You know you missed me.



All the characters, minus any OC's, belong to their original creators, mostly Square Enix.

Chapter XXVII

The Battle in Macalania

Vincent sat behind the controls of a SnowCat. Despite the urgency of the situation, the feeling of snow blowing into his face was a refreshing and welcome sensation. He twisted down on the SnowCat's throttle, pushing the machine to its limits. Behind him, three more SnowCats sped over the frozen tundra, each trying to go as fast as they could. Their destination was Macalania Temple; their purpose was rescue.

Rikku's slender arms wrapped around Vincent's torso. Occasionally she would look over her shoulders at the three other SnowCats, their riders, and then farther back to the smoking ruin of the Al Bhed cannon machina.

"My brother could have been in there, you know?" she said. Vincent looked back to her and then at the wreck. A vise began to squeeze inside his chest.

"I'm sorry. If I had known—"

"It wouldn't have changed much," she replied sadly. "Brother, he's a lot like my father. Both of them are even more stubborn than I am."

"That's actually a little impressive," Vincent joked and felt Rikku gently punch him in the ribs for it. The two rode on in silence for several long minutes after that.

"I know he's ok," Rikku finally said. "Those cannons were something that he and I worked on together. They are almost completely automated once you set the target and activated the anti-magic field. Brother isn't the type to stick his neck out too far; he'd rather let the machina do the work for him. He set it and got out of there long before you blew it up, I know it."

"I'm glad. Hurting you or your family was never my intent," Vincent nodded, relieved.

"I know, Uncle Vinny," Rikku exclaimed in her usual cheery voice. "But we both know my dad could use a good kick in the butt sometimes!"

"I'll leave that to you, Rikku. The last time I did anything even near your father, he threw me in jail, remember?"

"Yep! But we all know you could have busted out of there anytime you wanted, so it doesn't really count."

"Are you two gonna reminisce all day or ye gonna figure out how to save that lass we're all chargin' into de unknown over?" Cait Sith chipped in. Vincent had forgotten he was clinging to Rikku the same way she was clinging to him. "Not that I'm not impressed ye finally got yer hands dirty, Vincent, but don't ya think it'd be better to swap prison stories later? Then I can regale the lot of ya on that Deepground pit dey threw me in all those years ago."

"Why would anyone throw you in prison?" Rikku asked. "It's not like you can do a whole lot on your own."

"I'll have ye know lassie, that if it weren't for me, your handsome gunslinging friend here and all his old travelin' buddies would have kicked it fer sure!" Cait exclaimed. "Tell her, Vince."

"Don't call me that."

"Anyway, back to what I was sayin', we need to figure out how we're going to save that Luna girl of yours."

"Her name's Yuna."

"Yuna then! We are on our way to save her, right?"

"Of course we are!" Rikku shouted. "Just because we aren't talking about it right now doesn't mean we aren't going to save Yunie! We'll do whatever it takes!"

Rikku's voice traveled in the wind, reaching the ears of Tidus and Lulu. The black mage was sitting behind the driving blitzer, both trying to avoid Wakka at the moment.

"Man, her voice really carries, doesn't it?" Tidus laughed.

"She's…unique," Lulu said with a small smile.

"Just unique?" Tidus grinned.

"Well, I can tell she's not a bad person. She may even be an asset to us in the future. Having an Al Bhed in the group will certainly round us out."

Tidus winced. "You noticed that, huh?"

"The spiral pupils were my first clue, but her spunky attitude was a dead giveaway," Lulu deadpanned.

"Yeah, well at least Wakka hasn't figured it out yet. And that's what really gets me too. He doesn't care if she's loyal or brave or even helpful. To him, Rikku's just another Al Bhed. Wakka's head is as hard as a rock; the man's more stubborn than a blitzball. I bet it's because of Yevon, all those teachings."

"There is more to it than that. Wakka doesn't like the Al Bhed because of his brother Chappu," Lulu said, just quietly enough for Tidus to hear over the SnowCat engine.

"Oh…right. He used a machina weapon and got killed by SIN," Tidus growled. He balled up his fist and punched the SnowCat controls. "Killed by my old man. Damn

you, Jecht."

"What? I couldn't hear you," Lulu asked.

"Huh, oh, nothing," Tidus quickly tried to cover his tracks. "You've been a Guardian for a while, right Lulu?"

"Are you asking if I'm old?" Lulu replied, her voice low and soft like when she threatened Cait Sith earlier. Tidus gulped.

"No, no! I meant, you know a lot about Yevon and the pilgrimage and SIN, right?"

"I suppose so. This is my second pilgrimage as a Guardian; although we never completed the first. It did not end well. Why?"

"Can someone…a person, become SIN?"

"I—I don't know. I've never heard of anything like that.

"Oh. Just a thought, don't worry about it," Tidus tried to downplay his question, but Lulu could still hear the pain in his voice.

"SIN is the punishment for, and the incarnation of, crimes we have committed. No one knows what it really is or where it comes from. There is no need to know, so no one asks. You run or you fight. That is really all you can do. There is no sense brooding over it."

"What, that's all? I mean, you don't even wonder?" Tidus asked. "The whole world is being destroyed by a giant monster over and over again, and no one bothers to wonder where it came from? You just accept it as a normal part of life and deal with it?"

Lulu stopped the Snowcat and craned her neck to look at Tidus' face. His eyes were hard and wet with angry tears. "You really do come from a world where there is no SIN, like you say. I can see it in your eyes. You—you really are from Zanarkand!"

Tidus sniffed, wiped his eyes, and gave her his cockiest smile.

"Told ya."


'I never knew a Summoner could use black magic,' Yuna thought as she struggled behind her NulBlaze shield as Seymour fired more Fira spells at her. Across the temple antechamber, Seymour smirked as he waved his feathery wand back and forth, each wave summoning fresh gouts of red hot flame.

"If I knew killing you would be this much fun, I wouldn't have waited his long," Seymour laughed. He was genuinely having a good time, toying with her, supremely confident that Yuna was no match for his magic. And even if her white magic could somehow deflect his black magic, there was no way her Aeons would be any match for Anima.

Yuna sweated behind her NulBlaze spell. She was starting to feel the heat from Seymour's barrage, a sure sign that her shield was weakening. She only had a second or two before it was gone completely. Yuna needed a plan.

'There has to be a way to stop him,' Yuna thought. 'Some weakness. I thought he'd be much weaker than this, hiding behind his title of Maester.'

Yuna pushed more magic into her shield, letting Seymour continue to hurl fireballs at her. When her shield finally broke, Yuna dove behind one of the temple columns. Seymour laughed as he stalked her, walking slowly towards her.

"It really is a shame that you chose to stand against me instead of beside me," Seymour mocked. "We, our marriage could have brought true happiness to Spira. You could have been happy, Yuna. Now, you will only know pain and empty death."

'Don't listen to him, Yuna. You keep it together and figure out a way to distract him long enough to summon.'

Seymour waved his wand and fired another trio of fireballs at the pillar. The ice steamed beneath the heat and Yuna felt cold water trickle down her back. The shocking cold caused her to shiver and gave her an idea. She dove away from the pillar, rolling when she hit the floor, and sprang to her feet. Without waiting for Seymour to attack again, Yuna spun behind another pillar.

"You possess remarkable flexibility and agility," complimented Seymour. "What a shame; I would have appreciated such qualities in a wife. Your death shall be an even greater pity."

"With your aim, I'll die of old age before you hit me. No wonder you had to kill your father to become Maester; you'd never have made it on your own ability," Yuna mocked. She couldn't see him, Yuna didn't dare move out from behind cover, but she could practically hear his teeth grinding.

'That's it, you big baby. Get angry, start making mistakes,' she hoped.

"How—how dare you? You might be the daughter of a High Summoner, but you are an ant compared to me! Firaga!"

Magic condensed at the tip of Seymour's wand; Yuna fought to keep from suffocating at the magical pressure. A bright orange ball of flame ignited and grew until it was twice as tall as Seymour! With a flourish of movement, Seymour flung the spell at the pillar Yuna was hiding behind. It struck with the force of a locomotive, smashing a portion of the pillar into hand-sized fragments and melting most of the rest. Great gouts of hissing steam filled the Antechamber and lingered in the air. Seymour waved his wand, casting a low Aero spell to clear it, but the steam was too thick.

Yuna used the steamy fog as cover, her white dress camouflaged her well. She crept along the floor, circling around the furious Seymour. She took shelter in the doorway to the Chamber of the Fayth and looked at the still steam-filled room. The steam was actually thickening over time, not dissipating and, when Yuna passed her hand through it, was cool to the touch.

'I wonder if Lady Shiva is doing this?' Yuna mused before focusing back on the task at hand. She raised her staff and started to spin it in a circle. Her magic slowly began to build. Seymour spun in circles trying to locate her. Pyreflies burst into existence around her and her magic reached a powerful crescendo just as Seymour spotted her.

"There you are! Firaga!" he shouted. Yuna did nothing to avoid the massive blast of heat and flame; she just stood and stared as it approached. Seymour's lips turned into satisfied snarl when the spell hit. He chuckled under his breath and walked toward the smoldering smoke and steam. He never saw the massive, clawed hand swing out of the smoke and cut into his chest and left shoulder.

"Aaargh!" he screamed in pain and stumbled backward. Seymour looked up and, instead of the smoldering corpse of a seventeen-year-old girl, he saw curved black horns, snapping jaws, and fiery bestial visage of Ifrit.

Yuna did her best not to smirk when she stepped out from behind Ifrit's massive shoulders. It was hard, but Yuna was smart enough to know that she hadn't won yet.

"Cure," Seymour whispered and cast the rudimentary white magic on his wound. He winced while the deep cut knit, his pain turning to rage when he looked in Yuna's eyes.

"I am impressed you were able to summon an Aeon so quickly and quietly. Very few Summoners can make such a claim," Seymour complimented. Once the scar on his chest and shoulder vanished, Seymour raised his wand and gave it a small flick. A spike of ice sprang from the wand tip and imbedded itself in the temple floor. Ifrit let out a low growl at the sight of the ice and spat a breath of flame.

"My, my. This is going to be interesting, isn't it?" Seymour smiled.


Vincent slowed and stopped his SnowCat behind a rocky outcrop, just out of sight of the temple gates. The others pulled up beside him, shouting and scowling.

"What are you doing? We need to go help Yuna!" Tidus shouted.

"Time is kinda of the essence here, Uncle Vinny," Rikku complained, hurrying to Tidus' side. "Why are we stopping out here?"

"Seymour posted guards at the entrance, probably more inside just in case," Vincent replied. "Better we attack quickly and eliminate them in as little time as possible. We can't afford to get bogged down anywhere."

"How many?" Auron asked. The legendary Guardian already had scenarios and tactics forming in his mind.

"Four outside, at least another six inside, not including anyone left in the Cloister of Trials."

"How do you know all that?" Lulu asked. Her voice, while filled with her usual skepticism, was laced with a small hint of curiosity. Vincent smiled.

"There were skiff tracks in the snow the whole way here. One small Guado skiff for Seymour and Yuna to ride together and a much larger, heavier skiff designed for carrying troops. Plus, they are parked off to the side and three Guado guards are leaning against it, smoking."

Lulu peeked out from behind the rocks. They were still to far away for her to clearly see any specific guards, but she could see the skiffs clear enough. 'Smart ass,' she smirked to herself.

"You don't think you're gonna charge into that temple, ya? You murdering heathens aren't stepping a foot inside there," Wakka growled.

"Oh, shut it, ya boob," Cait Sith yelled and stuck his tongue out at Wakka. The veteran blitzer's face turned tomato red, which actually complimented his carrot-colored hair. Cait Sith grinned, bowed to the laughing Lulu, and pulled on Vincent's cloak.

"Ye do have a plan, right?"

Vincent looked down at the little doll. "Of course, I do. I just need a volunteer."


Cait Sith waded through the waist deep snow, well, waist deep for him. While he wasn't technically alive, he was still very aware of the cold and how wet he was. It didn't make him happy.

"When I get my paws on that bastard blood-drinking wanna-be for this, I'm gonna make him wish he wasn't immortal," the mechanical doll threatened under his breath. "I wasn't designed to be a distraction; I am the main event, baby!" Cait Sith made it to the main road into the temple, walking in full view of the temple guards.

"Halt! Who…goes…there?" a temple guard wielding a Yevon machina gun yelled before bursting into laughter. "What the hell is this? Lurid, is this some kind of joke?"

"Nah, man. He's kinda funny looking though, isn't he?" the second guard, Lurid said.

"A joke, am I? Funny looking too, huh?" Cait Sith growled and began to glow pale green. Materia orbs attached to his megaphone glowed to match the green fire that burst around Cait's body. "Screw Vincent's plan, you two are dealing with me now!

"Lightning! Fire!" the doll shouted and blasted the two guards with the spells. The other two guards outside heard the spells and rushed forward, weapons raised and about to fire. Cait raised his gloved hands and gave them his cheesiest smile. They didn't buy it and Cait nearly jumped out of his own stuffing when he heard the two gunshots.

When the two guards fell and he was still alive and in one piece, Cait Sith let out a loud whoop of relief. "What took you so long?" he shouted.

"You were supposed to sneak in the window and let us in secretly," Vincent said, cradling his Hydra rifle. "Charging for the front gate wasn't in the plan."

"Yer plan called for me to wade through snow and climb up a temple made out of ice," Cait Sith complained. "Just cuz I'm little doesn't mean I'm the designated sneaker and spy. Besides, they pissed me off."

"Remind me not to piss you off," Tidus said as the others approached behind Vincent. He looked down at the guard corpse that had been ripped apart by Cait Sith's lightning. "That's pretty gross."

"See why I'm scared of lightning?" Rikku agreed.

"We don't have time for this," Lulu reminded them as Kimahri and Vincent stormed past them and ran into the temple.

Vincent stared at the gathered warrior monks, Guado guards, priests, and worshippers. Vincent's red eyes glowed in the dim light of the temple and he let a bit of demon slip into his voice. "Get. Out."

The worshippers were the first to faint or run, followed closely by the priests and terrified warrior monks. Only the Guado guards remained, for they feared their Lord Seymour more than any stranger clad in red. Vincent reached for his gun, but was brushed aside as Kimahri let out a deep roar and charged. The Ronso moved like a runaway wrecking ball; the Guado never stood a chance.

The rest of the Guardians ran into the temple, carefully stepping over six dead or unconscious Guado guards. Kimahri had been efficient and ruthless. Vincent looked at the Ronso and frowned. Kimahri was bleeding from multiple shallow wounds and was breathing heavily, not from exertion but from barely contained rage. Vincent realized that Yuna leaving had been hardest on Kimahri; the Ronso culture was very strict in matters of honor and Kimahri felt that he had broken his solemn vow to protect her. Vincent looked into Kimahri's yellow eyes and saw his own reflection in them—Vincent saw the lengths he would go to keep his precious ones close and safe mirrored in Kimahri's eyes. Both of them would fight, destroy, and even slaughter those that threatened their loved ones.

"Let's not waste anymore time," Vincent said and waved his hand over Kimahri, healing his wounds. They walked toward the lift, startling the many pilgrims and priests. Kimahri let out a deep roar and the room emptied in a panic. Tidus and Rikku couldn't contain their giggles at the sight. Even Vincent couldn't help a small smile.

The group of Guardians walked toward the elevator when, suddenly, a side door burst open and a girl ran out and straight into Tidus.

"Hey! Slow down!"

"Lord Jyscal!" she shouted, hysterical. "A sphere, in Lady Yuna's belongings…" She pushed away from Tidus and ran out the front door. Tidus looked back at the room with curiosity written across his face.

"We don't have time," Lulu started to say, but was cut off by Auron shouldering his way into the room. Everyone followed close behind, though Lulu rolled her eyes quite a bit. Yuna's traveling bag was lying on the small bed. Atop of it was a large, blue sphere.

"This may answer a few questions," Auron said and passed Tidus the sphere. Tidus placed the sphere on the floor and turned it on. The sphere glowed and made a bubbly sound. The image of Lord Jyscal appeared.

"What I am about to tell you is the unclouded truth," the sphere played back. Jyscal's voice was deep and strained; in Vincent's opinion, the sphere had terrible stereo audio. "I swear it on my honor as a Guado. Listen to me very carefully, for I shall tell you the truth about my son, Seymour. His mind is closed even to me, a Maester of Yevon. But I can feel flames of darkness burning in his heart. He is using Yevon, the Guado, and even the Summoners. If he is not stopped, he will surely bring destruction and chaos to Spira."

Jyscal took a long, tired breath. His shoulders sagged as if they bore the weight of the world, or the weight of a troubled father. "I will leave this world soon, killed by my own son. I am an obstacle in his way to power. But I do not fault him; because I was not wise enough, he has suffered, and become twisted. I could not protect him and his mother from the world and its cruelty. I will accept death as punishment for my deeds. But whoever is watching this…" The image of Jyscal looks up, as if looking right at the person watching the recording. He stares directly at Vincent.

"I implore you to stop Seymour! Stop my son!"

A shadow appeared behind the image of Jyscal; everyone watching could easily distinguish Seymour's twin spikes of hair in the shadow, and the sphere shut off. The room was silent, scarcely a breath could be heard. The sphere powered down on its own and Tidus picked it up. He held it carefully, like it was precious, and in its own way, it was.

"Wonderful," Auron growled and stormed out of the room.

"Will Yuna be ok?" Rikku asked. Her normally cheerful voice was shaky with worry.

"Without us, no," Vincent replied and he stalked after Auron. Kimahri ran with them and Rikku followed.

"Where you goin'?" Wakka asked, still confused after everything they just saw.

"You saw the sphere, Wakka. Seymour's bad news and Yuna's down there with him. He's gonna kill her!" Tidus shouted as he ran.

"But he's a Maester!"

"He's a murdering jerk!" Rikku yelled in Wakka's face. Wakka glared down at the girl before Lulu grabbed his arm.

"If he did this, we need to act, Wakka. We need to uphold the law and protect Yuna," she reasoned with him. Wakka thought for a second before nodding to her. Together they ran toward the waiting elevator.

"We may need a way into the antechamber," Vincent said and looked at Rikku. The young Al Bhed just smiled at him and patted the small satchel at her side.

"Don't worry, Uncle Vinny, I got a Rikku special all set to go."

"What's a Rikku special?" Tidus asked.

"Oh, you'll see," Rikku answered with a frighteningly giddy gleam in her eye.

"I can't believe we're doin' this," Wakka groaned as they piled onto the lift.

"You don't have to come," Rikku reminded him.

"Ya, I do. Yuna might need help and I'd never forgive myself if I let her down."

"Hmph," sighed Auron. "Seems like you may actually be a Guardian after all."

"So how much trouble are we in here?" Cait Sith asked from Vincent's shoulder.

"Seymour is a Maester, one of the four most powerful political and magical figures in Spira," Lulu answered. "Without his Aeon, he is as strong as you."

"Well, thank ye lass," Cait Sith preened.

"His Aeon is strong enough to destroy you all," Vincent said quietly, causing everyone but Auron and Rikku to shiver; each remembering seeing the terrible Aeon in Luca.

"It can't be that strong," Rikku said and tried to laugh, but when she saw the others pale and slightly shaking faces she stopped. "Uncle Vinny?"

"Calm yourself," Vincent smiled. "Here."

Vincent reached into the doorway to the Cloister of Trials and plucked out a Master Ice Materia. He handed it to Rikku and popped another into his claw.

"Is this…"

"Blizzard magic. It may come in handy," Vincent smiled. "I won't let anything happen to anyone. I promise."

"Pinky promise?" Rikku asked and held out her little finger. Vincent looked at her with a cocked eyebrow, but looped his normal finger around hers anyway.

"Yeesh," Tidus groaned. "I think I'd rather face Seymour's Aeon twice than deal with this cute junk another minute."

"Shut up!" Rikku, Cait Sith, and, surprisingly, Lulu shouted.


Ifrit charged at Seymour, ducking under a spear of ice. With a feral roar, it summoned a fist full of orange flame and swung its burning claws at Seymour. Seymour let out a yell as the claws tore through his robes and the fire lapped at his skin. The blow propelled Seymour into one of the temple's icy walls, smashing it and causing a window-sized hole to form.

Seymour fell to the ground, held his side, and cursed Yuna in native Guado. It took all of Yuna's willpower not to smirk at the Maester. Since she summoned Ifrit, Seymour had been on the losing end of their battle. While his ice magic was powerful, Yuna clever use of NulFrost Shields kept the worst of the magic away from Ifrit, allowing the summon to brutally attack without fear.

Seymour narrowed his eyes at the girl and her Aeon. 'Despite her youth and relative inexperience, she is more powerful than I thought,' Seymour thought and racked his mind for a plan. 'It never occurred to me that a summoner would use protective magic on their Aeon like that.' His eyes darted across the room, never focusing on anything in particular, but scanning for something he could use to his advantage.

A flash of color caught his attention and he smirked, 'Let's see just how noble you really are.' With a wave of his wand, Seymour summoned that speck of color to his outstretched hand. It was a young girl on the other side of the broken ice wall, a summoner initiate, no more than twelve years old. Seymour's magic pulled her through the hole, making it much larger, and into his grasp. She screamed and tried to pull away from him, but Seymour held her tightly.

"Stand down or she dies!" he ordered Yuna.


"Tell your Aeon to stand down or the last thing this girl sees will be her blood on the ice," Seymour threatened and held his wand at the girl's vulnerable throat.

Yuna fumed, her rage transferring to Ifrit and causing the Aeon's fiery hair to ignite brighter and hotter. "You're a monster! How could you?"

"I see you still haven't gotten the point of this situation, Lady Yuna. I suppose I should just kill her now."

Seymour raised his wand to strike, but was stopped by Yuna's scream: "NO!" He looked at her and triumphed in her defeated posture.

Yuna reached out and laid a hand on Ifrit's boulder-sized shoulder. The feral Aeon looked at her, growled, but lowered its claws and horned head. It hunched over on the ground, but its yellow eyes continued to burn hatred towards Seymour.

"Good girl," Seymour cooed and smiled. Yuna felt a fresh flash of repulsion slither up her spine, but kept her face firm and gave nothing away. Seymour saw her resolve and it turned his smile into an angry scowl.

"You think you're so righteous, so high with your morals. You lack the will to defeat SIN, the fortitude to do what needs to be done for the good of Spira. You don't have what it takes to bring true peace to this land."

With a snarl, Seymour hurled the girl at Ifrit. His magic backed his already impressive physical strength and the girl few over the ice. It took both Yuna and Ifrit by surprise and the fire Aeon was barely able to move in time to catch her. Ifrit cradled the girl in his massive arms, his razor sharp claws gentle for once. The girl took one look at the feral Aeon, screamed again, and fainted. Yuna let out a sigh of relief and turned back to face Seymour. She never saw it.

The bolt of ice speared through her left shoulder, freezing her blood and muscles. For Yuna, time slowed as she fell toward the ground. She could see a second bolt of ice rocket toward Ifrit, stab through the girl, and into the Aeon's chest. Hot blood mixed with pyreflies and magical ice; Ifrit sank to his knees, fading away, dropping the poor girl onto the icy floor. From her position on the floor, Yuna could see the light dim from the girl's eyes, until Seymour filled her vision.

"What a pity," Seymour whispered, bending over to trace a fingernail over Yuna's cheek. Yuna tried to pull away, but the pain in her shoulder was too much. "I think you would have enjoyed being my wife. We could have brought so much joy to the people of Spira."

Yuna tried not to look at Seymour; she struggled to look at the dying girl again. Seymour noticed and casually looked over his shoulder.

"Wrong place, wrong time, I'm afraid," he mused emotionlessly. He narrowed his eyes before it dawned upon him. "Ah, yes, I remember her now. She was actually a very promising talent here at the temple, nothing near your potential, but promising none the less. One of the priests sent me a letter about possibly working with her the next time my duties brought me back to Macalania. What was her name? Goodness, that is going to bother me all night now. I'm usually so good with names."

"You…fiend!" Yuna spat. "You heartless bastard!"

"Oh, come now. Such vulgar language should not the High Summoner's daughter's last words," Seymour smiled down at Yuna before grabbing ahold of the shaft of ice jutting out of her shoulder. He pulled it out viciously, delighting in the small trickle of blood the escaped the wound. He barely noticed Yuna's scream in pain.

"Look. Can you see it? My magic was so cold it actually cauterized your wound. It seems that there is still time for us to continue dueling before you succumb. Would you like to continue now? Have you had a long enough break?"

Yuna could only groan in pain as she struggled to pick herself up. Her left arm was completely worthless and she was having a hard time concentrating enough to cast a healing spell.

'Not that Seymour would let me even if I could,' Yuna thought, the realization of her defeat slowly sinking in. 'My friends, I'm so sorry I abandoned you like this. I thought I could keep you safe. I'm sorry, Father. I tried to follow in your footsteps'

Seymour stooped down to look Yuna in the face. "You've done it, haven't you? You've accepted your death. I can see it in your eyes. You've accepted the same peace that I will give to all of Spira very soon."

Questions raced through Yuna's mind, but she wasn't able to vocalize a single one as Seymour stood up. His wand materialized in his hand and he gave it a slight flick.

"Farewell Lady Yuna. Know that you could have been at my side and led Spira into a new paradise and all that your fighting did was prove to be a minor inconvenience to my plans."

Yuna's eyes swelled as he drew back his wand. She shut them tightly, trying hard to picture Besaid, that quiet spot on the Highroad where she stopped for a time, Tidus making her laugh and teaching her how to whistle…

The boom, louder than any ever heard on the Thunder Plains, shook Yuna and she opened her eyes when she didn't feel the shock of electricity. Seymour was no longer standing above her; he had been knocked back and was picking himself up from a small pile of rubble. Yuna craned her neck as far as she could without further damaging her shoulder and saw a fresh hole in the temple wall. Smoke obstructed her view, leaving only a cluster of shadowed figures of various sizes in the gap.

"And that's a Rikku special!" a cheerful voice yelled. Yuna almost screamed with joy when she saw her Guardians, no, her family walk through the smoke. Then she remembered what she had done, how she had abandoned them in a misguided attempt to keep them safe and ducked her head in shame.

Vincent's attention was split between watching Seymour and checking over Yuna. His sharp eyes saw her wound instantly and he was about to cast a Cure spell on her when Seymour stood and patted himself off.

"You should be more quiet," he said, still calm, still emotionless. "This is a temple you know."

"Make me," Tidus laughed and stuck his tongue out at the Maester. Rikku and Cait Sith burst into giggles at the exchange, even Lulu let out a small snicker. Vincent, for once, was thrilled by Tidus' immaturity. It gave him the moment he needed to heal Yuna.

Green sparks floated around Yuna, instantly healing the wound in her shoulder and relieving the pain. Yuna let out an unintentional sigh of relief and she stood. A thin line of blood and circular hole, the only evidence of Seymour's attack, marred the pristine white of her clothes. She picked up her staff and ran to her Guardians' sides. Auron looked down at her and Yuna felt her cheeks flush with shame.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Hmph. We'll discuss it later, if there is one," Auron answered, but gave Yuna a quick wink with his good eye. Yuna looked at her other Guardians and felt relief when they all smiled at her and was shocked when the perky blonde girl standing besides Vincent and a living doll grabbed her in the biggest hug she'd ever felt.

"Yunie! I'm so glad you're alright!"

"Th-thank you," Yuna stammered in both embarrassment and shock. She gently pushed the blonde girl away and looked at her face carefully. "Rikku?"

"Yay! You do remember me, I knew you would!"

"Oh, knock it off lassie," the living doll smirked and pushed himself between the two teenage girls. "Let the girl breathe. After all, she hasn't met me yet. Name's Cait Sith, at yer service, Milady."

"Aw, you're the cutest thing," Yuna smiled. She was about to pick Cait up when Lulu grabbed her hand.

"I wouldn't," she said sternly. "Fight first, hug the little perv later."

"Oi! I take offense to that!" Cait Sith shouted indignantly. He was about to go on a rant, but Vincent interrupted by cocking his gun. The sound snapped the others out of their reunion with Yuna and back to action.

"Maester Seymour Guado. You are guilty of murdering your father, Maester Jyscal Guado," Auron said, his hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword.

"Yes. And?"

"Aw, man, he didn't even try to deny it," Wakka moaned and banged his fist against the temple wall.

"Just pretend I didn't say it," Seymour laughed, remembering Wakka's reaction back on Mushroom Rock Road. "You are all quite the collection, aren't you? Despite your desperate heroics, I could have use for you. My plans have need for strong individuals that can follow orders." Seymour walked into the middle of the room and extended his hand toward the group. "What do you say?"

Yuna took a large step backward and allowed her Guardians, Rikku, Cait Sith, and Vincent stand between her and Seymour.

"Ah, of course," smirked Seymour. ""Protect the Summoner even at the cost of one's life." The Code of the Guardian. How pathetic." Seymour suddenly cried out in Guado and ten guards, larger and dressed in fancier armor than usual, appeared from hiding spots within the room.

'I never really had a chance,' Yuna realized and turned pale. 'He could have called on those guards at any time. He was just fighting me for fun!'

"Well," Seymour continued, "if you are offering up your lives, I will just have to take them. Kill them all, save Lady Yuna. She is my bride after all."

Seymour turned to leave, but paused. "On second thought, leave the tall one with the machina gun. There are a few questions I would like to ask him."

The ten guards shouted something back to their master in Guado before slowly closing in on the group. Seymour smiled as he walked toward the exit, supremely confident in his guards and in his victory. His illusion was shattered when he heard ten cracks like thunder and the thuds of ten bodies hitting the icy ground. He spun back around and saw his ten elite guard, all dead with circular holes between their eyes, lying on the ground.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to get your hands dirty, Maester," Vincent said, Cerberus still smoking in his hand. "This is not going to be so simple."

"I see," smiled Seymour. He turned back toward them, wand in hand. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, not after seeing your performance during Operation Mi'ihem. I am saddened that I didn't get to see your entire performance, but I did like that little trick you did after nearly clawing off my hand. Flying must be a wonderful experience. Could you teach me?"

"Seymour, I once thanked you for performing a sending for my lover and former crew. That was a debt I had hoped to one day repay in kindness. If you truly seek to sow discord and destruction throughout Spira, that kindness will be stopping you before you ruin any more lives," Vincent said, leveling his gun at Seymour's heart.

"You call this kindness? You do not know what true kindness is," Seymour snapped back. "You are nothing, jysbena. Oh, yes, I know all about you. The Al Bhed I had interrogated after Operation Mi'ihem were very willing to vilify you after you brought that WEAPON down upon us."

"What did you to those Al Bhed?" Rikku asked angrily.

"I showed them…kindness," Seymour smirked.

"You monster!" Rikku shouted and darted at Seymour, faster than anyone thought the girl was capable of. She lashed out with her golden claw, trying to slash Seymour's face. The taller man let out a laugh and caught Rikku's wrist. With a yank, he pulled her upward, easily holding the petite girl—a kicking, screaming, and cursing petite girl—in the air. Vincent cocked his gun, but Seymour spun Rikku in front of him.

"Tsk, tsk. You should be more careful," Seymour mock scolded Rikku and Vincent alike. "Drop your weapons. All of you."

Vincent narrowed his eyes at Seymour, looking for a shot. There was nothing. Behind him, the Guardians laid down their arms and took a step back.

"Shoot him!" Rikku yelled. "Just shoot him already!"

"He won't," Seymour whispered in her ear. He spoke only for her, but Vincent's supernatural hearing picked it up. "He's too weak. You can see it in his eyes. He cares too much about you, loves too much. He knows that if he drops his gun, I'll kill you. And he knows that if he doesn't drop his gun and shoots me, you'll still be severely injured or killed. He won't risk your life and that condemns you to my mercy."

Vincent bites down on the inside of his mouth to keep from lashing out at Seymour. He starts to lower his gun, just a fraction of a degree, when he sees something small move behind Seymour. Without hesitating another moment, Vincent dropped his gun to the floor.

"You truly are a fool," Seymour laughed. "Now you'll get to watch me kill your precious little friend before you share her fate."

Vincent's red eyes met Rikku's terrified ones. She stared at him, scared, until she saw the steadiness, the determination in them. Vincent slowly, deliberately so Seymour wouldn't react, raised his hands and covered his ears. Then he gave Rikku a very deliberate wink.

"What in the name of Yevon are you doing?" Seymour asked before a black and white doll plopped down on his shoulder.

"Hi ya, chum!" Cait Sith saluted before putting his megaphone to Seymour's ear and letting out the loudest shout his mechanical frame could muster. Seymour let out a scream of pain and grabbed his head, dropping Rikku in the process. She fell in a heap, but recovered as quickly as her nimble legs could manage. She scooted back toward the still shocked Guardians. Only Vincent was in motion.

'Thank the gods I covered my ears,' he thought. Despite covering them, Vincent's ears still rang from Cait's amplified shout. He fought through the annoyance and used his pointed boot to flick his gun into the air. In a single blurred motion, Vincent caught, aimed, and fired all three barrels at Seymour. Each round hit center mass in Seymour's stomach, collarbone, and the left side of his chest. The three shots were not lethal on their own, but extremely debilitating. Given time and a healer, Seymour would live; however, he wasn't going to be putting up much fight anytime soon.

"You didn't kill him?" Rikku asked, her tone slightly disappointed.

"That's not what they want," Vincent whispered back, nodding toward Wakka, Lulu, and, most importantly, Yuna.

"It's over, Seymour," Auron said as they Guardians walked up behind Vincent. Cait Sith waddled up and was immediately pulled into a tight hug by Rikku.

"Over? You think, after everything I've done, a little bit of pain is going to stop me? Come closer, I will share my pain with you. Come, ANIMA!"

A dark speck appeared in the air in front of Maester Seymour. The speck was so dark it seemed to suck all the light into itself and made those that looked into it feel hollow and empty inside. The speck fell to the ground and spread into a large, black circle. A magical chain ending in a cruel hook appeared in the air above it and dropped into the black circle. Slowly the chain began to retract, pulling something out of the darkness.

The creature was horrific to behold. It was dragged headfirst out of the darkness, the magical hook caught around its neck. Its body was wrapped in linen bandages and thick chains, only one eye and its mummified hands were exposed. Its arms were crossed over its chest and tied down tightly; it was unable to move them more than a few inches. Finally, the entire Aeon emerged from the darkness and the hook disappeared.

The Guardians let out a terrible shudder. Even though they saw the Aeon's embarrassing defeat to the Granite WEAPON, they still remembered its brutality and horrible power in the Blitzball Dome in Luca. Standing before it now, looking up at its chained and skeletal form, they felt nothing but fear and darkness.

Anima let out a high-pitched scream and focused its one uncovered eye on the Guardians, particularly Yuna.

"Share our pain, Anima. Destroy them!" ordered Seymour. Anima reared back and roared an acknowledgement. Vincent remembered Luca, remembered what Anima did to the fiends in the Blitzball Dome. He quickly stepped to the front of the group, throwing his arms out wide to shield them.

"Scatter! Now!"

"But Vincent…" Yuna started, but Vincent cut her off.

"DO IT!" he bellowed. Vincent's shout drove them to action and the Guardians bolted. Kimahri grabbed Yuna and half-dragged her toward the door leading to the Chamber of the Fayth. He pushed her into the doorway and stood in front of her, spear ready, shielding her from harm. Rikku and Cait Sith dove behind a pillar of ice while Tidus, Wakka, and Lulu hid behind an exposed rock. Vincent prepared to fire at Seymour, try to kill him and get rid of Anima in the process, but Anima was already ready.

The light around Anima's head was sucked into its bare eye, the raw energy swirling in tight orbits until it condensed into the eye itself. Anima snapped its head forward, its eye fixed on Vincent. The energy burst from Anima's eye and slammed into Vincent, burrowing through the flesh and finding root in his broken soul.

Anima's attack hurt, but Vincent quickly realized that what pain was a relative concept. Anima's attack brought up old hurts, injuries a thousand years old, psychological wounds from Hojo and Weiss…it was an endless barrage of gut-ripping pain. He froze, limbs akimbo, in too much pain to fall, and let out a scream, a real scream of pure pain and horror that no one since Lucrecia had ever heard escape Vincent's lips.

"Feel the pain," Seymour grinned, letting his magic heal his own wounds. It was painful, forcing the bullets out of his flesh, but it was pure pleasure to watch Vincent suffer under Anima's Pain attack. "Feel all the pain!"

The scream reached Yuna's ears and caused her heart to freeze in her chest. Her entire body shook and shivered.

You must act, my child, Shiva's voice spoke inside Yuna's head. Anima's attack not only heavily damages her target, but causes that target to relive every single hurt, both physical and emotional, they have ever known. Most creatures great and small cannot withstand more than a few seconds before dying. Imagine what Vincent is going through.

"What can I do?" Yuna whispered aloud. Kimahri tore his gaze away from the Aeon and screaming Vincent, wondering to who his young charge was talking to.

Summon me, Shiva insisted. I am immune to all but the physical side of Anima's attack; it won't harm me as it is Vincent. Hurry, child. He cannot last much longer.

Yuna looked around Kimahri and saw Vincent still screaming, his face gripped in pain. Red and black energy swirled around him as the demon and monsters within him struggled to escape and end their own torment.

Yuna used her staff to push past Kimahri and focused as much magic as she could on the move. She was still running toward Vincent when time began to slow and the temperature severely dropped. She skidded to a stop in front of Vincent and waved her staff in front of her.

Five gigantic diamonds of ice magically appeared and slammed into the ground behind her, forming a thick, adamant wall. Pyreflies condensed into a vaguely feminine form and drifted down like a wisp of wind. The pyreflies fell right into the ice and, once inside, solidified into a breathtakingly beautiful woman. She had pale blue skin and long hair braided into blue dreadlocks with gold rings on the ends. A single long braid, ending in a feathered ring, ran down her back to her ankles. An ice blue sheet-like shawl covered her from neck to knee and was thrown off with a single sweep of Shiva's arm. Beneath the shawl, Shiva wore a teeny bikini with half a skirt hanging over her right hip and thigh and an ice covered bra.

Everyone present stared at the scantly dressed Aeon, all astonished by her beauty and boldness. Even the stoic Auron couldn't hide the small blush on his cheeks.

Shiva stepped past Yuna, in between Vincent and Anima, and held up her delicate hand. A thick wall of frost appeared, shielding them from Anima's attacks. Finally released from Anima's assault, Vincent fell to the ground, chest heaving for breath. Rikku and Cait Sith ran to Vincent's side while Yuna tried to heal him. Her magic built for a heartbeat, than vanished. Yuna fell to her knees, magically exhausted. Fortunately, Cait Sith was already prying a green Restore Materia out of Vincent's claw. He pushed the orb into his megaphone and concentrated. Green waves of fire burst around his tiny mechanical feet and healing magic swept over Vincent. Instantly, Vincent's breathing slowed back to normal, but his eyes remained closed.

"Is he alright?" Rikku asked, her voice shaky with worry. Cait Sith gave Vincent a cheeky pat on the face and smiled back at her.

"He's just catchin' up on his beauty rest," Cait smirked. "He'll be fine in a few. Stay close to him though, Milady Summoner. He may needa bit more healin'." Yuna nodded and held her staff at the ready to cast more white magic over Vincent.

Meanwhile, Shiva stood guard over them, struggling to maintain her wall of ice. Great chunks of ice snapped off after each of Anima's relentless attacks.

"Destroy them, Anima!" Seymour, now fully healed, bellowed. Anima reared back its head and let out its most powerful attack yet. Shiva's ice barrier shattered like glass. Anima roared in victory and focused its sole eye on Shiva. Another blast of energy lanced toward Shiva and slammed into her. The force knocked her back a few feet, but not to the ground like it had Vincent. She suffered through the assault and narrowed her blue eyes at Anima.

"Whelp," she hissed, her voice as sharper and colder than the ice she commands. "You will learn your place."

Shiva raised her arm and summoned a massive diamond of ice above Anima. Shiva smiled as she lowered her arm and the ice dropped on Anima. The ice shattered on Anima's head. Anima swayed from the blow, but wasn't damaged. It roared at Shiva and, with a small but confident smile, Shiva raised her arm again. Three diamonds of ice appeared and crashed down on Anima again and again. Anima roared in pain and leaned forward, only its chains kept it from falling over.

Yuna watched, feeling her confidence build as her Aeon unleashed her fury on Anima. But when she looked at Anima, pity swelled inside her. The Aeon of Darkness and Pain was in true pain itself and it broke Yuna's heart. It was a creature already in constant suffering; it was not right or just to add to it.

"Please, Lady Shiva," Yuna begged, "end this now!"

Shiva responded with the slightest of nods, keeping her cold stare locked on Anima. Shiva exhaled, sending a wave of frozen air over the area, laying a thick layer of frost on the ground. The temperature dropped another twenty degrees as Shiva gracefully raised her hand straight into the air. Magical wind and ice condensed as Shiva focused all her power into the palm of her hand, elegantly spun in a tight circle, and aimed her attack at Anima.

Northern winds swept at Anima, the frozen air freezing Anima in place. Shiva narrowed her eyes and pulled forth more icy power. After a few seconds, Anima was encased from head to base in thick layers of ice. It roared and tried to thrash, but the ice just constrained Anima more. Shiva continued to press her attack until Anima was completely covered in ice. She lowered her arm, smirked at Seymour and snapped her fingers.

The ice around Anima shattered into thousands of razor sharp fragments, each sharper than any sword and harder than diamond. The shards tore through Anima's unholy flesh, carving great wounds in the Aeon.

Seymour watched in disbelief and horror as his 'all-powerful, indestructible' Aeon slumped forward in its chains. Anima tried to twist its head and look at Seymour, shame and anguish in its visible eye.

"Pathetic," Seymour growled and dismissed his Aeon with a wave of his wand. Anima let out a painful gurgle before it vanished in a cloud of black smoke and pyreflies. Before him, Shiva bared her teeth and let out a low hiss at Seymour.

"You are filth, treating your own with such disrespect. You never deserved her sacrifice. You are unworthy."

"You dare speak to me about respect! You, who denied me your power despite years of service and prayer. You have no right to lecture me; you don't even deserve to be in my presence!" Seymour sneered back and raised his wand at Shiva. "Firaga!"

An explosion of white-hot flame burst in front of Shiva, too fast for her to defend herself. The Mistress of Ice was instantly consumed by the fire and her pale blue skin turned translucent.

"Lady Shiva!" Yuna yelled and ran to her Aeon's side. Yuna tried to touch Shiva's shoulder, but her hand phased clean through the Aeon.

"I'm sorry, child. I hope I was some help," Shiva said with a soft smile. Yuna nodded, tears filling her eyes, as Shiva faded away into steam and pyreflies.

"Now then," Seymour laughed. "Where were we?"

Seymour whipped his wand in the air, lashing out with a stream of bright fire. Yuna held up her staff to cast a NulBlaze spell when something red and black stepped in front of her. She turned her head to see Lulu and her doll cast a stream of water at Seymour, countering his fire, and Auron dashing forward, his massive katana glowing purple as he slashed Seymour across the chest.

Seymour staggered back, seemingly unhurt by Auron's attack. He laughed and aimed his wand at the Legendary Guardian. Auron stood and waited. "Fira!" Seymour shouted, but the ball of fire wasn't nearly as grand as he was expecting. An impotent flicker of flame spurted from Seymour's wand and fell to the floor harmlessly.

"Magic Break," Auron smirked and pointed to the left. Seymour turned his head just in time to feel Wakka's blitzball smash into his face. The blow dazed Seymour and spun him in a circle. Seymour shook his head to clear his senses and raised his wand toward Wakka. Before he could cast a spell, Kimahri charged with an ear-splitting roar! Kimahri was a massive blue blur as he stabbed the tip of his spear into Seymour's stomach. Blood welled and dripped from his mouth as Seymour sprawled onto the ground. The blue hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and Seymour rolled to his feet just in time to avoid Lulu's Thunder spell.

'Damn this rabble,' Seymour cursed as he dodged a flying kick from Cait Sith, only to walk into Rikku's clawed fist. Rikku's punch knocked Seymour back into the pillar, leaving a spider web-shaped crack in the ice. The blow was dazed Seymour long enough for Tidus to springboard in and slash at him with his hooked sword, tearing open a new wound in Seymour's arm. He sank to one knee, bright red blood stained the pristine floor and Seymour let out a pain-filled cough, spraying blood onto his flawless features. Seymour managed to look up and see Yuna's Guardians slowly stalk towards him, their weapons raised to finish the fight.

"ENOUGH!" he roared. "I will not be denied by the likes of you!" and Seymour flung his arms at Yuna and her Guardians. A wave of black and purple magic shot out from Seymour's arms, knocking them back and paralyzing them; even Cait Sith's servos and mechanical joints were overloaded. Seymour staggered forward, blood dripping from his stomach, arm, and mouth, exhausted physically and magically. He took his hand away from his stomach and turned pale at the sight of his own blood.

"You've killed me," he whispered. "You've really killed me. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was going to save Spira—I was going to free its people from SIN once and for all…"

Seymour looked right at Yuna and, even though she was frightened and in agony, he could see the pity in her eyes. Pity for him.

'Even now, she pities me? Even after all she knows and saw…I—I don't need this. I don't need her pity! I am Seymour Guado, youngest Maester of Yevon ever! I have more power in my ring finger than these pissants have in their entire bodies!'

Bile filled Seymour's mouth and he spat it like venom at Yuna. "Keep your pity and your mercy, you shall need them when I am through with you!" Seymour roared and reached into the inside folds of his robe. His long fingers tightened around a thin metal box, strong enough to have survived the battle so far. Coughing more blood and bile, he carefully opened it and removed a glass vial.

"You would condemn me to eternal damnation, but I will make all of Spira my hell before I let you defeat me!" Seymour roared and lifted the vial to drink.


You denied us, Vincent Valentine.

You kept the world from us. There was so much we wished to see, so much we wished to do. We've been cooped up for two thousand years. Poor Galian hasn't had a chance to stretch his legs in so long; it's cruel to keep a wild beast locked in a cage, don't you think?

No…I—I won't let you out.

You act like you have a choice, Vincent Valentine. They, the others…they're already gone. Galian has eaten that cute little girl you've been teaching. She actually tried to use the Fire Materia you gave her against him! It was quite amusing to watch. The others had their way with the rest. With each flap of Chaos' wings, he cut them deeper than any sword. And Death Gigas, he left such a mess behind. Someone should have really taught him to clean up after he dismembers someone.

No! This…it never happened!

I took my time with the Summoner. Oh, Vincent, the fears I drank from her…delicious. You should have tasted them, so pure, so innocent with just a sprinkling of righteous anger. I haven't tasted a nightmare so wonderful since I delved into Lucrecia's mind and showed her what her son would become…


Shh, shh. There's no need to fret, Vincent Valentine. This is the end, there is nothing more. You've failed; you've failed them all. The whole world. Chaos is burning it to ash as we speak. SIN tried to stop him, I guess it didn't like someone else destroying this world, but Chaos destroyed it and devoured SIN's soul. Soon we'll be the only ones left and Chaos will eventually kill us all too. Then he'll go on and find new worlds to devour and so on and so on.

You don't even care? You'd let him consume everything?

Why should I care? I've been a prisoner for millennia. I'm rather enjoying watching Spira burn. Shame you can't join me, it's a wonderful time.

No. This isn't real. I'm still here which means you can't have escaped.

Stop deluding yourself, Vincent. Just accept the truth and move on. Accept it.

No, no! I won't. I won't give in! Wake up! I am the one in control, not you, not anyone else! Keep your nightmares and your whispers, Hellmasker, because I'M NOT AFRAID ANYMORE!

So be it. Wake up, little man. But allow me a parting word: you'll wish you had stayed asleep and let me play my little game. Now brace yourself, there is going to be a slight pinch as you wake up.


Vincent sat up in agony. Behind his clenched teeth, a loud scream fought to escape his lips. Vincent bit down, hard, on his own tongue, squashing the pain and refocusing his mind. Hellmasker…the monster had piggybacked off Anima's attack and tried to subvert Vincent's mind. The monster knew just how to manipulate Vincent's mind; while the Galian Beast and Death Gigas were brute who only knew physical violence, Hellmasker knew how to attack the mind as well as the body. Because he knew how to work the mind, it made him almost as dangerous an opponent as Chaos itself.

'This is the first time Hellmasker has tried anything,' Vincent realized. 'Since the beginning, he's been the easiest to control. I assumed he was content on feeding off my own nightmares…I will have to keep a closer watch from now on.'

Finally free and conscious, Vincent's sharp eyes swept across the temple floor. They locked on Seymour's bloody form. Vincent felt a smile tug at his lips as he saw the Guardians, Rikku, and Cait Sith approach. The fact that they had succeeded and beaten Seymour without him made Vincent proud.

"ENOUGH!" Seymour roared. "I will not be denied by the likes of you!" and Seymour flung his arms at Yuna and her Guardians. A wave of black and purple magic shot out from Seymour's arms, knocking them back and paralyzing them; even Cait Sith's servos and mechanical joints were overloaded. But the wave died before reaching Vincent; he felt a sharp twinge of pain, but it was gone in an instant.

Seymour staggered forward, blood dripping from his stomach, arm, and mouth, exhausted physically and magically. He took his hand away from his stomach and turned pale at the sight of his own blood.

"You've killed me," he whispered. "You've really killed me. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was going to save Spira—I was going to free its people from SIN once and for all…"

Vincent watched Seymour look right at Yuna and, even though she was frightened and in agony, they could see the pity in her eyes. Pity for Seymour.

Bile filled Seymour's mouth and he spat it like venom at Yuna. "Keep your pity and your mercy, you shall need them when I am through with you!" Seymour roared and reached into the inside folds of his robe. His long fingers tightened around a thin metal box, strong enough to have survived the battle so far. Coughing more blood and bile, he carefully opened it and removed a glass vial.

"You would condemn me to eternal damnation, but I will make all of Spira my hell before I let you defeat me!" Seymour roared and lifted the vial to drink.

Vincent instantly recognized the contents of the vial and it chilled his heart. It was full of corrupted Lifestream, taken from the broken ground at Operation Mi'ihem.

Vincent reached for his gun, but his holster was empty. 'Damn you, where is your head, Gunslinger!' he cursed and searched for the weapon. It was lying on the ground no more than ten feet from him. Vincent lunged, grabbed the weapon, aimed, and fired at Seymour just as the glowing green liquid started to dribble into Seymour's mouth. Vincent prayed he'd shot in time.

Seymour fell face down, dead. The empty vial rolled from his hand and Cait Sith bounded over to pick it up.

"Was dat what I think it was?" he asked Vincent. The gunslinger nodded and kept his gun trained on Seymour's inert body. With the toe of his boot, Vincent kicked Seymour over. Blood dripped from each bullet wound and from the wounds the Guardians inflicted. Vincent kept his gun trained on Seymour until he saw the first pyrefly begin to circle the body. The others filed in behind him, except Yuna. She knelt beside Seymour's body and gently closed his open eyes.

"Yuna. Send him," Auron said. The young Summoner nodded and raised her staff. Before she could begin the Sending, the doors to the chamber burst open. Six Guado guards, led by Seymour's majordomo Tromell, rushed into the room.

"Lord Seymour!" exclaimed the startled servant. "What happened here?" The Guardians parted to let the racing Guado through to their fallen master and Maester. They knelt around him, trying in vain to cure or bandage his wounds. When the finality of the situation hit them, they crumbled forward, crying over Seymour's body.

"What…what have I done?" Wakka muttered, just realizing the true ramifications of their actions. He sank to his knees, just staring at his hands. Tidus heard him and spun around, an angry look on his young face.

"Wait a minute! It's not our fault at all!" he shouted and shook Wakka's shoulders. "Seymour struck first. He was going to kill Yuna! He's the bad guy, not us!"

Tromell looked up from his master's body, stood, and glared at Tidus. "You did this?"

Tidus paled for a second, like a child caught stealing a cookie. It took him a moment to remember the situation. "No, I mean, yeah, but…"

"Yuna." Auron's voice cut through the confusion like one of Vincent's gunshots. "Send him now."

Yuna picked her staff up again, but Tromell jumped at her, trying to pull the staff away from Yuna.

"No, stop!" he bellowed. "Stay away from him, traitors!" Tromell wretched the staff away from Yuna and knocked her to the ground. Whether it was from his physical strength or the breaking of Yuna's heart from the word 'traitor', Vincent couldn't tell. He could see tears well in her eyes and it made him angry.

"Traitors…" was all she could whisper from the ground.

"We're finished," Wakka moaned, all gloom and doom. Behind him, the Guado guards lifted Seymour up from the ground and tried to carry his body from the chamber.

"Now, just hold on a minute!" Tidus protested as Rikku helped Yuna up and handed back her staff. "Seymour's the bad guy, right? We'll just explain to everyone what happened!"

"It won't be that easy," Auron said quietly. Tidus turned to yell at the older man, but stopped when he saw Auron's hand wrapped around the hilt of his katana.

"This is not good," Wakka muttered under his breath, still staring at the ground and nervously played with his blitzball.

"I hate ta break up the guilt fest, but we should probably make for the exit," Cait Sith offered. "The locals are starting to get a little unfriendly."

"We can't leave like this," Yuna protested. "We can't leave Maester Seymour unsent!"

"I don't think they are leaving us a choice," Vincent said and pointed to the quickly retreating Guado bearing away Seymour's body. "Let's go."

The group gathered their things and followed the Guado out of the temple. The beasts inside Vincent's guts began to twitch and rumble as they approached the exit to the Cloister of Trials. The Guado had too much of a head start; too much time to prepare an ambush, a trap, anything. He didn't like it.

Tromell was waiting for them at the exit. An entire platoon of Guado soldiers, spell casters, and a pair of beast handlers with a Wendigo chained up in front of them was waiting with him. The second the Guardians appeared, every weapon the Guado held snapped up, spells ignited in palms, and the Wendigo pulled eagerly on its chains.

Vincent held steady, keeping his hands away from his gun. While he could easily draw and fire, even he wouldn't be able to take them all down before they could return fire. Better to wait and rely on his magic if it came to a fight. Unfortunately, there were far more impatient and hot-headed members of the group.

"What's going on here?" Tidus yelled as he pushed his way to the front, sword in hand. Rikku let out a small cringe when dozens of weapons turned and focused on him. Lulu and Auron groaned and did their best to keep Yuna between and behind them. Kimahri strode forward, standing beside Tidus. He grabbed the back of Tidus' hood and pulled him back until they stood side-by-side, closer to the rest of the group.

"Who is in command here?" Vincent called out, trying to draw attention off Tidus.

"As Maester Seymour's chief retainer, I lead the Guado people now," Tromell answered.

"Then as their leader, ask these Guado to step aside and let us pass before they all die," Vincent threatened, his cloak snapping in the air with a demonic life of its own.

"You cannot threaten us, fiend!" Tromell yelled and let out a string of orders and curses in Guado. The troops cocked their weapons in rapid succession.

"Please…" pleaded Yuna. "Give us a chance to explain."

"There is no need," Tromell shook his head gravely. "I already know what I'll tell the other Maesters."

"Meaning?" questioned Auron.

"Lord Seymour was the leader of the Guado before becoming a Maester," Tromell replied as if that explained everything.

"You're not letting us go," Tidus growled. Vincent suppressed an urge to slap the teen for stating the obvious.

"Let you go? Lord Seymour would never forgive us if we let you go! You will be punished for your terrible crimes, traitors!"

"Wait!" yelled Rikku as she grabbed Yuna's arm. "Jyscal's sphere! We can show it to them; they'll have to believe us then!" Yuna's eyes widened and she immediately dug into her bag, only to come up with empty hands.

"You mean this?" Tromell mocked, holding the sphere in his long hands. With a whisk of red hot flame, Tromell destroyed the sphere and all their evidence. "The Guado will take care of Guado affairs."

While the others watched the sphere burn, Vincent focused on the Ice Materia in his claw. Auron was the only Guardian to notice the build of magical energy. He made eye contact with Vincent, who gave him the smallest nods.

"Yuna—run!" he roared as Vincent cast his spell. A massive spire of ice materialized in-between the Guado and the Guardians, shielding them from the waves of bullets and magic spells. The Guado let the Wendigo off its chain and it smashed its meaty fists relentlessly into the ice. But the ice held. Tidus, Auron, Lulu, and Kimahri quickly got Yuna and the others out: Kimahri shielded Yuna with his body, Auron grabbed Tidus by the teen's ear to keep him from running into the fight, and Lulu pulled Wakka by his orange hair to snap him out of his religious guilt-trip. Rikku and Cait Sith hung back, waiting to see if they could help Vincent in any way, smiles on their faces as they defied the Guado and death.

The smiles left their faces when they heard the laughter.


The Void was eternal. It spanned the cosmos and devoured the universe. It was everything and it was nothing. It was understanding and it was knowing.

Seymour floated through The Void, taking in its emptiness and serenity. All the knowledge of The Void filled his mind, expanding his consciousness. It was paradise and it was perfect.

And then it was all taken from him.

Seymour's eyes snapped open and harsh air filled his ragged lungs. The corrupt Lifestream that swept past Seymour's lips and down his throat a sheer instant before Vincent's bullets ripped through his body continued to course through his veins. It filled the ins and outs of his body, watering its crevices and invigorating his flesh.

Seymour woke to incredible pain; he didn't know what hurt more: the bullets that tore through his internal organs and created great holes in his flesh or being revived by the glowing green liquid. The corrupt Lifestream burned and ate at his throat and stomach, it filled his lungs with blood, it made his mind grow fuzzy, and his vision blurred. Seymour rolled off the makeshift gurney, fell to his hands and knees, vomiting blood and bile, and terrified the Guado carrying his gurney.

"Maester Seymour! You're alive!" one of them shouted in astonishment, but Seymour didn't notice. He wasn't conscious of anything happening around him, not of the crisp cold air, not of the icy floor he had fallen on, and not of the battle waging in front of him. There was only pain and the knowledge taken from The Void.

Seymour's vomitus resurrection quickly caught the attention of the rest of the Guado. The soldiers and spell casters dropped what they were doing and stared; even the Wendigo paused in its assault of Vincent's ice barrier to see what was going on. When the beast's primitive mind wasn't able to comprehend what it saw, it went back to slamming its fists into the ice.

Seymour's nails clawed into the icy floor as more gut-wrenching spasms ripped through his body. As the corrupt Lifestream flowed through his veins, Seymour lost control over his own magic. Gouts of fire and torrents of water swirled around Seymour's prostrate body; Seymour's magic even burrowed deep into the earth, seeking out more Lifestream to empower its master. In seconds, tiny tendrils of glowing blackish-green Lifestream began to leak out of the ground and covered Seymour's hands.

Scared at what was happening outside it's realm of knowledge, the Wendigo's blows became more violent, more powerful. It cracked the ice wall, creating a small, window-like hole. Vincent immediately fired three bullets into the beast's head. He started to repair the breach when he looked through the hole. What Vincent saw through that tiny portal in the ice defied everything he understood about life, death, magic, and the Planet. No one, not even Sephiroth, had ever been able to access the Lifestream like Seymour was. No one had been able to call or command it, manipulate it other than Aerith…

Vincent stood beside Yuffie's hover-bike, helplessly watching as METEOR started to fall. Violent lightning strikes and whirling tornados tore through what remained of Midgar, mere preludes to the quintessential horror dropping from above. HOLY had arrived, but was losing the battle to stop METEOR's decent. It was only a matter of time for the Ultimate Black Magic to punch through the bluish-white barrier and destroy The Planet.

Yuffie trembled beside Vincent; the teenaged ninja was terrified and Vincent, for all his knowledge and skill, was worthless when it came to consoling and comforting teenage girls.

"It will be alright," he stammered. It sounded awkward and cold, even to Vincent. Yuffie spun around and slapped Vincent with the flat of her giant shuriken.

"You're such a jerk, Vincent!" Yuffie shouted at him. "Just because you'll probably survive this doesn't mean you get to be so mean about it!" Yuffie started punching Vincent's chest, beating on him with both hands. Vincent weathered the beating, waiting patiently until Yuffie's blows weakened and she started crying into his chest. Vincent wrapped his normal arm around her, trying his best to comfort her.

"It will be alright," he whispers into her hair. This time, Yuffie believes him.

Vincent held her, eyes shut tightly, waiting for their doom to fall upon them. When instead of pain and nothingness, Vincent felt a swell of hope and peace blossom in his chest, he opened his eyes and let go of Yuffie. The teenager grabbed back onto him, but opened her eyes as well.

"Oh…my…god…" she stammered astonished. Vincent merely nodded, unable to form words in his mouth.

Tendrils of green Lifestream, coming from every corner of The Planet, converged on Midgar. The Lifestream waved like tentacles, twisting and turning around each other, gathering into a dense ball just beneath HOLY.

"Aerith did it," Vincent whispered.

"Aerith?" Yuffie asked, confused and bewildered, but happy to be alive.

"No one else could do this," Vincent answered.

'With that kind of power, Seymour could unmake the entire Planet!' Vincent realized and cocked his pistol. Vincent aimed carefully and fired. All three shots slammed into Seymour's shoulders and torso. Vincent pulled the trigger again and again, fired three more shots into Seymour, but they had no additional effect. The bullets passed clean through Seymour, but there was no new wound. Each bullet hole, and the previous three wounds, were glowing with green light and healing extremely rapidly.

A low, hate filled laugh escaped Seymour's mouth in-between hacking coughs. The laugh grew as the glow from his wounds expanded to surround his whole body.

"This…what is this?" Seymour whispered between laughs of drunken ecstasy. He stared right at Vincent. "Is this what you feel, how you feel when it happens? When you stop hiding inside your own flesh and let your true power emerge?"

"What have you done, Seymour?" Vincent asked, mostly to himself.

Seymour laughed again. "I am ascending, mortal. With this power, I will be greater than even SIN!"

Vincent raised his weapon again, but Seymour laughed even higher. "What are you planning to do with that? You've already tried it once; what makes you think it will work any better this time?"

Seymour raised his hand and a ball of black flame burst into existence. Even through the ice barrier, Vincent could feel the heat. Seymour smiled and threw the ball like he was tossing a toy to a young child. The black flames crashed and expanded across Vincent's ice wall, rapidly melting through it.

Vincent held out his hand and fired a stream of frost at the ice spire. The frost helped support the ice from breaking, but it was a losing battle; Seymour's spell was just too powerful.

"Go!" he shouted to the others, particularly to Rikku and Cait Sith. The Al Bhed girl and doll lingered behind, looking and wanting to help. "Go, damn you! Take the girl and go!" Vincent ordered. Cait Sith recognized the tone; the last time he heard it was in the ruins of Deepground.

"C'mon lass; this is no place for gentle souls like us," Cait Sith said and grabbed Rikku's wrist. He started dragging the Rikku away, but the sharp cracking of ice stopped them in their tracks. Seymour's black fire exploded in a blast that shook the entire temple, taking the ice spire with it, and sending burning shards of ice in every direction. Vincent was catapulted backward into Auron, knocking them both into a crimson colored heap.

Seymour waded through the wreckage like a dark god, his revived body glowing in hideous greens and blacks. More black fire burst into existence and orbited Seymour like terrible magical moons.

"It's strange, is it not, Lady Yuna? Moments ago, our roles were so reversed; I at your mercy and your judgment. Now, here I am holding judgment over you, holding the fate of your little group of traitors in my merciful hands. Strange, but not without a certain irony," Seymour grinned devilishly at Yuna and laughed again. A shiver raced down Yuna's spine and she fearfully clutched her staff.

"What shall I do?" Seymour asked Yuna, continuing to stride toward her. With a flick of his wrist, Seymour sent an orbiting ball of fire into a temple wall. The wall disintegrated in a whoosh of black fire. "Shall I spare you? Shall I slaughter your companions first?"

Another ball of fire destroyed another wall. The temple shook around them; Rikku could have sworn she heard cracking ice. She looked at Vincent detangled himself from Auron and face Seymour. His face was stern and set, he showed no fear of the resurrected Maester. A spring of hope bloomed in Rikku and she stopped at his side, her own golden claw shining as brightly as Vincent's in the flames.

"Anyone got any bright ideas?" Tidus asked from Yuna's side. The blitzer and the Summoner were holding hands; Vincent wasn't sure if it was out of fear or support and, frankly, he didn't care. He did gave a quick glance to his right to make sure Lulu hadn't noticed though. She was preoccupied with trying to think of a spell that could stop or even slow Seymour down.

"I'm all out of ideas," she confessed. "Seymour's magic was stronger than mine even before…"

"Can we go back through the Cloister of Trials, escape through the Chamber of the Fayth?" Auron asked quietly.

Yuna shook her head and Seymour laughed. "There is nowhere to go, nowhere to run. "

Seymour flung out his hands and shot the remaining three orbs of fire in random directions behind and aside him. The blasts shook the temple even harder and caused a large section of the room to collapse upon many of the Guado troops. Seymour watched with detached amusement as his several of his own soldiers were killed. Vincent watched as well. He also watched with clinical detachment, not amused like Seymour, but inspired into action.

"Listen, everyone. When I start, I want you to hit the walls, ceiling, and floors with everything you've got."

"But that'll bring the whole temple down on us!" Tidus yelled.

"And kept Seymour from spreading his poison all over Spira," said Auron. "Do it!"

The Guardians, more out of habit than anything else, looked toward Yuna first. She sighed and nodded, spiking the butt of her own staff into the floor. With a grin on each face, the Guardians, the gunslinger, and the doll attacked. Vincent fired both magic and bullets at the floor beneath Seymour, Auron and Kimahri speared the floor, Wakka hurled his blitzball at the walls, Cait Sith added a Fire Spell to Rikku's and burned into the ceiling, while Lulu's lightning blasted great craters in the walls and exposed joists.

The entire temple shook and a massive crack echoed across Lake Macalania. Seymour swayed to and fro and the temple collapsed around him; he dropped through the floor a second before the roof caved in on him.

"Think he'd dead now?" Tidus asked Vincent over the collapsing building.

"I think if it was that easy, we wouldn't be in this predicament," Vincent replied. "Come on, we need to get out of here before it's too late!"

The group started to run, following the remaining Guado (Tromell was leading the mass exodus) out of the temple. They didn't get very far, however, when the floor gave way. With the splintering of wood and ice, they all followed after Maester Seymour.

They fell through the ice and for a long time. A cold, clear world opened up before them, the miracles of Lake Macalania. Because the temple was built so carefully around and above the Lake, few ever get the opportunity to take in the natural beauty. Vincent took in as much as he could. Even in an uncontrolled decent, Vincent knew that this was well within the area of his control. Spreading his arms out and closing his eyes, Vincent focused on flight. He danced between the clouds and easily caught up to the others.

Of the other Guardians, only Cait Sith wasn't screaming for something to save him. The doll spun in midair and wrapped his mechanical tail around Vincent's neck, slingshotting himself onto the gunslinger's back. Cait Sith held out his tiny hands and caught Rikku under her arms, pulling her close to his mechanical body while digging his clawed feet into Vincent's cloak.

With those two safe, Vincent reached out and grabbed onto Kimahri's arm. Kimahri, Yuna already clutching his thick neck, reached out with his free hand and grabbed onto Auron's arm. The chain continued as Tidus grabbed onto Auron's foot, Wakka clung around Tidus' waist, and Lulu hung from his belt, slightly pulling down Wakka's shorts.

Yuna held her eyes shut tightly against the cold wind; she tried to tighten her grip around Kimahri's neck, but she was so weak from the battle. Before she could call out a warning, a cry for help, the wind whipped around her and she flew away from Kimahri and Vincent.

Vincent heard her scream, uttered too late for him, for anyone to do anything. He reached out for her anyway, his claw closing around empty air. Vincent narrowed his eyes and started calculating, quickly running out of time and out of options. Spying the sloped rooftop of an ancient looking building, Vincent began to tighten his grip on Kimahri's wrist. The Ronso nodded to Vincent and looked down at Auron.

"Hang on," the Ronso growled as Vincent hurled him, and all the other Guardians toward the rooftop. The entire human/Ronso chain flipped in the air toward the rooftops; Vincent didn't watch to see if they made it, trusting in his own preternatural aim and strength. Instead, he narrowed his frame and sped after Yuna, ignoring the screams from Rikku and Cait Sith.

Yuna twisted and tumbled through the air, her mind a scramble of fear and panic, unable to form a cohesive plan or even a thought on how to save herself. Her life flashed before her, flashes of Braska and Besaid, her training to become a Summoner, the first time she successfully summoned Valefor. The faces of all her Guardians, her family, flashed past her eyes, ending with Tidus' smile…

Yuna felt her body hit something hard and slowly opened her eyes when she didn't feel the pain she associated with falling to one's death. When she saw deep red all around her, Yuna panicked, thinking it was her own blood and she was already an Unsent.

"Hey Yunie!" Rikku smiled as she popped her head up above Vincent's shoulder. Yuna looked at her cousin, then at the folds of Vincent's cloak. She looked down and saw the hard surface she landed on was actually Vincent's claw.

"Captain Vincent?" Yuna asked, amazed.

"Hold tight," Vincent replied with the smallest hints of a smile. Vincent slowed down and came to a gentle landing amidst the ruins of an ancient city. Vincent placed Yuna down while Rikku and Cait Sith bounded off Vincent's back.

"Where are the others?" Yuna asked. Vincent was about to explain when Tidus and Wakka both crashed into the ankle deep water and landed in a tangled pile.

"Hey Yuna," Tidus grinned before passing out.


When Tidus came to, the area was covered in a thick hazy fog. The Hymn of the Fayth echoed overhead, its haunting melody both chilling and comforting. Hundreds of feet above him, Tidus could see the hole in the bottom of the temple they fell through.

'We're lucky to be alive,' Tidus thought. 'Without Vincent, none of us would have survived that.' Tidus looked around, confused. He'd thought that underneath a layer of ice would be water, not the ruins of an ancient city and ankle deep water.

'I'm gonna have to ask Yuna about this one,' he thought. 'Maybe it has something to do with that hot ice chick she summoned?'

Just now remembering about Yuna, Tidus immediately looked for the others; they were standing around Yuna. She was lying still on a makeshift bed, nothing more than a rock with Vincent's cloak tucked under her head for a pillow. Tidus started to run over to her, but was cut off by Rikku.

"Hey, hey! Quiet down, will ya? You'll wake up Yunie!" she admonished.

"She's—she's ok?"

"Yeah, I think so. She's breathing fine and all; Uncle Vinny just thinks she got too worn out fighting."

Tidus nodded; he knew that feeling. When you've given more than you thought you could ever give, when you were beyond spent…every Blitzer worth his or her uniform knew that kind of tired. He walked over and settled in beside the others, waiting for Yuna to wake. Tidus thought about talking to Wakka; the older Blitzer was standing off by himself, looking pale and completely out of it. Lulu put a hand on his arm when he started to speak. The sad look in her red eyes was cause enough for Tidus to put talking on hold.

Vincent spent the break cleaning his gun. Auron stood next to him. Several times, the Legendary Guardian started to speak, but stopped himself before words could escape his lips. Finally, Vincent grew tired of it.

"If you aren't going to say anything, at least stop pacing. It's making me nauseous," Vincent said, half-serious.

"Thank you for saving Yuna," Auron said. His tone was direct and hurried; Auron did not like having to thank a man who he was still unsure about. While they had effectively buried the past between them, Auron was still nervous and cautious around Vincent. The gunslinger just had too much power; and Auron knew, he had seen firsthand, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Vincent nodded a reply and continued to clean his gun. Auron stood there for an awkward moment before returning to Yuna's side. Vincent forced back a smile; Auron was just too uptight for his own good.

'The man should've spent time drinking with Cid onboard the Highwind,' Vincent reminisced. 'If there was one thing that Cid knew beyond airships and rockets, it was how to remove a stick shoved up a man's ass.'

Vincent was pulled from his trip into the past by movement from Yuna. The young Summoner was finally waking up. Naturally, Tidus sprang to her side with a loud shout. Lulu beat Vincent to the punch, literally, as she gave the boy a quick slap upside the head.

"You don't shout at someone just waking up!" she snapped at him. Tidus yowled in pain, but was too focused on Yuna to argue with Lulu.

Yuna sat up and rolled the kinks out of her neck. Her hand brushed the edge of Vincent's cloak; she looked at it and handed it back to him with a smile.

"How ya feeling?" Rikku asked as cheerfully as only she could.

"Tired and sore," Yuna said, "but good, considering."

"Considering is a good start," Auron scowled. "It seems there were several things that you should have considered—things like the consequences of going after Seymour alone."

Yuna hung her head in shame. "I know—I know I should have come to you all for help. I just didn't want to mix you all up in it. I wanted to protect you from Maester Seymour."

"What happened?" Lulu asked.

"I wanted to confront Maester Seymour about his father, Lord Jyscal. I wanted to convince him to turn himself in to Yevon's judgment."

"In exchange for marriage?"

"Yes, if that's what it took."

"So, what did Seymour say?" Tidus asked. Vincent wondered if the teen was referring to the confrontation or the marriage proposal and decided not to say a word.

"He—he really didn't say anything. He just boasted about himself and his power. Then we started fighting. Now…now I don't even think it was worth it. I should've told you what I was going to do."

"Enough." Growled Auron. "Dwelling in the past is futile."

"Hey!" Rikku protested. "You don't have to say it like that!"

"You want to waste time listening to her regrets?"

Rikku crossed her arms across her chest and growled at Auron. "You still don't have to say it like that."

"What's done is done," Auron stated. "Our immediate concern is Yuna's pilgrimage. Are you willing to go on?"

Yuna nodded. "Yes. But then, do you think Yevon will allow it? "

"The Fayth are the ones that give power to the Summoners. Not the temples or the teachings. If the temples try to stop us…then we will defy Yevon if we must."

"Whoa!" exclaimed Tidus.

"I—I can't believe you said that!" shouted Rikku and Lulu at the same time.

"Well count me out," groaned Wakka. "We have to atone, to make up for the sins we have committed. Of course…it's not like I ever liked Maester Seymour, ya? No way I'll ever forgive him for killing Lord Jyscal and for trying to do us all in too, you know? But still the bunch of us going against all of Yevon? No way!"

"What? Are you kidding me?" shouted Tidus. "Those jerks tried to kill us; Seymour tried to kill Yuna! And now you want to go say: 'I'm sorry, Yevon. Forgive us for defending ourselves.' You gotta be kidding me!"

"Still, we have transgressed and must face our punishment," Lulu said sadly.

"Um, hello? Seymour's not exactly dead anymore!" Rikku pointed out. "I mean, you saw him back there. He was dead and then he wasn't and he was strong but now he's like ridiculously superpowered and he even burned through one of Vincent's spells! That never happens!"

"Seymour has become something that has not been seen for over 2000 years," Vincent said. "I've seen it before, but this is…different, twisted. I don't know how it is going to play out. But it is imperative that we seek allies, in Yevon and outside it. It is difficult to conduct a pilgrimage when you're surrounded by enemies."

Auron nodded as did Lulu. The group turned and looked at Yuna. She sighed; Yuna hated that all important decisions all came down to her input.

"We must go to Bevelle. We'll speak with Grand Maester Mika and explain what has happened. If there is a punishment for our actions, we will face them together."

"I agree," Wakka. "The Grand Maester will know what to do."

"Sir Auron?" Yuna asked.

"So it is decided then?" Auron asked with a nod. Yuna returned the nod and looked at her other crimson clad, though unofficial, Guardian.

"Captain Vincent?"

"I am supposed to be meeting my crew in Bevelle. I'm actually quite late. Biggs is going to kill me," Vincent said with a smirk.

"You'll come with us though, right? To the Grand Maester?"

Vincent nodded. "I am the troublemaker, after all."

"Yeah, that's right!" Tidus shouted cheerfully. "You can always count on two things: Auron is going to complicate things and Vincent is going to cause huge amounts of trouble."

Both Auron and Vincent raised hands to slap the teen in the back of the head, but lowered their hands when they realized Tidus was right. Auron and Vincent shrugged and let out a soft chuckle.

"Man…how can you all act like nothing's wrong? Must have nerves of steel or something, ya?"

"You're too edgy. Listen to the hymn and calm down," suggested Lulu.

"Yes, it is Yevon's gift. It soothes the hearts of the faithful," agreed Yuna. They all stepped back and listened to the soft singing.




They all listened together, eyes closed, letting the lyrics sweep over their weary bodies. Even the four outsiders: Vincent, Rikku, Cait Sith, and Tidus, all who never proclaimed to the Yevon faith, were moved by the song. Even without belief in Yevon, they still felt their various cares and burdens lifted up by the hymn.

The hymn was so soothing that it was a full minute before anyone realized the ground was vibrating. The vibrating became a full-on shake, gone as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared.

"Please tell me ye felt that too," Cait Sith called out, nervous.

"The singing stopped," Lulu pointed out. Kimahri drew his spear and stepped closer to Yuna, his instincts screaming out that there was something very wrong.

The shaking started again, violently knocking pieces of the ruins off and raining them down on the group. Wakka looked up, hoping not too see a large piece of a building coming down at him. He noticed something, no more than a shadow, reflecting off the ice.

"There's something here!" he yelled and frantically looked around.

Vincent's sharper eyes could make out more than just a shadow through the icy reflection. SIN was hovering in the air just above the ice, right over their heads. But it wasn't moving, wasn't attack the temple. SIN was just there, just content to float in the sky.

"It's SIN," he said, alerting everyone. A collective gasp of shock escaped the mouths of everyone save Kimahri and Auron; those two were too stoic to do more than clench their fangs and teeth at the sight of the fiend.

"The toxin! Watch out!" shouted Lulu. But by then it was already too late; they were far too close to SIN to escape its mind-altering emanations. In seconds, the toxins filled the area and drove them all to their knees. Even Vincent was gasping for breath and choking on the deadly fumes. Vincent tried to fight off the toxin's effects, but the corners of his vision were growing darker. Even the demons inside his mind and soul were succumbing to the toxins, for once not struggling or scheming to escape.

"Uncle…Vinny," Rikku coughed, her Al Bhed air mask halfway covering her mouth. She slumped over before she could reach out for Vincent's hand.

"What de hell is goin' on here?" Cait Sith asked as the Guardians fell all around him. "Vincent? Not you too!"

"Stay with Yuna…" Vincent ordered the mechanical doll. "Keep her…safe…"

"Aye, I'll do me best," Cait Sith saluted, "but ye need to get up. That mighty large fiend o'er head is looking to start something."

Vincent looked up in time to see beams of white light bursting out of SIN's mouth. SIN opened its cavernous maw and the light expanded for miles. Blinding white light burned into Vincent's retinas and that blinding pain was the last thing Vincent, or anyone else, felt…


The first thing that came back to Vincent were the sounds. It began as just the dull buzzing that usually accompanies a man when he wakes with a hangover; not real sound, but more of a sensation. 'Like someone squeezing your brain,' Vincent thought. He opened his eyes but only saw blurred darkness.

Static-like sounds followed, like rubbing pieces of cellophane beside ones ears. Not painful, but far from pleasant, Vincent decided. He woke lying face down on a hard, rough surface, but not a rocky or gravely one. By mere touch, Vincent could tell it was a paved street.

'There are fewer paved roads in Spira than there are honest Maesters,' Vincent thought grimly. 'Only Bevelle and Luca have real pavement; the islands and other villages are just too rural and lack the resources.'

Maneuvering his arms under him, Vincent pushed himself off the road and into a sitting position. Carefully, he reached into his cloak's hidden recesses and pulled out a small water skin. Pouring a little into the palm of his claw, Vincent splashed his face. The water felt cool and Vincent could feel the dirt and grime wash away.

Vincent opened his eyes. His healing factor was slowly repairing the intricate damage; the darkness had brightened slightly, letting Vincent know that it was indeed nighttime where he was, and slowly began to focus.

Voices now, people everywhere around him. Laughing, conversing, Vincent even caught what he swore was a man and woman in the middle of a break-up.

'Definitely must be Luca,' he thought. 'Bevelle doesn't have this much nightlife, not even in the shady parts.'

Vincent wiped his face on the sleeve of his good arm and looked around. He was sitting on a paved walkway, not a road, and peculiarly dressed people walked here and there all around him. Some were meeting others, others sat down at a small café across from where Vincent lay. Vincent felt his mouth droop open when he saw a man talking on what Vincent swore looked like a cell phone.

He stood up on shaky legs, grabbing a light post for support. "What is this?" he whispered. A young man with black hair shorn almost to the skin walked by; multiple metal piercings decorated his face. Vincent saw the logo on the young man's muscle shirt as he walked by.

It read "ABES" on it.

"No, no it can't be," Vincent groaned. The young man turned back and looked at him, like Vincent was the strange one. Vincent didn't pay the boy any more attention; he was already moving down the walkway, staring at every person and storefront window he passed.

"This isn't possible…"

"I'm afraid it is," a small voice said. Vincent spun around and saw the same young boy dressed in purple he had seen in Luca before Seymour's attack. The boy waved his arm across his body, displaying the magnificent view like a salesman showcasing his wares. Vincent's eyes widened as he breath hitched in his throat. Cars of all shapes and sizes, cars he'd never seen before, ran up and down the streets. There were more people just walking up and down the streets than Vincent had seen in one place since awakening in Spira. Vincent's nose quivered at the smell of industry and unwashed humanity.

'There hasn't been a city like this since Midgar,' he thought.

"Oh, it isn't Midgar, my friend," the boy in purple laughed. "Welcome to Dream Zanarkand."

Author's Notes:

This was a great chapter to put out for all my fantastic readers. I really wanted to make it my own while staying loyal to the canon material. I always felt that that first battle against Seymour was a little weak and really only served to "kill" Seymour. I thought it just didn't really step Seymour up as a major villain in the story. Let's face it, man went down like the Titanic and with as much fight as a thirteen year old girl in a MMA fight against Godzilla.

So, I beefed up the battle a little bit, gave Seymour some more impressive villain chops. I hope you all liked the use of the corrupt Lifestream and how it heightens Seymour's abilities. I plan on making that the catalyst for all the physical and magical changes that Seymour goes through. I also hope you like my references to the Void. The Void is a major plot point in many Final Fantasy games and I thought it would be a great tie-in for the story.

I really liked using Hellmasker to explore more of Vincent's psyche. I always thought that Hellmasker was very looked over in the games and various other media. I liked the idea of having Hellmasker feed off of Vincent's memories and nightmares, thus staying controllable and placid compared to the other demons. Anima's Pain attack seemed like the perfect way for Hellmasker to sneak his way to freedom.

And, for my grand finale, SIN transports Vincent not to the desert, but to Dream Zanarkand! Wow, now that is gonna be cool!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this chapter to The Gunslinger. Like always, I really appreciate meaningful reviews and criticisms so please leave me a message.

Until Next Time,