“O.M.E.G.A.!” the word rang out with pure rage. Ben’s glare was locked upon his enemy, Onyx’s blade gleaming in his hands.
The Athrylith was advancing so fast it looked like his feet never touched the ground. When their weapons finally came together, the caverns rang an echo of their maddened fury.
“What have you done to her?” Ben demanded, his voice rumbling like muted thunder. He threw his full strength forward, driving the other mage back by raw strength alone.
“You mean Joran?” O.M.E.G.A. gave a slick smile, dodging under the bigger man’s wild slashes. He bounded backwards, the motion followed by crazy, haunted laughter. The single burning eye only taunted him, “Wouldn’t she be happy to know you were concerned?”
Too livid for further words, the Master Wizard thrust his hand out in a silent command.
He knew the elements of the Blue Planet were erratic with only one Crystal left to keep them in check. Skewed magic. Out of balance. And as dangerous as his own blind fury.
Still, Ben called to it. And the distorted power came.
How dare you take her mind from her!
The earth shook. Sand scattered. Tall fountains of white-hot flame burst out of the ground, thrusting upwards towards the darkening sky. O.M.E.G.A. managed to dodge back to the perceived safety of the chiseled stairway. Yet, as he landed, the ancient stone of the city’s foundation cracked.
How dare you take away her will!
O.M.E.G.A. hissed, fighting to catch his balance. Between the blasting heat and unsteady ground, he was obviously rethinking his approach.
I will protect her!
Clouds were developing across the sky at an accelerated rate. Clouds that were never seen in the thin expanse of the desert lands. A green crack of lightning split the air and outlined the tilted sandstone pillars, followed by the sound of unnatural thunder.
“Golbez!” Cecil’s shout could hardly be heard above the howling of the incoming storm.
The clouds had begun to spiral, moving in a telltale pattern… one that most mages only knew from the old legends. The sky had grown crimson, reflecting the Master Wizard’s fury. Somewhere beyond the clouds came a distant roar, a sound that the lands of the Blue Planet had heard only few times before.
“Cecil!” Edge shouted hoarsely. “Stop him before he kills us all!”
“Ben!” Chase’s voice pleaded, fighting to rise above the storm.
But he was already part of it. Tapped into the flow of the erratic Blue Planet energies. And in a moment of release, the sky opened up. A silent rush of heat lit the air as burning meteors blasted through the clouds, slamming again and again into the remains of the desert city below.
“Take cover!” Cecil shouted. He was urging everyone towards the safety of the open cavern maw ahead. “Inside! Inside!”
O.M.E.G.A. had already disappeared through the doorway in retreat. It was Ben’s turn to smile – even if his magic had not struck home, it felt good. Really good.
Go ahead… run away. Who is hunting who now, O.M.E.G.A.?
His own eyes burned flaming green as he strode forward calmly, in a measured pace, towards the cracked stairwell. Everywhere around him the earth shook, sand spraying in all directions as the meteors cannonballed into dunes and stone. The broken city groaned under the pressure of the burning sky.
Somewhere ahead of him, Ben knew that O.M.E.G.A. was racing to aid Joran. To see that the final Crystal was destroyed.
“Are you, crazy?” Edge almost howled as the Master Wizard reached the stairs. Seeing his protest was going to be ignored, he put himself straight into the path of the bigger man. He was shoved roughly to the side, which made him protest all the more. “Cecil! I told you! I told you that he’d turn on us!”
“Wait!” Cecil demanded sharply, catching his brother’s arm.
“There’s no time!” Ben retorted over his shoulder, attempting to push past. “O.M.E.G.A. has everything he needs to destroy the last Crystal!”
“I know that!” the Paladin shouted back. “But you have to get a grip on yourself! You’re acting no better than he is!”
“You don’t understand, do you?” the Master Wizard snarled, jerking out of his brother’s grasp. “He’s not going to stop until one of us is dead. And now Joran is caught in the middle of this! He’s giving me no choice!”
“Golbez!” Cecil’s final shout didn’t stop him.
Onyx was burning green in his fist. It was just enough light for him to see by as he raced down the wide stone steps. The air grew heavier. More stale. Harder to breathe. Every now and then the caves around him would shift and crackle, causing his step to falter.
Ben didn’t know if the others were following or not. All of his senses were bent on O.M.E.G.A. and Incrytan. Both were somewhere not far ahead.
He came upon O.M.E.G.A. first.
The Athrylith was leaning over the shapes of three motionless bodies. It was hard to tell if their death had been due to meeting the O.M.E.G.A. or been caused by something else. Ben didn’t stop in his advance to ask. The whistle of Onyx filled the cavern as he swung the blade down at the crouching mage.
But O.M.E.G.A. was just as fast, his staff arching around. Blade on blade sparked green and violet, lighting up the slick walls and accenting the anger on the Master Wizard’s face. Seeing he was far from having the upper hand at that point, O.M.E.G.A. thrust back. Finding an opening in the battle, he lunged and made a mad dash, heading further down into the depths of the underground city.
Ben chased him, recklessly. He felt the jolt of a silent mind-blow slam him from the side, knocking him hard against the wall. The Athrylith was doing everything he could to slow his rival. Unphased, Ben just shook himself out and continued the chase.
These stairs have got to end sometime… and when they do…
Soon enough, they did. Ben found himself rushing into a great underground hall that reminded him vaguely of the throne room in Baron. Though it was now dark, damp and full of the scent of un-use, he could see where long banners once had hung between tall carved pillars of stone. A pattern of dingy color still stretched across the floor, having weathered time a bit better than the stonework on the surface of the desert.
Only a few yards away, light and shadow stretched across the room, struggling between themselves – the Light and Dark Crystals of Fire… and Incrytan. Standing upon the steps of a narrow carved dais with both arms outstretched, was the tiny shape of the Lunar girl. Her back was to them as they entered the vast room. She did not turn in response or make any motion that she knew they were there.
“Joran!” Ben’s voice bellowed across the room. Momentarily, his anger was forgotten at the shock of the scene that was unfolding. “Joran, don’t do it!”
But before he had a chance to plead, O.M.E.G.A. was upon him. The burning green eye flickered as the bladed staff hissed at him in relentless blows. The cold gleaming smile reflected in the pulse of Crystal light, and Ben realized that this is exactly what O.M.E.G.A. had wanted. What seemed like a chase and a retreat had played him into the Athrylith’s hands again.
When the Crystals are destroyed, the energy will be released. And when it is…
O.M.E.G.A. had made sure he was close enough to the release. He would absorb the Crystal’s energy as he had done the last time. And last time, if Joran had not intercepted with Incrytan, Ben would have been hard pressed to hold his own.
“Bingo,” the sing-song voice answered with another slash of his blade. “You’re a bright boy, Benjamin. I knew you’d catch on.”
“No!” Ben’s mind raced, all of his concentration now bent on defending against the blows.
Time was running out. The keening of the Crystals filled his mind. He staggered under the weight of the energy that flooded the room.
“Golbez!” Cecil’s voice rose above the rush of power.
Faintly, Ben could make out the group as they arrived at the foot of the stair. Cecil’s white hair glimmered in the increasing intensity of the glow, almost seeming to flame in holy light. Rosa gripped his arm, at his side, blue eyes squinting into the room.
Edge stood with both swords ready, stance unyielding. Rydia took one more step forward, luminous green in the elemental light. Uncle Fu was there, his face as solid and stern as the stone pillars around them. Somewhere behind the group, the shadow of the Dragoon Kain shifted, face sharp and focused.
Just on the other side of Rosa, Chase’s golden eyes reflected the Crystals’ light. How the child had managed to squirm his way into the group yet again, Ben did not know. The boy now watched the scene below with a mixture of awe and trepidation.
“We have to stop it!” Ben called back to them. Hoping beyond hope that the once-heroes of the Blue Planet could do something. Anything. That they could once again protect their world… where he had failed.
But even as the Paladin drew his blade to take a step forward, the air crackled and shattered. For a frozen moment, everything was silent. And then Ben found himself thrown back, blasted by the rush of power that swelled through the room.
The light was blinding. It enveloped everything, seeping into his eyes, his nose, his mouth– into every pore in his being. He had no voice to shout. He had no ears to hear. It felt as if everything was coming apart within him – piece by piece.
When his mind began to make sense of things, he could hear O.M.E.G.A.’s manic laughter pounding in his skull. Sweat streamed down Ben’s face as he fought to lift his head. The pain that inflicted him now was not from the Crystal’s blast, he realized. It was the power of O.M.E.G.A. seeking to tear him apart from the inside out.
The room shook under Ben’s knees as he struggled to find the strength to fight back. But the Crystal’s power pulsed through him. It numbed his senses. His limbs refused to respond. O.M.E.G.A. loomed over his bent form like a pillar of darkness, crackling in a wild violet light.
How… did he get so powerful?
The weight of his Will was enormous. The power of directed hate. Of focused destruction. Of deep pain and loss transformed into insanity that burned behind the green eye.
Even before, it wasn’t like… this…
Through the curtain of hazy pain, Ben could make out the shouts of the others as they tried to reach him. But O.M.E.G.A.’s will was bent, deflecting their attempts with frightening viciousness. Ben was left to struggle on his own, fighting to remain conscious.
There’s something else here. Some other kind of power?
The ground shivered and shook under the impact of the Crystal’s destruction. Battle shouts rang dimly, echoing from the walls of the underground hall. Though Joran was nowhere to be seen, a vast illumination rose from the heart of the Crystal’s destruction. All too late, Ben realized that O.M.E.G.A. was not their only worry.
The Elemental Dragon!
The vast roar shook the foundations of the city as the beast expanded, wings of flame stretching to fill the hall. It was met with the sound of dismay as the warriors turned to face yet one more foe, standing at the brink of the Blue Planet’s writhing pain. Heat of flame filled the chamber as the Dragon took form, choking their lungs with blistering air.
Father… I fought.
Ben felt himself slipping. Buckling under O.M.E.G.A.’s relentless mental blows. He could no longer feel his hands or feet. And the aching within his chest made his breath come in rasping gasps.
But I couldn’t…
As he felt exhaustion draping down over him, something else shifted in the energies of his mind. It started as a tiny white pulse of light, like a new-born star. Suddenly it expanded so rapidly that Ben found himself caught up in the second flow of energy. But this one was comforting. Protecting.
Ben’s head swerved about, searching for the source of the voice. Then he realized it had sounded within his mind. And that he had been released from the pain and the weight of the O.M.E.G.A.’s will.
-Hang in there.-
His eyes lifted in surprise, staring up at the flaming form of the great Dragon above him. It was no longer crimson, but shimmered with a pristine white-gold light as the new sort of essence moved through it. Unlike the elemental Dragons that Ben had seen before, the features of this creature were luminescent and its deep teal eyes seem to reflect the depth of the universe.
The Master Wizard had been witness to many things in his life, but this had stolen the breath from his lungs. Somehow he knew without knowing how that the Dragon was there for him. To help. And that the soft voice within his mind belonged to this creature.
-There is more going on here than senses can tell you.-
Ben could see the contorted face of O.M.E.G.A. hovering above him and hear the howl of fury as his mind magery snapped, recoiling back at him. He could see O.M.E.G.A.’s strange metal plates outlined along his body with the Crystal’s power, burning white even under the darkness of the thick black coat. And for the first time, Ben could make out the second shifting of power — a cold, ghostly silver mist – that seemed to cling around the crazed Athrylith’s form.
-That’s it. Concentrate, Benjamin.-
O.M.E.G.A. snarled and recoiled as Ben’s own powers were fed by the soft golden light of the great white Dragon. It was as if seeing the misty energy was enough to make it lose its edge. As if the Dragon’s power could act through him, giving him the strength to offset O.M.E.G.A.’s own borrowed power.
-Now! Before he realizes. Strike!-
With a renewed battle sense pulsing through his mind, Ben rose to his feet with a tremendous roar. It resounded through the chamber, merging into the simultaneous roar of the great white Dragon. As if they were one, he found his blade directed, an unfounded knowledge tickling the hidden corners of his memories.
Ben charged at O.M.E.G.A.
The Athrylith staggered backwards. A strangely soft and haunted expression washed away the fury that had always resided upon his face. And for that moment, as the sword sung above him, the O.M.E.G.A. looked like someone else. Someone Ben might have once known.
Then that moment was gone.
O.M.E.G.A. gave a choked gasp. The single eye stared down with an incredulous look. Onyx’s blade was buried deep in his chest, “Haaa…..aaaa….”
Just as quickly as it came, the yellow gold light faded, taking with it the presence of the great white Dragon. Not another word. Nothing but a faint ringing in the ears.
As his senses came back to him, Ben began to shake. Sticky warmth spilled out over his hands. He could feel the uneven gasps as the Athrylith fought for breath on the end of his sword.
Ever so slowly, O.M.E.G.A. pulled himself off the blade. Then he staggered backwards, sprawling against one of the leaning pillars. One hand clutched at the gaping wound in his chest that still crackled with pale green energy. It was hard to tell if he was trying to laugh or simply fighting for breath.
Ben could only stand and stare. He may have killed many people as a Dark Lord. But this was the first time he’d shed blood since.
“Haaa… haaa…” O.M.E.G.A. rasped. “Well played, Benjamin. You’ve really grown…”
For some odd reason, the words made him a little sad. Strangely, it was as if that was the way he should have felt.
“Don’t worry,” the voice was soft. Almost reassuring. “Somehow, I always knew it would end this way. It’s probably better. In fact, I’m glad. You have everything to live for. And I have nothing to stay for.”
Ben could hear the footsteps of his companions slowly approaching from behind. Though he didn’t turn, he could feel their eyes upon his back. Eyes that watched the struggling O.M.E.G.A.’s last breaths. Breaths that came out as wheezing, wild laughter.
“HAHAAHAHAA..!” he opened his mouth wide, the single eye slowly losing its light. His words slurred in delirium. “Zeromus! You lost! And I — I will pass to a place where you can never use me again!”
Ben’s voice was distant to his ears. Almost childlike, in shock. “Will… he die?”
“Golbez…” He felt his brother’s hand pull him. Leading him away from the gristly vision of slow death, calm as only a soldier could be.
The Athrylith coughed, working hard to muster up the effort to talk, “Benjamin…!”
Ben almost didn’t turn around as Cecil led him away.
“Joran,” he continued. “She is gone… But I can tell you where she went. If you want to save her.”
This time, the Master Wizard did stop and turn.
“The Crystals of the Moon are his next targets. She will go there,” the O.M.E.G.A. wheezed. Then he fell still, nothing but the sound of his final ragged breath passing through the hall.