Ch8-1 Feather of Irony

The Master Wizard’s head turned to see the boy staring up at his reflection in the gilded underside of a gold-crested dragon statue.
“Cecil…? Why are all those men dancing?” Ben asked, staring mystified across the Fabulian courtyard.

The mid-morning sun was just peeking around the corner of the castle walls, throwing hazy summer light down through the twisty-branched trees. Despite the tall stone towers that surrounded Fabul, there was a living world that flourished within the walls. A wide-open courtyard boasted an ornate hanging garden, complete with a small serene looking pool and babbling waterfall. Trees of many strange shapes posed green canopies to the sky while flowers seemed to bound out of the ground like rainbowed fountains.

To one side of the courtyard was a wide-open area where the grass was a closely cropped carpet. There were many men there, most of them with heads shaved bald or sporting only a braided top knot of hair. The sunlight gleamed off of bare, well-tanned and muscled torsos as they danced, their motions smooth and flowing like water.

They would move. Then pause. Move again, changing positions, sometimes stretching and folding or spinning. Then pause. It was almost hypnotic to the eye.

The Master Wizard had stopped to watch, despite the fact that he was supposed to be following the rest of the group to meet with King Yang in the throne room. Something about the whole picture was peaceful and inviting, even if the Fabulians were strange looking humans.

I’ve never seen a dance like that. It looks fun…

Ben’s contemplation was broken by a half-snort, half-jeer of the Ninja King, Edge. His face plainly spoke a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me look which left the Half-Lunar wondering what he had said that was so funny.

“Edge…” Cecil gave the Ninja a slow frown in response.

“Master Ben,” Porom gave a kindly smile, “Those men aren’t dancing.”

“Oh…?” the Half-Lunar wrinkled his brow in confusion. “Then what are they doing?”

“I think its part of their battle training, Golbez,” Cecil replied patiently. The Paladin had seemed to become more and more so after Ben had recovered from his wounds in Troia. Though it was hard to tell why.

Ben could only respond with more confusion. Battle, after all, was depicted as lots of loud, charging humans swinging weapons at each other. Not this peaceful, mesmerizing, dancelike stream of motion.

“Yeah. I think the Monks are weird, too,” Edge gave a smirk and thumped Ben on the shoulder as he walked by. “Pretty poses aren’t going to save anyone’s ass when it comes to real hard-core battle.”

“Maybe not, King Edge,” a thick accented voice carried from the stairway just ahead, “But a clear mind makes wiser choices than one that loses focus upon the first battle call.”

Ben turned his attention to the sound, recognizing the owner of the voice at once – King Yang of Fabul. Though the Half Lunar knew very little about the soft-spoken warrior, he remembered that Yang had been one of the few that did not protest his appearance at the Meeting of Nations before hearing the situation out.

There was a feeling of calm and control about each step that the king took. Every word that he spoke was measured and thoughtful. King Yang held himself with a strange blend of regality and a veteran’s knowledge.

Cecil seemed to have no doubt about King Yang helping us. Though… I still can’t understand why Cecil chose to come to Fabul rather than return to Baron. I thought he felt that protecting the people was more important than chasing down Incrytan

“Yo Yang! What’s hanging!” Edge chortled in return, walking over with a wide, familiar grin.

“My men brought word of your incoming ship not long ago,” Yang replied solemnly. “I apologize that I could not make better arrangements in so short a time.”

“No… I apologize for coming in on so short a notice…” Cecil answered with a grim frown. “We’ve got a few pressing issues that we need to take up with you.”

“Of course, Cecil. Say no more…”

The dull complimentary talk of the grown ups began to fade out in the background as Chase gave a delighted croon, “Coool..!”

The Master Wizard’s head turned to see the boy staring up at his reflection in the gilded underside of a gold-crested dragon statue. The image was long and snakelike, the head reared back with a fierce expression of guardianship. The eyes were crafted of some sort of blue-green gems that sparkled as the light grazed over their surface.

“Wow..?” Ben breathed, inching closer to take a better look. His hand carefully traced along the smooth curve of the statue’s neck, feeling the little indentations where the scale patterns were imprinted in the metal.

It took the Half Lunar a moment to realize that all talk had faded into silence and that puzzled expressions were now watching him. Straightening a bit, Ben peered over at the group of kings.

Then he cleared his throat, “It’s a nice dragon?”

King Yang digested the compliment for a moment before breaking into a quiet smile. With a slight bow of his head he murmur, “Your appreciation of Fabulian art is welcome, Master Golbez. I’m happy to know that it pleases you.”

“We should get something like this for Baron, Cecil. The hallways are all so dark and stuffy?” Ben suggested.

“Um… Golbez. Don’t forget what we’re here to do?” the Paladin’s face was one of slight embarrassment. And a hint of amusement.

“Sorry…” Ben folded his hands behind his head with a boyish frown.

King Yang, however, was offering a genuine smile, watching the two brothers through mysterious, slanted eyes. He then made a motion with one hand that prompted the group to follow before he turned on his heel, leading the way deeper into the castle.

Fabul was a castle-city. It was unlike Baron, where the city was separate and sprawled up, around the fortress. Here, it seemed that the people, nobles and peasants alike, shared living space within the Fabulian castle itself.

At first, he saw mostly warriors. But as the group progressed further towards the heart of the fortress, Ben found that there were also small groups of women and children. Their voices were quiet and calm to his ears, echoing the natures of the warriors in the courtyard below. Even the children were somehow more contained.

What a strange feeling this place gives. Not at all like the motion and hustle of Baron’s city.

The calmness was pleasing to Ben, somehow. And he found himself observing and enjoying his surroundings with far more ease than he had on his first walk through other cities of the Blue Planet.

It didn’t take long before tall, tapestry-lined walls rose up before the group. The large polished-wood doors folded and creaked open, admitting them into the wide, stone throne room. Though the carpet was deep and plush and the walls ornately clothed, there was still a sense of balance and thought to the design. Everything had a place in the harmony of the whole piece, down to the pink flowers in the pale blue vase in the far corner.

A row of dark-skinned men stood on either side of the carpet, dispersed in between the tall stone pillars of the throne room. They bowed in unison as King Yang made his way between them, a real respect that had been long earned on the battlefield, rather than just a political or ornamental display of obedience.

King Yang didn’t speak a word as he reached his throne at the top of the dais. He merely motioned with one hand. The men on either side of the walk way bowed once again and began to file out of the room in a quiet, orderly procession. Within a few minutes, they were alone with the Fabulian King. No time was wasted as the conversation began.

“How goes your journey, Cecil?” Yang inquired, settling down on the edge of the large throne. Even the way that he sat spoke of a warrior rather than a king.

“I wish we could bring better news to your kingdom, Yang. But, I’m afraid right now, time is of the essence,” the Paladin answered with a grim face and a tone to match it.

“I see. What do I need to know?”

“We have just arrived by airship from Troia… which was not a promising thing to see. Much like Mysidia, the city has been destroyed through what we think is a mis-guidance of the elemental Crystal that used to be there,” Cecil informed the room.

“Mmm… grave news indeed. Were there any survivors?” King Yang frowned, steepling his fingers.

“You talking about the hot chicks?” Edge grinned.

“Thankfully, yes. A good deal of the populace was able to escape and take refuge in the forests. However, the Crystal’s destruction wasn’t the only concerning thing we found there,” the Paladin motioned with one hand. “It seems there was an army of peoples that had also moved in to take control of Troian’s fortress when we first arrived.”

“Peoples?”

“We’re not sure of their origins… but the seem to be similar to the Elven kind that were rumored to have lived in the forests there. They call themselves the Daear…”

“Pain in the ass, is what Cecil means,” Edge snorted from behind.

Yang arched one eyebrow at the ninja king.

Already used to such outbursts, Cecil continued as if it hadn’t even happened, “They seem to have some sort of vendetta against both human and Lunar kind from what we’ve seen.”

“They thought they had it over on us but we gave it to them good where it hurt the most!” Edge interjected.

“I assume that means you were able to drive them out of Troia?” Yang translated quietly.

“More or less. Out of Troia, yes. But we haven’t stopped their progression,” Cecil responded, pressing his lips together. “Even now, they are threatening an invasion upon Baron itself.”

“What?!” the first crack across the face of Yang’s calmness formed. “Invading Baron? Cecil… what are you doing here, then?”

There was a moment of silence. The big question lingered in the air.

Cecil peered down at the carpet under his feet. Then he shook his head. “Your kingdom is in far more danger than Baron is. As long as the thief that stole Incrytan is loose and your city houses the elemental Crystal…”

The weight of the trailed off words didn’t need to be clarified. Everyone knew what was suggested. Everyone had seen what had happened to the other Crystal-bearing nations. No one wanted to know what it would be like to live through the destruction that was caused.

Not this city… it’s so peaceful here. So calm. The people seem kind. It can’t be destroyed because of my Crystal.

Ben didn’t realize he was bunching up his fist until Chase’s little hand touched his knuckles. Instantly, he relaxed his hands, trying to keep his thoughts from showing outwardly. It had gotten more difficult to do that lately… and he couldn’t tell why. Even Edge had joked about being able to “read Golbez like a book.”

Though how that is possible, I don’t know. It’s not like I have any pages. Nor writing scribed on me, for that matter.

The Half-Lunar chanced a glance at the back of the Ninja’s head.

Humans have such odd phrases.

“Golbez?!”

Ben’s chin jerked up, “Uhn?”

He realized that Cecil was peering at him with a frown. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said to you?”

“Sorry…” he mumbled quietly.

That’s another thing that’s been happening lately.

Distractions. They were everywhere. Ben thought that once he had gotten used to the overwhelming feeling of the Blue Planet that his senses would become accustomed and dulled to the myriad of light and sound. But he was wrong.

Now, more than ever, things tugged at his senses and baffled his concentration. It was as if his growing awareness of the human peoples actually increased what he could feel. Emotion of others. Now that he had begun to recognize and understand, the impact of the signature of other people’s emotion was growing stronger within his mind.

It had gotten to the point that Ben found himself mimicking, acting and reacting like the humans did.

Very troublesome…

“I was asking you for ideas on how best to secure the Crystal?” Cecil repeated with a soft sigh.

“Well,” Ben attempted to cover his lack with an intuitive look. “I’d have to see the layout of the Crystal Room before I could answer that.”

“Dude,” Edge retorted instantly, “Weren’t you the one that sacked Fabul and swiped the Crystal during the War? You can’t be telling me you don’t remember this place looked like.”

Ben’s mouth shut with a click as Chase’s supportive grip around one finger tightened. Even Yang couldn’t hide the wince that struck out over his face. Cecil made a quick turn towards the Ninja shooting the darkest scowl that a Paladin could manage.

Finally finding his voice, the Master Wizard shook his head slowly, “No… I’m afraid I don’t remember anything that happened here. Nor much of anywhere else during the War, for that matter.”

Edge looked like he had something on his mind to retort to that, too. But with Cecil’s glare and the court of Fabul watching him, he wisely chose to hold his peace.

After a bit of silence, King Yang nodded slowly, “Though I do not know how much time we will be afforded, I think that Master Golbez speaks sense when he suggests that we plan for tactics of defense. Our fortress can withstand the coming of the Daear troops.”

“Just like it withstood during the Crystal War,” Edge pointed out with a huff.

“That was during a time when we had little way of trained men in our forces. Times have changed, King Edge,” Yang replied with a grim face. Then he rose to his feet, motioning to a doorway in the far corner of throne room, “Come. We will conference further.”

There was still a sour taste in Ben’s mouth as he watched the others follow the Fabulian King to the door. Something about Edge’s statement still clung to him, tickling the back of his mind with the feather of irony. For here the Dark Lord was, facing another siege on Fabul… but this time, he would be on the inside, looking out.

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Ch8-2 The Storming of Fabul

His senses were fixed on the horizon where a seething line of taint and decay blotted the landscape.
The first warning alarm sounded over the battlements of Fabul, just on the edge of twilight. It was a strange sound, something like a vast, thundering gong that echoed and re-echoed through the square chambers. It was quickly followed by the sound of people scuffling – warriors, women, children… the passages were a procession of bodies flowing to destinations that had been pre-determined for times of trouble.

At first, Ben couldn’t figure out what all the noise was about. He had been leaning back in his chair in the guest quarters, the calm of the Fabulian evening almost peaceful enough to drop him into a doze. The meal they had been given, though King Yang apologized for it time and again, had been better than anything the Half Lunar had eaten since leaving Baron. Which was probably the reason he had overindulged himself just a little too much.

Another thing that’s rubbing off on me from these humans…

Ben groaned, setting the legs of his chair back down on the solid floor.

I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much. But it was all so good.

Chase and Porom came scampering through his door. The boy bounded up on the bed with a worried look, panting and out of breath.

“Ben! Ben! I think we’re under attack!”

“Is that what that weird sound is?” the Half Lunar squinted at the two children with a frown.

“Yes, Master. It is the Fabulian battle warning,” Porom nodded, taking hold of his sleeve. “We must get ready for the attack.”

“Is it the Daear?”

“I don’t know.”

Ben gave a deep groan, pushing himself heavily to his feet, “Why couldn’t they have waited for a couple more hours before attacking?”

“You ate too much,” Chase observed drolly.

“Just a little,” the Master Wizard admitted.

“I tried to tell you during dinner?”

“I know,” Ben gave a sheepish look, throwing his cloak around his shoulders and pinning it at his throat. “I guess I need to work some of it off anyway.”

“Hey!” Edge’s sharp tone sliced the air as his head poked into the room through the doorway. “What the hell you doing? Get your big ass in gear, Golbez!”

“I’m coming?” Ben grimaced, slinging Onyx over his back.

“Not fast enough,” the Ninja taunted. “You gotta earn your keep around here sometime, you know?”

“I’m coming??” he fiddled with the straps of his sheath clasp, half grumbling towards the annoyance. Half ignoring the unusual feeling that was rising in his chest. There was a fluttering nervousness, a hesitant loathing… but what it was for or where it came from, he didn’t know. His hands slipped as he attempted to force the leather through the buckle, almost dropping the sheath right off his back.

What’s wrong with me?

His breath came in strange sounding gasps as the insides of his palms became wet and sticky. The echoes of the battle alarm pounded through the back of his skull, all of his senses alert and churning at the motion around him. Only when he took a step forward did he realize his knees were shaking, threatening to give way.

Fear…?

It wasn’t as if he had never felt fear before, of course. But in all the time that his mind could remember, he had never felt this way before facing a battle. Not even the battle within the core of the Red Moon, where he had been certain he would not emerge again to see the light of day.

He hadn’t been afraid to die when he faced the monster Zeromus.

So why am I afraid now?

“Master?” Porom asked, grasping his sleeve again gently. “Are you okay?”

“I…” Ben’s glance flickered up to the two children that watched him anxiously. Chase’s eyes reflected with a knowing light.

I can’t let them see me like that. The Dark Lord isn’t afraid of anything…

“I’m fine…” he finished slowly. But the words sounded strained and forced to his ears. No doubt they would hardly fool the children whom both seemed so keenly aware of what was going on inside of him.

“Then what’s the hold up!?” Edge demanded again, slapping his palm against the doorframe. “Cecil’s waiting on us!!”

“What about–”

“The kids should go take cover with the rest of the civilians,” the Ninja answered before the question could finish, “I’m sure they could use a White Mage in there.”

Porom didn’t look completely happy about being ordered around so brusquely. But she didn’t say a thing, simply bowed. Taking Chase’s hand she led the boy towards the doorway.

“Ben!” Chase pulled to a stop, giving a worried look over his shoulder. Golden eyes sank deep into his soul for a moment that felt like eternity.

“I’ll be alright… don’t worry about me!” the Half Lunar waved one hand towards the boy’s concern, hoping that maybe false confidence might spark something that felt real.

Chase swallowed, looking reluctant to leave as Porom began to pull at him more insistently.

“We have to go! Master Ben will be fine… but we won’t if we get stuck in the middle of battle,” she informed him.

“Okay…” the Page finally frowned, giving in. With one final glance, he followed the White Mage out the doorway, vanishing into the clamor of the hall.

“Weird kid,” Edge muttered, eyes squinting after them. Then with a shake of his head, he turned towards Ben, “Alright, Golbez. It’s move-it time. Think you can keep up with me?”

The Master Wizard grimaced, the heavy feeling of fear-churning dinner still in his midsection. But he nodded, fighting down the discomfort. Afterall, Dark Lords weren’t supposed to over eat, either. “Of course.”

“Good. Let’s do this,” there was a sharp twinkle in the Ninja’s eye, almost something akin to pleasure.

That’s gotta mean trouble…

Like the flicker of shadows, the young king was off, darting down the hallway in cloaked silence. Ben opened his mouth in protest, but quickly realized that he was only falling further behind while trying to speak logic into a brick wall. With a deep breath, the Master Wizard drew himself up and proceeded to race after the smaller man.

Even with one too many plates of dinner and fear wobbling his knees, he proved to be far more agile than his size gave him credit for. It didn’t take too long for him to finally catch the pace of the Ninja who darted a rather surprised look over one shoulder as the Half Lunar arrived.

“Not too shabby,” Edge snorted. “But you sound like an overworked airship engine. Can you be any louder?”

“I could try?” Ben huffed, green eyes spearing down at where the Ninja ran next to him.

With a short bound, the grey-haired man vanished, dropping over the edge of a flight of stairs that seemed to appear out of no where. Giving a startled sound, the Half Lunar skidded to a stop, peering cautiously over the edge to see what had become of his reckless companion.

“Edge…?” he panted, stooping over to look, “Edge… are you oka–”

“Come on!!” the Ninja’s irritated voice echoed from below. “I knew you’d never be able to keep up!”

With a grumble, Ben took to the stairs in the far more conventional way. He was met at the bottom by Edge’s smug look of superiority, which was promptly ignored.

“The bigger they are…?” the young king’s smirk grew wider.

“Over compensation…?” the wizard gave a slight grin of his own.

“Hey..! What’s that supposed to mean?” suddenly fuming, Edge’s voice inched up a notch.

“Hrmm…?” Ben gave a quiet smile in return.

But before the conversation could fall any further, Cecil burst into the hall with a scowl planted on his face. “You two are at it again? I should have known not to send Edge…”

“I got him here, didn’t I? It’s not my fault his lard arse is so slow!” the Ninja retorted.

Cecil gave them both a disapproving look.

Quickly, Ben changed the tune of the conversation, “What’s going on, Cecil? Is there an attack?”

“I’m not sure. Someone must have seen something for the alarm to go off,” the Paladin said grimly. “That’s what we need to find out. I’m heading to the look out and I want you with me, Golbez.”

“Me?” he blinked.

But the Paladin was already making his way double time down the corridor.

“Why?” Ben asked, following quickly.

“Because… you seem to have the ability to see things the rest of us can’t,” Cecil answered shortly.

“You think that’s a skill, Cecil… or just an after effect?” Edge smirked from behind.

“Edge, I’d appreciate if you’d leave the wisecracks at the door. This could be a real battle here.”

“Yeah… yeah… I know how you take your battles sooo seriously.”

Cecil didn’t reply. He simply led the three of them up a stern set of stairs that were built into a hollowed out area in one of the far towers. It was interesting to Ben to see how well the Paladin seemed to know the layout of the Fabulian castle. Never did the king break a stride as his cloak swept behind him in mounting haste.

A number of tan-skinned warriors lined the far passage, each giving a polite bow to their group as they passed by. If it was the very same men that Ben had seen dancing in the courtyard earlier today, it was hard to tell. For now they were pulling on the vestments of battle – thick hide jerkins, light-weight leather boots, padded trousers and metal bracers that drew out long bladed battle claws.

Ben shuddered as they finally broke from the stone fortress to the battlements. The sky stretched looming above in growing darkness, the speckle of silent stars just beginning to break through. The wind was somehow colder as it snapped through their cloaks viciously. Far below, the warning gong still sounded, a distant vibration through the walls.

The Master Wizard’s steps grew heavy and wavering as they approached the outlook. A tan-skinned man took one glance at the group and nodded, motioning over the sloping grasslands that spread from the foot of the castle. He began to detail quickly to Cecil in a low voice, nothing that Ben could hear.

For his senses were fixed on the horizon where a seething line of taint and decay blotted the landscape. His eyes grew distant, sight beyond sight carrying him… and he knew. An army of Daear crowded the distant hillside, invisible within the shadows to the normal eye. And they had changed, altered… become something far more dangerous than they had been even back in Troia.

Where are they gathering such power? What is it that is driving them to so much corruption?

His knuckles grew white as he gripped at the stone of the battlement, a hissing breath escaping his lips. The battle would be far harder than what they had faced before… for somehow, he could sense, the Daear were growing in power.

But from what…?

“Golbez?”

He felt a light hand touch his own, the sound of his brother’s voice quiet in his ears. Something holy and pure within the face of all the decay. Ben startled, blinking down.

Edge glanced over with a wrinkled brow, and with a grimace he nudged the Paladin. “Yo, Cecil. Your brother’s spazzing out on us again. You still think this is a good idea?”

But Cecil was leaning forward, intently, “What do you see, Golbez? There’s something there?”

Ben ran his tongue over his lips and nodded. “Daear… an army. They’re waiting there, lots of them. They feel weird, Cecil. And more powerful than they did before…”

“You gotta be joking me?” Edge’s eyes narrowed.

“I wish I was,” the Half Lunar shook his head.

The Fabulian warrior was watching their discussion from the other side of the battlement. In a heavily accented Common, he grinned, “Don’t worry, sire. Our warriors are well trained. Our numbers are strong. Our castle is built to withstand.”

Something dark and glimmering caught Ben’s senses as he peered past the Fabulian’s shoulder. It took a moment to separate it from the dark backdrop of the twilight sky and the phasing of the drifting cloudbanks. As the shape began to take form in his mind, he heard himself speak quietly, “I hope that it’s built to withstand that…”

“What?” Cecil twisted, trying to follow the line of his brother’s sight.

Just then, the cloud bottoms burst, spewing out hundreds of streaming shadows, diving towards the fortress from above. The descent was silent and graceful, leaving those below with a tingle of cold sweat and chills. Wide black wings blotched the sky-scape, signaling impending death. And upon the wings rode creatures caught between the realms of life and unlife, swathed in sickly cold-blue light.

“Dammit… they have air troops!?” Edge backed up a step, head craning to watch.

Only a moment later, the first of the black wings swooped down on the distant battlements. Ben felt something in his stomach lurch as the huge claws tore crimson streaks through the group of unsuspecting Fabulian warriors. Only dots against the stone background, bits and pieces of men dropped from the wall to splatter on the once-peaceful courtyard below. Already, the riders were dismounting, leaping from the backs of the black wings and swarming into the fortress from the clouds.

No..!

Shouts of alarm and the clamor of the alarm bell sounded brazen in Ben’s ears. A strange numbness had fallen over him. He found it impossible to tear his eyes away from the stream of red that trickled from the far wall. Perched atop was the shadow form of the black wing, trumpeting a tremendous battle call to the incoming creatures from above.

“Golbez!!”

Ben was jolted forward as his brother’s strong grasp took his arm, yanking him away from the battlements. Then he was running, stumbling along next to his companions. Retreating to the stairs as the shadow of a black wing streaked down on them from above.

“We have to set up defense at the Crystal Room!” Cecil’s voice was hoarse, fighting to be heard above the sound of battle that now ravaged hall of the inner fortress.

Somewhere in the distance, the toll of the warning alarm was cut short. And it rang no more.

Ch8-3 Jailbreak

For the first time, Rydia took notice of the strange murals of man and creature.
The clanking sound of the cell door opening woke Rydia from the middle of her doze. For a moment, there was a tickle of confusion and curiosity. Afterall, food had already been served not very long ago and she was hardly hungry enough to want to eat again.

Especially not the sort of stuff they serve here.

A quiet light filled the room, causing her dark-adjusted eyes to squint. Then the image of a small, white haired girl came into focus. She was standing in the doorway with a strange globe of light hovering over one shoulder. Instantly, Rydia’s senses kicked in and she recognized the face.

It’s… Joran?

“Shhhhh!” the Lunar girl made a hushing motion with one hand as she advanced across the room. Much to Rydia’s surprise, Joran produced a small, rusted key. It was promptly fitted into the collar around her neck… freeing her from her mage confines with a click.

“What are you doing?” the Caller fought to keep her composure. But jaw-hitting-the-floor was her innate reaction to her sudden change in captivity.

“Quickly, come with me,” Joran spoke shortly, handing her a dark hooded cloak.

Rydia took the garment and cast it around her shoulders, obscuring the shock of green hair under the shadows of the hood. Making sure it was secure, she scrambled out the door after the Lunar girl, a million questions jumping hurdles through her mind. Not knowing how soon was too soon to speak, she chose to keep silent, intent on following the sheen of white hair as it led the way from the Daear dungeons.

Why is she helping me? Couldn’t she get in big trouble for this?

The two girls slipped like twin shadows up from the stone holdings into the strange, plant-like fortress. The walls oozed black through numerous large gashes and cracks, spotted with grey-white growths that spoke of illness. The smell of decaying foliage choked Rydia’s every breath. Even the floor was sticky with a sickly film… though the Caller did not care to spend much time thinking about the sucking sound that her boots were making as she sped along.

The important thing is where I’m going… and that I’m even getting out of here.

After creeping what felt like miles through the twisting bends and turns, Joran poked her head around a sharp corner. Rydia realized it was actually a huge arch of doorway, all hung with black dripping organic matter that left a slick, greasy covering over the floors. An eerie grey-green light pulsed from within the other chamber, a ghostly light reflecting off of the moldering structure.

“Good… it’s still here,” the Lunar told her in a whisper. “And I don’t think there are any guards on this side.”

“What’s still here?” Rydia leaned closer. She was just tall enough to peer over the girl’s shoulder. What she saw within the chamber caused her breath to catch sharp within her throat.

The source of the strange light was a strange, ovular structure that hovered just a foot above ground. Though it was hardly even an inch or two thick, it wavered like the surface of water blown by a breeze, giving the illusion of a depth beyond imagination. As Rydia squinted at it, she swore she could see the formation of what looked to be a forest on the other side.

“It’s a Wayrift,” Joran told her, creeping towards it slowly. “A transportation portal.”

“A Wayrift?” she echoed. Thinking back, the Caller realized she must have seen one before – when she was first captured and brought there. But she had been too distracted by the situation to have thought much about it at the time.

“It leads to the forests outside of Baron,” the Lunar girl continued, answering Rydia’s next, unspoken question. “The Daear army is marching towards the city there… That is the home of your friends, correct?”

“Y-yes… that’s right?” Rydia’s face must have shown more shock than she meant it to at the news. Because Joran took her by the sleeve and led her towards the Wayrift insistently.

“You have to go and warn them, if it’s not too late! I’m not sure if it will help to know that Pren has divided up her forces so that only a part of the army is going to Baron. But it might give your people some sort of edge in the middle of this,” the girl waved her hand closer to the portal as if to show it was safe.

The Caller took in all of the information in a swirl of light-headed confusion. Having been trapped there in the Daear fortress for so long, she had no idea things had gotten so out of hand for her friends. The talk of armies and war was the last thing she could have imagined hearing… her greatest worries had centered around the taking of the Crystals in the Underground and getting word back to King Leviathan and Queen Asura about the disruption.

It’s like the white Dragon said… something far bigger is stirring on the Blue Planet.

With that thought, Rydia shook the clouding surprise from her mind. Green eyes focused on the Wayrift in front of her, thoughts of Cecil and her friends in Baron and the marching armies that were bearing down on them.

I have to get to Baron.

One firm, decisive thought echoed through her mind. She felt her feet moving underneath her, towards the glow of the portal. Just as Rydia felt the ripple of energy brush over her cheek, she paused, turning to look back at the Lunar girl.

“What are you going to do?” the Caller asked in a quiet tone.

“I’m going to meet with Pren and the other part of the army. I think they are going to a place called… Fab.. Fabbel… Fabel…?” Joran stammered the last word in uncertainty.

“Fabul?” Rydia offered with some concern.

“Yes. I think that’s it. Fabul.”

“Will you be in danger?”

“Don’t worry about me,” the Lunar waved one hand. “I have say over Incrytan… and I’m not going to let them use it… or me… for this kind of destruction anymore! I refuse to work under Pren like this… it’s just.. wrong.”

“Good for you!” A soft smile curved the corner of Rydia’s lips. “Thank you for all of your help. And, please… be careful.”

“I’ll be okay,” Joran told her, turning and walking back towards the halls. “Kip will help me — he’s already told me he would meet me in the city.”

The Lunar girl didn’t get a chance to see the look of concern that flickered over Rydia’s face at the news about Kip’s offered “aid.” But there was no time to protest – Joran was already rushing back down the hall with a call of good luck over one shoulder. All the Caller could do was fight the cold feeling that filled her stomach as she watched the shimmer of white braid vanish into the swallowing darkness.

Light of all that’s good… please watch over her…

Grime-smeared hands pressed together in front of her chest, Rydia sent the wish to whatever might be there to hear. But in the belly of the decaying mountain, there was little in the way of response. Just the ripple of light that cast from the motion of the waiting portal. And an overwhelming sense that the situation may be so far out of her reach to fix.

I’m not sure what I can do to help… but I’ve gotta do whatever I can.

Taking a deep breath, Rydia turned and walked through the Wayrift, palms first. The sensation was a strange one — like stepping into water that was light instead of liquid. Instinct closed her eyes and held her breath. For a split moment, the world seemed to slow down, her step mingled with thin air… and then she found herself standing on the other side, the tall shadows of the forest peering down on her.

Is this Bar–

Rydia gave a strangled gasp as a rushing whisper echoed in the back of her mind. She found herself disoriented in a swimming world of blue and green and grey as her senses grew suddenly acute. Something vast from somewhere beyond herself connected within. A momentary panic bubbled as she struggled to make sense of what was happening, just that sudden.

Then a soothing feeling urged her forward, the whispers taking on the sound of a distant voice. A warm feeling rose from within her chest and spread outward. The world’s colors were vividly bright to her eyes. Before she realized that she had been walking, Rydia tripped down the slope of a hillside, her hand catching balance against a cool stone surface.

What is…

Looking up, she could see the majestic figures of stone Summons rearing high above her head. Instantly, Rydia was comforted by the sight. What might have seemed fierce to other people was a sign of protection to the Caller. As she craned her head back, she realized that she was standing in a clearing within the forest, at the base of what looked like an ancient, sunken temple.

A Temple of the Summoners? Out here in the forest of Baron?

Stories of old times spoke of the tribes of Callers who had built Temples such as this as a meeting ground between human and monster. Such places held great power embedded by the Summons themselves. Legends said the creatures could come to the Temples of their own will to commune with the Summoners without needing to be channeled by a Caller’s power.

I never knew they still existed!

Rydia ran her fingers over the stone, a quiet tingling energy meeting her touch. In past days, humans and creatures lived far more in harmony. But now, the magics of the Temples had given way to the intolerances of mandkind. No longer did creatures and Callers meet freely.

In fact, as far as Rydia knew, she was the last of her kind due to the destruction at Mist.

But, I can’t think about that now.

Firmly, the Caller pushed the thoughts out of her mind. She shook her head to clear it of the foggy wonder that the place brought upon her. And with all her will, brought her focus back on the dangers that she knew were at hand.

I must get word to Baron befor—

“AHHHHH!!!” a war cry rang out from above her, only a moment before a weight dropped on her from behind.

Rydia wasn’t usually one to get easily knocked down. But she was a little weak due to her imprisonment by the Daear and disorientation of the Wayrift and the Temple. The Caller found herself knocked to her knees as the weight landed upon her back and a pair of slender arms roped around her neck. She began to struggle, digging her nails into the prone white flesh instantly.

“OW!! Hey! Leggo!!” the voice from behind her whine in response.

A familiar voice.

“You let me go first!” Rydia let up only slightly, wondering if her memory was serving her correctly.

It was.

The grip around her neck was released with a sound of surprise, “What..? Rydia!? Is that you?”

The Caller turned, peering into the startled eyes of the young Mysidian Black Mage, Palom. Surprise also struck her upon the sight… it wasn’t very often that she got to see either of the Mysidian Twins. The last that she remembered of the boy, he was only a child – and now he was as tall as her!

He’s really grown!

“Palom! It’s so good to see you! Is everything okay?” a rush of questions passed through her lips, seeming to bounce off the dazed young mage just as fast as they came. “Why are you out here?”

Instead of answering any of her questions, the boy made a choked sound in the back of his throat before he turned to the opened doorway of the temple and unreverently shouted, “Hey guys! It’s Rydia! We’re saved!!”

The Caller blinked for a moment before she found herself being led by a babbling young Black Mage under the ornate arches. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim, cool light within. Once they did, she could make out the shapes of two other mages – a tall, lanky Black Mage and a red-haired White Mage. The White Mage’s face was about as pale as his robes and a strange tinted coloration glittered from the depths of his eyes.

I know that feeling! The Daear fortress… everything there felt sick like that. Can this Mage be infected by something?

The tall Black Mage was on his feet in an instant, bowing his respect and introducing himself as Alexander Cromwell. And the White Mage as Newton.

“Just Newt,” Newton grumbled, voice as raspy as she thought it would sound.

“Just Newt,” Rydia repeated with a hint of a smile. Her attempt to ease their nerves and tend the sick.

Alexander’s face was a bit apologetic for his friend’s tone. But the Caller merely waved it off with a good natured look.

“Rydia, what are you doing here? We heard you were captured!” Palom had finally slowed his babble down to make-sense-speed.

“I was… but I escaped with some help. I was told that there’s an army marching on Baron. Is that true?” she asked, face echoing her concern.

“Yeah. That’s why we ended up here. There’s demon creatures swarming the forests … but they don’t seem to be able to come near this place,” Palom answered, motioning to the walls of the Temple.

For the first time, Rydia took notice of the strange murals of man and creature. They seemed to almost move as the stones glittered in the light. Captivated, she could feel the distant whispers shifting behind the multicolored gems that lit the Summons’ eyes.

“There’s an army of the demons marching towards Baron… Newt is really sick… and we don’t know the way back to the city from here,” Palom outlined quickly. “What are we going to do Rydia?”

She took a step closer to the mural, mouth parting slightly. A trick of the light. She thought she had really seen something move within the picture. A glimmer of white.

“Rydia?”

And again.

The Caller gave a soft gasp as the light condensed into a hazy shape, reflecting from the sheen of stone. A gentle pressure capered at the back of her mind, once again vast yet comforting. She reached out to the shape with one hand. The closer her fingers drew, the more focused the light became. Until there was no mistaking the White Dragon.

-Caller Rydia… I am here. It is time for you to release me.-

Ch8-4 Healing Wings

The White Mage paused in mid-snerl long enough to peer down at his open palms in wonderment.
-I will aid you and your friends against the Daear.-

It was the voice of the White Dragon from Rydia’s dreams. A dream turned to hazy reality.

Yes… help us…

As if her confirmation was all that was needed, suddenly things began to happen on their own. She felt the familiar rush of power through her body, the touching of a distant awareness to her own. Mind to mind. Heart to heart. Spirit to spirit. And though Rydia had summoned creatures for all of her life, something about this felt different… foreign… a creature so far removed from their world. Yet, she did not find herself afraid.

-Relax, child. I will Guide you.-

Within the light she saw the glimmering of bright teal Dragon eyes. She could feel the flower-scented breath upon her. When her fingers reached out, they brushed against hide that was no longer starspirit, but real.

Dreigiau…

Rydia spoke the name of release. The Temple began to rumble and shake, a tiny place in which something huge was growing as a brilliant white light filled her vision. Part of her wanted to pull back in alarm, but she dug her heels into the stone floor and forced herself to withstand.

I… must… not… falter…

Though she couldn’t see, she could feel. There was an immeasurable power unfolding at the tips of her fingers, a power that had so gently tapped into her own. Somehow, it was using her like an anchor and was pulling itself from insubstantiality into physical reality. Never before had the Summon actually Summoned itself. But for this moment, Rydia knew that she was merely a vessel of some greater force dawning upon the Blue Planet.

-Rydw…-

Ever so dimly, the Caller was aware of the shouts of surprise from the mages behind her. She couldn’t pick out one voice from the other – all were condensed into a chorus of awe and fear. It was all she could do not to add her own to the sound.

-I… am…-

The light grew so intense that she could no longer keep herself from flinching. A deep silence fell over the Temple and the lands beyond. As if the planet itself knew of the coming of the Dreigiau.

When Rydia opened her eyes, she found herself on the floor of the stone temple. The brilliant light was gone, leaving nothing more than the dim glimmering of the mural on the wall. Sweat streaked her face and her whole body shook – the power that had just passed through her had been tremendous. But it had left her unharmed.

She heard her name shouted, then the scampering of footsteps. Palom rushed up to her from behind, catching her shoulder with one hand. Brown eyes wide, he nearly seemed to be hyperventilating. “What WAS that!?”

“The Dreigiau,” was all that she knew to answer.

“The what?” he wrinkled his nose, peering around the room.

“Where… did it go?” Alexander asked, brushing off his robes.

“Who cares… I’m just glad it went!” Newt sneered.

It was the sound of the White Mage’s voice that drew her attention first. No longer did it have the raspy, suffering sound as it did before. It was full and strong and very much healthy. When Rydia turned to look, her eyes widened.

Just a faint shimmer of white remained, a pale outline along the contours of Newt’s form. Already, the sheen of sickness was evaporating from his skin, a natural color replacing the clammy paleness. It may have been a trick of her dazzled eyesight, but she could almost see traces of darkness disintegrating off, choked away by the light.

“Newt!” Alexander’s exclamation indicated that he, too, had noticed his friend’s miraculous recovery. “What happened?”

The White Mage paused in mid-snerl long enough to peer down at his open palms in wonderment. His russet head shook, bewildered. When Newt turned to look at them, he seemed to have lost his voice. A second miraculous moment.

“It musta been something up with that light?” Palom observed shrewdly. Then he turned to the Caller. “It was some kind of Summon, wasn’t it?”

“It’s… hard to explain,” Rydia still found herself lacking answers, despite the fact that the deed was done.

“Hey… uh… guys?” Alexander interrupted, his face tilted towards the outside of the Temple. A strange radiant pattern flickered over his dark features as he stood riveted to his spot. His voice was breathy when he spoke, “Look at this…!”

Even Newt forced himself to his feet as the group gathered in the mouth of the doorway. There was a great trail of light in the sky, millions of tiny streams of prismic light tracing along every side. Like a living rainbow, the clouds parted for its majestic passage, shafts of sunlight streaming down into the forest bed below. A shimmering blur rose from the land, as if the living things of the Blue Planet were waking from a timeless, forgotten slumber.

For the first time, it dawned on Rydia to really wonder what it was she had just set free over the world. She had been so caught up in the particulars of human strife… even though it was obvious that the power of Dreigiau was vast and unknown, she had not considered what awakening the power would do beyond the bounds of battle. However, she could see that the effect was one of gentle healing and tranquility.

It’s almost like it’s all being undone..?

Under the wings of the White Dragon, the planet responded as the light washed away shadows that had been wrought by the destruction of the Crystals. Equilibrium was once more established, though for a fleeting moment. Still, it was enough to lighten the Caller’s heart and reflect hope in her companions’ wide eyes.

Even though the Crystals have been destroyed, there’s still a chance to fix this…

“Where do you think it’s headed?” Palom was the first to catch his breath.

“Baron,” Rydia answered, her voice distant. She didn’t realize she had spoken until she felt the others looking at her expectantly.

“How do you know?” Newt frowned, rubbing the side of his nose with one finger.

“Because,” she returned his frown with her no-nonsense lip pursing. “That’s where he told me he was going.”

“Oh,” he said simply as if nothing else could cross his mind to say.

Alexander’s violet eyes remained tracking the light through the sky. Faintly, it had begun to vanish along the fringes as the source sped off over the caps of the forest. He mouthed a few soundless words before he stuttered, “I think we should follow it!”

“What?” Newt turned his attention away from the unbending Caller.

“Dude… he’s right!” Palom’s chin jerked up with realization. “If it’s going to Baron, then that’s how we can find our way back there, too!”

“In the middle of a battle? You saw the armies that were marching in that way!” the white mage wrinkled his nose.

“All the more reason why YOU should be there!” Rydia planted one hand firmly on her hip, disapproval tugging the corners of her mouth downward.

Newt simply grunted something about pansy healers and looked the other way.

Alexander, however, was already gathering up their stuff with the aid of Palom. “If we don’t hurry, it could vanish. Then we’d be stuck out here with no direction back home again. They’re going to need all the help they can get… and besides… the Dreigiau is on its way there.”

“Yeah, from the looks of that thing, there won’t be much of a fight for us to come home to once we get there,” Palom brushed the knees of his trousers off with a grin.

Morale was rising even after the fading of the Dragon’s light and it was infectious.

“As long as it’s on our side,” the white mage grumbled, shouldering his cloak.

“He is,” Rydia confirmed. “Trust me… he is.”

Talk fell to the wayside as the boys gathered what was left of their belongings and reverently restored the Temple back to the state it was in before they had arrived. Rydia traced her fingers along the wall murals, then down the weathered hides of the Guardian statues with a hint of longing before she turned back to the others.

“Okay,” the Caller nodded. “Let’s head to Baron, guys.”

Alexander uttered a happy sound in reply as they made their way up the stairs and out into the dappled daylight. No heels were dragging and all eyes were cast skyward, following the remaining streams of light and parted clouds. It wasn’t very long before they passed beyond the safety of the Temple’s clearing into the waiting forests. But even these no longer felt so foreboding as they had when Rydia first arrived. The sounds of life had returned, little birds flickering amongst the tree’s canopies and squirrels making their weightless flight from branch to branch.

Once within the forest, it felt like very little time had passed before they wound their way from the other side. Familiar-feeling hills rolled before them, traced with a little path that undoubtedly led towards the city. Squinting in just the right light offered a shadow that might have been the castle on a distant rise.

“Wow… that was fast?” Palom commented. “I swear those woods were much bigger the first time we came through them.”

“It sure seemed like it,” Alexander agreed. His gaze was fixed on the horizon, in attempt to make out what lay ahead of them. Despite the serenity of the light-touched hillsides, they all knew that battles brewed within the city-realms. Things would look a lot less serene once they reached the place where the Daear had marched.

I sure hope that the Dragon got there in time. The way the Daear fight… the decay and destruction they create… if that falls on the whole city of Baron, it would be horrible!

Rydia wrung her fingers through the folds of her begrimed robes. Though her body ached and longed for rest and comfort, she knew that there was no comfort to be had until both Pren and the O.M.E.G.A. were stopped.

For a moment, her mind drifted to Joran. And she wondered how the young Lunar girl was going to hold up on her own against all that was happening in Fabul.

“Miss Rydia? Are you feeling okay?” Alexander asked, bringing the Caller out of her thoughts.

“Never been better,” she replied with a cheerful smile to mask the grimace she really felt. Then, despite the protests of her limbs, she forced one step forward. And another. Until the Caller was once more striding into the face of the oncoming battle.

Ch8-5 Within the Crystal Chamber

Twisting with a start, Ben could see the smoking dark figure of O.M.E.G.A. rising.

“Move! Move! Move! Move!” Edge grated between hisses of heated breath. With the frequency that the word burst from his lips, it seemed to be his favorite thing to say during battle.

Aside from “Pwned J00!” Or something like that.

It had occurred to Ben once or twice that he should inform the Ninja King that none of them needed to be encouraged to run. Not with a swarm of Daear flooding the inner chambers of the Fabulian fort and a threat high on the Crystal that lay within.

A clang of steel erupted from the rear, accented by sharp commands and grunts. Cecil and Edge had taken up the back positions, cutting down whatever got too close. Remembering that normal weapons did very little to the creatures until after their shields were diffused, every now and then a shout for magic would ring through the halls. And Ben would quickly turn around, blasting off a plume of flame as the two warriors pressed hard against the walls.

So rudimentary… but it’s been working so far.

In his mind, Ben could feel the pressure all zoning in on the central throne room of Fabul. The chamber of the Crystal lay just within. The path ahead had been clear of enemies so far, much to the credit of King Yang and his men. But their race had been a bloody one, disaster just a hair’s-breadth away. All it would take was one slip up and the Daear would overrun them.

I can’t imagine what would happen if they reach the Crystal of Wind and destroy it… right here in the middle of this castle!

“Take a LEFT here, Golbez!!” Edge shouted above the din of battle as they rushed into a crossing in the halls. “Move! Move! MOVE!!”

Ben rolled his eyes, breath rasping dry in his throat as he hooked a left. Disgruntlement dropped off as he found himself in a much shorter hall than he had expected. The heavy doors of the Fabulian throne room rose suddenly in front of his nose. He was forced to skid to a stop to avoid collision, catching the door handle tight in one fist.

“Quick! Inside! Move! Move! Mo—“

“Edge! I think Golbez knows he’s supposed to open the door,” Cecil interrupted, a flash of sword slicing the air in front of him.

The Ninja fell silent with a huff and took out his frustration on the Daear closest to him. A shriek rang in the hall as the creature pulled back a stump of an arm, thick brown fluid oozing from the wound.

Ben pressed his shoulder into the door as the handle turned reluctantly. It took a good deal of strength before it finally groaned and gave ground. Once it began to swing, momentum helped to carry it until there was enough room for him to squeeze through.

“Cecil!” the Half-Lunar twisted to look at his brother. “It’s open! Come on!”

The Paladin didn’t look over his shoulder. “Keep going!”

“Without you?”

“We’re going to hold the doors. Yang and his men will be here to reinforce us soon!”

“What? Cecil… no!” Ben protested hoarsely. “I’m not leaving you here to fight by yourself!”

“We can handle it!” Edge spat to one side, a crimson flame of his own leaping from his open palm.

“You have to make sure that the Crystal is protected,” Cecil intoned, digging his heel into the stone for another blow. “And if Incrytan appears, you have to be there to take it! We can hold this ground. Don’t worry!”

Ben gave a dubious look, a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. But Cecil was the King and the warrior of strategy… so to argue would just waste time and energy.

Besides, he’s right about Incrytan. People said the thief could get in and out of places unseen…

Though it made sense, he still didn’t like the idea of breaking up the group. In that fleeting moment of concern, Ben realized that something within him was more worried about his companions’ welfare than he was about regaining Incrytan. Though he was only allowed a moment to ponder the development before Cecil shot him a demanding look.

More irony? Cecil the Paladin King sending Golbez the ex-Dark Lord to protect the Crystal.

With a deep breath, the Master Wizard swung about on his feet, slipping through the small opening in the doorway. Throwing his shoulder to the heavy wood, the door rumbled back wards, shutting tight with a thud. When Ben turned around, he found the throne room behind him – dim and empty. At the far end of the room he could see the doorway that led into the Crystal chamber.

It’s just the desperation of battle. He wouldn’t be doing this if he had other options.

Ben shook his head to clear it of the thoughts that were clouding his judgment. No matter what his brother’s reasons, he would do what he was asked to do. And perhaps in doing so he might prove to the Paladin his good intentions.

The door to the chamber opened with surprising ease. The Half Lunar had expected a lock that would need coaxing open, or at least a guard or two. But there was nothing. Nothing but the soft glow from deeper within the chamber that assured him of the Crystal’s standing presence.

Good. I’m not too late!

His footsteps echoed and rebounded from the shiny tile as he stepped into the room. Though Crystals tend to shed their light silently, something about the silence left him with the sense of chills splaying over his skin. He just couldn’t pin-point why.

The Fabulian Crystal of Air…

Ben craned his head back to inspect the Crystal where it hovered above its decorative pillar. A soft haze flowed back and forth over its surface, giving the imagination the idea of a gentle breeze flowing over a green meadow on a sunny day.

One of Father’s Crystals

Drawn towards the light, almost mesmerized, the Half Lunar’s hand reached upwards on pure impulse. Despite the fact that he had been crafting a Crystal of his own, it had been a very long time since he had seen one of his father’s Earth-Crystals. And one of the few times he had seen one and known the true meaning of what he saw.

Father… forgive me. Your work is being destroyed now… all that you tried to establish on this world for the good of the humans is destroyed with it. And it’s my fault.

The Crystal said nothing. The soft light simply reflected from the depths of his green eyes. His fingers stretched further, the energy drawn towards his hands, as if somehow the Crystal recognized Ben’s relation to its maker. As the Crystal-light washed over his body, it was both frightening and exhilarating.

“It must be completed, you know,” a strangely familiar voice tickled the back of his memory.

Ben spun around in surprise. It wasn’t often that people could sneak up on him. But he had been so engrossed in the Crystal that his senses had completely shut down to alerting him of the fact someone else was there.

The sure twisted grin of glittering white teeth shown under the wild, two-toned hair. A blotch of eyepatch covered one eye while the other burned in a cold malicious light, focused upon the Half Lunar. The shadows parted as his dark figure strode out into the Crystal chamber, the light reflecting sharply from the metal plates along his jaw.

“O.M.E.G.A…” Ben mumbled under his breath. His hand strayed back to clutch the grip of Onyx with a deepening frown.

“Ah, so you remember me this time, Benjamin? Good,” his smirk widened as he shook out the double bladed battle staff in one hand.

“If you’ve come for the Crystal, you’re not going to get it,” the Half Lunar ground his heel into the shiny tile.

“Crystal? I have no interest in the Crystal,” his laugh was low and chilling, tinged with madness. “I came for you, Golbez. You fooled me the first time. But I don’t plan on letting you walk away from me again.”

Ben started to stammer a reply only to find himself forced to draw Onyx.

O.M.E.G.A.’s black battle staff whistled a high warning through the air. The blade swept only inches from Ben’s startled face as he made a lucky duck back. One moment slower and the Master Wizard would have worn a matching eyepatch to the staff’s wielder.

No words. No thought. Just a driven impulse of insanity behind a burning eye. O.M.E.G.A. came after him, relentless. A slave to the pounding urge within his demented mind. Ben could feel the grips of darkness as O.M.E.G.A. used his mind powers to follow up where his blade could not reach.

But this time, the Half Lunar was ready for him. This time, he knew he was up against a mind mage of high caliber. One that would do anything to spill his blood. Go to any lengths to complete the objective burned into his essence.

I’ll have to kill him to get him to stop… there’s no talking to this guy!

The light of the Crystal pulsed momentarily, as if in warning. The sound of the air ripping. A blast of violent lightning drove through the distance between them, catching along the flat of Onyx’s blade. Ben gave a shout, nearly dropping the weapon as the energy charged through the metal into his body. A sweeping motion broke it free from O.M.E.G.A.’s electrical arc, the momentum twisting back towards the plated face.

The Athrylith ducked, the twisted smile reflecting from the surface of his own blade as it whistled, striking at the opening that the Master Wizard had just created. Ben choked, stumbling back as he felt the jolt of cold metal sliding into his side. Sticky wetness began to spread dark across the front of his tunic.

“So sloppy,” O.M.E.G.A. jeered. “I thought you were trained better than that.”

The Half Lunar gave a groan as the blade withdrew with a twist. It returned again, merely an instant later, stabbing again. This time it fell short, ringing against the edge of Onyx.

The pounding within Ben’s mind was relentless. Only a few times before had he felt such hate. Such desire to destroy. And he knew the source of O.M.E.G.A.’s drive could only be from one thing.

He feels like something from Zot… Like something that Zeromus made.

Ben choked down the shiver of dread that ran through him. For in this creature, he could see an echo of himself, as he used to be. The Dark Lord. Tainted by the Hatred and driven by a control far beyond his ability to fight. As he struggled to throw up every mind block that he had, Ben couldn’t help but wonder who the Athrylith might have once been… and if there was anything left of him from that time before.

Another upward swing caught the Half Lunar unaware, sending him sprawling back towards the Crystal pedestal. He caught himself, though his grip was slipping, his hands wet with his own blood. Breathing was growing more difficult and Ben knew that he was slowing down in battle.

Crystal…!

In desperation, he reached back and touched the surface of the stone.

I am the son of KluYa… Please. Please remember me!

A keening sound erupted from the center of the chamber. A sound more than sound – a rippling pulse that rang through the very spirit. Light sprang forth, outlining Ben’s palm, and streaming out from between his fingers until it grew blinding, crackling in waves of luminous green and white. His eyes clamped shut as the flash reflected a hundredfold, leaping from the reflective walls of the chamber.

O.M.E.G.A. gave a shout, throwing one arm up protectively over his head. The single eye blinded, for a moment he was nothing more than a dotted outline in the brilliance. It was moment enough to turn the tide.

Drawing his hand away from the Crystal, Ben discovered that the energy moved with him. Responding in a way that the Crystal never did before. He could feel the connection to the Crystal — to the very elements of the Earth itself. And for a trembling moment, he became part of it all… his heart crushed by the weight of the great burden that the Blue Planet had borne for many long decades.

Another shout from O.M.E.G.A. shook him from his stupor. With no time left to boggle on the matter, the Master Wizard threw his palm outwards. Pushing himself to his feet, Ben unleashed the stream of Crystal magic towards the wild silhouette crouching just a few feet away. O.M.E.G.A. reeled back, cast through the air from the vicious impact, slamming against the wall on the other side of the chamber.

The Half Lunar stared, eyes wide, at the dark crumpled form of the Athrylith. Then he turned to give a glance over his shoulder at where the Crystal stood, now shedding its light silently.

Thank you…

“Haaa….” a rasping breath echoed from the opposite side of the room.

What?

Twisting with a start, Ben could see the smoking dark figure of O.M.E.G.A. rising. The flame behind the green eye burned even brighter than before. And more demented. A trace of energy, green-turning purple crackled and traced the lines of his cheek plates. Under the cuff of his jacket, Ben could see a line of Lunar runes also giving off a sickly light.

That… only made him… stronger..? How?

Gripping the haft of Onyx tighter, the Half Lunar began to back away. A trail of dark red followed him, dripping across the glowing tiles.

“You… haa… have a lot to learn… boy…” O.M.E.G.A.’s head lifted with a deranged half laugh. His hand lifted, too, fingers splayed outwards as the air began to condense, energy crackling around his form. “This has been fun… but it’s about time to call it a day. Don’t you think?”

The room seemed to spin, the edges of his sight blurring as he fought to keep his mind focused on the enemy in front of him. Struggling, Ben pressed his own palms up in a defensive position. He didn’t know how much energy he would be able to turn… not in the condition he was in. But anything else that he would throw at O.M.E.G.A. only seemed to empower him all the more.

The spell’s release raged across the room, a tremendous blast of lightning with the razor’s edge of the Athrylith’s vengant mind magery. Flinching back, Ben dug his heel into the crevice of the tiles and braced himself for the blow.

But instead of feeling the sting of the flare ripping through his body, he heard a voice. A voice that was familiar. A voice that spoke his name.

“Golbez! I’m here!”

Daring to crack one eye open, Ben felt his breath rush out of his lungs in shock. There before him, between himself and O.M.E.G.A., was his Crystal. Incrytan. It floated there with a brilliance that he had never seen before – absorbing the energy of the Athrylith’s spell. Protecting him.

And the voice. It had a face… a face so familiar that it hurt. She was there, hands folded around Incrytan, green eyes focused on him in horror and concern. All within that moment, it came together. And he realized exactly what he was seeing.

“…Joran..?”

Ch8-6 Champion of the Blue Planet

“This world rejects your very presence. And I… I am empowered by it!”
Nodd watched the battle rage around him, peeking from his hiding place within the crates near the Baron Castle wall. Everything he could see was going to shambles. For reasons completely unknown, more than half of the soldiers had turned on their own comrades and joined the Daear side of the fight. The air stank of unnatural illness. Death. Decay.It was all too much for a young Kit to deal with.

I’ve heard the tails of the terrible battles the humans wage on themselves… but I never thought that something like that could really happen here!

Though he had tried to put up a fight of his own, Nodd had quickly found his illusionary magics to be of no use against the enemy. Neither Daear, their nasty pets, nor the sickened humans paid an illusion any mind. In fact, Nodd could sense the hint of twisted illusionary magics around the elf-creatures as well. Not to mention their mind-boggling shielding against weapons of all kinds.

All the better reason to just lay low and not get involved. A dead Kit is not a good thing.

Hiding had seemed like a good course of action. That was until, naturally, the humans bungled it all up. Two of the battling soldiers began to duke it out right next to Nodd’s crate pile. Uncomfortably close. It was all the Kit could do to cover his nose from the stench of bitter human sweat and illness. In dismay, Nodd watched as a powerful swing of a sword sent the Baronian defender flying back. Right into the pile of crates, scattering boxes and uncovering his hiding place.

Nodd didn’t know if the defender was dead or alive. All that he knew was that the hollow, sick eyes of the attacker turned on him. And focused with a deadly intensity.

Nodd gave a yowl as the blade whistled down, just barely missing taking his whiskers. Scrabbling on all fours, the Kit made a frantic break across the dented battlefield. He dodged between legs, under the clash of spear and sword and around-about the shouts of startled fighting men.

Must find safe place! Must find safe place!

As he was making a final dodge around a particularly tight group of fighting Daear, Nodd felt something strange tickle the back of his mind. Not that he was ever a particularly mind-sensitive creature on the normal basis. But whatever it was that he was feeling was just that intense.

A blinding light erupted from outside the wall of Castle Baron. At first, Nodd wondered if someone had called down the sun. Or maybe a few meteors. He had always wanted to see Ben cast Meteo… though the Master Wizard had always denied him the chance.

As the wave of light grew ever brighter, he was forced to shade his eyes. It became quickly apparent that it was not a rain of meteors at all. Instead, it was some sort of creature. Something huge. Bright. Whitely-radiant. Wings spread wide over what seemed to be the entire city. How something could be that vast, the Kit didn’t know. But it was bearing down on them at an amazingly scary speed.

Then something funny began to happen. Wherever the fringe of light touched, a deep black steam began to rise. It was accompanied by a pungent smell. And a nasty, guttural animal cry. All at once, Nodd realized that something was happening to the Daear. Something they didn’t seem too happy about.

The creatures began to writhe as the light burned into their putrid flesh. Black smoke hissed and burst through their bodies with a force so great that it left holes in their rust-mottled armor. It was as if everything that was tainted was being drawn from their forms. Except… there was not much left of them to draw away except for the taint.

Nodd promptly covered his nose.

The sick, attacking Baronian men wavered in their tracks. Staring with upraised eyes as darkness was drawn from them, too. But unlike the Daear, they were merely touched by the infection… still living creatures that could be healed. That’s exactly what the light did, casting healing fingers over the men. Men who dropped their blades and fell to their knees in anguish and in the greatness of it all.

Something had come to save them. And it sure looked a lot like…

“A Dragon?!” Captain Highwind’s voice rang from the top of one of the walls.

Somehow, what seemed so large before had condensed now. The great white wings folding as the shimmering form of a White Dragon landed there in the Baron Courtyard. Gentle teal eyes cast a gaze over the people who trembled at its feet. But the eyes were not so gentle when they fell upon one lone figure that somehow withstood the light.

“Pren Daear…” the huge voice rumbled, lips curling back to provide a firsthand look at the creature’s huge fangs.

The Daear leader responded with a look of similar distasted. She spat only one word, “Dreigiau…

“What have you done? These people… were your own kin!”

“That is none of your concern. Return to your void. Your kind does not belong here among the Earthians of the Blue Planet!” she brandished her spear in a menacing motion, bearing the point towards the beast’s chest. “I will not allow the Arweinydd to devour one more Living World.”

“Do you think that’s what this is about?” the Dragon snorted, shaking out his long white mane in disdain. “I am not here to devour anything. You seem to be doing that well enough by yourself.”

With an animalistic snarl, the one called Pren charged the beast, raising her spear between both of her hands. While Nodd thought it was completely insane for any normal, intelligent person to rush a full grown Dragon, it became more and more apparent that this woman was anything but normal. Her speed was astounding, and though the Kit generally prided himself on his fine hunter instinct, he was lost in the attempt to follow her motion as she sped across the ground to meet head on in battle.

The air had grown still as the humans froze to watch the fray unfold in the confines of the castle courtyard. A streak of sickly blue-black light traced from ground to wall to the Dragon’s back, the only signature that Pren left as she leapt. The burst of energy plastered Nodd’s ears back against his skull. All he could do was dodge, searching for a safe place away from the two great battling forces.

A sharp crack was followed by an earthshaking roar. The Dragon whipped around, white engaging with dark blue. The nearby wall folded and collapsed outwards, men shouting and running for cover in every direction.

“You cannot win here, Dreigiau!” Pren’s voice rang victorious as she reappeared atop the pile of rubble. “This world rejects your very presence. And I… I am empowered by it!”

The Dragon snapped, bearing gleaming fangs. Lines of dark energy crossed his hide, marking where the dark spear had struck and torn at his body. The white energy was already converging, however, sealing up the darkness and washing it away as if it was nothing more than a streak of dirt in the rain.

“You know very little about what you are up against, Lady Daear,” Dreigiau replied. The way his lips curved, Nodd could have sworn the Dragon was smiling.

Irritation was plainly writing across Pren’s face. “You are our captor no more!”

“I was never your captor,” he replied quickly. “I did what I did to preserve your people. You are the one that has led them into their undoing.”

“I will lead them to our victory!” she hissed, once again leaping towards the beast, this time slashing at its face. “We will take our rightful place in this world! The humans shall not continue to run us into obscurity and destroy our world bit by bit!”

Dreigiau reeled back, dodging the Daear’s speed deftly. The massive tail whipped down from no where, striking like a crack of thunder. “Can’t you realize that is what you are doing! In your desire for vengeance, you’ve twisted your own people — calling on the power of an imbalanced world, you have become monsters yourselves!”

“Then it is a sacrifice that we shall make!” Pren rolled out of the stream of stone that fell from every side. As she turned, haunted, furious eyes glared back over her shoulder. Eyes filled with hate and feverish desire. “You cannot understand the real plight of Earthians. Don’t even begin to pretend that you can!”

“Maybe not,” he replied. “But I know the mark of Chaos when I see it.”

“This world will see you cast out, Dreigiau! And I will be the one to do its will!” Pren lifted both of her hands over her head, a motion of summoning. Calling out to the power of the Blue Planet.

Nodd had no idea what the two were going on about. It sounded all very important and troublesome. And more than enough to keep his interest riveted. That’s when he first saw something strange was happening to the woman. A pattern of light shifted under her skin – tiny blue dots that were first almost imperceptible, but had begun to expand and grow.

Caught up in the middle of her concentration, Pren did not seem to see it. Not until one of the lights ruptured through her shoulder. She gave a keening howl, arm falling limp by her side. Losing her grip on her spear, she dropped the weapon down into the cracked rubble at her feet.

Dreigiau! What sort of trickery is this!” Her cry of pain grew in intensity as her body buckled. Her hand clutched at the burst of light along her shoulder, fighting to contain it as it began to spread, eating away at flesh and armor. As if unable to withstand, she crumpled to the ground.

The Dragon, however, appeared to be lost for an answer. His teal eyes reflected the growing light as it began to devour the Daear’s form. Her scream echoed, unnatural and haunting as the light burst upwards into a pillar of brilliant blue energy. Power drawn from the heart of the planet itself. Finally, it vanished into the underside of the deepening clouds, scattering reflections across the land.

Silence fell as sparkles misted away into the sky. All eyes were cast upwards as the clouds churned, cast back by the force of the energy from below. When the light faded, Pren was gone.

“It would seem as if you are no longer the Champion that the Blue Planet desired,” the white Dragon murmured. There was almost a sad hint to the depths of his voice as he peered at the spot where the Daear had fallen. “You were right. This world will purge itself of what is wicked, destructive and does not belong.”

A low rumble of thunder drew out of the distance, the sky darkening with threat of unnatural rain. Luminous white wings stretched upwards, brilliant against the blotted black clouds. The Dragon lifted his head. For a moment, he considered the scattered men across the castle courtyard. Then he lifted himself into the sky with a downbeat of wings.

“…And I am one of these things…”

Nodd didn’t know if the humans could hear the last low rumble as the Dragon pushed off. But something about it seemed deeply sad.

As the creature became nothing more but a spec of white in the sky, the humans began to stir, blinking as if waking from a deep sleep. There was an uneasy talk of confusion and disarray, as if none of the men knew where they were and why they had gotten there. The clatter of armor and weapons jangled through out the city as the rain began to fall. The way that they talked, it was as if the humans could hardly remember seeing the Dreigiau at all.

Dragon mind tricks…

Lucky for Nodd, such things did not work on his kind. And the kit vowed to himself… to remember.

Ch8-7 True Intentions

“Joran, dear. You shouldn’t have come here…” His voice was strange and distorted, a hint of insanity around the edges.
“KIP!” Joran’s voice rang out over the chamber, louder than even the keening of the Crystal.She could only stare at him, a leaden weight growing in the pit of her stomach. As strange and misshapen as Kip had been… he had always been kind to her. The one person that she thought she could trust in the middle of all of the mess that she had created for herself. The one person she thought would support and protect her if she needed.

Why is Kip attacking Golbez?

It wasn’t merely just an attack. She could feel it… Kip was intent on killing. And when his single burning eye turned on her, she saw something cold and dangerous there. Something she had never seen in his face before.

“Kip…?” Joran found herself caught up in the grips of absolute fear. Her voice wavered as she attempted to appeal to him through the sound of her voice. The call of his name.

That’s when she realized this was no longer Kip. Simply the O.M.E.G.A. Joran wondered if there had ever been anything but O.M.E.G.A. there to begin with.

No… no… Why is he looking at me like that?

“Joran, dear. You shouldn’t have come here…” His voice was strange and distorted, a hint of insanity around the edges.

As O.M.E.G.A. took a step forward, Joran found herself backing away. Somewhere on the other side of the room, Golbez was struggling to his feet. Drained from tapping into the Crystal’s power and a pool of blood around his feet, he was in no shape to take on the O.M.E.G.A.

All that was left between them was her. And Incrytan.

Joran’s palms shot forward, cupping around the Crystal. The pulsing light reflected from her green eyes as she focused on the approaching Athrylith. Her hands shook, the weight of the unnatural fear dragging at her. The Mind Mage’s will.

“Don’t come any closer!” she forced between chattering teeth.

“And what do you plan to do, child?” a slick smirk broke over O.M.E.G.A.’s face. His voice intoned deeply, “Are you really going to attack me? Haven’t you done enough damage with that Crystal already?”

Through watery eyes, she suddenly saw the image of memories scatter through her mind. Of all the times that Kip had been there for her when she had been alone. When there was no one else on the whole Blue Planet who cared about her. He had been her friend.

Was he…? Or..

She fought the pull of the mind magery with a shake of her head.

No… no… he’s trying to stall me. I can’t let him… I can’t let him hurt Golbez!

“I’m so sorry, Joran,” O.M.E.G.A. said. But it was hard to tell now if his words were real or mere trickery. “I know that you love Golbez… but I have a job to finish. And I can’t let you or anything else get in my way.”

Golbez gave a choked sound at the statement, eyes falling on her in a state of shock.

Despite the pressures of the moment, Joran could only blush and stammer, “Y-yes…”

“Joran… why did you…?” the terrible question passed from between Golbez’s lips. The question she dreaded. One that couldn’t be answered here in the face of danger.

“I know you don’t understand… but I did it because… I love you,” Joran answered. Then her eyes narrowed, drawing strength from the three words. Finding her concentration, she once more tapped into the Crystal, focusing back on the looming O.M.E.G.A. “That’s why I can’t let you kill him, Kip!”

With the intensity of her words, Incrytan burst into a luminous glow, filling the room with song and light. Joran could feel the living energies of all the Crystals bound within it, under her quivering fingers.

“Joran! No! Not here!!” Golbez’s voice rose sharply, but a little too late.

The Crystal of Wind was now glowing, reacting to Incrytan’s call, a howling gust kicking up in the center of the chamber. Its own energies were drawn towards the vortex of power there within the room as a hairline split shot over the face of the Crystal.

All Joran could see was the dreadful face of O.M.E.G.A. as he flinched back from the gathering of power. All she could think was to save the one she loved from the one that had deceived her.

“Always something happening to keep me from finishing the job,” O.M.E.G.A. snarled, nose curled with irritation. His single eye flicked upwards as the howling tempest of the Wind Crystal began to chip and crack the pillars of the chamber. Then he made a break for the chamber door, hissing a furious curse under his breath. Promising to return with a vengeance.

Joran watched as his shadow slipped out of the room, just as a resounding crack shook the ground under their feet. She was thrown forward with the impact, the Crystal leaping out of her reach. The girl stared around with frightened green eyes. She knew what was about to happen. She had seen all of this before.

Incrytan! It’s… destroying the Wind Crystal!

A hazy image began to form from the winds. The sharp-featured head of a Dragon, rising up from the midst of the disintegrating stone. A Guardian Elemental Dragon, like the ones that had appeared before. Suddenly she realized the danger… not just to herself, but to all of the people there within the city.

If this Dragon is released here…

Frantically, Joran reached for Incrytan, cupping it between her hands. She called and pleaded to the stone.

Please… please stop!

But it did not respond. Wrapped up in the connection with the Wind Crystal, the balance of elemental power had tipped too far and there was nothing that she could do to contain the reaction.

A deep growl shook the chamber as the Elemental Dragon’s form began to solidify. Only a tiny fragment of the Wind Crystal still remained and was flaking away in the overpowering light of Incrytan. The vicious wind stung her flesh, leaving it raw and red, some spots on the back of her arm looking ready to bleed. The pain sent her mind reeling as the gales became too much to stand against.

She felt herself falling back. The world blurred around her in a dizzying spiral. The Crystal light rose and sank in her vision as she toppled.

I can’t…

Then to her surprise, Joran found herself sprawled against something large and unmoving. Peering up through watery eyes, she could just make out the shape of the underside of Golbez’s chin above her. His arms were extended on either side of her, battered body supporting her own as his hands reached around her, stretched towards Incrytan.

Green eyes burned as his will turned on the Crystals. An unspoken command impacted the air as his mind connected with the living energy of Incrytan. She could feel a sudden change sweep over him as he became the Master, his creation giving way to his domination.

Golbez…

In the haze of the dancing elements, within the twisting mirage of wind and tempest… she thought she could see what seemed to be a strange, ethereal outline. For just a heartbeat they were there. Wings of light and shadow unfolding from his shoulders. Protecting her.

The Wind Dragon also responded, reeling back with a mind-numbing screech. Joran could feel the struggle and see the energies crackling across the room as Golbez fought to bring the power of the beast within his control. The winds howled furiously, a feral desire for freedom.

“I am… the son of KluYa… the Crystal’s creator! You will… submit to me…!” the words gasped out of his dried throat, strain and exhaustion written all over his face. His hands trembled as he forced them to remain outstretched. But where his physical body was falling short, the power of his mind still held strong.

Joran could hear the sound of wood and stone giving way in the distance. Streams of tile were falling around them like rain. The castle structure was weakening around them, threatening to cave inward.

“Golbez!!” a sudden shout rang across the room.

The girl turned to see two men standing there. One she could recognize from what she had heard as Golbez’s brother, the Paladin King of Baron. The other was a human stranger whom she did not know. Both of them seemed battle weary. But their weapons were drawn, eyes focused on the Dragon in the midst of the chamber.

They began to shout things in a language that Joran was not familiar with. With a few strangled replies from Golbez, the two men wasted no time in leaping in. Joran watched in amazement as the two deftly made quick work of the situation, enchanted blades whistling as they dodged the jaws of the struggling beast.

She could feel Golbez’s tension lessen some as the Dragon’s attention was drawn away from the mental battle to the physical one. Swaths of green light began to take form in the winds, tracing back to the source of the creature. Signifying that the Half Lunar had begun to get some control over the outburst of energy.

Becoming quickly overpowered, the Dragon reeled back with a protesting roar. The Paladin shouted something urgently before both men sprang away from the center of the room. Great wings began to shift as the beasts head rolled back, the body’s outline expanding into a great maelstrom of roaring wind, a condensed hurricane that slammed its way straight through the ceiling of the chamber.

Joran opened her mouth to scream, but the sound was whipped away before she could make it. Rubble began to crash down around them from every side as the walls groaned and began to buckle. Someone grabbed her around the waist and she felt herself being carried away from the center of the storm.

Everything became a blur of wind, stone and rushing bodies. The furious howl of the wind seemed relentless and never ending. When silence finally did come, Joran had no idea where she was or exactly what had just happened.

The girl could see the slumped figure of Golbez on the ground next to her. The Paladin was frantically wrapping the wound in his brother’s side, shouting over his shoulder for aid. She then realized they were in a hallway of some sort, littered with rubble and broken bodies from the battle that had just taken place. In the distance was the sound of rushing footsteps and the shouts of human voices.

Instinctually, Joran clutched Incrytan to her chest. The Crystal was now silent, only giving off the slightest light, reacting to the presence of its maker.

That’s when she realized that the other man was standing over her. His grey eyes narrowed, peering down at her in mistrust. A stream of words came from his mouth, only a few of which she could understand. But the ones she did were all that was needed.

Crystal thief.