A Different Beat

[03.28.02] » by Elaine Wu

You gave me wings, and I reveled in flight.



Part I


As far back as he could remember, there had been Silas. 

Stepping inside the cool entrance hall of the Dincht house for the very first time, Ma had taken firm hold of his small hand and led him to the man waiting patiently beside the coat rack.

            “Grandpa Silas,” she had told him surely, kindly.

            And the tiny boy with wide blue eyes, tousled blonde hair, and patched clothes a size too big for him had glanced up solemnly at the burly old man whose feet were clad in shiny red sneakers.  He had been intimidated at first, taking in the lean cords of muscle that bunched the man’s arms, but as soon as he caught the sparkle in the warm grey eyes and the hint of a lopsided grin he knew he had finally found home.

            Home.  He’d never had a real home before. Before, he had thought home meant wind-blown shores and sheltered coves, weatherworn lighthouses and the echoes of children’s laughter.  But now—now home meant sunny Balamb piers and golden afternoons, playful salt breezes and cobbled alleys, cerulean skies and friendly-faced townsfolk.  Home was Ma Dincht’s home cooking, a cozy room of his own, and home was Grandpa Silas. Silas with his baggy clothes and red sneakers, the mischievous glint in his eye even with his age, his booming laughter, his jumps and spins and spunk and energy.  How Silas would say his name, “Zell,” and even though he was still merely a little boy he had swelled with pride.  For Silas had a way that made Zell feel wanted and loved from the day he first came.  It didn’t matter that he wasn’t related by blood and that Ma had adopted him, what mattered was that he had found complete love and acceptance for the first time in his life.

It was Silas who first taught him how to laugh.  Not just giggling and chuckling, but real laughter.

            “You can go through life in two ways,” Silas had told a Zell rapt with curiosity.  “You can take life with all its trials and tribulations seriously, carrying an eternal burden upon your shoulders, or—you can laugh your way through it.  You can take life with lightheartedness.”

            Watching Silas with all his vivacity and exuberance, Zell had learned.


The day Zell came upon Silas’s worn oak trunk was the day his life changed forever.  Small hands running eagerly over fading paint, rusting brass clasps, splintered wood aged smooth, a quiet gasp of delight had escaped him as the cover sprang open.  For inside lay a window to a time long past; untarnished by the dust of ages. 

Stiff cargo jacket and pants neatly folded, polished black combat boots, metal tags hanging on a single chain, belt studded with bullets, row upon row of shiny, gleaming medals and badges.  But the most wonderful treasure of all lay in the center—a wooden-barreled revolver, shining silver and gleaming metal illuminated in all its glory by golden rays of sunlight.  Little boy hands had instinctively reached out to stroke it, but Silas had come in, and shaking his head affectionately he had taken the weapon away, gently reproving Zell: he wasn’t old enough, not quite yet.

            But Zell watched in wide-eyed wonder as Silas had taken the items out of the chest one by one, faraway nostalgia in his old grey eyes.

            Medals were taken out, carefully polished once more by shirtsleeves; gnarled hands ran chinking through the bullet-studded belt; the revolver was held and cradled.  A piece of parchment fluttered to the floor, and unable to resist, Zell picked it up, taking in at a glance the 5 number code and the untidy signature of Silas Dincht, underneath which was scrawled a insignia of what looked like a jagged black squiggle.  It smelled of spice and time, of ages and ages hence, and Zell inhaled greedily. 

            “I was in the military…Garden,” whispered words, almost to himself, as Silas softly fingered navy and cargo, brushed wrinkled hands over glinting medal.  His eyes were quiet; memories of far-flung days and comrades long gone reflected in them.  “…Some of the best years of my life.”

             As Silas knelt there, framed by golden dust motes swirling through rainbow tinted glass, he finally looked his age—old, tired, and wise beyond his years.


            “Teach me how to fight, Silas—please.” Thumb and forefinger extended perpendicular formed a mock gun, pointed in the direction of the lone fisherman sitting on the pier. 

            Bang, Bang, Bang.  Zell cavorted around, giddy with wild dreams of starched uniforms, steel-toed boots, dog tag chains, polished rifles and revolvers.        

            Amusement sparked in the old man’s eyes. “I’ll teach you how to fight, all right.  But there’s no hurry.”  Met with a wide grin, he reached out to ruffle untidy blonde hair.

            “Boy, when I get my first gun, Silas—”  Zell was cut short as a strong hand covered his own small fist in a grip of iron.  Suddenly Silas’s eyes were the grey of steel: cold, hard, unrelenting; shining with distant determination.

            “No. Not a gun.”  He crouched down until steely grey was eye-level with bright blue.  “Zell, listen to me. You don’t need a gun in battle. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life it’s that a person needs to depend upon himself in a fight. Not to rely on a weapon of any kind—but to rely on himself alone. Yes, I’ll teach you how to fight. And though you’re still young, and I hope to Hyne you won’t have to experience the horror of warfare for many a long year yet, I will teach you how to fight with courage, with dignity, and with honor.”

            The little boy listened, and as he listened he saw the flash of sorrow, pain, pride and fierce joy that shone in grey eyes, all at once tumbled and rolled into one.  And the boy wondered why, but more importantly, he wondered how.


            Zell’s education began on the day Silas first hung the beaten and battered punching bag in front of him.

            “A punch, a kick, a spin—require grace, cadence, rhythm. Courage. Dignity. Honor. Remember that, Zell.”

            Puzzlement etching his features, Zell had looked to Silas.  “What do you mean, Silas? I don’t have the slightest clue what to do.”

            But the old man only produced a crooked smile as he melded into the background.  “Don’t worry. You’ll see. You’ll find your own dance, follow your own beat. You were born with it.”

            Zell drew near the punching bag warily, brow furrowed in concentration. What did Silas want him to do, exactly?  Just start…hitting?  He felt like such a fool.

            But the bag seemed to call out to him, and reluctantly he let his arm swing out. The first hit stung his small fist and he recoiled, startled.

Courage. Dignity. Honor. 

The words echoed in his mind, and with new resolve he began his dance.

            Elbow tucked in, forearm perpendicular to shoulder, fingers curled tight; the blood pounding in his ears and the oh-so-satisfying thud that accompanied each blow manifested as a song, a beat, that only he could hear, and he moved his feet, his arms to the rhythm.  A jump, a spin, and up kick and right whirl, back step, left fist fly, back leg forward, right fist to the side, bring it forward, up down, around, fly; thud thud smack smack. 

            Why, this wasn’t so hard after all, for one strike led into another and all you had to do was kick, swing, step step; follow, follow the beat.

            Time stopped, everything else in the world was merely a blur.  There was only him, him and the bag in front of him.  He came jolting back to the present only when a hand was placed on his shoulder and he spun around to look into the eyes of Silas, grey orbs burning with quiet satisfaction.

            “I think that’s enough for now, Zell.”

Martial Arts.  The word was foreign on Zell’s tongue, but it soon did not matter, for as the days rushed by in a whirl of color and motion the art itself became a part of him, found its way into his very soul. 


            There were many more training sessions after that, too numerous to count as the months flashed by.  Bitebugs and caterchipillars on the grassy knolls outside of Balamb, sparring with Silas upon the hills that dotted the Acauld Plains.  As time went on and the little boy began to grow up he came into his own, watched always under the knowing gaze of Silas.  There were no training manuals or instruction booklets, no instructors or classes; there were only Silas’s presence and the beat that throbbed in Zell’s ears.  For he seemed to know already what to do, as he began his careful exploration of his own steps and agile twists and thrusts.

            Then after each session there would always be special time with Silas, when Silas settled himself down in the wicker rocking chair and took Zell into his lap, where story after story was told of days long past in military academy; stories of recollected missions and remembered comradeships. Zell would listen wide-eyed with wonder at first, content and happy in Silas’s arms where nothing could go wrong, right before he drowsily fell into pleasant dreams to the lull of Silas’s words.


            Perhaps his carefree days with Silas were too good to last.  Ma had always said that nothing lasts forever.  But that didn’t mean he wanted it to end.  Forever stretched before them, infinite, and they had hardly even spent half of that time together yet.  There was still so much time left to be spent together, so much time, and he wanted it back; wanted it all back.  

            But on that rainy morning when Zell was twelve, Silas was gone.  Gone to a sleep from which there was no awakening, into a land of eternal rest.

            “Zell, it’s a natural part of life, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. We just have to accept it and go on with our own lives. That’s how Silas would have wanted it.”  Ma whispered soothingly to him as she cradled him against her.

            Zell had buried his tear-streaked face deeper into the folds of her apron.  “No Ma, it’s not that.  Silas didn’t say goodbye, he didn’t tell me he was leaving I thought we were always gonna be together I didn’t know—”  He took a shuddering breath as fresh sobs wracked him.  “He didn’t say goodbye to me.”

            Ma looked down upon the tousled hair of her son and wetness stung her own eyes.  “Oh, Zell.  He didn’t need to say goodbye.  He’s not gone, not completely.  Silas is still with you, he’s in you.”

            Upon Zell’s bed was a package. A package he knew, with merely a glance, that was from Silas.  But it didn’t stop Zell from running.  He tore out of the house to the hill—the hill where he and Silas always trained upon, in a silent turmoil of rage and grief and helplessness, clutching the paper package to his chest.  And the rain beat down upon him as his own tears eventually stopped and a hollow emptiness took its place.

            As he tore open the package in a tumult of frustration out onto the muddy ground tumbled a pair of gloves—glinting metal, supple fabric; perfect in every way.  He knelt down in quiet surprise, reaching out a finger to stroke the weapon, as a wave of images washed over him.

            Silas with his flips and jumps broad grin deep chuckle the crinkles at his eyes when he smiled laughter that echoed as he knelt there with swirling dust motes looking into his trunk spunk and energy lightheartedness afternoons tucked warm into strong arms baggy clothes wisdom and energy red sneakers follow your own beat rhythm cadence dignity honor remember that zell wrinkled smiles callused hands…

            …Zell clutched his head as a fresh wave of tears assaulted him and streaked their way down his cheeks.   

            It wasn’t fair it didn’t make sense why did he leave why did you leave me?  

            It was then he realized that he was still a child, after all. A little boy who was lost and didn’t know what to do, trying vainly to grasp onto something that was rapidly slipping away.

            As the afternoon crept away the sun finally broke through the clouds, its golden rays smiling upon the ground.  Zell felt the light of the sun shining upon his tear-streaked face, bathing him in a warm caress, and far off, he thought he heard a deep laugh echoing through the land.  Untangling himself from his curled-up position upon the grassy knoll, he reached over to where his gloves lay yet untouched.  Slowly he sat up and pulled them on, ever so gently.  He marveled at the way they spanned his knuckle, wrapping his hand securely but lithely bending as he flexed his fingers.  He wondered how long Silas had saved these, where he had gotten them, these first pair of gloves.

            A scrap of paper drifted to the ground from the opened package beside Zell, and he picked it up.  On it was scrawled the same insignia of a jagged black lightning bolt he had once seen long ago, along with two words.

            Zell.  Dance.

            After a long while he finally stood up, looking over the rippling plains of Balamb spread before him.  He remembered Silas, how he had been a proud fighter, a mighty warrior.  He remembered his own dreams, long before, a youthful echo of Silas.  And as he remembered, he Knew.  Knew what to do, at long last.

            Lifting his head, Zell faced the blanket of endless cerulean above him.

            “Silas, I’m going to Garden.”


 Part II


          “Yer Silas Dincht’s boy, ain’t ya?”  The old gatekeeper peered closely at Zell, squinting at him from beneath his rumpled hat. 

            “Y-yes.”  Zell stammered, startled at hearing Silas’s name. Here was a person who knew his grandfather!  A ray of hope began to take form in Zell’s chest.  “How did you know?”

            The gatekeeper glanced down at the baggy clothes Zell wore, the brand new red sneakers he sported on his feet, and gave a knowing grin.  “The many times he came here to brag about his new grandson…”  But taking a closer look at Zell, the gatekeeper nodded to himself.  “You have the same look about ya as Silas once did—same build, same determined look about the eyes…heck, yer almost the spittin’ image of him!”

            Zell swelled with pride.  “You knew Silas, then.”

            The old man had a faraway gleam in his eyes.  “Ya bet. Silas Dincht…now he was a real fighter. One of the best warriors to grace these halls, sure had some fighting skill, that one did. Best I’ve seen with a revolver, not to mention those fists of his…he’ll be remembered here for a long while yet.”

            Surprised, Zell took a small step back.  Silas had been that well known?  Sure, he had never doubted that Silas was one of the best, but…well, he had never really thought about what exactly Silas had done here, what his standing and rank was.  Now that he thought about it, Silas must have made quite a name for himself. 

            “You’ll be joining Garden then?”  The rasping voice brought Zell back from his thoughts.

            “Uh…yes.”  More confidently now, Zell straightened up.  “Yes, I’ve come to join Garden.”

            Leaning heavily upon a knobby walking stick, the gatekeeper shuffled up ahead a few steps.  “Well then, how old are ya now, boy?”

            “Thirteen, sir.”

            Chuckling, the gatekeeper clapped a wrinkled hand upon Zell’s back.  “You have a lot to live up to, boy, ya know that?”

            Zell didn’t say a word, for he had caught sight of the wide open doors of the academy up ahead through the trees, and his eyes had grown wide with awe.

            Pointing the way ahead, the old man’s face split into a wide toothless grin once more.  “Welcome to Balamb Garden.”


            At first he had gotten off to a bad start. Having met with the headmaster Cid, he had immediately been issued a dorm room on the first day.  His roommate was a big brawny boy a year or two older than he, and had taken no interest whatsoever in Zell. 

The first week he spent at Garden was miserable.  Even though his home with Ma wasn’t too far away in the town of Balamb, he still missed it terribly.  The bare walls of his dorm room could hardly compare to the warm coziness of his room at home, and all night he would picture Ma’s face, and Silas’s smile, and he would silently cry himself to sleep.  He was homesick; homesick for Ma’s fresh cooking and the many comforts of his own home.  His classes during the daytime were not at all what he had expected.  There were no actual training sessions yet, rather the students of his age group would spend hour after hour bent over textbooks and computer tutorials on magic withdrawal and the techniques of combat.

On top of that, he hadn’t found very many friends to get along with.  He had classes with many of the same students; one in particular who had messy brown hair and was cold and indifferent, muttering  ‘whatever’ to any comment Zell attempted to make.  He got along all right with the girl with long blonde hair, but she was some sort of child prodigy, he supposed, and more often that not she was studying on her own and wouldn’t socialize much.  Then there was the matter of the blonde-haired boy, large already for his age, fiery, obstinate, who enjoyed pushing others around.  From the first day he had targeted Zell, and Zell spent most of his days trying to avoid scuffles in the hallways.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to fight, he had his pride, but rather it was a matter of avoiding trouble.  He couldn’t afford to risk his schooling at Garden. 

On many occasions, though, the idea of leaving Garden crossed Zell’s mind.  At times when he was unhappy and lonely, he thought of home and would have given anything to go back.  But then he thought of Silas and his own hopes and dreams, and with new determination he resolved to stay in Garden to achieve them.     


            The first mock combat session was an event that all the underclassmen had been anticipating for months.  Finally they could proceed from their classroom studies to attempt actual physical, hand-to-hand combat.  Already they had all chosen their weapons of specialization and now one by one they were faced off with an instructor whose sole purpose was to instruct and advise. 

            Out upon the fields of Balamb, Zell waited in nervous anticipation for his turn as he watched the boy ahead of him take his lesson with the instructor.      

            “One-two step, back, thrust—hey what do you think you’re doing with that thing, cadet?!”  The instructor’s voice had risen to a hoarse yell as he narrowly missed being nicked in the throat by a gleaming gunblade.

            The boy who wielded it gave a smirk, as with a flourish he whirled and held the gunblade up in front of him in a mock salute.  “Think you had better watch your back, Instructor.”

            For any casual observer the sight of a young boy wielding a deadly gunblade twice his size would have been a comical sight, but for those at Garden familiar with this one boy it was not a matter to take lightly.  All who knew him knew that already he was a force to be reckoned with, and many shuddered to think what kind of warrior he would be when he had fully grown up.

            Face flushed, the instructor pointed a shaking finger in the direction of the entrance to Balamb Garden close by.  “Think you had better watch your mouth, Almasy.  Report to the Disciplinary Committee at once.”

            Sneering, the boy stalked off, and Zell was up.

            Apprehensively, he bounced up and down on his toes and he tugged at the gloves that wrapped his hand.  The instructor watched indifferently, and there was hint of skepticism in his voice as he spoke.

            “Martial arts specialist, are we now?”

            Zell looked up, distracted, and nodded mutely.

            “The only trainee in Garden so far—let’s see what you’ve got!”  With that, the instructor unexpectedly lunged at Zell, hoping to catch the boy off his guard.

            But with reflexes that surprised even himself, with a duck and a twist Zell was already on the other side of his instructor, a gloved fist flying towards the exposed face.

            A quick drop to the ground and his instructor was under, up, coming towards Zell once more.  His former anxiety long forgotten, Zell concentrated all his being upon the fight at hand.  He had to do well he just had to, this first time, he would show them all…

            His thoughts soon turned to an incoherent stream in the back of his mind as the world faded once more.  Whirl, duck, punch, kick to the left, back flip to dodge, there here up NOW!  To the face, to the midriff, exposed stomach; Zell’s blows rained down heavy and hard.  His fists flew, his legs pumped and spun, his back arched and he twirled and jumped and danced.  The beat was once more pounding in his ears and he could do nothing but follow it.

            After what seemed an eternity, insistent yelling brought him back to his senses.

            “Cadet! Cadet! That’s enough now!”

            In mid leap Zell stopped, landed on all fours, and looked up, blinking the haze from his eyes.  His instructor faced him with palms outstretched, a signal of surrender.  No longer was there any doubt in his eyes as he looked upon the unruly-haired boy before him, but in its place was astonishment and the beginnings of wonderment.  He seemed speechless for a moment, but soon found his voice.

            “Cadet, were-were you at any other Garden before this one?”

            Zell shook his head, flexing his fingers. These gloves were quickly growing too small for his growing hand; they dug into his skin.  But they were the gloves Silas had given him, and he was loath to go and find a new pair.

            “Had any other former professional training?”

            Once again Zell shook his head, slowly, tentatively.  There had only been Silas, and his training sessions with Silas had been more like fun; afternoons of play and mock fighting.  On top of that, Silas had barely ever instructed him, mainly left Zell to his own explorations, guiding Zell only with the reminders of Courage, Dignity, Honor.  And those had been more than enough for Zell.   

            Clearly unsettled, the instructor looked Zell from head to toe.  “What’s your name, cadet?” he finally demanded at length.

            Straightening up, Zell replied.  “Dincht, Zell Dincht.”

            Now wonder did indeed creep into his instructor’s eyes.  “Dincht? As in, relation to Silas Dincht? The Silas Dincht?”

            A bit confused, Zell nodded. “Y-yes. I’m his grandson.”

            The instructor’s eyes were wide in awe, and respect now shone from them.  “You’re his grandson?”  He let a sharp hiss of air escape from between clenched teeth.  Whoo-ee. Who would’ve thought? His grandson, Silas Dincht’s very own grandson, don’t that beat all.”    

            Seeming to notice Zell again, who was standing before him with sweat-soaked blonde hair and a very puzzled expression on his face, the instructor saluted him, newfound reverence in his very stance and gaze.  “Excellent job, Cadet. First-rate, exceptional.  I am honored beyond belief at the opportunity to instruct Silas Dincht’s own grandson. Looking forward to more training sessions together, eh?”  He winked at Zell.  “Dismissed!” 

            Zell made his way wearily towards the open doors of Garden, wiping sweat out of his eyes.  An unreasonable anger towards his instructor and himself as well was slowly filling him. 

Before he had seen him fight his instructor was uninterested, doubtful of Zell’s skills.  Zell had caught more than a hint of derisiveness in his instructor’s voice when he had first addressed him.  And then…after the fight, when his instructor had found out that Zell was Silas’s grandson…his whole demeanor had changed.  Sure, he had complemented Zell, but that was after he had found out about Silas.  Yes, Zell was Silas’s grandson, and damn proud of it too, but—it just seemed as if everyone here recognized Zell only for his relation to Silas, and not for his own skills.  Were his fighting skills really that bad?  Bad to the point where no one would acknowledge them until they found out about famous Silas and then were obligated to recognize his skills?

He had come to Garden to be like Silas; come to Garden to make Silas proud, but now—now it seemed that Silas would always be the one making him proud. 

            Frustrated with himself and the world, Zell angrily slammed his way into his dorm room.  He had come to Balamb Garden to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, damn it.          


            The days and months flew by, too numerous to count, and things changed and people changed.  Classes and training filled Zell’s days, and he was busy; too busy to think of much else.  Long ago he had stopped giving people his last name, and when asked for his name now he would only reply with a grin, “Zell.” 

            Buoyant, upbeat, cheerful and ever the optimist he had made a name for himself around the academy and found many friends far and wide.  As his seventeenth birthday passed Zell began to look forward to achieving the final step of his goal ever since he had first come to Garden—SeeD.

            And finally the day of the Dollet field exam dawned clear and bright, lifting Zell’s spirits to the heavens above.  Things would change today, he told himself.  After the exam, everything would be different.        

            Little did he know how different things would be.  Dollet triggered off a series of events that would change Zell’s life.    


            “Everyone ready?”

            Zell glanced at Squall, who had spoken, and then swung his gaze around to the circle of his friends standing in the hall that led right to the room where Ultimecia waited.  His friends.  Squall. Rinoa. Selphie. Quistis. Irvine.  The people he felt closest to now, for after all they had been through together an inexplicable bond had grown between them all; a bond of strength and courage that would not be broken by anything or anyone, least of all whom they were about to face. 

            Their faces were tired, and their feet weary, but there was determination and a light on each face as they all gripped their weapons tighter and nodded fiercely. 

            So they entered the room where their final foe awaited them, and from then there was no turning back.   


            Rinoa had fallen first, and then Selphie, Irvine, and the rest of them had watched in numb disbelief as their bodies dissolved slowly into the surrounding vortex of nothingness which was Time itself.  Zell stepped up to take their places, Ehrgeiz a red glow upon his hands as he readied himself.  He heard the crack of Quistis’s whip, the flash of blue magic that accompanied it, and he launched himself off just as Squall had shouted,

            Now, Zell!”

            And he was off, hurtling slowly towards the mighty form of Ultimecia that was before him, the empty darkness of her face turned expectantly to face him.  He had begun slowly, determinedly, as he tried vainly to grasp onto the beat that throbbed faintly in his ears, but in this vast emptiness in which they stood it was hard; hard to fight the fear that invaded his mind and took the place of all else.

            Reflect On Your Childhood.

            The soundless voice of Ultimecia filled his mind, and Zell fell into an awakening dream.   

            He saw, as if through a haze of faraway mist, even as he let his first hit fly, a little boy, yellow hair falling into his eyes, step into a hallway for the first time, met by a smiling old man.  He saw red sneakers and the quiet crinkle of grey eyes, he saw golden dust motes swirling through a window as an old man and a young boy knelt by an open trunk.  He saw small fists flying, a lone punching bag swinging wildly, a wicker rocking chair creaking slowly, rain falling, a package torn open, brand new gloves tumbling to the earth, a muddied note with two words.  He saw acceptance and love, loss and sorrow and dreams and hope.  He saw Courage, Dignity, and Honor.  And with that he finally found his dance.

            Time resumed its usual pace, the darkness receded and light grew in intensity around Zell, as he landed catlike in front of Ultimecia, the smiling face of Silas in his mind and the echoes of distant laughter ringing in his ears. 

Courage. Dignity. Honor.  

He knew what he had to do, and he heard the beat now clearer than ever before, as his feet fell into step to the dance of his soul.  He spun, he ducked, he whirled and dodged, even as Ehrgeiz encasing his fists was a red blur up, around, under Ultimecia, and his legs flipped and struck and lashed out.  His back was an arch, his body lithe and agile as he ducked and weaved and struck; as straight as an arrow shot from a bow, perilous, deadly, a force to be reckoned with.  It was from his heart now—his very soul, from which he was fighting this battle. 

What was in a duel?  Courage, Dignity, Honor. What was in a punch, a kick, a blow, a dodge?  Cadence, Rhythm, Beat.

After an eternity, he heard the explosion of a shot torn from a gunblade, and the coiled steel of a whip curled past him with a resounding crack.  Zell fell back, drained but fulfilled, watching with grim satisfaction as a piercing wail sounded from Ultimecia as Squall took his turn now, Lionheart tracing a blue streak around her.  For Zell had Hurt her; hurt her like no one else had managed to do before.  There was approval in Squall’s eyes when he looked back at Zell, as he too, fell back. 

And then—suddenly there was nothing.  Zell watched as the universe tilted, Ultimeica shattered, and Squall and Quistis disappeared in front of his eyes into the emptiness beyond.       

            Soon he was floating through a blankness of white, his very existence denied.  But there was still the light of hope in his heart, for he remembered his friends, thought of Ma and Silas.  He called upon love and friendship and hope, and then—he had found his way back home.


            “Zell! Zell! Are you coming?”

            Zell was met with the beaming face of Selphie, hanging tightly on to the arm of Irvine, peering at him from beneath a large cowboy hat.

            He waved her off, flashing her his own wide smile.  “You bet.  Just give me a few minutes.”

            Selphie gave him a wave as she and Irvine slowly made their way through the throng of people towards the open doors of the ballroom.  Zell threaded his way in the opposite direction, headed for the welcoming doors leading to the balcony.  He was met with countless glances as he pushed passed people; the glances of strangers which were now filled with admiration and respect.  Respect for one of the heroes who had brought about the downfall of Ultimecia. 

            For a minute there Zell recalled his unbidden anger right after his first mock combat session, many long years ago; anger at the fear that he would forever live behind Silas’s shadow.  Before, there had been respect in others’ eyes when they looked upon him because of Silas, but now—now, after Ultimecia, there was newfound respect in their eyes for him.  He had earned it, had proven his worth at last.  Yes, Zell Dincht was a warrior to be reckoned with. Though one certainly couldn’t tell from the outside, as Zell cheerily waved and winked at the people he passed by.     

The night air was cool against his flushed faced, a welcome relief from the heat of many bodies dancing merrily inside the ballroom.  The darkening sky was quickly becoming studded with stars, and a sliver of moon made its silent appearance known.  He leaned against the balcony railing, glad for the calmness in which he now immersed himself in.  

It was a rare occasion now when he had quiet moments alone to himself.  Ever since the defeat of Ultimecia and the ‘heroes’ had returned home to a jubilant welcome, there had been parties and dinners and more parties.  Not that he minded; he wasn’t like Squall, who thrived on time alone, but still, it was nice to have a moment to himself now and then. 

So now, he gave himself up to thought and memory.

At once he thought of his friends, an image of each one of them flashing before his face, and he grinned happily.  He sure was lucky to have found such lifelong friends as these.  He could depend upon them for anything now—they had all gone through hell together. 

And as always, Silas came to mind.  The presence of Silas was ever with him, (how could it not?) but it was then he realized something.

    Garden had stopped becoming a place where his sole purpose was to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.  It had started out like that, sure, but along the way he had discovered his life here.  Discovered his skills, his loves, his friends, his very self, right here.

            Silas had started him on his way, and here he was—not quite at the end of the road yet, not by a long shot; but here he was, and he had found himself.  Balamb was home, but Garden was home. 

            “Courage, Dignity, Honor, Silas.  Thank you.”  Zell sent his whispered words into the distance, where far off the last vestiges of the sinking sun was descending into the ocean.

            He had found his courage now.  He had dignity.  And he had honor.

            He was one who danced to a different beat than others.

            He was Zell Dincht.

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