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

Author's notes: Sorry guys. Big speech time again, but this is kind of a big deal for me. ^^

First and foremost, sorry about the delay.

As many of you have noticed, I like to update Shattered Mind on or around the 9th of every month (the publicity writes itself). However, a few things have happened this month to delay me. 1) I have a new GF. She's great, she's fun, and she's hot. XD 2) I've actually found employment. My schedule is a bit erratic since I've been getting my assignments about a day in advance, but it's fun and the pay's great. 3) There's been some in-house drama as of late. My "step-mother" has recently decided to violate my very simple rule of "Don't touch my stuff" again, and has thrown away several toys from my childhood in an attempt to clear space in the basement. Toys with deep sentimental value to me, and toys that I planned on passing on to my kids should I ever have any. While normally I try to ignore people who annoy me, doing something like this, despite hundreds of warnings not to, is almost criminal. So, if you're so inclined at the end of the chapter, please give a special "F U Suzie!" in your reviews so my "step-mother" might figure out that she should stop being such a bitch.

Ok, ranting's over. Now for the real speech. :D

I never really thought I'd get this far when I started writing Shattered Mind. I just wrote a couple of chapters early to see if I could stand such a big project. I had seen so many people before me try and fail that it seemed an impossible task. It turns out, Shattered Mind has become a huge influence in my life since then.

When I started writing, I was a psych major in college, subject to too much homework, bastard professors, and a search engine for science journals so difficult to use that would make a Tibetan monk go into a murderous rampage. By then, Shattered Mind was already gaining some popularity, so I took that, and my appreciation for the classics (The Aeneid, The Iliad, Goethe's Faust), and transferred to an English Major.

But that wasn't all. Like Trevor, I used to be a real rageholic. I would have days in which everything just pissed me off for no particular reason. Call it a chemical imbalance in my head or the fact that I was just an angry person, but I find it miraculous that I never assaulted anyone.

As I wrote, Shattered Mind became a way for me to channel my energy. I became calmer and more collected. These days, I'm far more prone to laughing and finding whatever good angle I can in anything presented to me, rather than holding back the urge to break anything I don't like.

But on a lighter subject, we can all celebrate my getting halfway through the storyline. Something that very, very few people have reached before in any fandom *High-fives Duelist of the Dawn*.

Ultimately, I want to thank everyone who reads Shattered Mind, and especially the people who review. This story, and my attempts at writing my novels, would be nothing without your constant support. XD

So, as I slowly progress with my novels and short stories, I may take a short break from Shattered Mind (a brief one mind you), to prepare myself for the 3rd book in this installation. There will be another teaser released (even better than the last one) in about a month or so just so you all know that I haven't forgotten about you all.

But for now, we get to see exactly how Kuja's plans will lay out, how Brahne's forces will intervene, how the world heroes can stop them both, and how Trevor and Kaiten will strive to survive in the battle between these titan forces…

Enjoy!

-Krimson

Chapter 23- Brahne's Last Stand.

XXXXXXXX

We had finally advanced. Our band of foolish heroes facing a fight we couldn't possibly win.

Just another day in Gaia.

We had reached the Iifa Tree late in the afternoon. The sun hadn't quite set. It seemed to hang in the sky as if to watch the upcoming chaos.

Amarant had "offered" to carry our supplies, which wasn't a big deal since we were able to fit everything into a single backpack. I was walking along begrudgingly. The moogles had found a spare weapon in the village to replace Crimson and Azure, but it was the Exploda. It was an ugly weapon that was composed almost entirely of segmented guthooks. I never liked it in the game, but because it didn't have any cross guards, I had to carry them by hand. After a while, my hands started to heat up and became pretty sweaty. I tried my best to ignore it

"There's still a little Mist," Zidane pointed out. "But at least there's no more coming out. That must mean Kuja isn't here yet."

"And what happened to the Mist?" Amarant asked.

"We beat the beast that breathes it," Eiko said proudly. "So much for the Mist Continent!"

"You set it on fire," I corrected. "I beat it."

"Yeah, after you went completely psycho!"

"No more Mist?" Amarant wondered. I saw him look at me through his dreadlocks. I tried not to pay any attention to him.

"Zidane, up there!" Dagger said, pointing to the sky. "There's a silver dragon!"

Far above us, hundreds of feet in the sky, was an immense silver dragon. It soared through the air, occasionally flapping its wings like it was out for a Sunday glide.

"It's him!" Zidane said. "He flew from the ruins of Burmecia riding a silver dragon! It's gotta be Kuja, and he's riding that dragon!"

Everyone gazed upwards as the dragon let out a roar and flew towards the Iifa Tree.

XXXXXXXX

Kuja rode the silver dragon, standing on it's back proudly and confidently. The silver haired thespian laughed as he gazed over the horizon. He originally came to investigate the disturbance at the Iifa tree, but now spotted a more alluring target sailing in from the west.

Nine of the mightiest ships in Alexandria's Navy sat in anchor, looking onward at the Iifa Tree. Brahne's act of defiance simply amused Kuja.

"Oh, how I've longed for this day," Kuja mused. "The day I might finally cast away this mask to reveal my true self. It no longer matters if the Iifa Tree is liberated! It means nothing to me!"

Kuja broke into a sick cackle. Zidane and his group thought they had ruined his plans by cutting off the flow of mist. Hardly the case at all. He reveled in his superiority, wishing desperately that the anticipation would cease. The suspense, the gloating he could do… it was all too much! He took a breath to calm himself. After all, a great play required a tremendous climax!

"The tree is so beautiful! Its beauty becomes the great mother tree that lives among the stars! Silver dragon, let us watch the drama unfold from the trunk of Iifa. No one shall interrupt us there."

The silver dragon roared in understanding and began to descend into the trunk.

XXXXXXXX

We were already in hot pursuit of Kuja. We didn't see exactly where he landed, but it was further up the trunk than we went before. We had to run towards the tree, but took a root that branched away, leading around the trunk instead of inside it. There was no way to reach Kuja from the inside.

Zidane was in the lead, with the girls right behind him. Vivi was next, and I stayed back to keep an eye on Amarant. He probably wasn't going to try anything, but I still didn't trust him.

Suddenly, Zidane stopped. He looked up at the trunk, then at the route ahead of us, then at the trunk again. "We'll pass him if we go any farther," he said. "Kuja went up there."

The trunk was only a few feet away form the root we were standing on. It wasn't much of a jump, but the climb would be a little more daunting.

"Hey, Zidane," Eiko asked. "How are we gonna get up there?"

"Can't we climb there?" he suggested.

"Not me!"

"M-Me neither," Vivi chimed in.

"I don't think I can, either," Dagger admitted.

Zidane crossed his arms in frustration. "We came all this way. Now what?"

"What's the problem?" Amarant said. "You should just go by yourself!"

Zidane just shook his head. "No. We gotta go face Kuja together."

Amarant grumbled. I could hear him mutter, "How did this wimp end up beating me?"

Amarant decided to confront Zidane, pushing everyone in his way aside, including myself. I gasped as I reached for something to hold on to. There was a good hundred feet of air between the ground and myself. I clung to some grass growing on the root and pulled myself back to my feet. I could see that Vivi and the girls had to do the same.

"Watch it asshole!" I yelled.

"Hey, Amarant! Watch where you're walking!" Zidane yelled.

"You almost knocked me down!" Eiko yelled.

Amarant just ignored all of it. "'He who hesitates is lost'," he said, poking Zidane in the chest to stress his point. "You'd best remember that."

"Well, I prefer 'My way or the highway.'"

"Whatever. Like you actually have a plan."

"Oh yeah, smarty-pants!" Eiko said. "Don't forget you're the one who lost to Zidane."

"Shut up, brat," Amarant growled.

"Anything is better than 'charge in blindly and get our asses kicked'," I chimed in. Amarant just growled at me.

"A plan, huh?" Zidane crossed his arms in thought for a moment. "That's right, Amarant! You owe me one, remember? It's payback time!"

Amarant grumbled something under his breath again. My guess was that he was swearing.

"There's some gargant grass around here, so a gargant can't be far," Zidane said. "I want you to catch one for me. Then we can all get on and ride it to the top."

"Why should I do that when I can just take the kids up myself?"

"Huh…?"

"How'd I ever let this dimwit beat me?"

Before anyone could object, Amarant turned around and grabbed Eiko and Vivi and threw them over his shoulders. They grabbed hold tightly as the bandit took a running jump and leapt off the root. Eiko and Vivi shrieked out of fear, but held on to Amarant as tightly as they could. The red haired bandit dug his gauntlets into the trunk walls and climbed up the side easily.

"He sure has spirit," Zidane said, looking over the edge.

I disagreed. "Or he's insane."

"Nothing left to do but to follow him." Zidane backed up from the edge and grabbed Dagger by the hand. "Alright, Dagger… I'll just carry you piggyback."

"Huh?" Dagger said. She tried to pull away, but to no avail. "Hey! Zidane! Wait just a—"

Zidane pulled Dagger closer and threw her over his shoulders. She grabbed his neck tightly and wrapped a leg around his waist, burying her head in his shoulder.

"Trevor, can you get up there by yourself?" Zidane asked.

"I think I can manage," I said. "I'll follow once you get a good start."

"Alright. Good luck." Zidane got a short running start and leapt towards the trunk. He grabbed a vine and was able to pull himself up while Dagger held on for dear life.

Kaiten, I think this is your expertise. I said. Can you handle this kind of a climb?

"I always preferred free running, not free climbing," Kaiten corrected me. "But, yeah, I think I can handle something like this."

Alright. You're up.

A sense of numbness flowed over my body like a blooming flower. I knelt to prevent falling off the root, but as soon as my knee touched down, Kaiten had already taken total control over my body. He stood and took a deep breath.

"Today is going to be a good day," he said. He took a running start and charged off the root. He gripped a vine hanging off of the trunk and landed against the side. He began climbing after the others with a grin on his face.

XXXXXXXX

Kuja stood proudly on the trunk, overlooking the Alexandrians below. He smirked excitedly as his loyal silver dragon sat next to him.

"The weak lose their freedom to the strong," Kuja said. "Such is the way of the strong. And it is the providence of nature that only the strong survive. That is why I needed strength. I learned of power that would daunt even him over ten years ago. Such a long time… Now my forces are ready to strike! Ahh… The suspense is terrible!"

A quick dash of movement caught Kuja's attention out of the corner of his eye. Lower on the trunk, Kuja saw several climbers. His first thought was that they were scouts of Brahne's, but another glance made Kuja realize that this group had nothing to do with Brahne. Nothing at all. He grinned when he saw the boy with the monkey's tail pulling himself up onto another root.

"So they've come this far, have they? Perfect. I'll warm up to them until the elephant-lady is ready."

XXXXXXXX

The climb went a lot smoother than I thought it would. Kaiten had no trouble scaling the dry trunk. He had pulled out one of the Exploda blades to use as a grip, but that was all he needed. We made the fifty-foot ascent in only a few minutes. When we got to the top, Zidane offered us a hand up.

"Thanks," Kaiten said.

"Of course," Zidane said. "How's everyone feeling?"

"Motion sick," Dagger said.

"Shaking," Vivi answered.

Eiko was red with rage and leered at Amarant. "If you do that again I will kick your butt!"

Someone should teach that girl how to swear, Kaiten remarked.

"Thanks, Amarant," Zidane said genuinely.

Amarant paid it no mind. "Now we're even," he said. "Show me what you guys can do."

Suddenly, Dagger yelled, "There's Kuja!"

We all looked up. There, a short walk away, was Kuja. He seemed more interested in the flotilla sailing in from the west, but he offered us a confident glance, as if daring us to face him.

Vivi shook, but whether it was from fear or rage I couldn't tell. "Kuja… Maker of black mages."

"Any enemy of Zidane is an enemy of mine!" Eiko shouted.

Zidane nodded at us and took point. "Okay, let's go!" He led the way towards the white-haired madman.

This might get bad, Kaiten said. You take over. I'm going to meditate and gather strength in case we need it later on.

"Sounds good," I said. "I'll call you if I need you."

I felt my body reawaken as the nerves reacted to the touch of the air. I fell to one knee as the sensation overtook me.

"Trevor," Zidane called back. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," I said. "Just a little winded from the climb. Let's keep going."

The walk up the root was unsettling. Kuja kept his eyes fixated on us as we took each step. The others didn't know how insanely strong he was, but I knew Kuja could have killed us a thousand times as we approached him.

His long white hair looked like it was made up of thousands of feathers. It flowed down his back, covering it like a blanket. Most of his clothes looked very regal and expensive. He wore long, flowing cloths for sleeves and a dress while he sported a purple battle plate on his chest. Most noticeable, at least to me as I tried to keep my lunch down, was the thin leggings he wore that made him look like he was wearing a thong. The rest of his clothes, what little he wore, were straps holding everything together. He was like a clown imitating the aristocracy.

Kuja stood unflinching as we finally got close enough to talk to him. He was standing on another root parallel to ours, but the gap was too wide to jump across. We stood across from him as Dagger stepped forward to speak.

"You are Kuja, correct?" Dagger asked. Kuja didn't answer. There was a long, uncomfortable silence before Dagger spoke again. "My name is Princess Garnet Til Alexandros. I wish to ask you something. Was it really you who persuaded my mother to start the war—"

"The war that threw the entire Mist Continent into chaos?" Kuja finally said. He wore the cockiest grin I had ever seen as he spoke.

"And…" Vivi started to say. "And you made everyone…the black mages…into instruments of war!"

"Oh, dear," Kuja said in false concern. "The princess has such a bloodthirsty little puppet. I don't have the power to do such a thing. I just gave them a little recipe. Begin with broth of mist, and fermented souls, and boil. Then, pour genuine black magic into a mixing bowl and heat to—"

"Stop it!" Vivi shouted.

I could feel myself getting pissed off already. No one toyed with Vivi and got away with it. I gripped my swords in anger and felt the Chi start to burn inside my chest.

But Kuja wasn't finished. "I'm not done telling how to make soulless toys out of the dregs of souls!"

"Dregs of souls?" Zidane asked. "You mean mist!"

I could see Vivi trying to be strong, but he clenched his hat and pulled it over his face. His voice became choked in his throat as he tried to scream in outrage. I thought I saw a tear on his cheek out of the corner of his eye.

"First, you don't want to listen, now you start asking questions? Oh, brother." Kuja placed the back of his hand to his forehead and arched his back in pure melodramatic fashion. "But you're not ready yet!"

"Enough!" I yelled. Kuja may have been amusing and interesting in the game, but person-to-person, he was just snotty and irritating. I held my swords forward and charged them up. "I'm not taking this kind of shit from some thong-wearing freak!"

Kuja blinked as if in disbelief for a moment before he responded. "You're certainly an obnoxious little twit, aren't you?

"Oh? Did I hit a nerve?" I asked. "Thong boy!"

"I will take great pleasure in slowly destroying—"

"THOOOOONG!"

Kuja was no longer amused. His cocky grin was replaced with a pissed off sneer. He waved his hand, as if to dismiss me. "I tire of this silliness. I shall kill the queen and every last one of her minions, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it."

Dagger's teeth ground together audibly. "Why, you… don't you feel anything! Taking the lives of so many…"

"Spare me the lecture," Kuja ordered. "Lives come and go all the time. What's the big deal?" I saw a smile on the corner of Kuja's lips as his mood changed again. "Speaking of warmongers, why… what about that mother of yours, Princess? She said she won't feel alive until she has everything! It breaks my heart to see such greed! The war was my fault? No, no! Your mother wanted it! All I did was give her a little push!"

"Liar!" Dagger cried out. "My mother was sweet and kind. You changed her!"

"Don't get angry!" I told Dagger, despite my earlier moment of hypocrisy. "That just gives him control."

"Mwahaha… So the curtain rises!" Kuja declared. He stepped onto the silver dragon for a more glorious image. "Perfect, my canary. Let me show you the truth about your mother! First Act: The End of Ugly Desire. It's show time!"

Kuja spanned his hands out to the sea. There, finally in range of the beaches was the Alexandrian Navy. Nine of the most powerful naval battleships in the world still operating encroached along the beaches. Each one was easily half the size of a modern aircraft carrier and looked just as heavily armed. Massive cannons flanked every side of the ship, ready to launch cannonballs the size of a large child.

Soldiers and black mages alike jumped ashore and waited in formation while many more remained on the ships. If I didn't know what was about to happen, I would have been intimidated by the show of force.

This was going to be a horrible massacre…

XXXXXXXX

Far below the Iifa Tree, on the Alexandrian flagship Lunar Light, Queen Brahne fanned herself while looking over her military unfolding before her eyes from her private command booth at the top of Lunar Light. She watched them with avarice, drinking in the rush of power it gave her. She alone had defeated every country on her continent. She had demolished Burmecia in less than a week, Cleyra in less than a day, and Lindblum in less than an hour.

Kuja, that insufferable man, didn't stand a chance by himself.

"Your highness!" a scout said as she ran to the queen. "We've spotted the arms dealer high in that tree ahead of us."

The scout handed over a telescope. Brahne looked through it and, sure enough, there Kuja was, high above them on that feminine-looking dragon of his.

"Bwahahaha!" Brahne belted out. "Kuja! So you finally decided to show your girly face here! You're all that stands between me and total domination! Once you die, I will be the only one capable of controlling the Eidolons and making black mage soldiers!"

Brahne washed her hand over her face, drunk with power. "Gehehe! But I haven't forgotten all you've done for me! In return, I will show you the ultimate power!"

She leaned to the soldiers on the lower decks. "Attention, all hands! Order the black mages to focus all their magical energies into a single spell! Lay suppressing fire upon Kuja until the casting is finished! Fire! Fire at will!"

The soldiers below saluted their queen and moved out to carry out her orders. The forces on the beaches moved towards the massive tree while the black mages still on deck began to focus their magic into larger, vastly more powerful attacks.

The black mages may not have shown any emotion, but the soldiers smiled at their massive superiority. They knew full well that Kuja was history.

XXXXXXXX

We watched as Brahne's forces filled out onto the beaches. The bright red sails were easy to spot in the distance, as were the massive armaments. Their forces crawled onto the beach, unknowing just how doomed they all were.

"I...I can't believe it!" Dagger gasped.

"Your mother isn't satisfied with just one continent!" Kuja taunted. "Her ugliness and stupidity are truly impressive. Ahh... everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."

Zidane turned and brought out his thief blades. "What are you talking about!"

"You're just the opening number. Time for the real show!"

"We won't let you get away!"

Confident in his overwhelming advantage over us, Kuja just laughed. "The mist may be created no more, but it still lurks in the caves and forests, right?"

"What?"

"I can make monsters with magic!" Kuja raised his arms and briefly channeled a spell. "Come forth, spawn of the mist!"

The next thing any of us knew, there was a loud roar coming from the alcove down the root next to us. Kuja quickly took off as a pair of demonic bugs the size of a trailer walked out into the open. Their heavily armored bodies shined in the light and they breathed mist. They looked like giant, more-hideous-than-usual-centipedes, but all of their legs were in front of them, beneath their vertically gaping mouths.

"Oh god," I breathed. "They just had to be bugs, didn't they?"

"Charge them!" Zidane yelled. He rushed one of the mistodons and fought it back into the alcove. "We don't stand a chance on the root. Fight them in here!"

"And here I was thinking we could fight the big man himself," Amarant huffed. He pulled back an arm and uppercut the second giant bug, knocking it back beside the first.

I gathered my wits, trying to assure myself that the mistodons wouldn't try to burrow in my hair. They would probably rip me apart, then eat me. That was a much better alternative.

Zidane was soon busy fending off the first monster as it swiped at him with its ten frontal legs. He had trouble since the attacks came quick and often. The second tried the same with Amarant, but he was able to grab the legs one by one and break them over his own leg. The monster retracted the broken appendages and tried a counterattack.

"He doesn't need help," I decided. I charged up one of my Exploda blades and ran in to give Zidane some back up.

Zidane saw me coming and tried to turn the enormous beast. He deflected blow after blow harmlessly, but his Ogre dropped faster each time. I knew he couldn't keep it up much longer.

With the mistodon angled for me, I was able to ignore its creepy-ass face and jump right onto its back. I swung a blade right for its side, hoping for a very loud crunch.

Instead, there was a dull thud.

My sword didn't have much of an impact at all. The armor was too thick on its sides. Whatever Kuja had done to make these things, he had thought it through.

Whatever the case, I had spent too much time on the beast's back. It rolled its spines rapidly, causing me to lose my balance. I fell to one side and quickly climbed back to my feet.

"Try a Pulse!" Kaiten yelled. "It should be enough to break through its skin!"

That would work, I started to say. If the mistodon hadn't noticed us.

With a bat of its leg, the mistodon threw Zidane away. It started towards me, mist foaming out of its mouth like a bad case of rabies. It raised its legs to stomp on me, only to land on my swords. I was still dropped to one knee, but at least I wasn't hurt for the moment.

"Try it now! He can't stop you!"

We'd die, I informed my counterpart. The crushing force of the monster was more than I thought it would be, so I struggled to stay upright. Tips are near my head. If I use Pulse, I'd cut my head in two.

"Well we're all kinds of screwed, huh?"

Yup.

I had no way out. With four legs pressing down on me and another six ready to gouge me in the off chance I escaped, I had very few options. I was able to look up enough to see a drop of spit come from the monster's mouth and land right next to my leg. As if getting crushed wasn't bad enough, now I was getting drooled on.

"Trevor!"

I didn't have a chance to turn and see, but a second later, a flash of lightning sparked over me and into the mistodon's gaping mouth. It spasmed for a few seconds, giving me ample time to break away.

"Thanks Vivi," I said. "Nice timing as always."

"You're welcome," he said. He stood behind me and focused his magic.

The mistodon stopped its thrashing at last. It shook its head left to right, most likely looking for me or Vivi. When it finally settled down and saw us, it growled. It started to charge, but then it noticed that my sword was pointed right between its legs.

"Pulse."

A purple ring of pure energy flashed out of my sword's tip. It broke through the monster's legs like they were paper. Four of them fell limply to the ground. The mistodon didn't have time to scream when I shoved my other sword down its gullet and powered up an Explosion inside its throat. The beast's head blew up, showering us in blood and gore, as it settled to the ground and remained motionless.

"One down!" I yelled over the sounds of distant battle.

"Make that two," Zidane said. He leapt off the second monster, daggers drenched in blood. Amarant was busy wiping his soaking arms dry. A pool of red built up beneath him. Every one of the second mistodon's legs were broken and snapped open.

I had to remember that Amarant could be scary in battle.

"Where are the girls?" Zidane asked. I glanced around, but I didn't see them.

"Zidane!" came a voice from outside the alcove. We ran out and saw Eiko trying to comfort Dagger out on the root. The princess had fallen to her knees watching the battle at the bottom of the tree.

"This is horrible…" Dagger said softly.

Far below, Alexandria's forces had been engaged in battle. Just like with us, Kuja had created a legion of mistodons. They covered the beaches like a black scar. The ground forces were scattered all over the place and could barely maintain formation. What little support the beaches could get from the battleships artillery didn't have much effect on the monsters. In the few cases that their cannonballs actually hit, they only kicked up sand and dazed one of the monsters for a moment. It was like the mistodons were designed with cannon fire in mind.

Amarant crossed his arms as he watched. "So, two of your enemies are dukin' it out? Why not leave 'em, and finish off the winner? My money's on Kuja."

"Amarant's right," Zidane said. "Let's split before we get dragged in."

The idea sounded good. We all grabbed our things, but Dagger remained standing still.

"No… I can't…" she said. "I can't let anything happen to my mother."

"Dagger?"

"Zidane, I… I have to save her!"

"Uhh, Dagger? She extracted eidolons from you and started a war!"

"I still don't want her to die!"

"But she didn't care one bit whether you lived or died! You don't have to call her mother anymore!"

"She's my only mother! I don't care if you don't understand! Eiko, you said that there was an eidolon imprisoned near here, right?"

Eiko blinked for a moment. "Uh, yeah."

Dagger knelt down and grabbed the little girl by the shoulders. "Please! Tell me where!"

"It's a long way down," Eiko said, pointing down the root. "You see the place with lots of roots? The place that kinda looks like a platform? That's it."

"There. I see it," Dagger said. Dagger took off running as quickly as she could down the root.

"Dagger, don't go alone!" Eiko yelled. But the determined princess ignored her. She was already starting to fade into the distance.

Amarant just leaned against a wall and laughed. "This is turning into quite a show."

"Anyone can get emotional at a time like this!" Eiko defended. "Give her a break!"

"There might be more mist monsters around," I said. "She's in more danger if she's alone."

"Yeah," Zidane agreed. "Let's go after her."

"Better move fast," Amarant said. "More of those things are headed here."

There was a root reaching the other side of the alcove, rising from the ground near the beaches. Several mistodons were climbing up, towards the alcove and towards us. Considering how hard it was to kill two, fighting half a dozen at once really didn't appeal to me.

"Run guys!" Zidane ordered. "Get away before they can reach us!"

He didn't have to speak twice. We all took off as quickly as we could. The narrow root made moving difficult. In his concern for Dagger, Zidane took an early lead. Amarant and I were stuck behind the kids and their short legs. I was in such a rush to outrun the mist monsters behind us that I almost considered running ahead of them to get out of the way.

"This isn't good," Kaiten was quick to point out. "They're going to catch us at this rate."

Any suggestions?

"I can use Fin and slice them right down the middle. I'll just need to take over."

No good. We can't change at this speed. We'll probably trip again.

"Fine. But there is something else you can do," Kaiten said solemnly. "You're going to have to blow up the root."

While we're ON IT?

"It's that or the mist monsters will overtake us. And we both know that they would knock you right off the root if you tried to fight them."

I didn't want to admit it, but Kaiten was right. The root was too small to fight on. The mistodons had their entire bodies to help keep them on. Was that why Kuja designed them the way he did? Whatever the reason, fighting head to head wasn't the answer. But we had been running for almost a minute and we still weren't halfway down the root. If I broke it here, the others might be able to hang on.

I finally made my decision when the first mistodon crested over the top of the root where we began our run. It bolted down, running at us at twice our speed. Several more came into place right behind it.

I really hope this doesn't get us killed.

"You've got this," Kaiten assured me. "Just stay aware of your surroundings."

There was a clump of vines beside me. There was a horde of monsters behind me. I took a deep breath and began to slow my run.

"Amarant," I said. "I'm going to need your help."

"Not now," he said. "Those things will catch up any second."

"Not if I do this! Just hang back for ten seconds!"

"What the hell are you—!"

I didn't answer. We didn't have time. Instead, I grabbed the nearest vine that I could and swung around it. I realized as I fell that I didn't test to see if it could hold me. I was amazingly relieved when it didn't snap under my weight.

"Faster!" Kaiten yelled. "We don't have much time!"

"Fine, shuddap!" I barked out. I held out one of my swords and charged up an Explosion. I climbed up the vine fast as I could and swung into the underside of the root. Chunks of wood and splinters fell as saw dust and smoke rose. I was able to cut through the vine without any resistance.

I think I got it! I said. A little more and—

Snap!

It didn't take long for the first signs of stress to echo through the air. I could already see the wood of the root beginning to warp.

"Time to move!"

Not yet. I almost got it!

With one more swing, the tip of my sword exploded. The root snapped again. It began to give way and cave in on itself. I could feel myself falling as I clung to the vine for dear life.

"What are you doing? MOVE!"

I started to ascend as fast as I could, but the wood was bending too much. For every inch I climbed, the root fell another four inches. I looked down and saw the three hundred foot drop below me and wondered why I ever did something so idiotically reckless.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp tug at the vine. I was launched a good few feet up at once. A glance up showed me Amarant pulling at the vine. I was so relieved when he gave another sharp pull, strong enough for me to reach the top of the root. I grabbed at some gargant grass and yanked myself up.

"Thanks Amarant," I said. I was honestly amazed that he had stuck around to help.

Amarant just grunted. "Whatever. Keep running."

I looked behind myself. The root that once held a sharp angle down was now starting to bend the other way. I could see the mistodons coming closer from the top. The root probably wouldn't support their weight and would snap under the pressure. I didn't want to be anywhere near them when that happened.

Amarant had already taken off. I chased after him, running as quickly as I could. I was lucky that my legs weren't tired from the climb just now.

"Where are the others?" I shouted as we ran. "They didn't fall, did they?"

"Down there!" Amarant yelled. He pointed to the platform at the bottom of the root. Zidane and the kids had made it safely down. Meanwhile, I could see Dagger praying in front of a statue of a serpent. Amarant and I had only just reached the halfway point in our run.

"Is that trap going to stop them?" Amarant asked.

"It should," I said. "Just keep—"

There was a loud groan of wood that groaned behind us. I looked back and saw the mistodons marching over weakened wood. The root bent as the second one walked over it. The weight quickly became too much and it snapped with a tremendous crack. It sounded like a bolt of thunder had gone off next to us.

With its support gone, the root finally fell, taking the mist monsters with it. I would have been happy, except the root started to fall towards us as well.

"Shiiit!" I shouted. "Amarant, run! Go, go, go!"

"I know! Shut up!" he shouted back.

I could feel the root shaking as it fell lower. I would have laughed at being placed in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie, but I was too worried about falling to my death. There were no more vines along the root that I could see, so unless and airship came by to pick us up, we didn't have much of a chance. I could barely get a good grip under my feet and felt myself sliding down.

"Hang on!" Amarant called out. He reached out with one hand while he dug his clawed gauntlet deep into the root. I took hold of his wrist just as my feet fell out from underneath me. We were airborne for several seconds before the root crashed into the ground. The explosion rocked the root and the surrounding earth. It felt like I was riding in a bike accident while going head-on against an oil tanker.

When the shaking stopped, I could see the damage I had caused. The mistodons had fallen among the roots below and were out of sight, but the root I had destroyed had smashed through several other roots on their way down. Dust and remnant mist clouded the air.

"That was fun," I said.

"Hold on to me," Amarant said. "I'm going to climb up."

"Alright," I said. I reached out and grabbed onto his shoulders, awkwardly adjusting myself on top of his backpack. "Thanks for the help."

"I'm not doing it to help you," he said gruffly. "I need two hands to climb."

"Wow… How charismatic of you."

Amarant didn't seem to have any trouble climbing up the root. He went hand over hand up the remaining length until we saw the edge of the cliff. Zidane met us at the top and offered us a hand. I took it, simply glad to be on solid ground once again.

"That was insane," he said. "Trevor, the next time you want to kill yourself, please leave the rest of us out of it."

I just grinned idiotically. "Aww, but it's more fun as a group! Just think of all the insane cults we could start by modeling things like this."

Zidane offered a hand to Amarant too, but the stubborn bandit didn't take it. He just pulled himself up on his own.

"No!" Dagger suddenly cried out. She held herself tightly as she cupped a stone in her hand.

"Dagger! What's wrong?" Eiko asked. "Can't you free it?"

"No, I have it," Dagger said, holding up the aquamarine in her hands. "I sense it's a great eidolon. But… but…"

"I don't believe it!" Eiko said, examining the stone closer. "This is the legendary sea serpent, Leviathan!"

"Leviathan!" Vivi asked.

"An eidolon who wipes out its enemies with a huge tidal wave!" Eiko explained. Her expression dropped when she realized that using this eidolon would only kill Brahne. Not Kuja. "I'm sorry, Dagger!"

Dagger shook her head. "No, it's not your fault. But my mother's still in danger!"

Kuja was having the time of his life, finally getting a chance to flaunt his powers. His black mages were strong, but nothing compared to the mist monsters he could create. Of course he would never hand over his strongest card to a madwoman like Brahne! Kuja cackled to himself atop the silver dragon as they surveyed the battle below.

"Foolish Brahne!" Kuja laughed. "Your cannons are useless against the spawn of the Mist! Mwahaha... but even a fool like you knows that there is only one path you can take, right?"

Kuja had been waiting patiently for Brahne to use her trump card. The one attack that may have had a chance against Kuja and his forces, but after several minutes, the fat queen still hadn't used it. Kuja quickly grew bored of waiting.

"Stupid elephant-lady! Why do you hesitate? Very well… I'll make the first move. I'll give you a clean target. You can't miss! Silver Dragon, descend!"

Kuja smiled in excitement and looked up at his trap. A dark cloud was hovering just beyond the Iifa Tree. Kuja was positively giddy as he stood defenseless on the beach. Surely Brahne wouldn't give up a golden opportunity like this.

XXXXXXXX

Brahne could see that the battle wasn't going exactly as planned. Kuja had more monsters at his command than she first though, and her ships' cannons didn't have much effect against them. Almost every soldier sent to the beach was dead. The ones who survived had run off, probably to die against the elements. If it weren't for the black mages still on her ships keeping the monsters at bay, Alexandria would have lost the battle long ago. And now Kuja left himself out in the open just to mock her. The impatient queen ground her teeth in rage.

A soldier broke her out of her thoughts as she came into Brahne's private chambers and saluted. "Your Majesty, the black mages have completed their preparations."

Brahne licked her lips and gave a wide grin. "That insolent whelp!" she said, leering at Kuja. "Now I can finish him off!" She pulled out a dark red gem and held it high. "Come! Draconic Seedling! Bahamut, King of Dragons!"

A ball of fire flashed out of the gem and landed beside the ship. The flames spread in a perfect circle and rested on top of the water, like oil. After several seconds, a large, condensed ball of fire shot out like a bullet. It arced up and around, finally crashing into the water and sending waves in every direction. The fireball cooled against the water and rocketed forth. A pair of wings unfolded and flapped, gaining the dark shape altitude. It's arms and legs emerged quickly, revealing Bahamut, the King Eidolon. Wielder of Flare magic.

Brahne grinned at her sudden dominance.

XXXXXXXX

I could only watch, mouth agape, as the fire molded itself into a towering dragon. Bahamut was not the largest Eidolon I had seen, but he was the most intimidating. If he so much as glanced in our direction, we'd all be dead before we could get off the platform.

The others looked on the same way I did, though Dagger seemed especially interested. She held on to the stone in her hand tightly, brimming with determination.

Meanwhile, Bahamut slowly flapped his enormous wings above the beach. Kuja just stood still while the dragon opened its mouth wide. It glowed a light purple, energy pouring out like from a faucet, before the Dragon King let loose his fury. Several charged bolts of Flare shot out of his maw, aiming straight for Kuja.

However, the proud thespian did not move.

Bahamut's attacks hit the ground in exploding fury. Each attack blew up the beach and the surrounding area like a bomb dropped from a plane. Kuja was soon engulfed as the magic overtook him and his dragon. We lost sight of him under the fire and mushroom clouds.

As I watched, I could feel myself going numb. It wasn't because Kaiten was trying to take over though. It was fear. Pure, unrelenting fear. The other summons we had seen had been impressive, but other than Atomos, none of them had been all that frightening.

Amarant was the first to find his voice. "I've heard the stories," he said. "But I never thought summoning could be so powerful."

Dagger let out a loud sigh of relief. "Now… Now we can win! And Mother won't have to die! Eiko, don't you think…" Dagger paused for a moment as she noticed Eiko's look of concern. "What's wrong?"

"It's Mog," Eiko said, holding the young moogle in her arms. "She's terrified!"

"How come? Don't you know? That's the last eidolon, Bahamut, the Dragon King! He'll win for sure!"

I had to clench my mouth shut to keep from revealing too much. Only Kaiten and I knew the truth.

XXXXXXXX

Kuja had barely escaped most of the damage from Bahamut's attack by riding the silver dragon out of the area. The fire and the flames roasted the beaches behind him and turned the entire area to glass. He smirked at how he was able to escape unscathed, until he felt something wet on his forehead. He reached up and pressed against it. Pulling back, he now found his hand smeared red.

"Blood…" he realized. "Hahahaha... Excellent, Bahamut! Power, mobility… You truly are the best! You even hurt me… a little."

Kuja cleaned his forehead with his hand, casting a Cura spell on himself. "And you, Brahne… " he said, looking below again at the ants beneath him. "Your tragic role in this drama now comes to an end! I'm sure you'll enjoy the second act from your soul's hellish prison, since the stage will be your former home! The final act will take us away from Gaia, and I will kill my nemesis with my own hand! Hahaha! Everything is going according to plan."

Kuja spread his arms wide over his head. His big moment. Everything had lead to this point and his plan couldn't have gone any better. He relished his adrenaline rush as the dark clouds moved over the battlefield. The clouds soon covered most of the sky over the Iifa Tree.

In the middle of the cloud, obscured by the black wisps of smoke, came a gigantic orange eye. It practically reeked of power, blinking once. Grey skin covered it before the eye locked onto its target. A crosshair appeared over the orange eye before the secret weapon unleashed its attack.

From the dark clouds came waves of a mind-numbing screech. The Alexandrians were crippled by it and did whatever they could to cover their ears. However, it did them no good as they crashed about on the decks. The black mages that were still alive had toppled over, unable to defend themselves from the assault. Even Queen Brahne tried her best to cover her ears with her fat arms, but the sound simply penetrated through them. Only Kuja seemed unfazed by the attack. He brought a finger to his lips in anticipation of the climax of his little play.

Finally, the dark clouds subsided and the noise halted. Brahne could stand to move again. She looked up from her deck and began to order her troops to regroup, but was cutoff in mid sentence. She stared in terror as the enormous shadow passed over her ship. Suddenly, she knew what Kuja's mysterious sound had been for.

Bahamut flapped his wings slowly as he stared down Brahne. He grabbed the front of the ship and opened his enormous maw once again. Brahne quickly grabbed the garnet that had once controlled Bahamut and ordered him to halt, but she couldn't even hear herself over the monstrous eidolon's roar. It made no difference. Her words would have had no effect upon the Dragon King.

Bahamut charged up another flare. His mouth glowed briefly as he stared down his former master. Brahne only let out the faintest scream before her ship was vaporized.

The Alexandrians upon the other ships could only stare in abject horror. As their queen's ship exploded, they screamed in disbelief. After all this time, after all these conquests, Queen Brahne had fallen.

Their screams were cut short as well. Bahamut rose into the air once again and stared angrily at another of the navy's ships. The commanding officers ordered full retreats or to evacuate the ships. In the confusion, many soldiers fell overboard, some were trampled, and none of them knew what to do. They made easy targets as Bahamut's flame blew them into nothingness.

One by one, the Alexandrians' ships were destroyed. Bahamut annihilated one right after another. The ships that remained floating were covered with flames hot enough to melt rock.

Alexandria's entire military force, which had conquered three other countries, unlocked unknown black magic, and controlled the twisted, forgotten powers of the eidolons, had been destroyed in under thirty seconds.

With his job done, Bahamut rose into the air one final time. He twirled quickly and disappeared into the clouds. The gem that had once housed him was now occupied again, and rested in Kuja's hands. The proud thespian brushed a strand of hair out of his face as he and the silver dragon flew away.

A smile graced his lips as he made his exit.

XXXXXXXX

The battle had been over for hours by the time Brahne's escape pod finally washed up on shore. It was a small boat with a light frame and only one mast. Apparently, part of this ship could detach from the main ship and sail on its own. However, her crew was dead and Brahne was too weak to control it. It was only by luck that the wind blew her towards us.

Brahne laid dying on the deck. I would have made a joke about her looking like a beached whale, but Dagger stopped all of us when she stooped over her mother's body and started to cry.

I didn't like it. Even though Brahne was a wretched person and our sworn enemy, she was still the woman who raised Dagger. I felt disgusted as I watched. Half of me wanted to comfort Dagger however I could, but the other half wanted to kick Brahne in the face. In the end, I just left them both alone.

The others on the ship didn't seem to know what to do. Amarant was pacing the boat from bow to stern, finding the corpses and remains of any Alexandrian soldiers and tossing them overboard. Zidane and Eiko were sitting together talking. Eiko probably needed to be filled in on a few things. I saw Vivi standing alone, staring at Dagger while Brahne, still barely alive, caressed her cheek.

"Are you alright?" I asked him.

Vivi didn't respond for a while. I sat down next to him and rested my head on my hand.

"I hate Kuja a lot," Vivi finally said. He took a breath before he continued. "But I hate Brahne a lot too. So much that I wanted this to happen to her. I should be happy but…" Vivi started to choke up. He covered his eyes to stop himself from crying.

"Take your time," I told him. I put my hand on his back and gave his shoulder an assuring squeeze.

"I just…" Vivi started again. "Once I saw Dagger starting to cry, I didn't know how to feel. It almost makes me want to cry. I mean… what am I supposed to do?"

I couldn't relate to Vivi's predicament exactly. I knew this was going to happen and I had to suppress some level of joy that I was feeling. I was the one who predicted where the boat was going to wash up. I felt some responsibility, but other than that, I wasn't too sure myself.

"Vivi…" I began. "None of this is easy. I agree that we should be happy that Brahne is dead. Hell, I wanted to drive a sword into her too, but it wouldn't have been worth it since it would only hurt Dagger."

"But that's just it!" Vivi said. "If it weren't for Dagger, we would be celebrating, wouldn't we?"

"Probably. Just try to keep your distance. She's going to need some time alone after all this."

"Isn't there anything we can do to help her?"

I searched my mind for a moment, wondering if there was in fact anything we could do for her. A party or a round of drinks wouldn't do anything. Nor would saying, "Sorry for your loss". In the end, I came up with nothing.

"No," I finally answered. "Not a damn thing."

"I'm so confused," Vivi said. He hugged his knees tightly.

"Just be glad that our enemy is dead, but sad that Dagger's hurt. Okay?"

Vivi nodded slowly.

"Good."

The sun was setting in the distance. The sky was beginning to color itself in shades of red and orange. It did a good job of covering the fires on the three ships in the distance that still hadn't sunk. We were going to have to make it back to Alexandria sometime soon.

I heard footsteps and looked up to see Zidane walking towards me.

"Trevor," he said. "We need to leave soon. We'll have to get Dagger to Alexandria so she can become the new queen."

I looked down the deck and saw Dagger sobbing over Brahne's corpse. The queen had died in the last minute, leaving Dagger as the sole heir to the throne of Alexandria.

"I need you to check the stores inside the ship and take inventory," Zidane said.

"Good idea," I said. "What about a pilot? Can you get us out of here?"

"Airships are harder to steer. This little thing shouldn't be a problem for me."

"Alright," I said, standing. "We should leave ASAP. Let's just hope we have some food on board."

I walked down the deck, passing behind Dagger. I stopped for a moment and looked at her. I wanted to help her, to make her stop crying, but I stopped myself and pulled my hand away. I kept walking, hating the fact that I was powerless at the moment.

The storage room under the deck was bigger than I thought. Barrels and crates of emergency supplies and food lined the walls. There were a few med kits in a closet next to the stairs, not that we would need any with two white mages on board.

"That was much more impressive than I thought it would be," Kaiten said. "Eidolons… We had heard about them on Terra, but most people just considered them a pagan myth."

Worried about what we'll have to face next?

"Very. I don't know if anything will change, but even if the storyline stays on track, we're in for a hell of a time."

Yup. I sighed. At least we're prepared for it.

"But the eidolons aren't my biggest concern. What worries me more is that Kuja took an attack from an eidolon and came out with only a scratch."

And from Bahamut too, one of the strongest eidolons around.

"That can only mean that Kuja's stronger than an eidolon."

Yup. Any ideas?

"It will have to wait until we reach Alexandria," Kaiten said. "It's time I started training you."

XXXXXXXX

Epilogue

There was an eerie silence in the white room deep within Trevor's mind. A foul wind blew across the room with a howl. It came from the hole in the floor that led to the deepest recesses of Trevor's subconscious.

Inside the hole, the book containing the forgotten memories of his mother laid open, imprinting itself upon the rest of Trevor's mind. It seeped through the bloody field like a parasite, burrowing its way along the ground. The burrowing tunnels simply led themselves into the blackness, out of sight and deeper into Trevor's mind.

However, one led towards the second lump under the caked blood next to the book of childhood memories. The tunnel vibrated and spasmed until the blood holding the second lump shut broke open. Shards of dried blood flew everywhere, revealing a second memory book, forgotten alongside the first book.

The second book opened and it too began to slowly imprint itself on Trevor's mind.

The book was simply titled, "Repressed Hatred".

XXXXXXXX

Book 2: Anger, complete.

Book 3: Destruction, coming soon…