hissed, interrupting her. "I’m…already dead, Rinoa." He wheezed out the last of his air. Another moment, and his eyes were shut again. "There’s nothing you can do."

Silent, confused, Rinoa took his words in while he rested. When he was "awake" once more, she had only one question: "How?"

"I can…move…power…" His answer trailed off, broken and incomprehensible. When he breathed again, he changed the subject. "I can’t do this for long. I have…to tell you, someth—" The end of his air marked the end of his sentence.

"Something?" Rinoa finished for him. "What is it?"

"Just listen to me," he commanded weakly. "Griever…is hollow. He doesn’t exist…he’s invincible," Squall choked, and his mouth continued to move for a moment before he realized he was again out of air. He heaved a giant breath, as if to sigh his frustration, but instead continued his message. "…He’s like a black hole, takes in everything around him, because he’s empty. You can’t kill him since he isn’t alive." Another breath. "Not undead. He never was alive. ‘S why Ultimecia could create him. He just is, without living. So...the only way to kill him...give him life." Squeezing Rinoa’s hand, Squall closed his eyes, but continued to talk. "Make him alive, and he can die, just like…anyone else."

"How do I do that?"

"You’re…a sorceress. You can hold him in your…power. Then I can…get into him, like I’m in this body now. Give him a…sense of self. Give him life, mortality. It would be temporary, but I can. Once he’s alive, you can take him…out." Exhausted, Squall said nothing else, offering only the occasional shallow breath to let Rinoa know he was still with her.

"I don’t know how," Rinoa protested softly, nervously stroking his hair. "I can try, but…Squall, it’s almost like I don’t care anymore. I just want you back, I don’t want to fight anymore!"

Thunder rumbled somewhere distant, though other than the dead sliver of rock Rinoa knelt on, she wondered what land the storm had left to strike.

Squall regarded Rinoa’s distorted visage as if he were viewing her from underwater, and she was above the undulating surface. It was the only way he could see her, through this sense, and the image was murky at best. But he could see she was crying, he could hear her choking breath all around him, and as such he was immersed in her pain, experiencing it like it was his own.

He fought for control of his body again. What insidious thing had conceived the idea of these cramped physical prisons? What cruel beast had thought up the idea of life and death? Who had implemented this devious plan to separate people from each other in such a horrendous way? He hated it all. She wants me back, and there’s no good reason why that’s not possible, except this!

And yet was any of this real at all? This time compressed world had folded dimensions upon one another. For all he knew, the only reason he was still aware of himself was that he had been killed in one dimension and not another. He had always believed death to be oblivion, nothingness…even now, he did not feel "dead." Just trapped. Trapped on the other side of a glass wall, being forced to watch while Rinoa suffered…

Ultimecia’s nightmare came back to him in a furious rush, and he almost lost his hold on his body because of it. He fought the images back, forced them out of his memory, and used his renewed panic to send strength to his limbs, his face and his lungs. He was aware of a few useless beats of his heart.

He opened his eyes, his face shaping into one of pleading sorrow. Though blind, he saw Rinoa’s tears, and for a moment, he was almost sure he could feel the warmth of her hand as well. He remembered, once, a long time ago, he’d cried. He’d lost his best friend. She had gone away, and never come back. Now, he was putting Rinoa through that same agony. He could hardly stand it. "I’m sorry," he mouthed, then took in a breath. "I can’t stay…if I could…" For a while, he held his breath, and he felt almost alive again, with this heartache inside of him. Rinoa only watched him, her own face pale and sick with sadness. Surely she realized that she was about to lose him again. Straining the last of his body’s strength, he lifted his free arm, shakily, barely managing to touch her cheek with unfeeling fingertips. "I’m sorry," he repeated, finally releasing his breath. "I’ll stay near. Please don’t…" Don’t give up.

Rinoa shifted her grasp to Squall’s hand on her cheek, and held onto it firmly. Her tears were beginning to subside. Rain was beginning to fall. It seemed the sky was crying for her, tears from an approaching storm, even as Squall receded into darkness. As she held on, she watched him close his eyes one more time, and felt his hand relax.

With a vicious, vengeful roar, the black skies flashed blue.

Chapter 5

Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic