The wind whipped around him in a bitter symphony. Ben was chilled, even in the middle of summer, even with the warmth of the sunlight streaming from above. The sky seemed so close at the summit of the mountain, a pastel blue-gray. Silence was the only thing that he heard.So, this is Mt. Ordeals…
The mountain of legend. Where Cecil, his brother, had renounced the darkness and became a Paladin of Light. The peak where his father, KluYa, was sealed.
Ben fought to ease the pain that gnawed him at this thought. This thought and so many thoughts – the overwhelming rush of emotion that had sent him here. The one place he was most afraid to be. To face the one person that he both loved and feared so deeply.
“Father..!” his golden accent rang, slicing through the wind. The stone shuddered under each step, as if recoiling from a soul filled with darkness. “I am here!”
His fists opened and closed at his sides mechanically, a cold nervous sweat breaking over his brow. The world was a haze of confusion and frigidity. Just as it had been from the moment he had seen the pain and torment on Joran’s face. Heard the mocking laugh of O.M.E.G.A. in his ears. The moment Ben realized how helpless he – the so-called Master Wizard – really was in the big scheme of things.
Within that moment he had wept bitterly, in a way he had never done before. And he realized he could never go back to being who he once was.
That part of him that had been asleep for so long, the emotions born of a Human soul, something he had feared for so long, had now grown too powerful to deny. No longer could hide the truth from himself.
What is the truth?
In the middle of the swirling mass of confusion, there was a quiet tug. A pull. A need to know. A need to find the answers. To face the Spirit’s Ordeal.
“Father, it’s me… Golbez? I have come for my trial!”
Golbez. His own name. It was a difficult thing to admit.
But still, there was no answer. Nothing but his own voice in his ears. A cold prickle ran over his skin as his white hair was swept up in the gale. Only the wind seemed stronger. And a dull ache of fear.
“Please, answer me!”
There was so little time. It would not be long before someone would find him missing and inform Cecil. As much as Ben didn’t like leaving a wide-open rift sitting in his bedroom, there had been little choice in the matter. As soon as it was discovered, he knew his time would be up. People would follow… though what they would find left to him, he didn’t know.
“Father… You don’t know how much I’ve missed you,” Ben’s voice was hoarse, fighting to rise above the wind. “Everything I’ve done… even making Incrytan… it was all to free you.”
Why did you never come to take me from Zot? Do you still love me? Or do you hate me for what I’ve done?
Ben placed his palms flat against the stone outcropping. There was a very faint tingle of power against his fingertips, but nothing more.
Do you hate me for what I’ve become?
“Arost i’c paydd mynd’malean! Please! I…” he paused, weakly laying his cheek against the cold unyielding stone. “I need your help.”
Ben felt his knees give way as he slowly slid down the side of the stone to crouch dejectedly. There was no answer.
Maybe there would never be an answer. Maybe he didn’t deserve an answer. Maybe… it was his fault that Father had been sealed into this cold stone tomb for eternity.
How can I blame him for turning his back on me?
“I’m so… so… sorry…”
But it still stung, heavy in his heart. And he could not stop the tears that came.
“It’s all my fault. Everything has always been all… my… fault…”
The darkness had come for him — he had been the cause of his parent’s death. He had been the pawn of Zeromus in a war that had almost destroyed the Blue Planet. He had fought his brother and corrupted his brother’s best friend. The blood of thousands were upon his hands. And now, it was possible that the blood of many more would be, again — because he had made Incrytan.
And because of me, Joran is…
Ben wrapped his arms around his knees and laid his forehead against the quiet stone, gazing across the horizon. He would not have long to wait until the others would arrive to discover his defeat.
“Father,” he whispered, closing his eyes. “Forgive me. Forgive me for everything…”
Silence. Silence for a very long time.
Then came a feeling, the weight of eyes on his back. Someone was watching him, but they did not speak. Slowly, the Half Lunar raised his head.
A child stood there.
Ben blinked, at first thinking it was Chase. It only took him a moment to realize it was not.
The boy peered back silently, slender arms crossed behind his back, a thoughtful cast to his soft face. Bright jade green eyes reflected under the wild white hair, drawn back into a ponytail with bangs dripping into his eyes. He was dressed in all brown and green.
Ben felt something within his chest grow tense. He forced himself to swallow.
The boy cocked his head, blinking quietly. Then slowly, he reached out a small hand, tapping Ben on the shoulder, proclaiming, “Chocobo Tag! You’re It!”
Ben blinked. He blinked again.
The boy grinned brightly. Then he dashed away, vanishing on the other side of the summit. The sound of children’s laughter was on the wind, “Chocobo, chocobo, feathers of gold…”
The Half Lunar lumbered to his feet weakly. Something deep within his memory sparked — he knew this game. Chocobo Tag. It had been a favorite among the children of Mysidia. But he had never been very good at it.
Ben stumbled around the side of the tall stone, supporting his weight with one hand. There were really very few places on the barren mountain peak that a child could hide. And there were a number of questions that he wanted to ask the boy. Yet, as he rounded the outcropping, he found no sign of the child. Nothing at all.
The horizon stared at him blankly. He stared back. There was still laughter upon the wind.
He must have run to the other side…
Ben let a tired sigh escape him as he trudged around towards the other side of the stone. Then he felt it. His fingers traced a crack in the rock, a tingle of warmth. A line too straight to be of natural creation. And just as his palm came in contact with the rock, it slid away, melting like ice in the sun. A doorway in the stone outcropping stood before him, soft reflections of light glowed within. A familiar, welcoming power hummed in his ears.
The sound of laughter rang from inside the chamber, “Chocobo, chocobo, running free…”
Ben caught his breath. Then, swallowing his fear, he forced himself forward. The chamber was small, walls made of reflective crystal that glowed with their own inner light. A hazy shimmering dust rose about his ankles, trailing behind his long green cloak. Ben’s reflection leapt at him from every side, the vision of a young man with white hair, green eyes, and the burden of darkness upon him.
A quiet click came from behind. When he turned, there was no longer a door there. Only a wall of solid crystal reflected his surprise.
The Half Lunar hissed in alarm. He reached out, hoping that the door might respond to his touch and open just as it had the first time. Instead, as his fingers brushed the smooth wall, the room trembled and the crystal light grew brighter, outlining the shadow of his hand.
Ben drew back at once, stepping away into the center of the room. But everywhere he turned was the burning light. Reflexes drew his arms over his head for protection.
Then the light swallowed him.
When he finally opened his eyes, Ben found himself splayed across the ground. He was lying upon his stomach, his arms over his head in a defensive position. He could feel the tingling of power still tracing his form.
Something had happened. Something in the room had reacted to him. But what it was, he did not know.
Where am I? This feels wrong…
A hissing crackle filled his ears sharply. The pressure of unearthly heat lingered all around. A distant roaring. The smell of burning. Of cloth burning. Of hair burning. Of flesh burning.
The Half Lunar pushed himself to his knees, fighting back the gag reflex.
This isn’t Mt. Ordeals… This is…
A gray-cast fortress stretched around him, the walls buckling, collapsing, burning. He could hear the cries of people somewhere in the distance. Screams of burning. The shadows of airships passed low in the sky, streaming smoke behind them. The fire began to spread in all directions.
Eblan…? Or is it Damcyan…?
He couldn’t tell. Not from inside. Both cities had been bombed during the Crystal War. Both cities had been demolished at his command. Both cities would have fallen to similar destruction.
Why am I seeing this? The Crystal War is over! It’s been over… it’s…
“Chocobo, chocobo, in the forest glade…!” the cheerful voice rang across the flaming rubble, out of place with the firey surroundings.
Ben turned on his heel, catching only the slightest glimmer of white vanishing into the depths of the burning castle. Something in his heart wrenched.
“W-wait!!” he called, leaping over the nearest wreckage and dodging around the tall pillars of hungry flame. The doorway ahead reflected a ripple of crimson glow, the tell-tale signs of fire within.
I have to find him!
The Half Lunar plunged inside only to be met with walls of flame. The rugs withered and writhed like dying snakes as the fires leapt up to consume wall hangings and blackened furniture. Smoke was dense, making his eyes water and filling his lungs with deadly fumes. Ben dropped to a crouch, making his way down the hall to the far door. There were moans from somewhere to one side, but he did not stop.
When he finally stumbled out of the hall, he doubled over, choking into his fist. To his surprise, the room beyond had not yet been touched by the fire. Richly carpeted, tall and narrowly built, it was a meeting chamber with an upraised platform of stairs at the far end. The doorway behind spewed dark plumes of black that rose in towards the high white ceiling. Ben stared up at the wall, recognizing the coat of arms upon the tapestry.
The city of Eblan.
Waiting on the stairs was the boy. He smiled brightly, reciting the last line, arms behind his back, “Chocobo, chocobo, you can’t catch me!”
Ben reached towards the boy, fearful that the child might dash off again, “Stay right there… don’t… please don’t run away…”
The boy smiled at him. He was calm, unafraid. Innocent.
Somewhere in the distance, a wall collapsed, the roar of the fire growing stronger.
He held his hand out further, “Come… come to me and I’ll take you somewhere safe.”
The boy did not speak. He did not move. He simply stood there, an amused look on his face.
“Child,” Ben softened his voice as much as he could, the tone he would use with Chase. “What is your name?”
The room fell into sudden darkness. Even the crimson glow beyond the chamber doors grew distant and wan, a sickly tainted light filtering in from every direction.
A voice rang through the chamber, golden but intensely heartless, “Isn’t it obvious?”
It felt like Zeromus.
Overwhelming fear rushed through Ben’s body. A fear so immense there was nothing else that existed in his mind. There was room for nothing else.
A man in pitch black armor looked down at him from the dais, though Ben had not sensed him there before. Green eyes bore into him, nothing more than blazing points within the darkness of his helm. He was huge, a towering silhouette of hatred so fierce that Ben felt himself backing away.
The boy was a tiny glimmer of white beside him. The dark man dropped a familiar hand upon the boy’s shoulder, a palm so large it could easily consume the child’s whole face. Still, the boy did not seem alarmed.
Ben felt his body trembling. His tone betrayed his dread, “Child… please… Come to me!”
The boy just stood there. Simply stood.
The man in dark armor chuckled. He patted the child on the shoulder fondly, almost lovingly.
Ben’s own hand dropped, weakness sweeping over him. He took a step back, giving into the foreboding that raged within, “No. This can’t… this can’t be real…”
“We have been waiting for you to come,” the voice from the shadow was his own. There was no doubt that this was the Man of Darkness.
“You aren’t real! You can’t be!” the Half Lunar’s face twisted into a snarl, fists clamping around the hilt of his sword. He hadn’t even remembered bringing Onyx, but somehow it was there. The steel felt good between his fingers, the power gave him comfort. “I… I… destroyed you! You don’t exist anymore!”
“You are wrong,” the little boy spoke, his face very grave and very sad. “He and I are just as real as you are.”
“It was Zeromus! Not me! I wasn’t… I wasn’t really like that! He made me… he…”
The Man of Darkness chuckled, a hollow sound of little joy, “Is it really that simple?”
“I’m not listening to you!” Ben hissed at the man. “You just want to drag me down with your dark trickery! I’ve renounced it all!”
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” the child said again. “That’s where you are lying to yourself.”
Ben took a step back, fist still clamped tightly around Onyx. The blade pulsed between his fingers, humming with his dreadful, growing anger.
“We are within you. Both of us,” the boy tilted his head. “And because you can’t accept that, you can’t know yourself for who you really are.”
“What are you saying — that I can never escape the darkness?”
The boy smiled softly, “No. You said that. But this has nothing to do with who you were before. What’s most important now is who you wish to become.”
“Enough of this!” the Man of Darkness grated, his hand tightening upon the child’s shoulder. “You are a fool if you think that you can deny the deeds of your past. The death, the destruction, the hate and betrayal! You will never be free from the darkness. It is simply a part of you — the most powerful part of you!”
“This boy,” the Man of Darkness scoffed. “Your innocence. That’s what you want the most. But, it’s gone. And you can never have that back!”
There was a quick motion. A resounding crack.
The child gave a broken cry. His eyes grew wide for a moment, then fell distant. The boy crumpled, lifeless as the huge dark-armored fist closed around the back of his tiny neck and twisted with a swift snap.
He became a pale and silent shape, discarded on the floor. The Half Lunar could only stare at the image of the child. Of the boy he once was… of the one thing he would give anything in the world to be once again.
And just as suddenly, he realized the words were true. It was gone. It was gone for good. And nothing that he would do, nothing that he denied, nothing he pretended to be, could make it live again.
The shock and pain of realization flared through Ben’s veins. Onyx was drawn. Tears of frustration and rage glittered in his eyes. The Man of Darkness carelessly stepped over the child’s still form, making his way down the stairs.
Ben hissed, stance low and deadly. He bared his teeth at the darkness, “I refuse to listen to anything you have to say!”
“Believe whatever you believe,” the voice was icy and cruel. “The truth stands unchangeable.”
“What do you want from me? Is it my power? ” the Half Lunar snarled, backing away as the dark shadow continued to advance. “You want it? You can take it! I never asked for it! I don’t want any part of it! All I ever wanted was–”
“What?” the Man of Darkness scoffed. He was so close that the air was sizzling around the blade of Spirit in Ben’s fist. “You want what?”
“That no one else suffer!” Ben choked, “I can’t stand to see any more death! No more pain! No more innocent lives destroyed!”
“Foolish. You speak a child’s wishes!”
“Maybe I do!” Ben barked, leaping forward, eyes blazing. The image of his innocence was etched in his mind, of the child lying motionless upon the floor.
Rage and hate blazed. Motion before thought.
Onyx swung back in a high arc, keening a song of victory. Then stabbing low. The blade speared straight through the dark armor, bursting out through the back. A spray of red speckled the grey stone floor.
A gurgling howl of surprised agony rang through the chamber.
As the Man of Darkness buckled, Ben shouldered forward and forced the blade further into his chest. Violently he twisted, tearing the gash wider. Then, the Half Lunar caught the weight as it fell back, kicking the body off the end of his sword.
The smell of leather and metal melting.
Ben tore at the man’s black helmet. He couldn’t stand to see it anymore. But it would not come free — it would never come free.
The Man of Darkness crumpled to his knees, clutching the gaping wound that was burning wider. Somehow staggering, he managed to lay himself out beside the tiny body of the child upon the stairs.
“You… are a fool, Golbez Benjamin Ya.” His voice gurgled, “You claim in words to seek the Light, yet you embrace the power of chaos and hatred. You still draw upon the power of your anger.”
Ben backed away, a sickened look pasted on his face. Onyx rang, clattering to the floor, slick with deep crimson blood all the way to the hilt. His hands were stained red.
“And that is why… you and I… are one… and the same,” the Man of Darkness gave final a choking sigh, then lay very still.
It was only then that Ben realized he had failed.