As he drags himself out of the debris, Celes is not really thinking. His mind seems to be throbbing as his body does. He feels sore and scratched all over, but he couldn't say where. He doesn't know what happened and his eyes can't make sense of what they see. Where once was the east wing of the palace, now there's nothing; it's a weird thought, one that makes his brain hurt, but it's the truth. No matter how long he stares in front of himself, all he sees is the sea stretching for miles. And that's just not possible.
As he stands up, testing his legs and his balance, sounds start to come back to him, steady but painfully slow, and he realizes he has been deaf until now. It's just a low humming at first, and then every vibration of sound turns into something else: whines, screams, sobbing, and over everything the roar of the waves, which sounds so wrong in here.
There has been an explosion, maybe more, that much he understands, but it's some vague piece of information in the back of his mind that he's not really computing. His eyes keep darting left and right, desperately searching for something he can cling to. Everything and everyone seems to move too fast or too slow, he can't get a grasp of anything.
"Mother," is the first sound coming out of his lips. His voice sounds rough, as if he hadn't used it for ages. It's the dust setting in his lungs, making it hard to breath. With the first cough, his mind clears up enough to make him aware of what is at a stake. His heart starts beating fast. "Mother!" He screams, as he stumbles among the ruins of colums he was used to run around in circle when he was a toddler. "Mother!"
He can barely recognize the hall he was walking down a few moments ago, none of his reference points are standing anymore. It could be anywhere, really, if he didn't know it's the royal palace. People are swarming in, someone touches him. They ask if he's okay. He doesn't know, but the fact that he can say that seems good enough because they're gone again. "Mom!" He calls again, turning on himself. The room is spinning a bit.
When you look at a card castle falling on a table, the motion is graceful, clean, almost majestic. Despite the feeling of disappointment towards your trembling hand that misplaced the last card of an inch, the cascade of cards is an exquisite sight. It is still, nonetheless, something you produced. The consequence of your lack of skill, perhaps, and yet an ordinate mess. Whatever order you gave the cards, but in reverse. It is almost the rewinding of time, so to speak, bringing you back to when you started building, urging you to try again.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so if tiny people were to live in that card castle, because it is not so when you find yourself inside a falling building. There's nothing graceful in the wall crumbling around you, nothing orderly in the rain of debris burying you deep down in the heart of a place you thought you knew so well and that is now closing in on you like a big, hungry mouth.
Everything is a mess. It's dust and pain and fear.
Aunt Abilene is alive, he can see her trying to get to her feet, her long blue dress trapped under what's left of a wall. Dead or alive. These are the terms in which he's already thinking. It doesn't matter how people are, it matter that they still are somewhere in this mess. He help his aunt, tears her dress apart, pulls her away, but he doesn't remain with her.
Fear is pulling at his heart, making it hurt, closing his throat until he can barely breath. "Mom!" He screams again, louder. Cyprian is alive too, the foreign leaders are with him. That's good, he thinks. Very good. But he can't keep calling his mother and find other people, he just can't. He needs to find her.
Vesper is clutching at her bloody hip, but she seems fine enough. His father Metacomet is holding her up. Celes feels overwhelmed by something he can't describe. Part of it is relief, most of it is hope, though tainted by something else. He throws his arms around his father and enjoys the weak caress of his step-mother. They're all here, aren't they? She must be here too, somewhere.
And she is, but all he can see of her is her pale arm under the rest of the biggest collapse. He opens his mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. It's Lacros' voice that roars in the hall, giving life to both their sorrows. He digs with his bare hands, screaming, crazy with pain. It's an hearbreaking sight, and at first nobody moves. Then, people run to help him. Celes feels them passing him by, pushing him aside, and still he can't move. He can do nothing but stare.
How did it happen?
One moment Celes was walking away from the hall, the moment after everything was crumbles and ruin. He doesn't remember anything in between, though he's trying to, as if a detail could have escaped him. A detail that could have changed the scene in front of his eyes right now.
The day had started well.
The preparation for his first war had been really strict – being unable to leave the royal palace was hard, being forced to be away from his boys was harder – but he felt proud and empowered. He had fought for years to have his own identity recognized despite his role, he had fought the role itself because it was bestowed upon him without his consent, but all that was forgotten, at least temporarily, when facing his first ceremony. Despite himself, he was thrilled.
The idea of having four lands clash was his own. It was bold, brave, it was out-of-the-box thinking, so deeply his that he was ecstatic about it. It was one of those things that had the ability of making you great or throwing you in a deep pit of failure such as you would never come out of again. And that was perfect for him. He had decided long ago that if he was to be a seer, he was gonna be something they had never seen before. He had started being male, but that was just the beginning.
He was going to change things or miserably fail trying, there was no in between. Of course facing the task ahead of him was scary, but he was dead set on it. And if his own history had taught him something was that nothing could make him change his mind.
Yet, in a matter of seconds, everything has changed.
It takes five people and almost twenty minutes to get her out of there. Twenty minutes that feel like days. Celes can't even move. He stands there, his back flat against the only wall that seems to be still standing. Vesper, with her waist bandaged, tries to get closer to him a few times, but he can't find it in himself to respond to her. He doesn't have enough strenght. All he can do is stare at that pile of rubbles that hides his mother. Doing anything else would break him, reduce him into pieces like this part of the palace.
When they drag his mom out, she's too still and too pale. The only thing that keeps him from losing his head is Lacros' voice, reapeating, "She's alive! Her heart's still beating!". Celes wants to believe him against all odds. He knew Lacros would know if she was really dead, his heart would probably stop beating too at the same exact moment.
Celes moves when his mom does, carried by the five people that freed her. Her arm hangs liflessly, her fingers barely closed around what's left of the crystal. Was she trying to do something while the palace fell on her? Is that why she's holding the crystal? Or was it all too sudden even for her? The thought of what the broken crystal means doesn't even cross his mind. All that matters now is that his mother is okay.
But she's not. She doesn't wake up.
"The law is clear about this, Celes," Vesper voice barely manages to cut through the fog in his brain. People came and go, but he and Lacros stayed here in her room. He doesn't even know how much time has passed. It could even have been hours or weeks for all he knows. "You must swear in as Regent until Manila can sit on the throne again or until you name an heir."
Celes would like to scream, to kick his feet, to say he doesn't care about this palace, this land or this role. They could name their heir themselves if they want to. Or they could blow the rest of the palace up. But he can't voice those thoughts. They remain trapped inside him. He can hear them slamming their fists against the wall of his brain, like he did, like his mother must have done, when everything came crumbling down.
People are arguing around him. The four strangers, leaders of their lands, claim to know what has to be done to save his mother. Everybody has as a different idea and none of them seems better or worse than the other. In desperate times, even the smallest option is a potential miracle.
It's another collapse, but a different weight trapping him now, pinning him down. No bricks, no walls, but responsabilities and fear. He run half his life from these walls, and they found a way to stop him, after all.
When he finally speaks, he does it as the Seer.