A Warrior's Redemptionby Artiles
MEMORY TEN: MARTYRS OF FREEDOM
As he walked down the stairs leading to the inn's main hall (which now resembled an army headquarters), Varlus took a peek outside a near window.
Roland was right. Two full Shinra strike squads. 80 privates in total.
"Dog, I think we're really fucked on this one" he said, with a defeated voice.
"Told ya we were outnumbered" Roland said from behind him. "But we're tougher than that lot, and also more experienced. It'll be a hard battle alright, but my men and I are ready to stand our ground here." He spat to the ground bitterly. "Costa Del Sol is our home, Wolf, and we'll be damned before seeing it taken over by the Shinra."
Varlus turned around, facing the rebels. They seemed hardened and ready to battle alright, but they were about 40 in total, including Jack and himself.
"Roland, you know as well as I do this is a battle you can't win." It was cold to say that, but there was no sense in lying.
"Who said anything 'bout winning?" To his amazement, Roland grinned. "All we need to do is hold on long enough to give you time to sneak on one of those ships and get the hell away from here."
"What?!" bellowed Varlus. It was ridiculous. "Leaving you here facing all danger only to run like a coward back home? No way. We'll all fight, we'll all bleed, and if we have to die, we'll die all together." Deep inside him, Varlus longed to get back home, but his warrior's inner voice was telling him that was a cowardly thing to do.
"Don't be so dense, Varlus!" Now it was Roland's turn to shout, staring at him. "Think about your wife! Think about your daughter! You think they'll like seeing you back in a bag or a coffin?! I don't think so!" Roland was breathing heavily, and Varlus knew this was a clear sign he was speaking from his heart. "I know what you're thinking, Varlus" he said, much more calmer now. "Surely you're about to say it's not the way of a warrior to flee from this battle, alright? Now you can say anything 'bout me, but you can't deny I know you all too well, and I know I'm not mistaken in saying this."
Varlus didn't reply; he chose to look away from his friend.
"Being brave and facing Death in its face is an honorable thing alright" continued Roland, "but sometimes, even warriors have to act in ways they don't like. You're no longer alone in this world as you once were, Varlus. You've got a family waiting, praying that you return safely. Staying here, and perhaps even dying here, would be what a warrior would choose... But do you think it's correct to make those who love you suffer?"
Varlus faced Roland again.
"They'd understand" he said, coldly.
"They don't want to understand your choices, Wolf!" replied Roland. "They want you back home alive!"
Again, Varlus stood silent, gazing at the wooden floor.
"Do you think you'll no longer be a warrior just by choosing your family over your codes once, after all you've done and fought?" Roland shook Varlus. "If you think so, you're wrong. Being a warrior implies sacrifice, honor, pride and bravery, but it also includes protecting your loved ones. And that's what you've gotta do now."
Varlus said nothing; he couldn't form a single word in his mind. Roland was right... He had to protect Ifalna and Aeris... but the thought of leaving Roland and his men by themselves against the Shinra was too painful to withstand.
"If it's useful to you, I'll tell you this... Your father would've agreed with me."
These last words rang a bell in Varlus' memories...
"We faced the same situation... back then" he said.
"That's what I meant" nodded Roland. "I remember. It was near Nibelheim, wasn't it? I've still got the scars."
"My father... told us to leave, to flee back to our hideout while he fought the Corellians..." Varlus' chest pressure began to increase. He could hear the shots again... the people in Nibelheim dying... his father trying to hold the defender's ground... and then his words...
"Varlus, Roland, get away from here! Run back to the mountains! I'll hold these bastards long enough!"
"Just do it, son! Don't try to help me, you'll just get killed! Run to the mountains, and stay alive! Stay alive, my son! I'll meet you both later!"
But of course, his Father wouldn't be meeting them later... As they returned to the town, they found him... lying in his blood... mangled by the Corellians' guns... dead... dead to save them... to save him...
After the tragedy, he and Roland parted ways... Roland had decided to return to Junon, his homeland, and start a new life, away from war... and he, Varlus, fled to Midgar, traveling as he could, sailing as a stowaway towards Junon, then hitchhiking his way towards Midgar.
On his arrival, he settled in an abandoned house in sector 3 slums, and began training himself, following his Father's teachings.
He was thirteen by that time.
When he turned nineteen, he learned about a vacancy at Shinra Army, and joined at once. Shinra was at war towards Corel by that time, and Varlus thought it was the best way to have revenge against the people who had killed his Father.
After two more years of various assignments around the world, he was appointed as Commander of a mission in Corel along Krianna.
Following the mission's pyrric success (for he had lost track of Krianna), Varlus returned to Midgar... and that's when he knew Ifalna, a poor flower vendor in the slums.
Roland's voice torn him away from his reminiscences.
"See now why I'm telling you this? You must return home, Varlus, and protect your family. That's all that matters now."
Varlus stared at his friend, determined.
"Alright" he mumbled reluctantly. "I understand. But don't you die on me, Roland" he added, "I don't want to add another corpse to my guilty conscience."
"Hey, I'm too young to die, Wolf" Roland said, grinning. Varlus shook his hand.
"Good luck, my friend."
"You too, Varlus. Now get your rookie friend and get ready to dash."
Varlus located Jack, who was ready to face hell in order to get back home, and the whole group stood in the main hall, jaws clenched firmly in place, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Someone knocked on the door fiercely.
"Open up!" the knocking man shouted. "We're from Shinra! Come out peacefully!"
Roland faced his men.
"Alright, let's give them hell!"
Everyone roared in response, as Roland kicked down the door and killed the soldier behind it instantly. It was as if a bomb had exploded: the whole group sprinted outside the building and opened fire madly at the Shinra, who, caught by surprise, began to retreat, suffering several casualties.
"Go for the docks, Varlus! Now!" shouted Roland over the deafening sound of machineguns firing everywhere. Varlus nodded and signaled Jack, who shot some nearby Shinra soldiers and started to run towards the docks. Varlus followed, firing at everything blue in his sight.
Roland's group, however, was on the defensive now, for the Shinra had regrouped successfully and had begun to return fire to the rebels. After an order from their leader, the tight group split, multiplying the number of targets to the Shinra in order to stay alive as much as possible. Roland and a group of rebels hurried behind a pub, setting up a trench to shield themselves from attackers. Another group of rebels perched behind a truck while lobbing grenades at the Shinra, turning the main square into a scorched battlefield. The rest of the rebels had managed to get on top of the inn, and sniped down any soldier passing below them.
Varlus and Jack finally got to the docks, but things didn't improve for them: standing in the dock was the Shinra platoon's leader and yet more soldiers.
"Captain Horg" whispered Varlus, peeking from a corner.
"Who's that?" asked Jack, keeping an eye out for Shinra soldiers.
"He's probably the leader of this invading army" answered Varlus. "He's a tough nut to crack."
"We'll have to crack it if we want to escape" pointed out Jack. "The ships are just ahead. Seems he's guarding them."
"There's no doubt about it" realized Varlus bitterly. "There was a leak in Roland's rebel team, since they knew we'll be looking for the ships."
"But, Varlus..." began Jack. "If there's a leak in Roland's team, then that means..."
Varlus looked at the private, and nodded. Jack was right in what he was thinking.
"Roland!" shouted someone. After gunning down some Shinra with his AAC-10, Roland faced towards the alley to the north and saw one of his men running at him.
"Yeah, what is it?"
"I've found a series of passageways that'll help us flank the Shinra. If we press our attack through there, we'll pin them in the middle of the square, and they'll be doomed!"
"You sure about this, boy?" Roland asked, for it was too good to be true. The man nodded.
"Yeah... I just came from there. I've examined the whole area, and it's perfect. This'll guarantee our victory!"
Roland considered it for a moment, and then agreed. "Okay, boy. Lemme regroup everyone and we'll follow your lead. Stay here and help these guys out, willya?"
"Alright" answered the man, placing his sniper rifle on the sandbags and beginning to shoot at the Shinra, as Roland sat out to find his scattered men.
"You plan on sneaking past all these guys all by yourself? Forget it, Jack."
"Varlus, trust me! I can do it!" Jack looked anxious. "Go and warn Roland about the leak, or else he'll be doomed!"
"This isn't the same as in those warehouses near Wutai, Jack!" Varlus whispered angrily. "Horg's a pro, he's not gonna fall for it! You'll get yourself killed!"
"Look, I've proven useful before, right?" Jack smiled. "Let me handle this. I promise you, by the time you get back here, I'll be waiting with one of these ships to get the hell out of here."
There was no room for discussion. Varlus patted Jack on his shoulder slightly.
"Alright, I'll trust you. Be careful, okay?"
"Don't worry. I will" said Jack, as Varlus ran back to the main square before it was too late.
"Are we all here?" asked the rebel, as Roland returned to the trench with several more men.
"Yeah. I left a group on the other side of the city to shoot them from the front while we attack from the back. It'd be alright."
"Roland, it'd be best if we all strike from the back--"
"I'll decide the tactics, kid!" shouted Roland. "Now lead us to that passageway of yours!"
The private nodded slowly and led the way through the alleys. Roland began to follow him, but then--
"Roland, it's Varlus! He's running this way through the square!"
Roland turned around immediately and looked towards the square.
"What the hell is this motherfucker's thinking?! We risk our necks here and he just jumps in the middle of the fray!"
"Roland, we must move on, or we'll lose our position!" said the private behind him. Roland didn't even bother in answering.
"Move it! Assist Varlus!" he ordered, as the group started running towards Varlus' position.
Behind him, the private took out a communicator.
"They're moving towards the square through the middle alley. Get them!" he whispered.
"ROLAND! IT'S A TRAP! STAY IN THAT ALLEY!" shouted Varlus, but it was no good: the noise from machineguns and grenades drowned his voice. Desperately, Varlus sped up, trying to reach Roland before the two Shinra squads running towards the alley got to him.
And then he felt it: a scourging, burning pain in his right shoulder. Dropping to the wasted ground, he rolled behind a low wall made out of debris, avoiding further shots.
"Damn!" he cursed, as he took a look over the wall's corner. In his desperate attempt to reach Roland, he'd failed to notice a Shinra sniper on a nearby roof ahead of him. Luckily, the sniper had had lousy aim.
Holding his bleeding shoulder tightly, Varlus gazed at the scene taking place just meters from him.
"Ah, Roland Hentus" said the Shinra squad leader, as the rest of his men surrounded the rebels at point blank range. "We've looked for so many years for you..."
The rebel that had informed him of the secret passageway before walked around the circle of Shinra privates, expressionless.
"You son of a bitch" spat Roland. "You've sold us all out..."
"Heh... money beats loyalty when it comes to rebel groups" said the squad leader, smirking. "I'm gonna ask you just once, Roland: where's Jenneson?"
"I'll never tell you, Shinra scum" replied Roland, his fists shaking. "You'll have to kill me."
The squad leader sighed heavily, in a mockingly disappointed way. "Very well. You've heard him, people" he said, addressing his men.
The Shinra soldiers cocked their guns, and opened fire on the rebels.
Varlus wanted to shout, but his mouth was dry. He wanted to run towards his friend, to help him... to save him...
But, alas, it was too late, for he saw Roland drop to the ground like a stone along with his fellow rebels, spurting blood and sweat from every side of his body, his face ruined beyond recognition, his once clean and handsome gray hair now dirty, disorganized and reddened, his vest furiously torn apart by gunfire...
A pool of crimson liquid surrounded the corpses, as the Shinra laughed fiercely at the gruesome slaughter.
"DIE, MOTHERFUCKERS!" Varlus was blinded by rage, fueled by anger, as he jumped out from concealment and opened fire on the Shinra, who had no time to reply. After firing madly at everyone in sight for almost two full minutes, Varlus released the trigger, panting. The Shinra had now joined the dead rebels on the ground, fallen on top of them and extending the red lake of death around them even more.
His AAC-10 was overheated, smoking, and out of ammo. Varlus dropped it, and he himself fell to the ground.
He had let it happen again. Roland was dead... Why didn't he see there was a leak before? Should he had, Roland wouldn't be dead by now, rotting beneath that horrible pile of corpses stacked like stones, one on top of each other...
"DAMN!" he shouted, hating himself. If only the rifle had some ammo in it... But no, he couldn't think of that. Ifalna still needed him... Aeris still needed him...
"What if the same happens to them? What if I try my best to protect them, and they get killed just like Roland..."
"Ifalna, I need your help!" Varlus held Krianna's pendant tightly in his right hand, staring at the sky. "Krianna, I need your help!" he shouted.
"Move on, Varlus."
It was Ifalna's voice. Varlus couldn't stand it anymore; he burst into tears.
"Ifalna... Roland is... dead... I..."
"Be strong, Varlus... be strong... for me."
"Ifalna, I can't do it! Everyone I care for dies when I meet him! Maybe I'm the one to blame!" Varlus was on the brink of losing all rationality. "Krianna... Roland... what if... what if I go back home and... and you die too? I won't have it, I won't stand it!"
"Varlus... remember what I told you in my dying breath."
Varlus gasped. It couldn't be. There was no way it could be possible. No way at all. He must be imagining things.
"No matter what happens... you must carry on, my friend... you must be there to protect your family."
It wasn't Ifalna's voice. It was Krianna's voice.
"Krianna..." Varlus' tears ran through his dirtied cheeks, not believing he was hearing his dead friend's voice. "How... how can this be?"
"Remember what Ifalna used to say to us... The dead never really leave our side completely... for their spirits carry on, through the Lifestream, always near us... and in times of despair, if we cry out their names in help, they'll be there... Always..."
"Krianna..." Varlus' heart was beating hastily. "I'm... I'm sorry... I didn't want to kill you... I'm really sorry, my friend..."
"Don't apologize. It was my choice all along... There's no one to blame, Varlus."
"Now's not the time to talk about that, Varlus. You must gather yourself, get up, and continue your journey... Meet Jack, he has the ship ready... and return home, to Ifalna, to Aeris... to those who love you. Do it for me, Varlus. I know you can."
And after hearing that, Varlus finally felt at peace with himself. He got up slowly, still looking towards the blue sky.
"I... I'll do it. I'll honor Roland's sacrifice and your death... I'll... I'll go back home. I promise."
"I know you will, Varlus... I know you will."
A soft wind began to blow across Costa Del Sol's destroyed main square.
MEMORY ELEVEN: THE MOST PYRRIC VICTORY OF THEM ALL
As Varlus grew closer to the docks, he heard a ship's dull and strong horn blowing off in the distance.
He quickened his pace, drawing closer and closer to the docks. Gunfire rang out in the distance. Who the hell was fighting over there? Varlus hoped it wasn't Jack drawing out the Shinra's fire...
"There he is!" roared someone nearby. Varlus rolled instantly, only to face Captain Horg and a couple dozen men running his way, armed with Buster Swords Model Delta. Throwing his AAC-10 away, he drew his trusty, old but still razor-sharp sword. His was a customized version of the now retired from market Lawgiver, equipped with a special grip on its hilt to prevent it from sliding off his hands during complex moves. Also, its blade was a few inches longer than the standard one, and was also made of titanium alloy and repainted in black. Varlus had nicknamed it "Shade Blade".
"I want him alive!" roared Horg behind his men. "Stun him or knock him out, don't kill him!"
"Yes, sir!" answered the soldiers, ready for combat. "We'll capture him!"
Typical, standard, ass-kissing Shinra privates. Varlus smiled cynically.
"You will try, boys" he taunted.
The Shinra rushed at him, swords at the ready, as Varlus walked calmly to them. But as the Shinra were within slashing range, Varlus jumped over them with a massive somersault, and no sooner his feet had touched the ground again that he threw himself madly into the fray, slashing viciously at the privates. Most of them had barely noticed what had happened before getting decapitated or losing a vital limb. Varlus moved at lighting speed, hacking away everywhere, slicing off legs, arms and heads wherever he found them, penetrating the men's chest ferociously, and creating fatal wounds of various sizes in their chests. Not a single life was spared. Some of the men cried for mercy, but Varlus simply silenced them with his sword down their throats.
A couple of minutes later, Varlus chopped off the remaining Shinra's head with a backhand slash to his right, and stood still, panting. He was soaked in blood, fueled by rage and frustration, and lusting for more Shinra blood to spill. They had to pay. They were going to pay. Every single one of them.
"Why don't you give it a try yourself, Horg?" he asked. There was no reply. Varlus turned around... and saw Horg running towards one of the docked ships. At first, Varlus thought he was fleeing from battle, and this got him even more furious. After some seconds, though, he realized Captain Horg was running towards the source of the gunfire he'd heard earlier... which in turn, came from inside that ship.
"Jack's in trouble!" he figured out. "Damn kid!"
Chasing Horg, Varlus dashed madly through the pier, hoping to reach the Captain before it was too late. Panting heavily, he ran up the ramp leading to the holds, where he found even more Shinra soldiers. Dispatching the privates rather easily, Varlus crossed the holds, only to find himself being fired upon from atop some stairs. He dived behind a crate for cover. Above him, he heard Horg laughing fit to burst.
"Fight like a man, sucker!" taunted Varlus, only to receive another barrage of bullets in response. After the sound ceased, Varlus rolled out of his cover and began to climb up the stairs towards the aft deck. Horg, however, was perched at the top of them with a .45 M5. Varlus realized he was a sitting duck.
"Eat lead, baby!" cried the Captain, firing his gun again towards the warrior. With outstanding reflexes, Varlus cleared the stairs' railing with a long jump, sheathed his sword while in the air, and managed to grab the edge barely.
"Hey, where'd you go?" he heard Horg ask. Trying to save as much strength as possible to keep his grip, Varlus stood silent and didn't move at all. Horg's footsteps echoed as he walked down the metal stairs, looking for him.
His arms were starting to feel numb, a clear sign they were about to cramp up.
"Did he kill himself or what?" Varlus was panting. He wasn't going to last much longer...
"WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?!" roared the Captain. That was his moment: Varlus swung over the railing, drawing his sword again. Unfortunately, he had came back up a little too early than he'd have liked, and Horg had enough time to fire at him with no obstructions.
The tough, hard, 5.0x35 round from the .45 M5 tore through his left shoulder's pad, but thanks to the secondary plating placed underneath it, the bullet couldn't reach his skin. Surprised, Horg backed up a little, and Varlus sent a strong, horizontal slash his way. As the blade opened the wound and blood started to pour out, Varlus rammed Horg strongly and pinned him to the ground. He pointed his sword directly towards Horg's throat.
"Too late... your friend is most likely dead by now..." he whispered in pain.
"What?! What the hell are you talking about?!" inquired Varlus, not believing a word the Captain said.
"Go ahead, find out yourself. Too bad..." Horg was spitting blood with every word he spoke. "I was looking forward to seeing your wife's scared face as I kidnapped her. Pity..." He laughed, spraying blood all over Varlus' helmet. He seized Horg from his head.
"See you in hell, you son of a bitch" he said with a cold voice, and sank his sword deeply in Horg's throat, who twitched, spat some more blood, and died. Pulling away the sword violently, Varlus ran out to the aft deck.
Climbing ladders and stairs while killing Shinra soldiers here and there, Varlus thought about Horg's last words. "Your friend is most likely dead by now..."
He was bluffing. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be possible. Too many lives had been lost already... Too many friends had died for him... And Jack wasn't going to join them. Not before he got back home with his wife, Elmyra. He promised Jack he'd bring him back home safely, and he wasn't going to fail him now that they stood so close to home.
He was out of stamina... tired to the point of passing out... but he couldn't rest... there was no time... another set of stairs... and then another ladder... another Shinra head rolling... he climbed up yet another ladder...
Finally, he made it to the bridge. Near the consoles, a Shinra soldier wearing Marine insignias laid on the floor, his chest scarred by gunfire. And at his side...
"JACK!" shouted Varlus, running towards his friend, who was sitting next to the dead body. As he got closer, Varlus noticed several wounds in his friend's chest, still bleeding.
"Seems... I'm a rookie after all" said Jack in a painful voice.
"Stay silent. You'll be alright, don't worry about it. They're just superficial wounds, no need to worry." Deep inside him, he wished that was the case. Jack shook his head slowly, as if he'd read his mind.
"Don't... don't lie to me... okay?" he asked.
"Since when I lie to you?" Varlus forced a smile. "I'm telling you, you'll be okay."
Jack laughed weakly, and a trickle of blood dripped from his mouth.
"Varlus... you're a lousy liar."
This wasn't happening... he'd made a promise to him. He wasn't going to fail. God, he wasn't going to fail.
"Am I... am I gonna die?" asked Jack. Varlus put his hand on his shoulder.
"I promised I'll get you back to Midgar... to Elmyra, remember? I don't like failing my promises."
Jack sighed. Varlus felt an immense knot on his throat. It couldn't be... He prayed to God, to Ifalna and to Krianna for help. "Please... let me save him... Ifalna... Krianna... please..."
"Elmyra..." sighed Jack again, and fumbled painfully through his pockets. After rummaging for a while, he gave a bloodied envelope to Varlus.
"What's this?" he asked.
"Varlus... promise me... that after you find Ifalna and Aeris... you... you'll give this letter to Elmyra... to my wife."
"You won't die, Jack!" cried Varlus, unable to hold his tears any longer. "You'll be able to give it to her yourself! Trust me!"
"The letter... it's bloodied... please... copy it... so that... so that she doesn't see... the blood..." Jack's breathing was more shallow now. Varlus was crying loudly, speechless, hollow, mad with sadness and grief...
"You... you're a great man... a great man indeed..." Jack grabbed Varlus' arm. "You... had taught me... how to be... a warrior."
"Don't die on me, my friend" replied Varlus, his voice broken. "Don't die on me!"
"Don't... don't blame yourself... Varlus" said Jack, staring at him with tired, dying eyes. "I... I may not be a warrior... but at least... I fought for a noble cause... and... now... I... feel... I feel... worthy."
"You were always worthy, Jack. You're no rookie. You're a warrior. A true warrior. Perhaps greater than I am."
Jack laughed again in the same weak way. "Live... with... honor..." he said, and Varlus' tears fell in his face as Jack recited the old motto, "Die... with... pride..."
"Jack, no! Please, no!" said Varlus.
"I... I feel... kinda... nice... I feel... proud... of myself."
And after saying those words, his gaze became blank, his head tilted to his right... and his breathing stopped.
"NO! WHY?! NOOO!"
Varlus screamed at the top of his lungs, shouting at the now dying sun, out of his mind, out of his body...
"HE WAS INNOCENT, DAMMIT!"
He fell to the floor, still wailing. He was worthless. He was of no use. He couldn't save anybody. Not Krianna, not Roland... and now, not even Jack, whom he swore he'd save.
Night began to fall over Costa Del Sol.
"Only one more memory remains to be explored."
"Now brace yourself. Focus your own sanity."
"You think you have witnessed enough death already?"
"Do you think this man has already lost enough friends and acquaintances?"
"You are wrong."
"The worst is yet to come."
"Yet, it is your duty to find out the truth, to know why this proud warrior has chosen you to unveil his truth."
"Now, it is time to see how this great warrior died."
"Remember though, death is not the end, but only a transition."
"For the last time... open your eyes."
LAST MEMORY, PART ONE: BEYOND ALL FORGIVENESS
To the woman that I love:
You know I've never been any good at writing letters, so I don't quite know what words I should use. It'd be better if I make this short, though, so I'll get straight to the point.
If you're reading this, then that means I'm dead by now.
I'm sorry. Deeply sorry. Let me assure you: I fought with loyalty, with valor, with courage. I never backed out from the face of death, even when it was painfully obvious it will take me with her. Even when I knew she'd take me far away from you.
Still, don't think I didn't want to get back home. Oh, how many nights have I dreamt about you, how many fantasies did I have about laying in bed next to you peacefully instead of waging war in this distant and foreign land.
I know this will make you cry and feel terribly sad. It'd be stupid of me to try and tell you not to be. But, at least, remember the day when we first met.
You remember? I sure do. Remember I told you I'd love you for all eternity, even after death had taken me?
Well, I think it's high time I live up to my promise.
I ask only one thing from you: keep living. No matter what happens. Find another husband, have the children I couldn't gave you... get a headstart. A headstart on your new life.
I remember now that beautiful song you used to sing... Remember the lyrics?
"Move on, be brave, don't weep in my grave
Because I am no longer here;
But please never let
Your memory of me disappear..."
Don't throw away your life for me. Be strong, as I have been... and be happy. Live, Elmyra... Promise me you'll keep living. Do it for me, my love.
I'll always watch over you from above. Always.
Be happy, Elmyra. For me.
Your husband always,
Junon's coast was growing close. Varlus could see the town's huge cannon in plain sight.
He steered the ship slightly, heading left, towards the lower town's docks.
He was lonely. More lonely than he'd ever been in his life. His mind was completely blank, refusing to work, and Varlus was glad about it. Should it start thinking, he'd surely end up mad with grief.
For Krianna was dead. Roland was dead. And now Jack was dead. Every single one of them were dead.
And he'd failed. He knew he'd failed miserably. For he'd promised Jack he'd bring him back home safely...
But, alas, he didn't. Now the poor private was rotting deep in the sea, along with the Shinra soldiers' corpses.
And Roland was piled up as garbage in that pile of bodies, back in Costa Del Sol.
And God knew what became of Krianna's body...
More than once, Varlus thought it'd be better to get his sword and shove it deep in his chest, sending all the pain and grief to hell. But every single time he thought about it, Ifalna and Aeris' faces showed up in his mind, and he dropped his sword crying silently.
His eyes were dry and reddened.
"I'm getting home" he thought. Had this moment happened only a day before, he'd have been bursting with happiness, but now, he felt hollow, empty... defeated.
As far as he was concerned, he was a corpse still walking. He wished to throw everything to hell and just die, but he'd made his promise to his family, and he wasn't going to fail.
"Damn right I'm not."
He pocketed the fresh, white, blood-less envelope in his vest pocket. Another promise he had to fulfill.
"You died, Jack, and I couldn't fulfill my promise... but I won't fail you this time."
A single tear dropped from his left eye.
"I swear I won't."
Getting out of town without being spotted was an easy task. Docking the ship in a completely awful way, he managed to distract the local sentries long enough to slip in unnoticed. After that, he had some help from some local friends, and before he realized, he was out of Junon in a borrowed car, heading home at last.
He had changed a lot. The whole ordeal he'd passed through had taught him a lot about his own life. Now he knew a warrior's redemption was possible... for he had already earned it.
Or weren't those deaths, those sacrifices made by his friends and allies, the holiest of redemptions? He thought about it: should he had returned home unharmed and with no betrayals on his way, he'd just stay for a couple of weeks, a month if lucky, before being called back to action and leaving his family all alone again.
Now he knew he wasn't walking the correct path. A warrior, he realized, must not fight for himself, or his employer. A warrior's first priority (and he felt a great sadness in his heart when he discovered this) was to his family. Always.
So that meant he'd lived for so long neglecting what he shouldn't have. Ignoring what couldn't have been ignored. Living away from those whom he should've stayed all the time available.
Little did he know the worst lesson was about to arrive.
"Oh, no. No, no, no!"
Varlus had no time to think. For he had arrived home finally... and it wasn't a pretty sight at all. The small cottage engulfed in flames... and next to it...
His wife was being held hostage by Shinra troops. She was thrashing around, trying to release herself... but the men were far more stronger than she was, and held her tightly in their grip.
"GET AWAY FROM HER, SONS OF BITCHES!" he screamed from the car. The Shinra spotted him, got on their knees, and fired their weapons. Bullets tore through the car's windshield, barely missing Varlus. He lowered his head slightly for cover, and floored the gas pedal. Surprisingly enough, the Shinra didn't move; they held their ground, firing madly at his car.
One of those bullets popped the right front tire, and Varlus was forced to strengthen his grip on the wheel to maintain control. He turned it slightly, aiming for the group of men, and they finally began to clear out of the rampaging car's way. But it was too late for them: Varlus turned the wheel towards the left group, who were thrown to the air violently. Many lost their legs in the vicious attack. Varlus jumped out of the car, which crashed headlong into a nearby tree, and took out his sword. The remaining Shinra aimed at him, but Varlus, fueled with rage, moved faster and slaughtered the Shinra one by one, tearing them to pieces. One of them tried to run away, but Varlus was determined to show no mercy: he chased him down, kicked him hard in his back, knocking him to the ground, and once there he stabbed him ferociously on the back, again and again and again, until his face was covered in blood and the man's back completely torn apart, the spine clearly in sight.
Panting, Varlus turned and looked at Ifalna, who was running at him. He caught her in his arms.
"Varlus! Oh, Varlus!" she cried.
"It's alright... I'm here, my love" he said, patting her on the back. "I'm home."
But something was wrong. Ifalna faced him, and Varlus saw his eyes were deeply watered. Why was she crying?
Then he sighed. His poor wife got scared to death, that was all. Nothing to worry about.
"It's okay... I've saved you. Don't cry... It's all over."
Ifalna was gasping, wordess, trying to say something. Varlus thought that was a bit more than fear. It looked more like... terror. Horror. But why?
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"A.... A...." was all Ifalna managed to say. Varlus frowned. Was he missing something? He couldn't believe his wife would be so terrorized just because their house was destroyed.
He gazed around. There was the car, now smashed, completely useless. And there was his house, slowly burning away.
And then it hit him. A huge, gigantic rock fell on top of his heart.
"Where's Aeris?" he asked.
Ifalna burst into tears, sinking her head in his bloodied vest.
"Ifalna, where's Aeris?" he asked, now slightly scared.
Reluctantly, Ifalna raised her left arm... and pointed a very shaky index finger towards the burning house.
No. It couldn't be. It wasn't true.
"Of course it isn't true!" he thought. "She's just cowering under a table of something, scared like hell, but fine. Totally fine. No doubt."
He walked away from his wife, kicked down the entrance door, and entered his house. Fire raged around him.
"Aeris?" he asked.
There was no reply. Poor daughter of his... she was too scared to talk. He walked around a burning table, jumped over some debris, and scanned the now ruined living room.
"Aeris, it's Daddy! Daddy's here! Where are you?" he asked again, and just like before, silence was his only answer.
His heartbeat increased.
Varlus shoved away a destroyed chair, moved a partially ruined cupboard out his way... and there she was.
His heart stopped.
Aeris, his daughter, was lying on the floor, completely motionless. She wasn't breathing. There was a nasty blood spot on her tiny chest.
Her hair was no longer the clean, blonde cloak: it was now rather an ugly, mustard-colored rag lying around her head.
She didn't answer.
"Aeris, answer me. Please. It's Daddy... I'm here to save you" he said softly. For all the response he got, he might as well talk to the burning counter nearby.
Then he realized what was going on. She was asleep from the hot air near her, that was all. Varlus took her in her arms.
"Aeris, wake up... We've got to go. Come on."
He patted her left cheek calmly. Her head tilted nastily towards the right.
"C'mon... this is no time to play games, Princess" he said, almost grinning. "We must leave... This place is a little bit dangerous."
Aeris did not reply. Varlus shook her a bit. Her limbs moved around freely, as if they were no longer being in her daughter's control. Strange... Aeris never slept so deeply. As far as he remember, she always had light sleep, and was woken up by the faintest sound.
He laughed slowly.
"Wake up, we're going to Junon's playground! Lots of fun, come on!" Aeris loved that. She'd surely drop her joke and wake up now.
"Aeris, wake up or else Daddy will be angry" he said. Amazing she had will enough to joke at a moment like that.
She was still silent. Not even her eyes twitched.
"Aeris, I'm serious now, wake up."
"Come on, wake up!" he said, now loudly. She always obeyed when he shouted, and joke or not, that never changed.
Or so he thought. Aeris didn't move a muscle.
"Wake up, Aeris! Now!"
Still no reply.
Out of ideas, Varlus finally felt a presence behind him. He turned around, only to see Ifalna standing there, crying silently but heavily.
"She's asleep" he said. "I can't wake her up. Why don't you try?"
Ifalna stood silent.
"I... I dunno why, she's just playing with me, but I'm telling her the joke's over, and we've got to leave now, but she just won't quit it... Why... Why don't you try?"
His wife sank his face on her hands, now wailing loudly.
"Why do you cry? She's just asleep..."
Varlus looked at her daughter. She was so beautiful, save for her now messy hair, and that blood mark on her chest.
"Hey, why does she have blood on her chest?"
Blood on her chest... and also a deep cut...
"She's asleep... just asleep..."
Blood... a cut... the blood looked like it flowed from it...
Varlus hugged her strongly. He broke into tears. Her head dropped backwards.
Ifalna hugged him from behind, head in his back.
Now it was Varlus' time to stay silent. There were no words that could explain what he felt.
Or maybe there was one. Revenge.
LAST MEMORY, PART TWO: VARLUS' NEW PATH
I write this letter to you as my heart cries non-stop. I am deeply saddened, for a terrible event had just transpired, and I need your help.
You are the only one left alive that I can trust.
The Shinra had made progress with their Jenova Project. They found out Ifalna was the last living Cetra, and as such, they tried to get her for their experiments.
Facing uncountable dangers, I managed to return back home before they took her. But Aeris, my only daughter, was killed.
The pain I feel is unbearable, and I don't know whether I'll be able to stand it.
This is why I need your help. By the time you read this, Ifalna will be with you. Go to Icicle Inn, to your old hideaway, and keep her safe. That's all I ask.
I know you've quit the Jenova Project by now. But I ask you to research as much you can about the Ancients and Jenova herself. Ifalna will prove to be of great help in this.
Just find out the truth about all this, and expose it to the world. Bring Shinra's mad experiments down for good. You do the research part, I'll do the physical part.
Farewell, my good friend. I entrust you my most precious possession. Take good care of it. And good luck.
P.S.: I need to ask you another favor. If you ever have a daughter, please... name he r Aeris. It'd be a beautiful thing in her memory. I trust you'll understand.
Varlus closed the envelope and gave it to Ifalna.
"When you contact Professor Gast, give him this note. And remember: don't open it before he reads it. These are special instructions for him, meant to guarantee your safety."
Ifalna nodded and stashed it in her bag. Her eyes were still red.
"What... what will you do?"
"I told you. I have unfinished business with the Shinra. I'll get my revenge... on Hojo... on the President... on everyone."
His wife shook her head. "I don't approve, Varlus."
Varlus shook his head in response. "Varlus Jenneson died. He's right over there" he said, pointing at his daughter's tombstone. "Entombed within her heart."
Ifalna began to cry again. Varlus held her face.
"Go to Kalm... meet Professor Gast... and leave here. He'll take you to the north, to a safe place, where you'll be able to continue your life protected from these guys."
She took his hand.
"I want to be with you, my love."
"I can't" he said. He'd have liked to take her with him, but he had to do what he had to, alone. "My path now will be paved with the corpses of the Shinra. I'll take my revenge, and I must take it alone."
She hugged him once more.
"Will I ever see you again?"
It was a tough question. But Varlus knew what the answer was.
"Yes. Whether in this world, or in the Lifestream... I'll seek you out, and I'll find you. I promise."
Ifalna stared him closely.
"I love you."
"I love you too, Ifalna." He then kissed her for the last time, tasting her mouth once more, feeling her tears run through both of their faces as she cried. After some brief moments, they separated.
"There's the car I managed to get for you" he said, pointing at a small, rusty car. "It's not fancy, but it runs."
"It'll be enough" Ifalna said. She kissed him once more, and got into the car.
"Until we see each other again, my love" said Varlus. "Be happy, no matter what you do. And don't look back."
Ifalna nodded, smiled, dried her eyes, and started up the engine. A few minutes later, she was just a smoke cloud drifting away in the horizon.
Varlus stood all alone next to his daughter's grave. He removed Krianna's pendant from his neck, and buried it in the dirt next to the grave.
"Thank you, my friend."
He stood up, picked up his helmet from the ground, put it on, and walked away, as a gentle rain began to fall over Aeris Jenneson's grave.
It was time for vengeance.
Late that night, a man wearing a black cloak dashed quickly through Sector Five slums. His footsteps echoed as they hit the numerous puddles. The gentle rain from before had turned into a massive storm.
The man stopped near a fairly big house, surrounded by a well maintained garden. He knocked heavily on the door. After some seconds, a woman opened.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Elmyra Gainsborough?" the man asked in reply. Elmyra nodded. "I've got a letter from you, from your husband."
"Jack!" she gasped. "What is it? What happened?"
"You'd better read the letter, ma'am" the man said. Elmyra took the wet envelope and stared at it.
TO: Elmyra Gainsborough
Sector Five Slums
FROM: Jack Gainsborough
Shinra Army Department
She raised her head and saw the man had turned away and was leaving.
The man turned around. He had a helmet which covered his face.
"Are you from Shinra?" she asked. The man shook his head slowly. "Then... who are you?"
"Just a messenger" he replied. "Call me... Black Wolf."
"Black Wolf?" Elmyra looked at the envelope again. "But here says Shinra Army Department... what--" She looked up again, but the man was no longer there. He had vanished.
Elmyra frowned, and closed the door.
"You are once again surrounded by a brilliant white light."
"Allow the light to lead you away from the past, and into this lifetime."
"When I tell you to open your eyes, you will return to the present, remembering all you have learnt."
"Open your eyes."
The patient, still lying in the couch, opened his eyes. He was sweating. Slowly, he incorporated.
"Is that it?" he asked.
"Yes" answered the hypnotherapist near him. "I trust these sessions were enough to calm your dreams and give you peace."
"Oh, sure" said the patient, standing. "But, tell me Doctor... is this man... is Varlus alive?"
The hypnotherapist sighed. "That, I do not know. I guess that you will have to find out yourself. At the very least, you now know the truth, and you will be no longer haunted by these memories."
The patient rubbed his forehead. "I don't think they were hauntings... I think they were trying to tell me the truth, so I could tell her..." He sighed. "Too bad she's no longer around to tell her, though."
The hypnotherapist nodded. "I think this man, if he is alive, will be proud to know she saved the Planet."
The patient nodded. "I'll go to his daughter's tomb... I'll pay my respects. He deserves it... and she deserves it."
The doctor stood up. "I guess this is it, then."
"It is." The patient smiled and headed for the door. "Goodbye, Doctor... and thanks for the help."
"It is my job" the doctor replied, grinning. "Goodbye, Cloud."
Cloud opened the door and left the doctor's office.