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The Soul of a Queen

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She wandered through the ghosts of halls, familiar beyond enduring, yet unrecognizable. Where was she? Figaro? Doma? The walls and tapestries blended and blurred in memory. She looked down at herself. No armor. No shawl. Her hand rose to her neck, but her questing fingers didn’t find her brooch, treasured gift of her husband’s parents on the eve of their wedding. She was bare and defenseless, her only protection from the world a loose silk nightgown.

She shuddered, a convulsive gathering of her thoughts. She was… she was the queen of Figaro and the last remaining scion of Doma. Her name… her name would come back to her, surely? She looked around. The walls wavered in her vision, then steadied. Figaro. She was in her office in Figaro. A faint noise that might have been a giggle echoed through the corridor. She hurried forward just in time to see a flash of purple hair and a yellow bow flicker around the next corner.

She hurried forward, hand out to call to—whom? Who was it? Her own hair fell into her face as she ran, mouth open to yell a name she just couldn’t quite remember. The hair was the same color as the girl who ran far ahead. A memory sparked—

--sitting in a nursery, husband on one side and someone she couldn’t quite make out on another. She said, “We’ll name her Kamila, then?”

The figure said, “A fiiine name, baby,” as her husband leaned down to kiss the child’s forehead—

Kamila? Was that who she was chasing? But Kamila was gone, dead in the upheaval that had taken everything from her. Figaro gone, Doma poisoned and decayed, loves and friendships betrayed alike. A year since the world ended, and she’d been left alone, and come…where? To where had she retreated, in that endless solitary pain?

 As she rounded the next corner, the walls flickered yet again and then re-solidified into the familiar rumbling of—a train? Her feet betrayed her and she nearly fell as the car through which she ran jerked into motion.  The girl ahead of her vanished through the door into the next car.

She slowed. She needed to take stock, regroup. She had been here before, racing through these train cars in a mixture of rage and despair, hoping against hope she could—

--“Stop this train! Give me back my people and my family!” she demanded, already knowing in her heart of hearts that this was fruitless.

The train’s whistle blew, a wild scream of laughter and white steam. Jowd ran ahead, attempting to use his sheer brute strength to stop it. She could see him, up there… was he trying to suplex the train? She shook her head. Only her husband. His mother would have been proud…although she was glad the former queen wasn’t here to see it, just yet.

She had stayed back in the engine room, attempting to work the levers and stop the train herself, but the spectral energy that powered the locomotive ignored her efforts. She had struggled with it until she had finally had to admit to herself that her knowledge of engineering and Jowd’s brute strength weren’t enough and she’d jumped off to try to help Jowd, at least--

She remembered, with sudden agonizing clarity, her pain and sorrow, her absolute and utter rage. Her steps faltered and she stopped short. She looked more closely at the train in which she stood. Nothing quite fit with her memory—the ornate decorations on the carriage seats wriggled and chittered in her peripheral vision, blinking thousands of tiny eyes at her, and looked completely different every time she looked at them directly.

“Alma. I’m Alma,” she said aloud. “And I’m… in a dream, aren’t I?” The Phantom Train shivered, like a chocobo trying to shake off a stinging fly. Her surroundings changed again and she—

--stood in the shattering cold of the hills above Narshe, staring at the man who’d betrayed everything. Five years, five years since she’d let Jowd be lost and Kamila taken, and now the architect of her family’s destruction stood in front of her. She’d known his pretty words back in the cozy room in Narshe couldn’t be trusted. “All yours,” he’d said.

 “Where is my family?” she demanded, levelling her sword at the man she’d believed was closer than family.

“Gooone, baby,” he drawled, his handsome face twisted into a triumphant sneer and his dark eyes malicious. “Now it’s juuust the two of us.”

“No. There’s no way that you’re telling the truth. You wouldn’t have kept Jowd all this time just to… just to… and Kamila…no.  I’d know. …” she swallowed back a sudden spurt of tears or rage. “We thought of you as ours, together. Our family.”

“Ahh. All yooours, hmm? What a beauuutiful vision, baby, but no. You were always mine, but no, I was never,” his voice lashed at her, echoing somehow above the howling wind, “yours.”

He danced toward, her, reached out a hand, plucked the brooch from her neck. The scarf she’d given him whipped in the wind, obscuring his face one second and coming unraveled the next. His eyes gleamed, glowing white as the snow around her, as it somehow it snapped toward her, knocking her off her feet—

Alma blinked, breaking his gaze, and centered herself. A dream, she was dreaming, and that betrayal was behind her. Even the memory of it had been off—in Narshe he hadn’t worn the scarf she’d given him, nor had his eyes gleamed with such an unearthly glow. In the end, Cabanela had proved himself. His double had been a lie in both word and deed, and she had believed it almost to the end. It would be a pretty tale to tell herself that Jowd and Kamila were alive out there, even through the end of the world. She wanted that so badly. And Cabanela and the other one? Were they alive too, out in the ruined world he’d created? Did she want them to be, if having the one meant having the other too?

These thoughts were hard, and they wanted to skip away from her conscious like cold water on sizzling sand. She clenched her fists at her side, remembering another day when she had done so, and said their names as she tapped her thumb over each finger. “Lynne. Missile. Kamila. Jowd.” Unlike in the terrible time in Vector, there was no hesitation as she tucked her thumb in too and clasped her hands together. “Cabanela.” She gave her other hand, with its cold fingers interlaced into the others, a dry grin. “Sissel. Cidgeon, Memry. Cait Sissel. Amelie, Bailey…” She was running out of fingers for this metaphor, but they cupped the cold, empty space at the center that was her own soul. Save them and she could save herself. Save them and she could go home.

She shook herself. All of this contemplation was needless time spent when she stood alone in a cold dream with nothing but a nightgown. She looked down at herself again and concentrated. If this was some inimical fantasy-world, she wanted more protection than silk could afford. She needed to be at her best. Her favorite armor materialized around her, the jingle and clatter of the strips of leather and woven metal somehow working to recall her more firmly to her purpose. The sword Figaro’s king had given her on the occasion of her marriage to Jowd firmed in her hand. Her hair drew back into a tight, neat bun, suitable for the battlefield, tied with yellow ribbon. She would fight her way out of this nightmare and get back to where she belonged, wherever that was in this new world.