Ch1-1 Song of the Blue Planet

Slowly, a blue hologram shimmered into existence — a small globe that floated only an inch above the crystal.

The Universe felt very small. It always did in the center of the Ways. If he reached out, he could trail his fingers through eternity. Wrap his arms around the foundation of existence. Cup the cosmos in the palm of his hand.

Pale light rose and fell with the command of his breath. Motion.

It came from the very core of his being. Rushing… reeling… rising… until —

The light peeled back from his vision. The Universe grew larger again. Or maybe he shrunk. Either way, the world expanded to surround him with astounding immensity.

The Blue Planet.

Grass spread its carpet at his feet. Trees shot up around him, looming tall over his head. A distant symphony played on the newly-budded spring leaves. A vast dome of blue sky sparkled further above. Soft drifts of powdered white meandered idly upon its face, leaving trails of mystery across his sight.

This was once my home.

Dressed in deep green, he might have passed for one of the people of the Blue Planet. If only his blood was pure. The fact stood that it wasn’t. He was a half breed, born of the unity between two vastly different peoples — the humans and the Lunarians.

Striking marks of his alien heritage were in his features. Though he was obviously quite young, his hair draped long behind him, wild and white. This peculiarity was accented by the slant of green eyes, which brilliantly reflected the light of the earth-sun.

All of his senses screamed that he shouldn’t return to the world of the humans. It was nearly five years ago that he chose to leave the Blue Planet to live with his father’s people, the Lunarians. At the time, he really knew nothing about this alien race, other than the fact that they lived on the Red Moon, which was once a small satellite that orbited the Blue Planet.

But here I am again, coming full circle… back to the world of my childhood.

As his feet touched the solid earth, a song rose within his ears. A sense of familiarity drove his memory back to its origins. He found himself unable to do anything more than stare into the yawning heavens.

“Golbez!” a rough, rasping voice shook him from the depths of daydreams.

“I asked you not to use that name here,” the Half-Lunar turned, his voice slow and level. “Call me Ben, remember?”

The old Lunar simply pressed on as if he had not heard. “Were we not supposed to arrive in Mysidia?”

Ben fell silent, recognizing the symptoms of impossibility at hand.

“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” FuSoYa grated. His knuckles grew white as he gripped the haft of the staff.

“No, actually.”

When FuSoYa gave one of those looks, it was usually followed with a first rate skull-bashing. Ben learned early on that his uncle was never the advocate of sparing the staff. Or the stony word. Sometimes it was better just to keep his mouth shut.

The length of FuSoYa’s white beard told his age. As was Lunar custom, he wore his hair very long. This was strangely offset by the acute baldness of the top of his head. He was probably the closest thing to walking antiquity that Ben had ever seen. However, despite his appearance, FuSoYa was far from being just a feeble old man.

His violet robes were sashed with the mark of a High Sage, the leader of the Lunarian people. Added to a will of stone, there was still much power behind the sharp light of the Lunar’s eyes. It was a strength that had only grown, tempered through the long ages past. It was a power that many of the younger Lunarians would never be able to touch in their lifetime.

Though his own magic out-powered that of his Uncle’s, the last thing that Ben wanted was to contest him. After all, FuSoYa was a very talented caster of White Magic. It took very little in the ways of holy power to leave Ben totally disarmed.

“I thought you told me that you were an expert on dimensional Rifting?” FuSoYa demanded.

“I…” Ben paused, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “I don’t know what happened. I was pretty sure I targeted Mysidia.”

“Well, apparently your aim was off.” FuSoYa added with a grunt, “By quite a distance.”

The Master Wizard peered around slowly.

They were standing within a quiet forest glade. As his eyes lifted to the horizon, he confirmed that there was no human habitat within sight. The land was still very wild and untouched here.

The planet’s call was unmistakable. It swelled within his mind.

Distracted, Ben could do nothing more than state the obvious, “I guess we’re not in Mysidia.”

“Really? How could you tell?” the Sage’s sarcasm was as sharp as the slits of his eyes.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” a tiny voice piped up defensively. “Go easy, old man!”

Ben could feel the weight at his back shift as the top of his pack lifted open. A small, cat-like face popped out of the bag, leaning his chin on Ben’s shoulder. Bright yellow eyes darted around with tenfold curiosity. Tufted ears twitched at every living sound. Silver strung whiskers were trembling with delight.

“Nodd, be careful not to fall out, okay?” Ben warned him quietly.

Though he looked like a strange variation of a common household cat, nothing was further from the truth. Nodd was a Kitt, a child of the nearly extinct Hummingway clan. Through a twist of events, he ended up in Ben’s care, much to FuSoYa’s irritation.

“Did you really have to bring the nuisance along?” the High Sage grumbled.

“He wanted to see the Blue Planet. What’s wrong with that?” Ben responded solidly.

“So the stories are all true,” Nodd purred to himself. “The sky here is blue!”

“Well, he will certainly see a lot more of it than we planned,” FuSoYa frowned.

“You act as if it’s something that can’t be fixed.”

“I do not see anything being done about it. It is not as if we have a whole lot of time. Yes?”

Ben froze, a chill rippling over his body. He had been so lost in the strange flow of power from the Blue Planet that he momentarily forgot why they were there.

“I know. I know. Just give me a moment. I’ll have us back on track,” the Half-Lunar frowned.

He began to rummage around in all the different pockets along the inside of his vest, his cloak, his trousers… then finally his pack. After checking twice, Ben victoriously pulled out a small, flat object. It was round and solid, just the right size to fit in the palm of his hand. The surface was made of flawless crystal and reflected only a slightly deeper blue shade than the sky.

Nodd peered curiously over the Half-Lunar’s shoulder. His whiskers tickled the inside of Ben’s ear.

“I have had enough of your infernal contraptions, Golbez,” FuSoYa scowled.

“This isn’t mine,” Ben’s eyes grew sharp with concentration. “It was Father’s.”

The crystal responded with a soft hum as a ripple of glittering light spread out from its heart. Slowly, a blue hologram shimmered into existence, a small globe that floated only an inch above the crystal. The sphere was gridded and many little dots and lines traced over its surface. There was one very bright white light in particular that blinked on and off. It was there that Ben pointed.

“This is where we ended up. Looks like the lower Baronian continent.”

“A hologram map of the Blue Planet?” FuSoYa shook his head slowly. “KluYa, you had far too much time on your hands.”

“It’s more than just that, Uncle,” Ben indicated the numerous small sparkles on the globe. “These points show us where all the Elemental Crystals are on the surface world. It looks as if all four are here. And….”

A bright red spot appeared on the globe. Something about it was unnerving, unnatural. Almost frightening in nature.

Incrytan,” the Half-Lunar hissed.

“This device can sense Incrytan, too?”

“It… would seem so…”

“It must be in tune to all Crystal activity on the Blue Planet.”

Ben gave a slow, assured smile. “Well then, we’re in luck. We can track the thief wherever they are going.”

“Where is Incrytan currently located?”

The Half-Lunar frowned. “It’s outside of Mysidia. Just as we speculated.”

“Let us get there before the thief does, yes?”

“No problem.”

Ben stepped back a few paces. He took one last look at the red spot on the globe to orient his thoughts before putting the crystal away in his pocket. Very slowly, he lifted his hand, fingers spread, arm outreached at full length. A pulse of green light erupted from his palm, lighting the emerald of his eyes even more brilliantly.

The air impacted with his command. It began to ripple in a tall ovular wave. Reality twisted in upon itself. Dimension fell away into a pulsing, translucent portal of light — a wayrift. Once it was done expanding, it stood a good foot taller than the Half-Lunar.

Rifting was not a common form of transportation among the Lunar kind. Though it was much faster than using a ship, dimensional travel was considered too wild and unruly to be of wide use. To actually gather knowledge of the Ways was dangerous to the point of being lethal. Not many studies were conducted on the massive energy that gathered in the place where all worlds overlapped.

Ben was one of the few who had a natural command over dimensional energies. It was probably the reason the Lunars had started calling him “Master of the Infinite Ways.” it was among many other titles that he’d gathered over time.

FuSoYa stepped forward, making his way towards the rift. As his hand reached out to push through, the portal gave a sound somewhat like a groan. The light within flickered once, then faded black, scattering away like sand borne on the wind.

“Woah! It’s a no go!” Nodd gaped.

The High Sage turned around instantly. “That was not funny, Golbez. We do not have time for trickery.”

Ben’s face was marked with slight surprise. He had never lost control of a rift before. “I didn’t do that.”

“Well, something happened. Rifts just do not fall apart on their own.”

“I’ll… try again.”

FuSoYa gave a low grunt.

For a second time, Ben stepped forward, lifting one hand above his head. Putting a bit more force to his command, he thrust his arm forward, lashing out a rift in the air. The ripples came, once again. But this time, they faded before a portal could even be made.

“What?”

Ben threw his hand forward again. Sweat began to bead on his brow as concentration shook his body.

This time, there was no answer at all.

“I… I don’t understand!” the Half-Lunar stared, the weight of the situation heavy on his shoulders. “This has never happened before!”

“What are you blandering about, boy?” the High Sage gave a disgruntled look.

Ben turned to face him quickly, “Uncle Fu… something’s blocking the Riftways. I can’t get it to open!”

FuSoYa’s eyebrows bristled straight out to the sides. It was the closest thing that the old Lunar got to looking concerned. “Then, there is no way to get to Mysidia quickly?”

“Ah… eh…” the Half-Lunar frowned. “No.”

“No Rift at all?”

“No…”

“And where did you say Incrytan was again?”

“Almost in Mysidia,” Ben’s voice grew grave.

“There is not enough time.”

“Then we must make time.”

“Since when did you ever have such a love for the humans?” FuSoYa peered over at him.

“I…” Ben paused, mouth open. “I just don’t want anyone messing with Father’s Crystals.”

“Of course,” the High Sage grunted.

The Half-Lunar peered off over the horizon. Things weren’t going like he planned — someone or something was blocking the flow of dimensional energies on the Blue Planet. It was probably pure luck alone that they were able to get there to begin with. The only thing left was to make it to Baron as quickly as possible, and from there, take the Serpent Road to Mysidia.

Even that was a long ways off.

This isn’t going to be easy…

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Ch1-2 The Water Festival

She tugged at his hand mirthfully, “Let’s go!”

“I don’t get it! Why does it take girls three centuries just to get dressed?” Palom complained.

The Black Mage leaned back against the nearest tree with a frown. His twin sister, Porom, was never on time, and he just couldn’t understand what it was that took her so long. After all, he could be out of bed, into his uniform, and combing his hair (with his fingers, of course) as he ran out the door, all in the space of seven minutes flat.

He usually still made it to class on time.

“Don’t you know anything?” Mich Suksley warbled self-importantly. “All the dames get decked out for the Water Festival. I mean, it does come only once every ten years.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So? What do you mean so? It’s a prime place to scope out the girls!”

Palom snorted.

Like any girl is going to look upside-down-sideways-or-backwards at you?

“Oh. I see,” Mich leaned back against the wall, threading his teeth with a toothpick. “You’re into that sort of thing.”

“Go soak your head, Suksley!” Palom snapped. And he meant it.

Mich was laughing about it, thinking he was pretty clever.

Great… why I have to run into him, today of all days?

Of course, Palom knew he was nothing more than a big suck-up. The moment that Mich heard Palom was under special training by the Elder of Mysidia, he instantly chose Palom as his new “best friend.”

Probably because he thinks I’m gonna be the next Elder someday. Well, I hope that I do get to be. ‘Cuz then I could banish the whole Suksley family to some island or something and we’d never have to see them again!

Palom had already made up his mind. As soon as possible, he and Porom would ditch the Suksley. Of course, Porom wouldn’t know about it or she’d chide her brother on being rude. Palom was sure that if she spent a few days with Mich in her class, she’d probably change her tune.

As if his thoughts alone were enough to trigger her appearance, Porom was suddenly there, stepping reservedly down the front steps. Palom’s head jerked up at the sight of her. All the impatient jabs he thought up during his wait flew out of his head. It was the first time that he realized that his twin sister could actually look pretty.

And she did look nice, all dressed up in a white ceremonial robe. Something about the simplicity of the outfit really brought out the girl’s kinder qualities. Porom even took the time to weave little white-blue flowers into the braid of her brown hair. When she saw her brother standing there, she gave a pert smile that completed the entire picture.

From the look on Mich’s face, he noticed, too. The boy gave a low, crude whistle.

Hey! What does that slime think he’s doing?

Palom’s brows drew down in defensive irritation.

He better not be trying to hit on MY sister!

Porom’s face shifted to mirror the expression exactly.

Palom was thankful that she had enough sense not to let herself fall for a dork like Mich. He made up his mind long ago that he’d never let a loser date his sister.

I’ll beat the tar out of whoever tries…

“So, Miss Porom,” Mich began smoothly, “I heard you don’t have an escort to the Water Festival.”

“Whatever gave you that impression?” she replied with an unconcerned voice.

In a few quick steps, Porom was standing next to her brother. Purposely, she wove her hand through the crook of his arm in a very genteel fashion. It was enough to make Palom want to gag, but if it shooed off the Suksley, then he was all for it. With a little nudge from her, they began to walk down the path towards town.

Mich wasn’t one to be put off so easily. He dogged their steps relentlessly.

“What girl in her right mind would pass up the chance to spend time with the richest Apprentice in town? You do know that my daddy’s so rich, why – he could buy the whole city of Mysidia if he wanted to!”

When there was nothing but silence in return, he added.

“And all of Baron, too! Every last airship!”

Porom congratulated, “I’m very happy for your father.”

The two of them kept walking. Porom was obviously less than impressed, and Palom was having a ball watching Suksley deal with getting shafted. All in all, it wasn’t a bad start to the day.

“Oh, I see!” Mich finally retorted, face growing heated. “You’re holding out for Cromwell, aren’t you? Well, there’s no fortune to be found in him — his family’s long since disowned him from any money that he might have inherited, you know?”

“Cromwell?” Palom frowned.

The name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He was determined to get to know why real fast, especially if it was some other guy wanting to hit on his sister.

“Yeah, Alexander Cromwell? You’ve had to have heard of him. He’s the biggest A-rate loser in all of Mysidia! He’s failed the intro class three times already and still can’t cast a fireball’s worth of magic.”

Porom’s face set sharply, but she remained silent.

“Everyone knows that he’s got an eye on your sister, but he’s just too much of a wuss to get up and say so,” Mich continued, laying it on thick. “I’d be sorry to be Miss Porom, having to deal with such knocks to her good name. It’s a real pity.”

The whole talk got Palom’s mind going. If there really was a Cromwell-dweeb after Porom, he decided to give him a good bloody nose before he took another look at her. Mich Suksley was bad news, but a guy who was a Mysidian-failure and disinherited from his own family sounded ten times worse.

As they emerged from the alley, they were instantly struck by the sight of festivities. Despite the fact the city was known for its mystic nature, for Mysidia was the heart of magic upon the Blue Planet, nothing quite prepared them for the wonder that the Water Festival had brought.

The Mysidian streets were transformed. Silver streamers lined the main square, dancing in the late-spring sunlight. Some of them were merely paper made to represent the motion of water. Some were actually enchanted fountains that sparked rainbows in wide arcs over the streets. The people passing below the watery displays remained perfectly dry.

Colors abounded not only skyward, but also in streams of motion through the streets. People from all nations attended the fabled Festival. There were the up-right Baronians, the proper Damcyans, the proud-hearted Troians, the mighty Fabulians, the stout Agartians, and even a few of the secretive Eblanians.

Wow… everyone from all over the Blue Planet is here!

The Apprentices’ eyes grew round as they passed between the huge decorated tents and booths that lined the streets. The scents of strange foods sizzled up from every side. Merchants of all shapes and sizes advertised their wares in booming voices.

Man, and all the Elder gave us was two gil to spend!

Younger children ran dodging between the adults’ parades. Their faces were covered with large glittering masks that bore a remote resemblance to the great Serpent of the Sea. In their hands they trailed rainbow sparklers or toy fish strung on sticks that danced as they dangled in the air.

Magic tricks were on every corner. Bards performed on impromptu stages as if they couldn’t help but burst forth in merriment. Large group dances broke out in front of the Inn. It was a river of color so brilliant that Palom swore he’d never see the likes of such again.

Porom’s eyes were bright in the glow of surrounding joy. She tugged at his hand mirthfully, “Let’s go!”

Palom decided his sister had better timing than he gave her credit for. A few quick dodges through the crowd and the two of them were far out of sight of Mich Suksley. It was times like this when he wondered if his twin was really as sweet and innocent as she appeared.

I couldn’t have done that better if I had planned it.

Her braid bouncing behind her, Porom pulled her brother through the spinning light and color to the safety on the other side of the street. Finally stopping to catch her breath, she called out, “Have you ever seen such a thing? We’ve always heard how wonderful this festival was, but I had no idea!”

“You can say that again!” Palom gave a huge grin.

“So what do you want do first?”

There was only one thing on the boy’s mind. “CANDY!”

They passed a cart of clouded sugar and crème drops on the way through the crowds. The image was stuck in Palom’s mind. It must have been stuck in his sister’s too for she turned without objection and headed back down the street with a cheerful laugh.

Somewhere along the walkway, a voice chanted in high-verse. One of the mages of Mysidia was trying his hand at entertainment. “It was then that the great Sage Tellah stepped forward to unleash upon the Dark Lord Golbez the forgotten power of Meteo!”

Palom pulled to a stop.

“What?” Porom was jerked back.

“Do you hear that? Someone’s tellin’ a Crystal Wars story. I wonder if we’ll be in it?” the boy chortled. “Maybe we’ll get asked for autographs?”

“Don’t be silly!”

“I’m serious! Come on, let’s hear!”

Palom pulled her towards the small crowd of children who were sitting in a semi-circle at the foot of some steps. A black mage lifted his arms skyward, fingers imitating the motion of raining star-dust to accent the concept of Meteo.

Everyone on the Blue Planet knew about Meteo. It was a legendary spell, the most powerful gathering of magical force that could be controlled by a single human caster. Very few wizards were strong enough to learn it, but the Sage Tellah had been one of them.

“The clouds churned and seethed in Tellah’s fury! It shifted into a massive vortex of light, then broke open, bearing down upon the Evil One, pounding him with streaking white flames from the heavens!”

Palom wasn’t there to see the showdown between Tellah and Golbez, but it probably was pretty close to what the black mage described. He thought it was a real shame to have missed it. There was no one else in the world that he’d liked to have seen pounded into the ground more than the Dark Lord Golbez.

Even if he is supposed to be Cecil’s brother. I don’t think Cecil would mind much if I pounded him just a little bit.

“The Dark Lord was thrown back under the massive power, tattered, weakened, and on the very verge of destruction,” the mage threw his arms wide, staggering in the image of badly-acted death. “Tellah, however, had so valiantly given the last of his life force to summon up the forbidden power of Meteo, and there he passed from the world in glory and peace, having avenged the death of his daughter.”

Porom wrinkled her nose, obviously not very comforted by what she heard.

The storyteller finished with a low flourish to the astounded children. “Sage Tellah was, no doubt, one of the greatest heroes of the Crystal War.”

“That’s not what the Elder says,” Porom intoned quietly to her brother.

“Whaddya mean?”

“The Elder says that Master Tellah was eaten up by his anger and desire for revenge,” she walked him away from the group. “Though he made a terrible sacrifice, it was a foolish one.”

“Aww, come on, Sis. You know the Elder’s such a stiff! Tellah kicked some major ass, and he didn’t. So he’s just jealous that he didn’t think of it first!”

“Palom! Watch your language!” she snapped. “Besides, that’s not true! Without the Elder, Cecil would have never been able to find the Big Whale. And you know it!”

“Yeah… yeah… I guess so,” Palom grumbled an agreement, mostly because he heard the slightest hint of nagging in her voice.

Though he figured she was probably halfway right. The Elder was a pretty powerful guy, considering he was the leader of the entire Mysidian wing of the Magic Academy. Just about every orthodox mage in the world answered to him. Despite his lofty position, the Elder remained a good-natured and humble man. He always treated the Twins like his own grandchildren.

Well, when he isn’t piling us up with homework.

That’s what the whole Water Festival was about in the first place. It celebrated the Elders of the past who had fought so hard to preserve Mysidia against the unruly ocean tides. Palom knew that throughout history the city had been pounded by terrible storms and tremendous tidal waves. In the recent years, that fear subsided and the sea had rested calmly.

Probably because of the Water Crystal.

No one knew a whole lot about how the Elemental Crystals had come into being. History just marked them suddenly there. No one actually knew the effect of such items of power upon the nations which held them, either. It was obvious that they were valuable since the war between two great forces who wanted these Crystals just ended only five years ago.

There were four Light Crystals in the Upper World and four Dark Crystals in the Underworld. Each pair of Crystals held the properties of one of the key elements of the Blue Planet — Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.

Currently, the Crystal of Water was housed within the Tower of Wishes of Mysidia, just as it had been since long before Palom was born. The Mages of Mysidia watched over it in complete reverence and fidelity.

“Palom, look!” Porom’s voice jerked him back to daylight-reality. She was pointing to a brightly painted sign that was leaning against the wall. “There’s going to be an acting troop performing this afternoon. And dancing afterwards!”

He couldn’t deny the joy in his sister’s voice. Something made him wonder exactly why she was so glad about something as pansy as a dance.

“Well… that’s… really cool, Sis. I guess?”

“Oh, come on! You have no sense of culture, Palom!” she scolded softly. “A dance would do you good, I think.”

“What, me? Dance! You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

“How do you expect to charm the girls if you don’t know a few dance steps?”

“I don’t need dance steps to charm the girls, spank-you-very-much!”

“Nonsense! Every girl is triply charmed by a guy who knows how to handle himself at a dance. It’s just so refined!”

Palom wanted to tell her exactly what the word “refined” threatened to do to the undigested food in his stomach. But he figured she was being serious, and due to the festivities of the day, he didn’t really want to hurt her feelings too much.

“This is so exciting!” she chirruped.

Leave it to Sis to find the dullest things to do, even at a festival.

Visions of clouded sugar faded in front of his eyes, as did the really sweet-looking cart that had all the wicked enchanted staffs and daggers they passed. As much as he would rather be out running the streets, just for this once, he decided to humor Porom and follow her into the tent.

I guess the festival will be around for a few days. I can hit that stuff later.

“This will be the greatest night ever!” she told him in an excited whisper.

“Yeah,” Palom fought to keep the sarcasm from touching his voice, “It sure will be.”

Ch1-3 En Route To Baron

The narrow shape of the bird’s eyes alerted Ben to his stormy temper at first sight.

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

A few minutes passed before Nodd chortled again. “How about now?”

“No,” Ben answered quietly.

The Half-Lunar could respond with irritation by the twenty-eighth time this particular question was reworded in the space of half an hour, but his mind was too occupied with the peculiarities of chocobo-back riding. Something about it felt very familiar, as if at some time or place in his past, he went through these very motions.

Still, his memory would not yield any answers. It never did.

“By gourd, I’m so bored!” the Kitt complained.

“Why not count the trees then,” FuSoYa grumbled sarcastically.

“Okay!” Nodd’s ears perked up, and he began to count, “Tree… Tree…. Tree… Tree…”

FuSoYa quickly learned the error of his suggestion. There were a lot of trees to number.

Ben, however, was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice.

It’s lucky for us that Father’s maps noted the location of the Chocobo forests.

The old drawings of the landscape gave Ben the idea to search for chocobos to begin with. He remembered reading how the large, ostrich-like birds were a common means of transportation across the Blue Planet. After talking at length with FuSoYa, they decided it was the best way to make haste to Baron.

It’s even more lucky that they’re a friendly sort of creature.

Upon finding the forest, Ben pleaded their case to the chocobos. The birds responded with a friendly feathery-headed warble of agreement. They were quite surprised and impressed that the “man-thing” that could speak their language. Even FuSoYa grudgingly admitted that Ben’s linguistic studies, as odd as they were, might be of some use after all.

His father’s notes highlighted that chocobos were, for the most part, easily domesticated. It was for that reason that they were trained and bred as beasts of burden. Their mildness of temperament and need for companionship often made them loyal creatures to their human masters.

Of course, there is always the exception.

Ben just happened to be riding it at the moment.

The Half-Lunar’s new mount claimed that his last owner had named him “Ebonytide.” Ben couldn’t tell how many masters the huge black bird laid a claw into. Somehow, the chocobo bolted free from captivity and found a place among the chocobos of the Baronian forest. However, it was apparent that Ebony was not very well liked among his own kind.

Actually, it seemed as if the flock was quite glad to be rid of him.

The narrow shape of the bird’s eyes alerted Ben to his stormy temper at first sight. Still, there wasn’t much choice.

He was the only chocobo in the whole forest that was large enough to carry me.

The two of them struck an agreement. Ebony would take Ben as far as Baron, just as long as the Master Wizard released him on arrival.

All in all, the black chocobo didn’t seem too grieved about the situation. This was because, Ebony had informed him, the chocobos of the Baronian forest were pretty dull. He was a bird in search of high excitement, and a jog to Baron was just the thing to break his boredom.

A smaller white chocobo offered her services to FuSoYa. She was young and had neither name nor chance to explore beyond the border of the forest. This was her first trip to Baron and she seemed rather excited in a placid kind of way.

Despite Nodd’s constant nagging, the two chocobos were making good time. They were both fresh for a run and enjoying the prospect of racing alongside each other down the unmarked hill sides. With only a word from Ben to point them in the right direction, they bore down quickly upon Baron.

These chocobo are more impressive than they look. No wonder Father spent time writing about them. Especially in a world that hasn’t evolved enough to use airships as a major means of transportation.

“How are we doing for time?” FuSoYa asked.

“Not too bad, actually. If we keep this pace up, we should arrive in Baron before nightfall,” Ben answered.

“Good. I do not wish to be traveling the wilderness at night if we do not have to.”

“It’s nothing we can’t handle, I’m sure.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” the Lunar intoned. “With the Blue Planet, you must never be too quick to underestimate. You should know that, Golbez.”

Ben winced. “Uncle… I asked you not to call me that here.”

“So you persist on hiding behind this ‘Benjamin’ nonsense?” he grunted. “You cannot avoid the truth forever.”

“Maybe not,” the Half-Lunar’s face set sharply. “But I should be able to choose who I broadcast the truth to.”

“The humans will find out that you are Golbez, be it sooner or later. Might as well be sooner, yes?” FuSoYa noted in his irritatingly unconcerned way.

“They’ll know when I feel it’s fit to tell them,” Ben growled.

“Foolishness.”

His face grew flushed with the first hints of anger. “I forbid you to tell them!”

“You forbid me?” the High Sage snorted.

The chocobos were growing restless at the sound of the brewing argument. Even Nodd fell silent from his tree-counting and pulled the top of the pack down over his head to hide.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” Ben’s voice lifted. “We weren’t supposed to come anywhere near Baron!”

“Do you have a better idea?” FuSoYa finally asked.

He didn’t. So he remained silent.

“You know as well as I do that your brother, Cecil, has access to the best fleet of ships on the Blue Planet,” the Lunar stated firmly.

“I know…”

“He also has contact with those who have the knowledge to traverse this world better than you or I do.”

“I know… I know!”

“Unless you remember a whole lot more about the Blue Planet than you let on about.”

“I don’t remember anything. You know that,” the Half-Lunar huffed softly and turned his head away.

“This is about Cecil, yes?” FuSoYa noted suddenly.

Ben fell quiet.

“It is,” the Sage answered in his stead. “You do your brother very little justice, boy.”

“Justice or not, he’s a Paladin, a Holy Knight of Light. And I’m…”

They both rode quietly for a ways.

“And you are what?” FuSoYa finally prodded.

“You know what I’m trying to say.”

“I am afraid I may have misunderstood?”

“Uncle!” Ben grated.

FuSoYa turned his attention back to the road ahead. He looked a good deal less ruffled than his nephew.

How dare he threaten to reveal my identity! And to Cecil, no less!

A rising dread began to grow in Ben’s chest. The feeling weighed heavy on him since he discovered that Incrytan was missing. Things only got worse from that moment on.

I thought we’d be able to rift down here to the Blue Planet, retrieve Incrytan and go right home… no need to alert anyone to our presence.

The caged, desperate feeling was nearly unbearable.

Especially not Cecil.

But now everything was turned inside-out. With the Ways blocked, no longer did they have means to travel quickly. There was very little choice but to seek out aid from the humans.

The last people I ever wanted to have to face again…

For a time, the only sound was the rhythmic pace of the two birds along the dirt path. When Ben’s voice rose, it held a subdued and broken sound. “I never wanted to come back here.”

“This wasn’t something I wanted to happen either,” the Lunar offered, voice as gentle as stone could manage. “I know how you feel abou–”

“No. You don’t know.”

FuSoYa fell silent.

Then the Half-Lunar urged the black chocobo into an even swifter trot, putting a good five paces between them. Deciding that where there were words there was danger, he resigned himself to the safety of silence for the rest of the ride to Baron.

Ch1-4 White Mage, Black Mage

AC’s face showed nervous expectation as his eyes scanned the room over and over again. The White Mage couldn’t help but feel all the more contempt.

What the hell am I doing here?

Newt’s eyes shifted around the room in contempt. He’d never been to a dance before, and now that he was attending the Mysidian Water Festival Dance, he wished anything would come along to relieve his suffering. Like someone falling off the balcony, or maybe the building catching on fire.

What I wouldn’t give for just one Fire spell.

He pursed his lips.

Sometimes it sucks to be a White Mage.

Most people were surprised to see the healer’s band on Newt’s Mysidian uniform because everything about him reeked of hostility. Not a kind word passed his lips and nothing gave him greater joy than seeing the disgust that a few well-time insults won. The shock of his fire-red hair contrasting with ice-blue eyes only added to the inconsistency.

Sometimes people’s stunned reactions were enough to off-set Newt’s discontent at not possessing the ability to cause mass destruction with his power. This was not one of those times.

He lifted his glare to the Black Mage standing next to him. His full name was Alexander Cromwell, but he was better known by his nickname “AC.” Though AC was a good three years younger than Newt, his tall lanky form was superior in height. This was, however, the only mark of superiority he had over his White Mage roommate.

His young face was soft and boyish, often expressing a mute concern or cheer tinged with quiet sorrow. A warm, gentle nature reflected in the depths of his violet eyes. Small clumps of black hair peeked out from under the rim of his wide-brimmed hat. Even at the festival ball, he was dressed in full uniform.

Dammit, AC! Is this girl really that important?

Newt resolved that he only came to the dance to laugh as his roommate got blasted out of the water. The annoyance would be well worth seeing AC’s crushed expression when the girl told him where to go. Or better yet, when she stood up his invitation.

After all, she’s the Elder’s pet. Way out of his league. He should know better than to stick his heart out like that. Every girl keeps a little knife up their sleeve for this opportunity.

AC’s face showed nervous expectation as his eyes scanned the room over and over. The White Mage couldn’t help but feel all the more contempt.

What a dumbass…

Still, it was because of the Black Mage’s docile nature that Newt dealt with having AC around. Usually, just standing within five feet of most people gave the White Mage an acute desire to retch all over their self-righteous faces. Sometimes it was a shame that he couldn’t comply with that desire — the shock he’d receive would have been worth a burning throat.

It wasn’t possible to find an absolutely selfless individual in the world. Such a thing defied all his street-wise learning… it defied all common logic… it defied the very nature of humanity. He was cynical. Very cynical.

There’s no such thing as pure kindness without a desire for reward. Not even in AC.

The Mysidian Elder took Newt into the Academy about a year ago for training. At first he was placed under “special living arrangements.” However, after proving that he had no intention to actually harm any of the other students, he was transferred into a normal dorm.

That was when Newt found himself with AC as his roommate. So far, this setup lasted a total of two months – longer than most people would considered possible.

The old geezer thinks he’s clever… well he’s got another thing coming.

Newt’s eyes flicked coldly to the Black Mage. AC was fidgeting, still staring across the room.

I eat kids like this for breakfast.

“Do you think she’ll come?” AC finally broke the silence.

“Why should she?”

“What do you mean? I wrote her a letter.” Violet eyes turned with an almost frightened look.

“Who in their right mind would want to be seen with the biggest loser in all the academy?” Newt smirked.

AC choked. His face flushed ten shades of red before it finally settled on one.

That should keep his whiney mouth shut.

The Black Mage worked his jaw, trying to say something and failing in finding the courage. Which was nothing new.

“Face it kid, you’re a piss-ant wuss,” the White Mage continued, warming up to the topic. “The sooner you own up to it and get these stupid ass ideas out of your head, the easier your life will be.”

“I…” AC struggled, and then finally blurted, “I don’t think Miss Porom is like that!”

“Heeellooo! What rock are you living under? They’re all like that! Everyone’s like that!” Newt gave a barking laugh, waving his hand to indicate the people at the ball.

Some of the guests nearby paused to look at him strangely.

The White Mage just glared and hissed, “What the hell are you looking at?”

Eyes turned away instantly.

AC looked like he was about to die of mortification right there. Just as he began to sink away behind the entrée table, the expression on his face shifted from horrified to even more horrified to absolutely petrified.

Newt traced his roommate’s line of sight across the room. Straight to the proper figure of the very girl that AC had been waiting for.

“Well I’ll be damned,” the White Mage muttered. “The little fancy pants actually came!”

The Black Mage was too far in his own world to even hear. His violet eyes were fixed on her as she came through the door.

She was a pretty enough girl — in a 14-year-old way. Her hair was a soft mousey color, swept back in a high-hanging braid. Her eyes were large and deep brown, her face reflecting a sense of serenity and what seemed to be kindness. She wore the dress of a White Mage. Still, everyone knew that Porom was the top student in the Academy and the special apprentice to the Elder of Mysidia.

None of this was lost to Newt as he watched AC flounder to find his breath.

I betcha she only came to humiliate him. Why else would a girl of her stature answer a letter from a flunked-out Black Mage?

The object of AC’s agitation seemed not to even know that he was there. She waltzed into the room with an air of amazement, dragging her twin brother around by one hand. The two of them visited groups of friends, picked up a few drinks from the table and generally looked to having a great time.

I knew it…

Ever so slowly, the Black Mage’s face drooped more and more.

“She snubbed you, eh?” Newt chided.

For a long moment, AC didn’t reply.

“I told you she was no different than anyone of them. Welcome to life, kid.”

“There… there has to be some misunderstanding,” the Black Mage croaked. “She just isn’t like that. I’ve seen her…”

“You’ve been watching her?” the White Mage smirked.

“Well I…”

“Naughty AC.”

“Not like that!”

“Sure, sure! That’s what they all say!”

Newt loved to watch his roommate boil over the top. Most of the time, it ended in a round of mortifying tears on AC’s part. Nothing was more amusing and disheartening than making a 16-year-old cry.

“I said it wasn’t anything nasty!”

Once again, the people nearby turned their eyes toward the two mages. AC colored in a hot flush. Newt simply glared them back into their own business.

“Okay, listen,” the White Mage muttered, “I believe you. So this is what we’re gonna do.”

“Uh?”

“If I have to take you home and hear you moaning about this girl for the rest of the night, I might be tempted to rip your tongue out and feed it to you bit by bit.”

AC choked, face turning green.

“So I’m gonna help you out.”

“Help me?” the Black Mage perked up. “How?”

The boy just has too much naive trust in people. Most of all myself.

Newt snorted and grabbed his roommate by the wrist. The pressure applied was not painful but neither did it allow struggle. A terrible look of realization flashed over AC’s face as the White Mage began to lead him in a no-nonsense manner across the room. Right towards Porom.

If she’s gonna turn him down, she damn well better have the class to do it to his face.

“Wait! Newt! What are you doing?” he protested in a tormented hiss.

I’ll show her for what she really is…

“Newt! Newt, no! This isn’t how it should be done!”

He’s gotta learn the hard way that people aren’t worth shit in this world.

Porom was standing with her brother and a group of her friends. In one hand she held a glass of kantal. Her back was to the both of them.

“Hey,” Newt projected at her gruffly.

She paused and slowly turned around, bright eyes blinking at the two of them. There was a look of surprise on her face.

Her brother turned around, too.

With a shove, Newt thrust AC in front of Porom. “He wants to talk to you.”

The two of them stared into one another’s faces, both mirroring complete and utter shock at the situation playing out before them. The Black Mage was the first one to break away. He stumbled back with a choke.

“I’m… I’m so sorry Miss Porom.”

A look of discontent slid over Newt’s face.

Sorry? How can you be sorry? She’s the one that’s totally pissing on your feelings.

AC turned on his heel and tried to push his way back across the room. The crowd was so thick that he only managed to bump into a few people as he staggered forward.

“Wait!”

Her voice trickled over the din of the room. The word was soft, and encouraging. Encouraging enough to make the Black Mage freeze in his escape.

“You’re Alexander Cromwell, right?”

“Y-yes?” AC turned his head to peer at her, his face a tumult of surprise. Obviously he didn’t think that the girl was even aware of his existence, much less knew his name.

The girl was smiling. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Porom.”

“I… know…” he choked. Then a flush of color rose to his cheeks. “I mean…”

She was laughing, unaffected as she took his hand for a warm shake.

AC looked like he might die right there on the spot.

Newt’s eyes narrowed. There was someone else who looked ready to see AC dead.

“So you’re Cromwell?” Porom’s brother shoved his way forward. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Palom!” she gasped slightly, looking shocked at his behavior.

Instantly, AC jerked back. “I…”

Silence fell over the area around them. Everyone had stopped talking, eyes turning toward the two Black Mages, who were facing each other.

Palom looked about ready to rip his adversary’s head off. AC looked about ready to pass out on the floor. Porom looked about ready to strangle her brother for his behavior. Newt decided the turn of events was worth coming to the dance for.

Palom’s face was dark. One finger jabbed forward, “If you think a good-for-nothing flunky like you can hit on my sister, you better think again!”

Normally, Newt would agree with such a statement. But for some reason, it made his hackles rise. Involuntarily, one fist clenched as he watched the younger Black Mage zero in on his silent roommate.

Nothing but damned hypocrisy no matter where you look!

With a snap, Newt shoved himself in the middle. “You stuck up little prick!”

Palom’s eyes darted to White Mage’s face with a startled look. It was an expression of distant recognition.

So even these snub-noses have heard about me…

Though Newt was not particularly tall, he was strongly built from many years of living on the streets. If that didn’t dissuade others from tangling with him, the scars on his face were usually a deciding factor. The air of intimidation was heightened by the dark rumors that drifted around the Academy since his arrival. Rumors that held a powerful grain of truth.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Palom finally sneered. The boy decided to pick his fight, and it wasn’t a good one.

“I was about to ask you the same thing, kid,” Newt sneered back.

“This is none of your business.”

“It is now.”

“On what means?”

“Cromwell here is my roommate.”

For a moment, Palom looked as if he wanted nothing more than to back out, but he stood his ground. “Oh, really?”

“Palom, no! Don’t fight here, please!” Porom begged, seeing her brother’s moment of hesitation.

This only seemed to resolve him all the more.

“Come on, boy. You better do what your little sister says. It would be a shame to mess up your pretty face,” Newt sneered.

Here he comes…

With a bellowed curse, Palom lunged straight for Newt. The two of them came together in a blur of fists and swears so unexpected that it was hard to tell who was exchanging what. A crowd pressed in around them, giving the mages just enough room to duke it out.

This is too easy.

In the flash of light between blows, Newt could see Porom’s horrified face.

Hardly even worth my time.

Somewhere in the distance, AC was apologizing to her over and over again.

What a wuss…

Palom, on the other hand, was faring only slightly better than Newt thought he would. He was a tough enough kid, but not nearly strong or fast enough to protect himself from streetwise blows.

Time to teach this punk a lesson.

The boy’s pride didn’t let him back down. Time and time again, he swung out at the White Mage. Palom’s punches grew clumsier as he took more abuse, until he was doing very little, if any, damage to Newt at all.

If he doesn’t learn how to pick his fights better than this, he’ll end up dead.

Just as sudden as the group had closed in on them, it began to disperse. At first, Newt paid little attention to the motion around them. Not until a sudden, clear voice rang through the room, a voice so strong that it resounded in the depths of his mind.

“Newton! Palom! This will end now!”

The two froze instantly. Except for Palom who decided to get one last lug in.

Newt grunted as his eyes turned to the owner of the voice.

The Elder of Mysidia stood over them, a half frown pasted on his bearded face.

Ch1-5 Incrytan

It was not glowing like this before!

Joran had never been so far from home. The sun was setting, the sky becoming wise in the gleaming starlight. The rising ocean tide frothed, a molten sea of crimson. The life-energy of the Blue Planet thrummed within the Lunarian’s mind.

This… is Mysidia.

The lights of the human settlement danced in the hollow below with beautiful, alien simplicity. Something was deeply stirring about the city. Joran could only absorb the view before her, an ethereal mural that suddenly stretched in its sleep.

It’s beautiful…

Joran hardly dared to breathe.

I never imagined I’d actually see this place.

Mysidia. She remembered Golbez mentioning it as the city of his birth.

Golbez…

The sun slipped out of view and the world grew darker. Joran’s eyes were drawn towards the cheerful light below.

I wonder how he’d feel if he could see this, too?

Her mind was awash with the impossibility of what her life had become within the past few days. Worse yet, she was unable to foretell what was going to happen next.

And if he’ll hate me when it’s all over.

“Have you had your fill yet?”

Joran turned with a hissing gasp, realizing that she was no longer alone. No sound or feeling registered upon her senses. Such was the way of the girl who called herself Sparrow.

“Ah… yes!” was the only thing the young Lunar could think to say.

The small, black-haired girl melted out of the shadows. Her dark, sad eyes were heavy as they rested upon Joran’s form. Neither human nor Lunarian, there was a feeling of frightening inconsistency about her existence. One that Joran did not wish to challenge.

It was Sparrow who gave her this task.

The girl spoke a single word. “Incrytan.

It lingered eerily in the air between them, ringing through the silence like a name too forbidden to utter. It was not a word of query or statement, fear or fondness. The word was simply there, a momentary discomfort, then gone.

Forgive me…

Joran’s face was troubled in the darkness. Last night, the Lunarian girl snuck into Golbez’s chambers and stole his Crystal stone.

Please, forgive me…

Now that the deed was done, Incrytan weighed heavier on her conscience the longer it remained within her hold. Regret was a sharp dagger in her heart.

Please say you’ll forgive me…

The darkness rippled away in a pale teal light as she drew the Crystal from its shrouding. A gentle melodious hum shimmered in warm harmony. The song began to swell as the light of essence spread, reflecting sharply in their eyes. They both drew back in unison.

It was not glowing like this before!

“It calls,” Sparrow said simply.

“Calls?”

“Yes. You have taken it from its Maker. And like a child, it calls… cries out… yearning to be returned.”

The Lunar paused. When she spoke again, it was with great inner turmoil. “Then, it will hurt him to be separated?”

“The link between them is a strong one,” it was an answer that was not an answer. “But it only proves that these forces seek to possess him, even when separated this far.”

“Still?” Joran’s reply came fearfully. “Even now? Even though the Crystal is nowhere near him?”

“The link between them is a strong one,” the answer came again.

A static pressure rose in the air between them.

“What… can I do?”

The song of the Crystal faltered, then fell mute. There was no answer.

“Tell me what I can do to free him!” Joran’s demand was a desperate one.

The denial of heavy silence.

Tell me!

Finally, Sparrow spoke. There was a hint of satisfaction in her words, “You are so willing to do this? Even if it means risking your life?”

“I’m not afraid,” the Lunar girl lifted her chin.

“You would do this for Golbez Ya, a man that bears such a corrupted and stained soul?”

“I…”

“He was the bringer of death to his mother’s people. The destroyer of the nations of this planet.”

Silence.

“What makes you think you can ‘save’ him?”

“I… love… him!” Joran’s face crumpled. It was the first time she admitted this truth out loud.

“That, I suppose, is valid enough.”

“I’m not afraid.” Determination rang in repetition.

“Words of the hero, or the fool?” Sparrow’s expression gave away nothing.

“Words of the heart.”

“Of the heart?” Her smile flickered, rippling upon the surface of the words, “I see. Words of the heart, then. Though I value actions much more highly than words.”

“As do I.”

“Then we have reached an agreement, you and I.”

Joran fell silent once again. She didn’t trust herself to answer.

“His spirit will not be free until they are gone. All of them.” Sparrow’s voice rose. She turned her eyes down upon the lights of the city below.

“They?”

“The Crystals.”

The Lunar’s tone became incredulous, “Crystals? Of the Red Moon?”

“Of the Red Moon and the Blue Planet,” the black haired girl stated solemnly.

Joran almost choked, trying to hide her shock.

“His heritage is, after all, torn by both worlds,” Sparrow noted quietly.

“What are you suggesting?” Joran was almost afraid to ask.

“You must gather the Crystals.”

“Me? But–”

The dark-eyed girl continued to talk as if she did not hear a single word of protest. Joran was forced into silence or else risk missing the instructions that fell heavily on her shoulders.

“The essence of each Crystal can be absorbed into a power that is similar to itself,” Sparrow informed her. “There, in your hands, you hold Incrytan, a Crystal endowed with vitality vast enough to link and contain the energies of all the other Crystals combined.”

“This?” she peered down at the small teal stone.

“It makes one wonder, doesn’t it? What exactly did the Dark Lord Golbez have in mind when he created an artifact of such properties?”

“I… don’t know,” Joran grew hesitant. She fought back the doubts that began to rise within her heart. “He never talked about it. It was only by accident that I learned of its existence.”

“Indeed.”

One great question tolled through the back of her mind. She couldn’t help but voice it, “Sill, to seek out and absorb the energies of other Crystals … of items that hold such great elemental balance… Won’t that have consequences upon the Blue Planet, if not the Red Moon as well?”

“The Blue Planet welcomes it.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Crystals were placed here by unnatural, alien forces,” Sparrow murmured. “The elements of this world were twisted due to that power. Now that the Red Moon has left the Blue Planet’s orbit, the Crystals only serve to draw life from this world and hinder its growth.”

“Are you certain?”

“I am. In fact, the Daear of the Blue Planet have pledged their aid to this very cause.”

“Really?” Joran choked. “Do they know about me?”

“Yes,” Sparrow seemed quite content in the matter.

There was a moment of quiet shock.

Joran knew that the Daear, the spirit-people of the Blue Planet, loathed the Lunarians more than anything else. The fact that they would choose to work with her willingly spoke volumes of the situation.

“That’s not necessary,” Joran protested, face deeply troubled.

“Golbez will pursue you the moment he realizes what happened,” the child spoke calmly. “You must waste little time hunting down and obtaining the Crystals of the Blue Planet. Pren, the leader of the Daear, has given word that she and her forces will do all in her power to work at sidetracking his efforts to find you.”

“I don’t need an army to do this job.”

“Golbez is a creature of overwhelming power in his own right. If he seeks out the help of his brother upon the Blue Planet, it’s certain that the nations of the world would be at his hands. It’s not wise to decline the help of those who offer it.”

“I understand,” Joran closed her mouth with a click. Her face grew pale.

Does she really believe we will have to fight Golbez?

“Are you having second thoughts?” the dark-haired girl observed the Lunarian carefully. “You suddenly don’t sound so sure of yourself.”

“No. Of course not,” Joran bit down on her lip. The glittering lights of Mysidia didn’t seem so warm anymore. “I just hope he will understand.”

“Maybe so,” Sparrow lifted one tiny hand towards the Crystal. As her finger tips touched the glassy stone, the light faded away into nothing. “And maybe not.”

Ch1-6 Dawn of Chaos

As Newt’s body hung suspended, a garbled choke wracked him in the convulsions of pulsing light.

“Man, this really sucks!” Newt snarled as he planted a well-aimed punch into the tapestry on the wall next to him.

“I tried to warn you the Elder was coming. But you didn’t hear me.” AC offered, pulling the brim of his hat down a bit lower.

“Piss off! This is all your fault.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You sure are!”

AC’s mouth closed with a click. He turned his attention back to the book in his lap. It was the only thing that kept his eyes open after such a dreaded lack of rest.

I would have let myself sleep in another hour yesterday if I’d known I’d need it tonight.

Newt was much too tired, despite his discontent, to continue the abuse. So for a long while, the two of them sat in tense silence.

The earliest morning light filtered lazily into the crystal chambers of the Tower of Wishes. Mysidia lay wrapped in a mystical slumber and would not be stirring for another few hours. Down the hallway, the ancient grandfather clock chimed a cheerful reminder of the time, an hour too early to be decent. The walls cast a cold reflection of dawnlight — drowsy rose dipped in amber. Before long, the crown of the sun would break from the depths of the ocean, illuminating the whole island in its golden glory.

It’s way… too… early… to be awake after not getting any sleep all night long.

After the fight between Newt and Palom at the Mysidian Ball, the Elder had shipped all guilty parties off to individual realms of punishment. AC didn’t know what had happened to the other black mage. But he and Newt had been sentenced to pull all-night guard duty in the Crystal chambers of the Tower of Wishes.

How come I got in trouble too? I don’t understand. The Elder knew I wasn’t part of the fight. Still, yet…

The Elder had made it clear that guarding the Crystal of Water was especially important now that Mysidia had so many foreigners visiting for the festival. Still, AC couldn’t help feel a little down-trodden that his festival fun was ruined not only for the ball but also for the following day.

When I get back to my room, I’m going to do nothing but sleep all day!

Newt finally scowled at the silence, drawing his dagger and picking at the mortar between the stones. “I have better things to do than sit out here watching over the stupid Crystal of Water.”

Violet eyes slid over to glance at his white-robed companion. Somehow it never failed.

Wherever Newt goes, I always get stuck there, too.

Rumors had followed the White Mage’s arrival at the Academy, stories of a dark past and a cruel heart. Simply to look at Newt, one could feel it. The cold blue eyes stared back at you, shimmering in suppressed malice. In all his time there, AC had never met any other student so uncivilized in action, thought, or speech. How Newt had ended up in the Academy to begin with was one of those things to add to his growing list of Wonders.

It doesn’t help that no one wants to be within ten feet of him without a good reason, much less have him as a roommate. Not to mention there must be a secret union of Black Mages who find ways to work their schedules so that they never share guard duty with him… because I always get it.

“It’s too early to be studying.” The bulky shadow of the White Mage dropped down across the open pages of the book, making it impossible to pick script from the parchment, “It’s too early to be alive.”

At this point, he’s been up all night, the same as me, and probably pretty irritable about it.

The Black Mage gathered his book in one hand, schooling himself into politeness, “I’m not studying.”

His companion looked at him as if he was insane. “You mean you read just for the fun of it?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“Man, you’re seriously screwed up.”

Me? What about you?

It was within these thoughts that AC first heard the sound. It echoed somewhere between the folds of drowsiness and the waking world.

It sounded like someone had struck a large bronze bell with a cushioned mallet at a very far distance. It began as a low reverberation, a hum that buzzed the inside of his ears. The Black Mage looked up with a furrowed brow, “Do you hear that?”

“Yeah, I do.” The White Mage’s troubled expression slowly melted into annoyance as he grumbled, “Aggravating whatever it is.”

AC rose and carefully shuffled into the Crystal chambers. The sunlight was hardly strong enough to show the way. The Elder never allowed torches in the room — maybe because the effects of adverse polarity between fire and water. Besides, the Crystal of Water seemed to light the room with its own soft glow. Or it usually did. For some reason, it the room fell to darkness that morning.

Perhaps, the Crystal is asleep?

The low humming was unmistakably coming from the chamber. Though from exactly where, he could not tell.

What is it?

In a twist of air, the hum suddenly became separate sounds — two low tones in wavering harmony. A shadow in the back of the chamber shifted. As the Black Mage’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could see it taking on a more defined form.

AC felt a sudden twang of fear as his voice lowered into a hissing whisper, “I think we’d better alert the Elder! There’s someone back there!”

The Crystal of Water pulsed quickly, a pale azure heartbeat. A live-wire of energy traced over its smooth surface, flickering across the room in patterns of techno sparks. Thousands of tiny lightning bolts zipped from the Crystal, pulled ever ground ward, straight through the pedestal it rested upon. In the sudden explosion of energy, they could see a small hooded figure presiding over the frightening display. There was such calmness in its stance, as if it was merely observing children playing in the park.

“Hey, you!” Newt roared, launching himself towards the intruder dagger-first. “Not on my shift!”

AC gave a high-pitched wail as his companion was suddenly frozen, pinned in mid-air. As Newt’s body hung suspended, a garbled choke wracked him in the convulsions of pulsing light. With a soundless impact, the White Mage was thrown back against the far wall.

Darting across the room to where the wounded mage lay, AC knelt down next to the slumped pool of white robes. “Newt! Newt, are you still alive?”

“Ugh..!” Cold blue eyes opened slowly, filled with pain and rage. Then with a hissing sigh, Newt fell limp.

The twin humming filled AC’s mind. As he lifted his eyes, the Crystal’s light became his only vision. It shivered maddeningly with tendrils of power that sizzled and cracked the air. Within the Crystal’s core, a black glow began to flicker — a dark heartbeat that kept time with the crescendo of its brazen song. From the depth of this void, a chilling shadow flooded the room like a midnight wave.

Somewhere from within Mysidia, the watchtower bell toned a chilling dirge. It was a sound that had not been heard in the city for many hundreds of years, a sound that AC had never heard in his lifetime. But somehow, he still knew what it meant.

Tsunami!

The Crystal of Water pulsed stronger, the dark core within more pronounced.

It can’t be! There’s not been a tsunami threat in Mysidia since…

A twinge of fear and sadness swept through his mind as AC lifted his head, blinded to everything but the brilliance of the Crystal light. Under his feet, the city shook.

Something in the distance cracked… wetness around him…

Water?

There was suddenly no breath… no pain… no feeling at all. His last vision was a pool of gold as the rising sun dripped off of the crystal walls.

Darkness awaited him as the dawn of chaos woke over the lands of the Blue Planet.

Ch1-7 Crimson Tide

Pren, the Leader of the Daear, was standing over her.

The souls of countless victims swept around her.

The salty breeze was strangely calm once the swelling tides subsided. The waves lapped gently at the shoulders of the tower-top where Joran perched. On all sides, the ocean breathed in a quiet rhythmic cadence.

Foam-licked forms drifted upon the water’s surface. Some had already gathered a trailing of seaweed.

One floated only feet away — an upturned face, tinged blue in the sallow sunlight. The skin was pock-marked, eaten away by the deluge of acidic rain that had washed down over the city only an hour ago. One eye socket was hollowed from the stroke of salt water fingers. The other eye stared glassily off into the sky, an expression of pleading agony captured forever within its hazel depths.

The face had once belonged to a young boy. His white robes were spread over the plain of deep blue-green in an angelic arc behind him.

Stretching to the horizon, many more figures ebbed and flowed. Eventually they became nothing more than dark patches of water in the distance. But she knew.

Incrytan held her testimony.

The soft glow within its heart had turned a deep, reproachful red. The peaceful melody that usually accompanied its light had grown doleful and somber.

The Crystal was weeping.

The ghostly screams of the dying still echoed behind her ears. The sound grew louder by the second. From within the chorus of torment, a lone voice chanted.

‘How is it you remain while the innocents suffered?’

The eddying waters churned long patterns of red drawn across deep azure. In slow deliberation, the boy’s corpse began to drift nearer. With the shifting of tide, the head dropped below the surface of the water. Sandy-gold hair fanned out, mingling with the oozing pool of dark crimson.

‘What gives you the right to live while they perished by your actions?’

The head bobbed up, breaking the surface of the waves once more. The pale face languidly turned. Its glassy eye fixed upon her.

‘How many?’

A growing sickness tore her insides, threatening to buckle her knees. Joran had never seen a dead person – Lunar or Human – so closely before.

‘How many have suffered?’

The eye focused, growing clearer.

‘How many have died?’

The throb of Incrytan increased in her hands. It became a jolting beat twinned in time with her own rapid pulse. Her breath grew ragged and short. It shook through every bone in her body.

‘And for what purpose?’

In a slow, conscious motion the boy’s head tilted, revealing a wormy underside of acid-eaten flesh.

‘Mourn for them now, though it means nothing. It is too late to undo what you have done.’

Joran gagged as the reek of decay struck her. Her throat constricted as a putrid taste filled her mouth.

‘You thought you could wield an instrument of power crafted from such a baneful heart? You have become no better than the Man of Darkness that you strive to transform.’

The ashen face contorted casting a skeletal leer at her.

‘Joran SuKi, you are a murderer!’

The girl staggered backwards, one hand over her mouth. Her eyes clamped shut. Still the image remained, burned into her memory. Dropping to her knees, Joran buried her face into her hands.

She threw her head back, a repentant sob bursting from her lips. Yet, not even the sound of her own cries was able to veil the anguished wails pounding in her mind.

***********

“Why do you waste your tears on those pathetic creatures?”Joran felt her head yanked up as a strong hand clamped onto the base of her braid and pulled sharply. Jerking away, the girl glared up towards the sound of a disdainful sneer.

Pren, the Leader of the Daear, was standing over her.

A welling retort rose in her throat but got no further. There was nothing more that Joran would have liked to do than lash out at the cruelly triumphant light that shown in Pren’s eyes as she gazed around at the sea of death. But in anger, the words simply eluded her.

“They are nothing more than vermin, an encroaching plague upon the face of this world. They do not deserve your remorse.”

Joran choked.

“What?” Pren turned, her steel-blue eyes scornful. “Does the Lunar have something to say?”

Teeth bared in a silent snarl, Joran rose, throwing her arms out to encompass the vastness of the ocean swells. “You told me nothing of this!”

One hand casually flipped back a straying lock of emerald-tinged hair in response. “Wasn’t it obvious enough this would happen?”

“An entire city was demolished in the matter of moments! And that’s all you have to say to justify it?”

“I thought the power of the Crystals came from the minds of your race? How is it that you can be so ignorant to the reaction the elements will have once they are released from their tyrannical grip?”

This I was not informed of! This was not what I agreed to do!”

“Things upon the Blue Planet will return to their rightful state once the Crystals have been removed.” The statement was firm. Final.

“And that makes it acceptable to slaughter hundreds of people in the midst of it all?”

The Daear curled her lip. She plucked a wayward straw hat that had washed upon the shingled roof and cast it back out to sea with a flip of her hand. “Humans are not a significant consideration when placed next to the importance of this planet’s welfare.”

“They are living beings, for Trine’s sake!”

Pren’s slap lashed out, the sharp sound ringing in the heavy salt air. Joran staggered back from the blow, eyes wide, a trembling hand raised to her cheek in shock.

Never speak that cursed name within my presence again!” Poised upon the edge of wrath, the Daear snarled, “Be we allies or not, next time you defile our land with such an utterance, I will see to it that proper punishment is carried out!”

“I… I’m…” Joran gulped, unconsciously clutching Incrytan tightly to her chest.

No, I will not apologize!

The Lunar instead turned her face away, biting down hard on her lower lip until the taste of blood pulled her back to her senses — that and the sound of distant rumbling far off over the waters. She found herself staring off towards the sea-hazed horizon.

The very ocean began to tremble, the reverberation rising up through the structure on which the two of them stood. Joran could feel the pressure of something immensely unnatural approaching in the gathering of the briny waves.

Mordreigiau,” Pren said as if sensing the Lunar’s unspoken question, her voice lowered. It was the first touch of emotion that the Daear Champion had yet shown.

Dragon of the Ocean?

“That is what I came here to bring warning of,” the Daear continued, her expression growing cold once more. “I suggest that you return to Newidmynydd before its arrival.”

“What is it?”

Pren gazed out across the multitude of laden crests. “A beast of retribution. It was awakened from its sleep upon the annihilation of the Crystal of Water.”

“Retribution? Against whom?” Joran swallowed suddenly uneasy.

“Those who would defile this planet, of course. You Lunarians do know little next to nothing, don’t you?”

She bit back her urge to retort.

As Joran turned, she found herself face to face with the Daear. Pren stood very still, a chilling light in the depths of her eyes. The voice that rose was just as icy. “Remember this. You are only allowed to be here because you are of use to us. Otherwise, your life would have been forfeit the moment you set foot upon this planet.”

There was a moment of silence as their eyes locked.

“I suggest you forget your tears. If you don’t find a good bit more strength, I do not foresee you living much longer.”

With a sharp pivot upon one heel, the Daear Champion turned and vanished.