Disclaimer- I don't own any of the Final Fantasy characters in this story.
Author notes: I'm real sorry that this chapter was late guys. I tried working through the night of the 9th to get this out on time, but after 6 hours, I started making real basic mistakes and plotholes which I had to go and fill in, so I had to stop and get some sleep. As such, this month's chapter is a few days late. XP This is just another reason why I wish I could quit my job and write all day. I'm going to do my best to get the next chapter out on time though, I promise.
But anyway, we have a fun backstory/reveal for Shattered Mind in this chapter.
Before I started Shattered Mind, I was a huge fan of the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Trilogy (still am!). Some of you may have guessed this already, but I took a decent amount of inspiration for setting Kaiten and the mental duality from the third game in the series, The Two Thrones. You can see a bit of a tribute in the dialogue from one of my favorite parts of the game down below. It's just a little something that I've been planning for a while, so hopefully my damn work schedule won't get in the way.
Also, 50-hour work weeks suck. XP
Chapter 8: Inner Demon.
It was beautiful.
Everything was crystal, or diamond, or geode. Some things sparkled directly in front of us while others shined from a thousand feet away. The path we walked was thick quartz suspending itself in space. Globes of spiraled and molded crystal floated around, perhaps representing old worlds that existed before the Crystal, or other worlds the crystal inhabited. All the while, aurora borealis of green and blue raced through the air, and all the while, I could hear the harps from the game playing. It was all so incredible I wanted to sit down and cry. This was what I wanted heaven to look like.
Everyone paused to take in the sights as they all teleported in, one by one. There wasn't much room on the thin platform, but we spread out, slowly taking the new world in. This place was even better than the wide expanse of space that we just left.
"This place…" Zidane gasped as soon as he was in. "Trevor, are we inside the Crystal?"
"I don't think so," I said. "Probably just the very beginning of its memories, right after its own creation."
"Cool," Vivi said, kneeling down to pat the pathway through his hands. It was smooth to the touch, like glass.
"This place is so pretty!" Eiko said.
""All the architecture of Alexandria cannot equal this place," Dagger said. "How is any of this possible?"
"Some damn magic from the Crystal," Amarant said impatiently. "We're close, right?"
"We're very close," I answered. "Kuja is just at the end of this path. Everyone make sure you're ready though. He's not the only one we'll have to fight."
"He's not?" Zidane asked. "Does he summon more monsters?"
"One more, yes. The first one's name is Deathguise. You know how the Chaos Guardians were based off of the Guardians of Terra? Well this guy is based off of Taharka, the beast guarding the mirrors in Ipsen's Castle."
"That thing? That's weird. Why make a monster based off of him?"
"Terran lore, I'll bet," Kaiten said. "The mirror guardian was protecting the path to Terra, just like the Four Fiends were. Perhaps Kuja thought it was fitting to include him."
"And where do these beasts fall in Terran lore?" Steiner asked.
"Old polytheistic religion," Kaiten explained. "People believed that the four elements guided us in all that we did, with a head deity which guided the elements. I never got into it myself, but there were only pockets of worshipers back when I was alive."
"Well, what else is there?" Zidane asked. "Death Guy and Kuja sounds bad enough."
"Deathguise," I corrected. "And there's one more. Necron. He's… hard to explain."
"Why? Kuja didn't base him off of anything else?"
"Kuja didn't make him at all," I said, to the surprise of everyone else. "Necron is an eternal deity, sort of like a god. He's basically a floating torso that casts nonstop status effects. Dagger, Eiko, you'll have to stay on your toes to keep those at bay."
"Wait, a god?" Zidane said. "We have to live through that?!"
"So they actually exist?" Amarant asked.
No one seemed pleased with what I had to say. I had proven myself so far though, so at least they believed me. It was better than them thinking I was lying and walking in unprepared. Especially considering how hard Necron was in the game. To tell the truth, I wasn't worried about Kuja nearly as much as I was the Zero World denizen.
"Look, we're not going to get anything done by standing here talking about it," Kaiten said. "We need to find Kuja. We'll fight whatever we have to when we get there."
"Kaiten's right," Zidane said. He cleared his throat and stepped to the front of the party. He had a solemn look about him. "Listen up guys. Trevor says we have three more very difficult fights ahead of us. Everything we've done up to this point was preparation for these fights. All the fighting we've done, the weapons we've picked up, the techniques we learned are going to be vital. The wars we ended, the nations we traveled to, and every single person we saved along the way was our training. Kuja can now destroy the Crystal, which powers all life on the planet. If he does, then every single thing we've done in our lives… Every single thing everyone has ever done in their lives will have meant nothing! We can't let him do that!
"I wasn't born on Gaia, but I grew up here! I came to love so much of life here on this planet. And…" Zidane paused for a moment as his gaze passed by Dagger's anxious face. She blushed slightly. Zidane cleared his throat and continued his inspiration speech. "We can do this guys! Just the ten of us can stop the biggest threat to the planet. We are the best that Gaia has to offer!" He earned a round of cheers for that one. Zidane saw Kaiten and I standing together, not quite joining in with the others' enthusiasm. "And we have the best from Earth and Terra with us! So we have everything to gain and everything to lose! So let's not lose!"
The battle roar was enormous. I could feel the crystal path shaking under my feet just before everyone took off down the twisting path. Physics at least seemed back to some sense of normalcy now. Gravity was back in place and the memories now resembled a winding cave. It was still intensely weird, knowing exactly what reality we were in. I was going to have to write a book about all this when we were done.
Kuja didn't have long to wait for us. Within two minutes, we had charged all the way to him. A tunnel of crystals turned a corner and opened to a wide hallway. At the end of the hall was an enormous room, far bigger than what the game showed. A rune-etched floor glowed red on a pink crystalline floor. Clouds covered the bottom of the cavern, just like the entrance of Memoria outside the castle. Small stalagmites held the floor up and bridged our way to a small glass platform at the end of the hallway.
And, waiting for us, floating in the center of the room, was Kuja, standing watch over the Crystal. He was still glowing red, able to maintain Trance due to the soul power he absorbed from The Invincible.
Zidane took point and ran down the hall first, with everyone else in tow. Kaiten and I stood together in the back. "KUJA!" Zidane yelled up, catching his brother's attention.
Kuja turned his back to the Crystal and gave us his trademark cocky grin. "How nice of you to come," he said. "You certainly took your time."
"Told you he'd wait," I gloated to the others.
"I'm surprised that you beat the Four Chaoses that I created from the Crystal's memory. But… you're too late." Kuja floated back, giving us a clear view of the Crystal, in all its glory.
The Crystal just spun slightly in the air, surrounded by a large disk of silver, and twin energy beams of blue and red, always circling. It must have been just bigger than Vivi, but not by much. Could such a small stone be responsible for all life on the planet? Did Earth have a similar Crystal?
We couldn't let Kuja destroy it.
"Take a good look," Kuja said. "Isn't it beautiful?" He actually sounded entranced by it. "This is the original Crystal. This is where it all began. The birthplace of all things on this planet. Once I destroy it, everything will be gone. Alexandria, Lindblum… all life on Gaia, gone. Your lives and memories too, of course!" Kuja burst into laughter, drunk on his insane machinations.
"Shut up!" Zidane shot back. "The only thing that's gonna be gone is you! We'll take you out right now!"
Kuja scoffed. "You honestly think you can beat me? Even if you do, Gaia's already doomed. Its assimilation by Terra has already begun, and the Iifa Tree will incite a cataclysmic destruction of Gaia! It's all over for you and your friends! You see, I win either way."
"The hell you will!" Amarant, of all people, was the first to shout. "We've beaten you every time and we're gonna do it again! I'm gonna kick your ass inside-out!"
"So the arrogant rogue speaks," Kuja taunted. "Have you started any more fights within your party? You're the most selfish man down there."
"And you're not?" Eiko shouted up. "You're trying to destroy the world just because you're dying! That's the most selfish thing I've ever heard of!"
"And the first brat speaks. I'm surprised you turned out the way you did, after your entire village was slaughtered. What was it like living alone for so long?"
"Sh-Shut up!" Eiko cried out as her cheeks flushed and tears threatened to pour out.
"You are monster!" Quina defended. "How can you do this?"
"I'm a monster?" Kuja jested. "Just look at you! You're from a race of clown people. I'm at least pleasant to look at. You're the real monster. I'm still human."
"You ARE a monster!" Vivi shouted. "You've killed so many people! You've started wars! You don't get to call yourself a person!"
Kuja grinned. "Ah, and the puppet speaks, at last. Or, should I say, the other monster? You were made, boy. How many people have you killed? How do you know you weren't programmed to merely think you had free will? Maybe you've been under my control the entire time!"
"N-No… I…" Vivi hesitated. He started to step back as the thoughts flooded his mind, but Steiner held his hand out, stopping Vivi's retreat and protecting him, giving him something to rely on.
"That's enough," Steiner said firmly. "Kuja, you went too far ages ago. What you're doing is easily the worst thing anyone has ever done in the history of the planet. We've come to bring you to justice."
"And what would the subservient knight know of justice?" Kuja asked. "You've sworn your life away. You're basically a slave! At least the puppet tries to seek his identity! You've lost yours long ago!"
"That's not true!" Dagger sudden spoke. "Captain Adelbert Steiner is my most trusted advisor and friend. The kingdom of Alexandria would be worse off were it not for him and his valiant efforts!"
"Princess… So naïve," Kuja smirked.
"It's 'Queen' now. You murdered my mother."
"Then perhaps you should act like a queen. Instead, you continue these ridiculous adventures, like a child. Although, you would have made an excellent queen in my own kingdom. Oh well, we can't always get what we want. Well… you can't!"
As Kuja rolled in another fit of laughter, Zidane stepped forward. He shouted through his brother's laughter, practically baring fangs. "KUJA! None of this matters! Even if Gaia is assimilated, a planet will remain! We'll start over and make a new home! You're nothing but a coward! If you want to die, fine, but leave the rest of the planet out of it!"
Kuja seemed confused by the mere suggestion. "Why should the world exist without me? That wouldn't be fair. If I die, then we all die!"
"Bullshit!" I said at last. I pressed my way through the crowd, standing next to Zidane. "Kuja, you don't have a chance. You're going to lose this!"
Kuja eyes me curiously. "Does the angry wildcard have something to say?"
"We both do," Kaiten said as he walked beside me. He gave me a nod, which I returned. "We were both hand-picked to kill you. With everyone else behind us, you won't live beyond today."
"I'm supposed to feel threatened by a relic?" Kuja said, to our surprise. "Oh yes, I know about you, Lieutenant Saeis. And you, McEvoy, isn't it? I know all about Project Soulforge."
My eyes shot open. How did he know about that? Project Soulforge was our holdback, the information we needed to keep from Kuja to stop him from preparing against us. I had hoped to surprise Kuja with our abilities since Kaiten and I weren't part of the regular storyline and Purple Magic was a dead art. That plan was out now.
"What did you think I did when you opened the portal to Terra for me?" Kuja taunted. "Did you think I only waited in the shadows, sneaking silently? Fools! I went to Garland's Observatory to learn more about Zidane! Imagine my surprise when I learned he had a secret project started against me. My own father!"
"Then you know we're the best team against you," I said. "One of the greatest fighters in Terran history and an Earthling with near-perfect knowledge of Gaia and Terra. Both armed with Purple Magic and who can Trance!"
"Oh, you made a formidable team. When you were together. Now, you're as weak as everyone else here!"
Kaiten unsheathed his katanas. "Wanna take that bet?" he threatened. "I've taken out casters stronger than you when I was in Special Forces!"
"As a coordinated, military team, perhaps," Kuja said. "But I prepared something special for the both of you. You won't believe this kinds of things you can discover by searching through the Crystal's memories. Even things you've buried within yourself can come out with all the intense fury you once possessed!"
I tried to think about what Kuja meant, but his phrase of 'things I buried' only brought one thing to mind. I turned to Kaiten with a very concerned look on my face. "Kaiten, he couldn't mean him, could he?"
"No," Kaiten said, just as concerned as I was. "No, that's not possible! He never came out! You sealed him on Terra! He was never on Gaia!"
"No, wait…" I realized. "He talked to me on Gaia… Would that be enough?"
Kaiten's gaze returned to the Crystal. It was the most powerful thing we had ever encountered. We didn't know what it was limited by. Kaiten just shook his head to the question. "I really, really hope not."
"Oh yes," Kuja laughed. "This one is just for you both! Say hello to an old friend!"
Kuja placed a hand on the Crystal, reading its memories. The red and blue beams circling it spun faster, beginning to blur together into a purple haze. A pillar of light shot out of the top and spread open, like a veil was piercing reality. A dark, winged being stepped out of the pillar.
There was a distinctive humanoid figure at the center of this beast. Brown skin covered his body and wings, though a thicker, black carapace covered his chest, legs hands, and the back of his wings. His wingspan alone was over thirty feet long. His feet were hooves, his arms were the size of tree trunks, and a tail sprouted from his back, composed of hundreds of spiked segments, stretching over forty feet long. His head was capped with a tall hood. If it weren't for the carapace there as well, the hood would have looked like a large flap of skin. If "demonic angel" could ever describe someone, it described this monster.
"What the hell is that?" Zidane asked as the monster stood fully formed before us. "Is that Deathguise?"
I could only stare at first. My mind raced as I remembered the last time I fought this bastard. "No," I said at first. "I mean, yes, it is, but… this is bad…"
"Why?" Zidane said. "I thought you knew what was going to happen."
"Things have changed since we've been here," Kaiten explained more calmly than I could. "This is just another unexpected turn of events."
"Unexpected? How so?"
Deathguise reared his head back and roared. Even his breath seemed thick with hatred. He gazed over the party, then settled when he saw me.
"Trevor," he chuckled. "Like my new body? I think it's an improvement over my last one."
Everyone gasped, or shouted over the new development. Freya was the first to talk when she asked, "Is this something else you didn't tell us about?"
"Trevor?" Zidane said. "What is this? Does this thing know you?"
"It's… complicated," I said. I took a few steps away from the group and looked up, pulling both short swords out. "Hello Damien."
Deathguise chuckled joyfully, as if he were genuinely happy. "You have no idea how good it's to be out of your wretched mind! It was so confining and empty at the same time."
"Are you the same Damien?" I shouted up. "How did you get out? I sealed you!"
"Am I the one you fought? You'd better hope not. I seem to remember you barely coming out of that one alive. No mommy around to save you this time! No magic books or precious memories. Did you ever figure out which book you destroyed?"
Zidane, Steiner and Amarant pushed forward to stand with me, weapons at the ready. "How do we beat him Trevor?" Zidane asked.
"We don't," I said, breaking from the path. "You stay back. I'll handle him."
"What?! Are you kidding?" Zidane said. "Trevor, there's no way you can take this guy on your own!"
"I don't care. This guy is my problem."
"Surely you can use our assistance!" Steiner offered. "Don't go into this alone!"
"Sorry Steiner," I said. "This guy is here because of me. It's my fault. I need to do this alone."
"Trevor!" Vivi called out from the crowd. "We're your friends!"
"That's why I can't let you guys get hurt by this," I said. "My demon, my problem. Just stay back. I'll have him down in a few minutes."
I stepped onto the glass platform alone. I extended a Demon Saber from Azure, my blue short sword, slicing through the ground and severing my contact with the others. The glass platform began to float towards the center of the room, closer to Damien. He was certainly amused by my decision, but it was final. Damien only existed because I lost control over myself. He was my fault, and I would be damned if I let my problems hurt anyone else ever again.
Suddenly, the glass platform shook. I looked beside myself and saw Kaiten picking himself up next to me. Shocked at his brazen move, I nearly took a swing at him.
"Dude, what the hell?!" I shouted. "I said I'd do this alone!"
"I heard what you said," he explained. "It was idiotic, so I ignored it."
"Damien came from me! He's my fault! I have to—"
"I heard your speech back there. I was next to you, remember? Don't waste your breath."
"Save it," Kaiten interrupted. "Trevor, you're the only friend I have left. This was always our fight. The two of us, together. I'll never let you fight alone again if I can help it."
I sighed as the platform lazily hovered towards our target. Much as I didn't like letting him risk it, it was good to have him at my side. Kaiten and I were more compatible together in a fight than anyone else in the party. He really was the best one to have at my side. Defeated, I shook my head and smiled.
"Alright. Let's kill him again, shall we?"
"At least he can't freak you out with old memories this time," Kaiten joked.
"Yeah, good thing," I agreed. "Just try not to get torn in half again."
Damien roared as we closed the gap. He entire cavern seemed to shake with his fury. Sections of walls broke off and shot closer to the Crystal., some flat and long, some thin and tall, but it rapidly changed the environment. New walls and platforms hovered in space around us, constantly shifting. All different shapes and sizes mixed into a translucent forest. They all seemed to react like our glass platform, so hopefully they would support our weight as we climbed to fight Damien.
This fight was shaping up to be as intense as our first bout against him.
"Remember, he casts high-level magic, and he can probably cut us up with that tail of his," I reminded Kaiten.
"Which is why we should try to out-flank him," Kaiten suggested. "He has a bigger body this time. He won't be able to move as quickly."
"Yeah, but he also has three dimensions to fly around in."
"So do we."
Kaiten left first, launching off from the platform and jumping to a new platform. Gravity seemed to be lowered by the Crystal's power. I had no idea how that was possible, but everything seemed possible here. Kuja just pulled the memory of an evil voice from inside my head out of a magical rock. I wasn't about to begin questioning the logic of this place.
I kicked off the platform, and jumped to one closer, landing easily enough. Although I had already experienced weightlessness, I was going to need a few more jumps before I could get used to fighting in this arena. That was time I likely didn't have though. Kaiten was already far ahead, running to meet Damien. The attacks would be coming for me soon too. I had to get used to it, and fast.
"You're a bigger idiot that I thought!" Damien laughed as he flew his new body around the room. "You barely beat me last time we fought! Not having your friends help is just gonna get you killed!"
"You forget!" I said. "We're not in my head anymore! Reality applies! You have to fight with the same rules that we do!"
Damien turned to me and gave me a crooked grin. "You're limited too."
Faster than I could track, Damien rushed at me. He swam between the floating crystals like he had been doing it his entire life, not even brushing against them. He flew below my platform and I had just enough time to jump to a new platform when a demonic claw tore through the center of the platform, breaking it in half and sending the pieces flying apart.
"Are those the same swords you fought me with?" Damien asked. "You found them again? Interesting! Now you can know you never stood a chance, even with your strongest weapons!"
I took both Crimson and Azure in my hands. Crimson, with its thick cleaver edge and Azure, with its jagged, serrated edge. These swords were insanely powerful, but they both held one secret that I never used on Damien. They each had their own natural magic elements of fire and water. I might be able to use that to my advantage, especially if Damien didn't know about it.
"Perhaps, but you're making one dangerous mistake," I said, getting ready to move.
"A mistake?" Damien asked curiously. "What could that be?"
"You're acting like I'm fighting alone."
I ducked, falling to my knees, just as Kaiten came flying in behind me. His swords were powered up and ready to attack. Without a moment to lose, he launched a series of Arcs at Damien. "Arc Storm!" he shouted.
Damien saw the attack coming though and flew off, flicking his tail at a long crystal pillar, blocking the attack and saving himself. The pillar was shattered into dozens of pieces and the monster got away unscathed.
"Dammit!" Kaiten blurted out. "So I am gonna have to get closer."
"Good try though," I said. "If we keep surprising him like that, we're bound to get a few hits in soon enough."
"Unless I see it coming."
We turned around and saw Damien creeping up behind us. Kaiten and I both ran to opposite sides of the platform, just as Damien's claws came in underneath where we had been standing. He split this platform in half as well, but the weigh shifted so suddenly that the platforms flung us in different directions.
I landed on the end of a crystal pillar. My head spun as I tried to figure out which way was up. I wasn't falling, but I could see that I was standing sideways in regards to where I had been standing on the last platform. In the redefined gravity of this place, up seemed to be wherever the Crystal wasn't. It was like fighting at the planet's core, with one localized gravity well and several platforms free-floating around it.
This place was a physics major's nightmare.
I had lost track of Kaiten, but I saw Damien flying around easily enough. He passed through the spaces between the floating crystals. I only had the occasional glimpse of him, and in the back of my head, the Jaws theme was playing. Still, I couldn't just sit and wait to be attacked. I had to go and actually attack, like Kaiten had. It was true that Damien scared me. Once it was because of was afraid of becoming him. I guess part of that fear still lingered. Besides, I had fought worse enemies and worse odds.
I took a running start and launched myself off the crystal and onto another one spinning sideways. Azure dug into the side of the thick crystal, giving me a handhold as I stealthily spun around. Could the others see me fighting like this? Could they see where Damien was hiding? I kept thinking how much easier this might be if I had them helping me, but then I would remember that this was all my fault in the first place.
A flash of movement caught my eye below me. Dark, leathery skin passed just below a layer of crystal. Damien was still looking for me as well. Fortunately, I had the upper hand. He made another pass around a crystal, giving me a chance to attack. I took a breath and pulled Azure free, falling through the crystal forest.
Walls and pillars passed by perilously close. I slid against one as it shifted around me. I was nearly thrown off course when I came to the last few feet of the drop. I had just enough time to reorient myself when I landed on Damien's back. Instinct kicked in, but I sank Crimson deep to act as a handhold instead of Azure, which proved to be my folly. The second Damien felt me land, he twisted his entire body, flipping around and elbowing me in the chest.
I was thrown into another crystal and fell again. I saw more crystals pass by and landed hard on my side. Crimson bounced beside me. I just reached out and laid my hand on it, but that was all I could do. The wind had left me and I coughed, gasping desperately for air.
"Pathetic, as always!"
Damien flew into view just overhead. Light emanating from the crystal made his dark form even darker. He seemed to swallow up the light and didn't allow any more to pass behind him. He really was like a demon.
"You were never good enough to beat me," he gloated. "Even in your mind, you blew your only chance to really kill me. Your mother came and saved you. Now, I'm stronger than ever. Perhaps its best that I earned this body instead! Yours breaks too easily."
"You're just going to die," I gasped. "Either I'll kill you, or you'll die when Kuja destroys the Crystal. Are you really so stupid that you can't see that?"
"I don't care," Damien said. "I just want to see you twist, suffer and die. As long as I can accomplish that, I'll die a happy man."
I started to pick myself up. My body was more bruised than I thought. My arms hurt to move and my legs were stiff. I could only put on a brave face as I stared up at Damien, reflecting his hatred, but controlling it. I let myself become him once. I wouldn't repeat that mistake.
"That's all you want?" I asked. "You just want to kill me? That's all you want in life? What happens after you kill me? Did you even think that far?"
"It doesn't matter to me! All that matters in life is strength and revenge! Even your own group of heroes talks of 'getting stronger' and 'stopping Kuja'! And you! You have a combined strength of both Trance and Purple Magic, a combination that's never been heard of! You have the greatest power the world has ever known and you're not going to make a grab for power? I would do it justice, and so it should be MINE!"
"YOU ARE JUST A PARASITE! YOU DESERVE NOTHING!"
"But don't I? Have I not earned it? Do you think you could have made it this far if not for me? How many times did I save you? How many times did I unblock your path? Take down your enemies? Remind you of your mission? While all you did is whine about your friends not liking you, and Nicole, and Shadow! How everything bad always happens to you! BOO HOO PRINCE!"
"Your words are empty. They've always been empty. You are just a desperate, selfish spirit clinging to the past."
"If I am selfish, it is because you are!" Damien snapped. "If I am reckless and ruthless and lacking in morals, it is because you are! I did not spin myself out of the ether! I was not conjured by some mad scientist! I am you."
"No, you're not! I've made mistakes and paid for them. I saw what those mistakes did and who they hurt! I am no longer that person."
"Seasons change. Tastes change. But people? People never change, and you delude yourself thinking otherwise. Do not fight me. Embrace your death and I will make it quick."
I capped both short swords with Explosions and glared at Damien. "How about I cut you down instead?"
Damien laughed, and in his new body, it was this disgusting, guttural laugh, like someone being strangled and gasping for air. "Either way, I get what I want." He raised both hands above himself and created a rock on the far side of the room. It was heated and glowed red, but I could see the meteor coming. I just wasn't sure how to defend myself.
"You will die!"
Damien flung the Meteor at me, throwing both arms towards my platform. I could only brace myself for a moment as the red rock hurled through the air at incredible speeds. Both swords were braced above my head as I held my breath, waiting for the unavoidable impact.
The impact came harder than I had anticipated. While the Explosions caught the Meteor and blew it to pieces, the force of the attack alone was enough to knock me to the ground again. My knees buckled and shoulders collapsed all at once as chunks of rocks rained over me, pelting my body as I laid still, gasping for air.
"You lasted even less time this go-around than you did last time," Damien chuckled. "As I've said, I'm in a far stronger body now. You never stood a chance, even if you were smart enough to bring your friends this time."
Damien's wings fluttered as he settled on top of me. Up close, he looked much larger. His long tail curled around behind him and hung off the side of the platform. My eyes danced about, desperately looking for any sign of Kaiten. I needed him here, now! I had no hope of winning otherwise.
Damien lashed out with a clawed hand. He caught part of my arm and most of my chest, giving me a deep scratch on both. My armor had lost more paint than layers, but my arm started bleeding profusely enough that I knew an artery had been cut. I had to get a potion, and fast!
"There's nothing you can do against me!" Damien gloated. "And where's your guardian angel, Kaiten? Why isn't he here?"
"There's a jungle of crystals, dumbass," I reminded. "He's just having a hard time finding us."
My remark earned me a swift punch to the gut. It rang through the armor and the wind was knocked out of me again. I drew what little breath I could, but it didn't do me much good. I was effectively paralyzed from the shock.
"I'm not going to waste time," Damien said. He grabbed me by the throat and started strangling me and pointed his claws at my heart. His hand alone was almost large enough to cover most of my torso. "I'll kill you before Kaiten has a chance to save you."
For a moment, I thought I was really going to die again. I probably wouldn't have another chance to come back, but I had dropped my short swords and didn't have a way to defend myself. I looked around for Kaiten, but didn't see any hint of him. What was taking him so long?
Suddenly, a blast overtook Damien and his grasp over me shuttered. I took the chance and rolled free to the side. With a quick jump, I regained my footing and backed up to my fallen weapons. I picked them up just in time to see another barrage rock Damien's body. I recognized those spells…
First, came a Shock, zapping Damien on the back between his wings. I could see his body outlined by the contrasting light. A Flare came next, matched by a Holy. I had to run to the far side of the platform to prevent myself from being caught up in the blast. The barrage was ended with a warm light washing over my body. Suddenly, my bruises and cuts vanished. It was impeccable timing, but it wasn't quite a miracle.
I looked up at the entrance to the room, where I had left the others. Steiner, Vivi, Eiko and Dagger were on the frontlines, casting magic, one right after the other. Zidane seemed to be giving the orders and Quina was moving in, charging up a spell as well.
I laughed. Those lovable bastards really couldn't mind their own business.
The attacks subsided when Damien grabbed a nearby crystal with his tail and used it to block the spells. Another Shock came in, as well as a Mantra Magic rolling in as a row of blue bolts. Damien was safe for now and glared at me with his same superiority complex.
"I told you, you needed help," he said. "It seems even your friends think you are weak."
A while ago, there was a time when I would have listened to him. He made me suspicious of the others, but that was, in a way, a lifetime ago.
"You're a fucking idiot if you think I'll believe that," I said. "They saw me in trouble and just jumped in to help."
"All the same, you cannot defeat me alone as you had hoped to do."
"You forget, I didn't come here alone."
That was when Kaiten made his strike.
He flew in, using the gravity of the place to his advantage. He bound in, landing against a crystal behind Damien and launched himself in faster than I thought he could propel himself. He had a pair of explosions on each sword and clapped them together at the last moment. His Whirlwind was an attack I hadn't seen since his first fight with Beatrix, but it was very effective against Damien's larger body. The force of the attack came unexpectedly and threw Damien to his knees. Kaiten's momentum didn't stop there though, and he ran a sword into the demon's back, running him to the ground.
I followed up on Kaiten's attack by launching my own. I powered up the innate powers within my blades and Azure began to cry. Water dripped like a thin stream. It seemed harmless, but I made sure not to get any of it on myself. I ran forward, past Damien's shoulders and onto his back just as Kaiten was pulling back, slashing at the monster's tail, trying to hack it off. I spun my sword around, splashing Damien's back in the flammable liquid. I held Crimson high, ready to strike and ignite the flames.
"NO!" Damien roared as he came to his senses. With a flick of his tail, he managed to land a hit on Kaiten and myself. We both went flying off, deeper into the crystal forest and further away from the others. I guess now their help was a one-time thing, unless they really came charging in to save us.
I landed with my back slamming into a broken chunk of crystal, providing both a wall and floor to rest on. Kaiten landed a few feet away from me and we both struggled to recover our breath.
"Well, this is fun," I said. "So nice of you to join me."
"You try navigating this place," he quipped. "There have to be a thousand crystals here. I think he's been adding to it as we've been fighting."
"That just means we have to be more aware. Any ideas?"
"That depends. You think you can dodge that tail of his?"
"Well enough. Why? Do you have something?"
"Maybe. We can try to outflank him. I tried my best, but there's no way we're cutting that tail loose unless we can sever it at the lower back. I say we target wings, then tail, then him once he's weakened."
I picked myself up and brushed several rice-sized crystals off of my armor. "You go high, I go low?"
"You got it. Ready?"
"To battle a huge demon powered by the evil voice that used to live in my head while fighting in mixed reality which may or may not be at the planet's core? Nope. Let's do it!"
"Very well then."
Kaiten and I both took running starts and leapt our way across more floating crystals. We could see Damien waiting for us just up ahead, plowing through crystals and smashing them to pieces. If he was coming for us, it would make our move even easier. Kaiten and I nodded at each other at the slight change and I slowed down my charge, letting Kaiten take point.
Damien instantly watched Kaiten as the Terran jumped higher locking gazes with him. I had to take my attention off of them, trusting Kaiten to fulfill his part of the plan. Meanwhile, I slipped beneath a low crystal and got out of sight. Damien never saw me jumping underneath. His tail flicked around, knocking into crystals and batting them away unconsciously, but it wouldn't be hard for me to sneak around it.
Kaiten was doing an impressive job dodging Damien's attacks, lobbing the occasional Arc his way. It didn't see to do much damage, but I chuckled to myself, knowing that the plan would do tons of damage. I charged Crimson up again, ready to unleash its magic again. If I was quick, I could probably take Damien's wings and tail in one fast assault.
I started my climb, jumping up crystals silently. Kaiten was still keeping Damien at bay, but the demon had to suspect something was up. Kaiten couldn't keep the monster distracted for much longer, so I had to make this fast. When I was at the right altitude, I rushed in, keeping Crimson aloft.
I neared my target, counting the feet as I closed the distance. I made sure not to make a sound and even held my breath, but when Damien turned at looked right at me out of the corner of his eye, my blood froze. I had no way to stop in mid-free fall, and no way to avoid Damien's counter. He swung the back of his hand around, punching me in the side and throwing me far off target. I crashed into one crystal and fell a good twenty feet onto another platform.
It seemed like I had crashed into more walls during this fight than I had in almost any other fight. Damien was beating me around just like he had in our last fight. At least this time, he didn't have his own reality to bend. Unfortunately, reality here was already pretty bent to his advantage. I wasn't going to last long if this kept up.
I looked up and saw Kaiten struggling to land a single blow against Damien. The demon was dodging faster than I thought he could move. Even in the bulkier frame, he danced about like a drunken kung fu master. He turned the tides and landed a few hits as well. Kaiten's nice new armor was already covered in scratches and dents. Was he already done for?
I had to call the others. They were the only way we could win now. More to the point, they were the only way we could survive. I had gotten in over my head and underestimated Damien again. We weren't going to kill him at this rate. He was going to kill us, and he was going to make it look like a game. I started looking around, trying to find which way was up. I had to get to the others before it was too late.
"Trevor!" Kaiten shouted as he took another hit. "Don't back down! We can still win this!"
"You've already lost!" Damien cackled. "If it takes your deaths to realize that fact, then so be it!"
"He's lying! Don't let him get to you! Keep fighting!"
"You will die! Your friends will die! And damned if I care, but the rest of the world will die!"
Kaiten was now on full defensive, but he was still able to look down at me. His face was a mix of fierce determination and silent pleading. "Trevor!" he called. "I need you! Help me!"
That was it. That was all I could stand. I wasn't going to let Damien stop us here, when we were so close to the end! Not after I finally regained most of my friends' trust! Not after I came back from the dead! Most of all, I wasn't going to let him hurt my closest friend!
I felt a power surging within my chest. It was anger, pure and burning, but it was different from before. This time, it didn't leave a hole within me, but it filled me, built upon what I already had. I was furious, but more importantly, I was in control. I had never truly been able to fight toe to toe against Damien, but there was one time when I came damn close…
I roared a battle cry as the sparks flew out of my chest, engulfing my entire body. White and green light mixed, covering me in a blinding light for a moment, only to brush away, revealing my trance form, glowing a sharp metallic green. Senses were heightened, reflexes were faster, and I could no longer feel any pain.
Good as I felt and strong as I was, I couldn't underestimate Damien. I had to strike fast and soon if we were going to win this. I jumped as high as I could, aiming for the nearest crystal. With my renewed strength, and perhaps the erratic gravity, I felt like I could jump as high as Freya. I overshot my target, but a new one came soon enough. Another crystal floated by behind Damien, out of his line of sight. A quick kick rebounded me towards my new target, just as he turned around.
Damien must have seen me Trance, or else he wasn't surprised by it. His only reaction was to flick his tail up to try to catch me off guard. His aim was true enough, but not his strength. In my rage, my Purple Magic came forth far easier. In less than half a second, I had a pair of Demon Sabers ready and met the tail in a cross. Not only did Damien's attack have no effect on me, it let me launch myself towards his back, just like I had aimed for from the start.
The Demon Sabers shrank and swelled at the end of my blades as they channeled a type of attack I had only used once before. "Rend and erupt in blinding fury!" I cried out. The magic in my swords launched out in short bolts. Arcs screamed through the air and sliced into Damien's back. Each hit earned a small blast against his beastly hide, as well as a cry of surprise, or pain. From behind, I couldn't tell which.
Finally, I closed in on his back, crossing my arms across my chest as my short swords capped off with Explosions.
I brought the blades together at the last instant, scooping into Damien's back. Suddenly, having the larger body didn't seem like such an advantage as the blast overtook us all. He took the brunt of it while I was just left with sparks in my eyes. However, my body seemed to react automatically and Azure hooked in on Damien's back. That just left me an opportunity for another attack. Energy seeped into Crimson as I gave Damien my own devious grin.
A swipe from Crimson into Damien's back made bleed, but it didn't sink deep. However, I only needed surface contact with his skin. The rest was already set as the sword's own magic worked. Fire blasted out at first contact of blade to skin, but soon, Damien's entire back was soaked in flames. The water I had spread there earlier was still there and made for an excellent attack.
My sudden sweep didn't last long at all though. In the half second I let my guard down, Damien curled his spiked tail up and wrapped it around my chest twice. The tail was thin, but surprisingly strong. My right arm was trapped and one of his spikes caught my armor at the left elbow, effectively pinning me. I could hear the scraping metal on metal as the spikes scratched my armor and crushed it. The armor bent inwards and wrinkled, adding to the constriction. Even with Trance aiding me, I wasn't strong enough to pull free. My advantage was lost almost as soon as I had gained it.
"I have many more advantages against you now," Damien gloated as he threw another coil around my legs. Soon, my pins and needles ran up my legs as the blood stopped flowing. "You should have surrendered when I would have made your death quick."
I struggled to even breathe and could only respond between gasps. "We both know… that's not… my style…"
Damien chuckled. "I suppose not. But you should have been more mindful of your surroundings."
"Could say… the same… to you…"
Damien was so confident in his victory, lavishing in his apparent win, that he never saw the red streak flying in from behind. It crashed into his back and landed a crushing blow. By the time Damien cried out in shock, his tail was already freefalling down through the crystals, with me still trapped within. Blood sprayed out, making him look like a blood-fueled rocket.
I pushed at the tail as I fell, but it didn't do much good. I was careening for another crystal. Expecting impact, I clenched my eyes and teeth. I held my breath, but instead of a sudden stop, I felt the tail unravel from my body as someone caught me. I opened my eyes to the red streak, glowing, just like I was.
"Took you long enough," I told Kaiten as he set me on my feet at the nearest crystal. My breastplate was crushed and I had no choice but to remove it, letting it drop where we rested. I had that less defense, but at least I could breathe now. "So you decided to Trance too?"
"Don't think I was gonna," he admitted. "I was way too tired from keeping him occupied, one on one. But I saw him grab you when I started falling and I guess I just… snapped. But that barrage you did really loosened him up."
"Well, I owe you for that."
Up above, Damien was just overcoming his wounds. He had stopped bleeding and had sealed his wound, but his tail was still gone. He was that much weaker, which was exactly what we needed. And with the two of us Trancing, at the same time, Damien had that much more to worry about. We had never Tranced together at once, not even when we fought him the first time.
"How do we do this?" I asked. "Any preferences?"
"Simultaneous attacks from the sides, front, back, top and bottom," Kaiten suggested. "We hit him hard and rapidly. Keep him guessing."
"You know, every single thing we throw at him doesn't work the first time. Our Trancing was a fluke. We got lucky. You remember how hard it was to even hit him in the subconscious."
"But we did hit him from time to time. We surprised him. He may be stronger and faster, but he still has to think and react like we do. He's still basically a human."
"So, we surprise him more?"
Kaiten smiled. "There's one other big disadvantage he has. Listen, I have a plan…"
Up above, Damien cast another Curaga on himself. The pain was gone, but to his dismay, his tail was still a charred stump where Kaiten had lopped it off. He growled in anger, upset that he had left his back exposed not once, but twice. He wouldn't make the same mistake as he flapped his wings, keeping a wide berth from the both of us. He held himself steady as Kaiten leapt up the crystals to meet him.
"You fuckwits are going to pay for that," he snarled. "I'm going to twist your limbs apart like the mongrels you are!"
"You hear that Kaiten?" I said in a mocking tone. "He thinks we're mongrels. Mongrels snuck up on him!"
"Snuck up on him?" Kaiten taunted in rare form. "But, how can that be? He's Damien! Mighty bat-winged hunter! Lord of this whole entire room!"
If leather could blush, Damien was putting that to the test now. His rage pushed its bounds as we dropped our guards just in front of him. He was humiliated and it showed. "I will fucking kill you both!"
"Oh yes, you will," I said. "Just like how you killed…uh…wait a minute, I can get this… Who was it again?"
"No one?" Kaiten offered. "Ever?"
"Yes, that's it! No one! You've never killed a single person!"
"You two are a good place to start," Damien threatened.
"You would think that, except your track record is shit," I said. "We're both very much alive, and you couldn't even keep Kaiten down in the subconscious realm."
"I'm just glad Trevor came for me when he did," Kaiten said. "I was likely to die of boredom the way you were going about it."
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Damien shouted. He summoned three Meteors above him all at once. "I will kill you, then all your friends! Then Kuja, and whoever the fuck I feel like after that! ALL WILL KNOW MY RAGE!"
The Meteors came crashing down at us. We both ran two directions, barely avoiding the attack as out platform was smashed into dust. I lost track of Kaiten as his red streak faded behind the dust cloud, but it didn't matter. Our plan was on track.
As I expected, Damien focused on me first as I jumped out of the cloud. I powered up my Demon Sabers and met his attack as his claws grabbed for me. His forearms glowed purple, just like my blades. Deathguise never had that attack, but then it hit me. Damien must have brought his own attacks over when his soul invaded Deathguise's body. Suddenly, his ability to keep Kaiten at bay made much more sense. My blades cold parry, but they couldn't cut through Damien's glowing skin.
"Why do you call yourself Damien anyway?" I asked as we battled. "Do you think you're the Antichrist? Some dark destroyer meant to wipe out life?"
"I'll settle for destroying you!"
"So you're the poor, tortured kid that no one liked in school? The loner that's gonna shoot the place up someday?"
"You would know! You created me! We share the same fury!"
"I got over my problems! I stopped dwelling on them and moved on with my life! You need to get the fuck over yourself!"
"It's never that easy! Others make life a misery, so they need to pay! What would you say about your grandfather?!"
I just deflected his quip with one of my own. "So you're either lazy, or a coward!"
My attack hit home, both verbal and physical. Damien was distracted just long enough for my Demon Saber to pass through his defenses and slice into his shoulder. I cut a river of blood open across his chest. He clutched himself, trying to stem the flow.
Kaiten was right. Damien was human, especially when it came to emotions. Like me long ago, rage was my weakness. Get someone mad enough, and they get tunnel vision and make mistakes. For example, letting someone sneak up behind them for the third time that day.
While I kept Damien distracted, Kaiten had plenty of time to prepare a new attack. His blades glowed so brightly they seemed to evaporate behind a misty veil. He launched himself from a platform, giving me just enough time to leap up and avoid his assault.
"ARC STORM OMEGA!"
Suddenly, Kaiten unleashed a screaming ball of fury as hundreds of crescents broke free from swords that swung so fast I lost track of them. He seemed to let loose five blades with each swing. Almost every beam hit home and exploded on Damien's burned back. The demon howled in pain, flying away, but his wings earned more than their share of holes.
Damien was still able to fly after the assault, but just barely. He had significantly less control over himself and fluttered to a platform to rest on. He wouldn't get that chance.
"Don't give him a second to recover!" Kaiten yelled up at me.
"I'm already moving!" I shouted, keeping my Demon Sabers handy. "Try to keep up!"
I dashed through the crystal forest, fast as I could. If I didn't know any better, I would swear that I was flying. Damien wasn't far away, but he still had an assortment of tricks up his sleeve. I found that out the hard way when he cast a sudden Twister right in my face.
My momentum died in an instant. The winds took me up and turned me around. I lost track of where Kaiten and Damien were as the entire world began spinning around me. I tried to keep my short swords up defensively, but it was fruitless. Damien crashed into me, somehow flying through the winds, unafflicted from what I could tell.
Damien flew with me in his grasp, throwing me against a massive crystal pillar. He kept me pinned by holding onto my arms, preventing my short swords from moving. I was defenseless for the moment. However, we could still use this to our advantage.
"Any last words before I tear your arms off?" Damien asked.
"Yeah," I said. "You're ugly and you smell bad. KAITEN, NOW!"
Fearing another attack from behind, Damien cast another Twister behind himself. However, the attack was never coming from behind. Damien looked up as several small flakes of crystals fell on him from above. He saw Kaiten just in time to take an Arc to the face. The blast rattled him, but he still didn't release his grip on me. It did, however, force him to lose control on the Twister spell, which dissipated in seconds.
Kaiten landed sword-point first onto Damien's shoulders and vaulted behind him, out of my line of sight, but this had all been part of Kaiten's plan. We had to act fast though. We probably had only a few seconds of Trance left. If we didn't land the final blow now, we wouldn't get another chance.
I channeled my remaining strength into my chest, trying to cycle it through my body as best as I could. "Hey Damien, you know what your biggest mistake was?" He only looked at me in anger. "We didn't know what you could do when you had your own body inside my head. Relying on Deathguise's body did you in."
"You wretched BASTARD!" he shouted. He pulled my arms out and tried twisting them apart, like he was giving the world's deadliest Indian burn. It was too late for him though, as the green from my Trance expanded and covered my body like an eggshell.
"Kaiten?!" I cried out.
"I'm here!" I heard him yell as a red glow emitted from behind the demon. "Do it!"
All my energy rushed out at once to add to the shield. I was barely hanging on myself and I struggled to stay conscious, but I had to keep going. This was everything, here and now!
"Embrace rage and make it holy!" I cried out. Light poured from my body and Damien roared in confusion. "CRESCENT EXPLOSION!"
The shell that had covered my body shattered into thousands of blades, shooting out in all different directions. I had concentrated most of my energy towards Damien though, so he was hit with hundreds upon hundreds of blades, which cut deep into his hide. On the other side, Kaiten was making a similar attack. The idea of pouring our energy out like this had been his, and it worked brilliantly.
My Trance faded as the energy left me. There wasn't a spot on Damien's body that wasn't bleeding or covered in blood. He had gone from brown to red in a matter of seconds and the damaged showed in more than his wounds. His wings were shredded and his body plummeted. Kaiten and I landed on a nearby platform and watched him fall, the result of our teamwork. I took a deep breath in and couldn't help but give a little laugh of relief.
The celebration didn't last long though. Damien's body didn't fall for long before it erupted, bursting open in a huge explosion. Kaiten and I were swept up in the resulting shockwave and lost our footing as the platform capsized. Soon, all I saw was fire and spinning crystals all around me. I lost track of where I was, but I landed soon enough, falling onto another large crystal.
There was only the soft brush of the wind for a moment. Only my arms and torso were on the platform, I realized after a moment. My legs were hanging down at the platform's side. I pulled myself up, but after ejecting all my energy and getting caught in the blast, it was all I could do just to inch forward.
It felt like forever before my knees were finally safe and I collapsed. I tried to look around, but lifting my head was a serious chore.
"Kaiten?" I called out. I didn't know how far my voice traveled. "Hey… talk to me. Where are you?"
I had to look over at another platform not far from my own to see Kaiten laying facedown and limp. In his armor, I couldn't even see if he was still breathing. He didn't move at all.
"Kaiten?!" I shouted, louder this time. I tried to pull myself closer, but reminded myself that he was on a separate platform, and I couldn't even stand up. I didn't know how I would get to him, but he was floating away, further and further. I had to get to him somehow.
My path was blocked moments later though, when a pair of red, glowing legs stepped in front of me. I tried to crane my head up, but the person was too close and I couldn't see that high. Nevertheless, I didn't need to see him to know who he was or what he was doing.
"I might admit, I am impressed," Kuja said, hovering over me. He had an advantage we could never have in that he could fly. Even now, he floated over me, flaunting his superiority. "To take down Deathguise like that, even after I amplified him with that stolen personality. Or perhaps, that's what did him in. If I had left Deathguise as a raging beast, perhaps you wouldn't stand a chance."
I wanted nothing more than to rest. Sleeping for a few hours sounded wonderful, but adrenaline was pumping through every vein in my body and I could practically hear the alarms going off in my head. Kuja landed a soft kick to my shoulder. He turned me over onto my back, grinning wickedly down at me.
"Was this really the pair that Garland thought could kill me? You barely managed to kill an underling of mine. The old man was a fool. And now, you're going to ay for his mistakes. After I kill the others, the Crystal shall be destroyed, and no one will need to live without my wondrous existence!"
Kuja cackled as a spell charged in his hand. Purple and red light swirled together as I tried to guess what spell it was. I didn't have the energy to fight anymore though. Nothing I would do would help. I just shut my eyes, hoping that what I had done so far was enough. I had done my part in saving the world.
Darkness came over me. I could hear a high-pitched scream. It wasn't like the first time I died. This time, death seemed warmer, and I could still feel my body. I was confused though. Did Kuja's attack really take this long to hit? It wasn't until I heard the stampeding footsteps that I opened my eyes again and realized that the screaming I had heard wasn't a scream. It was a spell.
A wave of darkness had washed over the spot Kuja once floated in. It dissipated by the time I looked up, and I saw Amarant flexing his hands inside his gloves. He must have cast the darkness spell. I saw Dagger run to my side and start casting a healing spell. I could only hope someone was healing Kaiten as well. Zidane stepped by my side as the energy slowly returned to me. His voice was muffled, but I could tell by his tone that he was barking out orders for everyone.
"Trevor," he said, kneeling down. "You guys did great! Are you alright?"
"Mmfine," I slurred, too tired to for proper words. "Gimme aminute 'n ll'help."
"No, you've both done enough," Zidane said. "Stay here and rest. We'll take care of Kuja."
"No… You need help…"
"Trevor, you barely survived that last fight. Stay down. We'll get you when the fight is over."
Zidane didn't know. He didn't know that at the end of the fight, Kuja casts Ultima and kills everyone. I had to tell him, but I the battle had already started. Blasts, swords clashes and magic resounded just beyond the next row of crystals. I couldn't talk over it and Zidane wasn't going to wait for me to recover. Instead, Vivi came running back, stumbling and falling onto his stomach.
"Vivi?" I heard Zidane ask. "What's wrong? Where's Kuja?"
"All over the place!" Vivi shouted, more panicked than I had heard him in a while. "He cast a spell! There are more of him now! Zidane, there are five Kujas!"