She sleeps, flesh and soul severed and bound,
Her children banished into the void.
She waits in the darkness, her prison of stone,
Buried and forgotten.

The Queen of Serpents once more will feed,
Lady Death will claim her tithe.
The Black Viper once more will strike.
Lady Death will claim her tithe.

Voices in the Dark

A vast, endless cavern lay swallowed in gloom, lit only by a faint bluish glow that seemed to accentuate the darkness rather than diminish it. Silence hung in the dank, musty air, the air of another world, a world immeasurably different from her own and yet somehow akin to it as well, though she could not say how or why. The chamber she saw was not empty, however. It was filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dark, menacing forms. Massive, winged beasts of shadow no more solid than she herself was. Yet the dread, paralyzing terror slowly building within her as she watched the dark assembly was all too real.

Demons. Wraithlike beings of immense power and evil, cloaked in the deepest of shadows, their hooded faces twisted and tortured and yet unmistakably, terrifyingly human. Born of the night, they were winged hunters of the most deadly kind, and their strength lay not in their talons but in the darkness they served. Yet they were bound, trapped within a prison even they could not escape. Banished in ages past when they had still borne some semblance of humanity, before the shadows had made them their own. Exiled forever by their own kin, the dark ones had sworn revenge against those who had made them outcasts.

A stone sarcophagus, engraved on all sides with intricate carvings, a smooth, concave depression in its center. Unholy life pulsed within, sealed away for all time. Or so those who had done so had thought. The coffin hovered a meter above the ground in the midst of the fiendish assembly, the hooded, winged horrors keeping a reverent distance as they gazed upon it with shimmering green eyes. And from it, a voice…

—You have found me.—

A hollow, piercing whisper that sent shivers coursing down her spine and caused her to shake uncontrollably even as she slept. Cunning, ancient, and evil, it waited for her in the depths. Cold, blackened fingers wrapped themselves around her heart, icy tendrils that froze her blood with the chill of the grave, and for a moment she gazed into a pair of glittering, oddly reptilian amber eyes, their pupils inky black slits of darkness.

—You know what I seek, though you do not know you know. The key to our freedom, our revenge.—

The voice softened then and became almost gentle, and she felt herself slipping at last into merciful dreamlessness. The hellish visions that filled her nightmare faded silently back into the blackness from which they had come, yet the dread fear she felt lingered on, twisting her stomach into knots. She would have no rest tonight. Yet before the nightmare fell away entirely, she heard that chill voice once more. A woman's voice.

—Come, child of the ancient blood. You will find me again.—


Iseldra sat upon the icy ridge, gazing up into a moonless sky not yet tinged with the first hints of dawn. A chill wind swept around her, idly tossing her thick curls of rich blue hair around her face, yet she did not move. As an ice maiden, she thrived in such extreme climates. The high places of the mountains held no fear for her. Ever since she had left the glacier, they had been her home, her sanctuary.

From the shadows between a pair of rocky overhangs emerged a woman, her sinuous frame robed and cowled all in black. Strands of dark hair spilled down her shoulders from within the depths of her hood like threads of fine silk. Iseldra could see nothing of the visitor's face, cast in shadow as it was, save her nose and mouth. From her dark red lips emerged a voice soft and measured, a husky whisper emphasizing every word.

"It is time…"

Iseldra narrowed her blood-hued eyes. "How can I be sure you'll keep your word?"

"I have given you no word to keep, ice maiden. You must trust me."

"I don't trust anyone," Iseldra replied. She rose to her feet, snow crunching beneath her bare toes. "Why don't you get this thing yourself if you want it so badly?"

The robed woman sneered. "You think I could not if I so desired? It would have been in my possession long before now, I can assure you of that. In any case, I cannot go to the depths where it lies. Too many protections still guard it."

"How am I supposed to get it, then? The crater still teems with monsters."

"You will not need to find it yourself, Iseldra. Others will do that for you. The ones I told you of. Take the girl, and they will do as you ask. They care for her too much to risk her safety."

"And then?" Iseldra prodded.

"Kill them."

"They're too powerful. I wouldn't stand any chance against them in a fight."

"Not now, perhaps, but you will. I shall see to that."

Placing her hands upon Iseldra's temples, the strange woman murmured to herself in a strange, spidery tongue, words Iseldra did not understand, and slid her fingers in a slow, interminable arc down Iseldra's cheeks, the feathery touch of those slender hands almost a caress, until they cupped her chin and tilted her face upward. The robed woman leaned close, so close that for a moment Iseldra thought the other woman would kiss her.

Instead, she breathed upon her. Great looping tendrils of dark vapor escaped the woman's lips and dove into Iseldra's mouth. She gasped as a blast of cold so frigid it touched even her stung the inside of her throat and lungs. Daggers of pain arose with each breath. Yet there was also power, a fire in her blood that begged for release.

"Very well," she agreed. "It'll be done."

The robed woman bent even closer, her lips almost brushing Iseldra's ear, her whispered voice like steel. "Make certain of it, for She who gives life has also the power to take it away. Remember that."

Straightening, she faded once again into the shadows, but as she disappeared from sight, she looked back at Iseldra, and in that moment she could just see two faint pinpricks of amber within the woman's hood. They drove straight into her skull, a penetrating gaze that froze Iseldra where she stood.

"Do not fail me, ice maiden. I will be watching."


Edea paced the largely empty halls of the Garden, her dark satin gown swishing by her ankles. Unease gnawed at her mind, an unsettling feeling that something was out of place, or soon would be. Yet she could pinpoint no source. The lighting, dimmed to after-hours levels, cast long shadows against the curving walls, turning the familiar sights of her home into a landscape both foreign and vaguely frightening.

A stark white glow entered her vision, and Edea noted the infirmary, nowadays open to any even at this late hour. She slowed and made her way more quietly down the corridor. Dr. Kadawaki would give her a firm talking-to, headmistress or not, if she spotted Edea walking the halls this time of night in her condition.

Her lips parting in a fond smile, Edea ran her fingers over her distended abdomen. She had never expected to have a child of her own, especially at this age. Yet here she was, seven months pregnant, Sariese resting comfortably in her womb. Of course Edea had known it was a girl, even before Dr. Kadawaki had confirmed it. A sorceress rarely gave birth to a boy.

Edea paused, the warm feelings evaporating, and frowned. Her eyes searched the dark corners for a fear she could not name. She had left the infirmary behind and now had only the wan yellow glow of the half-lit overheads to hold back the gloom. One by one, they shut off, plunging the halls bit by bit into blackness. Panic seized Edea's mind, and she hurried forward as best she could, desperately trying to outrun the fading lights.

But the darkness was gaining. Along with whatever waited within it. Was she imagining things? Somehow she didn't think so. Try as she might, Edea couldn't outrace the shadows. Soon they overcame her, and she could see nothing. Edea held her hand up in front of her face, but she might as well have been blind for all the good it did. She shivered, suddenly cold, although the Garden's temperature regulators should have kept the air at comfortably warm level.

Then she heard the laughter.

Soft, sensuous, and cruel. A woman's laughter. It echoed in the darkness of the empty halls, a faint whisper that nevertheless filled the air with its presence. Strangely, Edea felt she almost knew that voice. Not Ultimecia, not Adel. Someone worse, her gut told her. Far worse. But not a sorceress, either.

The laughter ceased, and the lights flickered back to uncertain life one after another. Edea sighed. Had she imagined the whole thing? She could only hope so. The alternative was too terrible to imagine. Yet as she made her way back to her quarters, back to the warm bed she shared with Cid, a final whisper froze her in her tracks.

I see you…


Halfway across the world, Dr. Viktor Odine sat fussing in his vast laboratory in Esthar, going over sheets of scrawled footnotes, equations, and other materials while the computer's translation matrix sped through the numerous glyphs and pictographs adorning the artifacts. So far, the Centra excavations on the southern continent had produced a bountiful crop of fascinating objects, but the true prize had yet to be discovered.

A sudden beeping on his desk indicated an incoming transmission. From the extremely complex encryption codes protecting the signal, Odine knew it could be only one person. A shiver ran down his spine as he straightened his wide, fanlike collar and smoothed the front of his garishly colored tunic. She wanted an update on the excavation, no doubt. Odine punched the accept key, doublechecking the line's security. If that idiot Loire found out what he was up to, Odine was as good as dead.

"Yes, my lady. Vat is it?" he asked.

The flickering, translucent image of a woman, hooded and cloaked all in black, appeared above the desk. Though only a half-meter tall hologram, she exuded an unmistakable aura of power and thinly veiled menace, like a coiled snake. Odine could see little beneath the hood aside from a pair of glistening ruby lips and strands of black, silken hair. Nevertheless, he reached up to loosen his collar a little, his skin damp with sudden sweat. Somehow he was grateful he couldn't see her eyes.

The woman folded her arms in expectation. "What is your progress?"

"Ve have located nine of ze tombs, my lady. Only three remain, but zey will not be hidden for long."

"Good. Inform me when they have been found. We need all of the fragments to break the seal."

"And if others begin to suspect somezing is amiss?" Odine ventured. "Loire vants to be kept updated on zis project, zough I have not told him of its true purpose."

"Do nothing to arouse suspicion. I will tell you when to act."

Odine bowed. "As you vish, my lady."

After the hologram had faded into nothingness, Odine sat back in his chair, his paperwork forgotten. He picked up from his desk a glittering shard of polished crystal with a length of fine silver chain hanging from one end. Such a little thing, really, but possessed of enormous power. Odine could have spent a lifetime studying it. Yet in the end it was merely a tool, a small piece in a much larger puzzle, one that would be Laguna Loire's undoing.

With the Lady's help, Odine would soon be rid of that imbecile. It was Loire that had forced him to submerge the Lunatic Pandora, a wondrous Centra vessel of enormous power and a treasure trove of knowledge. And then there was Ellone. The girl's brainwaves were so fascinating in their unique design, and yet Odine had never gotten the opportunity to complete his research. Loire had taken the little brat away before Odine could even get to the next stage of experimentation. He had learned much about her power already, but now that she was grown, it would introduce a whole new set of variables.

Odine had spent the last twenty years under Laguna Loire's insufferably watchful eye, every scientific endeavor he undertook closely monitored. How he hated that man! But now, after all that time, he would finally be free of him. Odine smiled as he thought of how Loire's face was going look just before the Lady destroyed him. But first he would be made to watch as his precious daughter was forced into an isolation chamber for observation. Although potentially harmful to the girl, the testing and experiments would provide incredible amounts of data.

And Odine would make sure Laguna Loire was witness to it all.