Any beliefs expressed throughout my story are not my own. They are simply unique to the characters and their personalities. Just wish to clarify that.
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy or anything related to it. If I did, FF12 would already be getting a direct PS2 or PS3 sequel. I also don't own any other anime, manga, or game that I take elements or characters from.
"Blah" = talking
"Blah" = thoughts, writing, sound effects, or flashbacks
(Blah)= scene change
"So fire, ice, and… lightning?"
"Yes. The core of a Black Mage's arsenal is comprised of those three elements." A Hume Black Mage replied, three fingers standing erect on his outstretched hand as a visual aid. "Each complements the failings of the other two. They are the foremost trio in offensive spell casting..."
He went on speaking, gathering a writing utensils and sheets of paper that lay strewn between the numerous books covering the table. The boy beside him, a healthy-skinned, chocolate haired Hume, did his best to keep up with the lecture, finding an unknown sense of vigor and interest in the mage's choice of topic.
Kanin Heldig watched the two from the opposite side of the table, an introductory book to White Magic lay bare in front of her and thoughts absentmindedly wondering about where in the entirety of the St. Galleria library her father could have disappeared to, not to mention what was taking him so long to return.
Those same thoughts vanished in seconds as her attention came to focus on the genuine smile gracing Luso's face, a mirth dancing within his eyes' cerulean confines the likes she'd rarely if ever witnessed before. Crow, on the other hand, seemed much more aloof. The near monotone of his voice began to melt as the lecture went on, gestures becoming more animated with hopes of increasing effectiveness.
The sight was almost like a picture to her, a candid scene, itself failing to accurately portray the sense of veiled camaraderie and warmth it depicted.
She couldn't help but bear a soft smile.
A warm memory in the blackest night…
Together, we destroy each other
Ravaging like beasts, searing flesh
Apart, we wander
Aimlessly, longing for sanctuary
Chapter Fifty Five: Ambicide
Luso kept his eyes trained on Crow, not even allowing himself the leniency of blinking. Every bit of him was on edge; every minute movement that the Black Mage brought small pockets of alarm, but with the silent passage of time, he forcibly relaxed himself. Becoming too tense against an opponent of this caliber could spell disaster.
The spellcaster showed no emotion on his end, remaining noiseless. The crackling of the magical flames built up in his hands drowned out the soft buzzing of the lights high above as well as the quick footsteps of the commander and Barley, who had since abandoned stealth until they were out of the mage's range. Crow entertained the thought of pursuing the two escapees, but against all three, he knew he wouldn't stand a chance. It would be better strategically to at least hold one back.
And judging by the size of his aura, the most dangerous one of the three.
"So it's really going to come down to this?" Luso uttered at last in a subdued voice, snapping the mage's attention to his face.
"You and I were on opposite sides from the beginning, two soldiers in someone else's war. It was always going to come down to this, Luso Clemens."
"We didn't have to be." The Fighter retorted sharply, keeping his tone. "Do you honestly even like Khamja, Crow?"
Vacant yellow eyes didn't alter in the slightest, but Luso could feel—or that he'd liked to have felt—that the mage was looking away in shame. "Whether or not I like it, I will do what I have to."
"You don't have to do anything. You choose to."
"No, I do have to. It is my responsibility to find him. I have spent my entire life crawling after this one man and even if it means having to sacrifice you and your clan to do it, then…then…" Crow stopped, choking back words and angling his head towards the ground. Then, it came swiftly up, a renewed sense of determination despite his face's static expression. "No. No more debate. No more discussion. Ready yourself."
Luso eyed him carefully, keeping on full guard. Then, he started out in a small voice. "I don't know what your plan is, Crow, but if anything I know that if you have to sacrifice my family to do it, then there's nothing good about it. I will stop you myself."
At that, the flames building up in the mage's hand gradually began weaken until the last few sparks faded into nothingness. The entire time, Crow hadn't removed his attention from Luso, whose own aura had grown in near proportion.
The two continued to stare for a good fourth of a minute. Then Luso, narrowing his eyes, broke into a full speed run. Both blades were held out evenly, handles hidden under robe sleeves and ready for whatever his opponent my throw at him while that same crimson robe flared out behind him. Drawing close, the more familiar Atmos Blade was the first to take initiative at first blood, drawing in and sprouting forth in a lunge.
Even as that was taking place, Crow's trusted rod, a conglomeration of metal overlapping steel-strength petrified wood, leaped out of its resting spot in his belt loop. Simultaneously, he took a measured step backwards and brought the rod around in a swing, knocking away Luso's weapon and sounding off the first metallic ring of the encounter.
An attempt at the second followed the trail of the first, with the Flametongue coming around from the other side just as the Atmos departed. The spellcaster had already anticipated this, and took his second step back, watching the blade's edge pass by mere inches away from his face.
From this position, Luso was off-guard and off-balance and Crow could see no greater chance to score a hit. His rod came back from the initial block into a counter-swing of his own. Luso wasn't quite sure if it was reflexes, a weird side effect of his aura, or the heightened awareness brought by his Mist channeling that caused him to bend over backwards to dodge, and he honestly didn't care which at the moment. His main concern became recovering from the haphazard evasion quickly enough to prepare for any follow-up.
Follow-up came, with Crow's free hand on the move, palm thrusting forward and bursting over with flames much like it had been earlier. Luso instinctively knew at that point that there was no chance of escaping the blow entirely, and he inadvertently froze up, wincing.
Then, just as the flames would have smashed into Luso's face, Crow's hand stopped in its tracks. Luso's eyes flicked open, the mage's extended arm trembling before him. The Fighter acted more on instinct than anything else in that moment, hastily swatting away his adversary's arm with the flat of his blade, eliciting a strained grunt before scrambling backwards and gathering his bearings. Crow killed the fire magic at that point, taking a few calming heaves and continuing to stare at his palm, as if in disbelief of what he had almost done.
What he would have done.
His attention diverted back to Luso. The boy was now in his preferred battle stance again, aura the same strength since the start of the exchange. This time, however, the Flametongue was sheathed in full, and two hands held the pulsing energy rising from the Atmos in check. Crow's sight flicked up to the Hume's eyes and studied body language; an uncanny mix of determination and uncertainty, two seemingly unmixable qualities on full display.
The adolescent raised his now singular blade mid-assessment, allowing a wild howl to escape his maw as the brilliant crescent shaped form of an Air Render did the same from his weapon. The action surprised Crow, not aware that the boy had even learned the skill, and it was all he could do to throw himself in a roll to the side to avoid the energy's screaming wrath. The blast continued into the wall behind him, leaving a huge gash in the wall and tearing through the balcony at the site.
Coming up from his roll, Crow spun his arm towards Luso's direction, calling out 'Blizzard' as he did so. Two fist-sized shocks of blue energy leapt from his hand one after the other, barreling towards the boy. The motion was so fast that the first barely scraped by Luso, passing just beside his left side and under his raised left arm. The second fared much better, having been aimed slightly higher than first, and collided dead center with the Hume's bicep. Ice flared out in tandem with cry of pain, leaving Luso's entire upper arm and shoulder encased.
The spellcaster took the chance and charged forward, hand already gathering a second round of the cryonic energy. Luso did his best to ignore the pain writhing through his arm, sending out multiple stabs and slashes with his free arm as Crow drew upon him. With the Fighter's growing pain and restricted movement with his opposite arm, the mage found it a simple task to swipe his rod back and forth to pick off the attacks. Luso forced to gradually give up ground.
Suddenly, Crow stopped his advance and leaned back, letting a diagonal sweep pass in front. As it reached the trough of the motion, he brought his rod up and around to smack into Luso's side. The boy gritted his teeth to hold back the pain, and was unprepared when the mage followed up with an open palm thrust from his free hand, wreathed in the cold energy like his previous blizzard spell.
That energy detonated the moment it touched the boy's open chest in a torrent of frigid air and ice crystals, the force sending his feet skidding across the floor a good twenty feet. He recovered quickly, returning to a low crouched position just as he spied another blizzard on the way, Crow's hand rising to aim while feeling the cold sting of the ice covering his chest.
His frozen upper arm fought against its icy shackle enough to allow him to retrieve the Flametongue, and gathering his bearings, he bee-lined. Crow spotted the fiery blade, but made no effort to deduce a counter to it, instead aiming his next blizzard at Luso's current path. As the energy hit the floor a haphazard column of ice rose from the stone, its appearance like an explosion frozen in time.
The blade wielder stopped his run soon enough to avoid colliding with frosty spikes poking out, and began at circling around the ice to the right. Just then, a shadow leapt upwards from the other side of the ice spire, landing haggardly near the summit, a few meters away from the outstretched wing of an airship.
Before Luso could recognize it as Crow, the Black Mage blasted him with another salvo of blizzard, the boy just barely hanging onto his balance and weapons as the ice hardened around his leg. Unable to move, Luso looked up once more, gritting at the mage and cocking his arm back for another Air Render with the Atmos. The spellcaster wouldn't have it, though, and another blizzard spell encased his other arm, rendering it useless.
Then, Crow brought both hands together, cupped palms holding another glowing ball of energy, this time much larger than the previous ones. Luso's eyes grew wide with fear, and he struggled and thrashed against his icy bindings.
It was all to no avail. The mage's hands moved outward, and his cold payload unleashed in a bursting shockwave as he called out 'Blizzaga'. The moment the spell touched the Hume's already frozen chest, a near solid white explosion engulfed the area. A chaotic mesh of gargantuan pillars of ice tore upward and out, throwing glacial dust in all directions, managing to layer over the spellcaster's gloves even with his distance.
The aftermath had to have been at least twenty feet in diameter, a collage of spikes and blades of ice encasing the barely visible form of a Hume boy within, frozen in body and time.
Crow stared at his work for some time, chest heaving from the effort he had just expended. He hadn't had much practice in the third-tier ice spell, just enough to properly cast. It was a risky move for sure considering how small his magical reserves were in proportion, but it was neverless necessary to ensure Luso's imprisonment.
With a curt crouch he hopped down onto the floor proper, the air much colder from the magic-born ice around. He regarded the chilled structure for a few last seconds, his panting now nothing more than a sigh. From there, he turned around, straightening out the hat atop his head and heading towards the door Barley and the commander had entered.
"It's over, Luso Clemens. In the end, even you were not enough."
Then, amidst the silence, broken only by his own retreating footsteps, he heard a crack.
He spun around in surprise, laying eyes on the fissure the noise originated from. Second by second, moment by moment the ice continued its splintering, wafting steam beginning to rise from the cracks. Ice began melting in places, specifically in inlets closer to the frozen Hume's position, causing Crow to begin gathering an orb of fire magic in his left palm, rod brought to bear in the other.
The mage could just see something near the center, something moving around the now once stationary human form inside. The silhouette of Luso's arms thrashed against their encasings until freedom was granted at last, and the ice around him began to melt away into vapor both within and without.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Crow readied himself, gazing earnestly as a round, person-sized whole began to melt in the ice's side closest to him, jutting spikes dispersing into pools of water onto the ground below. The same pools sizzled as a Hume foot touched down onto them, it and the body's remainder cloaked in flickering flames most notably concentrated around the crimson Flametongue in his hand.
"I already told you before, Crow. I will be the one to stop you, no matter what." The flames faded slowly as he spoke, allowing Crow to receive a clearer vision of his form once more. Much of his chest and legs not covered by either the crimson robe or his overalls held some signs of skin tissue damage from improper rewarming.
"Backdraft…" The mage correctly pinpointed the Flametongue and its subsequent skill as the source of the flames, but noticed a few oddities. From the Fighters he'd encountered before, most applied a layer of aura over their form to protect from total self-incineration, but the boy seemed to have nothing of the sort.
Crow snapped his attention back towards Luso suddenly, instinct overriding rational thought as his body bent backwards in one swift motion. The luminescent trail of an Air Render passed over his head, clipping the outstretched brim of his hat, and the wind displaced by the attack muddled his balance, pushing him down onto the floor.
He heard the sound of the attack crashing into the wall far behind him, acting as a sort of trigger to return his attention to the danger stalking towards him. Crow scrambled to his feet, watching through his haste as a grim determination twisted Luso's normally amiable face.
The boy's right arm was already cocked back for another salvo, voice low and eyes flashing back and forth between gold and cerulean, as if battling for dominance. "If you keep holding back, I'm going to break you."
His arm became a blur, sweeping from side to side near instantaneously, concentrated aura blasting from its tip. The Air Render came in low this time, an effort to clip at the Black Mage's shins, but Crow was already standing by that point, and a leap into the air placed him well out of harm's way.
At the same time, his arm extended outward towards the Hume's position, blasting out the orb of fire magic he had built up, the recoil of which knocked him backwards in midair. Unfortunately for him, Luso had been moving the moment the Air Render left his blade, anticipating a counter, and was now moving in to initiate a close range fight. Something Crow would like to have avoided, especially as a mage against a Fighter.
Of course, he rarely got what he wanted, and now was no exception. The boy came in fast, slashing and stabbing without any real fluidity, just where he thought he should. Blades had definitely been a different weapon than the usual wooden katana he had grown up with, but even without solid finesse, the two working together managed to place the mage on the defensive.
A particular low-aimed double chop at his knees gave Crow the opportunity to increase the distance. He leaped up and over, turning his body into a front flip that touched down a yard behind the boy. However, Luso carried the momentum from his chop into a tight spin, slashing at the spellcaster's landing zone. Crow escaped by a hair's breadth, his wizard hat receiving two deep nicks as he landed, and his body moved into a second jump to avoid any follow-up.
Crow darted across the floor and Luso watched him kill his steps, turn, and direct the momentum upward, ascending up to the wing of the airship and effectively gaining the high ground. The boy knew his control of channeling wasn't advanced enough to get him that high, so he'd have to improvise. While moving, though, as Crow took advantage of his position to pelt him with numerous fire spells, having obviously abandoned any blizzard attempts.
The boy soon spotted his quarry, the Blizzaga aftermath that, while mostly melted, still held some form for him to use. A fiery explosion behind him initiated his jump onto the frozen structure, feet skidding for a split second as he bunched his legs, the pushed off once more, rotating his body to extended his landing zone. Near the end of his rotation and the beginning of his descent, he spied the mage already aiming, turning his head away as the flame magic leapt from his hand.
The orb exploded on contact with Luso's falling body, wreathing it in flames and smoke. Crow could only wince as he heard the boy's body connect with the wing's steel, but then quickly turned as he realized the sound wasn't as hard as it should have been. There he saw his opponent, menacing gaze and still ablaze, rising from his crouch as if the fire had no effect. Like a demon.
"Flame Robe." It hit him. "That's why the Backdraft—"
Then Luso slashed at him. Crow brought his rod up and barely managed to knock the blow away. In seconds, the room filled with a continuous stream of metallic rings. His brown haired opponent seemed determined to keep the battle focused on direct combat.
Dodging a large swing, the mage aimed a quick blast of fire at the Hume's feet. The ruse, while failing to harm Luso in anyway, neverless managed at causing him to back off and shield his eyes. Even impervious, reflexes still held strong sway. Crow capitalized on the good fortune, leaping back and sliding his rod through his belt loop. Without a wasted second, he extended his index and middle fingers on both hands, then began gathering energy at those points while rotating straightened arms in various patterns.
Luso slashed through the smoke ahead of him, wind clearing away the plumes and allowing him to see numerous tendrils of bluish-white electricity form in his motions' wake.
As Crow yelled out 'Thunder', a thick, jagged fork of lightning exploded from his fingertips, snaking its way towards Luso. In retaliation, Luso thrust his Atmos Blade forwards to intercept it. The electricity coiled around the blade. Its tempered steel absorbed every bolt until it began to glow white, the insulated rubber handle the only thing keeping Luso from frying his hand.
"This…this kid…" The caster watched him in disbelief, electricity dissipating around him and breathing heavy. His continued use of spells was beginning to leave him drained. "The lightning element Atmos Blade as a lightning rod, the Flame Robe for fire and protection against Backdraft, and the Flametongue for ice. You…you prepared specifically to face a Black Mage."
The layer of sweat on Luso's skin, a mix of general fatigue and heat from fire spells, exposed his exhaustion as well. "I prepared to face you. Wasn't going to just let you walk all over me."
Crow's intial lack of response ushered in a period of silence, allowing the two to size each other up for a few seconds. Then, the mage slowly raised his forearms and turned his palms inwards. Luso braced himself for whatever was going to come next. Two separate magical glows, one the blue calm of ice and the other the intense passion of fire, formed on either palm, the mage making sure to hold them apart.
He gazed at his two glowing palms, then slowly raised his head so that his adversary could just see his yellow eyes peeking out from underneath his hat's brim. "No, Luso Clemens. Fire, ice, lightning; you prepared to fight a Black Mage…"
As he spoke, Luso began to feel several gusts of wind blow around him, at first just lightly brushing against his skin but growing in force as the seconds went on. He entertained the thought of rushing now, but the sheer force of magic the mage was conjuring sent alarms ripping through his channeling heightened senses, and he dared not act against them. He would wait for whatever came his way.
Crow's words came out low and menacing. "…but you didn't come prepared for me."
His palms thrust forward, perpendicular to the ground. Immediately, a ring of wind formed around Luso, forceful gales whipping at his robe and other loose articles of clothing. Eventually, it gained enough strength to separate his feet from the ground, and he let out a grunt as it lifted his body from the airship's wing and over the side. He barely managed to correct himself midair, absorbing the impact with his feet before landing his backside on the ground.
His eyes veered up to see Crow looking down at him, hands still glowing their respective colors. He clambered to his feet, and was immediately moving as he noticed another ring of wind forming at his feet.
This time, the wind didn't stay stationary, following his path under Crow's guided direction and absorbing particles of stone and dust as it grew in force. Luso dashed with all the force he could muster, but he already knew he was reaching his limits, and the strain from his Mist Channeling was beginning to grown on him. The miniature cyclone, now only dwarfed by the warehouse ceiling, easily sucked in Luso's lightweight body.
Thrown and tossed about by the rampaging winds, the boy by some chance managed to steel his resolve, his Atmos Blade charging up in preparation for an Air Render. At this point he wasn't sure what direction he was facing and he was too jostled to really see, but the blood rushing to his brain made him decide on aiming in the direction of his head.
The crescent shaped aura lance soared downward, splitting the cyclone down the middle and causing it to dissolve, sending air in every direction. Now free and descending, Luso looked down to notice he was just above the airship wing on the opposite side, directly across from Crow's position. The mage himself was now wheezing, gloved palms fading to their original color and body bending over in overexertion.
The Fighter stumbled as he landed, just succeeding in his crouch enough to not fall over. Crow was standing straight again by that point. Both males locked eyes again, and Luso was the first to speak, staggering to his feet.
"How did you…you shouldn't be able to…what was that?"
"The basis of fire and ice magic, heat and cold." Crow offered to explain during the lull in fighting. "Heating and cooling specific areas of the air allows me to create and direct drafts, amplify them with magical energy. Synthesizing aspects of two spells to create a new one. Spell synthesis. I devised the theory and experimentation on my own. I have already transcended the limits of the Hume Black Mage you came ready to fight, Luso."
He paused for a moment, breathing again, then continued. "Not only that, I can already tell. It's taking everything you have to stand up right now. The tenacity you started out with has slowly but surely been fading away. You won't be able to keep up much longer. Now it's over."
"Speak for yourself." Luso spat back, giving his opponent a once over. "I'd say you're on your last leg too. It's still anyone's game."
"Game…game?" Crow's voice grew darker, and a layer of frost began building up on his left palm while a heated glow radiated from the other. "Do not so lightly throw that word around. I have sacrificed everything, every last sliver of my pride for this ambition, and I will see this through to the end, no matter what."
Meanwhile, Luso resheathed his Atmos Blade with a flourish and placed a second hand on his Flametongue. He knew he wouldn't have enough aura to keep throwing out Air Renders. His best shot was taking him down in this last hit, pouring everything he had into it.
Then Crow's tone retracted, forcibly calming himself into an audible whisper. "This is not a game, Luso Clemens. This is an execution, and it has now reached its end."
"I don't care about your stupid ambition!" Luso growled out, voice now more feral than anything. It needed to be, especially over the roaring flames encasing the boy and surrounding area. "Your ambition is trash if you have to kill innocents to accomplish it, and I'm going to destroy it! Do you hear me! I will utterly break it down!"
With that, he blasted forward, his steps actually leaving a large trail of fire in his wake. His body was wreathed in a shell of fire from head to toe, and his channeling blasted out in full like afterburners.
"Let's see you try!" Crow's voice had lost all calm by that point. His hands flew up one last time, the synthesis beginning a final ring of wind on the airship's steel wing which eventually ascended into a third cyclone much wider than its predecessors.
Luso didn't care. His path was set. Seeing the wall, he made one last push forward with every bit of excess energy he could muster to collide head on with the swirling drafts. The force tore the cyclone apart at the base, wind once again spreading out and scattering dust and small chunks of debris skidding across the room.
Crow didn't relax at the contact, and proved prepared for when Luso burst from the smoking aftermath, his flames blown away but his tenacity as fiery as ever. The mage's rod sprang from its loop again, finding its way into a double grip. Frost coated the rod instantaneously, flash freezing into a thick layer of ice that even jutted from the tip like the blade of a rapier.
The Black Mage looked up from his book at Luso's words, Kanin doing the same from her position on the far side of the table. Both regarded the boy with a curious air, the blonde's unveiled face more noticeable, and at some length, the spellcaster broke the confusing silence with a reserved voice.
The two immediately began trading blows, ducking, twirling, slashing, most of the time ignoring obvious attacks in favor of scoring a hit. The two were moving, impossible to see from afar in any detail, the scarlet red of Luso's blade and cold blue layering of Crow's rod forming colorful blurs in their wake. Neither were particularly being pressed back. One moment Luso would backstep, give ground, then press forward on the offensive; the next Crow would do something close enough.
Gashes and cuts grew in number as they lost track of time or completely discarded their concern for it. Crimson liquid began to soak them, soaking at least part of every article of clothing on their person.
None of that mattered though. Not to them. Not now. All that did at that single moment was victory. Complete, total, enthralling victory.
"You're a pretty cool guy after all."
And maybe each other.
Their weapons batted each other away, both stepping back at the sudden draw between them, but the gap closed just as fast. Their weapons lanced forward, sharpest point leading and near unearthly howls sounding until their voice crumpled from the strain.
Luso and Crow coughed blood in tandem, each combatant suddenly wrenched back from his adrenal, bloodthirsty high as sharp edges punctured their clothes, their skin, and slipped out their backs just as hastily as they had entered.
Well that was record time on my end. Chalk it up to having this fight planned out since chapter one, but neverless a speedy effort. This honestly turned out better than I had first anticipated, so I'm happy with that, but I suppose it's more for the readers to decide.
This fight was actually a personal milestone for me story-wise, so I'd like to thank each reader for sticking with me so far. I can't pinpoint how many chapters there will be in total (in the neighborhood of one hundred fifty to two hundred), but I hope each of you will enjoy the ride.
As always, until next time!