Part 6. Full Circle
Disclaimers still apply.
Huh. This is just one big boss battle. Oh, and I hope you like French, because there's a lot of cheese coming your way. XD
I guess this is it, folks. Thank you so much to everyone who alerted, faved, reviewed, or read! It's been a blast, and I really enjoyed hearing what you had to say! I'm actually a bit misty-eyed about this all coming to an end, but I fully intend to continue with this fandom, and I hope to see all of you again!
The Chaos Shrine had fallen into greater disrepair over the years.
Luneth wondered what it had been constructed on, as areas of the ground had collapsed, leaving only thin walkways flanked by bottomless chasms. He peered down into the coiling mists and suppressed a shudder.
The Warrior of Light led them down a flight of stairs, edging carefully around steps that had crumbled into sand and small white shards of rock. They wound around the lower level, and Luneth shot Bartz a sympathetic look when they navigated gaping pits in the floor and he made a tiny, strangled whimper.
Two more levels down, the air had become cold and oppressive.
"Why is it so quiet?" Firion asked, suddenly. "We haven't been attacked once, and it's unlikely that Chaos doesn't know we're coming."
The Warrior of Light responded without looking back. "The Four Fiends once resided within this shrine. Common monsters feared them greatly and would not enter the lower levels."
"Yes. As they are already dead—"
"Hmph. All this waiting," Jecht said. "I woulda preferred a good fight."
Two more levels, the blank stone walls gave way to thick pillars. The walls around the centre space had collapsed on several sides, and in the middle, a squat, heavy throne stood.
It wasn't until they had approached close enough to feel the unnatural heat radiating from the occupant's body that the great horned head raised.
Glowing red eyes scanned them, and Luneth felt sick to his stomach.
"So," Chaos said, "you've come."
The Warrior of Light lifted his sword silently and pointed it at the god of discord.
"Oho? You believe you can defeat me? I have had fifty years to gather my powers, and you... You remain the puny insects that you were."
"We do not believe," said the Warrior of Light. "We know that we must. Each of us is here for a reason, fighting for that one thing which we cannot surrender."
Long, sharp teeth showed under Chaos' curved lips. "You fight because you must. How ironic." Chaos drew himself to his feet, towering over the warriors. "Has the war taught you nothing?"
Cecil's teeth clenched. "How did you survive? You were free, after the war. Why would you throw that away to restart the cycle?"
"I am a made thing, but before all of this, I was born from Garland's memories. As long as he lived, somewhere, I could be born again. I found him, but he, he was content to live out his life as ruler of one kingdom. I will not be like him. I will not shrivel and die like him!"
Terra flinched back at the sudden blast of sound from Chaos' roar.
There was a bright flash, a ripping noise, and a familiar shriek of laughter. Terra gasped, spinning around just in time to raise her arms and shield her face against the spinning fireball that caught her in the stomach and lifted her off her feet.
She bounced, rolling into a crouch, and glared up at Kefka's lopsided grin. Around her, she could see other portals splitting the air, and blurred figures shot out like arrows, ramming hard into her friends.
"Awwww," Kefka said. "Did you miss me?"
And then thunder magic speared down at her, and Terra threw herself to a side and rolled away desperately. Her lungs felt seared by the heat of the previous fireball, and she coughed when she drew in a shaky breath.
She leaped over another fire spell, and it was so hot that the air over it glazed and boiled. She gritted her teeth and refused to cry out when the heat clawed at her ankle and her skin cracked and blistered.
Terra watched, frustrated, as Kefka giggled and dodged her hasty Flare before immediately twisting away from the ice spell she had planted behind him. It caught bits of red cloth that ripped away and fluttered down the ground, but Kefka only grinned down at her.
She didn't notice the ice before it shattered against the floor and bounced up, slamming into her side, and she could only raise her hands as a shield. She bit off her scream viciously and whirled away from the spell.
Gasping for breath, Terra dragged herself to her feet. She didn't take her eyes away from Kefka.
He cocked his head, painted eyebrows waggling. "You don't actually think you can beatme, do you?"
Terra drew in a deep breath and raised her hands, magic glowing in her palms. "Perhaps not," she said, "but for the sake of my friends, for everyone, I have to."
Lightning crackled and danced over the surfaces of the flurry of fireballs she sent blasting at Kefka, so fast that there was barely an arc to their trajectory.
Kefka dodged a few, and slapped away another until it slammed into the wall and dissipated. When the spells that he had dodged curved back and hurtled into his back, Terra saw him glance over his shoulder before he was engulfed in a deafening explosion. His shriek was high and sharp over the noise.
And then the mass of fire blew apart and wisped out as Kefka slashed a hand through it, and he snarled, diving down toward Terra before spinning in midair. Wings carved out of colour-shot magic speared out toward her.
Terra closed her eyes and braced herself. She wouldn't be able to dodge this, not after the hits she had taken.
Heavy cloth billowed and brushed against her raised arms.
Terra's eyes widened. She could see the longest points of the wings stabbing through the black armour in front of her. They retreated, tossing blood out into the air, and Kefka screamed when the heavy sword slash threw him back, tumbling in the air.
He caught his balance and looked back, a horrible scowl on his face.
"So," he spat the word out, "you fancy yourself a hero now, you brother complex?"
Golbez hmphed, pressing a glowing hand to the cracks in the armour on his chest. There was a sizzle and an unpleasant stink as he cauterized the wounds.
Kefka threw his hands forward and up, and a wave of explosions rocked the ground, travelling toward them. Suddenly, they blinked out.
Cecil was a blur of white, driving the clown up into the air before rearing up and slashing down.
"Thank you," Terra said quietly.
Golbez nodded curtly. Above them, Cecil attacked in a flurry of slashes, keeping Kefka off balance and barely giving him enough time to grunt at the impacts. Golbez leaped up into the air, arms raised, and gravity magic coalesced and dragged at Kefka.
Kefka struggled, his clothes ragged and dripping. He dug at the air with his arms and legs, almost as if he was swimming against the pull of Golbez's magic.
Terra pulled within herself, and the magic twisted and gathered into her hands. Orbs of holy magic shot toward Kefka, slamming into his body, and before the residue of the explosions had evaporated, Terra raised her hands up. Ultima glittered and spat, growing to engulf Kefka. The air shook, and it exploded outward, the blast driving Kefka into the floor. Cracks ran along the length of the stone path.
Terra watched the expanding cloud of smoke and dust, fighting for breath. She stumbled, and Cecil's hand was under her arm, strong and steady.
"Is it over?" he said.
Rubble fountained out, and Kefka was standing, arms out, nearly incandescent with rage.
He screamed, and Terra glanced up. A white field shimmered over her head like a window to somewhere else, and as she watched, burning bright magic dripped out and dropped down toward them. She jumped back, shoving Cecil to a side, and it burst on the ground, splattering acidic drops onto her arm.
Terra gathered power up in her hands while Cecil raised his sword, and then Golbez was standing in front of her, cape floating out when he thrust out his arm.
"Go!" Golbez snapped. "You must defeat Chaos! The fight will not end otherwise!"
"Go,Cecil!" Golbez stepped forward, black flames leaping up from his sword. "I am more than capable of handling this foul pierrot."
Cecil opened his mouth, gritted his teeth, and nodded. He turned, tugging on Terra's hand as he ran toward the central chamber.
Terra glanced back. Golbez and Kefka clashed in a burst of black and red fire.
Squall grunted, swinging the Lionheart quickly to parry the bolts of purple magic stabbing down at him. He slashed up, sending three bolts flying, and another one, hiding in the path of a previous spell, shot through his guard and embedded itself in his hip.
Squall gasped, staggering back.
Ultimecia smiled down at him, raising a hand. A black vortex appeared, holding in place, and Squall tensed.
"Who will help you this time?" Her voice never changed, smooth as ice, and black blades shot out at him.
Squall jumped and dodged, stepping up and off a wall, all the while twisting to keep Ultimecia in view. His gunblade's chain rattled against his wrist, held high as he tried to find an opening. He shot off a quick volley of fire spells, but Ultimecia swatted them away as if they were flies. She raised her other hand, her lips twisting.
Squall glanced down at the roiling portal under his feet, and he lunged away, ignoring the stab of pain in his side. Three spears of magic lanced up into the space where he had stood, and the sharp edge of one caught his arm and left a burning gash.
He twisted in midair, air burning blue around him as he charged at Ultimecia like a missile.
An enormous axe appeared in midair, spinning toward him, and he raised the Lionheart to block. It slammed into him, pushing him back, and an edge bit down into his shoulder.
With a growl, Squall flicked his gunblade hard and slung the attack away to crash into a wall and shower magic and rock dust all around him. His eyes widened, and he pulled the Lionheart in quickly, but not before a pair of magical bolts stabbed deep into his collar.
"And you?" Ultimecia said. "What are you fighting for?"
Sparks danced in the corners of Squall's vision, disorienting him, and for a moment, he thought he saw drifting white feathers.
He shook his head, raising the Lionheart up in front of his face. Light extended from its tip.
Ultimecia laughed. "Do you hope to succeed in using the same strategy twice?"
There was a flicker in the corner of his eye, and Squall saw the circle of runes race toward him, skimming along the ground. He tightened his grip on the gunblade. He wasn't going to be able to dodge all of it, not after everything.
There was a deafening roar by his ear, and black hair whipped into his face. Jecht leaped up, a massive boulder held over his shoulder, and he slung it downward, striking the magic circle and setting it off in a blast of light that just barely missed Squall's arm.
Ultimecia clicked her tongue. "Another mindless fool, racing to his death." She pulled an arm back, magic pooling black and oily around her hand, and she jolted and shrieked.
Tidus seemed to change direction in midair, flipping back and diving down for another flurry of attacks.
Squall looked up at Jecht, who rubbed at his shoulder and glanced back at him.
"Shaddup," Jecht grunted. "I don't need any more crying babies to deal with."
Jecht leaped into the air, shouting wildly and slashing, kicking, punching anything he could reach.
Tidus planted a foot against Ultimecia's back and propelled himself up and back, sending a hurtling ball of energy into the witch's head as he soared. Ultimecia faltered, tipping back and off balance.
Squall's lips twitched. He raised the blazing length of his engulfed gunblade high over his head.
"I wasn't gonna say anything," he said, and brought the beam of light down on Ultimecia, explosions rising up from below to meet it.
Squall stood still, listening to the sharp plinksof cooling rock.
There was a low growl.
Magic ballooned up, swarming together and forming the shape of a planet, clouds swirling over the surface of miniature continents.
Squall gathered himself, waiting until it shot toward them, and he jumped up, knocking into Tidus and sending them both tumbling out of range of the blast. Tidus spun into a pillar and hooked a leg around it, sending him whirling back toward Ultimecia, glowing Caladbolg piercing forward.
Jecht raced past him with a wordless bellow, knocking Tidus aside and swinging his sword down in a barrage of attacks that left flashing afterimages. Ultimecia hurtled backward, smashing hard into a wall of crumbling stone.
Squall caught up to Tidus as he landed beside his father.
"What did you do that for?" Tidus protested.
Jecht gave Tidus an unreadable look. Then, he sneered, set a foot in Tidus's stomach, and he shoved.
Squawking, Tidus tumbled away.
"Go fight Chaos!" Jecht yelled, not turning back.
"I ain't telling you twice! Go!"
Jecht raised his massive blade in one hand, tensing himself to charge.
Tidus stared after his father for a moment, and he turned. "Come on!" he shouted as he passed Squall on the way back to Chaos' throne.
Squall hesitated for a moment, and he followed, listening to Tidus's nasty mutters.
Luneth gasped, a hand scrabbling at the tentacle wrapped tightly around his neck. It constricted, crushing down, and Luneth hacked into it with a wild swing.
It loosened and pulled back, catching him with a stinging slap under the chin as it went.
Eyes watering, Luneth blinked furiously, darting in to strike quickly at the Cloud of Darkness's main body. He dodged back when a tentacle swung around, and he jumped, flipping in midair and summoning a rain of magical blades to stab down.
Tentacles whirled, slapping the attack away.
Luneth twisted sharply and ducked under black blasts of magic that spread out around him. He rushed in, slamming an ice spell down toward the Cloud of Darkness's head. Seeing a hint of movement, Luneth turned his head, and the fusillade of Particle Beam shots surged toward him, magic swamping over him.
Luneth dropped to the ground and skidded, breathing hard. He had managed to block the majority of the magical orbs with well-placed ice shrapnel, but a couple had slipped through. His arms felt like his skin had been burned off in places.
The Cloud of Darkness loomed over him, and a tentacle snapped at his face.
"Wai—wait!" Luneth said, throwing up his hands in front of him.
The Cloud of Darkness paused. Its face did not change, but Luneth could feel the smug air radiating from it.
"You wish for mercy from us, little boy?"
"I, well," Luneth stammered, stepping back. The Cloud of Darkness followed, floating closer. "Actually," Luneth said, "I just wanted to tell you—"
He jumped up and back as the roar of fire surrounded the Cloud of Darkness. A circle of fire spells had detonated, almost in unison.
"—that you're walking into a trap!"
He sent several spheres of lightning shooting out and forward, catching the Cloud of Darkness in the chest and tossing it into the air, following it quickly with a thunderous Flare.
The Cloud of Darkness shouted hoarsely, smoking as it fell to the ground, and Luneth sighed, wiping at his neck. He ached all over from the strain of holding back those Firaga spells. He looked up.
The Cloud of Darkness had vanished.
Holding his breath tensely, Luneth peered around.
Suddenly, a voice screamed in his head, telling him to jump, and Luneth dove to a side. The blast sent him flying, the acrid scent of the Cloud of Darkness's Particle Beam clinging to him, and his head smashed into the stone wall.
Groaning, he slid down to a seated position. Pillars of black light shot toward him, moving in a crooked line, and he threw himself out of its path. A trickle of blood rolled down his forehead and tickled his ear.
The Cloud of Darkness hovered out of reach, its tentacles snapping and straining to bite him.
"We will not fall for the same trick again!" it snarled.
Luneth cursed softly. He didn't think he could move for a while, let alone bridge the gap between them and launch another attack.
Then, he saw her.
Terra danced backward, Holy magic flying from her small hands, her face hard and set.
Luneth gritted his teeth, pressing his back against the wall behind him as he levered himself up. They were going to get out of this together. They'd agreed. He would not be left behind!
He shifted to ninja class, taking up a katana in each hand, and he glared at the Cloud of Darkness. It watched him calmly, as if examining an interesting insect.
Shouting, he ran towards it.
His breath caught in his throat. The walkway shuddered under his feet and crumbled, dropping chunks of rock down into the void below. He slipped, and he fell, reaching out with a desperate hand to grab at the receding ledge at the lip of the pit.
A gloved hand closed over his wrist, unyieldingly strong, and his shoulder wrenched in its socket.
He bit back a pained yelp, and he looked up into Sephiroth's glowing green eyes.
Sephiroth pulled him up with no visible sign of effort and dropped him onto solid ground. Behind the Soldier, Luneth could see Cloud bearing down in the Cloud of Darkness with a crushing two-handed slash, straining against the tentacles twisted in front of it to block.
Luneth dug his fingers into his shoulder and rotated the protesting joint.
"Thank you," he said.
Cloud twisted around, breaking away from the tentacles, and he slashed upward. The Cloud of Darkness flew backward, black liquid streaming from a gash in its chest.
Sephiroth leaped, and dust spun in little eddies in the wake of his path. Luneth saw his sword flash, and the Cloud of Darkness jolted as if hit by strikes in all directions, and it sagged and toppled toward the ground. Luneth ran forward, jumping up and into a whirlwind spin. His last slash cut deep into the Cloud of Darkness's back and sent it tumbling off the walkway.
Luneth looked down over the edge cautiously. He couldn't see anything.
The solid front of the Particle Beam roared up into his face, and he threw himself backward, feeling the small hairs on his cheek singe.
The Cloud of Darkness rose slowly over the edge of the pit, staring straight at him, and the tentacles spun and launched out like whips.
Luneth stood, swords held crossed in front of him. He was ready.
Cloud glanced down and caught his eye, nodding firmly. He raised the Buster Sword in a two handed guard.
Then, Luneth was looking at Sephiroth's back. The long silver hair was darkened with dust and blood.
"I will handle this," Sephiroth said.
"Don't be stupid," Cloud said quickly. "It'd be a lot easier if we—"
Sephiroth cut him off with a sharp slashing motion of the Masamune. He turned his head slightly, and Luneth could see the unnatural glow of an eye.
"It is not pity that moves me, you who do not understand anything."
Luneth saw Cloud flinch as if shot. Slowly, the Buster blade lowered.
Cloud turned, slinging his sword over his shoulder.
"Come on," he said to Luneth. "We have to end this." He walked away without looking back once.
Luneth followed, and he thought he might have seen a small smirk on Sephiroth's face.
Firion shot off a volley of arrows, piercing through the mines that the Emperor had set all around him. Pulling out his axe, he flung it forward, and he lunged, sword in hand, to the other side, where the Emperor would need to dodge.
Light flashed when he put his foot down, and he glanced down at the trap, cursing through gritted teeth. Lightning jolted up through the floor, and his muscles clenched up, unable to move.
The Emperor walked slowly forward, a smug smile on his face, and he waved his staff. A bright white crest drew itself in the air, and Firion could only watch as glowing projectiles shot out toward him.
The force of the impact knocked him off of the thunder trap, and his shoulder rammed into the wall.
A spark flared under him, and Firion pushed himself up and over the mines that flickered into sight and exploded under him. The shockwave knocked him off balance, and Firion thudded to the ground.
Coughing and trying to catch his breath, Firion looked up. The Emperor's golden armour clanked as he stepped forward.
"It is over," he said. "It is time for me to drag you to hell."
Firion saw the glow of the runes surrounding the Emperor, lying at his feet, and he curled in just as the blasts of fire began raining down on him. He heard the roar of the meteor descending, and he braced himself.
The explosions began, but the sounded strangely far away.
Firion looked up and saw Kuja standing over him, magic glowing brightly in his hands. Holy magic gained strength as it grew, and it spat and ate at the meteor, crumbling it in midair.
The Emperor snarled, slashing his staff in the air, but Zidane danced around the blow and spun, the Sargatanas joined and whirling in his hands. Lightning speared down, surrounding the Emperor, and a burst of water welled up and slammed the Emperor up into the air.
Kuja stepped forward, and he swung his arm. Flares welled up and engulfed the Emperor, sending him free-falling as they exploded.
Firion summoned every weapon he carried, and he threw them forward, the force of his strikes sending a whirlwind spinning down the centre of the ring of weapons that caught at the Emperor's body and slashed deep as it enveloped him.
The Emperor shuddered and fell to the ground. Shreds of gold spun as they clattered down.
The burns of Firion's arms ached and cracked when he moved, but he ignored them, drew his bow, and aimed it at the Emperor.
"Think he's dead?" Zidane asked, cocking his head beside Firion.
"I'm not sure."
Then, two spheres of Flare magic hovered in the air, and the Emperor had vanished.
Firion shot an arrow through one, and Zidane leaped up and kicked forward, sending a ring of fireballs barrelling into the second spell. They blew, sending streamers of magic into the air.
The Emperor's laugh echoed through the hall. "I will not lose! There is but one ruler in this land," he said. The Emperor floated down into view, pointing his staff at Firion's throat. "And I am he."
Firion gripped his spear, tensing himself to spring.
"Such pride," Kuja said, his voice dripping with disdain, "can only come before a fall." He stepped in front of Zidane, tapping the fingertips of one hand against his cheek. Kuja smirked, and he snapped the fingers of his free hand. The air between him and the Emperor exploded sharply, knocking aside the Emperor's staff, and Kuja dashed forward, flare magic bursting out and hurtling toward the Emperor.
"What are you doing, Kuja?" Zidane shouted over the rumbling of attack magic.
"Tch." Kuja looked at him askance. "Do you not have your own battle to fight?"
"Do not presume to worry about me." Rings of Holy formed around Kuja and whirled off. He grinned savagely, and Firion had never seen him resemble Zidane so much. "It is the providence of nature that the strong survive."
Zidane hesitated, and then he nodded, shoving Firion ahead of him as he dashed off. "Don't forget!" he called back over his shoulder, "We have somewhere we have to return to!"
The Warrior of Light ducked under Chaos' claws as he swiped, and he threw his shield up and forward, spinning it as it approached Chaos' face. The god of discord leaned backward, letting the subsequent sword slashes pass harmlessly in front of his head.
Fireballs leaped toward him, and the Warrior of Light raised his shield and sword, crossing them in front of his face. They knocked him backward, and he flipped over as he fell, landing in a skid but keeping his feet.
Quickly, he stabbed his sword downward into the ground, and a wave of light shot toward Chaos.
Laughing, Chaos slashed a hand through the attack, and it fizzled and blinked out.
"Is this the best that you can do? Come, I will grant you a free attack."
The Warrior of Light frowned, and he dashed forward, jumping up to slam his shield down toward Chaos' head. Without pausing, he drew level and slashed, a flurry of strikes cutting at Chaos. The last slash threw Chaos down toward the ground, but the god spread his arms and drifted to a halt.
The Warrior of Light narrowed his eyes. Not a scratch. Had Chaos truly grown so strong that he could not be cut?
He glanced down.
Terra was looking up at him, eyes shining with determination. She raised her hands, and the roar of Ultima filled the chamber. It crawled over Chaos, buffeting him and knocking him into the path of Firion's light arrow, which pierced and lodged in a massive shoulder. Tidus slammed down with both feet on Chaos' back before hopping up, sparks of energy boring down where he had jumped. Luneth hung in midair over Chaos, raising both blades and stabbing them down toward Chaos' neck.
Chaos snarled, spinning and slashing out with his tail. It caught Luneth and Tidus, hurling them down to the ground. Their bodies bounced and slid on the rough rock, and there was the snap of something giving.
Squall spun in the air, explosions following in the wake of his gunblade and bursting against Chaos' horned head. Cecil slammed his sword into the ground next to the Warrior of Light, sending pillars of black flame roaring up to engulf Chaos. Zidane slashed down toward Chaos' head, his Sargatanas a blur of speed, and he swung himself backward, throwing the knives toward Chaos. Blinding beams of energy pierced at Chaos. Cloud leaped high, the Buster Sword blazing orange, and he slashed and dived, bearing Chaos down toward the ground with him.
Chaos twisted and roared, trying to regain his footing as he plummeted.
The Warrior of Light swung his sword in a wide arc, and magical blades fanned out before him, hanging in the air before shooting forward and piercing straight into Chaos' chest.
Chaos jerked, sailing backward in a curving arc.
It started low, a deep rumble that sent shivers down his spine, and it grew and grew until the roar threatened to deafen the warriors.
Chaos halted his fall and turned, leaning forward. His fists clenched, and blasts of hellfire surrounded him like a corona.
"Fools!" he raged, and he blinked out of sight, appearing immediately again in front of Squall. He slashed down with his claws, blood splashing to the ground, and Squall hit the ground hard enough to leave a shallow crater. He spun, claws and tail striking Cloud and Zidane out of the air and slamming them downward. He vanished again, reappearing high up in the air, and he raised his glowing hands.
Huge fiery swords rained down.
The pain was a thick, slow-moving thing, supporting him easily as he floated across the surface. He thought he was dead, and everything had been cut away: senses, emotions...
"Is the dream ending?"
The voice echoed.
He heard it often in his dreams, that voice. Cosmos.
The Warrior of Light drew in a ragged breath, choking on the blood running down his throat. He coughed, turned onto his side, and retched. Warm, coppery spit ran down the side of his mouth, and he wiped it away. Then, he opened his eyes.
He winced, holding his burned arm, and he looked around.
His allies lay still, strewn across the floor. Tidus stirred, groaned, and fell silent again.
The marks of the flaming swords were etched across their bodies, and blood dripped slowly, sluggishly.
Swaying, the Warrior of Light pushed himself to his feet. He held up his sword and his shield, and he looked up at Chaos.
The god of discord sneered down at him, baring sharp fangs. Firelight flickered all around them, and the air smelled of smoke and sulphur. "You still stand," Chaos said. "You are too late. Your comrades lie dying around you, and those you left behind to fight..."
The Warrior of Light twisted and looked beyond the rubble that had once been the wall surrounding the throne room.
It was silent. He could not see the enemy warriors, but those he called allies were not visible, either. There, lying deathly still, may have been a gloved hand, stretching up and reaching out.
"They will be dead soon, without any need for interference," Chaos said.
A flicker, and he was gone. The Warrior of Light was already raising his sword to block when Chaos appeared directly in front of him. He reared up, and he slashed down with razor-sharp claws. The Warrior of Light caught the attack on the sharp edge of his sword, and he strained to throw Chaos off.
A crack appeared in his blade, and his eyes widened in alarm. There was another sharp crack, and his sword shattered, Chaos' claws slicing through the metal and into his chest.
The Warrior of Light staggered, dropping to one knee.
Chaos' laughter echoed through the chamber,
The Warrior of Light hissed, pressing a hand hard against the heavy bleeding seeping through his armour and over his clothing. He could see Chaos above him, great black wings spread wide in the air. The wings pounded once, and they folded. Chaos plummeted down toward him in a sharp dive, and the blast of a triumphant bellow pressed down on the Warrior of Light like a solid weight. Chaos reached out a clawed hand.
He struggled to stand.
The Warrior of Light jerked his head around. Terra was awake now, staring in horror as he crouched under Chaos' charge, unable to move.
"Shield!" Terra screamed, stretching her hand forward, toward him.
The Warrior of Light looked down at his shield, lying at his side. It would not be enough. The shield could not stop Chaos. Then, he saw the glimmer of Terra's magic, weaving over the metal. A flicker of movement caught his eye, and he saw Cloud push himself up on shaking arms. Power, a soft green river, flowed from his raised hand, swirling around the Warrior of Light before sinking inward.
Rustles sounded from around him. He saw Tidus glow bright before tiny tendrils of light, tailed like dancing comets, spun into the air and approached him. Zidane exhaled sharply, and a thick, gentle mist drifted forward. Cecil, Firion, Luneth, Bartz, and Squall, too: they watched him, and their power filled him until he felt like bursting. Warmth, laughter, determination, uncertainty, focus. He felt them all. He expelled the breath in his lungs hard and snatched up the shield, bringing it up to block.
This was it.
Chaos impacted, and the shield flashed blinding white, throwing out spinning triangles of light bigger than he had ever seen before. The magic wobbled, steadied, and grew higher and higher. He could feel it under his hands. Everyone had poured their power into the shield, and it had caught and enveloped them all. Chaos strained, unable to break through, and unable to pull back.
The Warrior of Light yelled, bracing himself and pushing, and the light concentrated and stabbed forward in a massive white surge. It pierced Chaos, blasting through and out his whole body. He thought he saw a gauntlet shatter, and a great dragon roared out, coiling and climbing up into the air. It paused in the sky high above, looking down at them silently, and then it flew away.
Chaos bounced back onto the ground. His flesh began cracking, light streaming out from under his now bark-like skin. The cracks quickly multiplied, strained and boiled, and Chaos exploded, screaming, in a blast that felt as if it had taken the flesh off their bones.
When Cloud opened his eyes again, the decrepit, decaying Chaos Shrine had vanished, leaving gleaming white stone surrounding them on all sides.
They had moved, it seemed.
Up ahead, the entrance to the central chamber was sealed, and in front of the door, three figures stood, staring back at them.
They glowed from within, somehow, and they were almost too bright to look at.
By his side, an answering glow flickered and grew.
Cloud glanced up, wincing at the strain the movement put on his blistering wounds, and he saw the Warrior of Light step forward. The knight's armour glittered harshly in the light emanating from the Warrior of Light's body.
He looked again toward the door, realization dawning.
The Warrior of Light dressed in a White Wizard's robe nodded toward the Knight. "What took you?"
The Black Wizard crossed his arms. "We thought we would need to fight Chaos without you."
The Knight bowed his head. "Forgive me. I had to settle a matter elsewhere."
The Master said, "And now? You are ready?"
"Yes. In a moment." He turned to Cloud, and to the others watching him steadily. "I believe... we may have been caught in the cycle all that time. I believe it is now broken, but we have exited at the beginning, before Garland created the time loop. And so, as such, our fights have not yet happened."
The white hallway was silent as the warriors thought, and they understood.
"We don't want to fight anymore," Tidus said softly.
Air flickered, and portals to each of their worlds appeared behind them. There were shadows in the portals, boiling and twisting. Several took on familiar shapes. The Emperor stared, waiting for Firion and watching through the gateway. Kefka giggled and beckoned, curling a finger toward Terra. Ultimecia crossed her arms behind Squall, and wine red lips curved in Edea's pale face.
"I am sorry," said the Knight. "You will not remember."
There was a flash of light.
Everyone was gone, leaving only the four Warriors of Light.
The Knight frowned, but he shook his head. He did not hope.
The Warrior of Light stirred, and he woke, pulling himself up onto his hands and knees. Water drifted and lapped around his fingers. He grasped his sword, leaning heavily on it as he stumbled to his feet. He looked up. The greyness of the land stretched out as far as his eyes could see, the occasional flashes of light like the trails of stars soaring into the grey sky.
"Sanctuary," he said, quietly.
Someone shifted behind him, and there was a clink of armour and the rustle of cloth.
The Warrior of Light turned around.
It was... everyone.
His comrades stood under the greyness of the horizon. Terra and Luneth stood side by side to his right. He had that childish grin, looking for all the world as if he knew something that no one else did. Terra raised a hand and waved shyly. Tidus had his sword resting over both shoulders, smiling so widely that it was surprising his head did not split in two. Cecil seemed to glow white in the mist, like the light of the moon. Everyone.
And behind them... Golbez stood stoically, his eyes a hint of a glitter behind his helmet. Jecht rotated a shoulder nonchalantly. Kuja gave him a disdainful look before running his fingers through his hair with a flourish.
"What—?" The Warrior of Light said, and stopped.
Cosmos glittered gold behind the warriors. She smiled softly.
"I told you," said Tidus.
The Warrior of Light looked at him uncertainly.
"I told you we would stop the cycle."
The Warrior of Light's eyes widened. He swept his gaze over the assembled crowd again. Squall gave a curt nod when their eyes met briefly. Garland hmphed, crossing his arms and half-turning his body to stare off into the distance. He glanced back at the Warrior of Light, and he shifted awkwardly.
"We're done fighting," Tidus said.
The Warrior of Light took a step forward. Cloud gave him the reserved half-smile that seemed to be his only method of dealing with situations he couldn't resolve with his giant Buster. Sephiroth glanced at him, looked mildly amused, and made a complicated gesture with the Masamune that caused Cloud to roll his eyes. He was not sure he wanted to know. The secrets those two kept could bury a kingdom.
"How?" he said, finally.
"There are some memories that resonate too deeply within us to vanish," said Firion. The wild rose was a splash of colour in his upraised hand. "What we went through together..."
"We'll never forget," concluded Bartz.
Zidane laced his fingers behind his head. "We remember everything, and we don't want to fight anymore."
There was a strange feeling bubbling in his chest, and when the Warrior of Light let it out, a huff of a laugh sounded loud in the silent world.
"My friends," he said. Garland gave him a strange look.
Ahh. The word tasted right.
"My friends. Thank you."