Sorry to make you wait. Got a writer's block at the beginning of holidays.

XIV. Shattered Wonder.

Terra unsheathed her slim sword to pierce the chest of the manikin in the shape of Squall, tearing the diamond material upwards, almost as easy as cutting butter. She was dazzled of how easy to turned out to be, even doing it on her own while her friends were barely fighting them without getting hurt.

Zidane was struggling with his doppelganger of crystal, slamming the edges of each other's daggers, and with a swift move, the young man managed to kick the manikin towards the girl. "Terra! Finish him!" And she quickly conjured a great flare ball, evaporizing the character before it could touch her. The little thief growled with enthusiasm for her fast move and she simply smirked with approval.

However, it was too soon to sing their victory fanfare. While not looking back, she sensed the shadow of a huge manikin about to attack her. Terra fastened her sword ina chance to block the assault, but a great white beam of light obstructed the manikin's way, protecting the girl.

The man, one that she had never seen before, was dressed in white and blue armor, shining with some sort of holy light, and his hair was shoulder-long and platinum white. Terra noticed at the moment of his counter attack the spear-like sword, same weapon that Cecil used. Could it be?

"Leave this one to me!" Cecil's voice claimed, pulling out a completey different strength from what the Dark Cecil used before.

His force was great, his speed almost graceful, he converted the Garland manikin into pieces. On the other side, Firion and Cloud finished the rest of manikins that charged against them. Everything was under control again.

While they were checking their supplies once more before parting again, Terra approached with curiosity to the newly-found knight sitting while fixing his kneepads on his armor. As the paladin noticed her presence, he smiled kindly at her. Cecil's face had very youthful traits, yet it could be perceived that he was already a mature man, full of understanding and experience.

He asked with his well-known benevolent voice how was she doing, soon realizing that this was the first time they meet with him not wearing the black attire of the Dark Knight.

This time, they began walking together as she begun making few questions about his ability to change his warrior characterictics. Again, she proved herself not very good with conversations, even worse because of the distressing nature of their current quest. She was still dead worried for Kuja, and it was a thorn constantly digging inside her chest, because she didn't know if... he'd still be alive after the last time she heard him.

Yes, when she received his message, it disturbed her beyond words, and even when her comrades saw her anxiety unfolding fast, she wasn't capable of telling them about it. It wouldn't be fair to take their hopes away, to make them question the certainty of this mission.

It was only her and Kuja's despair.

"Have you cleared your thoughts yet?" he asked, leaning respectfully close to the young lady as they walked behind their group.

The doll-looking girl slowly turned her face to the paladin, holding an expression full of grief. "... I know what I want to do, Cecil. But... he doesn't want to be saved; I know why." she whispered, concealing the pain. "I'm not sure what's the right thing to do anymore. Ain't I being selfish for wanting to rescue him, regardless what he wants?"

"Won't you ask Zidane as well? May you forgive me, but I'm sure that he'd give you a better answer than I can offer you, Terra."

"Zidane... he's too young, also too naïve and heady. I'm sure he cares a lot for Kuja, but I doubt he understands him at all... Cecil, please help me."

The adult warrior frowned a little, uneasy for what she asked. "I... don't know your friend Kuja, and I can't build a judgement about him... But if you're so convinced about him needing help, if you say he tried to do the right thing... you, as my fellow warrior, I trust in your word."

Of course Kuja tried. But she was the only one who actually was sure of that fact. Cecil was just giving it a chance. Zidane believed what he wanted, Cloud was just responding to his past and Firion was a good friend who wanted to help out. It was Terra the one who trusted the truth.

"Terra, it's okay to have your doubts everytime it gets hard; but if you will it with all your being, you can't deny it to yourself. If deep within yourself you believe it's not wrong to save your friend, do not stop what your heart wants." he laid his gentle hand on the small shoulder of the girl. "Don't hesitate on doing what you think it's right, even when it doesn't seem as the best thing to do."

She didn't knew how to smile. Those words were a better support than her own thoughts. All doubts and fears reduced to her own good will, the true desire of her heart versus the anxiety of moral. And she realized, in the same way that there were warriors of discord who weren't bad at all, there were also warriors of the light who weren't pure like snow. They were just driven by their personal desires.

For example: Cecil seemed resolute about his role.

"Cecil, how did you get your crystal?"

"I cleared my heart from all doubts... thanks to my brother."

"Did you... fight him?" she asked in lower voice, but trying so hard to not sound grieved.

"As hard as it seemed, in the end it was necessary to fight. However, it doesn't really mean that all of us need to obtain our crystals through battle. All we need to do is to find our true path and accept what will come for us... It's not meant to be easy, my friend, but we need to keep on fighting until pulling ourselves through. If you're certain about your own convictions, don't let it stop. Try to grasp the end of the road with all your might."

Terra stared down and took a deep tranquil breath. The holy warrior was way more ahead than most of her friends, and probably crossed a longer and harder path than she'd ever do. His speech was precious.

She sighed peacefully, staring again into Cecil's eyes. "I was afraid of fighting. Constant conflict scares me even now." she shook her shoulders as she said that. "But with your words, I remember all the reasons why must I keep on going. Everytime I look back, I want to stop, although nothing I do will ever change the past. I realize that the best I can do is to keep building the future."

"That's right, Terra." he smiled gently. "Don't worry about it now, okay? Once this is over, you'll have plenty of time to seek for the past. You won't be able to fix the mistakes, but you're still given to chance to understand them. You can wonder then what to do to redeem yourself in a way or another."

She thought about Kuja again. "Cecil... what happens if we can't do enough for paying our mistakes?"

An uneasy smirk crossed his lips. "... I don't know. Some people can forgive, others won't. It's up to you if you can live with that. So, don't feel so bad if you're trying with all your heart. Anything you want, do it with honesty in your will."

"Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me... I know what should I do to clean my wounds. I know what I want to do." She wanted to leave it clear, that she was no longer confused. "What I'm worried about is..."

"—Oh! Of course. Kuja must have done awful things in the past... You're worried about him and his actions, are you not?"

"I've heard his story from his very lips... and, he seemed very conscious of the harm he's done to the world. Although he looked very sorry for what he did... at the beginning, he was a completely different person. He was so... unaware of his own evil deeds, almost as if they were..."

"... A game?" Cecil completed. Concern weighed on his eyebrows.

"Yes." she assented. "He was like a child. A boy who can't tell between right and wrong."

"That's impressive. How could you tell?"

"I... remember children. There's plenty of children inside my mind."Terra finally figured out. Her fondness for small innocent creatures wasn't just a coincidence, but there was something more than mere memories. They were experiences, echoes from the past erased by the warring cycles. To Cecil, this was an amazing merit, because recovering their memories was their greatest joy in this world.

"Sounds... like you were a mother."

"I don't think so. I wasn't in the time of building a family." she responded, smiling wistfully at those vague images of little kids clinging to her arms. "But, I knew how to take care of children."

The bitter scent of blood dripping warmly on his face was the faint sign of his counsciousness not completely broken. But sometimes, the perception slipped away, in and out, not being able to keep his eyelids open to the blurry darkness of his confinement. It wasn't easy to keep himself awake when there was lack of light.

His mind drifted somewhere else, but if it wasn't for the gentle drum of his heartbeats, he'd be certain about his non-existence. Then again, life wasn't any beautiful with his rotting soul wandering... ruining everything it touched. His thoughts were altered radically. Maybe it was the acceptance of pain as the only justice for his crimes... even if his executioners were just as crooked as he was. That was Lady Justice's only defect on her scheme.

The youth was aware of his lifetime of delusions, just now, too late to take it all back. He was beyond ravished, the poison carved deep within his soul, left alone with the shame of the awakened moral sense.

If he only knew. It wasn't his fault. That was the way he was manufactured. He was born this way, he was born an atrocity.

Inside the dark, the thespian smirked cruelly at the revelation of this irony.

Childhood was the time he lacked of. He needn't to grow-up. He needn't understand what a child would understand. He needn't learn what a child would learn. Time was precious for his Maker, so he created the first Angel with a grown-up mind and body. O, Time was precious. There wasn't time to develop a creature with a rich soul.

Yet, his Maker realized this failure. So the next Angel would be given of this petty age. Zidane, what a lucky bastard he was.

But, not being able to experience maturity... he was left loveless. He could not even grow. In the callous irony of his life, he was just a depraved kid who couldn't understand the values given by wise adults. Life was just a play. He lived inside the passionate fancy of a narcissistic poet. He'd act like a cultivated gentleman just to impress himself, acting as if he understood life while he didn't knew anything at all. Just like a good thespian would do.

In the end, he could only see that he was nothing but just that: an actor. He was the protagonist, the one and only performer of the stage. His façade was flawless and his direction divine. His perfomance always exceeded perfection, for he never knew the difference between life and stage. If a person should have to die, it was all an act. Audience loved tragedy. The applauses were inside his head. He always enjoyed a good death scene, specially if he was the one pulling the strings on the stage.

It was alright, because it was his play. He wrote the play. He acted the play. He watched the play.

Kuja covered the wetness of his crimson face. His fingers were trembling. He couldn't help it. His script, his perfomance, his stage: all destroyed by reality. All of his frivolous words were always dust on his tongue. Nothing he ever believed was true. He did what he wanted, trusting he was free like the wind.

He was bound to death. His end was written under his skin.

Of course, nobody would blame him for losing it after such a cruel discovery... but to attempt to destroy existence itself was beyond forgiveness.

But, haven't he tried? Didn't he prove that he was capable of doing something upright after all? Wasn't he... trying to genuinely gain the affection of certain person? He used to want to live for that.

But voices inside his head were contradicting him, whispering doleful words of righteousness. The world was a better place with him gone. That was right. Those voices reminded him of the wretched and immoral person Kuja was, and how couldn't he ignore that nature. Being left in freedom again it wouldn't take long to him to kill again. Cruelty used to be his best friend.

... He perceived them coming. Closer with each swift step towards the dark reigns.

Was it ire or was it joy what he was feeling? The physical pain suddenly overcame him, before coming to an answer.

"Big Day's Here, Kujie-coo! Let's make you look presentable for their arrival. What do you think?"

The gate opened its blinding light upon them, feeling the inferno awaiting at the other side. They were at the top of the mount, so close to the God of Chaos, and the forces that livid within this dimension surpassed them in number. Terra's legs would have shakened if it wasn't for her sharp senses, feeling the tender and weak presence of the white mage.

There he was, somewhere inside that dreadful place, alive. Her heart began to beat passionately.

He was alive.

"Wait, Terra!" She didn't listen. The brave girl took her strength and lept right into the gothic gate before anyone else. She was followed by Zidane's equally fast pace, knowingly she'd take him where Kuja was imprisoned. They crossed through the rift of brief light, feeling themselves coming closer to the danger-zone.

They arrived, clashed against two of the chaotic warriors expecting them with evil grimaces. Exdeath along the Cloud of Darkness assaulted mercilessly without allowing them to take a breath.

Terra was the first of the group to strike, with Blizzarra she stopped one of the entity's tentacles to grasp her. Zidane followed her by slicing through the defense of the woman-shaped spawn. They were both running across the replicate of the Dream's End, but just as they both turned their heads back, the rest of the group was obstructed by more of the Chaos Warriors.

Garland, the armored fiend, along the infernal Emperor joined forced to their discord comrades, making it difficult for Cloud and the others to pass through. They were putting up a gruesome fight.

"Let us handle this! You go and look for Kuja!" Cloud shouted as he blocked with his large buster blade an energy orb from Exdeath. Firion covered his friend's back while the Emperor launched a destructive wave of magic. Cecil was already focusing on taking care of the Cloud of Darkness and Garland at the same time.

The girl stared ill-hearted, not knowing werether to aid them or continue her path. Kuja might just be few yards away. And the young thief seemed to suffer the same conflict she did.

Firion yelled, fierce in combat. "Don't worry for us now! Just go to retrieve Kuja, as we can just hold them for some limited time! Go!" Then the mage felt the gloved hand tugging her arm. Zidane's eyes were bright and splendid, almost emanating power.

"Terra, we haven't much time! You gotta trust they will work this out! We find him and this will be over!"

Her hesitation died. The magic girl nodded in determination. "Alright. Let's go." Terra became guide, her senses telling her from where the prisoner's feeble presence came from. They pierced together the next entrance towards the forbidden sanctuary.

Passing through the familiar esceneries, running from one stage to the next, Zidane and Terra had to slaughter just a couple of manikins, which seemed odd enough, entering the enemy's personal territory. At the replicate of Kefka's Tower they faced a manikin weaker than those found outside the dimensional gate.

After the short match, everything went deathly quiet, obvious enough they were being watched by someone.

Zidane's grip on his daggers tightened, growing anxious at this tranquility, awaiting for the storm. He suddenly gasped, making the female warrior to jump in fright.

He saw Sephiroth from afar, watching them in silence standing on the top of the floating building from the Rift's zone. However, when they both noticed, the soldier of grim appearance did nothing. Just stood there coldly observing without a word. What was he up to? Why wasn't he doing anything?

It wasn't the right moment to wonder. If Sephiroth wouldn't stop them, there was no use on spending time trying to figure out. Zidane pulled the girl's wrist and motivated her to go on.

That man was uncaring. Wouldn't meddle on something that wasn't of his concern. They should leave him be.

Once the stepped on another landscape, darker and quieter. There was a gloomy atmosphere reigning on the new place, supposedly the real shrine of Chaos. It was a large temple of gray and gold walls, dark purple floor, a crimson red carpet that rised to a grim throne of stone.

Zidane was looking everywhere, but Terra knew exactly where to find him. In the upper level, downside a dismal mural portraying a dark demon, to where the carved pillars were broken, she found among the shadows the sight of a lying figure.

She swallowed her screaming, and fast as the wind she glided towards that zone, Zidane hurried clumsily to where Terra went.

The first thing that caught their eyes was the blood all over the floor. Also, for their horror, marks of claw in one way and another. These were obvious signs of violence and brutality. And something pale and broken was lying there, few steps away from them.

Kuja's thin body was covered in bruises and blood, his face was partially hidden by the reddened locks of his gray hair. Most of his robe was made shreds, his golden breastplate was open, revealing the large extent of damage on his chest. They noticed how the torn edges of his red-stained sleeves were tighly wrapped around his wrists, because his hands were pinned against the wall, palms pierced by crystal spikes to hold him in place.

They were both muted by terror and rage. The girl mage leaned next to him, but was surprised by the spasms of the long bruised fingers of Kuja. He was not only alive, but also awake. The blonde young man started talking to his fellow genome, whose lifeless eyes met. It seemed as if Kuja wanted to speak too, but his voice could only produce dry sounds. The small thief began turning his head around, taking care of not having any enemy around.

Terra, with extreme care, tried to remove the slim thorns from his hands, but feared on provoking a bleeding. The pool of red liquid was already making her nervy and aghast. The smell was too strong to bear. And his pain... seeing with her own eyes the atrocity of his hell turned her shaky. "I can't believe they did this to you..." she whimpered low.

"... Stupid girl... You knew it was a trap after all." Kuja whispered back, emotionless.

"... I had to try, Kuja. I'm sorry." the girl touched gently the fingertips of him, not knowing how to remove the first spike. "I couldn't stand the idea of letting you die while I still had a chance. I couldn't lose you." Fastly, with no intention of prolonguing it, she pulled the large thorn from the wounded hand, making the fallen one groan. His arm fell motionless and cold, and at the same time, Zidane copied by pulling out the other thorn. Terra quickly took out one potion she had saved for the chance, but Kuja shifted to avoid her help.

Within his bruised red face something on his dark blue eyes changed.

"Man, don't fight us now. We're going to get you out of here!" Zidane said, as he took Terra's potion without permission and shamelessly poured it on the weakened warrior. Kuja almost evaded the contact of the holy liquid, only allowing it to partially heal his arms and torso.

He grunted, almost aggressively to the monkey-tailed brother; but the girl hurried to check his wounds. It was almost impressive the way his behavior switched at the moment she touched him. Zidane slowly inclined closer to them, waiting for Kuja to calm down while he was gently held by Terra's arms.

There was indeed something broken within the man, but he found a small happiness when he met again with this girl.

After seeing his brother soothed by the lady's warmth, Zidane asked: "... Hey, can you move your arms?"

"More importantly... Is my face split in two?" His response made the thief smile.

"You'll be alright, as long as you don't look at yourself in the mirror."

"... You've brought too many with you..." he whispered, his bloodied head resting against the girl's neck while she petted his damaged mane with tenderness.

"You say it as if it was a bad thing."

Kuja frowned painfully, as if he could clearly see what was coming. "... You have no idea." And, as if his words pronounced some magic spell, the girl looked up and froze in fear.

"Oh, no." she gasped. Zidane copied her and saw the colorful harlequinn floating a couple of meters above them with a wide sinister smirk.

"Oh, yes!" Kefka replied playfully. "Howdy, Terra my dear! It's so nice from you to drag all of your little friends to the carnage, you shouldn't have to!"

It was time to escape. If they didn't get enough strength to battle him before, they wouldn't have any more chance while taking care of Kuja's wounds. Terra casted a fast spell of fire targeted to her nemesis and her companion used this as the signal to his leave, carrying the silver magician on his back, as Terra intended to entertain Kefka as much as she could.

However, a point on their plan failed, as Zidane was striked by a heavy ball of energy that made him let go of the injured man thus knocking him down momentarily. Somehow, out of nowhere, the sorcceress Ultimecia appeared on the thief's way, making an elegant entrance flipping her majestical black wings.

"Running here is useless, brat. Accept your fate and die here."

The girl gasped, not having the oportunity to attend them, as she was already occupying Kefka with an almost comedical duel of magic. For the clown it all seemed like a game.

"Kuja!" Zidane hurried back to protect his older brother lying helpless on the floor, but was suddenly repelled by an unseen blast, it didn't harm him but kept him from getting closer to the mage. Terra, distracted by this sight was hitted by a sudden chunk of ice that crashed her against the mural. Zidane tried again, but was pushed again by the same kind of spell.

"Don't." said the wounded brother. "While you've got the chance to escape..." Having his back unwatched, didn't see the jester came down behind him. Before anyone could do else, Kefka lifted his hands with a red glow that linked to Kuja's hands. Almost like a magnetism effect, the slim youth was roughly raised from the ground, instantly adopting the exact same pose of the clown. Even when he wanted to resist, his body was too weak to properly fight against such power. "D-damn you... Kefka..."

It was obvious enough how it was meant to work.

"Kefka, stop this non-sense!" Terra cried, fastly recovering from the attack. "It's me who you wanted all along! Leave him alone!"

The madman laughed, playing in a ridiculous manner with his arms and Kuja unwillingly imitating each movement, like a puppet. "How touchy, minx! But both you and I know that this porcelain wimp is more useful than you'll ever dream to be! SO DIE WITH THE LITTLE PRIDE YOU'VE GOT LEFT!"

"It's useless, girl." Ultimecia interceded with a dark smile. "If you want to fight the clown, you'll have to pierce through his shield of flesh."

"You garbage wag! To use him as your shield!" the young thief protested. Out of his rage, he jumped up the walls like the half-monkey he was, perhaps trying to find a spot he could attack. But Kefka just seemed as fast as the boy, reacting in time to cover himself with the beaten body of the mage. Using this advantage, the mad clown fired a violent spell of thunder, striking him directly. And it didn't end just there; Kefka used an even more dangerous kind of magic this time, invoking some sort of bright blue triangles in the air that caught the kid.

"ZIDANE!" Terra wanted to go to the rescue, but was blocked by the crimson witch. Terra took out her sword in hopes of passing through her, but Ultimecia proved herself once more capable of stopping a blade with her own purple claws.

He fell to the floor, heavily damaged by the Trine spell. The energy residuals of that blast still cursed through the young warrior, but Terra noticed it wasn't just that.

Zidane, with a slow shaky move, turned his face to the girl, small lines of red came from his strange grin. "I'm fine, Terra. I'm fine now." The shine surrounding him began to flow wildly from his head to his toes and tail. There were powerful emotions running through him, and Terra wasn't sure she knew such power.

The shine was red and pink, transforming Zidane's physical appearance into something wilder, stronger; like a savage warrior of an unknown land. Terra remembered Kuja talking about some sort of special power from the world he came from...

"You should look after your backside, child." While Terra contemplated her friend's power, she didn't see Ultimecia's new assault, slapping her face with the heavy claw again, then casting a fire spell under her feet, which, miraculously she escaped from. "And Kefka is right. Even destroyed, Kuja is still more useful than you are at this time. The instant he took him as a shield you laid down your guard. It's pathetic to see such a powerful witch softened by a man."

"... I'm not soft." Terra replied, using her own magic to keep the harpy away. "I'm stronger because I wanted to save a person who's dear to me. That feeling of wanting to protect something precious... drives us to fight. I won't stop no matter what!"

Ultimecia bit her lower lip and stared contemptuously at the girl. Something invisible was drawn on her tattoed face, a small something that the mage girl couldn't read.

"It's a shame. Even if you become stronger... you can't save him." the enchantress said in lower tone, raising her arms to the air, supposedly to cast one spell, but Terra only waited in paranoia. "You should know, you won't always be able to protect him."

"I'll try."

It wasn't surprise that her answer made the older woman laugh, seeing her emotions and motivations as meaningless odds and ends. Terra wouldn't understand Ultimecia and viceversa.

Inside an unexpected second, Terra warned herself of magical spears arising from the ground, barely jumping to evade a large cut on her legs, however, she received a little scratch on her right knee. Without room for hesitation, Terra launched Holy orbs towards her opponent, and kept on doing it as seeing how easily the chaos witch blocked them. Blasted out one powerful spell called Flare, which she was sure Ultimecia wouldn't be able to hold back.

The huge sphere of hot fire began slow, just to deceive the confident sorcceress. But abruptly, the sun of magic dashed, following each move of Ultimecia's flight. She tried with a vast arsenal of conjures, but nothing seemed to stop the girl's Flare.

Hoping it would finally reach her enemy, Ultimecia found a trick to get rid of it, by placing herself near the space were Kefka was floating with his hostage while avoiding Zidane's wrath. Instantly, Terra figured what was on the harpy's mind.

Quickly, she casted more of Holy's projectiles in order to hit Kefka, if it damaged Kuja, at least wouldn't be as grave as burning him with Flare. It succeded, although it managed to hurt the clown more than his hostage-shield. Kefka was displeased. He screeched.

"I hate... I HATE-hate-HATE-hate-HAAAAAATE IT WHEN YOU DO THAT!" A very dark aura awakened on the jester, not only stopping Zidane's newest attempt, but also firing a mighty variety of powerful magic without control, even to his ally witch. And Kuja seemed to be suffering from the great extent of Kefka's outburst for being practically attached to him.

It was Hiperdrive again, this time the girl wasn't fast enough to avoid it. And it hit her. She felt the explosion of pain burning on her, but leaving no visible marks. This was some magic that should be feared.

"Terra, look out!" a different voice called. She was blinded by the previous attack, so she didn't watch who stepped in front of her whole body. All she heard was a bigger blast approaching and then was thumped by some smaller body, which she instinctively embraced with her arms, crashing her back against the wall.

She opened her eyes and recognized the funny white feathers from his helmet. It was her little knight. The Onion Knight came to protect her.

"... Onion... Squall?" The little one didn't come alone. The forceful boy of the gunblade was here too, possibly just to protect his friend's back. Zidane also seemed surprised.

The Onion knight got injured when blocking Kefka's attack, but was able to stand up. His green eyes looked at her with repentment. "I'm sorry. I couldn't bear letting the Chaos warriors to hurt you." he said. Terra nodded and gently stroke the boy's jaw. Then she stared at Squall.

The youngster still had that arrogant mirage. "Don't get the wrong idea. I came because you couldn't stand a chance against this witch." He pointed his steel at the amused enchantress.

Zidane, still recovering from Kefka's power upheaval, still morphed in that red-pink haired being. It seemed he had little time left, but was brightened up by the presence of his friends coming to the rescue.

"You guys..." his now-red eyes were shining. "Can't thank you enough."

But the heart-warming reunion was shamelessly interrupted by the clown's laughter, echoing eeriely around the old shrine. Terra was reminded of Kuja's pain, still imprisoned by that wrench. Her gaze held nothing but fire and regret for that man who held him as his tool.

Kefka waved along the fatigued mage's hands, taunting at the Cosmos' Warriors. "Uweeh... this is when the REAL excitement begins!"

A/N: Not a great chapter to compensate your wait, I'm sorry for that. And I think I've made obvious enough my leanings for Ultimecia. In fact, I admit that I'm a believer of the "Ultimecia-Rinoa" theory... hopefully you won't chase me like a jew on the nazi Germany because of that.

For this chapter in particular, any kind of advice is very much appreciated, cause I've rushed the ending. I'm usually a sucker for writing when I get the work done at midnight.