Disclaimer- I don't own any of the Final Fantasy characters in this story.

Author's note: Well, it's finally been a whole year. One complete year. I published the first chapter of Shattered Mind: Issues one year ago on December 9th, 2006, and now I'm publishing the last chapter on the same date, one year later. Rather fitting, wouldn't you say? I had to work extra hard to get this chapter out in the time it did, writing more than 7000 words today alone! Just goes to show how much I love this new chapter, not to mention my wonderful fans.

I hope no one minds me taking a small break in order to get my head screwed onto my shoulders correctly. It's just that I've been looking forward to this chapter for more than a year now. I love it very much. XD You'll see why soon enough.

Ah, but don't let that bother you now. Despite the rush at the end, I consider this to be one of my finest chapters, if not the finest. Enjoy.

Chapter 25- General Beatrix

FINAL CHAPTER OF BOOK 1: ISSUES!

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"I could really go for an umbrella right about now," I muttered as we climbed the hills leading up to the castle.

Apparently, Burmecia had been built upon a shallow foothill from the surrounding mountains, according to Freya. The inhabitants at the time thought it would be a good spot to live and would an endless supply of water because of the eternal rainfall upon the lands, which made it perfect for indoor farming and irrigation, once it was controlled. Also, being placed against a mountainside would give it a defensive edge against any military force that attempted to invade.

Well, that was the theory anyway.

We had all been walking in silence for a while because of the solemn air the city still carried. Freya seemed too afraid to speak, Vivi was still adjusting to his new resolution, and Choco was a bird who couldn't speak anyway. I could only assume that Zidane had the same reason as I did in not speaking due to the moment not being right for it. Being cheery in this situation wasn't going to happen and trying to put a positive spin on things would be disrespectful.

I could only hope that we would all get out of the city alive.

"So this… Beatrix… uses a saber in combat?" Kaiten asked, breaking the silence for only the two of us.

She did in the game anyway, I answered. Making a battle plan?

"It's better than improvising and hoping that we don't all get killed," he sneered back. "I know some people may be planning that, but I'm not so childishly hopeful."

My teeth gritted themselves reflexively. Here I was, being insulted practically to my face, and I couldn't reach out and punch the guy doing it. It seemed like Kaiten had the edge in this argument. All I could do was ignore him and try to not let him get to me.

The deeper we went into the city, the worse it became. What started as a few crumbled and or burning walls before near the beginning of the city turned into utter demolition as we neared the castle. Apparently, as the Black Mages pushed deeper, the fighting increased and became more frantic. Spells and attacks were launched left and right without any regard for the buildings themselves. This city was now nothing more than the result of a nightmare.

The destruction had eventually led us to a large flight of stairs. They rose up for almost a hundred steps, leading to a separate level that the city rested on. To me, it seemed like a hierarchical thing. Keep the king and the upper class people up above the rest, a pointless demonstration of superiority. Of course, like Kaiten had pointed out before, I was just assuming things. I had no grounds for being mad at the king or any of the other Burmecians for how they lived.

"Zidane…" Freya called out, breaking the silence that overtook us. "Burmecia's royal palace is beyond these steps. It must be in ruins, just like everything else. I can't bear to see it like that."

Zidane sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He was clearly tired. Hell, we all were. Plus, the knowledge that General Beatrix was waiting for us inside the palace really didn't help any.

"I understand, but we can't go back now," Zidane said. "We have to find out who's behind this."

"U-um…" Vivi spoke up. He fiddled with the fringe of his hat as he spoke. "…I wanna find out who those guys were…and why I look like them."

"Look, Vivi's scared, too," Zidane said with subtle confidence. "But we have to face reality."

"There could still be people in the city," I explained. "If that's the case, then we need to help them."

I knew there was a couple waiting in another plaza just up these steps. Hopefully, we weren't too late to save them. Otherwise, the husband of the two, who was badly wounded in combat, would be crushed under an enormous statue. I couldn't let that happen if I knew about it so far ahead of time.

"Come on, Freya." Vivi encouraged. "It'll be okay."

Freya looked down at Vivi in pity. She kneeled down and put her hand on his shoulder, as a parent telling a child a dark truth would. "Vivi… Do you really know what you're doing?" she asked. "The answer you seek may forever change your life for the worse."

Vivi stared back at Freya in silent confusion. He linked a few times before turning his head down, aware of the weight of Freya's words. "Um… Y-Yeah… But… But I have to... I have to find out who I am... I'm scared... What if I'm not even human...?"

"Vivi..."

This would've been an excellent time for one of my motivational speeches to the little guy, but Zidane beat me to it with another important factoid.

"Someone's coming!" he called out.

Zidane and Freya took positions in front of Vivi, facing the top of the stairs. I held my ground by Vivi's side, effectively cutting off any chance a person would have at getting to the little mage. Choco stayed back, as he was now accustomed to doing, lest he get caught up in battle. If the same thing happened now that happened in the game, we'd be fine, but if it was a monster or one of the Black Mages, we'd need to be able to go on the offensive quickly.

Fortunately, my assumptions were correct. Instead of an enemy, a Burmecian soldier and his family came running down the steps at almost full speed. His name was Dan, if I remembered correctly. He stopped as soon as he saw us and pulled a sword out, teeth bared, ready to fight.

"Who are you!?" the soldier demanded. "Are you in league with the black mages!?"

"No!" Zidane yelled. I thought he was going to draw his weapon, but fortunately, he didn't. Doing so would only serve to make Dan more nervous and distrusting of him, which really wasn't what we needed here.

"You're lying!" Dan accused. "There's a black mage right behind you!"

"No!" Vivi cried out. "I didn't do anything! I would never hurt anyone!"

"Lies!"

"He's telling the truth!" Freya said, calmly stepping in.

Dan was so panicked that he must not have seen her from the beginning. Seeing Freya seemed to calm him down instantly. He stared at the Dragon Knight for a moment before recognizing his old friend. "...Freya!?" he said finally.

"It's good to see you, Dan." Freya said, calming the situation down considerably. Dan sheathed his sword and Zidane had calmed down a bit himself, backing off a little so Freya could talk to her old friend again. I just stood back and kept an eye on things to make sure it all went ok.

"Damn, I haven't seen you in years. Where've you been!?" Dan said excitedly. However, a quick glance back to his family, who had been standing behind him, too scared to move. A look came over Dan, as he realized something. "Actually, this isn't the best time to talk! We've gotta get out of here fast. There are black mages swarming all over the place."

With that, Dan and his wife and two kids ran passed us. I stepped back to give them room. As they ran passed, one of the kids gave me an odd look. It was something like confusion, but considering what he had been putting up with for the last while, I couldn't blame him. Still, I couldn't help but pick up a hint of fear in his gaze, almost like I was one of the Black Mages who had attacked his home and murdered his friends and neighbors.

I turned away, letting them pass unharmed. Something about that kid's stare shook me.

It was so similar to Shadow's…

"What are you waiting for!?" Dan yelled from the other side of the stairs. I turned back and saw him yelling at us to keep moving.

"Where is the king?" Freya said, being the first one of us to respond.

"I don't know. I didn't see him in the palace." Dan answered. "Well, I'm going. I have my own family to worry about. Freya, forget about the king and get out of here! We're no match for those Black Mages!"

With that, Dan ran down the stairs and joined his family in escaping the city. I could only hope that they all made it out alive. Dan was a bit of an ass, but he was a good person, I believed. I saw no real reason why he shouldn't be allowed to get out of the city with his family in tact.

"I will protect my home and my king at any cost." Freya announced to the rest of us. I knew she was true in her convictions and that we'd make it to the palace, but I could still feel the gloom that hung in the air. Then again, maybe I was being a cynic. I hoped that was all of it anyway.

"Let's go to the palace." Freya said, receiving a nod from the rest of us. We began walking again and made our way up the covered stairway and headed up to the upper level of the city, where we'd be at least a little closer to our goal in this now-wretched city.

----------------

Being sent into the pouring rain was even worse than the first time we had entered the city. Out here in the upper section of the city, it was heavier and came on much faster. My hair never had a chance to dry in the stairway, but by this point, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever dry before the end of my lifetime.

The street split before us, one way going to the left and the other going right. The castle was right in front of us, beyond the row of buildings in front of us. Rubble from an earlier attack blocked our way of going around, meaning the only way we could really go was through the building ahead of us.

"We'll have to go through the steeple up ahead," Freya explained. "It's faster than climbing over the rubble."

"Not to mention it might not be stable," Zidane added. "One wrong move could cause it all to collapse on us."

"Hooray for collapsible stuff," I added, in my usual attempt at dry humor. I was too drained to come up with something that was actually funny.

The steeple ahead of us, as it apparently used to be, had suffered some minor damage from all the fighting. There were scorch marks here and there along the outside, but for the most part, it was still in tact. It didn't look like it was going to fall over any time soon. A double staircase was set up on the right and left side of the building, both leading up to the second floor.

"Once we get through here, we'll be a single plaza away from the palace," Freya announced. "Let's hurry."

We were about to move out again when there was a sudden crash from down the street. A Burmecian soldier had crashed through a broken doorway in a wrecked house, falling limp to the ground as he landed.

"Hey! Guys, stop!" I called out as I saw the guy slowly recover from his apparent attack. He staggered to his feet slowly and struggled to make his way over to us. He was clutching his arm in pain. Blood was seeping out from underneath the cloth on the arm he was holding.

"Get out of here!" the soldier called as he ran down the street towards us. "They're coming!"

"Who?" Zidane called back. "Who's coming?"

Zidane's answer didn't come from the soldier. Instead, it came from the pair of Black Mages that charged out of the building the Burmecian had come from. They turned slowly, almost like robots and began their charge towards all of us. They raised their arms and began focusing Fire spells in their hands.

"Get down!" Freya yelled as the Black Mages released their attacks. The soldier was just barely able to make it out of harm's way as the fireballs flew over his head and landed only a few feet away from him on the street. Quickly, he picked himself up and ran the rest of the distance to our small group.

"You have to help!" he begged. "My friends are trapped in the steeple. I need to get them out of here!"

"Kill!" came the Black Mages' voices from down the street. They powered up another set of attacks. Their hands glowed a bright orange as they gathered up flames in their hands again.

"Look out!" Freya yelled. With their next attack, the Black Mages would most likely be aiming for all of us, meaning their next attack was more likely to hit someone.

CRACK.

Before the Black Mages could unleash their attack, the balcony of the nearest building was caught in an explosion, sending wood and mortar out into the street, landing upon the Black Mages and halting their advance. The spells they had been holding went off, creating a muffled BOOM underneath the cluttered rubble. The explosions in such an enclosed area would have been enough to kill them, or mortally wound them at the very least. I looked back and saw Vivi clutching his staff.

"I thought it might help," he explained.

"You're getting a cookie for this,"

"My name is Sergeant Grey," the Burmecian explained. "I left my friends Kal and Wei inside the steeple to keep them safe while I went out and looked for other survivors, but I couldn't find anyone."

Freya tensed up noticeably. She tilted her head down slightly and turned away to watch at the castle, no longer all that far away. Despite hearing the news of having so many of her people killed, she seemed remarkably stoic.

"They're in the steeple, right?" Zidane asked. "Well, we'll just go in and get them, then you can all escape."

"Yes," Grey said. "But what about you? You aren't staying in the city, are you?"

"We still need to find the King and save him," Freya said. Her voice was as calm and clear as ever.

"You're crazy! We need to get out of here!" Grey said. "The King-"

Grey was cut off as a fireball went off on his back. Blood sprayed from his back as he stumbled forward slightly, before falling down onto his stomach, groaning from pain. His back had been seared through, leaving the first layer of skin on his back burnt through. If he wasn't wearing armor, he probably would have been killed.

"No!" I yelled reflexively. I looked up and saw another pair of Black Mages crawling over the rubble covering the first pair of Black Mages. They easily made their way down the pile of burnt refuse and were now making their ways towards us.

"Those… bastards!" Freya yelled. She pulled out her spear and ran straight out at the Black Mages.

"Freya!" I called out. I pulled out my short swords and charged after her. I felt the same energy fill my body that I needed for my Chi attacks. It was better than waiting for myself to gather up the energy to use them. Kaiten was right in that regard at least.

As the energy gathered, I pushed it towards my swords. The best way to fight most of the enemies in Gaia was to do it quickly and efficiently. Freya could handle one of the Black Mages on her own while I took the second. A single Pulse would be enough to finish one of them off. If Freya was still having trouble, I'd help her out however I could once my target was dead.

The Black Mages started the battle off by charging up another round of spells. Freya's target started a Blizzard spell while mine began a Thunder spell. Their spells gathered in their palms while Freya and I ran side by side at them. Fortunately for us, they picked the wrong spells to hit us with.

As one Black Mages tried to use Blizzard on Freya, she leapt high into the air. The spell passed harmlessly beneath her, where a large ball of ice formed, quickly shattering into hundreds of pieces seconds afterwards. Freya, in the meantime, brought her spear down into the Black Mage's arm. She cut cleanly through, leaving a long gash deep into the Black Mage's skin. Blood poured out of its wound and pooled onto the ground. It buckled slightly, but the attack wasn't enough to stop it.

Meanwhile, I was having troubles of my own. The Black Mage I was charging released its attack straight for my chest. With no other option coming to mind because of how fast everything was going for me, I did the first thing that came to mind and hit the ground in a roll. It was only by sheer chance that the attack missed. I picked myself up immediately and continued my assault. With the gap between us closed so much, there wasn't anything the Black Mage could do to stop me. I drove my short sword forward and impacted strongly. I was a little off target, my sword going into the small of its side rather than its chest, but with Chi, it hardly mattered.

"Gotcha now," I taunted. The Black Mage looked down at me with its expressionless eyes as I sent the remaining energy needed into my sword. After a second, I had more than enough to cut this guy in half.

Puls-

I wasn't able to finish my attack. Before I could unleash the wave of destruction on the Black Mage, it reached out with both its hands and grabbed my throat. I had been so focused on it being a magic user that I completely forgot melee attacks. Kaiten wasn't going to let me live this down for a while.

With the Black Mage strangling me, I couldn't do much to attack. I didn't want to remove my one short sword from its gut since it was my only route of attack at the moment, but there was so little I could do with it there anyway. The Black Mage's reach was long enough to keep me away from using Pulse effectively since I didn't have a good grip on the blade. My best chance, it seemed, was to hold my ground and hope Freya finished her Black Mage off soon enough to help me.

As I looked over to my side, I saw that Freya was still busy fighting. She had managed to cut one of the mage's arms off at the elbow, effectively stopping it from using its magic well, but now it had gone into a fit of rage, swinging at her with its massive hands, trying to crush her however it could. It was bleeding out pretty quickly, but it was still dangerous. At the moment, it seemed there was nothing Freya could do to help me. I turned back to the Black Mage, desperately trying to find a way out of the mess I was in.

As I started to black out, I could feel an intense heat gathering at my neck. Since both of the Black Mage's hands were around my throat, I could only assume it was charging up another magic spell. It was going to blow my neck open from within its grasp.

"S…stop…" I barely managed to speak. My teeth gnashed against each other as I spoke. The Black Mage only pressed its attack further, gripping my neck tighter. The blood flow to me head slowed to almost a halt and nearly caused me to pass out. I was gasping for breath as much as I could now. Still, knowing that the Black Mage wasn't doing as I told it too was beginning to really piss me off.

"Are you just going to take this?" Kaiten yelled at me. "Fight back you idiot!"

You're… not helping! I told Kaiten as my last few thoughts struggled to make sense. If I didn't do something soon, I really was going to die. My recklessness, it seemed, would be my end.

"Take this!"

Fortunately, aid did come for me, but not from whom I thought it would. I looked down and saw Sergeant Grey by my side. His sword was now buried deep within the Black Mage's chest. He was busy twisting the blade and doing whatever he could to distract the monster at my throat. The grip around my neck loosened, but there was still the heat gathering at my neck. I probably had only a few short seconds before the mage's spell blew my head off.

In a last ditch effort, I raised the short sword that wasn't stuck within my enemy already and pointed it at its neck. I didn't have the range to actually reach its throat, but then again, I didn't need it. I sent energy into the blade and let it gather at the tip. I couldn't help the smile that tugged at my face.

"Pulse."

A ruing of energy soared out from the blade. It ripped through the Black Mage's arms, severing them completely. The arms both fell to my sides with the Fire spell still within them. Without something to support it, the magic quickly faded away into nothingness. My throat was still a little soar, but it was much better than the other outcome which I came so close to experiencing.

The Black Mage, in the meantime, staggered backwards. It seemed stunned by the loss of its arms, but more in the sense of not understanding why they were missing. I fell to the ground, still recovering from not being able to breath.

Grey, on the other hand, took the opportunity to avenge his allies. He pulled his sword out of the Black Mage's sides, opening a deep and heavily bleeding wound. Grey swung his sword over his head and made contact with the Black Mage's chest, digging deep and piercing its heart and one lung. The mage stumbled backwards and collapsed on the ground, dead from internal injuries and blood loss.

With one down, I glanced over at Freya. The second Black Mage had apparently lost too much blood. A huge pool of the stuff was gathered at its feet, where the mage now stood, barely able to do anything. Freya took one swing and cut deep into the mage's chest, where even more blood began spraying out. It quickly succumbed to its blood loss and fell to the ground, dead.

"Are you alright?" Grey asked the both of us.

"I'm fine," I answered. "How about you?"

"I won't let these bastards kill me that easily," Grey explained proudly. "I will survive and do whatever it takes to rebuild Burmecia."

"God speed." Freya said dryly. She seemed no more tired than she did before, despite how much jumping around she did in combat. "I will join you with that as soon as we've rescued the King and have driven these forces out of our city."

With the moment calming down, I pulled both of my short swords together and sheathed them. I guess I wasn't as good a fighter as I liked to imagine myself as. I rubbed my neck gently to sooth the slight burn I had gotten from the fight. Grey, however, had another solution and handed over a potion to me.

"Use this," he instructed. "If you're going to go further into the city, you'll need it."

"Thanks," I said, extremely grateful. I popped open the top of the vial and drank the blue liquid inside. The odd taste didn't seem like much to me anymore, but that may have been because I was getting used to it by now. Still, it made my neck feel much, much better, and that was all I cared about at the moment.

"Well, you certainly took your time to figure that out," Kaiten said. "Here I thought you were going to die like an idiot."

I guess I can't think as thoroughly when I'm over-excited. I explained. But at least I got us out of there well enough, didn't I? And stop taking every opportunity to insult me!

"Hey, here's Zidane?" Freya asked. I looked back to where she was looking at and saw that Zidane wasn't around. That would explain why he didn't help out in the battle just now, but it still didn't help explain what he was doing. Vivi was standing by Choco, patting his side gently, but other than that, there wasn't much going on.

"You mean your friend with the tail?" Grey asked. "I asked him to help my friends who were still stuck in the steeple. I told him I wanted revenge on these monsters too much and he was willing to let me do so. It was very considerate of him."

"Yeah, that sounds like Zidane," I commented.

"Grey!" came a voice from behind us. I turned again to face the steeple and saw Zidane leading a pregnant Burmecian woman and an injured soldier out of the building. Grey rejoiced at once upon seeing them alive and only mildly injured.

"Kal! Wei!" Grey called back. He ran the short distance to them and took Kal, the injured soldier, from Zidane's arms.

"Are you two alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine, but Kal was hurt by those monsters," the woman, Wei, explained. Vivi hid himself behind Choco a little in order to avoid confrontation with these three. "He can't move on his own."

Grey shifted his weight so that he could support Kal easier. In this way, they had a better chance of escaping the city in a timely manner.

"The route out of the city should be clear for you," Freya said. "Regent Cid will be willing to take you in."

"Thank you all for your help," Grey said. "I hope everything works out for you and that you can save the King."

"Thanks again, pal." Kal directed at Zidane. "Maybe I'll see you again in Lindblum. By then, my kids'll be born. You'll definitely have to come and see them."

"I'm looking forward to it," Zidane said with a friendly nod. "Take care."

Zidane, Freya, Vivi, Choco and myself watched as the three Burmecians slowly made their ways out of the city. It was somewhat arduous seeing Kal wince at every step he took, but I knew that all three of them would make it out, and that was the important part.

"Well, that was fun," I joked. "Shall we press on?"

"We're wasting time otherwise," Freya said. "Let's go."

Without waiting for confirmation, Freya just turned around and walked up the stairs into the steeple. The door fell as she opened it, but she hardly seemed to notice. Zidane and I followed closely enough, making sure to step over the fallen door. Vivi and Choco had a little more trouble. The steps were rather large for someone of Vivi's stature, so he had to take each step slowly. Choco was a chocobo and wasn't used to using steps. A single step took up half of his foot and he wasn't able to get a great grip on anything.

"Choco, are you going to be able to catch up?" I called down to the struggling bird. He was making progress, but it looked awkward for him.

"K-kweh!" Choco called back. His legs were shaking and he seemed to stumble at every step, but at least he wasn't falling.

"Zidane! Let's go!" Freya called from the other side of the steeple's top floor. Zidane looked back at me and shrugged.

"Freya and I are going to press on and wait for you at the other side of the building," he said. "Can you three catch up soon enough?"

"I think so," I said with an air of confidence. "We'll be there soon enough."

"Good. See you soon," Zidane joked. He took off into the badly lit room and walked along a thin platform of a hallway to the door on the other side. Inside, there was a fallen statue on the floor below. That must have been where Kal and Wei were holding out. Cracks in the ceiling allowed form some light in come in. What little light there was was still better than nothing. The building was damaged, but at least it was still stable.

Meanwhile, Vivi had managed to make it the rest of the way up the steps. Choco was still struggling, but he was almost to the top. Vivi was breathing hard by the time he reached me.

"You alright Vivi?" I asked. The stair weren't that steep. He should have been fine.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "It's just my staff."

"What?" I asked, confused. "What about it?"

"It's just too hard to cast magic with it," Vivi explained. "I used to be able to cast spells whenever I wanted, but now it's getting harder and harder."

A few ideas went through my head to explain Vivi's predicament. His staff could have just been wearing out, his magic could be running out, although I doubted that, or he could be leveling up. If the latter was the case, then he would need another spell to generate his new powers with. And old, used up staff wouldn't be as effective as a newer, stronger one. In two out of these three possibilities, it seemed like the problem laid with the staff.

"We'll see about getting you a new staff as soon as possible," I assured him. "That might take the stain away."

"Ok," Vivi said. He seemed to like the idea. His current staff wouldn't be able to do much for much longer anyway. A new one would probably teach him a new spell as well.

By now, Choco had finally made his way to the top platform, where it evened out. He shouldn't have any trouble moving anymore. I gave a nod to Vivi and Choco, then proceeded through the doorway myself. A I walked, I noticed that there wasn't any door leading to the other side of the building from the floor below. It was never explained well in the game, but I guessed that that was the reason why we had to use the second floor to continue out trek.

Reaching the other side of the building, we were exposed to more rains and darker skies. The sky over the castle seemed gloomy and ominous, which made perfect sense since there were only enemy forces left by now. I could feel my heart rate increase just by thinking about the battle that was to come.

The plaza we found ourselves into was the scene of a massacre. Bodies, both of Black Mages and Burmecians were scattered everywhere. Black Mages had swords and spears sticking out of their chests. Burmecians were scorched and burned ion several places all over their bodies, some to the point where they could no longer be identified. The death toll easily reached 40 or 50 bodies in this area alone. A large fountain was constructed in the center of the plaza. Most of the bodies had been collected there.

Vivi gasped as he saw the sight unfold before him. I wasn't used to things like this, but at least I could cope. Vivi was still a child and didn't know that much of death and destruction. He could only stare wide-eyed at the bodies and the stunning amount of bloody splashed everywhere.

"Vivi…?" I said softly. "Vivi, we need to keep moving."

"Wha- oh. Right," he stuttered. He gave me one quick look and looked back at the plaza. Silently, he made his way towards the palace, taking the long way around the fountain so as to avoid the bodies.

"My, my," Kaiten remarked. "I haven't seen death like this since… yesterday actually. Remember all the Burmecians we found dead outside of the cavern?"

You're not helping again, jackass, I scolded. And if you're going to annoy me, at least do it when I don't have so much on my mind.

"What are you talking about? That's the best time to bother someone."

Stop it!

"Don't you know anything about psychological warfare?"

"Will you shut up?!?" I bellowed. My voice echoed throughout the small plaza, but was dampened by the rain and water everywhere. Nevertheless, it was loud enough for Vivi and Choco to hear.

"Is everything ok Trevor?" the little mage asked, now on the other side of the plaza. It seemed he had stopped to wait for me.

I recovered enough of myself in order to respond. "Yeah, I'm fine," I told him. My anger always had a way of building quickly and taking control of my decisions. It seemed the more I went along in Gaia, the harder it became to control. Pretty soon, everyone was going to think I was some violent sociopath with nothing more on his mind than killing enemies and yelling at himself.

Apparently, my voice must have traveled better than I thought because Zidane and Freya came charging out of one of the buildings, not too far from where Vivi was standing.

"Is everything ok?" Zidane asked. His tone made it obvious that he was genuinely worried.

"Fine, fine," I repeated. "I'm just getting sick of seeing all the fallen Burmecians."

No one said a thing. The rain beat down on the ground and everyone seemed to avert their eyes, lest they happen to see a corpse of a dead Burmecian. I took this as a chance to cross the plaza and join my friends as they began walking towards the castle again. We were on the final street. Just a little more and we'd be there.

I an attempt to change the subject, Zidane walked over to Vivi, holding what appeared to be a large, blue stick. I soon recognized it as the Lightning Staff. With that, Vivi's Thunder spells would be charged up. It would be useful in our future battles.

"Here Vivi," he said. "You can probably use this."

Vivi took the new staff and examined it carefully. It was long and slender, but short enough for him to use. The head bent a little and allowed a few inches to point in a separate angle, making the thing look like an oddly shaped '7' in a way. A thick blue stripe flowed down both sides of the staff, accentuating the golden stripes beside them quite well. It was a very nice weapon in almost every way.

"Thanks Zidane," Vivi said. "Where'd you get this?"

"There was a storage room back in the plaza that we raided," the blond thief explained. "We found that and a few potions, antidotes and an elixir in case someone gets seriously hurt."

"Not to mention this," Freya added. She indicated her new spear by holding it out ahead of herself. I knew her new spear was the Mythril Spear. It's shaft and head were neatly integrated with blue and green metals, detailed so finely that it was hard to tell how many lines of color there were running along the length of the weapon. Again, a fine new weapon.

"Well, we seem pretty well off, don't we?" I asked. Two new weapons and some more supplies, the most notable being the elixir. It was able to recover a person's entire heath to perfection. I could only hope that we didn't need to use it any time soon.

The rest of the walk up to the castle was, as so many others, a silent one. There wasn't much to say in this situation. Death hung around every corner with a new body or a new splash of blood on the ground, and every step closer we took to the castle only made our hopes seem more futile. Approaching the once great building revealed the intense damage that we couldn't see before when we entered the city. There were more blast marks here than in most of the city. Alexandria must have used the chance to decrease Burmecia's morale by destroying the castle. As sadistic as it was, it was probably effective.

"Geez, this is terrible…" Zidane said when we got to the outside of the castle. A large statue which, miraculously was left mostly unharmed from the Black Mages, decorated the entire side of the wall which we now faced. It was of a Burmecian knight with a spear in hand, standing proudly as it watched over the city. There wasn't much he had left to watch over now. "Freya, I'm sorry, but from the looks of this, I don't think the King made it."

Freya didn't have anything to respond with. All the stress and worry that she had been feeling ever since we embarked on this journey came crashing down onto her in one enormous heap. Ever ounce of hope she may have held was now useless. She collapsed to her knees in a weakened state.

"Freya…" Zidane began, but held off. We could both tell that talking to her wasn't going to do any good for anyone. The best thing to do now was to find out what to do next.

"Guys, let's go see what's over there." Zidane said, indicating a darkened corner of the castle. It lead to a corridor somewhere, but beyond that, I didn't know where. Zidane, Vivi, Choco and I began heading towards it, when-

"AAHHH!!!"

We turned around quickly to see Freya jumping up ridiculously high. She managed to make it up the entire side of the castle in a single jump. It must have been four stories or so. How Dragon Knights like her could leap that high I could only link as a trait of being a Burmecian. Not a bad trait at all.

"Freya!" Zidane called upon running back to where Freya had leapt from.

"There's someone inside the palace!" she called down from her high perch. "What are you waiting for? Get up here."

With that, Freya ran inside the palace. How she would manage to find her way around after that I didn't know. All that mattered now was getting inside.

"You make it sound so easy…" Zidane remarked sarcastically. "I guess I'll start here."

In a single leap, Zidane managed to get a good grip on a section of the statue. He righted himself up easily. The years of being an acrobat in action obviously paid off for him at times.

"Come on," he called down to Vivi and myself.

"Um…okay." Vivi called back nervously. He took a small running start…

…and face-planted into the foot of the statue.

"Oh, man." Zidane said upon seeing Vivi injure himself.

"Are you okay?" I asked the little mage.

"Y-yeah, I'm fine," Vivi said, picking himself up. He brushed his jacket a few times to get rid of some grime that had stuck to it from the foot of the statue.

"I'm gonna go on ahead," Zidane called down from his place a few feet over our heads. "Try to find a way up here. I'll meet you up top."

"Got it," I called back. Zidane began a complicated series of jumps which lead to him gaining altitude as he leapt from spot to spot on the big statue. Before long, he would be the top and would be joining Freya on the other side of the ruined wall.

"Well, this'll be fun," I joked. "Stay here Choco," I told the large bird. "We don't know what's on the other side of the wall here."

Choco let out an obedient 'Kweh' and sat himself beneath some shelter on the castle, out of the rain. I thought he almost looked like a giant chicken when he sat.

The only way Vivi and I really had to go was down the dark corridor that Zidane had indicated earlier. As dark as it was, it was the only way we had to go. I could have hoped that there would be a torch or something we could use to light the way or something, but when has hoping for things like that ever worked for me? Stumbling around in the dark was the way to go it seemed.

"Stay close behind me, alright?" I spoke to Vivi.

"O-ok…" he said nervously.

"Scared?" I asked calmly. It was understandable. After all, we were finally at our goal, only to find it as empty as a ghost town. This place, if anything, was supposed to be a last bastion of resistance against the invading army, but instead, it had been abandoned in order to preserve what few remaining Burmecians there were.

"A little…" Vivi said. "Aren't you?"

"Well…" I began. "I guess I'm a little nervous too. I mean, who knows what's going on, or where the King is."

"Yeah. I hope he's alright.'

Talking to Vivi had me distracted. Because of it, I didn't see the Burmecian soldier running towards me and nearly ran right into him. Instead, he reacted at the last second and merely knocked into my shoulder as he ran by. I knew what this meant though. If he was running by already, then it could only mean…

"Vivi, we need to go, now!"

"Why?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

I didn't answer his question. Instead, I picked up the pace and broke into a run. There wasn't much more to the corridor anyway. It opened up to a wide-open courtyard where the rain's fury seemed its most intense.

The first thing I saw was Zidane and Freya, standing defensively with their backs facing Vivi and myself. The next thing I noticed, much to my dismay, was General Beatrix, standing before them. Alexandria's deadliest knight with several hundred kills under her belt was before us, ready to fight us with every spell, every swing of the blade and with every drop of malice within her being.

"I once killed a hundred knights single-handedly," she announced to Zidane and Freya as a show of dominance. "To me, you two are nothing more than insects."

I knew they wouldn't last long with or without our help. Either way, it seemed almost definite that we would lose. I mean, we were fighting someone with far more battle skill than everything we had fought put together up until this point. There was no way we had a chance of defeating her here. Nevertheless, I wasn't about to back down from a fight like this. Not when my friends needed me. I ran into the courtyard with my short sword drawn. Vivi was right behind me.

"So more of you have come to meet your deaths?" Beatrix gloated over us. "What fools."

Beatrix was wielding her sword, Save the Queen. It was a razor sharp saber coated with the blood of her enemies, something like a testament to her skill. She was wearing a silver breastplate and a blood red battle skirt. Her right eye was covered with a wide silver eye patch which took up half of her face. However, her most notable feature was her stare. It was cold and brutal. Disciplined, yet it belonged to someone who held the potential to kill everyone in a room without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear.

In short, we were screwed.

Beatrix wasted no time in getting the battle started. She launched herself straight for Freya, swinging down hard onto Freya's new spear. She swung again and again, constantly clanging metal against metal. Freya could only hope to keep up as Beatrix's speed greatly overpowered her.

However, Zidane wouldn't have any of that. He charged right into battle alongside Freya to help her out however he could. He swung the Ogre down, aiming for Beatrix's head apparently, but was deflected by her saber. Freya tried to take a swing at Beatrix as well, but was also deflected. Beatrix was just too fast.

"Climmhazard!" Beatrix shouted. Suddenly, a huge explosion emitted from Save the Queen. Lines of fire and heat burst forth from the tip of Beatrix's sword in the shape of a sphere, knocking Zidane and Freya back. Zidane flew a few feet in the air before crashing to the ground and sliding along it a short distance. Freya was driven straight into a wall.

As soon as they were out of the way, Beatrix immediately turned her attention to me. She held herself low and vaulted at me, bringing her sword low. If she hadn't telegraphed her move so much, I probably wouldn't have blocked it at all. Instead, I only deflected it a little. Beatrix immediately began swinging her sword at me, probing my defenses for a weak spot. It was everything I could do just to keep from getting cut open by her. Time and time again, my short sword deflected her attack, only to have another one coming right after it. I cold barely keep up.

Get angry, I desperately told myself. The only way I was going to win this fight was with magic. Get angry, get angry, get angry, get angry!

Unfortunately, I was only distracting myself. I wasn't able to block an attack and Beatrix managed to cut into my right arm. Even worse, she managed to cut into my bicep. I dropped my short sword as an immeasurable wave of pain shot into my nerves. Beatrix finished her assault with a kick to my jaw. She was much stronger than she looked because she sent me tumbling backwards a good ten feet. I landed in a puddle, gripping my arm in pain.

Beatrix didn't waste any time trying to finish me off. She ran up to my side and twirled her sword around in her hand, ending with it backwards in her grip. She probably would have killed me there, if not for one thing. Our little mage.

Instead of killing me, Beatrix was caught off guard by Vivi's Thundara spell. A thick bolt of lightning coursing through the air and meeting her body. It was soon joined by three simultaneous bolts coursing along the same path, intensifying the heat and electrical discharge of the attack onto her form. If I wasn't so hurt, I probably would have smiled.

As soon as the attack was over, Beatrix stood up like nothing had happened. There was a slight frizz in her hair now, but beyond that, nothing seemed to change. The Alexandrian narrowed her one eye and looked fiercely at Vivi.

"Vivi, run!" I tried to yell, I could only look on in horror as Beatrix brought her sword close to her chest and powered up another attack. I recognized the stance and struggle to my feet to stop it. Unfortunately, I put too much weight onto my right arm and collapsed onto the ground again.

I was too late to stop her.

"Shock!"

The energy Beatrix had gathered into her sword was unleashed onto Vivi's small body. His chest blew open and blood splattered through the air. He was knocked backwards where his body bounced along the ground like a helpless doll's before finally coming to a stop face down in the dirt.

"VIVI!"

Beatrix turned her cold eye to me. "Now, you die, you-"

"Lancer!"

Beatrix was cut off as Freya unleashed a devastating Dragon skill on Beatrix. A well-aimed swing of her spear hit the general on the back in a dazzling display of colors and power. The cut thrashed Beatrix and knocked her forward, where she tripped over me. Freya quickly gave me a hand to help me up, which I took with my left hand. My right hand was in too much pain to use, not to mention the muscle damage it had taken.

"You…will pay for that," Beatrix snarled as she came back to her feet. She assumed another stance for another attack, but had to back out of it quickly when Zidane came in again. He swung his first attack down hard, missing Beatrix by mere inches. She backed up and raised her sword to swing again, but Zidane managed to block in time.

Freya, not being one to stay out of a fight, ran back in to help. I stayed where I was, partially due to fear, but mainly because I knew that I wouldn't be able to help much because of my ruined arm. As Freya pressed her assault, with little apparent gain, Zidane jumped back, ending up at my side. He was breathing heavily, no doubt going on overdrive just to keep up with the deadly general.

"Take this," he panted, handing me a potion. I didn't need another second. I took the vial from him and drank its contents in a second. Soon enough, the muscles of my arm reconnected and the wound closed, but the intensity of the moment made it seem much longer than it actually was.

"Thanks," I said, although it was probably out of place. We needed to concentrate everything we had on this fight. Nothing else. Fighting monsters was easy. They were single minded and had little in the way of tactics. Humans were different. They could wield almost any kind of weapon in any kind of fighting style with any kind of magic to assist them. There were too many factors and not enough clues. We just had to go in and be better than our opponent in this kind of fight.

Freya had been putting Beatrix on edge for the last few seconds. As unimpressive as it was for most fights, in this one, it made you one of the best fighters alive. However, it wasn't to last. Beatrix took one quick stab and managed to pierce Freya's chest, cutting deep into her armor and badly wounding her. Another Climmhazard roared in the air, sending Freya back. She flew passed Zidane and landed in a puddle, motionless.

"No! Freya!" Zidane called. I only stood in silent rage. Seeing two of my friends get mortally wounded was driving me over the brink into madness. So much anger was built up in my chest that I was starting to get a headache. I held my short swords offensively and broke into a run.

There was so much energy sealed in my chest that it seemed to seep into my short swords on its own. They were all powered up and ready to go. I just had to get close enough to use it.

Instead of fighting defensively, Beatrix tried attacking me. She swung her sword down hard, but I blocked it. I thrust with one sword out at her stomach, but missed. Still, I didn't need to stab an enemy to use Pulse. I just needed them to be close to the tip of the blade, and Beatrix was definitely close enough.

As confident as I was at first, my enthusiasm soon died down. I sent a wave passed Beatrix, but she dodged it all too easily. Still, seeing this new kind of magic seemed to startle her. I swung again, this time trying to hit her with the flat of the blade and using another Pulse early.

I sent the energy out of the blade as it flew at Beatrix, but she jumped back, leaving me with an attack that hit nothing. I pulled myself back to begin another assault, but apparently, Beatrix would have nothing of it. She threw down her sword at the ground and let off another Climmhazard. The sudden explosion took up all of my senses and knocked me back. I landed right next to Zidane, who knelt down to help me up.

"Are you ok?" he asked as soon as I was sitting up again.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I said, looking out at the battlefield again. To my horror, Beatrix was nowhere in sight.

"Hey, where'd she go?"

"You fools are no match for me!" came a cry behind us. I only had half a second to turn around before Beatrix unleashed her final attack upon us. Somehow, she had been able to run behind us and had enough time to power up another attack before I could even get to my feet.

"Stock Break!"

Beatrix swung her sword at the ground again, but instead of an explosion, several multi-colored ribbons sprouted from the ground. I had less than a second to admire them though, as one of the ends of those ribbons came out at me. One end pierced my chest, cutting through my armor and sinking deep. I didn't need to look over to know that Zidane had the same thing happen to him too. The attack just barely missed my heart, but it still did enough nerve damage.

I fell to the ground, short swords in hands, and a stunned look upon my face. In less than two minutes, Beatrix had wiped us all out.

"How ridiculously weak," Beatrix scoffed. She flung her wet hair behind her as she sheathed her sword and began to walk away. "Isn't there anyone who is worthy of facing me?"

The rain fell upon my face, but it was soft. So soft that I could barely feel it after a few seconds. I couldn't help but wonder if this was what death was like.

I looked to my side. Zidane wasn't moving. Blood was beginning to soak though his shirt right above his chest where his heart was. Was he dead?

I looked down. Freya wasn't moving. She was badly burned and probably had a concussion. Was she dead?

I looked to my other side. Vivi was lying face down in a puddle of his own blood. He had been like that longer than any of us. Was he dead?

I couldn't help the tears that came to my eyes. I knew it was going to be bad, but I wanted above all to live through it along side my friends. The rest of the storyline was going to mean nothing if they weren't there by my side.

Beatrix… you bitch… I'll kill you…

"Like I said before, you're too weak," Kaiten's voice came. I was too weak to argue back. He had a point, I was too weak, but I wasn't about to let my friends die alone. Anyone could call me a fool for my actions, but they couldn't call me a coward.

"You're body's not even that badly damaged," Kaiten continued. "Why don't I give it a try?"

Before I knew what was going on, a red, translucent light came from the corners of my eyes and took over all of my vision. My thoughts were becoming fuzzy as my mind lost control of itself. My muscles seemed to relax on their own, like someone was holding them for me.

The world started bleeding again…

Freya

Beatrix's attacks had been more powerful than any attack I had ever seen before. Not only had Zidane, Trevor and I been knocked to the ground and taken out of the battle, it seemed like I was the only one who could even move. I knew that I was badly injured, so the first thing I did was slip a potion into my mouth and silently thank Zidane for suggesting that we search through the storage room we found.

Vivi was laying face down in the cobblestone. Zidane was unconscious a few feet away from me. Trevor had been knocked onto his back and was now bleeding onto the ground through his back.

…At least, he had been.

As the rain fell, I struggled to lift my head and watch as Trevor, once again stood up and held his weapons aloft. Somehow, either by pure determination or pure luck, he was ready for combat once more. I would have called him a fool for continuing to fight a hopeless battle if I had the strength for it. He simply stood his ground and prepared for more fighting.

Unlike before, however, Trevor was smiling widely. And what's more, his eyes had somehow changed color. The whites of his eyes were now blood red, just like they were the day Trevor fled from us on the King Ed plains. I could only stare in wonder and horror as he flashed a demonic smile at General Beatrix. She turned, bored at first, but stunned a second later as she saw Trevor standing once more after her devastating attack.

"Alright bitch," Trevor said with a demonic glare. "It's my turn."

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Book 1: Issues- Complete.

Book 2: Anger- Coming soon.