The Promise of Nightmares Prologue

By XmagicalX

Balamb Garden, his Garden, his home for most of his life, was a burnt-out shell. He ran down the scorched corridors, through broken glass and shattered doors, shouting. No one answered his calls. The devastation was incredible. Even Trabia Garden hadn't been damaged this badly by the Galbadian missiles. Not a room was intact.

The lift was gone. He pried open the doors to the shaft and climbed the steel ladder. Every clang of his boots on the rungs echoed through the long, vertical tunnel, making the silent blackness all the darker. When he reached the third floor, he wrestled one door back and clambered into the office hallway. The carpet was charred gray, huge slashes gouging the metal beneath. The air stank of sulfur, wisps of poisonous dark smoke floating low against the floor.

He crossed the hall in several long strides. A fallen iron beam blocked the entrance to the office and bridge. He vaulted it, then froze for an instant, spotting the body trapped beneath. Long golden hair draped over her stained red vest. Quistis Trepe, once his instructor, then his second. Her blue eyes stared up at the fractured ceiling.

Kneeling, he slipped off one glove and touched her throat. There was no pulse. Her skin was cool. One hand still clutched her whip, raised to her chest as if she had hoped it would protect her from the falling girder.

He closed her eyes and murmured a benediction. As he stood, the faintest sound caught his attention, a mew no louder than a newborn kitten's. Making his way around the wreckage of the collapsed bridge, he heard it again, a tiny, labored moan.

Half-buried in the rubble he found another corpse. The man's face was burned, contorted with the agony of his death, but the tattoo still recognizable. "...Zell," he whispered in shock, shaking his head. This couldn't be. Not all of them...this couldn't be.

Then he realized Zell had died with arms outstretched and fists clenched, as if in combat. A defense. Crouching, he began to dig through the wreckage, shoving aside planks and broken struts until he found her.

Her blue coat was black with blood, seeping from her wounded chest, but when he lifted her body in his arms, her eyes fluttered open. Their once-bright brown was clouded, but alive. She tried to speak. "...came..."

"I came, I'm here," he told her. "Lie still, don't move."

"...others..." Against his command she tried to raise herself, failed. "Where..."

"You're going to be fine. You have to rest, I'll--I'll help you." He thought to say he would find help, then realized there was none to find, not in time to save her. "You'll be all right," he chanted, a mantra, a prayer. "I'll help. You're going to be fine."

Her fingers closed weakly over his wrist. "Zell... Qui...Quistis..."

"Dead," he said, and heard his voice thicken. "They're...I found Selphie and Irvine outside, and Quistis and Zell--I've found no one alive." Only her. She weighed nothing in his arms; he didn't know if that was because she was so light, or because his arms were numb.


"No," he whispered, gathering her closer. She was cold as snow, but she didn't shiver. "I'm here. We're not alone. Never."

"Will be..." She would have coughed, had she the strength. He felt her breath catch, her chest barely moving. "...can't..."

"You have to. Please, Rinoa. Please. Don't..." He lost the last of his voice to the tears sliding down his cheeks. "Please," his mouth shaped the word.

"Good...bye..." She sighed once and sagged against him, her eyes closing.

He cried her name, but her eyes never opened.


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