Disclaimer- I don't own any of the Final Fantasy Characters in this story.
Author's notes: This is it. The final chapter of Book 3. Truth be told, it almost wasn't created. Writing the section in the middle when Trevor meets up with the others was so hard to plot out and took so many rewrites that I nearly gave up on it and took another month off. Good god! I couldn't even make up my mind with what I wanted to do with it for two weeks! I ended up staying awake until 2 AM rewriting it over and over again until I felt that I could accept it. But, in the end, I think I found a solution which satisfied my want to advance the story correctly and concisely, and keep you guys on the edge of your seat…
And by that I do mean an evil cliffhanger. :D What can I say? I'm an asshole.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We should all be celebrating this glorious month of December for one special reason…
IT'S THE 5TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF SHATTERED MIND! WHOOOOO! XDXDXD
Oh, and Christmas too, whatever that is. :P
Seriously though, I can't thank you guys enough for staying with this story. As I say ever year in these large speeches (that I imagine most people are skimming or skipping entirely anyway XP), its all possible because of your continued patient support, even through every evil cliffhanger that by right should have earned me a felony charge by now. :D
Oh, but this year is different. Remember last month when I said had two presents for you guys? I lied. I have three! And remember a few paragraphs ago when I said I had difficulty thinking of how to write this chapter? Well, two of those gifts are within the story itself, one of which being something that you guys have been waiting for, for months, if not years! I did my best within the constrains I'm bound by, but you'll know what I mean when you read it. And before you ask, yes, the second gift is the cliffhanger. No you can't return it.
Oh, but what's the third gift? What can I possibly give you guys outside of this story? Well, get your e-readers ready. Remember how I told you guys to get an ebook for Christmas last chapter? Well, guess why that would be? If you guessed it's because I'm buying you all a cruise to the Caribbean, then I'm afraid you're just an idiot. :P
Yes, my ebook is nearly done. I'll be taking a break from Shattered Mind for January to complete it, but that's not the special part. This is…
You guys have been reading these stories for a very long time. Months for most of you, years for some of you (extra special thanks to the latter group), telling me what you like, what you don't like, what works and what doesn't. You guys are the reason my writing has improved as much as it has, as well as my understanding of character and literary theory.
So, to say thanks, you guys are getting an extra special discount on my ebook as soon as it comes out! It currently stands at 30 pages on a normal word document and is some of the best work I've ever produced. I'll let you guys know the second it comes out and, once it does, if you buy it in the first week, you will be able to buy it at a low, low price.
This is a discount I'm only giving to you guys, and my parents. That's it. My friends on Facebook? My buddies at work? Everyone else I can rope into it? It'll cost them a couple of bucks. You guys? For being so awesome and sticking with Shattered Mind over the years, won't have to pay a cent. Or a pence. Or a… whatever your smallest local currency amount is. :P This story does attract attention outside the United States after all. XD
Now, keep in mind I don't know how to set the pricing or any of the mechanics, so right now, it's kind of a "promise in the works", but if that plan falls on its face, then we go with the backup plan! Give me your email and I'll send you a copy that way! Don't even want to bother buying an ebook? Give me your email and you get it that way!
All I ask in return is that you guys tell everyone you know to buy it and not to give it away for free. I'm trying to make a profit here and buff up my writing portfolio with this project, so you could really give me a huge hand by advertising this to all your friends and relatives. :P
The first 10 callers will also get a 'making of' DVD, complete with twenty hours of extras, as well as a hilarious blooper reel!
…Okay, couldn't help myself with that one. But what's the ebook about, you ask? Well, I don't want this to go on too long here (since I know some of you are DYING to get to the review button XD), so PM me and I'll respond to any questions you may have and I'll include a summery of the story. HOWEVER, I will release a summery next month on the 9th, as part of the same chapter as my teaser for the next book.
And that's it. Essay's over. I only now just realized how long this is and how late it is. I'm going to bed.
Hope you guys liked the chapter regardless of my waning sanity and lengthy speech. :P
And now for the next record-breaking chapter, I give you… 19000 words and 49 pages of awesome! You might want to get that snack now and hit the bathroom before you get too into it. XD
So, without further ado, please enjoy the 6th Year Anniversary, the end of Book 3 Destruction, the longest Shattered Mind chapter to date, the gifts to you, and two chapter titles! XD
Chapter 18- My Name is Trevor McEvoy. I Have Been Deceiving You. (Project Soulforge's Results)
"And you're sure this'll work?" Kaiten asked as we drove the Silver Dragon jet through the dull gray sky. His knowledge of flying was about as accurate as my own, but I had lots of experience in flight sim video games. Even though our start was bumpy, I soon got used to the control stick. The throttle and speed were controlled by a pair of foot petals, which made piloting as easy as driving a car. The ride was awkward at first, but after an hour of flying, I was really getting the hang of it. Terran technology really was intuitive.
"I'm not sure of anything anymore," I said. "I'm supposed to be failing science classes in college, not fighting to save the universe in a video game with a Terran Spec Ops lieutenant stuck in my head."
"So you claim. But we are taking something of a risk here. The monkey and the others could easily overtake us."
"Don't worry, I'll make everything work out." I took a moment to adjust the new obsidian armor. It wasn't exactly built to fit me, so it shifted on me slightly, but I was sure I'd get used to it. I patted down the paper under my armor, double-checking that it was still there.
"I dunno," Kaiten said. "It still sounds like a stretch."
"Just trust me on this," I said. "I'll make it work. We just need to find them."
I just had to hope they hadn't advanced too far in the storyline.
Zidane couldn't believe it.
He wandered down the dark and gothic hallways. The walls were dark and intricately designed. It looked more like thousands of tree roots collected together and lined up side by side to make a tunnel. The large windows that broke between each few feet revealed an uncomfortable, glowing red light. He looked at it with disdain, hating what he had just learned.
He and the others finally managed to make their way to Terra, even after Trevor trashed their airship and escaped. They hadn't seen hide or hair of him since they arrived, but they swore to keep their eyes open. Cid even made a standing order that Trevor be captured or killed should any of them see him again.
After walking for half a day, they came across a small town, called Bran Bal, home of the Genomes. They were all surprised by what they saw, but Zidane was the most shocked since all the Genomes looked exactly like him, all with the same haircut and tails. The Genomes themselves didn't have souls or emotions, and therefore were generally unhelpful, but there was one young woman who stood out.
She was the one who drove everything to this point.
Zidane left to meet with Bran Bal's leader, Garland. He was a despotic old man with plans for absorbing Gaia into Terra. The plan was so ridiculous that Zidane refused to believe it when he first heard about it. However, Garland also had other information that Zidane didn't want to believe, but couldn't deny.
Like how he was created in Bran Bal.
And how Kuja was also a Genome. In a way, they were brothers.
Kuja was a failed experiment, and Zidane was meant to be his successor as the new Angel of Death, destined to serve Terra for the rest of time.
He couldn't believe it. All those friends he made on Gaia… the laughter, the shared tears… all for naught. He was meant to kill his friends for the glory and survival of an entirely separate planet! His destiny was the worst kind imaginable. At the end of their meeting, Garland cast a short spell on Zidane, knocking him out and deepening his depression.
Tormented by the news, Zidane secluded himself from the others. He locked himself in a room in Pandemonium, Garland's tower overlooking Bran Bal. However, the others found him, coming at him two at a time to talk him out of his foul mood. However, Zidane refused to listen to any of it. He walked away, leaving the others behind in the gloomy, twisted hallways.
His energy spent, Zidane leaned against the door in the very wide room adjacent to the halls. Secluded. Alone. He didn't need the others here. Oh how he wanted them closer, to accept him, but he knew it was too dangerous. If he was destined to kill them, then he wanted to create as much of a distance as he could to keep them safe.
"Just leave me alone," he spoke to no one in particular. "I don't want to trouble you guys anymore."
Zidane stood, using the last dregs of effort he had within himself. He walked with a limp, too tired to lift his left foot. "You're all a bunch of babysitting bastards."
He got to the center of the room, where the open roof let in more light. It was more diluted here, so it wasn't the uncomfortable red light from earlier, but there was still a slight tint of red. Zidane squinted up at the light, getting lost in it for the moment.
"But trust me… I know that I'm the worst bastard here."
A sharp roar let out through the wide room. In his depression, Zidane never noticed the shell dragon on the other side of the room. It was an enormous, lumbering beast that was more turtle than dragon. A shell covered the dragon's back with spikes, making it look like a house with a hideous face out front. A large bulbous chin completed the wretched picture.
Zidane didn't have the strength to defend himself, but he wasn't about to go down without a fight. He raised his daggers up to defend himself, but the ground shook with each step the shell dragon took. Zidane took the initiative and rushed at the monster. It was large and slow, so surely his agility would give him an advantage.
Zidane ran in close and gave a quick double-slash with both daggers along the monster's chin. They dug in deep, almost to the hilt. Zidane jumped back, pulling his daggers free as a thick trickle of blood streamed down the dragon's chin. However, the beast hardly noticed the injury and instead countered by bashing Zidane's entire body with a single swing of its chin. Zidane was picked up by the force of the blow and rolled several feet away.
With his mind too distracted by other things to be daunted, Zidane stood, getting his breath back as quickly as he could. He charged at the dragon once more, but this time, the beast took the offensive. It raised its massive paw in the air and slammed it into the ground, shaking the entire room and tearing up the floorboards. Zidane soon lost himself in the chaos and was forced to his knees. When he looked up, he saw the same paw coming down again, this time onto him.
With his strength gone, Zidane didn't have enough time to react. The clawed hand crashed down, slamming Zidane deeper into the hole the previous attack had made. His body wasn't crushed, but he hadn't entirely escaped the attack. The shell dragon moved its paw away, revealing a very badly beaten and bloody blond thief.
Zidane coughed as his lungs filled with blood. So, this is it? he wondered. At least I won't be able to hurt anyone…
As the dragon opened its mouth, revealing rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth, a strange blue light filled the room. A small orb appeared in the middle of the room. The dragon looked at the Holy spell curiously for a moment, and then the orb attacked. It fed a string of blue light out like a tendril, going straight for the dragon's face. The beast roared in pain as the blue tendril burned at its skin, forcing it away from Zidane.
Zidane only watched, amazed at his luck, as a soft, green light surrounded his entire body. Waves and lines of white magic enveloped him as the Curaga worked its magic.
With his wounds completely healed, Zidane looked back to the door, and saw the only friend remaining who hadn't yet come to cheer him up.
"Dagger?" he asked, too softly for her to hear.
"Is this how you solve the problem?" she asked angrily, grabbing him and pulling him away from the retreating monster. "I won't let you get yourself killed! I…"
Zidane looked up, glad to see her, but unsure why she was here. He noticed that her cheeks were red and puffy. Had she been crying? For him?
"Come on!" Dagger encouraged. "You can attack it while I keep you healed."
"I don't think I can do much," Zidane said. "Its skin is so thick that I don't think I can get through."
"Should I use an eidolon?"
Across the room, the Holy spell disintegrated, earning an irritated growl from the shell dragon. It looked back at Zidane and Dagger, then opened its mouth wide to consume them. It charged forth in an awkward, but determined march.
"I don't think you have time!" Zidane yelled over the crashing footsteps. "Get ready to run!"
As the dragon neared the halfway point, a strange noise echoed throughout the room. It wasn't quite like anything Zidane had every heard before, but part of it sounded like an engine from an airship. He didn't have time to search for the source before a pair of red beams shot into the room from the ceiling, targeting the shell dragon and instantly disintegrating the back of its neck. The monster roared in pain as its spine was destroyed and the red lasers continued to burn away flesh and bone.
Although grateful for it, Zidane questioned the sudden change of luck. He looked up to the sky to see the source of the beams and saw an airship hovering just above. It was smaller than any other airship he had ever seen, but with a unique design all its own. It was sleeked, black, and powerfully armed.
The beams halted as the dragon lay dead, nearly decapitated. Its head now hung off at an unnatural angle, bleeding very little thanks to the coagulating effect from the lasers' heat.
The airship maneuvered into the large room, positioning itself next to the dragon's corpse. The wind picked up intensely as the airship neared the floor. Zidane and Dagger covered their eyes as the dust blew in their faces.
The noise subsided after a moment, as did the dust subsequently. Zidane looked up and saw a man standing in the open cockpit wearing blue plate armor, unlike anything he had seen on Gaia before. He grit his teeth at the familiar face.
"Trevor!" he shouted. "What are you doing here?"
It took us another hour, but we were finally able to make it to Bran Bal. The large blue forest of artificial trees made the area easy to spot from far off. Each tree was basically a large stalk with a flattened mushroom head on top. Some trees had branches with smaller mushroom heads, but they all gave way when a small village opened up before us. All throughout the forest of fake trees, there was a soft blue light, except for around one of two towers just outside Bran Bal. There, a harsh, red light pierced the area.
There was very little in architecture to Bran Bal. The entire city was built on a plateau, with only two tiers to it. The first tier connected a bridge to a path leading deep into the forest. That must have been the way Zidane and the others came in. The second tier was set lower and encompassed the entire village. The city was circular, with a small blue lake in the middle and houses bordering the lake. The houses themselves looked more like huts with steeple crowns. I was bored of the place in seconds.
"Look at them all down there," Kaiten said. "All of them look exactly the same… I can't believe this is what my planet has been reduced to."
"Sad to say, but it looks like you're the last active soul from Terra," I said. "I'm sorry Kaiten."
"Don't be," he said. "You're the only one from your planet here too. We're in the same boat."
I chuckled. "Yeah, I guess we are."
I scanned the village below. Some of the genomes took notice of our airship, but their expressions never went beyond bored disinterest. What a sad life to live. Not having emotions must have been boring as hell. Then again, they probably didn't comprehend boredom.
"I don't see the others," I said after a moment. "You?"
"Nothing. Where did you say they were going after this?"
"Pandemonium. Garland's tower. The planet's not on fire yet, so they should still be there."
I looked up outside the village. Not far, there was a single tower rising over the trees, capped with a red dome. It looked like a tower out of Lord of the Rings that someone stuck a wad of gum on top of. I knew that part was his observatory though, where Garland monitored the passage of souls between Terra and Gaia as the worlds slowly merged.
"They've got to be heading to Garland by now," I said. "We'll have to cut them off."
"Right. Are you sure you won't botch that cover story of yours?"
"I'll be fine. Just keep your eyes open for them."
I started the ship towards Pandemonium. The only way there was through a magic portal, so I didn't see anything of a path until we reached a small brown building made of spikes and spires jutting out of the ground. It looked like it belonged in a comic book nightmare, but my first thought was that it was the building Zidane woke up in after confronting Garland. There was a long reticulated hallway leading up to the tower, so the possibility made sense.
"You think that's anything?"
"It has to be. Nothing else around here has any distinct features. I'm going in for a closer look."
The hallway itself was an odd structure. A thin stretch of halls would open up into a wide room, then close back up further on into a hallway again, only to open into another wide room, then a hallway again. The pattern repeated itself several times until we reached one room without any roof. It looked like something had crashed into it. I flew in circles around the structure, analyzing the inside.
"Think anyone's in there?" I asked. "I could always land and search on foot."
The building shook as something inside started moving. Something big. I thought the floor was shifting at first, but I took a closer look and saw a giant turtle the size of a house moving towards the other side of the room.
"What the hell is that?" Kaiten asked.
"I don't know, you tell me! It's your planet."
"Either way, it's…" Kaiten paused for a brief second before he yelled, "Trevor, down there! Other side of the room!"
I pulled the Silver Dragon around once to get a look at where the giant turtle was waddling. Backed up against the wall were Zidane and Dagger. Now I remembered! That monster was a shell dragon and it was the final obstacle before overcoming Zidane's depression.
Maybe I could help out and make a good impression.
"Kaiten, does this thing have weapons?"
"Probably," he said. "Most airships come with their own battery or two of missiles or lasers."
"Missiles would probably be overkill that close to Zidane and Dagger. Which button activates the lasers?"
"Try the red one, left side of the control panel, third row down. The writing underneath it is Terran for 'dual cannons'."
"Nice," I said.
I brought the Silver Dragon around once more, activating the jump jets and putting it in hover mode just fifty feet above the dragon below. My brief "lesson" when this ride started taught me which buttons and switches were safe to press, so I went straight to work.
"Activating jump jet systems and geo-stabilizers," I said, pushing several buttons while the lasers charged. "All systems normal. Maintaining orbit and acquiring target. Weapons armed and prepared to launch countermeasures."
"Stop that!" Kaiten yelled. "You're just shouting a bunch of pseudo-military gibberish."
"I'm piloting a damn jet armed with lasers! Let me have my fun!" Being a dork could be awesome sometimes.
As the jet hovered, a panel opened on the main dashboard. A targeting reticle appeared over the dragon below just as a confirmation tone sounded off. I pressed the button that Kaiten said fired the lasers. The entire airship rocked at first as a pair of thick red beams shot into the monster's neck.
"Holy—! That's our laser?" I blurted out.
"About what I'd expect from a ship this size," Kaiten said.
We looked through the panel as the lasers continued to eat away at the dragon's neck. Flesh and bone burned under the intense heat, until the monster couldn't scream anymore. It fell over, favoring one side as its head hung limp from a charred stump. It was a disgusting display, but I'd take that over dead allies any day.
"Alright, that's done," I said. I flipped a few switches on the dashboard and the jump jets slowly lowered down. I had to guide it in messily, avoiding the dragon, for the last dozen feet or so, but the landing gear deployed and we hit the ground with only a small bump.
I powered down the engines, halting the winds the jump jets were creating in the small room. Zidane and Dagger looked up at me, with anger and surprise respectively. I opened the cockpit, raising the windshield and standing in my seat, but I didn't get out quite yet. I had to know Zidane wouldn't attack me.
"Trevor!" he called out. "What are you doing here?"
"Fulfilling my second objective," I said.
Zidane's eyes widened for a moment before they returned to his previous glare. "So you are working with Kuja! Or is it Garland?"
"Garland is my next objective," I explained. "And Kuja's after that."
"Then why are you here? What's with that new armor? Why did you smash up the Hilda Garde III?"
"I told you that I would explain everything when we got to Terra, didn't I? Put down your weapons and I can talk."
"You think we'd trust you after everything you've done?"
I pulled both of my short swords by the pommel. Zidane adopted a defensive stance with his daggers while Dagger readied her staff. However, it was ultimately meaningless when I tossed both short swords towards Zidane. They landed at his feet, leaving myself unarmed.
"Now I'm defenseless," I said. "Can we talk?"
"What about that light show you used on the monster?" Zidane asked. "You're still in the airship."
I resisted the temptation to slap my forehead. He was being particularly stubborn today. Maybe the commotion I caused on the Hilda Garde III was worse than I thought. They must have been pretty pissed off when I escaped and damaged the bridge like that. Poor Erin though, having to pilot through those intense winds.
I leapt out of the airship, completely at Zidane's mercy. I held my arms out at my sides, doing my best to show that I wouldn't attack him.
"How about now?" I asked.
Zidane watched me for a moment, as if I were about to double cross him at any second, but he dropped his guard and kept his daggers by his side. I would have liked to think it was a sign of trust, but his weapons were still in his hands regardless.
"Fine," he said. "Just answer me this first: who are you? Who are you really working for?"
I had been preparing for this moment for a while. It was now or never. Nothing left to lose. "My name is Trevor McEvoy, I never lied about that. However, you could call me a kind of… Special Forces officer. I'm armed with information far beyond your grasp, and have been for months. Information that was previously only known to two high ranking Terran officials and myself."
Dagger gasped and Zidane grit his teeth, saying, "I knew it!" He took a step forward with his daggers drawn, ready to cut me down. I held a hand up to stay him.
"Wait!" I told him, raising my hands defensively. "Don't get the wrong idea. I don't work for anyone. Just for myself."
"Then why did you stay with us?" Zidane asked. "Why should we trust you if you ever worked for anyone from Terra?"
"I never worked for Terra," I said. It was the truth, for once. "I was experimented on by Terra and left to fend for myself. This armor you see? I stole this from one of the monsters responsible. Now I'm moving on to my next target, but he's much stronger. I need your help."
"Whoa, hold on!" Zidane insisted. "You were experimented on? By who? For what?"
I did my best to hide my grin as I saw my plan was working. "The experiment was designed to create a super soldier. Someone capable of fighting an entire army alone and coming out unharmed. Or, in my case, one individual, namely Kuja. I was meant to kill him, and to that end, my soul was twisted and distorted. In the end, the experiment worked, some side effects notwithstanding. That's why I'm the only one on the planet who can use Purple Magic."
"You make it sound like you were tortured," Zidane said. "Who did it to you?"
"The first man was a madman named Hart Innural. He's dead now. Filled in a lot of the blanks. I found him and stole his airship before I found you. The second was Garland. I'm pretty sure here's at the top of that tower back there." I pointed to the top of Pandemonium behind myself.
Zidane's eyes went wide. He and Dagger traded glances for a moment. I had to be careful of what information I fed them. They weren't ready to hear about Earth, but Kaiten? Were they ready for him?
"It can't be the same guy," Zidane said. "The way here was locked. How could he travel between Gaia and Terra?"
"Maybe he has some key to unlocking the portal between our worlds?" Dagger asked, cutting him off. "Trevor, are you sure you've seen the same Garland before?"
"Tall man, bald, long beard, black armor," I started to describe. "Red gem at the center of his chest. Sound about right?"
"Yeah, that's… that's it actually," Zidane said. "I can't believe it."
"I was experimented on in Dali," I explained. I was surprised that the information flowed as easily as it did. "When I was released, my captors ran off, presumably back here to Terra, and I had no idea what they had done."
"And that's when we found you tied up, right?" Zidane asked.
"And you already said this experiment made you stronger, but I've been thinking about Ipsen's Castle. Does this experiment explain how you knew where to go so suddenly? I mean, you knocked a platform down and led us right to the end. Do you know everything now or only random bits and pieces?"
"I wouldn't say I know everything," I admitted. "I think what little info I did know was from the experiment. Every now and then, I'd get this flash of insight, like this voice that was telling me what to do, you know what I mean?"
"Not really, but keep going."
"Right, well… I started thinking about everything and what the experiment had done to me. I realized that I had to find the two old men who did this to me and stop them from doing it to anyone else and stop them from whatever they had been planning. However, I also had to follow you guys and help you stop Kuja. It's just lucky that both our paths led us to Terra. Now I can finally let you know about all this."
"You could have just told us beforehand!" Dagger said. "Trevor, you were one of us! We would have listened!"
"Really?" I said. "Because I sure as hell didn't believe it at first! What would you say about me if I told you all of this in Lindblum? 'Oh, that makes sense. Some creeps from another planet thought I was special, so they experimented on my soul and made me into a super soldier at the cost of my sanity.' You guys would have dumped me the first chance you got!"
Zidane just shook his head. "So you… All this time, you had this terrible secret that you were keeping from us?"
I just nodded again. "At first, I just didn't want to bother you with my problems. We were kinda running away from Black Waltzes at the time and I didn't have a chance to really tell you about it. But after a while, it was just because I just got so used to being isolated with this secret that I wasn't comfortable talking about it at all. So, for being deceitful, you have my apologies."
Zidane looked at me in confusion. "So, when you started getting angry at everything for no reason?"
"That was a side effect of the experiment," I said. "Don't worry, I settled everything. You won't be seeing that side of me, unless the rest of you are laying dead or something extreme like that."
"And when the monster in the Iifa Tree said you had two souls?"
I paused for only a moment. This could have been the perfect chance to reveal Kaiten to them, but I decided against it. They already had enough information flowing that I didn't want to make my situation any more difficult to believe. "That might have been what the experiment was. That was my thought at the time anyway."
Dagger stepped up, staring at me hard as if she were having a hard time believing any of this. However, I saw her frown sadly as she stared deeply into my eyes. She walked over to me and we stood inches apart.
"So, what are you?" she asked. "Are you a college student like you said?"
"I was," I said, not clarifying at all. "I wanted to go back to my classes, but this mission of ours was much more important. I only had everyone's best interest at heart."
"So, you really did all of this to help us?" she asked. "You were part of this horrible experiment that hurt you, drove you insane, and you had to hide it all to yourself?"
I nodded. "I was worried that if you found out about the experiment early, then you wouldn't trust me and you'd try to get rid of me. If that happened, I couldn't stop Kuja or find the two old men. I guess that plan didn't exactly work out. Again, I'm sorry."
"No, you don't have to apologize," Dagger said. I thought she was about to cry for me. "You must have been in so much pain. It must have been so hard for you to endure."
"Hey, it wasn't that bad," I said.
"You're lying again," Dagger said. She took a sharp breath in and stepped in, embracing me. I was set off by the mood at first, but accepted it after a moment and returned the hug. The moment was warm and welcome. I felt truly accepted for the first time since I arrived to Gaia, like I never had to tell another lie to get along anymore.
"That's enough," Dagger spoke into my armor. "You don't have to burden yourself anymore. You've done so much to help us. We'll help you from now on."
I smiled at Dagger as she pulled back. "Thanks Dagger," I said warmly.
I never saw the slap coming.
"Ow!" I cried out, holding my face. "What was that for?"
"You know what," Dagger said, using every ounce of authority at her disposal in her voice. And since she was a queen, that authority was quite substantial. "You are never allowed to lie to us or run away from us again."
I rubbed my sore cheek and chuckled at her. "Yes, your highness."
"It's Dagger to you," she said, walking back to Zidane.
"So, what now?" Zidane asked. "What does your 'inner voice' say we should do?"
"Kill Garland and Kuja, what else?" I said. "We're close, and Garland's bound to be at the top of that tower. I don't know where Kuja is though."
"That'll have to work," Zidane said. "I'll go get the others and we can—"
Our conversation was interrupted as Steiner and Quina barged into the room. They must have grown impatient waiting for Dagger to return with Zidane and walked in to help. However, it was clear they had no intention to forgive what I had done as they took one look at me and drew their weapons. Even Quina looked angrier than I had ever seen him before.
Steiner was quick to come to Dagger's defense. He jumped between us and aimed his sword at me. "Your highness! Stay back!"
"Steiner?" Dagger cried out in surprise.
"You hurt friends and you hurt ship!" Quina shouted, flanking me to the right. "I not even eat you! I just kill you!"
Perfect. Now I had no weapons, backup plan, or time to get into my ship. I held my hands out to defend myself, as if it would do anything to stop a broadsword and a pointy fork.
"Guys, stop!" Zidane shouted. "He already explained everything to us. He was never working for Kuja!"
"Wha—?" Quina asked, dropping his guard. "But he attack us!"
Zidane crossed his arms. "I guess, we backed him into a corner." He gave me a subtle glance. I could tell he didn't trust me fully, and I wasn't sure he ever would again, but right now, what he gave me was enough.
"But Regent Cid gave us orders to capture or kill him!" Steiner argued. "I am duty bound to arrest this criminal!"
"Adelbert Steiner!" Dagger shouted, causing the knight to jump. "Put your sword down now! Trevor has been working for us this entire time!"
"But the Regent gave us a standing order," Steiner said. He lowered his sword, but not entirely.
"You're not in Uncle Cid's army, you're in mine!" Dagger ordered. "Now sheath your blade!"
Dagger folded her arms, giving him her trademark stern glare. Steiner didn't refuse her orders further and sheathed his sword without another word.
"What going on?" Quina asked, tying his fork back onto his belt.
"Yes, I'm curious as well," Steiner said. He turned to me and asked, "What exactly have you done to help us?"
I wanted to knock some sense into him, or maybe just call him an ingrate, but Dagger beat me to it. "I'll explain later," she said. "Right now, we need to find the others."
"As you wish," Steiner submitted. He walked out of the room with Quina right behind him.
"Zidane, are you coming?" Dagger asked as she started to leave too.
"I'll be right there," he said. "Trevor and I need to go over our next move first."
She looked at him quietly for a moment, then reached out and took hold of his arm, giving him a comforting squeeze. She smiled at him when he looked up, but didn't say a word. She didn't need to. She simply left to recover the others further up the corridors.
With just the two of us, Zidane knelt down and picked both my short swords up, carrying them over to me. "I believe you dropped these," he said.
I took them both and sheathed one of them. "Thanks," I said. "Sorry about that back there."
"You mean about abandoning us, wrecking the Hilda Garde III, going off—"
"No, I meant about stealing the spotlight between you and Dagger, but, yeah, those things too."
Zidane shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Dagger helped cheer me up before you got here."
"Good," I said. "We don't need a mopey leader now."
I walked over to a large stretch of floor and extended a Demon Saber. The floor was made of thick, but simple wood, so it cut easily enough. I began burning a simple floor plan into it, detailing the tower up ahead.
"You know, you've always been an inspiration to all of us," I said. "I don't know if the others told you that or not, but I always thought it was admirable how you were willing to put yourself in danger for the sake of others."
"It's nothing they wouldn't have done for me," he said.
"Perhaps, but it's still an all-too rare personality type. You've always been the perfect person to lead this team we have going. I hope you know that no one else could have united a group like what we have."
Truth be told, Zidane was a big inspiration for me growing up. I first played Final Fantasy IX when I was fourteen and still impressionable. Zidane became the perfect role model for me and I aspired to be like him. Hell, the reason I started growing my hair out in the first place was because of him! Meeting him in real life had been more fun than I had ever thought it could have been. I just wish this experiment didn't get in the way and ruin my reputation halfway through.
"There, finished," I said, withdrawing the Demon Saber and sheathing my weapon. "From what I can tell, there's still a quarter mile to the tower's base. Here, you can see that—"
"What is this?" Zidane asked when he saw my crude drawing.
"Battle plan," I said. "I might as well share what I know with you."
"No, I mean… what the hell is this? I can't make heads or tails of it."
I looked again at my "floor plan". True, it wasn't perfect, and in fact was hard to distinguish from random scribbling, but scarring things into the floor with a lightsaber wasn't exactly a common medium. It was a miracle that my sketch of Zidane on the 'info sheet' came out as well as it had.
"Just… bear with me, ok?" I asked.
"Fine. So what are we dealing with?"
"The tower, from what I could tell when I was flying around it, is about twenty stories tall. There's a large platform at the top overlooking the entire area. If Garland is anywhere, my guess is he's there, at the top of that platform. I'm going to fly up and meet you guys there. I don't want the others to nearly attack me like Steiner almost did." It wasn't a lie so much as it was a cover story. I needed to get ahead to confront Garland one on one. Kaiten was going to need some closure before we killed the traitor.
"Sounds like a plan," Zidane said. "So we'll see you at the top of the tower?"
"Unless I get shot down. Which I won't."
"Alright," he said. Zidane turned back to the door to join the others as I jumped up into the cockpit. I was about to start the engines again when the blond thief faced me again and said. "I'm sorry we doubted you. We were wrong to do it."
I just looked back at him and shook my head. "Don't be. You had every reason to suspect me."
Zidane gave me an understanding nod and grinned.
"Thanks Trevor," he said. "I'll see you up there."
"Aye," I nodded. "Good luck."
Zidane walked to the door and left the room. I sat back in the cockpit, closing the windshield as the engines started up and kicked more dust around the room.
"That was unexpected," Kaiten said as we lifted off. "I thought you were going to lie again. You told me you were going to assume my identity and play off their emotions."
"I was," I said. "But the more I thought about it, the less right it seemed. This way is at least a glimpse at the truth. I wanted to tell them everything, but I've pushed my luck enough as it is. Baby steps, you know? Maybe I can tell them about Earth sometime later."
"Hmm, maybe. It would be better not to scare them into rejecting you again."
I pulled the files I had written in Innural's lab from my armor. They contained documents on Zidane and Terra, which were no longer of any use to me. I grinned, elated that the truth had come out so cleanly, even if not completely. The others would get their chance to know the whole story though.
With the Silver Dragon clear of the room, I turned it up and soared straight for the top of Pandemonium. Garland had a lot to answer for…
It took us only moments to fly to the top of Garland's tower. The Silver Dragon was the fastest and most maneuverable piece of equipment I had ever laid my eyes on. Using its lasers to kill Garland probably wouldn't suit Kaiten very well, but it would make the job a hell of a lot easier.
"Just like before," I said as we circled the top, searching for a decent landing pad. "Once we get out, you wanna take over?"
"You couldn't stop me if you tried," Kaiten said. "I respected this man more than anyone else. He sent me in to fight ridiculously difficult battles and I went in without question. Maybe if I had challenged his orders in Ckelen-te-Clu, things would have worked to our benefit. Maybe we could have all survived, and then the others wouldn't have been killed and had their souls used like that…"
"It wasn't your fault," I reminded him. "Garland sold you out. He deserves every ounce of blame in this."
"I'm aware of that, but it still doesn't make this any easier."
The top of the tower was a large, flat surface which jutted out on one side of the entire tower, designed to overlook this section of Terra. From up here, you could see all the way to the edge of the blue forest and the artificial trees, which reached most of the way to the horizon. The upper deck was composed of several large circles carved into the floor, each ten feet in diameter with a spiral pattern embedded in them.
There, at the edge of the platform, overlooking Bran Bal, was General Arin Saiko.
The man stood tall, in black armor with a flowing cape. His attire contained a dark atmosphere about him, and only the red gem at the center of his chest gave him any appearance of life. His hair was gone, save for the sides and back of his head in long flowing elegance, matched in length and style by his beard.
I landed the Silver Dragon on the opposite edge, right next to what looked like the staircase leading up. Garland knew we were there, but didn't even turn to acknowledge us. As soon as the engines were off, Kaiten took over the body and opened the cockpit, landing hard with a single bound.
There was a long, dramatic silence between the two of them. Garland stood, facing away, as if he didn't even care that we were there. Kaiten, however, stood petrified and didn't say a word, as if he were too nervous to move forward. After being betrayed by someone he respected and trusted so much, I couldn't blame him.
"Kaiten?" I asked. "Need a hand here?"
No, he told me. I've got this.
"Sir," Kaiten finally said, stepping into the middle of the platform.
"Hello Lieutenant," Garland said, finally turning around. "I knew you would reach this point someday."
"Then why did you do it?" Kaiten asked, keeping his anger in check. "My team would have died for you, but not like that! How could you sell us out that way?"
Garland finally turned, but he had a saddened expression about him. "Lieutenant Saeis, please believe me when I say that my actions then were some of the most difficult I had ever had to do. Hart Innural had joined the Council of Vacles and insisted that he had the solution to our planet's growing problem. He had the math, the theories and the equipment to accomplish all that he promised. We were desperate to heal the planet and continue our existence as a whole."
"And in that desperation, you told them about my team and how we could all use Purple Magic?"
"No!" Garland shouted. "Hardly the thought. I never brought you or your team to mention! Innural found out about your exploits through an intricate spy system. When he suggested we use your teams' souls to power the life crystal, most of the Council approved. Sacrificing a few soldiers who were likely to die anyway to save a whole planet was an obvious choice for them, but I refused to give in to them."
Kaiten scoffed. "Until you did anyway!"
"You don't understand," Garland said, growing quiet. "I fought them and their ambitions for three years, hiding your team and keeping you on the move to protect you. The war was progressing as we had planned and I truly believed that letting the souls combat each other would cure everything. I had no way to know that I was wrong. I was finally backed into a corner and given no choice in the matter. Terra and all its people had to survive."
"But you still sold us out in the end," Kaiten said, finally moving his hands to the short swords. "I had the team follow your plan exactly. They were all slaughtered! For Terra's sake, Makareth died in my arms! Do you have any idea what that's like?"
Garland folded his hands behind his back and stayed silent. He only lowered his head slightly, as if in apology.
"I trusted you. My entire team trusted you, but you killed us! And for some reason, you brought Trevor into this! Was it not enough that you inflicted misery on only Terra? You had to move to Gaia and Earth as well?"
"I DON'T WANT TO FUCKING HEAR IT! You stole Trevor's life from him and murdered my team! And Trevor did everything he could to cover up after you! He lost his sanity, developed a psychotic personality that nearly killed us both, and lost the trust of everyone he knew on Gaia! He lost everything, and I lost everything! We are completely alone now! And for what? To kill Kuja? Something you could have done long ago! What gives you the right to destroy so many lives? We are not your damned toys!"
Garland stared hard at Kaiten, but the betrayed lieutenant wasn't about to back down. Kaiten once told me that General Saiko was like a father to him. I couldn't imagine my own father doing something like this to me, or what I would even feel like if he did. I watched helplessly, knowing there was nothing I could do to help him this time.
"I know," Garland said after a moment. "And I realized too late what a mistake it was. I had a duty, not just to my soldiers and my country, but as a member of the Council of Vacles, I had a duty to the entire planet. However, months after the betrayal, Innural told us that the experiment had been a failure. My planet was still dying, the war was still raging, and I had betrayed my best military team for nothing."
Garland shut his eyes and turned away. He couldn't even look at Kaiten anymore. His shame wouldn't allow it.
"I won't survive this day," Garland finally said, shocking Kaiten.
"What did you say?" Kaiten demanded.
"Kuja will succeed in his plans. At least for now." Garland turned his back to us and faced his observatory. The tower was almost as tall as the tower we were already in, but the last three stories were encapsulated in a large red sphere. Dark red veins grew from the base, making it look like a massive eye gazing up into the sky.
"My observatory has so much power," he said. "The citizens of Bran Bal believe that I use it to watch over them and to watch the stars, but it is not that kind of observatory. No, it is far more powerful than that. This technological marvel can watch the movement of souls. In some moments, it can even predict the future paths of some souls. After Kuja had escaped, I spent my time attempting to find him again. Much to my dismay, he was growing stronger, until I realized that his current path would mix with Zidane's and the two of them would come back to kill me.
"Eight months ago, I finally saw what Kuja's movements could only result in: the annihilation of Terra. He would kill me and ruin this world and its people. I took a desperate measure and reconvened with that wretched soul Hart Innural. I never trusted him, so I watched him closely over the past millennium. I knew he still kept your soul in stasis. It turned out he had been searching for a compatible match for your soul for a long time, so, I told him to use it, perhaps to intercept Kuja. If we put you together with Zidane, you would run into him, hopefully in combat, and I knew you would win."
Garland turned back to face us, this time though, with a depressed look. "I am so sorry Kaiten. I never meant for it to go this far."
Kaiten just stood in awe. For a moment, clouded in emotion, it seemed like Kaiten understood everything that his old general was saying, as if it were reasonable. Kaiten had to take a deep breath to hold back a tear, running a hand over his face as if to hide himself. Even now, he wouldn't allow himself to show weakness.
"Your experiment was flawed," Kaiten said. "Trevor was left mostly in charge of the body since he was in it first, and he could best me in the subconscious world where we could openly fight. He's a creative bastard. And the experiment created another personality within Trevor called Damien. The psychotic freak nearly killed the both of us as soon as we landed on Terra. I don't know what your observatory said your experiment would do, but it doesn't make any damn sense to me!"
"The observatory only followed Kuja's and Zidane's souls," Garland explained. "You were a wild card I had hoped to play. But, there is one more flaw you should be aware of."
Kaiten raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"
"I don't know if Innural told you, but when two souls are combined into the same body, they must be compatible, on the exact same wavelength and frequency. Or else—"
"Or else the souls fade and the body rots from the inside out," Kaiten said. "Yeah, he told me."
Garland nodded. "Well, I am afraid we may have acted prematurely. Innural assumed he had found your matching soul in Trevor, but he had no way to transfer Trevor's body, and yours was long gone, so he fused you both into the body of a third matching soul."
"I know, I said he told us already," Kaiten said impatiently. "What are you trying to say?"
"There is a problem," Garland admitted. "Your souls are not compatible."
"What?" I blurted out. "Dude, tell me he's joking!"
No… no he's… Kaiten said, alarmed and with wide eyes. This man has never told a joke in his life.
"But how can two souls match perfectly?" Garland said. "I realized too late that each soul belongs to a different personality, with their own desires, dreams, tastes and styles. You and Trevor have plenty of differences between the two of you, as I'm sure you've noticed. That is enough. Genetically, you are a perfect match, but for two souls to be in perfect sync, you would have to be the exact same person in two different universes. You two are very similar, but not exactly the same."
"So what are you saying?" Kaiten asked. "That we're… gonna die?"
Garland nodded. "Yes Lieutenant, I'm afraid that you are. I don't know how much longer you have, but you've been together for several months now. You probably don't have much longer."
"But that's impossible!" I said. "I feel fine! Maybe he's wrong. I haven't noticed anything wrong with our body either!"
Maybe, Kaiten said. Unless…
Kaiten loosened the ties on the armor, opening the panel over out stomach. He lifted my shirt and examined the bare skin, but there was something clearly wrong. Even though we had used an elixir to cure everything only a few hours ago, there was a massive bruise covering our entire stomach. I stared at the blacks and blues on my skin for a moment, wondering how something like that was even possible.
"Your body has already started to rot," Garland said. "You may have less time than I thought."
"But this…" Kaiten started to say. "This shouldn't be possible! I just came back to life! Are you saying I'm going to die again?"
I couldn't believe it. I had just learned that my body was not my own, that my real body was in a coma and my father was all alone, and now I was going to die? When the hell would things turn in my favor? Hadn't I dealt with enough? Give me a fucking break! This couldn't be real. There had to be a mistake.
"Sir," Kaiten said, closing the armor slowly. "Are you sure you're right? Absolutely sure?"
"I wish I could say otherwise, but I'm afraid so," Garland said. "Once I learned about your condition, I tried to remedy it as quickly as I could, but you arrived here with Kuja in tow too quickly and I ran out of time. I'm sorry, but I didn't have enough time."
"Kuja's here?" Kaiten asked. "Already?"
"We don't have much time," Garland said, taking a few steps forward. "He will be here soon, and he's infused himself with the souls gathered from Gaia on the Invincible. He's made himself far stronger than myself."
That's right. Kuja was already on Terra and had stolen the Invincible, Garland's soul-gathering flagship. With it, Kuja was able to absorb the dormant souls, giving himself a massive steroid injection with all that power. How long did we have until he got here to kill Garland? Would the others arrive in time?
"There's not much I can do for you Lieutenant," Garland said, placing a hand caringly on Kaiten's shoulder, like a father would. "But there is one thing that may help."
"I can give you back the trust of your friends."
With that, Garland swung his arm back and backhanded Kaiten in the face, knocking him through the air and crashing hard into the building. Kaiten landed with the wind knocked out of him in a coughing fit. However, I soon realized why he had changed face so suddenly.
"Trevor!" came a voice, followed by rushing footsteps. Kaiten looked up and I saw Zidane kneeling over us, placing a hand on our back to support us. Behind him were Dagger, Vivi and Steiner.
"You four?" he asked. "Wait, where are the others?"
"They got caught up fighting monsters at the base of the tower," Zidane explained. "They bought us some time, so let's not waste it."
"You fool!" Garland interrupted from the other end of the platform. "You could have had power eternal! You could have ruled as a Prince of Terra, yet instead you choose to fight me beside these… lesser creatures?"
What the hell is he doing? Kaiten asked, surprised by the general's actions.
I smiled when I finally saw through the deception. "He's giving us a second chance."
"Trevor, what's he talking about?" Zidane asked. "What's going on?"
This is more your area of expertise, Kaiten said. I'm falling back.
Sensation returned to me quickly and I collapsed again. Soon, I was coughing as well, trying to recover my lost breath.
"Sorry guys," I choked. "Got impatient… Went to face him before you got here…"
"Zidane," Garland said, turning around. "There's the observatory where you said you would become my angel of death and try to kill me… But think for a moment… Isn't life death itself? It must kill other life forms in order to survive. Sometimes it even kills those with whom it shares blood. To live is to give life meaning, yet one must take others' lives to survive. A mature civilization becomes aware of this paradox. Terra's souls will sleep until they forget such nonsense. They will begin a new life in a new world. It's a world in which life and death become one. That is the world we are destined to live, in a dimension that transcends death. And so, I ask you again Zidane. Who are you?"
Zidane rose and stood before us at the front of our group, standing as the true leader. He was defiant, even in these odds. "You're a sad man Garland," he began. "We know more than you. We may not be perfect, but we have friends who help us. That's reason enough to keep living."
Steiner stood next, drawing his sword and standing behind Zidane. "I may not know how to answer your question, but I am free to answer it however I would like!"
"Weakness is irrelevant," Dagger said, pulling my shoulder and helping me to my feet. "As long as we help each other, we can make it out of anything!" She gave my hand a squeeze, as if signaling that all was forgiven with me. I looked back to her in surprise, but she gave me a smile in return.
Garland took a few steps towards us, clearly not intimidated by the dramatic speeches. "Then your answers are exactly the same as his," he said, pointing to me.
The others glanced at me for a moment, but there was a spark in each of them. A glint in their eyes of something I thought I had lost long ago.
"If you are so adamant in your beliefs, then show me," Garland said. "Lecture me again when you are on the verge of death."
Everyone drew their weapons, including myself. I felt good about the situation. Almost giddy in fact. I was fighting alongside my friends again, just like we had so long ago. I relished the thought and eagerly looked forward to battle. However, my head perked up as I saw Garland's hand raise above his head, signaling something from above. I glanced up and saw a silver dragon, the same kind of monster that Kuja had used as a personal mount, hovering above.
"Well, this just got interesting," I said.
"It doesn't matter!" Zidane said. "We'll just cut through this one and take Garland out next!"
Zidane's plan was sound enough. We had the manpower to kill the dragon, but the problem was that, unlike the game, the dragon opted not to land and let us attack it. Instead, it hovered above us so that only Vivi had the chance of hitting him. With Garland to worry about as well, we had too much to worry about at once.
The plan became even more complicated when the Silver Dragon reared its head back and let out a mighty breath. Energy cracked in the air as lightning shot out of the dragon's mouth in a beam, striking the ground where Zidane had just been standing.
"GEEZ!" Zidane shouted after his dodge. "That thing's dangerous!"
I raised an eyebrow at the dragon, then looked back at Garland. He was staring straight at me, as if waiting for my next move. I didn't remember the Silver Dragon doing that in the game at all. And if we couldn't even reach him, Garland would keep hold of the upper hand. I had to do something.
Kaiten, I'm sorry, I said. We need to take that dragon out. We're going to have to leave Garland to the others.
"Don't worry about it," Kaiten said. "I came to the same conclusion. And besides… I don't think I could really attack General Saiko…"
We're agreed then.
"Zidane!" I shouted. "You take care of Garland. I'll take care of the dragon!"
"What?" he asked. "How?"
I pointed my thumb over my shoulder at my new airship.
"Oh, that," he said. "Alright, just be careful."
I practically leapt into the cockpit and started up the engines. Silver Dragon fighting Silver Dragon. It sounded like an absurd heavy weight championship bout. Still, the onboard lasers should be enough to fry the monster in half, assuming I could get him in my reticle.
The Silver Dragon took one look at my airship and knew that it had a new opponent. It tore its focus from the rest of the group and stared at me, flapping its wings hard and turning around and flying off to gain distance. I had to remember that it had the aerial advantage in agility and experience, but all I had to do was get one good hit in and the lasers would kill it easily. This was entirely reckless of me, but after the last week, I was in the mood for reckless.
I took off after the dragon, soaring through the sky. I left the tower behind as Zidane led the charge against Garland. I had to ignore them and trust that they would be alright. I couldn't get bogged down in too many converging thoughts or else the dragon—
Straight out of my blind spot, the dragon crossed in front of me and clawed at the front hatch of the airship. I slammed on the throttle. The dragon rolled over the body of my airship, rocking it and making us bounce. That probably wasn't good for the stabilizers.
"Watch it!" Kaiten yelled. "That thing has the advantage up here! You can't lose track of it!"
"Sorry, I'm new at this!" I shouted back sarcastically.
"Just watch for when it turns around!"
I pulled the airship around, facing the dragon head on, just in time to see it rear its head back again. I disengaged the stabilizers just in time and we started freefalling, barely missing another energy blast.
Alarms and lights started going off inside the cockpit as we rapidly accelerated towards the ground. I pressed the pop-ups that jumped out at me as holograms, trying to fight through the confusion and reengage the throttle.
"How the hell was that a good idea?"
"I panicked! Give me a break!"
"You are the worst damn pilot I have ever seen!"
The blue of the artificial trees came eerily close. I pulled on the control stick hard, avoiding a direct crash into one, but still nicked part of the foliage, breaking a chunk of it off. The Silver Dragon bucked as I pulled the control stick and slammed my foot against the throttle as far as it would go. Finally, within the dense cover of the blue tree stalks, I regained control and began weaving in and out of the forest. I barely managed to dodge each trunk and soon pulled the airship up above the trees once more.
Maybe taking this airship into battle wasn't such a good idea.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Kaiten said. "I don't even know how that's possible…"
I fought a wave of nausea and the urge to copy Kaiten. I swallowed some bile back and took a deep breath. "I told you, no barfing in my head."
"Stick to the matter at hand. Where's the dragon?"
"Uh…" I stabilized the ship and looked at the brightly colored monitors. Each was marked with a set of scribbles that I couldn't hope to understand. Terran writing was my guess.
"One o'clock, low!" Kaiten yelled suddenly.
I looked out to the windshield and saw the dragon break through the foliage as well, almost directly in front of us. I jerked the airship over quickly, aiming him up with the reticle, but I lost sight of the firing button. I took my eyes off the windshield for a quick second to furiously search for it on the dashboard.
I had barely enough time to see the dragon's claws scrape against the hull of the KM/S. Sparks flew at me and the airship was forced down into another nosedive. I had gotten used to the controls well enough that it didn't descend into the trees like last time, but we couldn't have a repeat of that attack.
"What are you doing?" Kaiten asked. "We nearly had him that time!"
"It's not my fault!" I said. "It's these damn controls! I can't read any of it."
"Sonofa… fine. Let me take control of the left arm. Can you steer with one hand?"
"I think so," I said. I was strapped into the seat pretty tightly, so I could balance myself with only one arm.
Kaiten took control of the left arm, leaving it numb for me. I blocked the thought of it out though and concentrated only on piloting the ship.
We tore through the skies again, scanning the horizon for any sign of the beast. It seemed to have ducked down beneath the trees again. Kaiten soon started pressing buttons on the dashboard and brought up several scans and maps. Some of them were holograms that ejected themselves out of the dashboard itself. Some attached to the HUD of the airship, obscuring my view.
"Kaiten, what are you doing?" I asked. "You're distracting me!"
"Think of it as a video game," he instructed. "I'm just launching scans. They should be able to— THERE! Three o'clock high!"
I craned my head up and spun the airship around. Sure enough, the dragon coming in at our right flank from up above us. I stepped on the throttle and drove the airship straight for it. The dragon opened its maw and drew its claws out as we neared.
"Ready?" I shouted for Kaiten. I kept the airship as steady as I could as we narrowed the distance between us.
However, at the last second, the dragon's mouth glowed. It shot an energy beam out, hitting the hull of the airship just as Kaiten fired the lasers. The attack rocked the ship, forcing the lasers down low, missing the target.
"BRACE FOR IMPACT!"
The dragon slammed into the front of my ship, jerking it to a halt suddenly. It held on, digging its claws into the metal as it roared right into the windshield. I held the ship as steady as I could, but the beast was out of reach of the lasers, so there was only one thing I could do.
"ACTIVATE THE STABILIZERS!" I shouted for Kaiten. "GET THE JUMP JETS GOING!"
Kaiten reacted immediately, pressing the appropriate buttons. The airship righted itself up and held position as the jump jets started up. "What are you going to do?"
"Something desperate!" I said, releasing the windshield. The cockpit opened, as the thin air flowed into the airship. The dragon roared in my face, climbing its way towards me to attack. I just pulled a short sword from its sheath and aimed it at the dragon's maw.
"Get off my plane."
I pumped a wave of energy into the blade and a Demon Saber shot out into its mouth. The dragon pulled back at the last second, so the attack didn't decapitate it, but I still got a good hit in, cutting its cheek and part of its neck open. Blood spilled from its face as the dragon roared in agony. It slipped from the front of the jet and began to fall.
I sealed the cockpit once more and grabbed hold of the controls. "We're going after it!" I said. "Get ready to fire the lasers!"
Kaiten disengaged the stabilizers and the jump jets and we started another freefall, but this time we were much higher and I was ready for it. An alarm started to blare, but Kaiten muted it and readied his hand over the firing button. I kept the reticle steady over the falling dragon as its wings flapped weakly in the wind. It spread them out, trying to slow down, but we weren't about to give it another chance to recover.
"This is it!"
"Hold it steady! Firing!"
The laser barrage opened fire, hitting the target dead on and driving it harder into the ground. The twin beams cut through the beast, searing it in half. Pieces of it burned and flaked off before falling below the thick trees. There was no way the monster was recovering from that. With the dragon gone, I stepped on the throttle and flew my way back to Pandemonium.
"Well, that was fun," I said, taking a deep breath to settle my nerves. I wasn't sure I could pilot the airship into a steady landing with how hard my heart was pounding.
"We're not doing that again," Kaiten criticized. "It's just ground battles from now on."
"Come on, you didn't think that was fun at all? We can chant more military jargon next time. You could have yelled 'firing for effect' when you shot the dragon. That would have been cool."
"Firing for effect does not mean simply shooting something!"
"It would still be cool."
By the time we had gotten back to the tower, the fight between Zidane and Garland was on its last legs. Zidane and the rest of the party was out of breath, but holding their ground. Garland, however, was cut and bruised. He was missing a section of armor over his right shoulder and arm. It looked like all the magical power of Terra wasn't enough to beat his Angel of Death.
I hovered over the back of the platform and activated the jump jets. Garland gave me little notice as he tried to hold himself together, but he had sustained too much damage. Finally surrounded on both sides, Garland succumbed to his injuries and fell to one knee.
"You fight well," Garland said.
"Give it up Garland!" Zidane shouted. "You're surrounded and overpowered!"
"Kaiten, are you okay with this?" I asked my partner.
"Am I okay with the man I respected for so long betraying me, killing my team, sealing me in someone else's body with another soul with no way to get out, and then someone else kicking his ass for it? No, not at all, but…" Kaiten paused, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "I don't think I could have raised a blade against him. This was all for the best, I suppose."
"Yeah," I said, understanding his dilemma. "At least he's not dead. Maybe he can fix our problem if we stay behind and… hey, what's that alarm?"
A red light flashed, lighting up the entire cockpit, followed by a piercing screech. Holograms appeared on the dashboard, in big yellow writing.
"Kaiten, what is this?" I shouted.
"IFF warning!" he warned. "We're being targeted!"
"What? By who?"
My answer came as a precise laser shot through the hull of the Silver Dragon, taking out the engine and part of the left wing with it. With the jump jets still activated, we were sent spinning out of control towards the tower.
"Shit! SHIT!" I shouted. I slammed on the throttle and pulled on the control stick as hard as I could, but there were multiple systems out of commission. I couldn't do a thing as the wall came closer and closer.
The crash came so quickly that I lost track of myself for a moment. Everything shook hard. I couldn't breath for a moment as the shock sank in. I tried to get a hold of something, but I couldn't see anything. My hand wandered blindly, brushing against just about everything inside the cockpit, but finding nothing. I wanted to call for the others, to ask them to help, but I wasn't even sure where I was. Was I still on the top of the tower? Had I crashed through the wall and inside the maze climbing up? Was I even alive? I wasn't sure of anything.
"Trevor, are you alright?" Kaiten shouted. "Don't worry, I'll get us out of here!"
Fortunately, Kaiten still had control of our left arm. He punched the access button and opened the windshield. Wrapping an arm over the lip of the cockpit, Kaiten managed to drag us both up, into the smoking air. The Silver Dragon was on fire and burning badly. We were damn lucky that it didn't explode when it crashed.
With one big heave, Kaiten pulled our body out and sent us rolling down the side of the ship. I coughed up a mouthful of smoke, but with Kaiten's help, I was able to crawl away. The Silver Dragon was totaled and far beyond repair. Just my luck.
"Are you okay?" Kaiten asked.
"My soul is. Not sure about our body. Feels like we have a broken rib or two. And bruises everywhere."
"Get the princess to fix it then."
I looked around for a moment to get my bearings. There were ribbed patterns all over the walls, and I saw several small paths below me with glowing runes, either colored red or blue. We had crashed through the wall at the top of the tower, so we weren't far. That was good.
However, my good mood was ruined when I heard an explosion outside the nearest doorway. I feared the worst and shambled my way as quickly as my weakened legs would carry me.
As I walked back into the light, I saw the others injured and laying on the ground. Garland looked even worse, covering in a thin layer of ash, as Kuja floated down from above. I looked up and saw the Invincible, the most powerful airship in existence, hovering above us.
Kuja had been the one who shot Kaiten and I down. He had also launched an attack between Zidane and Garland, injuring everyone and setting the stage for his entrance. And with my injuries, I wouldn't be much use against him.
Kuja landed gracefully and broke into a laugh. "I must say… I truly love you all. You not only broke the seal to Terra, but you even did me the favor of defeating Garland! Zidane, you are truly an extraordinary Genome, deserving of my love!"
"Kuja!" Zidane said, struggling to his feet. "What are you doing here?"
"That's not a very nice thing to say to your brother."
"Shut up! You're no brother of mine!"
"Oh, such ferocity," Kuja mocked. He slowly made his way to Garland, who was still kneeling in pain. "Master Garland, he intends to fight Terra."
"Kuja…" Garland gasped weakly. "What are you scheming?"
"Scheming? Me?" Kuja laughed. "Why, not a thing! Watch me as I defeat these enemies of Terra."
However, when Kuja turned to face us, he was met with an unpleasant surprise. Zidane had already launched himself at Kuja. The thespian villain didn't have time to defend himself as the first dagger was scratched across his exposed stomach. The second soon buried itself in Kuja's gut. The man stared down in horror at the sudden and effective attacks Zidane had launched.
"You… you rotten little…" Kuja said, angered that he had let his guard down. He had been so busy gloating that he had forgotten how persistent Zidane was. Now, he was paying that price.
"I won't let you hurt anyone else," Zidane said. "Time to die Kuja."
With a simple shove, Zidane tossed Kuja over the edge of the platform. With twenty stories of distance between the platform and the ground, Kuja was soon destined to become a pile of mush.
"Zidane," I said. "You did it! I can't believe you… Nice job!"
This was perfect! Kuja was dead early, we didn't need to worry about his further plans, and now Garland could continue his work undoing his plan. Kaiten and I might even have enough time to be cured of our ailment! Everything was looking up!
And while I was dreaming, maybe I could win the lottery and marry a princess.
Zidane started to weakly make his way back to us, when suddenly, there was a loud sound. A roar and a whistle accompanied each other, followed closely by a pulsing hum of electricity. I could see a bright red light coming from over the edge of the platform and nearly collapsed from exhaustion and the futility of it all.
Kuja, grinning from ear to ear, rose into the air, glowing red with a new outfit and tenfold the power from before. His hair looked like it had been dyed with blood, and his outfit had gone from a theatre student's nightmare to a wide sleeved shirt and flowing skirt. Red covered his legs and chest, making him look like he was on fire. Everything about him screamed 'overpowered monster'. We were in trouble
"This… is the power of Trance!" Kuja gloated. "I'll show you my true strength!"
Weakened as we were, there was no way to stop Kuja as he raised his hands over his head. With what looked like minimal effort, he shot several small needles of energy into the sky. The needles converged and turned around, streaking through the air straight for us.
"Get down!" was all I had time to shout as Ultima, the strongest magic in the Final Fantasy universe, came crashing down over our heads. Each needle was strong enough to blow open a tank. We were bombarded with bolts of magic as they rained down from above, blasting against the platform and riddling it with holes. The others were blasted high and knocked around. I quickly lost sight of them as one blast landed at my feet, sending me senseless into a wall. I fell into a heap as pins and needles pressed against my every nerve ending. I tried to move, but my body had taken too much damage. The few parts of my body that I could still move felt incredible pain with each motion.
Soon, the bombardment stopped. Dagger had been thrown into the doorway a few feet from me. I saw Vivi laying in a crater in the middle of the platform. Zidane had landed on the lip of the platform and his arm dangled precariously over the edge. I had no idea where Steiner was.
"Yes…" Kuja said, uttering a soft chuckle. "Yes! This is the power I've longed for! The almighty power of souls! They assault any threat that tries to destroy them!"
"What… do you mean…?" Zidane asked weakly as Kuja hovered near him.
"It's Trance!" Kuja said. "You know how it works. But a normal Trance won't be enough to defeat you. You're all as resilient as oglops. Even tiny moogles can use Trance. When I saw that in Mount Gulug, I came up with a plan. It was easy. I just needed to borrow the power from wretched souls that can't die… Where did I acquire it, you ask? It was the Invincible, or should I say, that large eyeball in the sky?"
While he was on the Invincible earlier, he must have absorbed the souls somehow. If he had injected all those souls into himself directly, there was no way compatibility would maintain itself. He would die in minutes. Kuja knew exactly what he was doing, and now he could proceed with whatever plan he wanted to.
"The ship sucked up the souls of Madain Sari, the Iifa Tree, Alexandria, to feed upon them." Kuja stepped away from Zidane for a moment and hovered his way over to Dagger. He was close enough to me that I could have decapitated him with a Demon Saber. This is, if I could move.
Kuja cupped Dagger's chin gently and forced her to look him in the eyes. Her eyes went wide, half from disgust, half from fear. "When it fought Bahamut at the Iifa Tree, the Invincible drew in a powerful spirit… Can you guess to whom it belonged?"
"No…" Dagger muttered, trying to deny him.
"That's right!" Kuja said. He let Dagger go, though he might as well have thrown her back from the way she pushed herself away. "It was your mother's soul. A wretched soul that clung to life to the bitter end. The souls trapped inside the Invincible welcomed me with open arms. They were fed up with being your prisoners, Garland."
Kuja turned back to his former master, hovering his way over until he stood less than a foot away. "So, Master Garland. You are no longer needed. And after you've worked so hard… I shall rule Terra and Gaia with my unconditional love from now on!"
Garland struggled to breath and could only speak in labored breaths. "What would you do with such power?"
"Master Garland," Kuja said sweetly, but diabolically. "You of all people should accept defeat gracefully." Kuja pressed his point with a swift kick to Garland's ribs."
"How sad," Kuja mocked. "Any last words?"
Garland looked up defiantly. "Your power… is meaningless…"
Kuja wasn't amused by the proclamation. Instead, he landed another kick to Garland's chest, this time with enough force to knock Garland over the edge and send him falling to his death. Garland cried out in pain as he fell, until he traveled too far for his voice to carry.
"NOOO!" Kaiten screamed. "General Saiko!"
But Kuja wasn't finished with us. He turned back, smiling again like a true sadist. "Now, it's your turn," he announced. "Should I kill you quickly to show my appreciation for all you've done? Or should I kill you slowly and painfully to show you my love? Oh, I've got a great idea! How's this? I'll make you pillars for my castle! You'll all decorate my castle as a symbol of my eternal kingdom… How do you like that?"
Kuja was practically giddy with excitement. However, that excitement was soon cut off as a voice spoke into each of our minds.
You could never build an eternal kingdom…
Kuja's grin faded instantly. "That voice… Garland?" He walked over to the edge where Garland had fallen. "Did you leave something behind?"
Do you think a defect like you could last forever?
"What? What do you mean?"
I built you to last until the worthy Genome, Zidane, grew. It was too dangerous to let you last any longer than that.
"What are you saying?"
There's a limit on your life… You'll be dead soon. Even as I die, you'll have died without ever leaving your mark on the world.
"How is this possible?" Kaiten asked. "We just saw the General get thrown to his death. How is he talking?"
How indeed? I had my own guesses from playing the game, but at this point, after all this talk of souls, Terra, compatibility and mortality, I wasn't sure of anything anymore.
What about what Garland was talking about before? I said. He spoke of a world without life or death. If that were to occur, he'd have to create a soul that lasted forever. What better soul to experiment on than his own? Apparently, Kuja thought he had been given the same treatment.
"And here I thought he was a cyborg like Innural. As expected of the only man I ever called 'Sir'."
"What an interesting lie," Kuja said, laughing at Garland's statement. "You're telling me my life will end soon? Nice try Garland, but I won't fall for your silly tricks… Garland?"
However, this time, there was no response from the Eternal Watchman of Terra.
"Garland! Answer me!"
You were created to destroy. You are a mortal.
"A mortal?" Kuja whispered. He stopped hovering and stood at the edge of the ruined platform and looked out over the land. "…I'm finished?"
Kuja shook his head violently. "I don't believe you! Why would I believe such a ridiculous story? You're telling me that I'll die soon, now that I'm more powerful than anyone?"
When Garland didn't respond, Kuja fell to his knees. I saw him shake, as if he were succumbing to his fears. "I'm gonna… die? Lose my soul?"
However, his fearful shaking soon turned into rolling laughter. Kuja spread his arms wide, giving a deep laugh of denial.
"What comedy!" he shouted, barely able to contain himself. "Zidane, isn't it hilarious! I'll die, just like the black mages I so despise! I single-handedly brought chaos unto Gaia, but in the end, I'm nothing but a worthless doll!"
He stopped laughing abruptly and settled down. He kept his back to us, but his slumped shoulders were the only sign we needed to see.
"Kuja?" Zidane asked. He sounded confused, but I could hear a hint of concern mixed in as well. "…Kuja?"
"…I won't let it happen," Kuja finally announced. "I won't… I won't let this world exist without me!"
In his depression, Kuja forgot all about us. I wasn't about to complain, except that I knew what was coming next. We had to get out of this tower. No, it was worse than that… We had to get off of this planet!
Kuja flew over the observatory in the distance. He spread his arm out calmly, launching an Ultima in the form of a long energy bolt this time. The bolt crashed into one of the artificial trees. The energy exploded upon impact, breaking the tree in half and catching the top on fire.
He sent bolt after bolt after every tree in range, until the entire forest floor was engulfed in flames. The heat radiated up through the tower and the glow outperformed the glaring blue from the sky. Kuja had just set what little of Terra wasn't rotting and gray on fire.
Dagger finally found her strength and cast a Curaga on all of us. She drained herself doing it, but it was better than letting the tower burn with us at the top.
"Kuja…" Zidane muttered as he watched the horror before us. "I can't believe him…"
Suddenly, the remaining members of the party came running into the platform. Eiko rushed out across the crater-riddled platform and stopped at Zidane's side. "Zidane, we gotta get out of here before the tower collapses!"
"Not yet!" Zidane said. "We need to go back to Bran Bal and get everyone out."
"Why don't we steal Kuja's ship?" Eiko suggested. "It's at the bottom of the tower."
"Oh? Good idea! But…" Zidane paused to think for a moment. "Alright, you guys head for the ship."
"But what about you?" Freya asked.
"I'm gonna rescue the Genomes," he said. "They're victims. I can't just abandon them!"
"I'm coming with you," Dagger said suddenly.
"I don't want you to leave us again, so I'll keep watch over you."
Zidane smiled and looked back over in the direction of Bran Bal, but I suspected he was trying to hide a blush. "…Okay," he decided. "We should be able to get back through the warp gate in the other tower. That's how I got in. Dagger and I will rally the Genomes and get them ready to leave. Trevor, you already piloted one of the Terran airships. Do you think you can pilot the Invincible?"
Do what now?
The Invincible had a vastly different control scheme than the Silver Dragon did. In fact, from what I remembered, there were no obvious controls. Just a raised platform to stand on. Maybe I could figure something out when we boarded it, or maybe we would get lucky again.
"Don't worry," Kaiten assured me. "I can help with this. I'll translate everything. Just get us on that ship."
"Trevor?" Zidane asked again. "Can you pilot the Invincible?"
"I figured it out once before," I said. "I'll manage it again."
But Amarant wasn't impressed. "You mean that smoldering heap in the hallway?"
"Hey! I was shot down with a town-destroying laser! That wasn't my fault!"
"Can we even trust him?" Freya asked. It was good to see that she still had the same disdain for me, even after Zidane apparently talked to the rest of them.
"We can," Zidane said. "Garland offered to make him a Prince of Terra, but Trevor refused. And you should have seen how badly hurt he was after the airship crashed. There's no way he'd do that if he weren't on our side."
"Two broken ribs," I said. "And some bruising."
Freya turned her nose up at me. "Fine, whatever."
"I see a bridge down below," Quina said. "Maybe it go to other tower?"
"It's worth checking out," Zidane said. "Good job Quina. The rest of you, get the Invincible to Bran Bal as soon as you can! We'll meet you there!"
Zidane and Dagger rushed on ahead of the rest of us. I looked around the rest of the group for an awkward moment as they all looked at me, judging me. I worried for a moment that they were going to jump me without Zidane to protect me, but then Vivi walked next to me.
"Trevor?" he said.
"Yeah?" I said, looking down to him.
"I'm glad you're back."
I heard murmurs of agreement from the others. Steiner and Quina nodded. Amarant folded his arms and Eiko looked disinterested. Freya was silent, but she didn't say anything against it, so I considered that a good thing at least. I still had some work to do, but at least they wouldn't try killing me.
"Thanks guys," I said. "Now where's this ship? We can't leave Zidane hanging."
The Invincible was an enormous ship, easily as big as any airship on Gaia, but with a far stranger design. The main hull was composed of a large, light blue bubble. The bottom and stern of the ship seated the bridge bubble and were painted a darker blue. Fins adorned the sides and top of the Invincible, almost like a shark's fins. A long, pointed nose stretched out front. Last but not least was the Crimson Eye, the large laser port at the bottom of the airship. I thought of the times we saw it used in the Iifa Tree and Alexandria. It would give Alexandria a powerful upper hand in airship technology, but the weapon itself was too terrible to use. When we got it back to Gaia, I'd have to make sure we never used it, save for the most dire circumstances.
An open door on the side granted us access. Inside, the ship was as decorated and glamorous as the exterior. Jade walkways and crystal panels lined everything. Interlacing threads covered small sections of walls, adding to the décor. The ship itself seemed to hum with power, as shown by the pulsing light coming from the crystal walls.
I was in love.
"My gosh!" Eiko shouted, echoing in the large central chamber. "This ship is enormous!"
"Judging from the outside, and our current position," Steiner said. "I believe the bridge is that way!"
"Let's head that way then," I said.
"Hold it!" Freya said, looking around. "Where's Quina?"
I knew Quina was at the bottom of the airship, playing with the teleportation pad that the ship provided, but I didn't have time to waste. He would be up any second anyway.
"You guys look for him!" I said. "Steiner, I might need a hand in the bridge."
"Right behind you!" he said.
We both charged forth up a flight of stairs and into the next room. The stairs opened up into a wide room, complete with a holographic monitor at the far end and complete monitoring stations for navigation, communication and logistics controls. The monitor currently showed the view out in front of the ship of some tree trunks. I felt like I was walking onto the set of Star Trek.
"This is incredible," Steiner said.
"No kidding," I agreed. "Just look at all of this! We could do anything with this ship!"
"Trevor, there!" Steiner said, pointing to a small railing at the center of the bridge.
There was a semicircle railing set at chest height. On the floor inside the railing was a light blue circle, distinguishing itself from the jade colored floor. Zidane stood there when he piloted the ship in the game. Maybe I could do the same if I stood there.
I walked up to the circle and placed my hands on the railing. There were no controls, buttons, switches levers or holograms that I could see. I had no idea how to pilot this thing.
"Well?" Steiner asked impatiently. "Do you know how to fly it?"
"Of course I do," I said. "I took classes on piloting alien warships in college."
"This is serious!" Steiner reminded me. "If we can't even disembark, then we can't rescue her Highness and the Genomes."
"Yes, him too."
"Guys!" Vivi shouted, running into the room. "Quina teleported on board. We can go now!"
"He WHAT?" Steiner bellowed.
"Works for me," I said. I grabbed onto the railing and examined the entire room again.
Kaiten, any ideas? I asked.
"I… honestly, I'm not sure," he said. "I figured there would be instructions, or writing somewhere like in the Silver Dragon, but this airship was tailored just for General Saiko. I don't think we'll have as easy a time with this."
Dammit! It bloody figures!
"Trevor?" Vivi asked. "Why aren't we moving yet?"
"Working on it."
"You'd best hurry," Steiner said. "The fires around us are spreading. It won't be long until they reach us!"
"Working on it!"
"Well, work harder!"
"The hell do you want from me?" I shouted. "I don't see a manual for this anywhere. I can't just make this thing rise!"
Just then, the ship jerked to life. It shuttered and rose into the sky. I grabbed the railing out of surprise. Steiner fell back to the wall and Vivi collapsed onto his face. I watched the monitor with a mix of horror and confusion. Just then, as I was begging everything to return to normal, but ship halted, hovering just around the midsection of Garland's tower.
"How did you do that?" Steiner asked as he stood up again.
"Uh, I'm not sure?" I said. I slowly released my grip on the railing, fearful that the airship would speed off and knock me to the ground. "Maybe if I…"
"Trevor, I think I got it," Kaiten said suddenly. "Stare at the monitor and say 'forward'."
What's going on?
"I'm just testing something out. Hurry up!"
I looked at the monitor and followed Kaiten's instructions. "Forward," I said. I held onto the railing again, waiting to see what happened.
The ship didn't budge.
Uh, Kaiten? Didn't work.
"All part of the test," he said. "Now concentrate. Don't say anything, but instead, just desire the ship to move forward slowly."
Um… alright, I guess. Here goes…
I thought hard, concentrating on the monitor and telling the ship to move forward. I didn't see what the point was since the ship clearly wasn't reacting. I started to get impatient and gripped the railing harder. Why wasn't the Invincible moving like I had told it to? All I wanted it to do was move forward!
And with that thought, the ship budged. It started to fly forward, barely missing the tower. I nearly jumped back out of reflex, telling it to stop. Again, the ship reacted to my thoughts and stopped.
"I thought so!" Kaiten said. "The ship reacts to a person's will! Stand on the blue circle there and you can order the ship to do anything telepathically!"
I can telepathically communicate with the ship? How advanced is this thing?
"Terrans have been around a lot longer than Earthlings have."
Apparently. And here I thought me saying the command was enough to move it.
"That sounds like the plot of a bad movie."
Ha, it does, doesn't it?
I was snapped out of my thoughts by an angry Steiner standing at my side. He was red in the face and had probably been yelling for a few seconds prior.
"Stop spacing out!" he ordered. "Have you discovered how to fly this airship yet?"
"Just figured it out," I said. I extended my arm for show and twisted my hand, giving the ship the order to turn around. Pushing my hand further forward made the ship advance in that direction. Steiner and Vivi just watched in silent wonder.
"Now, which way is Bran Bal?" I asked.
By the time we got to Bran Bal, Dagger was leading a group of Genomes towards the edge of town. I told the Invincible to dock near a hanging ledge so the civilians could have the easiest time walking on board. I took a quick look at the group though, and was amazed that they all really looked like Zidane. If it weren't for his unique character, he could have fit right in.
I held the Invincible in place as Dagger helped each and every one of the Genomes on board, though it wasn't easy to maintain. Terra was still burning and there were still several trees left that had yet to come down. Many of them were in range of the village and our new ship. I kept an eye on the monitor for any anomalies, just in case we had to move quickly.
"Dagger says that's all the Genomes!" Eiko said, rushing into the room.
"Where is her Highness?" Steiner asked. "Has she boarded yet?"
"She's outside, waiting for Zidane."
"But it isn't safe out there! I must get her!"
"Nowhere on this entire planet is safe right now," I told him. "Just give her a minute."
"But I must make sure she's safe!"
"Oh for… wait a second." I raised my arm at the monitor, made a fist, and dragged it along, ordering the ship to pan the camera view. I wasn't sure it would work at first, but after a few inches, the Invincible got the idea. The camera panned until we had a view of Dagger, staring longingly into the village for Zidane to return.
"What? How did you do that?" Steiner asked.
"Hey! I'm magic too!" Vivi said. "Do you think I could control the airship?"
I had to chuckle at that. "I'll teach you as soon as we're off world."
Suddenly, Zidane came on screen. He was dragging one last Genome behind himself. A girl. I recognized immediately that she had to be Mikoto, the replacement Garland made after Kuja kidnapped Zidane and sent him to Gaia. She was to be the next Angel of Death, but with Garland dead, that whole plan seemed rather moot.
Mikoto was dressed the same as the other Genomes, but her pessimistic appearance set her apart, as if she were the lone person with the weight of any experience on her shoulders. In many ways, that was exactly who she was, since she was the only other Genome with a soul. She grew up while all the others were born in a tube at a set age. She would make a good addition to our merry band.
I saw Freya rushed out to shout at our dire situation. The world had gone from glowing a gentle, if not piercing, blue, to an urgent orange. The flames now ate away at the last trees around Bran Bal, just as the village was about to be destroyed.
I saw the remaining four of our party outside the ship run inside. From down the hall, I heard the door seal shut and I panned the camera back to its original setting.
"We're all aboard!" I heard Freya shout into the bridge. "GO!"
"We're going!" I yelled back. "Hang on!"
Immediately, the ship left port and flew away, just in time to see a tree collapse onto Bran Bal and incinerate half of it in one go. The rest of the village would burn along with it, but it was amazing how many close calls we were going through today.
I turned the ship up and headed for the sky. In the distance, there was a bright light, like a small drop of sunlight beaming down at us. It was sure to be the portal back to Gaia. I turned the ship up at a high angle and aimed for it as quickly as I could. I had to hold on to the railing as the angle soon became too sharp to stand on. Steiner, Vivi and Eiko all slid back and rolling into the wall.
I was sure that similar things were happening to the others and the Genomes in the central chamber, but I didn't have time to be concerned. My goal was to get everyone off of Terra as quickly as I could. I drove the Invincible into the light as a warm, but blinding sensation overtook all of us…
The light soon enough gave way to darkness, and the excitement surrounding the ship settled down. The warmth left, leaving only the humming of the ship and the light from the monitor and control panels. I watched outside to see the clouds rolling along below us and the bright, cheerful sunlight of Gaia shining down on us. It wasn't Earth, but it was a start.
"We're home!" Eiko shouted excitedly. "We made it! We made it!"
There was a collective sigh of relief on the bridge, and I could hear some of the others cheering in the back. The Genomes were all silent, but that was to be expected.
"So, what do we do now?" Vivi asked. "Are we going to Alexandria?"
"It would be best to return home," Steiner said. "Queen Garnet will have to return to her duties soon."
"And it would be a good idea to resupply," I agreed. I told the ship to head forward, while trying to bring up a map of Gaia. The ship moved easily, however, it didn't seem to have one stored. Kuja just had the ship tag along behind him when he traveled, so he never needed to use the sip to navigate. That was fine for him, but where exactly on Gaia were we?
"Why would we need to resupply?" Eiko said. "Kuja's dead, isn't he? How could he have gotten off of Terra in time?"
"We managed it," I pointed out. "Plus, we lost sight of him after he started his rampage. He could have gotten off the planet before we did and left the whole thing to burn."
"Trevor's right," Steiner agreed. "It would be best not to underestimate our opponent. Let us return her Highness to the throne and the rest of us can search for Kuja."
"You think she'd let us hunt him without her?" I asked.
"Uh, well… she…"
"Guys?" Vivi peeped suddenly. "Does something seem strange about that cloud?"
I stared at the monitor for a moment, and realized that we had been looking at the same formation for the last minute. Clouds could get big, but at the speeds we were moving, we should have seen a break in them at some point. This one just had the same puffy pattern continue on and on and on.
"Yes, that does seem strange," Steiner agreed. "Perhaps we should lower our altitude?"
"No, wait," Vivi said. He took a step closer to the monitor and stared at it for a moment. The rest of us were silent, watching him curiously until he said, "I think it's mist!"
"Mist?" Steiner barked out. "But… but that's impossible!"
"How can it be mist?" Eiko asked. "We killed the monster that makes it!"
"But we didn't kill the Iifa Tree," I said. And now that Terra was burning, possibly gone, the transfer of souls trading between Gaia and Terra were in flux. There was a backup, which was spilling onto the world as mist.
"I have to get Zidane!" Steiner shouted as he rushed out of the room.
"This is bad," Eiko said. "This is bad! This is bad!"
"I know," I agreed, trying to quiet her. It was odd. I knew this was coming, but there was still a sense of dread and a knot in my stomach. My mind was clouded and I wondered how much damage we would actually be able to prevent, especially with Kuja, very much alive, and in control of something very, very dangerous.
"You see?" Steiner said as Zidane walked back into the room.
"So what?" Zidane said. "They're just clouds. Let's just lower our altitude and break through them."
"Small problem with that," I said. I stood on the pilot's circle and extended my arm to the monitor. Display altitude, I told the ship. Fortunately, the ship understood and a small box appeared in the upper right corner of the screen, showing "92 m".
"Huh?" Zidane said, confused. "What's '92 m' mean?"
"We're only 92 meters up?" Kaiten asked. "That's… about 300 feet!"
"It means we're 300 feet in the air," I said. "Far too low for clouds."
"Then what is it?" Zidane asked.
"…It's mist," Vivi said apprehensively. "It's what the black mages are made of…"
"We've been flying pretty fast for a while," Eiko said. "I think the mist covered all of Gaia!"
"Why? How?" Zidane said, standing next to me and staring hopelessly at the monitor. "Kuja, what are you planning now?"
This was bad. We still had the Genomes on board and Zidane wouldn't risk harm coming to them, not after the effort we took in saving them. Not to mention his little sister being on board. I gave the order for the ship to head to the Black Mage Village, then told it to go to autopilot and hold position when it got there. I had no idea if it would follow all those orders, but it turned slightly to port and took off. The ship might not have had a map, but it still had the village's position memorized. That worked for me.
"Zidane," I said, stepping off the pilot's circle. "I haven't eaten or slept since we landed on Terra. I'm going to pass out for a while, then I'm going to raid whatever kitchen this ship has."
"Uh, sure," he said. "Where are we headed?"
"Black Mage Village. I thought it would be the best place for the Genomes to live."
"Oh, good idea," he nodded. "I think the Black Mages would be able to help the Genomes out a lot."
"Just step on the blue circle and tell the ship what to do when you want to pilot it," I told him as I exited. "It's controlled by the pilot's will."
As I walked through the ship, I saw all these Genomes that we had rescued from the village. They all stood around unimpressively. If they showed any less emotion, I would have guessed they were robots or something. I saw Freya and Amarant standing by the teleportation beam talking, and Dagger was getting to know Mikoto a little. Everyone seemed calm enough out here. Hopefully that meant I wouldn't be disturbed.
There were a few rooms breaking off from the central room. Storage closet or not, I just wanted rest and privacy. My exhaustion was finally catching up to me. It was only the adrenaline that let me carry on as long as I had. Now I felt incredibly weak and nearly collapsed as soon as I had opened the door. I closed it behind me and a light turned on. I was in an office, with only a desk and chair. That suited me fine. I had fallen asleep at my desk plenty of times in college.
But the real reason I had to be alone came around as I took my armor off. I let it drop to the floor and lifted my shirt, examining myself. The dark spot on my stomach, where my body was rotting, had spread across all of my abs and was brushing against my ribs now. I stared in horror for a moment, telling myself that I couldn't actually be rotting. It was just a bruise from combat! I did crash in an airship after all.
But, when I pressed my finger against it, I didn't feel any pain, or any sensation at all. It was as if Kaiten had taken over that section of our body, but I knew that he hadn't done such a thing.
Kaiten? I asked. Is this really happening?
He was silent for a moment. I nearly called out to him again when he responded with, "Yeah… I don't want to believe it's real, but it is."
I almost wanted to cry. I… We, had gone through so much together, endured each other as anomalies, as enemies, as partners and finally, as friends. And now, because we weren't in perfect sync, we were going to die.
This wasn't fair! I had done so much in my life to help others! I always put them before myself! I didn't let the others worry about me when I was attacked in Dali so they could focus on helping Vivi! I took so many injuries that I stopped counting them long ago! I made sure the storyline was on track, sacrificing everything I could to keep the others safe and sound. Was that not enough? Had I not done enough good?
This fate… This horrible death was all that awaited me now. How long did I have? Days? Hours? Could I even live long enough to finish Kuja off? I knew I wasn't going to see Zidane and Dagger's happy reunion at the end of the game, but now I might not even see the end of Memoria.
This was all such bullshit.
So, we're gonna die, just like that?
"Seems like it."
…This isn't fair…
"Yeah… me too…"
BOOK 3: DESTRUCTION- COMPLETE.
BOOK 4: CONTROL- COMING SOON…
Thank you again for your continued support. See you guys next month!
-Kyle Martin, a.k.a. Krimson Rogue