Ch10-1 To Dream a Nightmare

“You don’t think they’ve gone and taken the Crystal to do something foolish, do you?”
The city of Baron was burning.

Everywhere Cecil looked, pieces of his fortress lay shattered across the shadowed cobblestone. Flames danced upon the faces of ancient tapestries. The stone walls dripped white embers. Ash covered the motionless bodies that lay in the corridor.

“Rosa!”

His wife’s name ripped from his throat in a frothing scream. As his mouth opened, the smoke-poisoned air rushed into his lungs, plunging him to his knees. Cecil gathered his strength and dragged himself forward.

His vision blurred crimson. The floors of the castle flowed in dark rivers of blood. It was boiling to the touch.

One hand slipped. Cecil felt himself plunging forward. The world jolted as he landed in a roll. A cool breeze shifted past his face, casting the scent of burning flesh upon him. His body reacted in a violent retch.

Then Cecil heard it.

Laughter. It was smooth… cold… silver… and so chilling.

He lifted his head to find himself crouching in one of the castle courtyards. It was strangely peaceful in the silence of the night. The scent of roses mingled with that of flame-licked stone. The single disc of moonlight capered upon the calm surface of the fishpond.

“Cecil!”

The voice that called his name was different. A golden sound. He recognized it at once and lifted his head.

A man was standing there, his face turned away from Cecil. He seemed to be gazing up at the blazing pillars that had once been the castle towers. His silhouette was immense. Pale mist rose around him, arcing above his head, tracing wide wings of silver.

Beside him crouched another man, slightly larger than the first. He was broken, doubled over with pain. The rivers of blood ran from his body. Very slowly the man turned, long white hair framing a face both familiar yet obscure. His eyes shown brilliant green as he cast a pained gaze upon Cecil.

“Golbez…?” the name slid between the Paladin’s lips. It was the image of his brother, defeated and dying, there on the courtyard floor.

“Cecil…” the choked voice answered. “Run..!”

“No! I’m not leaving you here!” The sting of emotion rushed through Cecil. Emotion that he didn’t realize he possessed until then. Deep concern — he discovered that he didn’t want his brother to die.

He struggled to get to his feet, slipping in the crimson flow.

The other man turned, his vast silver wings unfurled as the sheen of a sword glittered in the moonlight. A haunted smile crept to his lips as he raised it over the exposed neck of the other.

“BROTHER!!!” Cecil recoiled as the sword sliced down. A metallic sound filled his ears as something heavy landed upon the stone at his knees. A strangled gasp ripped from his throat.

But only thing that he could hear was the sound of the cold voice, “You are nothing but a piece. A fragment. You cannot even dream of succeeding against me.”

The flash of the blade rose up in the moonlight. Then everything was obscured by the silver mists.

———————————-

Cecil awoke with his senses reeling. His heartbeat drummed heavy in his ears as he cast his emerald eyes around. Then, he realized…

It was only a dream…

He was safe… In his bed. In his room. In Baron Castle. And Rosa was there, curled up beside him in peaceful slumber.

This dream. It was the same as the one that I had before Golbez came.

Except this time, his brother was not the dark looming shadow. It had been some other large, winged man. A cold man, whom Cecil had never seen before, surrounded by silver mists. And Golbez had been the one who was…

Dead!

Before Cecil realized what he was doing, he pushed himself out of the bed and into his slipper-shoes. A churning flurry rose in the pit of his stomach as he scrabbled towards the doorway, grabbing his sword along the way. Behind him, the Paladin could hear the muffled voice of Rosa asking after him, just having been awakened by his rousing dash.

There was a chance it was nothing but a dream. There was a chance that everything would be fine. But it was far too strange that everything in the dream was so similar to what it was before. And that dream had been the one that had predicted that Golbez would be returning to Baron.

Of course… it didn’t happen in a river of blood and fire like the dream said it would.

But that still didn’t stop the sinking feeling that weighed down Cecil’s spirit.

The night guards gave him strange looks as he jogged down the halls, heading towards the guest wing. And maybe it was true that he was over reacting. Maybe he was just making a fool out of himself. A dream was just a dream, after all. Right?

It doesn’t hurt to check it out.

Cecil slowed his step a bit as he rounded the corner near the guest rooms. Just in case there really was nothing wrong, he didn’t want to bust in and alarm everyone for nothing. A small troop of curious guards followed him at a safe distance. They seemed concerned, but also knew that the young King liked to have his privacy.

Especially when he was acting on one of his odd moments.

A deep silence lay over the hallway, broken only every now and then by a distant click-click sound. As the Paladin crept forward, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand as his senses told him that something was terribly wrong there in the guest wing.

Maybe there was something to my dream afterall?

His pace quickened as he saw one of the doors left ajar, swaying back and forth to the breeze that came from the open window inside the room. Cecil realized that the clicking sound was coming from the tapping of the door handle as it rocked. Cautiously, he reached out with one hand, catching the lever and following the swing of the door as he pushed it open. His other hand tightened on the grip of his blade at his side.

This room had been assigned to the Lunarian girl, Joran. But now it stood completely empty. The only sound was the billowing of the gauzy curtains in the early morning breeze.
The Paladin King turned towards the group of guards and motioned. “Search this room for anything unusual. See if you find any signs of a forced entry.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the nearest guard nodded as the group made their way into the room.

Cecil didn’t really believe they would find much, if anything, there. But at least a search in that room would give him time to look in the room across the hall without being disturbed. Considering he didn’t know what was going on, he felt a little more secure with some of his mind stationed closer by.

“Golbez?” Cecil called quietly at the door. He followed it with a light knock. Much to his consternation, the door swung inward at the slight pressure, showing signs of also having been left open. “Golbez… are you in here?”

“He is not,” came a gruff reply from within the chamber.

It took a moment for Cecil to piece together the sound of the voice to the figure in the shadows. His green eyes blinked, “Uncle FuSoYa? Is that you?”

“It is,” the Lunarian Sage answered, walking forward with a low grunt. “Are there no lights here within the rooms of your castle?”

“What? Oh… sorry,” the young King quickly reached over, pulling a torch from the wall in the hallway. Then he asked quickly, “What are you doing here? I thought you had returned to the Lunar Homeworld, Uncle?”

“I did. But I came back. I have grave news of the situation there,” FuSoYa pursed his lips, squinting at the yellow firelight. “I returned to find Golbez. But he is not here?”

“You didn’t happen to come in through the window, did you?” Cecil asked.

The Lunar Sage gave him a long droll look.

“I… didn’t think so…”

“What is going on, Cecil?”

“I…” the Paladin paused and decided against mentioning the dream revelation. Instead, he shook his head, “I’m not sure. I got word of a disturbance here in the guest wing. I just arrived, myself. It seems like Joran is gone.”

“Is that so?” FuSoYa arched one eyebrow.

“And you’re saying that Golbez is gone, too?” Cecil pursed his lips.

“I have only just come as well. But from what I see and feel, the boy is not here within the castle,” the old Lunar answered. “Which is strange. Because Incrytan is not here, either.”

“What?” the Half Lunar couldn’t keep the edge of panic from his voice. “What does it mean? You don’t think they’ve gone and taken the Crystal to do something foolish, do you?”

“Such as what?” FuSoYa asked.

“I don’t know?”

“Have they given any indications that they might be taking Incrytan with them for any particular reason?”

“No…” Cecil shook his head. “No. Nothing that I’ve seen or heard.”

“Mmmm…” FuSoYa murmured under his breath as he pushed open the door to the adjoining side room. Then he paused as a strange greenish light flickered across his face in a pattern like light playing off ripples in a pool.

“Uncle?” the Paladin quickly rushed to the old Lunarian’s side, peering with squinted eyes over his shoulder. He felt his breath catch in his throat as his eyes then widened. “What… is… that?”

It was a magical… something. Tall, slender and ovular in shape, it wavered in flowing green ripples on the surface of the air. There seemed to be some image on the other side, though it was hard to make it out for the distortion of motion.

“It’s a rift, of course,” FuSoYa told him matter-of-factly.

“Ah?” Cecil blinked at it, dumbstruck.

He remembered Golbez explaining about Wayrifts once, a while back. How they worked liked portals to other places, though the knowledge of making such rifts was shared by only a few. He also remembered seeing one used by the leader of the Daear, back in Troia — though it had only been for a moment and had looked different from this one.

“Golbez must have made it. Little doubt,” the Sage continued with a sharp frown on his face.

“And he just left it open like this?”

“He must have been planning to come back through it. Lucky for us.”

“Lucky?” Cecil echoed, feeling more and more confused.

“Yes. Because now we can follow him,” FuSoYa replied. Without so much as a warning, the ancient Lunarian walked forward, straight into the depths of the swirling rift. A moment later, he vanished completely, right in front of the Paladin King’s eyes.

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Ch10-2: Spirit’s Ordeal

“We are within you. Both of us. And because you can’t accept that, you can’t know yourself for who you really are.”
The wind whipped around him in a bitter symphony. Ben was chilled, even in the middle of summer, even with the warmth of the sunlight streaming from above. The sky seemed so close at the summit of the mountain, a pastel blue-gray. Silence was the only thing that he heard.So, this is Mt. Ordeals…

The mountain of legend. Where Cecil, his brother, had renounced the darkness and became a Paladin of Light. The peak where his father, KluYa, was sealed.

Ben fought to ease the pain that gnawed him at this thought. This thought and so many thoughts – the overwhelming rush of emotion that had sent him here. The one place he was most afraid to be. To face the one person that he both loved and feared so deeply.

“Father..!” his golden accent rang, slicing through the wind. The stone shuddered under each step, as if recoiling from a soul filled with darkness. “I am here!”

Silence.

The wind.

His fists opened and closed at his sides mechanically, a cold nervous sweat breaking over his brow. The world was a haze of confusion and frigidity. Just as it had been from the moment he had seen the pain and torment on Joran’s face. Heard the mocking laugh of O.M.E.G.A. in his ears. The moment Ben realized how helpless he – the so-called Master Wizard – really was in the big scheme of things.

Within that moment he had wept bitterly, in a way he had never done before. And he realized he could never go back to being who he once was.

“Father?”

That part of him that had been asleep for so long, the emotions born of a Human soul, something he had feared for so long, had now grown too powerful to deny. No longer could hide the truth from himself.

What is the truth?

In the middle of the swirling mass of confusion, there was a quiet tug. A pull. A need to know. A need to find the answers. To face the Spirit’s Ordeal.

“Father, it’s me… Golbez? I have come for my trial!”

Golbez. His own name. It was a difficult thing to admit.

But still, there was no answer. Nothing but his own voice in his ears. A cold prickle ran over his skin as his white hair was swept up in the gale. Only the wind seemed stronger. And a dull ache of fear.

“Please, answer me!”

There was so little time. It would not be long before someone would find him missing and inform Cecil. As much as Ben didn’t like leaving a wide-open rift sitting in his bedroom, there had been little choice in the matter. As soon as it was discovered, he knew his time would be up. People would follow… though what they would find left to him, he didn’t know.

“Father… You don’t know how much I’ve missed you,” Ben’s voice was hoarse, fighting to rise above the wind. “Everything I’ve done… even making Incrytan… it was all to free you.”

Why did you never come to take me from Zot? Do you still love me? Or do you hate me for what I’ve done?

Ben placed his palms flat against the stone outcropping. There was a very faint tingle of power against his fingertips, but nothing more.

Do you hate me for what I’ve become?

Silence.

Arost i’c paydd mynd’malean! Please! I…” he paused, weakly laying his cheek against the cold unyielding stone. “I need your help.”

Ben felt his knees give way as he slowly slid down the side of the stone to crouch dejectedly. There was no answer.

Maybe there would never be an answer. Maybe he didn’t deserve an answer. Maybe… it was his fault that Father had been sealed into this cold stone tomb for eternity.

“I’m… sorry…”

How can I blame him for turning his back on me?

“I’m so… so… sorry…”

But it still stung, heavy in his heart. And he could not stop the tears that came.

“It’s all my fault. Everything has always been all… my… fault…”

The darkness had come for him — he had been the cause of his parent’s death. He had been the pawn of Zeromus in a war that had almost destroyed the Blue Planet. He had fought his brother and corrupted his brother’s best friend. The blood of thousands were upon his hands. And now, it was possible that the blood of many more would be, again — because he had made Incrytan.

And because of me, Joran is…

Ben wrapped his arms around his knees and laid his forehead against the quiet stone, gazing across the horizon. He would not have long to wait until the others would arrive to discover his defeat.

“Father,” he whispered, closing his eyes. “Forgive me. Forgive me for everything…”

Silence. Silence for a very long time.

Then came a feeling, the weight of eyes on his back. Someone was watching him, but they did not speak. Slowly, the Half Lunar raised his head.

A child stood there.

Ben blinked, at first thinking it was Chase. It only took him a moment to realize it was not.

The boy peered back silently, slender arms crossed behind his back, a thoughtful cast to his soft face. Bright jade green eyes reflected under the wild white hair, drawn back into a ponytail with bangs dripping into his eyes. He was dressed in all brown and green.

Ben felt something within his chest grow tense. He forced himself to swallow.

The boy cocked his head, blinking quietly. Then slowly, he reached out a small hand, tapping Ben on the shoulder, proclaiming, “Chocobo Tag! You’re It!

Ben blinked. He blinked again.

The boy grinned brightly. Then he dashed away, vanishing on the other side of the summit. The sound of children’s laughter was on the wind, “Chocobo, chocobo, feathers of gold…”

The Half Lunar lumbered to his feet weakly. Something deep within his memory sparked — he knew this game. Chocobo Tag. It had been a favorite among the children of Mysidia. But he had never been very good at it.

Ben stumbled around the side of the tall stone, supporting his weight with one hand. There were really very few places on the barren mountain peak that a child could hide. And there were a number of questions that he wanted to ask the boy. Yet, as he rounded the outcropping, he found no sign of the child. Nothing at all.

The horizon stared at him blankly. He stared back. There was still laughter upon the wind.

He must have run to the other side…

Ben let a tired sigh escape him as he trudged around towards the other side of the stone. Then he felt it. His fingers traced a crack in the rock, a tingle of warmth. A line too straight to be of natural creation. And just as his palm came in contact with the rock, it slid away, melting like ice in the sun. A doorway in the stone outcropping stood before him, soft reflections of light glowed within. A familiar, welcoming power hummed in his ears.

The sound of laughter rang from inside the chamber, “Chocobo, chocobo, running free…”

Ben caught his breath. Then, swallowing his fear, he forced himself forward. The chamber was small, walls made of reflective crystal that glowed with their own inner light. A hazy shimmering dust rose about his ankles, trailing behind his long green cloak. Ben’s reflection leapt at him from every side, the vision of a young man with white hair, green eyes, and the burden of darkness upon him.

A quiet click came from behind. When he turned, there was no longer a door there. Only a wall of solid crystal reflected his surprise.

The Half Lunar hissed in alarm. He reached out, hoping that the door might respond to his touch and open just as it had the first time. Instead, as his fingers brushed the smooth wall, the room trembled and the crystal light grew brighter, outlining the shadow of his hand.

Ben drew back at once, stepping away into the center of the room. But everywhere he turned was the burning light. Reflexes drew his arms over his head for protection.

Then the light swallowed him.

When he finally opened his eyes, Ben found himself splayed across the ground. He was lying upon his stomach, his arms over his head in a defensive position. He could feel the tingling of power still tracing his form.

Something had happened. Something in the room had reacted to him. But what it was, he did not know.

Where am I? This feels wrong…

A hissing crackle filled his ears sharply. The pressure of unearthly heat lingered all around. A distant roaring. The smell of burning. Of cloth burning. Of hair burning. Of flesh burning.

The Half Lunar pushed himself to his knees, fighting back the gag reflex.

This isn’t Mt. Ordeals… This is…

A gray-cast fortress stretched around him, the walls buckling, collapsing, burning. He could hear the cries of people somewhere in the distance. Screams of burning. The shadows of airships passed low in the sky, streaming smoke behind them. The fire began to spread in all directions.

Unnervingly familiar.

Eblan…? Or is it Damcyan…?

He couldn’t tell. Not from inside. Both cities had been bombed during the Crystal War. Both cities had been demolished at his command. Both cities would have fallen to similar destruction.

Why am I seeing this? The Crystal War is over! It’s been over… it’s…

“Chocobo, chocobo, in the forest glade…!” the cheerful voice rang across the flaming rubble, out of place with the firey surroundings.

Ben turned on his heel, catching only the slightest glimmer of white vanishing into the depths of the burning castle. Something in his heart wrenched.

“W-wait!!” he called, leaping over the nearest wreckage and dodging around the tall pillars of hungry flame. The doorway ahead reflected a ripple of crimson glow, the tell-tale signs of fire within.

I have to find him!

The Half Lunar plunged inside only to be met with walls of flame. The rugs withered and writhed like dying snakes as the fires leapt up to consume wall hangings and blackened furniture. Smoke was dense, making his eyes water and filling his lungs with deadly fumes. Ben dropped to a crouch, making his way down the hall to the far door. There were moans from somewhere to one side, but he did not stop.

When he finally stumbled out of the hall, he doubled over, choking into his fist. To his surprise, the room beyond had not yet been touched by the fire. Richly carpeted, tall and narrowly built, it was a meeting chamber with an upraised platform of stairs at the far end. The doorway behind spewed dark plumes of black that rose in towards the high white ceiling. Ben stared up at the wall, recognizing the coat of arms upon the tapestry.

The city of Eblan.

Waiting on the stairs was the boy. He smiled brightly, reciting the last line, arms behind his back, “Chocobo, chocobo, you can’t catch me!”

Ben reached towards the boy, fearful that the child might dash off again, “Stay right there… don’t… please don’t run away…”

The boy smiled at him. He was calm, unafraid. Innocent.

Somewhere in the distance, a wall collapsed, the roar of the fire growing stronger.

He held his hand out further, “Come… come to me and I’ll take you somewhere safe.”

The boy did not speak. He did not move. He simply stood there, an amused look on his face.

“Child,” Ben softened his voice as much as he could, the tone he would use with Chase. “What is your name?”

The room fell into sudden darkness. Even the crimson glow beyond the chamber doors grew distant and wan, a sickly tainted light filtering in from every direction.

A voice rang through the chamber, golden but intensely heartless, “Isn’t it obvious?”

It felt like Zeromus.

Overwhelming fear rushed through Ben’s body. A fear so immense there was nothing else that existed in his mind. There was room for nothing else.

A man in pitch black armor looked down at him from the dais, though Ben had not sensed him there before. Green eyes bore into him, nothing more than blazing points within the darkness of his helm. He was huge, a towering silhouette of hatred so fierce that Ben felt himself backing away.

The boy was a tiny glimmer of white beside him. The dark man dropped a familiar hand upon the boy’s shoulder, a palm so large it could easily consume the child’s whole face. Still, the boy did not seem alarmed.

Ben felt his body trembling. His tone betrayed his dread, “Child… please… Come to me!”

The boy just stood there. Simply stood.

The man in dark armor chuckled. He patted the child on the shoulder fondly, almost lovingly.

Ben’s own hand dropped, weakness sweeping over him. He took a step back, giving into the foreboding that raged within, “No. This can’t… this can’t be real…”

“We have been waiting for you to come,” the voice from the shadow was his own. There was no doubt that this was the Man of Darkness.

“You aren’t real! You can’t be!” the Half Lunar’s face twisted into a snarl, fists clamping around the hilt of his sword. He hadn’t even remembered bringing Onyx, but somehow it was there. The steel felt good between his fingers, the power gave him comfort. “I… I… destroyed you! You don’t exist anymore!”

“You are wrong,” the little boy spoke, his face very grave and very sad. “He and I are just as real as you are.”

“It was Zeromus! Not me! I wasn’t… I wasn’t really like that! He made me… he…”

The Man of Darkness chuckled, a hollow sound of little joy, “Is it really that simple?”

“I’m not listening to you!” Ben hissed at the man. “You just want to drag me down with your dark trickery! I’ve renounced it all!”

“But that’s where you’re wrong,” the child said again. “That’s where you are lying to yourself.”

Ben took a step back, fist still clamped tightly around Onyx. The blade pulsed between his fingers, humming with his dreadful, growing anger.

“We are within you. Both of us,” the boy tilted his head. “And because you can’t accept that, you can’t know yourself for who you really are.”

“What are you saying — that I can never escape the darkness?”

The boy smiled softly, “No. You said that. But this has nothing to do with who you were before. What’s most important now is who you wish to become.”

“Enough of this!” the Man of Darkness grated, his hand tightening upon the child’s shoulder. “You are a fool if you think that you can deny the deeds of your past. The death, the destruction, the hate and betrayal! You will never be free from the darkness. It is simply a part of you — the most powerful part of you!”

Ben snarled.

“This boy,” the Man of Darkness scoffed. “Your innocence. That’s what you want the most. But, it’s gone. And you can never have that back!”

There was a quick motion. A resounding crack.

The child gave a broken cry. His eyes grew wide for a moment, then fell distant. The boy crumpled, lifeless as the huge dark-armored fist closed around the back of his tiny neck and twisted with a swift snap.

NO!!

He became a pale and silent shape, discarded on the floor. The Half Lunar could only stare at the image of the child. Of the boy he once was… of the one thing he would give anything in the world to be once again.

And just as suddenly, he realized the words were true. It was gone. It was gone for good. And nothing that he would do, nothing that he denied, nothing he pretended to be, could make it live again.

NO!

The shock and pain of realization flared through Ben’s veins. Onyx was drawn. Tears of frustration and rage glittered in his eyes. The Man of Darkness carelessly stepped over the child’s still form, making his way down the stairs.

Ben hissed, stance low and deadly. He bared his teeth at the darkness, “I refuse to listen to anything you have to say!”

“Believe whatever you believe,” the voice was icy and cruel. “The truth stands unchangeable.”

“What do you want from me? Is it my power? ” the Half Lunar snarled, backing away as the dark shadow continued to advance. “You want it? You can take it! I never asked for it! I don’t want any part of it! All I ever wanted was–”

“What?” the Man of Darkness scoffed. He was so close that the air was sizzling around the blade of Spirit in Ben’s fist. “You want what?”

“That no one else suffer!” Ben choked, “I can’t stand to see any more death! No more pain! No more innocent lives destroyed!”

“Foolish. You speak a child’s wishes!”

“Maybe I do!” Ben barked, leaping forward, eyes blazing. The image of his innocence was etched in his mind, of the child lying motionless upon the floor.

Rage and hate blazed. Motion before thought.

Onyx swung back in a high arc, keening a song of victory. Then stabbing low. The blade speared straight through the dark armor, bursting out through the back. A spray of red speckled the grey stone floor.

A gurgling howl of surprised agony rang through the chamber.

As the Man of Darkness buckled, Ben shouldered forward and forced the blade further into his chest. Violently he twisted, tearing the gash wider. Then, the Half Lunar caught the weight as it fell back, kicking the body off the end of his sword.

The smell of leather and metal melting.

Ben tore at the man’s black helmet. He couldn’t stand to see it anymore. But it would not come free — it would never come free.

The Man of Darkness crumpled to his knees, clutching the gaping wound that was burning wider. Somehow staggering, he managed to lay himself out beside the tiny body of the child upon the stairs.

“You… are a fool, Golbez Benjamin Ya.” His voice gurgled, “You claim in words to seek the Light, yet you embrace the power of chaos and hatred. You still draw upon the power of your anger.”

No…

Ben backed away, a sickened look pasted on his face. Onyx rang, clattering to the floor, slick with deep crimson blood all the way to the hilt. His hands were stained red.

“And that is why… you and I… are one… and the same,” the Man of Darkness gave final a choking sigh, then lay very still.

It was only then that Ben realized he had failed.

Ch10-3 Final Reunion

~Protect this world. And love it with all your heart… as I did…~
“Golbez!!” Cecil’s voice echoed sharply off of the cold face of the summit. Stumbling out of the Rift and onto Mt. Ordeals had been the first shock. The next shock came when he and FuSoYa actually caught sight of the Master Wizard. He lifted his voice again, “Golbez!?”

His brother wasn’t responding. Curled up, knees clutched tightly to his broad chest, the Half Lunar’s cloak hung in tatters around his shoulders. His eyes were vacant, hair pouring down across his face. Cecil had never seen him like that before.

FuSoYa would have none of it. He pushed his way forward with a demanding tone, “Why did you have to go and do something so foolish, boy! Rifting away without a word! Where is Incrytan?”

Still there was no response. The Paladin reached out with his hand, clasping his brother’s shoulder. Just a slight shake.

Golbez was cold as death. The feel of decay and destruction was so thick in the air that the rocks of the mountain top steamed, a plume of grey like a signal fire. Only, there was no fire. The stone and the air itself were alive with power… green flickerings… and a pressure so great it pounded against his skull.

“Golbez?” When Cecil’s voice came, it was less than a whisper. “Shiva… what happened to him?”

“He’s… in great pain,” FuSoYa spoke slowly, a knowing gleam in his eye.

“Uncle?” Cecil’s voice was broken as he glanced over at the Lunarian Sage.

FuSoYa did not speak another word. His own expression was one of concentration, soaking in every detail. A deep regret. An overwhelming sadness. He was visiting his brother’s tomb. It was part of his very soul now.

“What… happened to him?” Cecil craned his head back to study the Summit. As if the mountain itself might give an answer, he asked, “Why? Why is he here? What did he do?”

What did he do…?

“The Trial,” the Paladin whispered, face slowly drain of color as it gained in realization. The paleness of his cheeks gave his eyes a brighter glow of fiery green. “No… Oh, Golbez… why?”

The Paladin King knelt beside his brother, placing a steady palm upon each of Golbez’s broad shoulders. Then, slowly tightening his hold he pulled the Half Lunar up to face him. For a moment, Cecil wanted to pull away. The sight of the deadened jade depths of the Master Wizard’s eyes was more frightening than the living glow that had once resided there. But he regained his senses and forced his grip to hold.

“Golbez?” His voice was gentle, “Answer me, brother. Tell me what happened?”

The Master Wizard blinked slowly. His gaze locked upon Cecil, a hissing whisper issuing forth.

“Ceccccilll… I…” Golbez raised a hand weakly, only succeeding in pawing at his brother’s face clumsily. Tears streaked down the wizard’s haggard face, “I failed…”

“Failed?” FuSoYa’s brows bristled sharply, hooded eyes peering down at the broken Half Lunar.

“I… failed. Cecil, I failed. I’m… I’m…” he continued to struggle, fighting to find the words.

“No…” Cecil stopped him with a tight jerk upon his shoulders. Tears stood in his eyes as well. “Don’t even say it! Don’t even think it! This… this.. it… means.. nothing! Nothing!”

Life drained back into Golbez’s eyes suddenly. A fierce raw anger, a fury out of nowhere. The Master Wizard snarled and Cecil drew away as his brother rose swiftly, snapping the air with his words.

“It means everything! Don’t you understand? I’ve failed! I’ve failed everything! Everyone! Father… Mother… Uncle Fu… you! The Blue Planet… everything…!” He loomed, standing tall over Cecil, body trembling.

What’s happened to him?

“Boy! Stop this!” FuSoYa attempted to intercept, only to be nudged back out of the way.

There was a fevered cast to Golbez’s expression, pure and simple rage. Cecil gave a shout of alarm as his brother scooped a handful of his shirt-front in one fist, nearly lifting the Paladin from his feet. His voice rose as he demanded through bared teeth, “What is the secret? Where is the light? You’ve got to tell me, Cecil! How do I find it? What do I do that’s always so wrong? Tell me!! TELL ME!!”

“G-Gol…bez!” Cecil clutched at the fist that held him. “It doesn’t work like that!”

“Then,” Golbez’s eyes had grown dark, the colors deepening, his voice menacingly low. “It’s all a lie. It must not exist after all.”

“No… that’s not what I mean!” Cecil flinched away.

“Then you mean, it exists. But just not for me,” Golbez’s gaze shot up, withering. The grip on the Paladin’s shirt tightened. “Never for me.”

Cecil gasped for air. He had drawn the Crystal Blade as a warrior’s reflex. The tension between the two brothers narrowed, Cecil’s face growing hard.

Then.

A sudden light.

And brilliant.

At first, Cecil couldn’t tell where the light was coming from – he wondered if it was a spell that Golbez had cast. But then he could see it, a flicker of white that seemed to be hovering in front of them both, not quite on the ground. A voice golden… powerful… familiar… emanated from within the swirling glow.

~This will not solve anything, my sons! Therefore…~

The glow dimmed, a pale shape growing from it, taking form. It was tall man – a good bit taller than Cecil’s height. He had long pale hair of iridescent white that cast about him, flowing in an unfelt wind. His eyes were soft green with flecks of unnamed colors swimming deep under a kind, gentle brow. A young, handsome face. A face lined with unmeasureable pain and patience. He stretched one shimmering hand towards Cecil, the other towards Golbez, stepping between the two.

~…Let it not be…~

Both brothers fell to their knees upon the sight.

“F-father!!” Golbez’s tone was strangled. Once again, he tucked himself together, eyes tightly shut, shivering in the light. As if he feared its touch.

Cecil’s blade clattered to the stone. Despite the fact the light was gentle, not frightening, he also felt a tremble rush through his body.

FuSoYa stumbled forward, mouth working with no sound. For the first time ever, there was a flood of emotion upon his wrinkled cheeks, an expression of pain and extreme loss. He, too, flinched from the light. He finally managed to splutter, “KluYa!?”

The light about the figure diminished completely, as the image stood strong enough to let one think that that this man was more than just a figment of the past. The power of his soul draped across the mountain. Everyone could feel it.

“Fu! So you finally came to visit me?” the Spirit turned towards ancient Lunar. A gentle smile drew across his face as he cocked his head slowly, kindly. There was a powerful love shimmering in his strange eyes. It nearly melted the cold depths of the mountain’s stone, “I’m happy to see you again, brother.”

“KluYa,” the Sage choked on the name again. Then his face twisted with a mutter, “You were always the troublemaker.”

“Has time been kind?” the Spirit continued, grinning conversationally. “I hope you are well?”

FuSoYa blinked as if he could not believe it. He slowly reached out and took his brother’s hand in his own. Then he knelt, words falling like tears. “I’m… so very sorry… Can you ever forgive an ignorant old fool?”

“Whatever are you babbling about Fu?” Father chuckled good naturedly. He pulled his brother to stand again, giving the old Lunar’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“Everything… All that has come to pass,” FuSoYa shook his head. “Is it all my fault?”

Golbez raised his head, a twitching motion. Shock was in his face, “Your fault? How, Uncle? It was mine?”

FuSoYa looked pained again, “It was my stubbornness that ran KluYa off to the Blue Planet. None of these events – nothing — would have happened if I hadn’t been such an unfeeling fool…”

“No, Fu. There is no blame on you,” Father shook his head slowly, reaching a hand down to both of his sons, drawing them to their feet as well.

The four of them clustered together, an awkward reunion.

The Spirit placed a gentle finger along side of first Golbez’s face, then Cecil’s. His expression spoke of a father’s longing. “My sons… You’ve both grown! I’m very proud of you. Both of you!”

Shock and awe left Cecil without a voice. Finally, here it was. His chance. And he had not a word to say.

Golbez didn’t seem to be having the same trouble. But when he opened his mouth to speak, Father deftly intervened.

“I know, Benjamin… You want to take the blame of the world upon your shoulders. But this is not true…” the Spirit shook his head to accent the point. “There is stain. Nothing that holds your soul from the light that you don’t create for yourself. There is only a string of time that has been in the making since the very first day. A line that you can trace back into the darkness of unconsciousness… to the Time Before. The fault cannot be yours, for there is always one who came before you that put into motion the very events that lead to your own.”

Cecil’s mouth had parted, his soft eyes staring fixed upon the vision before him. Longing. “Father… I… wish…”

“I know. So do I,” Father stroked a hand through the Paladin’s bushy white hair. Then he smiled softly. “You must never stray from your path of light, my son. Promise me?”

“I promise,” Cecil swallowed.

“Then my heart is at ease.”

Golbez turned away, shamefully. His voice cracked as he forced the words from between his lips, “I’m sorry, Father. I’m your failure. I wanted you to be proud of me. I wanted so much to be…”

“My Benjamin. My silly boy!” Father was laughing now, gently. Mirth lit up his eyes in a strangely familiar way. “Did you actually expect to be able to follow in Cecil’s path? When you have a path all your own waiting for you to discover it?”

Golbez lifted his head.

“The Light you seek, it exists. Never give up your quest for it. The world will wear at your heart but you must never give up hoping. And always… always…. be true to yourself.”

“How? I can’t remember my past at all… I don’t know myself. How can I be true to something I don’t know?” the Half Lunar gave a pleading look.

“To know yourself isn’t just to know your past. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge the past… but it’s just as important to embrace the present.” Father looked solemn, “Do not hide from your truth. No matter how terrible and dark it may seem… you have to face it. The only way you can begin to change and grow again is to understand that within each of us there is both the dark and the light. Then seek the balance between them.”

Golbez’s eyes began to shimmer suddenly. A passage of insight flowed into him, a visible wisdom.

“You have your own path in life to follow, as I said before. Not Cecil’s path. But your own,” the Spirit continued. “What works for one, does not always hold true for another. I would have kept you from entering this trial if I could have… but you were always a stubborn boy.”

FuSoYa followed with his own remark, “He must take after his father.”

“Fu…” the Spirit addressed him slowly, pausing to glance across the horizon. His form seemed somehow dimmer, less concrete. “There is so much I want to say to you but my time here is nearly done. My strength has lasted through the ages… and is now beginning to fail me. But I want you to know that of all the gifts I could ever have, to see all the ones I love… my sons and my brother… all together for one last time… is all I could ask for.”

“Father!” Cecil’s eyes widened in pain. “You’re going to leave us?”

“There must be a way that we can get you out of here!” Golbez’s head jerked around, “There must be something we can do!”

~Yes… There is something you can do, Benjamin.~

Slowly, the Spirit’s image began to fade, breaking away into tiny motes of light.

~Protect this world. And love it with all your heart… as I did…~

The shimmerings fluttered around their head like fireflies lost in the day time.

~That is my only wish.~

“Father! No! Don’t leave!” Golbez craned his head back, white hair wild, swept by the chill winds. His eyes fought to make out the light, to keep it just a little longer – his hands uplifted, straining for one last moment in unity. As he reached towards the sky, something small and round landed in his open palm, clanking with a metallic sound.

~Go now, my sons, with my love.~

There was a moment of shivering silence. And nothing more. Father had gone just as he had come. Upon the light.

“KluYa…” FuSoYa breathed finally. The reflection of tears stood in his eyes.

Golbez lowered his hand and peered into his open palm. Cecil could see a soft glow of deep green spreading from it, a color that matched the depths of the Master Wizard’s eyes. The illumination came from a large, round gem set into the heart of a medallion. Etched into the stone was the image of one planet orbited by four moons.

For a long moment, everything was very still. Cecil fought back the lump that threatened to rise in his throat. He could see that the others were doing the same.

This… isn’t how he would have wanted us to be. Father wants us to keep going. To protect the Blue Planet.

“Golbez… I…” when the Paladin turned around, he paused. There was a newfound glimmer in the light of his brother’s eyes.

“Father, I swear that I — Golbez Benjamin Ya — will do everything within my power to protect this world and the ones you love,” the Master Wizard closed his large fist around the glow of the green stone. He slowly lifted the chain over his head, placing the medallion around his neck. Then he peered up into the sky. “I will fulfill your wish and honor it… with my life.”

There was no answer. Only the sunlight slipping through the clouds above.

Ch10-4 Dirty Work

I hardly need mind magery at all. They’re all a bunch of slackers.
“So… what’s the word on the Fire Crystal?” the single burning eye of O.M.E.G.A. focused, a fixed green gaze in the middle of the night’s shadows. The shifting hiss of dark desert sands rose and fell like a petrified ocean in the distance.

Joran’s face was blank as her head turned towards him. Kip was a mind mage… one with the ability to take control of another’s mind and functions. Still, something about the vacant expression replacing one that had once been so full of life left a prickle over his skin. Her mind belonged to him. She would do what he desired without question or hesitation.

And the feeling made him sick.

“The Crystal is not within Damcyan Castle,” she answered with a monotone voice.

That had certainly not been the answer he had wanted or expected. “Are you positive?”

“Yes,” Joran looked at him with unblinking eyes. It had been a silly question for him to ask. She couldn’t lie to him even if she really wanted to.

The humans must be getting smart to the pattern… they think they can hide the Crystal so I can’t find it. Or remove it… so that it causes less damage to their precious city.

Kip traced lines in the sand with the tip of his toxic blade.

How cute.

Then he gave the ground a sharp stab that sent dust clouding up in a little puff at his feet.

It won’t save them, however.

Joran stood motionless. She hardly seemed to be breathing. That vacant face saw without seeing. And Kip felt sick again to see it.

“Get out of my sight,” he told her. Though the words were rough formed, the tone was not. Kip forced the regret out of his mind as he had to do so many times that night.

The girl did as she was told, curling up in a crook of stone in the back of the underground cavern. It was a natural desert cave positioned not too far from the castle-city of Damcyan. A perfect distance to study their terrain. To spy and gather information. To make plans for their next move.

We don’t have a lot of time. As soon as Golbez gets his head on his shoulders, he’ll figure out how to track us down. If I haven’t located and destroyed the last Light Crystal by then, things are going to get interesting. In a difficult sort of way.

And difficult was not what Kip wanted. He stabbed at the ground a few more times, a deep scowl crossing his face.

I’m still not exactly sure what Luccious’ game is with these Crystals. But so far, he’s pulled through on what he’s told me. So I guess I’m going to have to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing about Crystals.

O.M.E.G.A. pulled his gloves on one at a time. Then he double checked the straps of his tall black boots and his coat collar. Finally, finding everything satisfactory, he began to place lines of wards around the entrance of the little desert cave. Not that it was all that easy to find… nor did he think Joran would attempt to escape. But one could never know.

And O.M.E.G.A. had some work to do.

“I’ll return shortly… I’m going to the castle to scout out some information. You stay here and guard Incrytan, yes?” Kip glanced back over his shoulder at Joran.

The girl returned his words with a blank nod. It wasn’t as if she needed any verbal commands to know his imposed will. But maybe it just didn’t seem as rude if he gave her an explanation before leaving.

“Alright,” he gave a soft sigh before heading into the shroud of darkness outside the cave.

The desert was a dead place. So very fitting for what was about to play out. The sands churned around his feet, cast upon the chilling air. The lights of the distant human habitat shown like foolish beacons, leading O.M.E.G.A. straight towards his goal. He knew they were there, lying unaware in the night. Oblivious of the dangers that stalked them, the single burning eye that watched the flickering of their heart-fires in the distance.

Don’t worry. It’ll all be over with soon. Don’t struggle. I can make it quick and painless.

A twisted smile curved the corners of his mouth upwards as he finally came to the base of the tall stone wall. Sand beat against the structure like waves upon the ocean shore – rising, denied and falling. Time and again. The smooth lower half of the wall was slick from the wind’s relentless struggle. But there were still plenty of handholds for him to find.

O.M.E.G.A. pressed himself against the wall, inspecting his surroundings. After walking along the perimeter of the structure for a few more moments, he finally hoisted himself up and began to climb. It didn’t matter if anyone saw his ascent – they would not have the mind to remember what they saw when he got done with them.

You don’t see me. There’s nothing here out of the ordinary. Nothing at all.

Finally, O.M.E.G.A. pulled himself up to the top of the wall, balancing with one leg up over the edge. Below, he could see the shadows of guards dotting the courtyards. Some were doing their quiet rounds. Others were chatting and joking with each other at their posts. A game of dice was in its height at a crowded table somewhere on the other side of the hedges.

Kip frowned.

I hardly need mind magery at all. They’re all a bunch of slackers.

Then he flipped himself over to the other side of the wall, carefully sliding down hand over hand in the shadow of a wide leafy tree. The only sound came when his boots crunched on the stone on the other side. After being out in the desert world, it came as a surprise to see plantlife actually flourishing on the inside of the castle.

I guess when you got as much money as a king, you can buy ways to make a flower grow in the desert.

With the cheers and jeers from the distant dice game as his cover, O.M.E.G.A. easily slipped from the courtyard into the dry stone corridor. He moved swiftly, his mind ever vigilant to turning the eyes of anyone curious enough to glance his way. Tiny thought pulses were all that he needed. It didn’t take him long to pick his way through the narrow halls to the heart of the castle. Where the Crystal of Fire once had been kept.

Kip needed information. And he knew the best place to get it was still in the Crystal chamber. Even if the Crystal no longer remained there.

As he crept up to the area outside the throne room, O.M.E.G.A. found the doors to be shut fast for the night. Undaunted, he slipped closer, using the pattern of shadows as his shroud. There was but one lone guard left there on the night watch – no doubt the humans thought that there was nothing left to guard with the Crystal itself no longer present.

They were wrong.

O.M.E.G.A.’s hand shot out of the shadows, clamping firmly on the back of the other man’s throat, just between the plates of helm and neckguard. Armor was made to keep out a blade… but it could never withstand the malicious mind mage. One touch was all it took – flesh against flesh. The pulse of fatal will. And the human belonged to him.

Delving. Deep into memory-images.

Sorting through them piece by piece to find what was needed. The image of the hazy glow of the Crystal of Fire flickered into O.M.E.G.A.’s mind-eye. Connecting deeper, he could see the memory as if it had been his own.

The man was frozen under his fingertips. The only trace of life in him was the soft, periodic moan and shallow, hoarse breath. Terror. The dull, rapid thrumming of his frightened heart. All of these things O.M.E.G.A. could feel – he was both himself and his victim. The Master and the slave.

“Quiet now,” his raspy voice hissed in the guard’s ear. “We’re going to think about the Fire Crystal. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Once again the focus shifted to a hazy memory. The Crystal of Fire. It was taken down from its pedestal by the young king of Damcyan. Then wrapped away in a thick red cloth.

“Where did it go from there?” O.M.E.G.A. prodded, tightening his grip on the man’s throat.

Men walking. A royal guard escorting the King. Escorting the Crystal away. This guard had not been in the escort though. His memories stopped there.

“I need a location,” the voice growled low.

A twinge of fear shivered through the guard’s body. His mind was reeling, searching hard for the information that would please his Master. A crudely drawn image began to form, black on a wrinkled brown-like parchment. As O.M.E.G.A. concentrated, he could make out the details of a map. A map of the Damcyan desert lands.

The guard had not been part of the escort. But he was familiar with the Crystal’s final destination.

“Good… yes. That’s it…”

The map became clearer and clearer, superimposed upon the memory of what seemed to be a sand-blown city. A city with tall, brown spires that lay broken and scattered under the pressing blue, cloudless sky. A city that opened up into a deep cavern below, a place where people had once lived in the shelter of the cool underground.

It was here that the people of Damcyan took refuge in times of war, storms and need. And though it was now completely abandoned, it was here that the humans had chosen to hide the Crystal of Fire.

O.M.E.G.A. lingered upon the memory for a while, ignoring the pleading gasps of his victim. He burned the image of the crumpled city into his mind. The details of the ragged map thrummed in his vision with the beating of the man’s heart.  Faster and faster. Until limbs began to jerk and convulse.

What’s this..?

The hand opened in a last moment act of mercy. O.M.E.G.A. watched as the human dropped, crumpled against the blank stone of the wall. He lay unmoving, but alive, shifting strands of silver light rising like ghostly smoke from his body.

Mindmelding has never had that sort of effect before.

Then his thoughts cast back to the words of Luccious. To the power that was gifted to him. And a frown drew over O.M.E.G.A.’s lips. But there was no more time to waste thinking. The final piece of the puzzle was in place.

O.M.E.G.A. wove his fingers through the air, hovering above the guard’s head. The man’s breathing deepened, the semblance of sleep falling over him. And memory of the terror of the mindmeld became nothing more but a twisting dream of strangeness that would be shrugged away upon waking. Anyone without a trained eye would simply see a man who had fallen asleep on duty.

Not that the humans can do much to stop this. But it’s still best to cover the tracks and leave them as little warning as possible.

The shadows welcomed him back, muffling his footsteps along the corridors. His hand reached down, fingers searching in the pocket within his coat. There sat the bundle, safe as it had been since Bradhoc had given it to him in Baron.

The last Dark Crystal.

How a human had managed to get his hands on such a thing, O.M.E.G.A. didn’t know. It had probably had something to do with connections to Luccious… and things that were better left unspoken. But the matter was that Bradhoc had. And during their meeting in Baron, the Dark Crystal had been given to O.M.E.G.A.

The location of the Crystal of Fire was all there was left. Now that we know where it is, we can destroy the last of the Blue Planet Crystals and turn our sights on the Lunar Planet.

How they were meant to get there, he was unsure of. But so far, Luccious had his ways of making things happen… which said a lot for a guy who was supposedly sealed away on the other side of the spirit world. Kip had decided long ago when he had cut his bargain to sit back and let the situation unfold as it would.

It’s not as if there is much to lose.

Making his way out of the castle was just as easy as slipping in. Every now and then, a guard call rang out over the courtyard, accented by the motion of armored feet. Still, for all of their number, Kip found it easy enough to stick to the shadows and turn their attention away from his activities. Inch by inch, stone by stone, he made his way towards the outer wall.

It wasn’t so much the escape from Damcyan that played on his concerns.

This could make things more difficult if word gets out.

He knew that it would only be a short matter of time before the loss of the Dark Crystal was reported. And O.M.E.G.A. only had a small window of opportunity to reach the Fire Crystal before Golbez and the others realized what was really going on. But it would be long enough.

I have to make it long enough.

By the time he finally landed on the other side of the fortress line, the midnight was hanging heavy over the desert world. There was no better time to travel than that, he knew. And time wasn’t something they had a lot of.

Once O.M.E.G.A. reclaimed Joran, they would begin their journey to find the sunken city in the sand.

Ch10-5 On the Edge

A quiet voice from the doorframe caused the room’s confusion to fall silent, “I am here.”
“You think the dude’s gonna be alright? He’s just been sitting there staring at his amulet all day,” Palom’s voice rose from the other side of the half open door. Try as the boy might, it was impossible for him to keep the sound down. It was followed promptly by the hissing shush of his sister.

“I hope so,” Chase’s somber reply was enough to make the Master Wizard lift his head.

People were worried about him. It was a strange occurrence.

Ben wanted to speak out to the children, but he had discovered it was difficult to find his voice since he had returned from Mt. Ordeals. Though he had not passed the trial on the mountain, something else had happened. Having seen the image of his father’s spirit, something had changed within him. Though he didn’t have the words to describe it.

He didn’t have words at all.

All he had been able to do was study the soft gleam of the medallion in his palm. And run the words and images through his mind until they all became a blur of emotion.
Father said I had to make my own way. That it wouldn’t be the same as Cecil’s. Maybe all this time I’ve been measuring myself up to something I could never become… something I was never supposed to be. But still…

Walking away from the summit, Ben had discovered he didn’t know. He really didn’t know. What it all meant. Who he was. Who he was meant to become. So many more questions had sprang up in his mind… when he had gone there to find the answers.

But there was one answer that had become clear to him while watching the terrible shift of memory and magic within the trial on the mountain. It was the one sure thing he took away from it all.

I’m not the Dark Lord Golbez anymore. I’m Benjamin Ya…

As if on cue, another voice added to the small conference outside in the hallway. The sound of welcome from the children to a familiar face. And the door slowly creaked inwards, permitting a shock of white hair and deep green eyes to pass within.

Ben’s mouth opened slightly as he managed one quiet word, “Cecil?”

The young Paladin King’s face had grown softer since they returned from Mt. Ordeals, if only a little. Though his eyes were still serious, still carried the weight of his nation, there was something kinder there when he saw his brother. As if having attempted the trial, even in losing, had brought some sort of new kinship between the two.

Despite this, there was still a hesitance, “Golbez… you weren’t down for lunch. Rosa wanted me to check on you.”

“Oh,” Ben didn’t know how to answer the concern. He rolled the medallion around between his fingers a few times before adding, “Uh… um… thanks?”

“Did you get anything to eat?”

“I…” he shook his head slowly.

Cecil paused. Then he dropped the indirectness that was so awkward to uphold. “Are you alright, Golbez?”

There was genuine worry there. So much that Ben’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.

The young Paladin King made his way to the chair across from the bed and sat down. Propping his boots up on foot stool, it was probably the most casual that Ben had ever seen his brother. At once, he wondered what was wrong.

“I’ll be fine Cecil. I just…” his voice trailed off, contesting the content of his words.

“I don’t know what you saw on the summit,” came his brother’s quick reply, “But I understand how it makes you feel. How you start to question every fabric in your body. How you are more confused after it’s all done than you were when you went up to the mountain.”

Ben’s mouth fell open. Then he nodded slowly. “Yes… yes. Exactly.”

“At the risk of sounding harsh… don’t dwell on it too much, Golbez,” Cecil murmured. “It’s been five and some years since I took the Trial. I still haven’t found all the answers to the questions that I walked away with.”

A lopsided smile crossed the Master Wizard’s face, “You’re only 25 years old, Cecil. You’re not supposed to have all the answers.”

The Paladin paused for a moment, mulling the thought. As if he never considered his youth in the midst of all the other pressures of the world. His green eyes flickered up and he gave a similar smile, “Well, neither are you.”

Ben’s smile broadened to a grin in spite of himself, “Logic well played, brother.”

“I suppose I’m good at something sometimes?” Cecil almost gave a laugh.

So they sat for a moment, on the edge of something that resembled brotherly kinship. On the edge of a smile and a laugh. Things they had rarely had the chance to enjoy. They both knew the next words that came would shift the tone. And that it wasn’t something either of them could avoid. So silence was kind for a short time.

Cecil was the first to speak again, “There’s been reports of strange happenings across the Blue Planet.”

“Oh?” Ben’s eyebrow rose slightly. “What kind of happenings?”

“Things that shouldn’t be… rain storms in the Damcyan, ices in the forests of Troia, heat scorching the island of Eblana,” came the grim answer. “It’s because of the Crystals, isn’t it?”

The Master Wizard nodded slowly. “Yes… it’s difficult for the Blue Planet to maintain elemental balance with only one dark and light Crystal existing. And the pull of the other Crystals of the Moon is still connected, so far away.”

“That’s… kind of what I thought,” Cecil sighed and began to fold and unfold the hem of his cloak. Though he was adverting his eyes now, the sound of his voice gave him away.

“There’s something else going on, isn’t there?” Ben asked, slowly sitting up.

The Paladin sighed again, his expression searching for the right words. When he spoke, it was slow and calculated, “Rosa and I… and the others… talked about it. We weren’t so sure that you were ready after everything on the mountain… but…”

The elder brother nodded, encouraging Cecil to continue.

“We probably can’t do this without you. And it is your Crystal… so…”

“What’s this about, Cecil?” Ben finally interjected.

“We’ve had word,” the Paladin paused again. “From Leviathan in the Underground.”

“Really? And..?”

“Edhan brought news that the final Dark Crystal is missing. Someone has managed to take it, though we don’t know how,” Cecil frowned, finally putting it all out between them.

“Oh no…” his voice fell low as the brunt of the news fell on his shoulders. “That’s all they need to…”

“I know,” the Paladin’s face was grim.

“How long ago did you…”

“About an hour or so. Edhan just got here and came immediately to make his report,” Cecil answered.

“How long have they…”

“I’m not sure. I know that they sent word as soon as they found out. But it may have been missing longer than they were aware of.”

“Do you always know what my questions are going to be before I finish asking them?” Ben gave a droll look.

Cecil paused with a sheepish look. “Sorry?”

Ben fell silent for a moment, thoughts deepening. They had not wanted to tell him, to worry him more… and had spent precious time debating on if he should be included. Now that he was, he knew he couldn’t just sit by. No matter how confused. No matter what his feelings were.

Father’s last wish was to protect this world… that’s what I have to do.

Cecil was watching him with an uncertain face. As if he didn’t know whether or not they had done the proper thing by breaking the news. He watched quietly as his brother struggled, then silently lifted his head.

“Where is the Crystal of Fire right now?” Ben finally asked.

The Paladin gave out a long, relieved breath, knowing the question was an attempt of moving forward. That Ben had decided to take action.

“It’s been taken outside of the city, to an underground location in the desert. Edward knows how destructive the other Crystals have been… and with the elements acting crazy… he decided it was too dangerous to risk keeping the Crystal in the city,” Cecil answered, detailing in a very straight voice. “It’s under heavy security, though. And the place it’s being kept is relatively secret to everyone outside of the Damcyan royalty and the royal guard.”

“Good idea…” Ben murmured. “But do you know where it is?”

“Not… exactly,” the Paladin winced slightly.

“But you’re the King? Shouldn’t you know these things?”

“Yes, but you don’t go asking other kings to divulge information on national secrets and security?” Cecil spread his hands. “I never needed to know the location of this place until now.”

Ben groaned, “Humans…! So difficult!”

“We can head to Damcyan anyhow. I’m sure once we get there we can get the answers we need.”

“And lose time going through the whole process and flying there?” he grimaced more.

“What else could we do?” Cecil asked, meeting frown for frown.

“If I knew the location, I could open a rift there.”

“Oh, the rifts again,” it was Cecil’s turn to groan.

“Well it’s a lot faster than a ship. But I can’t do it if I don’t know–”

“Ben!” the sound of Chase calling his name from the hallway outside broke through the conversation.

The two men turned, both rather surprised that the young Page could muster such a strong voice. Before either of them could make a response, the group of children came bustling into the room. Led by a wide-eyed Chase, Palom and Porom both gave anxious looks and open mouths.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry for interrupting, Your Majesty,” the Page was the only one to think of propriety at the moment. But his apologies were mowed over by his more gregarious companions.

“DUDE! She was a bird! And now she’s a girl! It’s a bird-girl!” Palom stammered, then added. “She’s a chick!”

Porom didn’t miss a beat to elbow him in the chest.

“What?” Cecil just stared at them with the most puzzled expression that his brow could make.

A quiet voice from the doorframe caused the room’s confusion to fall silent, “I am here.”

Ben’s chin jerked up, staring at the girl that stood there. Long dark hair framed her pale face, streaming down over the shoulders of her dark black robes. Her eyes were endless black pools as she folded a pair of small black wings at her back.

It’s her… it’s the girl that appeared during the meeting we had when I first got here. The one that seems to know about…

“Sygnus,” the girl peered past the children, towards where the two brothers sat. It wasn’t apparent which one she was addressing. “The time is drawing to a close. The last Blue Planet Crystal will be destroyed. And then the Crystals of the once-Red Moon will follow. When that is done, the Bane will be released over your lands.”

“I don’t understand…” Cecil had gotten to his feet, eyes never leaving the vision in front of him.

“Of course you don’t,” she replied curtly.

“Who are you? Where did you come from and why are you here?” the questions rushed out of the Paladin’s lips. It was obvious that he recognized her, too. And this time, he didn’t want her to get away before he had his answers.

The girl just gave him a long, quiet look. It was obvious that she had no fear of Blue Planet authority. Nor would she answer to demands.

“Please…” Ben tried a different approach, softening his voice as he would talking with children. “What is your name?”

Afterall… she looks like a little girl. So she might be one?

To his surprise, she did respond to the shift in tone, “You may call me Sparrow. And I have been sent here to guide you.”

“To Incrytan?” Ben asked.

“To the Crystal of Fire?” Cecil echoed.

Sparrow gave a tiny smile as she spoke, “To your birthright.”

Ch10-6: City on the Sand

“Joran! I said stay put!”
Why is it not surprising that the secret human city is nothing more than a glorious hole in the ground?

Sure, Kip could see a few leaning sand-rock pillars that spouted to the sky here and there. Some of the tilework still remained, looking to have once been decorated with intricate colors and patterns.

But this was now bleached away by years in the relentlessly burning sun. Most of the structures were lost to piles of sand and grit. The only thing that was remotely visible was the chiseled set of steps that led to the caverns somewhere far below the desert heat.

And those were being aptly guarded at the moment.

It had taken Kip and Joran the better part of the night to make their way over the expanse of sand. Luckily, they had run across what seemed to be a merchant’s trail early in their journey. And even more luckily, the trail had been pointed in the general direction that they needed to travel.

Not so lucky for the merchant though.

O.M.E.G.A. had found it hardly a test of his skill to persuade the local cart merchant that his life was worth far more than the use of a chocobo cart and the wares it carried. Though he generally frowned upon theft from the lower classes, Kip was tired of shaking the sand out of his boots.

Now if only Joran was as easy to keep pacified.

Kip had never run across trouble quite like this before. Usually, when he pressed his will into the mind of someone else, they stayed fast under his control. He wasn’t sure if it was because Joran was rejecting the control that much – eventually he had needed to take her free will completely in order to get done what needed to be done. He didn’t know if the close possession of a powerful item like Incrytan was interfering.

No matter what the reason, O.M.E.G.A. had found Joran occasionally wandered off to do her own thing, despite his direct orders. This made it difficult to complete tasks that required stealth and careful planning.

Like what we have going on now.

O.M.E.G.A. studied the stairway ahead.

Seems like about four or five guards on station. Two are standing by… a few of them are working front-door rounds. I wonder what would work better. Direct mind magery or a diversion.

He pursed his lips, one hand reaching out as the Lunar girl wandered too close to the edge of the pillar where they were hiding. Kip put a little emphasis on her name as he commanded, “Joran. Stay still.”

The girl stopped, standing motionless. Somewhere in the pouch at her side, Incrytan crooned quietly, giving off a flickering light. The reaction to being so close to the Crystal of Fire, Kip speculated.

“Just a little while more,” Kip told the girl, adjusting the tightness on his headband. “We have a few more things to do. And when this is all over with, I’ll make sure you get back home to the rest of the Lunars. How about that?”

Joran didn’t respond. Not that he expected her to.

“Though it probably warrants a good mind wipe,” he continued in speculation. “What you don’t remember can’t hurt you. And it’s probably best you don’t remember any of this.”

A life without strange Key Crystals. Without Golbez or O.M.E.G.A.  A life without memory of the death and destruction upon the Blue Planet. Of being played as a pawn in a game far beyond what one girl deserved.

Yes. It’s probably better that way.

But first thing was first. They had to find a way into the Chamber of the Fire Crystal where they could—

“Joran! I said stay put!” O.M.E.G.A. commanded again, a slight hint of irritation to his voice as he drew the girl back to him. “Do you want those men to see you? Do you think they could help you? Trust me. You’d be in far more danger from them than from me.”

Again, Joran fell still.

Again, O.M.E.G.A. put his mind back on the patrol before him. He didn’t know how much time they had before everything came falling down. But a proper plan was in order to make sure things got done.

We only have one shot at this. And if Joran balks at my command to use Incrytan against the last Crystal, this could get sticky. He took in a deep breath, eye scanning the motion of the armored men.

Maybe the cover of night would be best. I wager we have a few hours until sundown. And humans seem to lose a few points of IQ when liquor and dice start getting passed around.

His concentration broke as he felt Joran shifting at his side once again. Making her way out from behind the broken pillar. This time, he didn’t use words. Simply a focused, powerful command. His mind closed around her senses, working to pull her back.

And he found himself completely repelled.

What?!

With a resounding mental snap, O.M.E.G.A. jerked back. His burning eye widened. His hand flew up to clutch his head as pain flooded his mind. He spat curses in multiple languages as he fought to regain his composure.

How did she—

“Halt! What is your business here?” came the gruff intonation of one of the guards on patrol.

No..! Joran, you fool!

But as Kip peered out from behind the safety of the pillar, his irritation shifted into surprise. And then into a cold churning deep in the pit of his stomach.

The Lunar girl was tiny standing in the presence of the group of human men. But a light radiated from her. A light that could have only one source. Kip watched in mute shock as the girl drew Incrytan from her side. He watched as the shimmer danced in the widened eyes of the guards.

“Is that the…?” one of the men stammered, staring.

“No. It can’t be. No one’s gotten inside?”

A strange shifting of silvery mists began to condense, flowing from the light between Joran’s hands. An unnatural wind began to move the sands around her bare feet, playing through her loose white hair. Though Kip could not see her face, he could feel. And what he felt terrified him.

“Little girl, you’re going to hand that over now,” one of the men reached a hand towards Incrytan.

“Gladly,” Joran answered in perfect common. The voice was not her own.

He didn’t know why. He didn’t know what prompted him. Humans were, afterall, humans. But Kip found himself leaping from behind the pillar in a flurry. Rushing forward with an upraised hand. Mouth open to call a warning to them.

But it was too late.

The Crystal illuminated the smoking dunes, its light spreading in silent death before it. The men were consumed instantly, lost to the blinding flash. When Kip could see again, their bodies were splayed upon the ground as an eerie white mist rose from the cracks in their armor.

It took a moment before he could manage words, a strangled sound from between his lips, “What… have you done?”

When Joran turned, he could see at once that it was not her. Green eyes had grown pale, almost silver in color. Her face was contorted, lip curled in disdain. And the voice that came was no longer her own, “You are wasting time, KiNaTu.”

Luccious…

A chill rushed over Kip’s body. For a moment, he was speechless. His mind reeled as he began to piece things together. “You didn’t have to kill them.”

“Their spirits will serve a higher purpose now,” came the emotionless reply.

O.M.E.G.A. lowered his brow, “You can release Joran. We will see to it that the job is carried out.”

“No. I think I will not,” her eyes peered straight through him.

“Why?”

“Her connection to Incrytan makes her a valuable vessel.”

Kip balled his fist, surprised at his own words, “I don’t want her getting hurt.”

A slow, chilling smile crossed the girl’s face, “You should have thought of that before you brought her here.”

Then, without another word, Joran began to walk forward. The pulse of Incrytan rose and fell with the cadence of her heartbeat. Her bare feet stepped lithely over the darkened lumps the fallen guards who had been standing watch at the far end of the stairs. One upraised hand was all it took and the heavy door groaned open.

Something sick reeled through Kip’s stomach. But no matter what he tried, he could not pull the girl back under his control.

This was not part of the deal!

Joran paused, her voice echoing back at her, “Is there something you want to say, KiNaTu?”

Through bared teeth, he spat, “I only have one target. The rest of these humans do not need to be pulled into this!”

“And just what did you think would happen to these people once all the Crystals in this world are destroyed?” she asked.

Again, O.M.E.G.A. found himself without an answer. Just a cold silence in his chest.

“You will get what you desire,” the girl began to walk forward again, obscured by the darkness of the underground cavern ahead. “And I will get what I desire. Everything else that comes between is inconsequential.”

Kip opened his mouth to answer. But before he could find the words, another voice carried over the dunes.

“Quickly! Incrytan is here! I can feel it!”

O.M.E.G.A.’s head jerked around instantly.

Golbez!

First he felt them. Then he could see them. It was Golbez and his companions, striding over the broken sandstone tiles towards the cavern’s entrance. Drawn by the presence of the Key Crystal.

Kip should have stopped to wonder how they had gotten there so quickly… how they had known to find them at the secret desert city. He should have considered staying close to Joran to be sure that no further guards met their fate for stepping between her and the Crystal of Fire. He should have done so many things at that moment.

But at the sight and sound of Golbez, O.M.E.G.A. raged through Kip’s mind. His body shook under its swelling influence. His eye flamed with renewed fury and fervor. His hands gripped the haft of his bladed staff, lips peeling back as his mouth formed a frothy snarl.

“You will get what you desire — your second chance,” Joran’s voice was haunting as she continued to descend the stairway. Her form became nothing but shadow outlined by Incrytan’s pale glow.

As the group rounded the broken pillar, Golbez’s eyes flickered up, focusing on the dark form of the Athrylith. There was a momentary blink of surprise. Then there was anger. Deep, pounding rage boiling behind the two green eyes of his enemy.

A rage that was matched only by the magnitude of O.M.E.G.A.’s own.

“Golbezzz…” he hissed. Then, with a twisted smile and insane trailing laughter, O.M.E.G.A. sprang forward.

Ch10-7: Final Confrontation

When their weapons finally came together, the caverns rang an echo of their maddened fury.

“O.M.E.G.A.!” the word rang out with pure rage. Ben’s glare was locked upon his enemy, Onyx’s blade gleaming in his hands.

The Athrylith was advancing so fast it looked like his feet never touched the ground. When their weapons finally came together, the caverns rang an echo of their maddened fury.

“What have you done to her?” Ben demanded, his voice rumbling like muted thunder. He threw his full strength forward, driving the other mage back by raw strength alone.

“You mean Joran?” O.M.E.G.A. gave a slick smile, dodging under the bigger man’s wild slashes. He bounded backwards, the motion followed by crazy, haunted laughter. The single burning eye only taunted him, “Wouldn’t she be happy to know you were concerned?”

Too livid for further words, the Master Wizard thrust his hand out in a silent command.

She’s innocent!

He knew the elements of the Blue Planet were erratic with only one Crystal left to keep them in check. Skewed magic. Out of balance. And as dangerous as his own blind fury.

Still, Ben called to it. And the distorted power came.

How dare you take her mind from her!

The earth shook. Sand scattered. Tall fountains of white-hot flame burst out of the ground, thrusting upwards towards the darkening sky. O.M.E.G.A. managed to dodge back to the perceived safety of the chiseled stairway. Yet, as he landed, the ancient stone of the city’s foundation cracked.

How dare you take away her will!

O.M.E.G.A. hissed, fighting to catch his balance. Between the blasting heat and unsteady ground, he was obviously rethinking his approach.

I will protect her!

Clouds were developing across the sky at an accelerated rate. Clouds that were never seen in the thin expanse of the desert lands. A green crack of lightning split the air and outlined the tilted sandstone pillars, followed by the sound of unnatural thunder.

“Golbez!” Cecil’s shout could hardly be heard above the howling of the incoming storm.

The clouds had begun to spiral, moving in a telltale pattern… one that most mages only knew from the old legends. The sky had grown crimson, reflecting the Master Wizard’s fury. Somewhere beyond the clouds came a distant roar, a sound that the lands of the Blue Planet had heard only few times before.

“Cecil!” Edge shouted hoarsely. “Stop him before he kills us all!”

“Ben!” Chase’s voice pleaded, fighting to rise above the storm.

But he was already part of it. Tapped into the flow of the erratic Blue Planet energies. And in a moment of release, the sky opened up. A silent rush of heat lit the air as burning meteors blasted through the clouds, slamming again and again into the remains of the desert city below.

“Take cover!” Cecil shouted. He was urging everyone towards the safety of the open cavern maw ahead. “Inside! Inside!”

O.M.E.G.A. had already disappeared through the doorway in retreat. It was Ben’s turn to smile – even if his magic had not struck home, it felt good. Really good.

Go ahead… run away. Who is hunting who now, O.M.E.G.A.?

His own eyes burned flaming green as he strode forward calmly, in a measured pace, towards the cracked stairwell. Everywhere around him the earth shook, sand spraying in all directions as the meteors cannonballed into dunes and stone. The broken city groaned under the pressure of the burning sky.

Somewhere ahead of him, Ben knew that O.M.E.G.A. was racing to aid Joran. To see that the final Crystal was destroyed.

“Are you, crazy?” Edge almost howled as the Master Wizard reached the stairs. Seeing his protest was going to be ignored, he put himself straight into the path of the bigger man. He was shoved roughly to the side, which made him protest all the more. “Cecil! I told you! I told you that he’d turn on us!”

“Wait!” Cecil demanded sharply, catching his brother’s arm.

“There’s no time!” Ben retorted over his shoulder, attempting to push past. “O.M.E.G.A. has everything he needs to destroy the last Crystal!”

“I know that!” the Paladin shouted back. “But you have to get a grip on yourself! You’re acting no better than he is!”

“You don’t understand, do you?” the Master Wizard snarled, jerking out of his brother’s grasp. “He’s not going to stop until one of us is dead. And now Joran is caught in the middle of this! He’s giving me no choice!”

“Golbez!” Cecil’s final shout didn’t stop him.

Onyx was burning green in his fist. It was just enough light for him to see by as he raced down the wide stone steps. The air grew heavier. More stale. Harder to breathe. Every now and then the caves around him would shift and crackle, causing his step to falter.

Ben didn’t know if the others were following or not. All of his senses were bent on O.M.E.G.A. and Incrytan. Both were somewhere not far ahead.

He came upon O.M.E.G.A. first.

The Athrylith was leaning over the shapes of three motionless bodies. It was hard to tell if their death had been due to meeting the O.M.E.G.A. or been caused by something else. Ben didn’t stop in his advance to ask. The whistle of Onyx filled the cavern as he swung the blade down at the crouching mage.

But O.M.E.G.A. was just as fast, his staff arching around. Blade on blade sparked green and violet, lighting up the slick walls and accenting the anger on the Master Wizard’s face. Seeing he was far from having the upper hand at that point, O.M.E.G.A. thrust back. Finding an opening in the battle, he lunged and made a mad dash, heading further down into the depths of the underground city.

Ben chased him, recklessly. He felt the jolt of a silent mind-blow slam him from the side, knocking him hard against the wall. The Athrylith was doing everything he could to slow his rival. Unphased, Ben just shook himself out and continued the chase.

These stairs have got to end sometime… and when they do…

Soon enough, they did. Ben found himself rushing into a great underground hall that reminded him vaguely of the throne room in Baron. Though it was now dark, damp and full of the scent of un-use, he could see where long banners once had hung between tall carved pillars of stone. A pattern of dingy color still stretched across the floor, having weathered time a bit better than the stonework on the surface of the desert.

Only a few yards away, light and shadow stretched across the room, struggling between themselves – the Light and Dark Crystals of Fire… and Incrytan. Standing upon the steps of a narrow carved dais with both arms outstretched, was the tiny shape of the Lunar girl. Her back was to them as they entered the vast room. She did not turn in response or make any motion that she knew they were there.

“Joran!” Ben’s voice bellowed across the room. Momentarily, his anger was forgotten at the shock of the scene that was unfolding. “Joran, don’t do it!”

But before he had a chance to plead, O.M.E.G.A. was upon him. The burning green eye flickered as the bladed staff hissed at him in relentless blows. The cold gleaming smile reflected in the pulse of Crystal light, and Ben realized that this is exactly what O.M.E.G.A. had wanted. What seemed like a chase and a retreat had played him into the Athrylith’s hands again.

When the Crystals are destroyed, the energy will be released. And when it is…

O.M.E.G.A. had made sure he was close enough to the release. He would absorb the Crystal’s energy as he had done the last time. And last time, if Joran had not intercepted with Incrytan, Ben would have been hard pressed to hold his own.

“Bingo,” the sing-song voice answered with another slash of his blade. “You’re a bright boy, Benjamin. I knew you’d catch on.”

“No!” Ben’s mind raced, all of his concentration now bent on defending against the blows.

Time was running out. The keening of the Crystals filled his mind. He staggered under the weight of the energy that flooded the room.

“Golbez!” Cecil’s voice rose above the rush of power.

Faintly, Ben could make out the group as they arrived at the foot of the stair. Cecil’s white hair glimmered in the increasing intensity of the glow, almost seeming to flame in holy light. Rosa gripped his arm, at his side, blue eyes squinting into the room.

Edge stood with both swords ready, stance unyielding. Rydia took one more step forward, luminous green in the elemental light. Uncle Fu was there, his face as solid and stern as the stone pillars around them. Somewhere behind the group, the shadow of the Dragoon Kain shifted, face sharp and focused.

Just on the other side of Rosa, Chase’s golden eyes reflected the Crystals’ light. How the child had managed to squirm his way into the group yet again, Ben did not know. The boy now watched the scene below with a mixture of awe and trepidation.

“We have to stop it!” Ben called back to them. Hoping beyond hope that the once-heroes of the Blue Planet could do something. Anything. That they could once again protect their world… where he had failed.

But even as the Paladin drew his blade to take a step forward, the air crackled and shattered. For a frozen moment, everything was silent. And then Ben found himself thrown back, blasted by the rush of power that swelled through the room.

The light was blinding. It enveloped everything, seeping into his eyes, his nose, his mouth– into every pore in his being. He had no voice to shout. He had no ears to hear. It felt as if everything was coming apart within him – piece by piece.

When his mind began to make sense of things, he could hear O.M.E.G.A.’s manic laughter pounding in his skull. Sweat streamed down Ben’s face as he fought to lift his head. The pain that inflicted him now was not from the Crystal’s blast, he realized. It was the power of O.M.E.G.A. seeking to tear him apart from the inside out.

The room shook under Ben’s knees as he struggled to find the strength to fight back. But the Crystal’s power pulsed through him. It numbed his senses. His limbs refused to respond. O.M.E.G.A. loomed over his bent form like a pillar of darkness, crackling in a wild violet light.

How… did he get so powerful?

The weight of his Will was enormous. The power of directed hate. Of focused destruction. Of deep pain and loss transformed into insanity that burned behind the green eye.

Even before, it wasn’t like… this…

Through the curtain of hazy pain, Ben could make out the shouts of the others as they tried to reach him. But O.M.E.G.A.’s will was bent, deflecting their attempts with frightening viciousness. Ben was left to struggle on his own, fighting to remain conscious.

There’s something else here. Some other kind of power?

The ground shivered and shook under the impact of the Crystal’s destruction. Battle shouts rang dimly, echoing from the walls of the underground hall. Though Joran was nowhere to be seen, a vast illumination rose from the heart of the Crystal’s destruction. All too late, Ben realized that O.M.E.G.A. was not their only worry.

The Elemental Dragon!

The vast roar shook the foundations of the city as the beast expanded, wings of flame stretching to fill the hall. It was met with the sound of dismay as the warriors turned to face yet one more foe, standing at the brink of the Blue Planet’s writhing pain. Heat of flame filled the chamber as the Dragon took form, choking their lungs with blistering air.

Father… I fought.

Ben felt himself slipping. Buckling under O.M.E.G.A.’s relentless mental blows. He could no longer feel his hands or feet. And the aching within his chest made his breath come in rasping gasps.

But I couldn’t…

As he felt exhaustion draping down over him, something else shifted in the energies of his mind. It started as a tiny white pulse of light, like a new-born star. Suddenly it expanded so rapidly that Ben found himself caught up in the second flow of energy. But this one was comforting. Protecting.

-Benjamin.-

Ben’s head swerved about, searching for the source of the voice. Then he realized it had sounded within his mind. And that he had been released from the pain and the weight of the O.M.E.G.A.’s will.

-Hang in there.-

His eyes lifted in surprise, staring up at the flaming form of the great Dragon above him. It was no longer crimson, but shimmered with a pristine white-gold light as the new sort of essence moved through it. Unlike the elemental Dragons that Ben had seen before, the features of this creature were luminescent and its deep teal eyes seem to reflect the depth of the universe.

The Master Wizard had been witness to many things in his life, but this had stolen the breath from his lungs. Somehow he knew without knowing how that the Dragon was there for him. To help. And that the soft voice within his mind belonged to this creature.

-There is more going on here than senses can tell you.-

Ben could see the contorted face of O.M.E.G.A. hovering above him and hear the howl of fury as his mind magery snapped, recoiling back at him. He could see O.M.E.G.A.’s  strange metal plates outlined along his body with the Crystal’s power, burning white even under the darkness of the thick black coat. And for the first time, Ben could make out the second shifting of power — a cold, ghostly silver mist – that seemed to cling around the crazed Athrylith’s form.

-That’s it. Concentrate, Benjamin.-

O.M.E.G.A. snarled and recoiled as Ben’s own powers were fed by the soft golden light of the great white Dragon. It was as if seeing the misty energy was enough to make it lose its edge. As if the Dragon’s power could act through him, giving him the strength to offset O.M.E.G.A.’s own borrowed power.

-Now! Before he realizes. Strike!-

With a renewed battle sense pulsing through his mind, Ben rose to his feet with a tremendous roar. It resounded through the chamber, merging into the simultaneous roar of the great white Dragon. As if they were one, he found his blade directed, an unfounded knowledge tickling the hidden corners of his memories.

Ben charged at O.M.E.G.A.

The Athrylith staggered backwards. A strangely soft and haunted expression washed away the fury that had always resided upon his face. And for that moment, as the sword sung above him, the O.M.E.G.A. looked like someone else. Someone Ben might have once known.

Then that moment was gone.

O.M.E.G.A. gave a choked gasp. The single eye stared down with an incredulous look. Onyx’s blade was buried deep in his chest, “Haaa…..aaaa….”

Just as quickly as it came, the yellow gold light faded, taking with it the presence of the great white Dragon. Not another word. Nothing but a faint ringing in the ears.

As his senses came back to him, Ben began to shake. Sticky warmth spilled out over his hands. He could feel the uneven gasps as the Athrylith fought for breath on the end of his sword.

Ever so slowly, O.M.E.G.A. pulled himself off the blade. Then he staggered backwards, sprawling against one of the leaning pillars. One hand clutched at the gaping wound in his chest that still crackled with pale green energy. It was hard to tell if he was trying to laugh or simply fighting for breath.

Ben could only stand and stare. He may have killed many people as a Dark Lord. But this was the first time he’d shed blood since.

“Haaa… haaa…” O.M.E.G.A. rasped. “Well played, Benjamin. You’ve really grown…”

For some odd reason, the words made him a little sad. Strangely, it was as if that was the way he should have felt.

“Don’t worry,” the voice was soft. Almost reassuring. “Somehow, I always knew it would end this way. It’s probably better. In fact, I’m glad. You have everything to live for. And I have nothing to stay for.”

Ben could hear the footsteps of his companions slowly approaching from behind. Though he didn’t turn, he could feel their eyes upon his back. Eyes that watched the struggling O.M.E.G.A.’s last breaths. Breaths that came out as wheezing, wild laughter.

“HAHAAHAHAA..!” he opened his mouth wide, the single eye slowly losing its light. His words slurred in delirium. “Zeromus! You lost! And I — I will pass to a place where you can never use me again!”

Ben’s voice was distant to his ears. Almost childlike, in shock. “Will… he die?”

“Golbez…” He felt his brother’s hand pull him. Leading him away from the gristly vision of slow death, calm as only a soldier could be.

The Athrylith coughed, working hard to muster up the effort to talk, “Benjamin…!”

Ben almost didn’t turn around as Cecil led him away.

“Joran,” he continued. “She is gone… But I can tell you where she went. If you want to save her.”

This time, the Master Wizard did stop and turn.

“The Crystals of the Moon are his next targets. She will go there,” the O.M.E.G.A.  wheezed. Then he fell still, nothing but the sound of his final ragged breath passing through the hall.