Here is the next chapter and my early Christmas present to all: the end of Book II. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
The first Iifa Tree battle
Dawn came soon over the village and, for once, I was reluctant to rise from my bed. Sari and Vivi were once more sleeping with me and their warmth was excessively welcome. That's the problem with warm area: they are frankly hot at day and totally cold at night. I remember my father explaining me it was because of the sand. It doesn't hold on heat. Sari growled when she saw the sun rise.
"A new day has come."
"Yeah, but I don't want to leave this place."
"We have to. Once breakfast is over, we have to go to the Iifa Tree and find Kuja."
She crept over me and placed a kiss on my lips. I felt heat wash over me and growled.
"There are kids around …"
"They can go elsewhere."
"We have no time for that."
"Next night, then."
Damn Sari and her charm, there were no ways for me to say no. It was incredible. I had known her for only a few days and I was already in love with her … Sighing, I cast the blanket away and rose from the bed. I was starting to hate mornings. Sari rose too and went to the bucket of water for her ritual morning cleaning. I lightly shook Vivi's shoulder.
"Vivi, wake up."
Vivi rolled on his side and curled into a better position. Looks like I wasn't the only one wishing for a couple more hours of sleep. I smiled.
The kid opened his golden eyes and turned to me.
"It's dawn already …"
"Yeah, unfortunately. Go clean yourself, breakfast will be ready soon."
I looked at the kid. Under his clothes, Vivi's body was very strange. It was jet black, smooth as glass and shaped like a doll. I mean, he had no ribs, no chest, no articulations at all. He was … doll-like, even thought I hated this term. He was artificial. I cleaned my self and ate breakfast along the others. During the meal, Faith agreed into leaving Eiko travel with us. When the journey would be over, she could still go with her at Selvaren. Here, she would meet other people who, like her, had summoning powers and would no more be alone. After all, rangers and summoners were sibling races, like the cleyrans and burmecians were. Before we left, mom took Dagger to the Eidolon Wall. According to her, they had a gift for our friend. When they came back, Dagger had a pair of high-heeled, high white boots that got along her dress just fine. I couldn't help but wonder how many surprises this wall held for us. As we came to the exit of Madain Sari, the red-haired mercenary that faced Zidane yesterday came to us. Zidane took his daggers.
"What now? You want some more, eh?"
The man shook his head.
"The victor lives, the defeated dies. You know the rules. Your actions yesterday were incomprehensible to me. Tell me! Why didn't you kill me?"
Zidane scratched the back of his head.
"Well, that's a tough question … Are you really that unhappy that I let you live?"
"I'd rather die as a warrior than live as a beggar."
"Then come with me." Zidane offered.
This caused our group to gasp.
"Why would you?"
"What are you after?" The man asked.
"Follow me and maybe you'll understand. Besides, you're pretty good in a fight. We could use someone like you. We're hunting a man down. And besides, maybe you'll get to find the other Artifacts of the armor you're wearing."
The man grumbled something but finally nodded.
"Very well. I'll find out what makes you so strong."
Zidane shook his head.
"What's your name?"
"Call me what you will."
"That's not an answer."
The man sighed.
"Some people call me the Flaming Amarant."
"Fine. We'll call you Amarant."
He turned to the dusty path ahead.
"Alright, follow me. Next stop, the Iifa Tree."
And so we took the road to the great tree again. There were a few monsters during the trip, which helped us get a glint of our new friend's fighting style. Amarant was a martial artist, fighting with kicks and punches. His claws were quite dangerous and, if needed, he could use his chakram for both melee and ranged fight. When we finally reached the tree, a shiver ran down my spine. I closed my eyes, seeking the soothing warmth of my eidolon friends. The first I found was Anima.
'You feel it too …' She said in my head. 'You feel there is still malevolence coming from it.'
'There shouldn't.' I mentally replied. 'We defeated Soulcage. The Mist is gone.'
'You're right, it is.' Diablo said. 'But somehow, there is still evilness within this place. True, we defeated Soulcage, but the tree is still a threat. How, I don't know. But I feel more troubles will come from it, and you feel it too, Si'Nai.'
Zidane looked at the place.
"There's still a little Mist, but at least there's no more coming out. That must mean Kuja isn't here yet."
Amarant looked at him.
"What happened to the Mist?"
"We beat the beast that breathes it. So much for the Mist Continent!"
Amarant seemed impressed. Mom turned to him.
"Don't be fooled. Defeating this monster was a challenge. Alone, none of us could have had a chance. And you neither."
Ayden suddenly shrieked and Dagger raised her head to the sky. She gasped.
"Zidane, Si'Nai! There's a silver dragon!"
We all looked up. There was indeed a beautiful silver dragon lying to the Iifa Tree. I recognized the beast instantly and so did Zidane.
"It's him! He flew from the ruins of Burmecia riding a silver dragon! It's Kuja, alright! And he's riding that dragon!"
Kuja sat on the back of his mount, its powerful wings flapping with strength at his sides. The creature was a very nice specimen. It had a soft white fur, long white feathers outlined with purple, sharp claws able to tear a zaghnol's skin to shreds and glimmering blue eyes, as blue as the sky they crossed. Kuja was proud of his mount, but he was also proud of what he would do on that day. He looked to the giant tree.
"Oh, how I've longed for this day … the day I might finally cast away that mask to reveal my true self. Now it no longer matters if the Iifa Tree is liberated. It means nothing to me."
A laugh escaped his mouth.
"The tree is so beautiful! Its beauty becomes the great mother tree that lives among the stars!"
He caressed the silver dragon's neck.
"Vritra, my friend, let us watch the drama unfold from the trunk of Iifa. No one shall interrupt us here."
The dragon, Vritra, purred at his master's soft tone. Blood … there would be blood spilled soon. And his feast would begin. A feast unlike any others. The dragon roared loudly communicating his enthusiasm to his master. Kuja chuckled and rubbed the point where the neck met with the front leg, earning a deep purr. Vritra just loved his master and Kuja saw the dragon as his only friend … the only one who truly understood him.
We walked through the many knots the roots made, unsure of our path. Vivi and Eiko weren't good jumpers and so the paths we could take were limited. Zidane finally looked before us.
"We'll pass the trunk if we go any farther. And Kuja went down that trunk."
Eiko turned to him.
"Hey, Zidane. How are we gonna get up there?"
"Can't we climb there?"
"Me neither." Vivi frowned.
"I don't think I can either." Dagger added.
Sari shook her head and mom looked at the trunk.
"No can do. Not by myself."
"We came all this way … Now what?"
Amarant looked at us.
"What's the problem? You should just go by yourself!"
"We gotta face Kuja together!" Zidane angrily replied. I nodded.
"Right. Kuja is strong. Facing him alone could mean death to us. And I don't plan on dying now."
"How did this whim end up beating me?"
He walked to Zidane, aledgedly pushing aside everyone in his way. I grabbed Sari's arm just in time and helped the others get up. Zidane frowned and snarled.
"Hey, Amarant! Watch where you're walking!"
"You almost knocked me down!" Eiko complained.
Amarant didn't hear her.
"'He who hesitates is lost.' You better remember that."
"Well, I prefer 'My way or the highway'."
"Whatever. Like you actually have a plan."
"Oh yeah, smarty-pants? Don't forget you're the one that lost to Zidane."
"Shut up, brat."
Sari raised her hand, a dagger in hand. I held it back.
"A plan, eh? Well, I may have one."
Everyone turned to me. I closed my eyes and focused my magic. Taking an arrow, I shot it to the sky. Bats followed it and became a jet-black sphere that morphed and changed color to become Diablo. I turned to the others.
"Here is my plan. We use my eidolons to get up there. Ayden, do you mind?"
'Not at all.'
Ayden turned into Hraesvelgr and landed beside Diablo. Sari smiled and shook her head.
"I'll never understand how he has his eidolon lower themselves to do such menial tasks."
Mom turned to her as she went on Diablo's back.
"He's their friend, not their master. If one of them refuses to obey, Si'Nai will accept it and find another way around. Si'Nai's eidolons are free of their choices, something they are grateful of. So to repay this kindness, they obey him without much complains."
"If you say so … After all, I may be partially summoner, but I don't have their powers. I feel like I know way not enough about eidolons to discuss of the matter."
"Don't worry, you'll learn over time."
On this, we flew to the trunk, Zidane being with Dagger and Amarant on Hraesvelgr while I was with Vivi, mom and Sari on Diablo.
Kuja looked at the sea from the large vine he was on, Vritra lying at his side and resting his wings from the long flight. The silver-haired man closed his eyes.
"The weak loses his freedom to the strong. Such is the way of the strong. And it is the providence of nature that only the strong survives. That is why I needed strength. I learnt of powers that would daunt even him … over ten years ago."
The man stirred.
"Such a long time … Now my forces are ready to strike! Ahh … The suspense is terrible!"
A noise caught his attention. Looking down, he saw Zidane and his little team of friends flying to him on two winged eidolons. He frowned, remembering the fight in Burmecia … and Dagger's resistance in Alexandria.
"So they've come this far, have they? Perfect. I'll warm up on them until the elephant-lady shows up."
His hand opened as lightning crackled in it. It had been long since he didn't have a true fight … At the same time, his real last battle left him with a nasty scar on his right forearm. But Ariane was on a different level from those pathetic idiots. She was way before them, and this is why he fell for her.
As soon as we reached a vine near Kuja, Diablo came back inside of me and Hraesvelgr became Ayden again. Dagger frowned and took her scepter.
"Yeah, get ready guys …"
We all took our weapons. Vivi held his wand tight.
"Kuja … Maker of the black mages …"
"An enemy of Zidane is an enemy of mine!"
I notched an arrow.
We all jumped on a vine and aimed our weapons. Dagger was the first to speak to the man.
"You are Kuja, correct? My name is Princess Garnet til Alexandros. I wish to ask you something. Was it really you who persuaded my mother to start the war …"
"The war that threw the whole Mist Continent into chaos?" Kuja cut.
He didn't even turn to us. Vivi frowned, his voice wavering a bit.
"And you made everyone … the black mages into instruments of war?"
This time, the man turned. I didn't like the smile on his face. He seemed to look down to us.
"Oh, dear … The princess has such a bloodthirsty little puppet. I don't have the power to do such a thing. I just gave them a little recipe. Begin with broth of Mist, add fermented soul and boil, then pour genuine black magic into a mixing bowl and heat to …"
I shivered when I heard Vivi's tone. The only time I saw him that mad, it was before our fight against Black Waltz No. 3. Kuja shook his head.
"I am not done telling you how to make soulless toys out of the dregs of souls!"
"Dregs of souls? You mean Mist?"
"First you don't want to listen, and you start asking questions? Oh, brother … But you're not ready yet."
"Why you … Don't you feel anything? Taking the lives of so many …"
"Spare me the lecture. Lives come and go all the time. What's the big deal?"
"Lives may come and go, but every one of them is unique and precious …"
Kuja shook his head, waving his hand to brush my comment away.
"Speaking of warmongers, why … what about that mother of yours, Princess? She said she won't feel alive until she has everything. It breaks my heart to see such greed! The war was my fault? No, no! Your mother wanted it! All I did was give her a little push!"
Dagger's eyes flared and she aimed her scepter to the man.
"Liar! My mother was sweet and kind. You changed her!"
Kuja looked at the sea and smiled.
"Mwahaha … So, the curtain rises! Perfect, my canary. Let me show you the truth about your mother! First Act: The End of the Ugly Desire. It's show time!"
We looked at the sea and shivered at the sight. The ocean was covered with red-sailed ships, color of Alexandria! Brahne had come with all her fleet, ready to fight and kill Kuja once and for all. I had the feeling we shouldn't stay here too long. Ayden turned to me.
'Hurry! You can use your nature magic to see through my eyes. Use it!'
It was worth a shot. I closed my eyes and finally found the spell. Placing my index and middle finger on my eyes, I placed them on Ayden's.
"Be my eyes, my friend."
Soon I saw through Ayden's eyes. My own eyes had turned falcon-like and I was losing my balance a bit. Zidane helped me sit down and Ayden took his flight, passing over the armada. Most ships had massive cannons and most of the Alexandrian army was here. There was also a good deal of black mages. I shivered as my eyesight returned to normal and looked at my friends.
"I hope for himself that Kuja has an army. Otherwise, he is screwed."
"This guy is resilient. He wouldn't be facing Brahne without a backup plan."
In her ship, the queen laughed.
"Kuja! So, you finally decided to show your girly face here! You're all that stands between me and total domination! Gehehe! But I haven't forgotten all you've done for me! In return, I will show you the ultimate power! Attention, all hands! Order the black mages to focus all their energy into a single spell! Lay suppressing fire upon Kuja until the spell is ready! Fire! Fire at will!"
In the other ships, orders were passed.
"Order from Her Majesty! Black Mages, focus all your magical energy into a single spell!"
On the decks, the black raised their arms and focused. Seeing that, Dagger fell to her knees.
"I … I can't believe it!"
In our back, Kuja chuckled.
"Your mother isn't satisfied with just one continent. Her ugliness and stupidity are truly impressive. Ahh … Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."
Zidane turned to him.
"What are you talking about?"
"You're just the opening number. Time for the real show."
We raised our weapons.
"We won't let you get away!"
"The Mist may be created no more, but it still lurks in caves and forests, right?"
We were surprised by the statement. Now what?
"I can make monsters with magic! Come forth, spawns of the Mist!"
Two dark insect-like monsters appeared. They were scaled and horned, with several front claws, fangs and a dozen yellow eyes. Sari frowned.
I aimed and shot, my arrow piercing the skull of the monster. Vivi incinerated the second one. I could tell he would trance very soon. His body was lightly crackling with energy. Amarant looked at the scene.
"So two of your enemies are dukin' it out? Why not leave 'em and finish off the winner? My money's on Kuja."
Kuja had taken flight and was now watching the scene below. Mistodons were assaulting the ship, causing damages on amazons and black mages alike. It was a ferocious battle between the two armies. The ships' cannons managed to repell th first wave, but the damages were heavy. Kuja laughed.
"Hahaha! Foolish Brahne! Your prized cannons are useless against the spawns of Mist. But even a fool like you knows that here is only one path you can take, right? Stupid elephant-lady, why do you hesitate?"
"Very well … I'll make the first move. I'll give you a clean target. You can't miss! Vritra, descend!"
We looked as Kuja landed on a vine. Zidane frowned.
"Amarant is right. Let's split before we get dragged in."
Dagger shook her head.
"No, I can't … I can't let anything happen to my mother!"
Our friend turned to us.
"Everyone …I have to save her!"
"Uh, Dagger? She extracted eidolons from you and started a war!"
"I still don't want her to die!"
"But she didn't care one bit whether you lived or died! You don't have to call her mother anymore!"
"She's my only mother! I don't care if you don't understand! Eiko, you said that there was an eidolon imprisoned near here, right?"
"Please, tell me where!"
"It's a long way down. Do you see where the roots knot themselves tight? He is there."
"I see it."
On this, she ran. Eiko jumped.
"Dagger, don't go alone!"
A mastodon jumped before us as we started to run. Mom's blizarra pierced his skin hard. Amarant smiled.
"This is turning into quite a show."
"Anyone can get emotional at times like this!" Eiko angrily replied. "Give her a break!"
"Let's go, Zidane. Dagger's in danger all by herself."
"Yeah, let's go after her."
We ran down the large vine after our friend, slaying the mastodons that came in our way. When we found Dagger, she had her hands pressed on the statue of a big sea serpent. Mom frowned.
"Leviathan the Wild, Lord of the Raging Sea. If Dagger is the powerful little girl I remember, she should be able to tame him … and receive his powers."
Dagger closed her eyes.
"I can sense the eidolon's powers … Now, now I can save my mother!"
She caressed the statue's muzzle.
"Please, help me."
As an answer, the statue glowed and two wings of light appeared. A small aquamarine appeared in her hand and Dagger felt its power pulsing from it. Her eyes widened.
"No! I can't save my mother with this eidolon!"
Sari bent to her side.
"Because … his powers are over water. He would harm my mother rather than protect her. Oh, mother! I'm sorry I cannot save you …"
"There is still a way. Odin is airborne, and so is Ramuh."
"But summoning several eidolons at once is risky." Mom replied. "You will get exhausted quickly."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take. Rise up, Dagger. Summon Odin and Ramuh, I'll summon Diablo, Anima and the Magus Sisters."
Mom closed her eyes.
"Alright. Eiko, be ready. Summon Carbuncle, Fenris and even Phenix, if you can."
The girl nodded. Together, we started our summoning sequences. In the ship, the amazons were worried.
"Isn't her Majesty ready yet? All the remaining ammunition was spent on that last wave of monsters. The next wave will chew us up unless we pull out now!"
"That is not our decision! Get back to your post, soldier!"
In the command ship, a soldier came to the queen.
"Your Majesty, the black mages have completed their preparations."
Brahne looked at her enemy.
"That insolent whelp! Now I can finish him off! Come, Draconic Seedling! Bahamut, King of the Dragons!"
And so, he appeared. Bahamut, the Dragon King. The embodiment of the chaotic face of nature, Lord of the Untamed. He rose from the seas in a flash of light and stood before Kuja in all his might. He was the tallest dragon I had ever seen, his scales being brown and purple. His sight caused us to stop in our track. Dagger had Odin, Leviathan and Ramuh at her side, Mom had summoned Golem, Cait Sith, Bismarck and Sylph, while Eiko was standing near Fenris, Titan and Carbuncle. I had Anima, Diablo and the three Magus Sisters at my side and Ayden himself had taken his eidolon form. We watched as the dragon lord threw spheres of energy to Kuja, but the man managed to escape. We frowned and got ready to fight. Amarant nodded.
"I've heard the stories, but I never thought summoning could be that powerful."
"Now we can win! And mother won't have to die! Eiko, don't you think … What's wrong?"
The girl was nervous. Now that I looked at them, every eidolon was looking at the sky with worry in their eyes.
"Mog … She's terrified!"
The girl didn't answer immediately. Dagger frowned.
"Don't you know? That's the last eidolon, Bahamut the Dragon King! He'll win for sure!"
Well, our eidolons weren't, and they were right to be. What came after was a pure and intense battle. Why? Well, this is what happened.
Kuja rode Vritra through the sky, the dragon growling lightly to his master. Kuja patted his neck.
"It's alright, Vritra. I'm fine. Wait, what is it?"
Something was flowing from his forehead, something warm and liquid. He touched it … and his eyes widened when he saw his fingers covered with blood. Blood … It'd been ages since he last bled. The thought caused him to chuckle. This chuckle turned into a full-voiced laughter of amusement.
"Excellent, Bahamut! Power, mobility … You truly are the best! You even hurt me … a little. And you, Brahne, your tragic role in this drama now comes to an end! I'm sure you'll enjoy the second act from your soul's hellish prison, since the stage will be your former home! The final act will take us away from Gaia, and I will kill my nemesis … with my own hands!" Hahaha! Everything is going according to plan!"
The man raised his hands to the sky, which was covered with dark clouds. An eye appeared among them, a giant eye in the sky belonging to the crystal knew what horrible monster. Ribbons of purple and yellow flew from it in waves, piercing the very soul of every person present in the area. In the Iifa Tree, Zidane and his friends were saved in extremis by Carbuncle, who summoned a protective shield around them. Ramuh helped the small green eidolon fortify the shield, protecting everyone present around. The members of the small team gathered against each other, terrified by what they saw. Zidane was holding Dagger, Sari was nesting herself in Si'Nai's arms while the archer also protected Vivi. Eiko sought haven in Faith's arms while Amarant looked at the shy, his eyes narrowing into two slits.
As Bahne's army crumbled and Bahamut howled in pain, Kuja looked at the scene, unaffected. When the queen raised her head again and the dark clouds, as well as the light disappeared, she was terrified to see Bahamut standing before her, ready to blast her. A mute scream of fear escaped her mouth as she saw death standing before her … until a violent burst of darkness hit the dragon. Bahamut growled … and turned to see fifteen eidolons glaring angrily at him. Ramuh raised his wand.
Every eidolon roared loudly and flew to Bahamut. Kuja's eyes widened.
"Meddlesome fools! Spawns of the Mist, kill them!"
An army of mistodons appeared from the tree. In her ship, Brahne glanced angrily at the scene.
"Bahamut, you traitor … And you, my pesky daughter, how dare you mess up with my fight? Ifrit, Shiva, Atomos! And you, black mages, attack!"
The remaining black mages attacked as the three remaining eidolons jumped in the fight. Soon, the melee became a mess. Atomos breathed in deeply, absorbing mistodons that were too close … and Ramuh. Not liking this at all, the archimage focused his power and blasted all the lightning he could summon. Atomos exploded from inside and Ramuh stood out, cleaning his robes.
"No kidding …"
Anima stood on the beach like a watchtower, throwing beams of darkness to the mistodons and the black mages. In the melee, Carbuncle was jumping on the waves, his little ruby shooting laser beams to any target in sight. When a mistodon tried to catch him, the green fur ball bared his claws and tore deeply in the scales of the creature. Leviathan faced Shiva but was losing badly. Salt water was hard to freeze but the female eidolon wasn't called the Winter Goddess for nothing. She froze the sea serpent and snapped her fingers, breaking down the ice. Leviathan faded, defeated. Ifrit managed to defeat Sylph and Mindy, but not before the hornet-girl turned him into a hedgehog with her Passado attack. Bismarck finished the work by throwing the demon into the sea with his tail. Seeing the small team's eidolons were winning, Kuja gave his orders. As Odin rushed to him with Hraesvelgr, the dragon shot a powerful beam of energy to the queen's main ship. Dagger gasped.
In the sky, Kuja gave one last look to the mess before leaving. Bahamut disappeared and the hostilities stopped. The battle of the Iifa Tree had no victor.
No one knows why Bahamut attacked the one who summoned him. But we found Queen Brahne on the beach, next to her escape pod. She could hardly move. I knew she could die any time. I hate Kuja a lot for his deeds. But I can't say I like Brahne either. In fact, I hate her too. But I never wanted this to happen. I should rejoice, but seeing Dagger crying made me want to cry too, or at least pray for the queen.
Dagger kneeled to her mother who slowly opened her eyes.
"I … can hear … my daughter's voice."
"Yes, mother. I'm here! Right there."
Dagger was crying and had to fight to get her voice straight. Brahne threw some blood on the sand.
"I am empty, now … Free … Free … of that … terrible greed …"
"I haven't … felt that way … since I saw that play … with you … and your father."
She weakly raised her hand and caressed her daughter's cheek.
"I led … Alexandria … down … the path of … ruin … The people … will be happier … with you … on the throne …"
And so she died. We all shed a tear and took Brahne's escape pod. Sailing the seas, our first stop was Selvaren where we told the rangers everything that happened. Eiko stayed with us, but mom chose to remain in the village, much to Aunt Aria's pleasure. Then we came back to Alexandria, where the fallen queen was given proper funerals. I wasn't allowed to assist it but Ayden told me everything about it.
Doctor Tot led the future queen to her mother's grave.
"This way, Princess."
The young princess followed her teacher, and turned to her two bodyguards.
"Steiner, Beatrix, how horrible that her life had to end this way. I still can't believe all that has happened."
The two tried to apology, but the princess shook her head.
"Thank you, both of you. I must now carry the burden of ruling Alexandria alone. Will both of you please help me during this, my time of need?"
The two knights nodded.
Garnet went to the tombstone. Doctor Tot handed him a crown of red roses.
"Princess, here is a wreath of roses, your mother's favorites. The townspeople sent it as an offering for the queen's grave. True, Queen Brahne had been acting quite erratic before her death, but the people are still very fond of her, as you can see."
Garnet nodded and placed the wreath on the marble tombstone as Steiner and Beatrix saluted the grave.
"Mother … I shall become a great queen."
She left the grave and went to the edge of the area. Looking at the castle and the shining blade that rose in its middle, she swore to herself that she would do her best to protect her people.
Easier said than done.
Yep, easier said than done, especially knowing what's next. Well, here is the end of the second book. Next story: Book III, World War. Things get really interesting from here on ... and we get to know way more about Kuja and his family ... given his son appears to help he heroes. Yes, Silver is a good guy. And a tough one at that.
As for Kuja's dragon, I wanted to call him Tiamat at first but Tiamat is already the name of a monster so I had to find something else. Vritra, the hindu dragon that kept the clouds before being killed by Indra, seemed to be a good name.
Well, lots of presents everyone. Have fun for Christmas!