Preface

Visions of Peace is an epic telling of an alternative universe FFVI, one that diverges during the events of the Floating Continent. As a massive rewrite of the ending, it ignores all events in the World of Ruin and rather strives to continue the tale from the World of Balance:

The Empire is left headless and the world irreversibly scarred from the misbalanced Statues. The Imperial Civil War begins and our heroes continue to fight to restore peace in the world against all odds.

Disclaimer

This is purely a work of fiction and the author does not claim ownership of any of Squaresoft's intellectual property.

Author Notes

This author is not presumptuous enough to believe that this tale could ever replace the World of Ruin. However, he wishes to deal our heroes with continual setbacks and betrayals, and most importantly, see these heroes achieve the impossible. It is an attempt to continue the style in which the World of Balance was written. As such, this author apologizes ahead of time for liberties taken, especially in regards to character death.

And finally, all I hope is that you enjoy Visions of Peace.

---

Visions of Peace

"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The First Chapter - The Floating Continent

Locke snapped awake, the sudden euphoria of sight and sound overwhelming his tired mind. His ears were ringing, and he could feel the dried blood caked against his cheeks. He could feel the pain in his side; something blunt was digging into it. The rocky crevice he had fallen into was not his first choice for rest. He tore off his blue headband and wiped his face.

"Locke!"

To the self-styled treasure hunter, the world suddenly focused. It was a common side-effect of the phoenix downs. The loud droning background sounds clarified into the screams of his friends. The blurred grey splotches before him turned into the skull-like rock formations that plagued the Floating Continent.

The Floating...

Locke shot to his feet while ignoring the sudden pain in his side. He clutched at Ifrit, the former esper hanging off a thin silver chain around his neck. The magicite had grown dark. Locke could still feel the headache brought on by his sudden reliance on magic. He had totally forgotten about the battle.

"Locke! Get Terra now!"

Edgar Figaro's order told Locke exactly how long he had been out. No less than a minute. The young king was too busy aiming his crossbow to cast Locke a look, but his voice was as commanding as ever.

Locke scanned the scene, looking for Terra. Their defensive line was a mess. The attempt to defend one of the few outcroppings of rock that the airship could reach was disintegrating into a pitched battle for their lives. Celes' men were all good soldiers. They were men of honor, fighting for the belief that their General had never betrayed the ideals of the Empire. They fought back with a tenacity that rivaled the monsters that massed on the Floating Island. However, they were few, and the Emperor's Imperial Guard was far better equipped than any of them.

But Locke cared little for the defense of the port. His heart skipped a beat when he saw her prone body, lying on the field far to the north.

The young thief charged across the battlefield blindly. An arrow or two grazed him, but he didn't feel a thing as he reached Terra's side. The green haired half-esper lay on her back. She was not visibly injured to Locke's relief, but she was not moving either. He pulled a phoenix down from his pocket, but could already tell that Terra would not be woken by the battlefield medicine.

Locke carefully moved Terra into a less compromising position. Her head lay lifelessly against his knees. Her eyes were open but unseeing.

Something had happened with the Statues. Locke had seen Terra act like this when she was first exposed to the esper Tritoch. Something was very wrong, and the Statues were at the bottom of the mess.

But the statues were even farther to the north. Terra had guided Setzer to the perfect landing spot: a large empty field large enough for their airship, the Blackjack, to land but miraculously close to the Statues. It was such a perfect spot that it had been occupied by the Emperor's personal airship and a contingent of soldiers. They secured the port, cut off the Imperial Guard and then kept to a simple plan: hold the soldiers back as best they could, while Terra, Celes, and Cyan took care of the statues. After all, Terra and Celes had far more experience with arcane magic than any of them could claim to. They were the only hope against whatever mad scheme Gestahl had planned.

"Terra... what happened?" Locke whispered.

---

Edgar swore as his hands grasped in vain for another cross bolt. He was out of ammunition at last; hundreds of bolts had been spent. First there had been the soldiers protecting the port, then came the monsters attracted by the airship's approach, and now the Emperor's most elite soldiers. He was almost relieved; the job of an archer had been more than strenuous. It was a constant adrenaline rush. Each bolt had to count; each reload was precious time that could leave someone dead. Being an archer was to be the protector of the men at the front. But at the same time though, the young king knew that it would only get more dangerous from here.

So be it.

His mythril spear shone in the midday sun as he made his way towards the front. Edgar knew what he looked like. The gleaming half plate on his chest and the great flowing blue cape behind him drew the attention of every single man of the Imperial Guard. Many had seen him before in Vector, the King of Figaro and a champion of the rebel cause. He was a pillar of light in the midst of Celes' loyal men, his long blond hair and tall stature a stark contrast to the brown armor and helmets that those soldiers wore.

Edgar had lead the assault by using the rocky inlets and passages of the Floating Continent like trenches, arrows and bolts flying from side to side as archers tried to pick one another off. The Imperials had been caught unawares; they were surprised that their own men, an organized task force at that, had attacked them from behind. Archers had killed the first charge across the unprotected plains, popping up from the trenches and striking with lethal precision. When the Imperials realized the extent of the attack, they began emulating the same with their archers while their foot soldiers charged in the maze-like trenches, looking for a protected way of reaching the traitors. There was a passage in plain sight of the south, and now that passage was a mass of soldiers hacking at each other. A second narrower passage had also been found to the east, but Sabin had closed it up personally and Edgar had repositioned some archers to oversee that area.

Edgar quickly scanned the battlefield. It was to the east that was the most hotly contested. The narrow passage made it impossible to swarm, and archers meant little due to the height of the walls and the location. Edgar ran down the maze to his brother's aid.

A blast of lightning ricocheted off his reflect spell. Edgar whispered a prayer of thanks to Carbunkl, the esper that was now safely stowed behind his half plate. He would never have thought of protecting himself in that manner, despite the troubling numbers of Imperial soldiers that had been infused with magic. But the esper had touched his mind and Edgar had reluctantly cast the spell.

With a great battle cry, Edgar charged into the fray, swinging his spear wildly and making his way towards his twin brother. Sabin was in the thick of the battle, a flurry of fists as the skillful martial artist made fools of the Empire's best soldiers. Edgar knew his brother was in no danger, but he could probably use the help. Sabin had positioned himself directly in the midst of the passage, at the narrowest point no less. Two men, one in silvery plate mail with a great broadsword, the other in green chain mail holding two twin swords, held their ground beside Sabin.

The two men were Captain Marcus Sandford and Lieutenant Michals Bethon. Marcus had ambushed them while they had been preparing Setzer's airship for an assault on the Floating Continent. As a former Imperial Special Forces leader, Marcus had tracked down his former commander, General Celes Chere, with intention to save her from the rebels. Upon learning the truth however, he and his men had defected. Their loyalty to Celes was astounding, and they were the only reason that the Emperor's guards had not torn them apart before they even landed on the continent.

Edgar tore apart the Empire's best eagerly. He ducked beneath the blades of his foes and didn't even miss a step as another blast of lightning hammered against his protective shield. Charging the Magitek Knight that had just attacked him, he took the man's arm off cleanly before decapitating him.

"King Edgar!" Captain Marcus shouted as he kicked his opponent aside. The poor soldier fell to the ground, his last thoughts clouded by fear as Marcus brought his broadsword down. "We can handle this!" the soldier shouted. "You should stay far outside of battle!"

Edgar pushed his latest opponent aside, stepping back far enough for an arrow to pierce the soldier's heart. Marcus' sharpshooters were still cocking arrows and giving them what support they could. "Marcus, we need to fall back. Your Magitek Armors can't defend this area, and we're running out of arrows back there!"

The scruffy soldier looked like he was about to speak when an earthquake shook them both to the ground. Edgar fell to his knees as the massive rumbling ravaged the entire island.

Carbunkl grew hot against his chest, the dead esper seeming to react to the earthquake.

Edgar stood up slowly, cautious because of Carbunkl's reaction. The four of them were alone. The Imperials had stopped attempting to rush the narrow passageway, allowing Sabin and Michals to easily demolish the few that had remained behind. Neither had been off-balance during the quake and easily gained the upper hand while their opponents fell.

"What was that?" Marcus asked, "And why are the Imperial Guards running away like this? That bunch of fanatics wouldn't turn tail even if-"

The second quake was not as surprising as the first, but Edgar looked around in horror as the passageway began to crumble. Carbunkl had warmed again, this time before the quake had even begun. It was as if the dead esper was reacting in pain to the earthquakes.

"I think we better head back," Michals said as they steadied themselves against the walls.

"I think you're right," Edgar replied. Never had the magicite heated up of their own accord. The shards of Espers actually became as cold as ice at times of usage. The heat against his chest worried Edgar.

---

Celes cursed under her breath as she got back to her feet. She brushed back her hair as she focused a blast of lightning at the retreating shape.

"Kefka!" she screamed in anger. She gave little thought in her rage, completely caught in the moment.

A dark shadow knocked her over even as she felt her back heat up rapidly. Her brilliant white cape smothered against the ground while she rolled to a stop. Celes looked up in surprise and relief, as Shadow stood protectively over her. Her blond hair was slightly charred; she knew that she had just barely survived a full power fire beam.

Behind her, the mighty Magitek armor planted its legs firmly against the ground, steam releasing from what seemed like ears. Its huge form, over three-men tall, loomed over them with deadly intent. The machine seemed almost alive, its arms stretching outward as the dark armor began to glow an unearthly yellow. Its head pointed into the air as it let loose a bone-chilling scream.

Celes barely saw Shadow's arms move. The ninja quickly launched three shuriken at the armor, the metal stars hardly scratching the great machine. Unfazed, Shadow jumped into the air as he threw yet another trio of stars.

Within the armor, the pilot drew his last breath.

The Magitek continued forward though, ignoring the death of its pilot. A beam of blue light shot from its right arm, and Celes dived out of the way as the ice beam tore its way through the maze-like passages of the floating island.

Suddenly, another quake shook the island to its very core. Celes was lucky, and saw the cracks in the ground open up. She jumped aside as the ground began to fall apart, grabbing a hold of a solid outcropping of rock. The Magitek armor was not so lucky, as the cracks had seemed to wind their way around the great machine. The ground beneath its huge legs gave way, and the armor teetered to the ground before falling right through.

A powerful hand grabbed the former General and pulled her up. Celes found herself staring into the face of Cyan, the old knight looking quite concerned over his female charge.

"Celes, art thou wounded?" he asked her.

Celes glanced back in the direction that Kefka had fled. "I need to finish him! We can't let him bide his time and make a second try for the statues."

Cyan shook his head. "The very land shakes in pain. This monstrosity will fly no longer, and we must take our leave now."

Celes narrowed her blue eyes. The young Magitek Knight glanced back at the horribly shifted Statues. The image of Gestahl falling off the edge of the island still haunted her, and she made up her mind in an instant.

"Cyan, we were lucky to catch Kefka unaware," she said as her hand smoothly made its way down to her waist. "If we abandon the Statues now, he'll try to get his hands on them again, and I will not let that happen twice."

"There is no time to-"

She didn't have the time to argue, and Cyan was as stubborn as Locke was irritating. Not pausing to wonder why she had compared Cyan to Locke, Celes freed her long sword quickly and rammed the handle deep into Cyan's side. The old knight was surprised and gasped as his breath was driven out of him.

And that was all the time Celes needed to whisper the words. Her hand shot out, throwing Cyan back on a blast of air.

Celes turned away from the sight of Cyan traveling hundreds of meters on a single blast of air. She would apologize to him if she survived. And if she didn't... her apology would be the dead body of Kefka.

"If you think you can catch me like that, you had better think again, General."

Celes was caught off guard by Shadow, who had abandoned the Statues and stood mere inches away from her. His dagger, a wickedly curved blade, was a hair away from her neck. He leaned close to her, a mere breath's away, his intention lethal.

"Shadow, I'm going after Kefka," she said with as much force as she could. Her eyes locked with the ninja's shrouded eyes, black globes that betrayed nothing of their owner. She swallowed, fighting against the rising fear inside her. A part of her wanted him to fight, to force her to return to her friends. The part of her that did not wish to die, the selfish portion that was appealing to her logical side. And despite the courage that had welled up within her. Despite the dead body of Gestahl that was a constant reminder of Kefka's treachery. Despite her memory of Leo, Yura and the Espers... despite all that... the fear was winning.

Celes did not want to die.

Shadow was silent for a moment. He seemed to be considering something, but then lowered his blade quickly. "Then we better hurry," he said.

The path back to her friends vanished.

Celes frowned. "I appreciate the help, but-"

"No one double-crosses me," Shadow said. The ninja turned away from her and jumped off the outcropping.

Celes replaced her blade and followed the ninja's path. Her doubts disappeared as she mused the turn of events. Shadow had already saved her life on plenty of counts, and it would have been foolhardy to go after Kefka alone. And... there was nothing to fear from death. After all, she had company on her journey to hell.

---

Edgar looked at the condition of the old knight. "Locke," he asked questioningly. "What happened here?"

Locke was annoyed by the question and his sudden change in roles. He was about to snap an angry remark when Cyan interrupted him.

"The statues-" the old knight gasped.

Edgar knelt to the ground to face Cyan. The former Doma Knight had been pulled out of from a landslide. So far, the only explanation offered had been that Cyan had flown like a bird, crashing through one their blockades with great force and knocking out one of the Emperor's commanding officers in the process.

How absurd.

"Where's Celes? Why did Terra appear out of nowhere near the port?" Edgar was growing evermore concerned. Carbunkl was warm to the touch, and that made him uncomfortable. "What happened with the Statues? Where's Kefka and the Emperor? What is going-"

"King Edgar, please."

Edgar moved aside as a soldier held up a small flask of bluish liquid. The soldier held it up to Cyan's mouth, urging the old knight to drink it.

"Celes is alone right now," Locke commented.

"Shadow is with her," Cyan said, his voice growing stronger. The soldier helped Cyan stand, steadying the dizzy knight.

"That mercenary?" Edgar snapped. "How?" he shook his head. "Never mind that, he's-"

"He was betrayed by Kefka," Cyan interrupted. "Helped us fight Gestahl," his black eyes locked with Edgar's. The former Doma Knight had decades of battlefield experience. Those many years gave his voice a commanding tone that silenced everyone else with sheer authority. "The statues were moved out of place, the balance Strago warned us about no longer exists. There is little time before this monstrosity falls apart."

Locke's eyes widened. "The statues-" he started.

"Where's Celes," Edgar snapped.

"The lady General chases Kefka." Cyan answered. "She forcibly sent me back here with her magic."

That treacherous Imperial witch, Edgar finished the rest of the sentence. He could see that Cyan barely caught a hold on his anger.

Locke shot to his feet. "We have to go after her!" he declared. "If the island is falling apart, then we can't leave her behind."

Edgar nodded. "This isn't the time for insane one-man heroics. I'll order Marcus to begin the retreat and carry Terra somewhere safe, we three will go after Celes," the King stood to his feet, one hand gripping his spear.

"The retreat is already well under way, King Edgar," Marcus announced. The three, in their emotional outburst, had forgotten the existence of Marcus and his aide standing right beside them. Marcus tapped his aide on the shoulder, and the well trained soldier ran back in the direction of the port.

"Marcus! Good," Edgar didn't have the time to be embarrassed. "If you would-"

Marcus held up a hand, cutting Edgar off. "Edgar, despite General Chere leaving you in charge of the defense, I will not let you order me around. My men have already begun the preparations to fly the Emperor's airship. Once we get that ship in the air, the Blackjack can dock and we can load the rest of the men." Marcus referred to the airship still in port. The Emperor had his airship landed close to the Statues while the Imperial Guard had landed further out. Because the Emperor had taken the only port close by, Setzer had dangerously hovered over the port while they jumped off. They had quickly captured the airship for their own and then proceeded to build the line of defense they had been holding for nearly an hour.

Unfortunately, Setzer could not dock. The Emperor's airship had to be searched for traps before she could be flown and the port cleared. That endeavor had taken quite a bit of time.

"Marcus, we're going after your General," Edgar said, his tone becoming ever-more irritated. They were wasting valuable time.

"You will not," Captain Marcus said with finality. "General Chere has given her final orders, retreat and safeguard your lives. Otherwise, she would not have bothered sending the Doma Knight back to us."

"Listen to me Marcus," Edgar threatened, "I will not-"

"No!" Marcus shouted. "This is not a discussion!" The Captain of an Imperial Special Forces Unit was obviously unused to discussion within the ranks. "While you have been mindlessly chatting away, you failed to notice the flags Michals has already put up!" His gloved hand pointed ahead.

Edgar gazed in the direction pointed. The color in his face drained as he saw the red flag flying; the monsters were back.

"Edgar!" Locke pointed in the direction where Terra once laid.

Edgar spun back around, watching in awe as a huge purple behemoth appeared out of the rocky plains. The ground had split open, and the giant monster floated up serenely, its blood red eyes staring in their direction. Its bulk enlarged the hole in the ground, rocks falling off the thick skin of the monster as the ground beneath tried to close.

The four men drew their weapons, realizing they could not allow such a dangerous monster to remain behind their defensive perimeter. The behemoth beasts were easily larger than even the Heavy Siege Magitek Armors. Nearly half the size of an airship, its huge horns and heavily muscled mass undermined the magical powers that lay within. The purple monster advanced on them, its four feet causing the ground to shake with every movement, on top of the trembling of the floating continent.

"Well, at least we know how Terra got back," Locke grumbled as they charged.

---

They returned to find the port in chaos. Wirey dragons hovered above and surrounded the airship. The small winged creatures gathered in numbers, grey wings blocking out the sky as they attempted to land and attack. Three of the Gigantos had made their way through the blockades. Those grey-skinned giants were the real problem. While the wirey dragons were easily handled by arrows, the thick skin of the giants made them almost impervious. Their sheer size and bulk was causing havoc as the monsters attempted to attack the Emperor's airship with massive clubs. Marcus' men tried to shoot the monsters down, but many were off-balance. The ground was shaking constantly now, and the truly skilled were engaging the giants in physical combat. Locke spied Gau fighting a Gigantos on his own; the young child easily maintained his balance in the face of a greater foe.

"They're attracted to the airship," Marcus grumbled.

"Locke, find Terra and make sure she can survive the jump. We'll wait for Setzer, Marcus, you should board-" Edgar commanded.

Marcus screamed a battle cry and charged at the nearest giant.

Edgar swore as he dived aside. A huge boulder, thrown by one of the giants, hammered past them. The King rolled to his feet, watching Cyan join the battle by Gau's side. Locke had already scrambled away. The thief was irritated and angry that they were not going after Celes, but the thought of Terra had quickly pushed the conflicting thoughts out of his mind.

Edgar pulled the camera out of his pack as he ran to the edge of the continent. It was disturbing to see the ground suddenly fall away into thin air, and Edgar was almost afraid that one of the smaller dragons would attack him. But the dragons remained concentrated around the airship, being blasted apart by the two Magitek armors.

The camera let loose a brilliant flash, powerful enough to shock anyone looking in its direction. Edgar hoped that Setzer would see the flash, and quickly set the camera to continue emitting light every few seconds.

The ground suddenly shook with renewed vigor, but Edgar had already known it was coming. Carbunkl warmed up before each tremble and allowed Edgar to balance himself.

He noticed he was not the only one that had realized the magicite could predict each of the earthquakes. Gau and Cyan each had let the sudden rumbling knock over the giants, and then pounced on the defenseless beasts.

But the last Gigantos had made its way through the few men that remained on the floating island. As per Marcus' orders, many had already boarded the Emperor's airship. The great giant roared, confident of his superiority while he stood on top of dead Imperial soldiers, and turned to next closest target:

Locke, carrying Terra on his back.

Even unburdened, Locke would never have escaped the grasp of the monster. It was no surprise that he lowered Terra swiftly and drew his knives. The dull black blades were deadly sharp but paled in comparison to the size of the threat he faced. Locke strode towards the beast without fear though: he had made a promise and it was time to fulfill it.

Their showdown was not to be, as a blur of dark metal stepped in front of Locke's path. It had moved faster than its size would suggest. The massive three-man tall Magitek Armor proved once again why the Imperial Army was the most deadly force in the world.

Magitek pilots were raised to defend their people from the monsters that constantly threatened their cities. This was no different; they were protecting civilians from harm. Though many Magitek pilots became obsessed with the power that they wielded, Marcus' men knew their limits. The Armor took a defensive stance. Its arms shot forward, the great claws piercing the Gigantos as the monster charged.

The giant screamed in pain. Blood pumped out of its chest wounds, but that did not stop it. The Gigantos dropped its great club and grabbed the machine by the shoulders. Muscles bulged and fresh blood spurted out as it tried to tear the arms off. The Magitek Armor fought back by cleaving its way through flesh and bone, steam being ejected from the sides as gears ground in effort. The All-Terrain Armor was the bread and butter of the Imperial war machine but despite bladed hands it was never meant to fight a monster in hand to hand combat.

The Armor was losing the battle, even though the giant was roaring from the pain of gaping wounds. The ground tore apart as the Magitek Armor's legs were pushed back against its will. Gears began to whine and groan as powerful engines strained to keep up to the demand that its pilot asked of it. But the pilot had already knew the result of such a melee and already planned ahead. From behind, a beam of fire ripped into the giant, the heat so intense that it seared the arm right off. The second Armor had repositioned itself at an angle, and immediately followed through with another controlled burst of blistering elemental magic.

Edgar made it back just in time to witness the giant collapse, the first Armor's claws still buried within its chest.

With a sudden roar, the airship began to rise. Propeller blades spun as the small ship rose into the air with its contingent of soldiers on it. Being so close to the airship, Edgar thought he was going to be blown off by the strong winds. With the ground shaking as well, the world seemed to be tearing apart.

The winds began to calm down as the airship gained altitude. Edgar turned back to what remained of the defensive line, wondering how many would be evacuated hastily on Setzer's airship. Marcus and Michals were still fighting beside Sabin, Gau and Cyan, and there were the two Magitek pilots remaining as well. But every other soldier had retreated on the Emperor's airship.

Which meant everything was now up to Setzer.

With the airship gone, the wirey dragons had flown off. And with another of the giants felled by Gau, the five warriors easily handled and slew the last Gigantos. The five men dashed back, knowing full well that the Floating Island was going to break apart at any instant.

"Edgar!" Locke screamed.

Edgar turned around to see Locke leading a dazed Terra. A look of relief touched his face. It looked like she had recovered, though her eyes seemed haunted and distant.

But the thief was not intending to draw attention to Terra. Instead, he was waving frantically in the air.

"Get down!" Locke screamed again.

After spending months fighting together, they had learned to simply trust each other's commands without pause. Edgar dived to the ground without a question, and just in time. A great dragon, one of the many they had seen the Imperial Air Force take apart, missed his head by inches. The speed of the green scaled monster carried it into the distance, wind and rocks following the wake of the giant beast.

The dragon turned back to Edgar, its eyes locked with the young king, as it landed on the shaky ground. Unlike its smaller wirey cousins, this one easily dwarfed even the behemoths in size. Built like a tank, green scales that were as strong as metal protected it. A mighty tail, as long as the body, waved menacingly in the air. Wings spread wide; the dragon opened its mouth and spewed forth a great column of fire. Edgar scrambled out of the way, feeling the flames lick at his back.

A beam of magic, blue this time, ripped into the dragon's right wing. The green scaled monster screamed in pain, its wings flapping despite the icy blaze that was freezing it to death. It turned to face the Magitek Armor, deadly breath meeting the controlled beam in gout of fire and ice. Elemental magic fused together in a lethal mix, fire and ice magic splattering on the ground like liquids. Yet the liquids reacted magically to the ground, the crust rupturing from the very contact.

As the Magitek Armor and dragon battled with magic, a green figure dashed towards the dragon unchallenged. Michals jumped onto the back of the dragon, his twin swords spread out for balance as the skilled soldier ran up the dragon like it was part of the ground. With practiced grace, the Lieutenant flipped over the dragon's head, landed and turned about. His twin swords tore into the dragon's vulnerable neck, red blood spraying as Michals sliced four times.

But even as the dragon began its death throes, Edgar could see that they were in far worse trouble than he had originally anticipated. He cursed loudly. Sabin and Marcus were attempting to handle one behemoth, while another of the accursed beasts charged towards them. This was simply becoming ridiculous; Edgar shook his head as despair took him. It was as if the monsters all were rushing towards them to--

Edgar scrambled to the top of a rock formation, a sudden feeling of dread washing over him. Pulling a pair of binoculars to his eyes, he looked back towards the Statues.

It walked towards them. As the continent continued to fall apart, earthquakes tearing entire sections of the ground away, the monster strolled towards them without a care in the world.

It looked like a grey dragon, but there were no wings. Instead, great golden spikes protected its back, and blue fiery hair danced on its head. The deadly glowing blue eyes were turned in their direction, for it knew that the men who had defeated it mere moments ago were still on the island.

Atma Weapon.

The wounds that they had dealt to the great beast could still be seen, even at this distance. But where once great rifts in flesh had been, blue flames burned brightly. It had stopped bleeding, even Atma Weapon would bleed when cut, and instead the flames closed the wounds while some sort of aura slowly regenerated the demonic flesh of the creature. That regeneration aura had nearly killed them when they first met Atma Weapon, moments after securing the Emperor's airship.

"Marcus, Sabin!" Edgar called out to those that were farthest away. Locke, Terra and Cyan had made their way as close to the edge of the island as they could. Gau was helping the fallen Magitek pilot, and they were quite close to port as well. Michals stood guard over the fallen dragon with the last Magitek armor behind him. But Sabin and Marcus were in the front, tearing apart a behemoth as they tried to keep the monsters far away from the port.

"Marcus!" Edgar screamed again, "ATMA!"

Those two syllables caught Marcus' attention. With fluid grace, Marcus ducked underneath the purple monster's claws and tore a crippling wound to its legs. Marcus turned to Sabin as he easily sidestepped a powerful blow. "You heard your brother!" he shouted.

Sabin nodded. They did not want to face Atma again. The last time had nearly been fatal, and they were well rested and far more prepared at the time.

The two warriors ran with all their strength from the dying behemoth.

---

"Well," Locke said as he helped Gau push the crippled Magitek armor, "this is just complete idiocy."

Gau moaned something unintelligible as the two men continued to strain themselves.

Davis Malsbury, the Magitek pilot, groaned as he finally squeezed his way from beneath the armor and monster. "Thanks," the weary soldier said, happy to be finally out of his prison.

"It's the least I could do," Locke sighed in relief as he let go of the Magitek armor. He wanted to sit down, as tired as he was, but knew they were still very much in danger. The island's rumblings had grown more and more violent, and the regular shaking was only serving to agitate the monsters nearby.

"Are you hurt? I don't think the Blackjack has the time to land," Locke glanced at Davis, concerned. The Imperial pilot had risked his life to save him when it was probably unnecessary. It wasn't the first time, both Magitek pilots had taken plenty of risks while they fought the Imperial Guard. Locke had stared down entire squadrons of charging soldiers only to witness their firey demise. He felt greatly indebted, even if it was to the brown uniform of the Empire. "It's probably going to be quite a jump, and we have enough injured already." Locke pointed at Terra and Cyan. Though the Doma knight acted otherwise, it was clear that he was quite wounded from being airborne and then buried beneath a landslide. The knight was resigned to defend Terra if all else went wrong, and Locke would ensure Cyan did not stand alone.

As for Terra, she had yet to speak. Though she was conscious again, something had shaken her to the very core.

"I'll be fine," Davis said. "The men will be jealous that I survived a melee with one of those giants and," the older pilot beamed, "it'll make a great story for my kids."

Locke flashed his signature smile. No one noticed how much it quivered.

The three hurried their way to Terra and Cyan. Though they were close to the edge of the continent, they had avoided straying too close. Many of the quakes had dislodged great chunks from the continent's periphery. No one was keen on falling to their death.

"Locke," Cyan turned towards him. "Art thou confident Sir Michals and Lady Siana will be safe?"

"Don't you worry about Siana," Davis answered. "Though she might not look like it, she's been piloting armors longer than I have."

Locke glanced over at Davis, an eyebrow raised. Pilot First-Class Davis Malsbury looked to be in his early forties, though the clean-shaven and unscarred warrior might have been older. However, the last time Locke looked over the luscious redhead in the cockpit of the second Magitek Armor, she looked as old as Terra or Celes.

"I can tell you don't believe me, but Siana's been piloting those things since," Davis paused. With the exception of Terra, everyone watched with a measure of envy as Siana's Magitek armor burned through another rampaging behemoth. Two quick beams had instantly taken out the legs of the gigantic purple monster. As the monster crashed to the ground, two more beams ripped into the bulk of the monster. The great beast screamed in pain as its flesh began to bubble and burst, red steam rising from the fiery discharge.

"As I said," Davis beamed as Siana turned the rampaging behemoth into a burning corpse. "She piloted that unit before Tzen joined the Empire. I was a mere grunt at the time."

Locke shrugged, "does that answer your question, Cyan?"

Cyan nodded. "I will retire to the edge. I have a feeling Setzer shall show up soon."

---

"Michals," Sabin gasped as he and Marcus reached the Lieutenant and the last Magitek armor.

Marcus grunted in pain, running in full plate had exhausted the soldier. "Lieutenant, ideas?" he asked as he caught his breath.

Michals was relaxed, his twin blades sheathed behind his back. "The Imperial Guard is in full retreat, I doubt even Nairne would be crazy enough to stay when this island is clearly going to fall apart. We should probably do the same," he responded. "Nairne is a fanatic but he's not an idiot."

Sabin glanced up at the Magitek armor, something was bothering him.

"And the men?" Marcus asked as the three of them began to jog back to the others. Behind them, they could hear the engines of the Magitek armor whine as it slowly backed up.

"Safe. We managed to arm most of the weapons that were mounted before they got into the air. Sergeant Arthal has experience flying those things, so there shouldn't be any problems," Michals said. "And I don't think the Air Force would fire at the Emperor's Airship, even if they suspected something. They don't have the balls."

"Good thinking," Marcus gave a quick nod of approval. He narrowed his eyes as he noticed the group ahead of them. "Where's the King? He warned us about Atma and then disappeared."

"Atma?" Michals asked. "We can't afford another battle with it."

The three men reached the group now, Terra, Locke, Gau and Davis. They looked around, the port was eerily empty. Aside from the rumbling of the ground, the looming danger of the ground falling away, the port was quiet and safe.

"Where's the Blackjack?" Marcus asked.

Locke shrugged and Davis shook his head. Terra seemed distant, and Gau was... well, doing something, Marcus couldn't quite figure out what the lad was doing to the ground. Marcus ignored the four and scanned the port, realizing that if the gambler didn't show up, they would all die when the island crashed... if Atma didn't kill them first.

As if to calm Marcus' unspoken worries, Edgar shouted. "Over here!"

Edgar was at the edge of the floating landmass, Cyan at his side and looking quite disturbed. They leaned dangerously over the island, staring below.

---

Setzer Gabbiani glanced to the portside, squeamish about being so close to the floating island. The port had been out of the question, the island was simply too unstable for him to land with any degree of reliability. The airship pilot and accomplished gambler felt a bead of sweat run down his back. This was as close as he could get without risking everyone's lives.

He looked upwards. "That's it!" he shouted.

"That's it?" came the reply. It was the thief's voice, as irritating as ever.

Setzer ignored him and hit the levers to steady the airship's rise. "Any higher and you won't make it!" he screamed.

"This is utter insanity!" Strago Magus, the elder mage and lore-master, strolled to the bridge. "Having them jump such a distance will kill them!"

"They're not as old as you," Setzer snapped. "And if we tried to land, we might all be stuck on that infernal island right now. I might be the best, but I can't land on that shaking island with any guarantees."

Strago mumbled something under his breath as he walked back to his position at the stern of the ship.

---

Edgar landed as well as he could. After all, he was an accomplished warrior. He had faced many dangers, and jumping great heights was not something that he would back away from. And he was merely three hundred pounds of man and metal diving down through a pitiful twenty meters of open sky. Landing well was absolutely no trouble at all.

He smashed onto the deck, shoulder first, and rolled until he crashed into one of the supporting pillars.

Edgar moaned in pain as he tried to stand. He collapsed back into the heap of broken planks that marked his landing spot, a sudden burst of pain erupting in his legs. He had definitely hurt himself that time, and counted himself lucky that he had not broken any bones.

Cyan was next, the Doma knight casually considering the events of the day as he leaped. After all, this would be the second time in the day that he had flown like a bird. Except this time, it was under his own power.

Experience where it mattered, the older warrior landed considerably better than the King. Cyan still broke into the deck shoulder first, but he managed not to roll into anything.

"What are you trying to do, smash a hole through my ship?" Setzer snapped at them.

Edgar cursed creatively about Setzer's romantic intentions before he finally stood up. "You try jumping that distance!" he shouted.

Davis and Michals were next. Both had watched the men before them. Both improved on the time-honored technique of hurling oneself through open air without any consideration for the landing.

With two more piles of broken planks, a broken propeller and even some damaged rigging, Setzer wondered which would do more damage: landing the ship on an island that was breaking apart, or letting these monsters on board.

To Marcus' credit, the Captain landed far better than any of the men before him. He was totally unhurt, and did not break Setzer's airship anymore so. The Captain landed on two feet, rolled, and smashed into a rapidly recovering Edgar.

As the two men began cursing each other, moments short of a fist fight, Terra and Locke landed on the airship without any incident. The thief had cleverly spelled himself and Terra. They had floated through the air; Terra blindly led by Locke, and touched down on the deck beside Relm. Locke even knelt down, patted Strago's granddaughter on the head, before shaking his index finger side-to-side at Edgar and Marcus.

Michals picked himself off the ground and made his way to Setzer. "There should be three more, everyone else left on other ship," he said. "After them, we should make best haste to Albrook."

Setzer turned his black eyes at the green armored Lieutenant. "Albrook is back south, in the direction of the IAF. We're not going back there."

"But-" Michals began.

Setzer shook his head. "Unlike your men, we are not flying the Emperor's personal airship. We're not getting back through the blockade without some serious artillery."

"What could the Imperial Air Force still field? Between what we annihilated on the way in, and the number called back to the Vector airfields, I can't see anything being powerful enough to take care of this ship. Especially not with the speed you demonstrated earlier," Michals said.

"Listen, there's three airships circling the island from above, and they're all looking for us," Setzer pointed upwards. "It'll be difficult enough to outrun them without having to deal with the southern fleet."

"Three airships?"

Setzer turned around, recognizing the Magitek pilot instantly. It had been quite the challenge to fit both Magitek units onto his airship. He had worked closely with both pilots to ensure no unnecessary damages. They were both quite friendly and resourceful.

"That's right Davis, three of them," Setzer turned back to Michals. "And that's why I'll be taking us directly north, with all intentions of getting back to Figaro before the IAF comes after us. Even they will think twice before crossing the ocean."

Michals nodded in understanding. "Alright, but just keep in mind that the Imperial Air Force doesn't operate under standard policy. They get orders direct from the Emperor and-"

"I know that!" Setzer interrupted the Special Forces soldier. "You think I've lived this long flying an airship without knowing how the IAF works? I'm telling you right now this is the only way we'll live!"

"Very well," Michals left Setzer to his own devices, but Davis stayed behind and whispered in awe. "Incredible, you were flying around with three airships on your tail? How did you survive for this long?"

"Ingenuity, skillful piloting, good looks," Setzer flashed a dashing smile.

"Yeah, and having a mage that could set fire to the decks of your enemy couldn't have helped, could it?" Strago asked.

Before Setzer could respond, Marcus cut him off.

Marcus, finally separated from Edgar by Cyan, had asked the obvious.

"What's taking them so long?"

---

Sabin dived, pushing Siana out of the way. The strange monster missed, its claws swiping at thin air as it reoriented itself. Standing on one leg, the clown-like monster grinned at them. It looked like a starved circus performer, scrawny with its skin colored by paint. Its right half was red, its left white. A hideous mask covered its face, hiding all but the aggravating grin.

"Nerapa thinks Lord Atma will like these," it said.

Sabin put himself between the monster, Nerapa as it called itself, and Siana. The Magitek pilot had just dismounted when the monster had struck them. Sabin had stayed behind when he realized that they were not going to be able to load the armor back onto the airship. That was fortunate, as he had managed to save the red haired soldier before she was ripped apart by the clown. When he had tried to attack the monster, the thing jumped around him and had tried to strike Siana again.

Nerapa twisted, bending backwards in an inhuman fashion.

"I hate clowns," Sabin mumbled as he watched the monster continue to hop around on one leg in a rhythmic, mesmerizing pattern.

It suddenly shot forward, its entire body coiling like a viper.

It was fast, but Sabin was faster. The martial artist nailed the monster in the side with a spinning kick, sending the lightweight clown flying backwards.

"Siana, get on the airship!" he shouted. He was keeping his eyes on the clown, but spared a quick look back to ensure that the Magitek pilot was running. Knowing that she was too far for Nerapa to strike easily, Sabin concentrated on crippling the monster.

But as Nerapa stood back up on one leg, Gau struck. The beast child tore at the clown savagely, a strange mix of martial prowess and primal instinct, before the monster simply overpowered Gau and sent him backwards into the air.

Yet Gau landed on both feet, flipping over in the air like a cat. Sabin did not join the melee, knowing that he might cause injury to Gau. And... it seemed that the kid was actually doing quite well on his own.

Nerapa hopped towards the beast child, again in a rhythmic, one-legged fashion. Gau merely stood his ground, watching...

The monster coiled out, lashing quickly as it had before against Sabin. Only this time, it did not bend backwards. It intended to surprise its opponent.

Gau stepped to the side, a wild grin on his face as he raised one leg like the monster. He bent backwards as well, to Sabin's utter dismay, and shot forward. The young child landed a number of blows to the mask of the clown. The clown screamed in pain as fell to the ground. Gau continued landing blows on the fallen monster, but Nerapa recovered quickly. With a leg and an arm, it struck Gau in the stomach. It flipped upside-down, maintaining its balance on one hand, and sent Gau backwards with a single powerful roundhouse kick. It flipped back onto its feet, satisfied with the last blow.

Sabin charged forwards, nailing Nerapa in the leg before punching the clown in the face. The mask was hard, but nothing compared to behemoth's thick skin. And Sabin had used all his strength, along with his momentum.

Nerapa fell to the ground, stunned momentarily.

Without a second thought, Sabin turned around and ran. He grabbed Gau with one hand, picking the child up by the skins he wore, and simply ran as fast as he could to the edge of the island.

In front of him, Siana stared into the space that she was to jump. It seemed quite impossible, and she felt nauseous just looking over the cliff. The airship was a long way down, and the deck seemed awfully small considering all the open sky around it.

Sabin picked up the red haired pilot with his other hand and threw her onto his shoulder as he had done with Gau. With both child and pilot, one on each shoulder, the mighty warrior leaped into the air.

The three flew into the blue sky, carried solely by Sabin's momentum. Siana had quickly gone from screaming at Sabin to let go, to screaming at him to hold tight. One look below him, and Gau also held on for dear life. "Mr. Thou!" he screamed.

Locke watched as Sabin landed on both feet. Edgar's brother cracked the deck as he landed, but remained upright. He let go of Gau and Siana, Gau falling onto the floor, while Siana was still holding onto Sabin for her life. Both were completely scared out of their minds.

"You--" Locke pointed at Sabin.

Sabin glanced over at Locke, and then over to the broken planks that marked landing sites for everyone else. He looked at his brother, who was still covered in splinters from the wooden columns he had smashed into, and then to Davis, Michals, Cyan and Marcus.

Sabin laughed.

---

The Blackjack sped away from the island as it collapsed. Its flight path, previously floating above Vector, had deteriorated and was now headed north.

Which was perfect for Setzer. They sped away in safety, the island blocking the southern Imperial fleet's view, as Strago and Relm once again proved their skill with magic.

The Imperial Air Force had always had its own airships for military use. A well-kept secret, only a few had knowledge that the Air Force actually had functional ships. It was public knowledge that the Empire had built airship engines, Vector's electrical generators were based off the same concepts. But actual flying ships were unknown to many. The reason was two-fold. Despite having access, it was rare for top-ranked commanders to use airships in warfare. They were too expensive to waste transporting a pitiful number of men across the ocean, so most of the armed forces had never seen the airforce in action. This lead to their use in the secretive Special Forces. Outfitted with weapons that rivaled those defending the Magitek factory in Vector, they were capable of minor bombing tasks, quick hit and run attacks on terribly outmatched opponents, or expediently delivering soldiers in insertion and extraction missions.

They never expected to be fighting another airship though. And certainly not an airship with accomplished descendants of Mage Warriors on board.

Strago and Relm unleashed a chaotic explosion, the two working in tandem as they cast spell after spell at their pursuers. To the commoner, it would have looked like a rainbow of colors from one ship showering three others behind them.

The airship captains flew erratically, never prepared for a war of magic. The Blackjack was well out of range of their mounted cannons, and the Imperial Air Force did not have Magitek Knights aboard.

Setzer screamed orders without bothering to tear his eyes from the displays in front of the wheel. Much like their flight towards the island, the Blackjack was pushed to her limits. Unlike their flight in, they did not have the safety of commandeered Sky Armors around them. Of course, they were also far faster now, since they were not carrying a company of soldiers and two Magitek Armors.

Still, Setzer screamed orders to simply keep the ship going as fast as it was. Relm and Strago cast spells until they tired themselves out, and even then they continued.

But it was not enough.

Spitfire Sky Armors, twin propeller aircraft with little in the way of artillery, caught up with the Blackjack. The few that escaped the blasts of magic that Strago laid down jumped onto the deck of the Blackjack. They could see that the mages could easily destroy their Sky Armors and chose to fight on foot instead.

However, those men were torn apart wherever they landed. Sabin, Marcus and Michals positioned themselves well; the capable warriors more than a match for pilots turned foot soldiers. They fended off with ease whatever the IAF attempted.

---

Under the deck, Locke held Terra's hands. Her blue eyes were still distant, and that made Locke more than a little worried.

Siana Deardon was also there. Unlike Davis, she had no experience with airship engines. She had tried to help Edgar, but the King told her to rest instead.

"What happened to her?" Siana asked.

Locke shook his head. "I don't know. She's been like this for a while now and I'm almost certain that the Statues have something to do with it." He felt powerless, he had promised to protect Terra and he could do nothing now. He should have gone with them to face Gestahl. Edgar had been adamant that they couldn't afford to let anyone else other than Cyan go with Terra and Celes. Locke gritted his teeth. He had allowed himself to be swayed by Edgar's smooth words. Against an old man and a crazy clown, three to two odds were great compared to the twenty to one odds they had faced against the Imperial Guard. Locke shook his head. He shouldn't have listened to Edgar. He had failed her again.

"She's half-esper, anything to do with the statues would affect her before it would affect us," Siana agreed. The red haired pilot had been told about the statues, nearly all of Marcus' men had been told. After all, they had the right to know what the Emperor had intended to do. They had to make the choice for themselves: whether to follow the Emperor, or their former General.

Locke wondered about Celes, and whether she was alright. The Floating Continent was breaking apart as it fell, the magic holding it in the sky slowly losing its grip. He swore at the helplessness of his situation. First Edgar had stopped him from protecting Terra and Celes when they needed him, then Marcus had delayed until they were forced to abandon Celes to the island. His fists were shaking from uncontrollable anger.

"The statues-"

Terra's hands suddenly gripped his, the shock causing Locke to grimace in pain. Her eyes went wide, shock replacing the emotionless look that had been on her face for so long now.

"Locke, the statues," she said.

"What about them?" Locke asked, the rage boiling inside forgotten in an instant as he watched Terra eyes refocus.

"The statues, they're resonat-" Terra let go of Locke's hands, clutching at her ears as she closed her eyes in pain.

Locke narrowed his eyes. "Terra?"

Terra closed her eyes, tears welling up as she rocked in her seat. She hunched over, her long hair cascading off her shoulders to hide her face. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed.

"Terra!" Locke grabbed at her arm, concerned at her sudden lapse.

"The statues..." Terra said as she collapsed against him, so intent on keeping the noise from reaching her ears. "They're... in pain."

"In pain?" Locke echoed.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes wide open.

The fine hairs on the back of Locke's neck rose.

Terra was bleeding; from the ears, from the eyes. Locke was simply scared by the look on her face. A look of torture and agony, her eyes were driven wild by the pain that only she could feel.

"The world is going to end," she whispered hoarsely.

---

Relm saw it first.

A beam of light, bright white, erupted from the Floating Continent. The light hit the ground, raking along the earth. It tore apart the surface and left a trail of angry red magma. A huge fireball followed the trail and grew ever larger, bright yellow flames devouring everything that the light had missed.

And another.

They stared in shock as beam after beam tore across the land in every direction. At first there had only been one. Then a second appeared, lancing out in another direction. Before their brilliance faded, dozens shot from the island in every direction. Blazing white light projected from the center of the Floating Continent, tearing it apart as they shot outwards. What little they could see of the light was more than enough to scare them.

Where the light hit, the very ground was annihilated. Like the floating continent, the land that the light destroyed did not merely rupture on contact. It tore apart with the force of hundreds of explosions. The land seemed to ripple and break, great chasms opening. Rifts in the land spewed out the fires beneath. Red streams of molten lava that erupted forth added to the infernos that followed each brilliant display. The world spewed forth its lifeblood, trails of black smoke and dust rising from opened wounds.

Each successive blast of magic -- no one pretended it was anything else -- seemed to grow more destructive, more apocalyptic. One shot directly underneath the floating landmass, the ground beneath instantly disintegrated as a fireball -- a glowing ball of deadly gas -- was released from the explosion. The fireball consumed everything around it, quickly expanding while it grew brighter than the Sun. It was one of many tiny stars that had suddenly been born that day.

Towards the south and beyond the Kavanagh Mountains -- where the initial beam of light had struck -- was the first fireball. It had cooled while it expanded and rose; losing enough of its glow so their naked eyes could watch without pain. Smoke and dust had been dragged into the sky and formed an unnatural mushroom cloud. The cloud continued to cool, its color gradually turning white as it formed layer upon layer of overlapping cloud cover. Rain began to fall from the sky, a deadly black cascade of water that dragged down with it poisonous dust and debris from the initial explosions.

"The Goddesses protect us," Strago whispered. "The world is dying."

Edgar realized he was holding his breath. The black rain could be seen from their position, so far away that the Kavanagh Mountains were dots on the horizon. It was the most frightening thing he had ever seen, and nothing in his education could explain any of the things he was seeing now. None of the blasts of light that were still scattering from the midst of a huge black cloud -- the floating island's remains, though Edgar doubted it was still floating -- caught his attention like the darkness that fell upon the lands.

Then a beam of light came towards them.

Relm screamed while Edgar stood in shock, both watching the light thunder towards them. Setzer was still concentrating on his airship, pushing the Blackjack's engines so that they could escape the Imperial Air Force. Marcus, Michals and Sabin were too well trained to stare at the destruction behind them. They had been in motion the whole time, though that would never have saved them.

The beam missed, by quite a wide margin, and instead swept across the mountains before them.

Edgar watched in awe as the mountains exploded, great balls of fire erupting from the lands before them. The mountain peaks were cleaved from their foundations, great precipices of rock crashing into the pyres below. Another glowing fireball rose into the air and lit up the blackening sky. Yet another mushroom cloud in its infancy, but surrounded by a massive screen of smoke that expanded.

Then he realized it was not smoke, but what had been blown off the ground.

Dirt, gravel, trees, boulders, it did not matter. Debris rose in a giant wall before them, traveling faster than any airship. A blast wave of highly compressed and fast moving air that carried with it the surface of a forest.

Edgar dived towards Relm, his thoughts only of protecting the child from the apocalypse.

The airship rocked in the sudden gust, Edgar smashing against yet another pillar. He screamed in pain, but could barely hear himself speak. The winds ripped into the airship, his stomach lurching as the deck twisted and turned. He thought he dimly heard Setzer screaming in the great gusts, but could make out no words. Instead, he concentrated all his power in remaining on the deck of the airship, the winds trying to tear him off and send him flying into the skies.

Edgar held Relm close to the deck as the gusts of wind ripped by. He could hear nothing but the rushing winds, and saw nothing but a brown haze. He kept his eyes closed; the winds stung his eyes every time he attempted to figure out his surroundings. He lost track of how many times the airship spun, his stomach twisting and turning as they flew through the screaming cries of a dying world.

And then everything cleared up.

The ringing in his ears continued, but the winds died down. The airship's floor leveled off. Edgar got to his feet, looking around in wonder.

They had survived.

Edgar grinned, somehow, they had survived.

And then he realized that Setzer was still screaming. Edgar looked around, noticing that Marcus and Michals had thrown themselves close to the bridge, taking advantage of the instrument panels to break the winds and save themselves. Sabin was on the ground, one hand firmly holding onto a pillar, the other holding onto Strago.

It was a lucky coincidence that everyone else had gone below.

That was when Edgar realized Setzer was still screaming orders, and that the airship, though it seemed calm, was not calm at all. It was calmer than when the winds had threatened to tear him from the Blackjack's deck, but the airship was still rumbling.

The ringing in his ears died down, and Setzer's mouth suddenly formed real words.

"I can't stabilize the altitude!" Setzer screamed.

Edgar looked up, noticing the huge hole in the airship's wedge-shaped balloon. Black smoke bellowed from the horrendous wound, leaving a trail behind them as they sped towards their impeding doom. His eyes opened wide, a shock of fear paralyzing him where he stood.

"We're going to crash!" Setzer screamed.

The airship streaked past the huge crater where mountains had been moments before, going hundreds of times faster than it was safe to travel at such a low altitude. They had crashed once before, Edgar had been flying the Blackjack, but this time was different. The engines were still pushed to the limits, straining to outrun airships that no longer chased them.

Setzer was a skilled pilot, deftly winding his way through the mountain range despite the incredible speed and lack of lift. The gambler, long white hair flying freely behind him, spun the wheel and continued screaming orders that were not being followed.

But no matter how good Setzer was, he was merely delaying the inevitable. And as the forests beneath them loomed up, Setzer could do no more for his airship.

The Blackjack clipped a great pine, its speed so immense that it tore the tree out of the ground. But as the ship spun from the impact and burst through the thick canopy, its momentum was exhausted. The Blackjack smashed into an unyielding wall of pine and spiraled to the ground.

Edgar no longer thought about protecting Relm. There was no time.

As the airship broke upon the ground, Edgar felt the deck disappear beneath him. He looked forward in dread, unable to avoid the unavoidable.

The ground broke his fall. The pain that accompanied it only lasted a moment, but it was a moment of such intensity that it felt like an eternity. The agony of a thousand battle wounds, compressed into a single sliver of time. Flesh and bone meeting cold, rigid rock. It was the shock of searing torture that ripped through his body, taking the breath from his lungs. Fire burned through every inch, every muscle in his body felt like it was being pulled apart.

His world went black.