Author's Note: Hey guys. Most people are sad, some are thoughtful, others are glad. Though if you thought that was the END of Aaron…well, not quite. He's dead. But there's still some…things to consider. Like, what becomes of the ABTC's scapegoat plan.

Note: there was a MAJOR continuity error in the prior chapter during Aaron's memory sequence. The last one, where Hirum met Aaron, to be precise. Reread it to see a more chronologically correct version.

Anyhow…

BEGIN!

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Chapter 91: Countdown to Destruction

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/1:32 NT, Calm Lands, Wilderia Continent/

The small red star that was the Materia Meteor…it stirred the memory of one who had seen it long ago.

Who had seen it grow larger.

Who had seen it plummet.

Who had watched from a distance as it wiped Vorudun from the face of Spira, a town he had been to mere hours before.

Now…it came again?

It could not be mistaken for anything else. The very sight of it had ingrained itself into his mind, unable to be forgotten.

So he reached over and turned on the intercom. "Kuakem."

Static crackled until a young voice replied. "Fryd ec ed umt-desan?"

'Old-timer', hm? He would get onto him later for not calling him 'Rayt'. "Ryja oui kywat ehdu dra cgeac yc uv myda?"

"…E ryja huf."

"Nyz weh ehi ayo whyl Vorudun?"

"Cajah miles. Fyc uh so fyo pylg frah oui teymat eh."

"Cdub po Vorudun yht caa ev drana ec yhouha drana. Tu hud ycg xiacdeuhc yht zicd rinno."

"…ev oui ehcecd."

A quiet click, and the transmission was cut.

The man with the title of 'Rayt' leaned back in his old chair, surrounded by a menagerie of archaic machina and modern equipment. He had a distinct feeling there was trouble afoot in the Calm Lands this eve.

Particularly to the south…where Vorudun's remnants lied.

xxxx

/2:33 NT, The Boss's Private Quarters, ABTC Headquarters, Luca/

Once one reached a certain level within the Al Bhed Technologies Commission – namely, when you got around to handling materials (documents, inventions, deadly weapons and so on) that required discretion – all employees had monitoring devices surgically attached to the interior of the cranium. Inserted into the bloodstream during routine checkup, nanites would quietly and discreetly deposit their load before exiting the body via urination. Most employees were never the wiser to the existence of the miniature devices that now observed their vital signs (the only ones said to know for sure would be the Boss and the members of the Council).

The most prominent measurement was of electrical activity in the brain. Only the most expert of White Mages could resurrect someone who was considered 'brain-dead'…and according to all medical texts (magical or otherwise), the timeframe after brain death wherein a mage could revive someone was…oh, one minute, give or take a few seconds.

That's why Daedalus Yates said nothing as the vital signs – or lack thereof – had revealed themselves on his personal office computer.

Given the time that had elapsed since Aaron's EEG readings went to zero…there was no chance of revival now.

So the Boss remained silent. Thinking.

For a few minutes.

So his son was dead. How…unfortunate.

A less than ideal outcome, to be blunt. But not beyond his foresight; one did not become a summoner's guardian without assuming a risk of fatal injury. Thus, he had been forced to prepare for this scenario.

He had arranged matters to his liking. Though it would have been preferable to have Aaron back; it would have made for a more convincing tale.

So he calmly grabbed his sphere-com and spoke. "ABTC: A delivery is needed at warehouse 17A. Express shipping."

The targeted sphere-com received the signal and promptly relayed the message to more general parties: undercover ABTC agents and Lussyhtuac, to be precise. It had been a message discreetly sent out over the past couple of weeks, ever since a plan had come into being about how to respond to Hiregor's press conference.

Now he just had to wait.

And ponder what life without his son would be like.

xxxx

Aaron was…somewhere else.

He imagined the Farplane would be…less ominous.

Then again, maybe I've got the cheap seats. It wouldn't surprise him, given his sins. Though…in all honesty, he wondered what else was to come. I probably should be hoping for getting off easy. Any sane person would. Then again, he'd given Hirum his word to own up for everything he'd done. And all that that implied.

"WELCOME."

Aaron's eyes darted about the void he now found himself in. "Who said that?"

"YOUR VICTIMS."

The Al Bhed blinked as various motes of light were emerging from the far reaches of the indigo-tinted space he found himself in. Points that were broadening, mutating into more recognizable shapes.

Humans. Al Bhed. Ronso. Guado. Hypello.

Aaron couldn't help but marvel at the sea of white spirits that had suddenly surrounded him.

"YOUR REPENTANCE IS TWOFOLD. YOUR FLESH WAS SUBJECTED TO THE PHYSICAL PAIN YOUR ACTIONS HAVE CAUSED. EVERY DEATH, EVERY WOUND, EVERY SCAR…ALL OF THOSE SENSATIONS WERE INFLICTED UPON YOU."

Felt about as bad as I could imagine that sort of thing to be, dryly thought the Al Bhed, privately dreading what was about to come next.

"YOUR SPIRIT WILL NOW BE PUNISHED. THE EMOTIONAL ANGUISH. THE RAGE AT YOUR ACTIONS. EXPERIENCE THE TORMENT THAT GOES DEEPER THAN ANY BLADE."

The first one to step up to the plate was a spirit that seemed to have a number of welts along his arms. "…Folgin?"

The spirit seeped into his body.

Aaron gagged as he clutched at his heart, feeling an utterly alien sense of carnal joy. Hatred at what the experimentation had done to him…but his own vices treated the alterations as ecstasy, mingling with his impulses and urges to wreak havoc, to kill, to rend asunder…

Aaron suddenly realized he was experiencing the emotions and thoughts of Folgin, a monstrous criminal that his actions had turned into a true monster. His mind had been vile. Repugnant. Evil.

It made him sick.

The Al Bhed cringed and heaved, wanting to empty his stomach…but being a spirit, was unable to do so.

"FRIEND. FOE. ALL WHO HAVE BEEN HARMED BY YOUR TOUCH…EXPERIENCE THE CONSEQUENCES."

Aaron wearily raised his head…and paused.

The light in front of him was in the shape of Hirum.

"…Hirum…"

The spirit fell into him.

This experience all but broke Aaron.

He was very familiar with the concept of betrayal. He'd had more than one person turn into a traitor, willing to sell out the ABTC. It was a diminishing experience, to think that someone you at least trusted to do a job you gave them…to think that person could violate that trust…

But it was nothing compared to this.

Those…traitors to the ABTC. They were acquaintances at best. Anonymous workers.

Hirum…had been his friend. For years.

His thoughts were forcefully led to Bikanel Island, when he had made his gamble to take both Teela and Serena out of Hirum's hands. A gamble that had set the two against each other.

What Hirum had felt during that event…the betrayal…the palpable revulsion, watching how his 'best friend' seemed to regard Teela and Serena as no more than experimental test subjects…those feelings…

They ATE at him. Gnawing sensations, chewing and gnashing away at his own perceptions and beliefs. To think that his actions could induce such feelings, to think such AGONY could be possible…Aaron had always rationalized such things. Always quantified the feelings – feelings that he knew Hirum was experiencing after Bikanel – as something horrible, something that he would have to make up for in the future. He thought ultimately repenting would be enough.

He was wrong…oh so wrong…

Seeing the things he had done through the eyes of someone outside the world he had chosen to live in…there were so many things he felt now. The anguish. The regret. The shame.

"Not like this…not like this…" Aaron shivered as he curled up, impulsively trying to block out the feeling of the chill that washed over his form like cold water. "…this is…what it feels like..."

Aaron choked with nonexistent tears, not even bothering to resist as more spirits came forth. The closest was that of a resident of Nibilo.

"No idea…no idea…"

He had been given a mere glimpse through the eyes of an outsider. Yet it was enough for his penitence to take on a new significance. He had thought he would be able to accept his repentance without any regrets.

How…foolish! To think this wouldn't make him feel regret? To think he had been so arrogant as to assume…that he wouldn't desire to make up for his mistakes…?

In light of this, it was all too clear what a tall order repentance was. And much would be demanded of him: much more than he had EVER thought.

"Drana ec hu nabahdehk...ruf lyh E?"

"YOU NOW UNDERSTAND THE TRUE WEIGHT OF WHAT YOU'VE DONE."

The spirit of a Nibilo denizen laid his hands upon a still Aaron.

"AND WITH UNDERSTANDING…"

Aaron gaped as his mind flashed with images of a town gripped with hellish fire and demonic beings…shortly before feeling the frustration and torment of this man who had lost everything…

For the first time, the Al Bhed could grasp what his actions had wrought.

"…COMES TRUE REPENTANCE."

Aaron howled with sorrow.

The anguish would keep on coming.

By the time it would end…there would be absolutely nothing left of him.

xxxx

/1:35 NT, Within Ruins of Vorudun, Calm Lands, Wilderia Continent/

All movement ceased. For the moment.

Only Serena moved, her form floating in the air; psychic waves roiled off of her, a mass of purple light that twisted and curled…ready to strike at a moment's notice. Her subconscious operated on instinct, ready to lash out even if Serena was consciously unaware…not that that was a possibility now. All ambient thoughts were filtering through her mind…she was aware of every animalistic fiend, every cautious enemy, every ally…

The young Psy Mage felt Aaron's absence that much more.

Her young mind immediately opted for the quickest recourse: vengeance. Not born of true hate…but of the simple childish need to pay back the ones who had killed her fellow guardian. Her…friend.

In the end, Aaron tried. And that was enough for her.

"RAAAA!" Serena roared as tendrils soared down towards Jugon Ronso and Vindez.

The two targets immediately began moving. Vindez cursed as he summoned a shield of pure mana, warding off the probing magic tentacles. "Damn it all, I HATE it when I'm right…" This kid really was something else!

Jugon Ronso settled for twisting and vaulting backwards, grabbing the nearest pillar and chucking it at the levitating girl.

Sliced apart like trash. The pillar fell apart into rubble as more tendrils sought out the most vulnerable foe. She would not be denied.

Jugon snarled as he flipped backwards, backing away from the tendrils. His instincts were screaming 'danger! STAY AWAY!'; he could practically smell the magical power emanating from the girl, so fierce it was. "Little girl will not catch-!"

He was flying forward.

Courtesy of a kick in the back by Kurik Ronso.

The taller Black Ronso never even had the chance to realize what had happened before his mind was skewered by several tendrils of psychic energy. Brief outbursts of pain were overwhelmed by a primordial burst of fury and rage, all rationality falling to the wayside.

It had been a ferocious attack, stripping away every single facet of Jugon Ronso's personality and intelligence. Serena had unknowingly lobotomized him with all the grace of a blunt blade, reducing the complex neural reactions within his frontal lobe to an almost nonexistent trickle; all that was left was instinct. Primitive, hardwired instinct.

Jugon Ronso's eyes flared yellow as he thrashed and howled, spitting angrily at the strange little glowing girl. Who was she?! How DARE she hurt him! She'd pay! He would strip all the meat from her bones and feed her to the fiends!

Wait. Why was she getting smaller? He looked around, wondering why he felt the wind in his face. What…the ground was getting closer!

Barely catching himself, the giant Black Ronso growled as he looked around. He was within the deepest pit of the ruined city…and hungry eyes were eyeing him, seeing possible prey. Nearby was a figure in black armor, one who smelled oddly familiar. Better than those other strange ones up there, including that glowing purple one…the one who had thrown him into this dark hole! No wonder he was down here!

A primal roar of fury erupted from his gullet, a challenge to the girl who had slighted him…and a promise of destruction to the fiends eyeing him and the armor-clad one nearby.

The fiends charged anyway. The massive outflow of Serena and Vindez's mana was all-too enticing, drawing all of the fiends out of their hiding places from the shadowy depths of Vorudun. The creature before them was filled with rage, a natural siren call to them. All the same, the unmoving one nearby…that one was weak. They could sense it. An inability to move that made him all too lovely a prize.

Various monstrosities split up. Some charging at the berserk Black Ronso. Many heading upwards towards the battle between Serena and Vindez. Others going for the human in armor…

No. The fiends suddenly slowed and stopped, eyeing the armored human warily.

They wouldn't go any closer.

Not with it going towards him, lantern in hand and butcher's knife at the ready.

On a deep primal level, the fiends knew better than to cross such a creature.

With that in mind, they turned and focused all attention on Jugon Ronso.

xxxx

Cecil was honestly perplexed at the sight of the fiends – the ones hovering, crawling, flying, slithering, and 'insert-verb-of-transportation-here'ing – suddenly stopping and turning their attention towards Jugon Ronso, who already was a flurry of fists, claws, and teeth. Fiend parts went flying as they tried to pick away at the rampaging warrior. …what…?

"Be calm Cecil. This will take but a moment."

The voice of Tonberry both calmed Cecil's nerves and gave him a reason as to the fiends' sudden retreat. Deep down, all were aware of the dominion Tonberries had over the spirits and souls that permeated Spira; their 'Karma' ability was proof enough of that. It certainly contributed to a sense of unease for normal people…but for fiends, it was like a natural ward that forced them to flee.

A sudden cleansing feeling washed through him, Tonberry's curative spell releasing him from the paralytic hold upon his body. As though he were good as new, Cecil calmly stood, pulling his sword off of the ground. "Thank you Tonberry." Glancing up, the former Maester frowned at the sight of a mass of purple pounding away at a rainbow sphere: the telltale color of Vindez's mana being utilized. "What's happening up there?"

"The battle has turned against us," calmly remarked Tonberry as he stared stoically at the thrashing Jugon Ronso, his shoulder suddenly sliced at by a lucky Varuna fiend. "My judgment of Aaron triggered that response from the girl. Her attack resulted in Jugon Ronso's berserk state." Turning his gaze upward, his oddball sense of the ethereal seemed to take everything in at a glance. "Vindez is holding on against the girl…in her current state, her allies seem hesitant to approach her. Pulania has perished…and Rinalee Guado is unconscious. And yet…" His blank eyes of yellow seemed to shimmer. "Her aeon has not. There is a growing concentration of mana far above…" Recognition. He remembered that unique feeling. "Sephiroth's Overdrive is charging. We must retreat from this place."

Cecil scowled as he gazed at the thrashing Jugon, the Black Ronso's horn goring a Varuna fiend before a Behemoth King slashed into his back. Not to be outdone, the raging Purifico warrior turned and leapt onto the beast's head, caving its skull in with a single punch. "He won't be able to survive if we don't do something!"

"He would not recognize us. It was not a normal spell that harmed him; this is something…unique." Tonberry frowned. "Besides…my concern now lies with what to do with Mordecai."

Cecil scowled as his gazed lingered on Jugon. Things had been going quite well…and then…everything went sour, almost at once. "…do you have any idea as to why?"

"Until we can review the footage of this operation…no." Tonberry quietly hopped into Cecil's right arm. "Make haste."

The former Maester frowned as his feet began to shuffle. "…very well." He gave one last look at Jugon Ronso, mentally giving the mighty warrior a eulogy for having fought well. "May your spirit rest in peace under the watchful gaze of sacred Mt. Gagazet." The standard 'farewell' for Ronso warriors of great repute, Cecil said nothing more as he began his ascent.

If Jugon Ronso heard him, his only response was an ear-shattering roar that only invited more fiends.

xxxx

Cid's vision swam.

Never had he felt so weary, so defeated.

The CESS Operative had been trained from the outset to believe that they were the best of the best. Truly, few could compare to them, and he hadn't met anyone up to this point that had been able to keep him down for long…save for another CESS Operative, like #1. All who had faced him had eventually been beaten down.

But now?

The Purifico were truly all they were cracked up to be. Jugon Ronso had battered him to a pulp. The last blow from Vindez had nearly knocked him unconscious.

The humiliation should have been beneath him. But it was strong nonetheless.

Before his thoughts could drift to the fact that he apparently knew Aero (how else could Jugon Ronso use it after attacking him with Lancet?), his peripheral vision caught flashes of violet. Serena? Craning his neck, the soldier blinked at the sight of Serena hovering, unleashing a wave of fury unlike any he had ever seen from the girl before…not even the battle against Bison Aisu in the depths of Macalania Forest compared.

Clearing his senses with a quick shake, the soldier took stock of his surroundings.

Hirum was kneeling over Aaron (most likely dead, judging by the summoner's tears), unknowing that Teela was quietly walking towards him. Two others – not Purifico…ah, now he remembered, the blue-haired summoner and her Black Ronso guardian from before – were also descending from the floors above. At the same time, Trigon was ascending…accompanied by-

Instinct took command as Cid charged towards Mordecai.

"Cease." Trigon held up a hand.

Cid quickly came to a stop; Trigon was quite competent, though his shadowy nature made for some hidden misgivings. Had he betrayed them? Or had Mordecai done the same to the Purifico? "Explain."

"My apologies for not assisting sooner," remarked Mordecai as he silently walked forward. "But I could only do so when the odds were favorable. Even if I were to have turned against them from the beginning, we would have been hard-pressed to win…only now, with them all divided and whittled down to a scant few, can I leave with you."

Cid gazed at Trigon. He didn't have to say anything; the stiffening of his frame indicated that he demanded an explanation.

"Mordecai has been working in secret with a mutual acquaintance." He calmly rolled up his sleeve, showcasing his metallic body. "The one who crafted this body of mine, to be precise." Trigon wasn't going to say anything more. He didn't need to. Cid would listen and chalk it up to another one of Trigon's mysteries…merely indicating that whoever this 'mutual acquaintance' was, he certainly had friends in high places. And despite having such an acquaintance, Trigon had remained with Hirum and his companions as a guardian through thick and thin…ulterior motives or not. So Cid would be forced to accept this reality and move forward, turning his focus to saving Serena and departing posthaste.

Trigon was not to be disappointed.

Cid's posture slightly relaxed before he gazed back towards Serena, who was still trying to destroy Vindez. He would abide this newcomer. For the time being.

But not everyone was so quick to do so.

"…why?"

Trigon and Mordecai turned towards Hirum, his dull blue eyes glaring at the Purifico member. His thoughts were not on Nira and Kurik Ronso, who were huddling around Aaron's form to try and revive him (futile though it was). Not on Teela, who stoically placed a hand on his shoulder, her own heterochromatic eyes staring silently at Trigon and Mordecai.

Hirum's gaze was focused solely on Mordecai. "What was the point…? Tell me! What did we DO to deserve THIS?!" He'd had it! He had just been on his way, on his Pilgrimage! Derailed yet again…and for what?! "TELL ME!"

The cyborg really had no answer to offer Hirum (not one that the guardian would find satisfactory, at any rate). After all, even if the summoner hadn't witnessed his final blow that had nullified the R-X Battle Suit, he was a member of the group that had executed the Al Bhed. He doubted the summoner would even warm up to the thought of him being a guardian all the way to Zanarkand.

Fortunately, what Hirum wanted didn't matter. So long as he completed his Pilgrimage, everything else was secondary.

"Summoner Hirum, though our first meeting is somewhat...unpleasant," He knelt down, one shimmering knee touching the ground. "I wish to be your guardian."

No reaction.

A furious snort. "You're kidding," growled Teela, eyes of gray and red narrowed.

"Do I look like one to joke, madam?" casually remarked Mordecai.

The tension suddenly thickened, so much so that not even Cecil's zanbato could cut it.

A muted curse slipped from the blue-haired summoner by Aaron, finally realizing that Aaron was well and truly dead. Man, I skipped Bevelle Temple for this? Curse her curiosity! "What…what's going on here?"

"I would be delighted to explain further, but first we must leave Vorudun." Mordecai stood, looking up at the concave roof, formed by the very object that had turned the town into a crater: Sephiroth's Overdrive. "The Purifico's current Summoner, Rinalee Guado, commanded her aeon to use his Overdrive: Materia Meteor. It was the very same power that reduced this place to a broken ruin…so I suggest we leave now, if we don't want to share the fate of Grand Maester Huron."

That seemed to light a fire under everyone (with Nira murmuring with surprise 'Did he just say Purifico…?'); questions would be asked later…and answers would be given.

Hirum would see to it.

Wearily wrapping his arms under Aaron and carrying him bridal style, the black-haired summoner droned, "Then let's go." He first looked up at the only other guardian: the red-haired psychic. "SERENA!"

The girl's gaze jerked downward.

"Let's go."

Her powerful aura flickered and danced…as though wondering whether to attack them. Her eyes, glowing with purple mana, turned towards Mordecai…then towards Cid.

As if offering her assurance that everything would be okay, the CESS Operative nodded.

So Serena relented, letting her aura dissipate before she slowly floated downward, feet touching the ground as her Overdrive finally ceased. The girl mewled with pain, clutching her head as she fell to knees. "Mr. Cid…" Then she collapsed, unconscious from the strain her powers had put her through.

Cid gingerly wrapped his arms around, turning his head towards the others. "Let's go."

Everyone slowly milled around. Kurik Ronso grunted as he took Aaron from Hirum's arms. "I carry for you. Kurik stronger. We go now."

"…yeah…" Hirum quietly looked at Nira. "By the way, why are you here?"

The other summoner fidgeted under Hirum's dead gaze. It's like…there's nothing in him right now. If this was the result of a guardian's death…she shuddered at the thought. "Overheard Terros in Bevelle, with machina hands…talking about how you killed the Maesters…given his history, had to come find out for myself, ya?" She then turned and began scaling the ruins towards the exit above. "I get here and find myself in the middle of some plot I have no clue about. Just my luck, ya?"

Hirum didn't feel like talking about luck. Or the lack thereof. He didn't feel like talking…about anything, really. His feet trudged upward, as though weighed down by lead. Teela silently followed, her stoic eyes hiding a storm of thoughts.

After all, it had been her idea for them to come down here.

"MORT!!!"

Everyone paused, turning back towards a red-haired man digging himself out of the rubble that Serena had left him in. His bruised form, ragged and caked with dust, shuddered with poorly-disguised fury. "What are you doing?!"

Mordecai stared nonchalantly at Vindez, calmly replying, "What I am called to do." The sphere on his right arm crackled as it converted to a gun barrel. "Fare thee well."

CHOOM!

Vindez gagged as his body twitched with electrical energy, his mind shutting down before his body hit the floor.

Mordecai quietly turned back, looking at Hirum, who was eyeing him warily. "Let us depart, before we are destroyed by Sephiroth's power."

Everyone double-timed it.

Out of Vorudun they crawled, into the fresher air of the open plains. The smell of ruin was no longer omnipresent, replaced by the emptiness of night in the Calm Lands that chilled their nostrils. The bite on their skin seemed to propel them further, even as they could see a growing red star high above.

Trigon and Mordecai jumped over the crater's ridge, turning to help Nira and Hirum up. Cid – carrying Serena – and Kurik Ronso – carrying Aaron's corpse – bounded over the rim in one leap. Teela was last, sparing one last look at the hole in the ground she had dug herself.

She barely caught a glimpse of gray, before pyreflies converged upon it. Moments later, a Divebeak took off into the sky, flying away as fast as it could.

Her last conversation with Elrik sat heavily in her mind, even as it shared equal time with the knowledge that they had entered Vorudun because of her, and Aaron had died because of it. Just damn peachy, isn't it?

"Kurik hear something."

Cid frowned at Kurik's proclamation, before following the Black Ronso's gaze. "…I see a vehicle coming this way."

Everyone gazed at the rumbling craft rolling across the plains towards them, its headlights growing larger by the second. As it skidded to a stop nearby, it was revealed to be a freight-roller; a type of heavy-duty vehicle that sat upon metallic spheres for transportation when hovercraft engines were either too vulnerable to malfunction or too high-maintenance. In this case, it was like a slab of metal sitting atop a large rod that was connected to three pairs of metallic spheres. The spheres themselves were inset into thick metal cups that were attached via separate axles to the rod that comprised the main body of the freight-roller, enabling for full freedom of direction along the ground. Sitting on the slab of metal were piles of junk: scrapped machina, old parts…scrap collected from throughout the Calm Lands. At the head of the vehicle was a rectangular cockpit, its surfaced adorned with an opaque windshield and a variety of bright yellow headlights.

A side window rolled down; in the dim red light of the cockpit, they could only make out the driver's heavily-tanned skin and sandy blond hair. The young voice that rang out immediately confirmed that it was a man. "Rammu! E yccisa oui't mega y mevd?"

Everyone blinked. Hirum grimaced as he tried to recall Al Bhed…not having much luck…

The Al Bhed driver sighed, before speaking the common tongue with a heavy accent. "You…need ride, yes?"

Trigon's mask switched. "Rammu du oui yc famm. Fa't ybbnaleyda y mevd pavuna dra sadaun vymmc."

The Al Bhed's face lit up with delight. "Yr, cusauha fru cbaygc so myhkiyka! Lusa uh, ib dra myttan, rinno, rinno!" He reached back inside and pulled a switch; a ladder emerged from the side of the freight-roller, leading up to the main deck that the scrap sat on.

"Up the ladder everyone." The advantages of having an Al Bhed for a wife.

Sure, that's the only reason ya married her.

We will banter at a later time. For now, we let our Summoner grieve.

Everyone quickly clambered onto the back of the freight-roller as the driver yelled outside the window. "My name Kuakem! We go…home!" With a quick press of the pedals and a quick orientation of the spheres, the freight-roller took off to the north.

Home.

Hirum thought of Luca, of those halcyon days where everything seemed so simple. The anguish he felt now…it brought memories of how his parents had died, at how agonizing it had been to him as a child. It mixed with the present to form a slurry of torment that he could only suffer by adopting the disposition of a statue: unmoving, unyielding, and unfeeling.

So as Kurik Ronso laid Aaron beside him, resting the dead man's head in his lap, Hirum could only stare in silence, the only thing he felt being the jolts and bumps as the freight-roller thundered northward.

xxxx

Meanwhile, back the crater…

Cecil emerged from the hole, his legs pumping as hard as they could. In one arm was Rinalee Guado; in the other was Vindez. Tonberry held on tightly to his head, sitting still as the former Maester vaulted over the crater rim. "How much time do we have Tonberry?!"

"…less than a minute," replied the creature as his blank eyes of yellow stared upward at the celestial projectile that still seemed to grow.

Cecil's stride grew as he ran towards the six pods that the Purifico had arrived in. Setting Tonberry down in front of his pod, the knight set about placing Rinalee Guado and Vindez into their respective pods. Two of them would be flying empty.

It stung, to know that in the Purifico's first mission in decades, three would not be returning. The humiliation of failure…and the sting of Mordecai's apparent betrayal. I will have answers for this. Cecil stewed in his anger as he sat down in his pod, Tonberry's automated control already lifting them all from the ground. Summoner Hirum…we will meet again.

"We head for Bevelle."

At that statement, Tonberry led the six black pods southward, zooming towards Bevelle.

xxxx

/1:45 NT, In Orbit Above the Calm Lands/

Four hundred meters in diameter.

It was time.

With one last burst of power, Sephiroth sent the orb of energized mana hurtling into the atmosphere before dissipating into pyreflies.

xxxx

Across Spira, millions of people watched a red star vanish over the horizon.

Tens of thousands saw it streak down towards the Calm Lands.

Hundreds blanched at the mighty explosion that lit up the horizon like a second sun.

The impact of the Materia Meteor slammed through the crater covering Vorudun's ruins, vaporizing and crushing everything within. The people of Spira, over the course of the night, would murmur in fear and anxiety over what such an event could portend.

Yet…the impact of the aftermath of the battle of the Purifico…would hurl Yevon itself into crisis.

And it would usher in a new chapter of Hirum's story.

xxxx

To be continued…

Next time…

Chapter 92: The Tribe of the Calm Lands: Lyms-Uhac

xxxx

Author's Notes: Well…it's certainly been a while.

Graduate school, what can I say. Plus, it's just hard to write when I don't really feel like it. When I get the urge, I do so. For example, I just completely did the last half of this chapter over the course of the previous day. The rest? Bits and pieces over the many months since my last update.

Alas, what can you do.

Expect next chapter to be a big info-dump of sorts!

See you soon, and please review!