Massacre of the Innocence
The dorms weren't quite silent, not even long after midnight, long before dawn-long after all official celebrations had ended. She suspected they never were, every moment of absolute tranquility that dared to stretch more than a few moments shattered by a laugh, a shout, the slam of a door, the quiet clamor of sneaking footsteps. The sounds of teenagers, always finding something more important than sleep.
It was an entirely different world from her house, where the quiet of the night-and the day-was broken only by the soothing, rhythmic crash of waves against the rocks. The lighthouse in Southern Centra was her retreat, her escape from the world that had condemned her for the sin of misfortune, a sin that had expelled her from her family and opened to her the world of fear and contempt. Her lighthouse was a place of solace for the unwanted-her and her children.
She sat up, sweeping back the blankets on her bed and bracing her bare toes on the chilled metal frame of the bed. She pulled her waist-length hair over her right shoulder and ran her hands through its straight black silkiness. A thought, a whisper, and it could be up and out of her way, but she liked how it fell over her shoulders like a blanket, a veil. The truth be told, it was longer-she hadn't let it be cut since she had first received her sorceress powers-but she liked it waist-length so she kept it there.
Pushing her hair back to fall naturally, she stepped out of bed, the hem of her black dress grazing the floor before she stepped into her black heels. She left the tiny room, taking a moment to glance into the adjoining room at her husband, lightly snoring even through the noise of the dorm to which they had retired after the party-his former rooms were presently the bridge of the flying Balamb Garden, after all. Few knew that Headmaster Cid had a wife at all, let alone one who looked scarcely older than the students graduating. It wasn't her fault that it was far harder to create an illusion of age and wear than youth and beauty in all its smoothness, the latter of which was far closer to her actual appearance anyway.
She wondered if he knew-if he knew that the true Edea was the woman who had simultaneously terrified and entranced a nation with her appearance and her powers, if he knew that the woman the children had called Matron was an illusion, created to look unsuspiciously human, the Edea that would have been had she not become a sorceress.
Cid Kramer was not twice her age as he appeared, but he was several years older. She had been young when they met, and the marriage had been every bit the rescue that his valiant sleep spell had been: a new name, a new identity, a new home, and blessed anonymity.
Anonymity that had slipped away from her sometime while saving the world.. When she had addressed Deling City? When Ultimecia had possessed her? When she had accepted Ultimecia's powers and the nightmare began?
Or had it truly ended there and begun far in the future when a sorceress heard of a girl named Ellone?
She lowered her head as she left the dorm room and stepped into the chill of the nighttime air, letting her hair fall over her shoulders as a coat. It was what they called the witching hour, when everything was so quiet and still that the slightest motion seemed supernatural. The name itself was testament to the rampant superstition of the world. She had certainly never had a habit of spell-casting in the night. She could recall every instance in which she'd been awake during the night for anything pertaining to magic.
It was one of those few times when they'd caught her and tried to kill her. Never mind that she had just saved a mother and her infant from certain death. She was a witch, and it was the witching hour. And-heaven forbid-she'd been serving as a midwife. How many newborns had been tainted? How many more if they let her go?
She remembered the mob. She'd been an innocent, had never hurt anything with her magic, but it had been an era of severe anxiety surrounding the idea of the sorceress, the existence of a woman who could command the forces of nature at will, who could conquer the world on a whim and kill everyone and everything according to her mood. It had been a world cleanly divided into two factions-either a person was a minion of Adel or a rebel, opposed to everything magic and fully willing to burn anyone who seemed to possess the skill.
As they had tried to burn her.
She remembered the torches, the heat, how the ropes had rubbed her wrists to bleeding but she hadn't dared to cast a cure spell, let alone a water spell, as she tried to profess her harmlessness. The flames had begun to lick at her feet and her skirt, and her accusers had begun to drop to sleep one by one. It had only heightened their rage, but they couldn't break the spell. And she remembered how they'd run, tossing their torches at her, satisfied that she would soon be dead and the sleep spell broken. The young man who had then approached her hadn't been startled by the water spell she'd used to stop the fire.
He'd just pushed his glasses further up his nose, untied her, and used a cure spell to heal her burns, innocently asking if she was a witch. Not even pausing for an answer, he'd continued, asking if her spells were also developed by Dr. Odine and if the water spell was new because he'd never seen it before, or if there was someone outside of Esthar also working on developing packaged spells from affected items, and if so, could she take him to this person because his were really just stolen from a shipment sent out of Esthar, and he was running rather low.
She'd halted his babbling with a single word in explanation: "Sorceress."
He'd blinked and adjusted his glasses once more. Then the torrent had started again.
He was part of the resistance, but his group was different, knowing that they couldn't fight magic with bullets and blades. They needed knowledge of magic, real magic. In short, they needed her.
She'd tried to leave, pleading with him to leave her alone-she was very thankful he'd saved her life, but all she wanted was to disappear. He'd said she could, that he would be the go-between, and no one would have to know where the sorceress who aided them was. She'd argued that she would be too far away to be of any help, and he'd said he'd thought of a way she could be with him at all times and under no suspicion.
They could be married.
She was sixteen.
He didn't even know her name.
In the end Adel had fallen deep within Esthar, defeated not by magic but by cunning, and Esthar had fallen into isolation, completely separated from the rest of the world.
Edea was finally able to disappear, to be no one, a nonexistence. But in the end she'd lost it all-her innocence, her anonymity, and her power. All that had remained was her ability to affect her appearance, the effect of the power on her person, not the power itself. No more would she call upon true magic, instead reduced to scientific replications, forced to rely on guardian forces to give her the ability to wield it.
It was strange to be normal. To no longer feel the untapped powers of nature coursing through her body. To no longer hear the pressure in her mind-the devil herself whispering from far in the future.
It was really way too quiet, an absolute vacancy of noise, the sounds of the still-awake students startling him with every outburst, almost as though they were the sounds of ghosts of students, liable to flit away if anything living approached.
The witching hour. He shivered. His mother had always told him that if he left the house during the witching hour he'd disappear without a trace, that the monsters out then wouldn't even bother to kill and eat him, just make him go poof and no more Laguna, and that he could only hope it would be only monsters that would get him, not real witches out during their time of glory.
He wasn't a little boy anymore. Nothing to be scared of. The wicked witch was gone, killed by a team of highly specialized fighters trained to do just that.
It wasn't that he really missed Esthar, just that the constant hum of the city created sufficient background noise that the smallest sound didn't seem as loud as a tree falling in the forest with just he around to hear and make him jump, skittish like some little rodent, not the man in charge of the world's most advanced country.
Maybe he was still scared of the silence, like the little boy he suspected everyone thought he was most of the time, himself included. In Esthar he hadn't needed to worry. A city of that size was never quiet, never asleep. And even if it had gotten quiet, he could have just sat in his office, turned up the music so it could be heard way down the hall (no one ever complained, not to the president's face), put his feet on his desk, and played a card game with himself, even if it did worry him when he beat himself.
Kiros always said that he never did anything, and why did Esthar even bother with a president if it wasn't going to care that he spent all his time in prodigious efforts to waste it? Ward probably said the same, or would if he could. But that was anyone's guess.
He couldn't run a country on the spur of the moment: he had to think ahead, they'd said. Then they'd scoffed at his method of thinking ahead, his plans, especially at the unlikely events he'd chosen to plan for, for the absurdity of his worst-case scenarios. But he was really gonna make Kiros eat those laughs and Ward those . . . spasms. How many lives did they suppose had been saved by the Lunar Cry Observation and Containment Plan? And they'd said that would never happen again. Ha.
But it was true that Esthar had never really needed him (except for his brilliant defeat of Sorceress Adel!). Esthar had wished to be separate from the outside world even more than before after the embarrassment of the sorceress debacle, and he'd been only too happy to help them achieve their isolation. No outside world meant no diplomatic dealings for the president, and that meant less work for him.
He stopped walking for a moment, briefly wondering if it had been two or three times that he passed the entrance to the training center, not even the monsters inside daring to break the silence of the night as he walked the circle of Balamb Garden, the smooth, colorful architecture that reminded him so much of Esthar making the quiet all the more unsettling..
He could go fight the monsters, make them break the silence with their growls of challenge and cries of death. The thrill would cheer him and exhaust him and make the evasive sleep come. Or kill him.
Probably kill him. He was, after all, forty-four years old and hadn't had a decent fight in what, seventeen? He was supposed to pine over that, long for the good old days when he ran carelessly about, reveling in the intoxication of being young and male and, consequently, impervious. Wasn't that what men did as they got older? Wished for the time when they had been strong?
He didn't. He'd been young and strong, yes, but he'd also been foolish (though no one could ever know that he admitted it). His nostalgic dreams all involved a village that hated him, a pub owner that somehow didn't, and a little girl more adorable than she'd had any right to be.
His nightmares involved the shattering of that dream by the very country he had come to lead.
Esthar. Bright, alien, xenophobic Esthar. Did it realize as it adored him what it had done to him?
She'd heard the whispers for years before the sorceress ever tried to take her. They began that fateful day when she had seen both a child from the future and a dying sorceress, also from the future, though Edea had not known that at the time. She had thought it was fortuitous that the sorceress had come to relinquish her powers at the home of one who already had them-being a sorceress was not a fate she would wish upon anyone, especially not the children she had taken into her home.
Strange that the true threat to the world should begin in the exact moment the threat was ended forever.
When she had accepted Ultimecia's powers, she hadn't noticed anything odd at first-but, after all, the seventeen-year-old version of one of her beloved children was standing in front of her, telling her all about ideas she had only just begun to have as though they were long-established fact. It hadn't taken her long to realize that she had new power that made her previous abilities seem insignificant. She had power enough to make herself frightened of what she could do. And the seedlings of ideas she had about soldiers trained specifically to defeat a sorceress no longer seemed so trivial.
She was almost frightened enough of herself with so much power to have Cid create what would become a Garden. It soon became evident that she had far more to worry about than herself.
Because even more frightening than her level of power were the whispers. She'd been young, and before she had inherited this new sorceress's powers, she had felt the essences of previous sorceresses imbuing her with their power and a tiny remnant of themselves. She'd connected with them, melded with them to gain the wisdom and power for her spells. That her connection with this new sorceress seemed almost the reverse had terrified her. This quiet entreating, this slight tug on her essence, started out as no more than a featherweight, but it grew steadily until it threatened to topple her. By the end her thoughts, her desires, her will were less her own than that of another sorceress, a sorceress who had wanted, had craved, with force enough to consume.
She had wanted Ellone. At the time, Edea had known that Ellone had some sort of power-the girl frequently had nightmares of the experiments done to her due to her power while she was a prisoner of Esthar-but Edea had not known what. She had only known that she was almost grateful that Esthar had restarted its hunts for young girls, because it had caused Edea to get Ellone away from her before this voice began to hunt for her.
Of course, at first, Ultimecia had learned of Ellone and thought she had reached Edea solely through use of Dr. Odine's machine-imprudent of him to have called it the "Junction Machine Ellone." She doubted Ultimecia knew that it was their unique connection as sorceresses that enabled her to reach Edea so much more easily than anyone else. Edea didn't know for years, until she finally figured out that the sorceress who had died outside the lighthouse in Centra and the voice in her head were one and the same, and were, in fact, a sorceress from the future. Edea had inherited Ultimecia's powers directly, and Ultimecia had inherited Edea's by way of inheriting the line. They couldn't escape each other.
She had reached the balcony beyond the quad, newly repaired after the damage it had sustained in the fight against Galbadia Garden. She wrapped her fingers over the railing. She had to fight to keep them short in her "human" appearance as they had extended into long claws from years of corruptive power.
Ultimecia's true form, from what she had been told, was nothing remotely resembling human. Her "human" form had been as mutated as Edea's true form.
But what else could be expected from a sorceress who had used so much power so freely? Even Adel had been horribly disfigured, and she'd had at most half the power that Ultimecia had. Adel and Edea had existed simultaneously, after all, possibly with other sorceresses besides, whereas Ultimecia had been the only sorceress in the world, the heiress of every chain of sorceress power handed down over the years. She had made sure of that in her thirst for power.
Edea fought her for years, but she knew almost from the start that someday she would have to surrender her mind completely to preserve herself, and to save Ellone. Edea only needed time. The Gardens had to be created. SeeDs had to be cultivated.
In complete submission, no longer truly connected to her body, Edea's mind would no longer be open to probing, and Ultimecia would not be able to pry the information she sought from Edea's mind.
So, when the time was right, Edea gave in. For the world. For the children.
It seemed strange to Laguna that a nation he had wanted so little to do with, even as a Galbadian soldier, would have such an impact on his life. Esthar loved him now (Kiros always said his popularity polls were one of the wonders of the world), and its love of him had taken from him more than its aggression ever had.
Irony was just not cool.
Neither was being bedridden for six months, and though that had been the immediate result of the time in his life that Esthar had hurt him directly, the things that had come along with his incapacitation had been precious. As much as he talked about being a world-famous journalist, he wouldn't have traded Raine and Elle and even Winhill for that or for anything. His love for Raine had made crystal clear what his crush on the piano player Julia had been-a crush. If his love for Raine could be challenged by anything, it was his love for Elle. People would think that he should love his son that much, but after all, he hadn't ever met his son until he was an all-business, seventeen-year-old soldier.
Elle he'd adored as a little girl, and the day the Esthar soldiers had taken her right out of his grasp-metaphorically-had been the worst of his life. Esthar would cause worse things to happen to him later, but that occurred over the period of years, and the cause of pain associated with Elle's kidnapping he could associate with a single second.
It was a bright, almost hot day when Esthar soldiers came to Winhill for Ellone for the second time. Laguna's only instinct had been to fight. He left Elle with Raine and took Kiros with him. He didn't get very far. There were twenty fully-armed soldiers in the tiny village. Four or five he could have handled. Four or five at a time he could have handled. Twenty standing in the village square was quite a stretch, but he tried. He made it all of three steps out of the door to Raine's pub with his machine gun before he was shot in the leg-his cramping leg-and ordered to drop his weapon or be killed.
He dropped his weapon. Seventeen years later, he still regretted it, much as he tried to explain away any guilt. And his explanations made perfect sense. Whether he died or surrendered, Ellone would still be taken. If he had died, he couldn't have rescued her later. But the fact remained: he dropped his weapon and lay on the ground and watched as they took her away. It wasn't the sort of thing he could forgive himself for, no matter how illogical it was of him. Laguna, after all, was not an advocate of logic. Heart above mind always, and heart says that if you have the option to die for someone or surrender, you die for her.
But he didn't. They took Ellone right out of Raine's arms-literally. At least they didn't hurt Raine. No, the only one who ever hurt her was him.
As soon as he was able to walk again, Laguna left Winhill. He left the woman he loved to find the girl that he loved. It was a perfectly respectable heroic plan. He would endure the misery of being separated from Raine for a short time so that he could rescue Elle, and then they would all live happily ever after. Well, obviously not all the soldiers he was going to kill, but Laguna couldn't think of a single other person who wouldn't benefit from his plan. It was even a clever plan. He would take a job as a traveling journalist to simultaneously support himself while he was on a heroic journey, so he was rescuing and pursuing a dream at the same time. Who could come up with something better than that?
The people of Esthar, apparently. They were the ones who saw greater things in his future. The worst thing that Esthar ever did to him was like him. His plan was going well until they got a hold of it. Sure, it took him years to find Esthar-but no one else outside of Esthar could find it either, could they? And sure he sort of got captured, but that eventually led him straight to Elle, so how could he complain? It was when one of his fellow prisoners decided he should help Esthar take out Adel that Laguna's heroic plans broke down.
He sent Elle back to Winhill with the promise that he would be right behind her-as soon as he defeated the sorceress he'd come home. But he made the mistake of staying around to help clean up the mess, and apparently he was looking in the wrong direction, because one day he was suddenly president. And he stayed president for seventeen years. He never went back to Winhill-never saw Raine again, didn't even know he had a son until he saw Ellone again. She forgave him-she jumped onto what she saw as an enemy boat just because she heard they served President Loire.
Laguna couldn't forgive himself.
The night was still as quiet as it could be when he followed a fresh breeze to a balcony and stopped short. It really was the witching hour.
That sorceress-the one who had come to Esthar with Squall-was looking down over the railing. The first time he had met her she had seemed only a nice girl who took care of orphaned kids. He'd had no idea she was a sorceress. She had, by all reports, taken very good care of the children, and Elle thought very highly of her, but since those days, she had terrorized a nation and started a war. He knew that she had only been possessed by a true evil sorceress rather than evil herself, but his next step was hesitant anyway.
She sensed him when he stepped onto the balcony behind her-him and his hesitance. Hesitance caused by her presence, a presence tainted by Ultimecia. She looked back, saw the casual clothes, the sandals, long dark hair half-heartedly tied back, and bright green eyes, and recognized him immediately.
That this particular man-President Laguna Loire of Esthar-was afraid of her deepened her regret of the recent past. She had met him once before, and he hadn't feared her then, before he knew she was a sorceress. Of course, she had thought he was a good man then. He had been absurd-and not only because he mentioned fairies-but he had been completely devoted to a child and on a mission to rescue her.
Ellone had been the child, and it was Ellone's story that had changed her opinion of Laguna Loire. Uncle Laguna and Raine were favorite subjects of Ellone's, but Edea saw nothing strange in that. Orphaned children, she found, had a tendency to latch onto their parents, or in Ellone's case, those who had originally replaced her parents. Ellone had had a higher-than-average fondness for Laguna, though-so much that Edea didn't know that Laguna had sent her away rather than dying, as Edea had assumed, until Ellone had had to leave the orphanage.
That day Ellone had been devastated. She hadn't wanted to leave Squall, whom she viewed as a little brother. Edea had spent a long time trying to convince Ellone that even Squall would learn to manage, and it was Ellone's sudden change in attitude that finally convinced her rather than anything Edea said.
"I'm going to come back, Matron," Ellone had said suddenly.
"Of course you are," she answered.
"Uncle Laguna never came back."
"I'm sure Laguna would have if there was any way he could," Edea replied, still believing that the man had died saving Ellone.
"He saved me from the soldiers," Ellone sniffed, "and he sent me home to Raine. He said he'd be right behind me, but he never came back."
"Oh, I'm sorry, honey," she said, thinking that he must have died in Esthar before he could come back, but Ellone wasn't finished.
"And then Raine had her baby, but he wasn't there, and Raine died because she had her baby, but he wasn't there. He never came back," she said, speaking faster and faster. "And then they sent me here, and I thought he'd come get me, but he never did, and now I'm going away, and he didn't come back, and now he won't know where to find me because you said we can't tell anyone." She began to fully cry.
"If he comes for you," Edea said, not knowing what else to say, "I'll tell him where you are, but no one else."
"Not even Squall," Ellone said.
"Not even Squall."
"Only Uncle Laguna."
In the end, however, Edea did tell Squall where to find Ellone, but Ellone had already found Laguna. Edea didn't feel she should still feel resentment toward the man when the girl he had wronged had forgiven him, but it turned out to have been worse than even she thought. Sending the girl away alone was not behavior she condoned, but dying before he could make it back was nothing she couldn't forgive. But he didn't die. He just didn't come back.
The man who had once been nobly devoted to a child got the slightest hint of possible power and abandoned that child and his own son. It was a shame, and she even felt vindicated in noting that he had no right to judge her.
Edea didn't speak to him. She glanced at him and turned away to look down over the railing again, and he felt no more warmth from her to him than he felt for her. But he wasn't afraid of her, and to prove it, he walked up to the balcony and leaned on it next to her. The breeze was cool and just the right strength, but he couldn't relax.
"It wasn't my fault," he blurted.
Edea looked at him, but she didn't say anything.
"Well, it was my fault, but it wasn't-oh, never mind." His leg began to ache.
"What wasn't your fault?"
"It was my fault."
Edea was quiet.
"Leaving," he said. "No, not leaving."
This time she sighed very quietly.
"Leaving my wife and my home," he said. "Not leaving Esthar. Both my fault, but I didn't really have a choice. I had a choice, but only one good choice."
"Are you saying you did the right thing?"
"Yes!" He straightened and stepped away from the railing. "I did the right thing, 'cause it was the right thing to do, and then bad things happened."
Edea's expression changed from looking almost amused to solemn again. "That can happen," she said.
"And maybe staying so long wasn't the right thing to do," he said, "but the time just went so fast. Esthar wanted me as president because I defeated the sorceress, and who was I to say no after they elected me? Seventeen years gone, because I was their hero."
He slammed his hand on the railing and leaned over it again.
"Your innocence," Edea said after a moment, "was martyred."
"Essentially," she said. "You sacrificed it for the sake of the world."
"I know what it means," he said, a little irritated. Why did everyone assume he was stupid? He was a writer. He knew words. "I just don't agree," he explained. "It wasn't 'for the world.'"
"No?" she asked.
"No. It was all because of Ellone-all for Ellone. I wouldn't have ended up in Esthar if I hadn't gone to rescue her. Going to rescue little Elle led to all of this."
"Oh," Edea said, her tone causing him to realize how his last sentence had come out.
"I don't mean I regret that part," he quickly clarified, stomping his leg on the ground to try to stop the pains shooting up it. "I'd do anything for Elle. I didn't think twice before I went to rescue her. I'd do it again today, even knowing what it caused. I just meant-I didn't think, 'I'm going to do this for the world.' It was all about Elle. It's quite a bit more selfish."
"No," Edea answered, looking at him carefully, "I don't think so."
"Heroes who save the world-those are the ones who are remembered forever and hailed all over the world. They're the ones who are praised and recognized. To sacrifice yourself for the world is a very noble cause, but.." She paused. "It's less personal. To sacrifice yourself for a single person-that may be nobler. It's certain that if you save the world you'll be lauded. If you save one person, it's unlikely you'll even be recognized. It shows true heart rather than a desire for heroism. It shows more love, and more personal love."
She stopped talking and turned away from him again, looking up at the stars.
He watched her, and folded his arms, bracing his left elbow on his right arm and rubbing his cheek with his right hand.
After a moment he realized that his leg no longer hurt.