Muscles aching fiercely, the diminutive thief slowly trudged back to the inn that housed him, dragging his feet slightly on the dusty roads. How many nights had he spent in this quiet hamlet of a town with Reno? Far too many, in his mind. He was beginning to miss his Tantalus brothers and the boss badly. He had not stayed in a singular place for such an extended period of time since before he had been petrified in the Evil Forest. The memory caused him to shiver and he briefly closed his eyes, remembering those short, near fatal moments with unwilling realism.
He could feel the sickly slick texture of Mist in the humid forest clinging to his skin, the hissing and screeching of the Plant Spiders pounding against his ears. The ground trembled with the shocks of hundreds of feet bearing down as monster and man alike fled the quickly petrifying forest. What had possessed him to do it, he would never be sure of, but Zidane's words had sent chills through him.
The entire forest is coming after us. Blank... Take care of everyone.
With that foreshadowing looming over his head, it was on impulse that he pushed Zidane out of the way. He had watched over the kid since Baku brought him home, and the protective instinct had been branded into him. When he felt those cold, sharp pincers bite into the leather and worn skin at his waist, all he could think about was getting the map to to Zidane. Even as the Plant Spider that held him captive went rigid, he only hurled the map out to Zidane with all the strength his body possessed, and not moments after he felt his own body leaden and die.
It was a sort of hell all on its own, being petrified. All he remembered was the feeling of cold penetrating his very body, the thick Mist that settled in the enclosed space seeping into him, trapping him in a half lucid nightmare. He was never quite conscious, and yet never quite unaware at the same time. Often he dreamed of the look in Zidane's eyes as his friend whirled around to face him. It was a mourning expression, one of unwilling goodbye. Zidane bid him a final farewell a thousand times in his dreams, and each time his heart would crack, crumble. If Marcus had not come for him, he might have had to endure in that state until time, eons, broke his body apart, and perhaps not even then. Those days had been their very own breed of hell.
The memory left him as swiftly as it had pounced upon him when he found himself facing the inn's door. A heavy sigh left his lips as he let himself in, waved to the innkeeper, and ascended the stairs to his room. Locking himself in, feeling entitled to a few hours of solitude, he moved to the window to draw the heavy curtains, blotting out the sunlight. For a moment, he cursed his eyes and their sensitivity, but was quickly rid of the resentment. There was no point in hating what he could not change. With the room darkened, Blank was free to strip himself of his day attire of assorted leather straps and buckles, garbing himself in a long, white shirt with short sleeves that buttoned down the center and loose black pants. Far more comfortable than he had been, he moved to collapse upon the bed, not even bothering himself with climbing under the covers. He folded his hands behind his head and studied the ceiling, not yet tired enough to sleep.
A dull ache in his shoulder drew his attention and he sighed. It made him feel as though he were an old man, body plagued with stabbing, minute pains that returned time and time again. All of his skin grafts ached once in a while, reminding him of his old wounds. He smiled, perhaps somewhat morbidly, at the remembrance of the day he had earned most of his scars.
"Zidane, where ya goin'?! Don't go up there! Baku says it's dangerous! Zidane!"
A younger version of Blank, with unblemished, pale skin and bright eyes, turned away from the disappearing tail of Zidane's as he deftly scaled the vines as though he had not even heard the protests. Blank cast a helpless look at Marcus, who shrugged and turned away, heading back to the entrance of Gizamaluke's Grotto.
"I'll go get the boss to bring the Prima Vista around and pick him up before he gets hurt," Marcus nodded before breaking into a jog for the front gates. That left Blank to gaze up at the channel of light Zidane had been swallowed up by, fighting his own fear. He knew he should go up after his friend and drag him back down if he had to, but he was deathly afraid of what lurked in the forest he knew was above him. Of course, that all changed when he heard a monster's shrill snarl and Zidane's terrified cry.
Before he even realized he was being called for, Blank had burst out of the Grotto and into the forest where he saw Zidane backed against a tree, pressing himself as flat as he could against the trunk. Then his gaze went to the monster they were facing.
His heart stopped.
"Zidane!" he screamed, "Fuck it, run! That's a Grand Dragon!"
But his friend was frozen in fear, eyes wide, body trembling. The next few moments slowed and Blank seemed to separate from himself, absorbing his surroundings as he never did before. It was the adrenaline coursing through his blood.
First, he heard the hum of the Prima Vista's engines, then he saw the Grand Dragon raise its terrible claw. He saw Zidane's eyes widen, and felt his surroundings bleed away as he ran toward his friend as fast as his feet would carry him. He stood before Zidane at the last second, sword out before him to block the blow. He felt his sword shatter, then felt the sharp claw tear into his flesh. A moment of nothingness - of no pain at all - passed through him before the poison of the monster went to work and suddenly, Blank's very blood was burning. Through his hazed vision, he saw the Prima Vista nearly plow down the dragon, driving it away. He heard what might have been Zidane sobbing through stifled hearing. What he felt next was the ground meeting his body as he crumpled, the warm, spicy scent of blood in the air. He felt his life trickling out of him, even as something soothing was poured on him in gracious amounts. He later learned that Zidane had been emptying Hi-Potions on him, though their effect did not last long with the lingering poison. Just as Baku appeared in his steadily fading vision and he felt thick arms lift up his broken body, abruptly he felt nothing at all.
He had lived through it, obviously, and had been treated by the Regent's own doctors in Lindblum, though his vision was permanently impaired and his body would be forever scarred. Once he healed, whenever he looked at himself in a mirror, he would see a grotesque rag doll staring back, a patchwork of a person. So little of his skin was his own after the incident. His right shoulder had been torn out, as well as the left side of his face. Most of his torso was gone, his wrist nearly severed, his left ankle sharing near the same fate as his wrist. He lost the confidence of his youth and wore clothing that covered as much of him as possible. He hated to look at himself, as he had before been a very handsome young man. All the while, he watched Zidane grow into an attractive youth. He valued their friendship more than vanity, so he never felt spiteful of Zidane for his fortune, but he was resentful toward himself in many ways. He continued to wonder if there was anything he could have done to stop Zidane from leaving the Grotto to begin with. He should have never insulted the boy's pride.
It took nearly four years of hanging out with Zidane for him to regain himself and become the cocky ladies man he had been, but together they redefined the world as a place sheer charisma could overcome anything. While people had pointedly avoided Blank when he was recovering from both his physical and psychological wounds, once he began acting normally again, he noticed that his relations mended themselves almost at once. Even his reflection seemed brighter, and Ruby often teased him that he was going to become as vain as Lowell. What healed his heart was what she said after.
And fer good reason, darlin'. With a mug like yours, I'd be in love with me too.
Blank had good friends, this he always knew. Against the darkness, he smiled at all of the painful memories of his past.They had stopped haunting him long ago, and for him they served only as learning and bonding experiences. It was thinking of Zidane's smiles and laughter, fragments of memories from all the bar hopping they had done when Tantalus was always together, that finally lulled him into a peaceful sleep.