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Purpose Lost, Purpose Found

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Celes hadn't been to Mobliz since Terra had rejoined them in the struggle to defeat Kefka. The sounds of children laughing as they played were unfamiliar to her. The howl of the wind as it sought to tear down all in its path was not. The world had not yet recovered from the shattering Kefka had inflicted upon it, although it showed signs of trying. There weren't as many monsters in the wild lands between cities. She thought water was beginning to taste better, though maybe that was only exposure dulling the bitter metallic taste of spent magic and drained vitality. Faint, weak new plants were struggling to break through the soil that seemed dry and spent no matter how well it was plowed or how much compost and manure was mixed with it to fertilize it.

Without magic to sustain her, she felt nearly as dry as the soil, stripped and barren of whatever it was that had made her alive. It was partially the loss of her magic, but she knew it was also the loss of her purpose. She had been a general, and then a rebel. But the Empire was gone, and with it, both of her identities. She did not know where to find another self.

She was dithering, and she knew it. She straightened her shoulders and knocked firmly the door of the woodshed.

"Enter," came the deep voice from inside the shed.

She pushed open the door.

Cyan looked up from the piece of wood he was working on; from the others scattered near him, Celes guessed it was destined to become part of a chair. "Celes," he said with some surprise. "I was expecting one of the children. What brings thee here?"

Once she had cursed and insulted herself into gathering the courage to come here, the path had seemed simple and straightforward, but now standing here under his patient gaze, the words fled and left her silent.

"Thou needn't stand in the doorway," he said after a moment. She felt the flush of embarrassment race up her face, and shut the door behind her. Lacking anything else to do with herself, she fell into parade rest out of habit.

Cyan waited a few moments longer, then nodded. "When thou art ready to speak of it, I will hear thee," he said, and went back to shaping the wood into a chair leg.

There was something soothing about watching him at work; Celes admired competence, and he displayed it well. She had not known he knew woodworking, though the fine silken flowers he had sent to Lola had indicated some talent for craft. At last the lump in her throat subsided enough for her to force words out.

"I don't know what to do, without the army or the Returners."

She was sure someone else could have phrased it more elegantly, would not have simply stated the problem with no introduction, but he did not chide her for her lack of social skills.

Yet one more reason why she had come here, rather than going to one of their other companions.

"It troubles thee to have no goal," he observed.

The words clicked into place like a sword slid home in its sheath, and she found herself nodding without realizing it. "Yes."

He ran sandpaper over the wood, a quiet scratching that should have irritated but instead became soothing, a rhythm that counted itself off in her mind like the songs she'd sung as Maria. "Thou hast never had to design thy own goals. 'Tis a troubling thing, to give oneself orders."

Something loosened in her chest, from the simple way he stated it. "Someone has always given me orders, or there has been something that had to be done," she said. "And now, Kefka is dead and the world is broken and there are no armies." There were a few, but no king in his right mind would ever trust her with a command again. And her magic, something she never knew she'd miss until it was gone, had left a gaping hole inside her that she refused to mention to anyone else.

"I will not give thee orders, Celes." His tone was gentle, and he did not look at her, which let her pretend she didn't flinch when he said it.

"That's—" She caught herself before her voice broke, and took a deep breath to steady it. "That isn't why I came here."

"Then why?" He was no longer even pretending to work the wood, but he stared at it nonetheless, and she was grateful for it. When they had first met, he would not have been half so kind.

"You were also a soldier," she said. "Terra had the children here, but—" She caught herself a half-second before she said but the Empire took everything you loved and left you alone, as it did me.

He finished the sentence for her anyway. "But I have no homeland left, thanks to the Empire, and thus nowhere to go, as thou hast nowhere to go."

Shame burned hot on her face. "Yes."

He nodded. "I am here because Terra needed the help, and because there should be someone to guard these children against monsters. Also, I can teach them the ways of Doma, that my land need not be forgotten when I am gone."

She swallowed hard. "I'm sorry," she said. "For Doma."

The simple, steady look he gave her made her feel even worse, though she didn't think that was his intention. "'Twas not thy doing," he said, "however much I blamed thee when we met."

"No," she agreed, "but I am all that is left of the Empire, and the Empire owes you an apology, though that can never be enough."

He shook his head. "As long as thou consider thyself part of the Empire, thou wilt never move beyond it," he said. "I would not see thee trapped in thy childhood forever."

The phrase gave her pause. It was strange to think of military command as childhood, but for her, that was what it had been. "I have nothing to teach, as you do," she said slowly, trying to think through the problem aloud. "I can fight, but a warrior is of little use in peacetime, and the monsters seem to be dying out." Cyan said nothing, and though that frustrated her, part of her admired his tactics. If he would not advance, she must come to him. She thought about it. She had no skills beyond the sword and her magic (maybe song, but she could not see herself on an opera stage forever, and in any event that had been mostly Siren anyway). Yet even as a child, she had been a quick learner; Gestahl had designed her to grasp concepts quickly.

"So I would have to find something I wished to learn," she said, and Cyan smiled. It reminded her so much of the times when General Leo would smile at her for getting something right that her heart knocked painfully in her chest, but it was bittersweet, not crushing as it had been after his death.

"Thou need not decide immediately," he said. "Thou art yet young; there is time."

"I think maybe I would like to try my hand at building things, not knocking them down," she said without thinking, and surprised herself with how right it sounded.

He nodded gravely. "I can teach thee some basics, if thou wilt," he offered, and she found that her smile came unbidden. She took the seat nearby that he indicated.

"Thank you," she said.

"Thanks are for later," he said gruffly, and pointed to the first of his tools. "This is a lathe."