Ch11-1: Hazy Memory

Sparrow grinned. Then she leaned over and gave the boy a kiss right on the cheek.
So much seemed to have happened so quickly that it all became a blur for Chase.

The last two Crystals were destroyed. The elements of the Blue Planet are acting crazy. And somehow that Dragon helped Ben win the fight against the O.M.E.G.A.

It had been a terrible battle that had left Chase shaking all over just to watch. He didn’t know what had happened to the O.M.E.G.A. when everything was over. Because as soon as the glowing white Dragon had vanished, the girl who called herself Sparrow began ordering people around.

Though Chase didn’t understand everything going on, he knew something bad was happening to the Blue Planet. And they needed to get away. The girl had commanded a glowing portal of light to open. They had all walked through the portal and ended up somewhere very different.

This place is so strange…

Chase couldn’t tell if they were still on the Blue Planet or not. But he didn’t think so. Everything appeared to be made of dimmed light, shaped into normal objects. Except, it wasn’t very normal to see white trees with white branches and white leaves that never moved in the wind.

If there is wind here.

The place seemed to waver and shift at the corner of his eyes, never quite staying one thing or another. A dull ache droned in the back of his head.  His thoughts were heavy and sluggish, trying to move off in directions without his permission.

What’s wrong with me…?

The others had gathered in a small glade made of tree-lights, not too far ahead. Chase was so disoriented that he had fallen behind as he had tried to follow. He could hear an intense conversation as they tried to make sense out of where they were and what was going on. It was just as confusing to the grown-ups, too.

“Hello, Aur,” a small, quiet voice said from behind him.

Somehow Chase knew that it was a greeting for him. He stopped and slowly turned around. The little girl with black wings stood there, simply watching him with mysterious dark eyes. A feeling of familiarity swept over the boy, the throb in his head causing him to stumble for a moment.

When he spoke, it was a word that he knew without knowing. “Suzume?”

“I thought it was you!” she smiled. “So it must be true. Lord Zemi is still alive.”

The world twisted and reeled around him. At first there was a roaring like a storm of confusion between his ears. But when it cleared, Chase’s golden eyes seem to shine more sharply. Within that moment, he remembered who he was. And why he was there.

Lord Zemi… that’s right. I’m his Watcher. I was known as Aur. And I’m here to…

His golden gaze glanced over, peering into glowing glade at those that sat within. He sought out one person in particular.

I’m here to Watch over Ben. And to make sure he’s kept safe until… the Coming of the Darkstar.

“Aur?” the girl’s voice brought him back out of his thoughts. “Are you alright?”

The boy rubbed his head and nodded slowly.

Then Sparrow muttered, “You were always a little on the strange side.”

“You have always spoken first before thinking,” he answered.

She simply grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes to my question. Lord Zemi must be alive and has returned to the living world, just as we suspected.”

“Yes. However, he does not have the power that he once did,” the boy cautioned with a frown.

“Lady Zazo and Zeni have their plans. Up until now, we thought Lord Zemi was gone.”

“And what are your plans?”

Sparrow seemed taken off guard. When she answered, her words were vague. Time had changed her as it had changed all things, “I think you know what my plans are.”

“Do you think you can save him?” Chase asked.

“I have to try, Aur.” There was a sudden deep sadness in the depths of her dark eyes. And he knew there was nothing that anyone could say that would coax her away from her path. Even if it meant her own destruction.

“I see…” he pursed his lips and glanced back at the glade. “Shall we go, then?”

“Yes,” Sparrow nodded slowly. “They will want answers. I’ve been given clearance to offer them information.”

“Is that really a good idea?”

“I don’t know. But they can’t go to the Red Moon without having some idea of what is waiting for them,” the girl spread her hands with a ruffle of her wings.

“That is true, I suppose,” Chase took one step forward, then paused. His gold eyes were intense as he looked back at Sparrow. “Will you do me one favor… for old time’s sake?”

“Hm..? I’ll think about it,” she teased softly. “What do you need, Aur?”

“Call me Chase,” the boy corrected softly. “Ben’s not ready to learn about Aur yet.”

“Oh…?” Sparrow puzzled over that for a moment. “Are you asking me to lie for you?”

He winced. “Not… lie. Just…”

“Withhold the truth. That’s lying?” she teased again, walking around him in a circle.

“Ben will learn enough unsettling things today. I don’t want to add to them,” Chase replied with a stoic face.

“Alright. Alright…” Sparrow grinned. Then she leaned over and gave the boy a kiss right on the cheek.

Eight-year-old instincts kicked in. Instantly Chase scrubbed at the spot with his sleeve and a grossed out face, “Ew! Suzume!”

But the little girl was already rushing off, trailing a peal of giddy laughter. The boy sighed and followed, trying to maintain a sense of who he was. Hoping that if he concentrated hard enough, Ben might not know the difference. Might not be able to sense that anything had changed.

Afterall, the moment that he stepped from within the magic void-world, Chase knew that any memory of his former time as Aur would vanish once again. Until the proper time for himself. And for his old friend.

“We have no time!” Edge was protesting at Sparrow with a look of extreme discontent. “If what you’ve told us is true, that little Lunar thief is on her way to find the–”

“Don’t call Joran that!” Ben’s voice was large and upset. Defensive. Lines of stress stood around his eyes. The events of the past few days had not been easy. And they would not get any easier from this point onward.

“Please!” Cecil took his usual position between the two, green eyes glinting and sharp. “Now is not the time to–”

“This is unacceptable,” FuSoYa added to the frustration. “That rift was supposed to bring us to the Lunar Fortress. With such a threat looming, why are we here in this place?”

“Because,” Sparrow said simply.

One word. That’s all it took. The protests and chattering fell away to silence. All eyes were on the winged girl.

Chase was impressed.

When the silence dragged out for too long, Ben encouraged politely, “Please… tell us why you’ve brought us here.”

Sparrow smiled. It seemed that Ben had already won the girl over, no matter how distant she attempted to hold herself. The Master Wizard tended to have that unknowing effect on children.

“I’ve brought you here because there are things you must know before you face what lies ahead,” she told them in a calm voice. As her wings folded, everyone could tell that something important was about to be revealed.

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Ch11-2: Weaving Legends

“So you’re saying that nothing short of another Sygnus can take this guy down?”
“We defeated the Daear. And we’ve destroyed the O.M.E.G.A.” Edge frowned at the black winged girl. “What else do we possibly have to know about before we go in to reclaim Incrytan?”

“Yes. The O.M.E.G.A. was the one that has made Joran do this, correct?” Rydia’s hands were folded in her lap, face reflecting a deep concern.

“The O.M.E.G.A.” Sparrow sighed softly. Then she shook her head. “No. This was orchestrated by someone else.”

“What? Who?” Edge grated, his patience obviously frayed by the lack of information.

“Let me see… how do I start this?” the girl tapped her chin and glanced over at Chase. For a moment, he was afraid that she was going to break her promise and give him away, just for the fun of it. Instead, she leaned back and asked, “What can you tell me of the Trine?”

“Pardon?” Rydia looked baffled at the sudden turn of questioning.

“The Trine. What do you know about it?”

FuSoYa sat up slowly. “The Trine was supposedly the powers that watched over the Old World, correct?”

“More like three powers, I thought?” Rydia frowned.

“Patron Guides,” Ben interrupted. “They were three Guides of great power who protected the people of the Old World.”

“We have a scholar here?” Sparrow grinned at the Master Wizard. “Yes, they were Patron Guides.”

“But that’s just an old story. They were once worshipped by some of the ancient nomad peoples of the Old World. But no one knows much about them anymore,” FuSoYa shook his head.

“They are hardly just a story,” Sparrow fluttered her wings. “The Trine was made up of three Patron Guides — Zemi, Zeni and Zazo. They were all siblings. Zemi was the eldest brother… Zeni and Zazo were his sisters. I am a servant of Zeni.”

Silence fell over the glade again as the words sank in. Their faces were a range of expressions from pondering… to confused… to straight out awe. But they believed. And their belief would make the rest of it all a lot easier.

“There was another,” the girl continued after allowing them the moment to think. “He was not part of the Trine. But he was considered a chosen brother to the Nefolian Patrons, long before he fell to Chaos. You may have known him – he was the one that named himself Zeromus, the Hatred.”

“Yes…” Rosa gave a soft gasp, her hands wrapping just a bit more tightly around Cecil’s forearm.

The Paladin’s face was rapt, staring at the little girl. He nodded faintly. “We defeated him.”

“Don’t tell us that we didn’t?” Edge lifted up a balled fist.

“Don’t worry,” Sparrow gave a quiet smile. “Your reputation as the heroes that defeated Zeromus is quite safe.”

“But there is a connection from Zeromus to all of this?” Cecil asked slowly.

“Yes, there is,” she tilted her head and began with another question, “What can you tell me of the Sygnus?”

“Mmm..mm…” FuSoYa mumbled to himself. “There is not much. Just old writings… legends… stories… in the old language. Nothing that we take too close to face value.”

“Really?” Sparrow asked. “What do your stories say?”

The old Lunar furrowed his brow, green eyes narrowing as he seemed to realize for the first time what the girl’s wings might signify. “Are you from..?”

“Answer my question and I’ll answer yours,” the girl gave a soft laugh.

“Very well…” he frowned, not liking to be toyed with, but seeing no other way. “We know that the first mention of Sygnus was that of the Dark Sygnus Luccious. He was said to have been born from the Hatred of Zeromus and brought the downfall of the Old World. Legends also say that the winged people, the Awakened, were hunted by the Dark Sygnus. That in an effort to protect the Awakened, the Trine brought them to Runne… but not before Luccious cursed them, tearing away their wings and their memories.”

Sparrow gave a soft, sad sigh. “So that is all that remains of the story?”

“Yes. That is all that we have been able to understand,” FuSoYa replied curtly. “Now answer my question.”

The girl laughed, looking pleased. “You are most certainly the son of SoYa.”

The old Lunar gave a strangled sound, his face paling.

But she didn’t seem to take any note of that, “I was one of the Awakened from the Old World, as you call it. The Nefolian lands. We were under the protection of the Trine, lead by Zemi Dreigiau.”

Dreigiau?” Rydia took in a sharp breath, green eyes going wide.

“Rydia?” Cecil frowned with concern. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” the Caller shook her head. Then she looked away. “I just thought that I… heard that name somewhere before.”

She had begun to piece things together, Chase could tell.

“If the Trine were your protectors, then what happened?” Ben asked quietly. “What does it have to do with the Dark Sygnus?”

“There was another Arweinydd. He was once accepted as the brother to the Trine. At that time, he was known as Zerom. When Chaos took him, he became Zeromus. And he began to rain his hatred down upon our world,” Sparrow paused for a long moment. There were memories within the depths of her dark eyes. When she spoke again, it was measured and fighting emotion. “There was a boy… his name was Lucci. No one knew where he came from or how he came to be. Except that he was crafted from the Chaotic essence of Zeromus and deemed to be the Bane and downfall of our people.”

“Lucci?” Ben echoed softly, seeing the pain in the girl’s face.

“He is now only remembered as Luccious. The Dark Sygnus,” she answered. “Though he fought the madness of his divided heritage and the Chaos of his maker, he still fell. He fulfilled the legends of the Time Before. He was the Bane. The Darkstar.”

“But he was destroyed when the Trine moved the people of the Old World to Runne, correct?” FuSoYa’s eyebrows bristled.

“No,” Sparrow shook her head. “Luccious followed. In his madness, he is driven to destroy the Dreigiau’s people until the last blood is shed. Before the fall of Runne, Lord Zemi and Luccious engaged in a great battle. Both were struck down. Neither of them has fully returned to the living world yet. But both of them are still trying.”

“What do you mean?” Rosa’s blue eyes were wide.

“After the battle between Lord Zemi and Luccious, the Dreigiau vanished completely and the Trine absolved. The planet of Runne grew unstable and the people were thrown into disarray. No one really knew if Lord Zemi was dead… or if he was just weakened to the point that he could no longer reach into the living worlds,” the girl explained. “In vengeance, the sisters of the Trine, Zazo and Zeni, placed a seal upon Luccious’ battered remains within the Red Moon. But over time, even they were not strong enough to hold back the Chaotic energies. With Zeromus’ growing control over a new physical host, Chaos fought its way to surface again, after the destruction of Runne.”

“You mean all this time, the Dark Sygnus has been sealed away in the core of the Red Moon?” Cecil’s expression grew concerned.

Edge’s eyebrows lowered. “We were JUST there not long ago to kick some ass. Does that mean we’re going to have to go back to kick some more?”

“If all of this is true, I don’t know that we have a choice,” Kain frowned darkly.

“Though, what does this has to do with our Crystals?” Rosa lifted her hands with a questioning look. “Why does the Lunar girl seek to destroy them?”

“She is acting under Luccious’ orders,” Sparrow gave a somber sigh. “The energy shared between the Crystals has been what was keeping him sealed up until now.”

“The Crystals?” Ben’s green eyes flashed. “How?”

“The descendant of the Dreigiau helped to place a final warding on the Dark Sygnus,” she said. “The instrument of the sealing was the elemental Crystals of the Blue Planet and the Red Moon. We have discovered, with their destruction, that the essence of the Dreigiau was embedded into the Crystals, helping to give them power.”

“So that’s why Dragons kept popping up everytime a Crystal busted?” Edge mused, shifting his weight from one foot to another.

“The Dragons were Guardians, yes.”

They were getting so close. So close to the truth. But no one had seemed to recognize the full purpose of everything yet.

“So if the Crystals are all destroyed, that will…” Cecil’s voice trailed off.

“Release the Dark Sygnus Luccious, yes,” Sparrow answered again.

“Okay, then. You’re telling us that what we’re up against is the Dark Sygnus, a creation of Zeromus who was notorious for destroying an entire nation of peoples and rivaling the Trine?” Kain crossed his arms with a stern look. “So how we can hope to face a creature of this sort of power if the Trine cannot hold it back?”

“The nature of the Sygnus is one that the Arweinydd are weak to. They are creatures meant to rival the power of ones such as the Trine,” the girl clarified. “It is ironic seeing that Sygnus are children born of the joining of the heavens and the earth – the children of Arweinydd and Earthian heritage. Though it’s thought that this is what brings about the weakness that leads to their madness.”

“So you’re saying that nothing short of another Sygnus can take this guy down?” Edge scowled.

She rewarded them with a hint of a smile and a vague reply, “Maybe.”

“Great… and where are we supposed to recruit something like that?” the ninja grumbled. “We don’t even know if another one exists… and it’s not like we have a lot of time to–”

“Who’s to say it wouldn’t be as mad as the first?” Kain interrupted, “Cecil I don’t think this is a good ide–”

“Where do we even start to look for someone like that?” Rydia sucked on her bottom lip.

Milling confusion filled the room. Everyone talking all at once. Thinking too hard. Overlooking the obvious. And Sparrow was not offering them much in the way of help. In fact, she seemed amused.

Chase gave a long, quiet sigh. Then in his best little-boy voice, ventured, “Excuse me? Didn’t you say that it was the descendant of the Dreigiau that helped to seal Luccious?”

The talk in the room trickled off as Sparrow gave him dagger eyes for ruining her fun.

“That’s right… would the descendant of Zemi Dreigiau be a Sygnus?” Rosa tapped her chin.

“If the child’s mother was an Earthian,” FuSoYa supplied with a frown. He seemed to be catching on, pale green eyes focusing on Sparrow.

All they had needed was a nudge.

“Hmmm?” the girl raised her eyebrows, peering back at the ancient Lunar expectantly.

“You said that the Crystals sealed the Dark Sygnus,” FuSoYa continued. “Does that mean that the one that created the Crystals was the descendant of Zemi Dreigiau whom you mentioned?”

Cecil’s voice creaked, “Wait… but that would mean…”

“KluYa…” the old Lunar looked down. “He was my brother. But there was always something different about him. More to him… I could feel it the day that I met him. And the Manor prized him in a way that bordered on captivity. It was as if they strove to keep him there for their own purposes…but was terrified to do so at the same time.”

“Father..?” Ben’s face showed his concern.

“I looked for the answers to my hunches for many years… I always had the driving feeling that he and I did not share the same parentage. And I believed that our mother’s death was directly related to the mysteries that surrounded KluYa’s upbringing,” FuSoYa nodded slowly. “Now, I think I understand.”

Kain shook his head and spread his hands, “Even if all that is true, even if KluYa really was the son of Zemi Dreigiau, he’s not… here.”

“No,” Sparrow lifted her head slowly. “But his sons are.”

Suddenly all eyes turned, staring at Cecil and Ben with mute understanding.

Ch11-3: Lunar Homeworld

“I’m not exactly the Crystal Master that my father was.”
The new Lunar Homeworld rose up around Cecil on every side. The expanse of wide, teal sky and soft stretches of stringy golden clouds. Tall, lush forests stretching as far as the eye could see, bursting with the scent and sounds of wildlife. The tall shimmering glow of the crystal-stone Lunar Fortress as it reached up to dizzying hights in all of its mind-bending majesty.There was also the humidity. The heat. And the buzz of tropical insects. The Lunar Colony had exchanged the cold reaches of the lifeless Red Moon for the balmy rainforests of a far away world. A place alien both to humans and Lunars.

Cecil should have been paying far more attention to the new world around him. He should have been in awe and wonder about the small groups of white haired children that gathered to watch as they made their way towards the tall Lunar Fortress. He should have been curious to hear them speak in excited tones of a language that he could not understand.

But all of this was lost on the Paladin. His mind was still back in that strange ethereal glade. Lost to the words that the girl Sparrow had spoken.

-You are the children of the Sygnus. The power of the heavens and the earth have been gifted, passed down to you. –

Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was denial. Maybe he just didn’t know what to do about the revelation. Being a Half Lunar was enough.

-But your power has been split… each of you bears only a half Sygnus. Perhaps that is why the Second Coming has not happened. The Darkstar is divided.-

Cecil’s green eyes wandered to study the face of his brother. Golbez had hardly spoken a word since the revelation. It was hard to tell what the Master Wizard was thinking or feeling… he was good at shelling himself away from things. Maybe it was his way of dealing with the overwhelmingness of it all, whereas Cecil could only fret.

-Full Sygnus can only be borne by one. A Sygnus-Half cannot hope to face down the power of a Dark Sygnus who has grown in power over many centuries.-

That was where his mind shut away the sound of the remembered voice. He lurched back from the insinuation that had been left unspoken. That only one of them could hope to inherit the power to face their foe. But to inherit the power of Sygnus meant to walk the lines of madness, to risk becoming a creature no better than the Dark Sygnus, Luccious.

Does that mean that if we can find no other way to transfer the power, one of us must… die…?

As if he could hear the very depths of Cecil’s thoughts, Golbez’s face turned towards him. Silence held fast in the light behind his eyes, giving away nothing. Leaving a cold prickle running over the Paladin’s body.

This is all too big. I’m a soldier. A captain. A Paladin. Even a king. But… a Sygnus? Wouldn’t Golbez be more suited to being something like that? I don’t know the first thing about that sort of power.

As the group followed FuSoYa up the stairs to the front gates of the Crystal Fortress, a young Lunar boy dressed in what must have passed as armor gave a curt salute. The ancient Lunar nodded once slowly before the boy scrabbled over to open the arched door for them. Not understanding a word of the exchange between the two, Cecil blinked a few times.

Then, leaning over, he chanced a question from his brother.

“Why do they have children guarding the gates of the fortress?” the Paladin whispered. Though it wasn’t as if the young Lunar could understand his words either.

Golbez mused for a moment before breaking his silence, though Cecil didn’t know if it was more out of being polite or because he really wanted to speak. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… shouldn’t they put someone of a little more stature to guard the front gates of the Fortress? Or is there so little danger here that they’re confident in the skills of a child?” Cecil expanded on his original question.

His brother responded with a quiet chuckle.

“What?”

Then a sniff as Golbez gathered up his words, “I’d say LoRaSe is probably one of the taller Lunars here.”

“You’re kidding?” Cecil’s brow furrowed. “He can’t be even five foot.”

“I am not kidding,” he replied with a faint smile. “Lunars are smaller-built people. And even though the majority that live here are still considered children by the society’s standard, it’s really about as tall as any of them will ever get.”

“I… didn’t know that.”

“You met Uncle Fu. Why are you surprised?”

“Well I just thought that Uncle Fu was short because he’s…” the Paladin lowered his voice again, “Well…”

“Old?” his brother supplied.

“I heard that!” the Lunar’s voice grated roughly back at his two nephews.

Cecil looked abashed. Golbez  just offered an innocent grin.

“Troublemakers. Just like your father,” FuSoYa grunted as he turned the corner.

Rosa glanced back with a what-are-you-up-to face. Then seeing her husband just as puzzled, she took his hand instead. It was a good, comforting feeling. A feeling that reminded Cecil what it had been like over the past few years, sheltered within the peace after the great Crystal War.

Sure, there had been stress and a steep learning curve when it came to making the transition from soldier to king. But that was nothing he couldn’t handle. Nothing quite like this… with all the talk of legends and Sygnus and Patrons. Things that were better left to the old ages. Things that should have never come to the human world.

But they have come. And now we have little choice but to face these things the best that we can.

FuSoYa continued to lead them through the long, crystal-stone hallways. There was little in the way of decor along the walls… not that the Lunars had much choice in how to decorate. From what Cecil had been hearing, the colony had been lucky enough simply to sustain itself on the shelter that was build and the food that it could gather.

The last thing that they had time to worry about was how to decorate, I’m sure.

The current plan was to get to the chamber, there within the Fortress, where the Crystals of the Moon were now held. They would then attempt to secure the Crystals in hope of capturing Joran and reclaiming Incrytan… and organize an evacuation in case the worst should happen. So far, it did not seem that there had been any destructive forces at work there within the colony.

Not yet, at least.

The young guard that Golbez had called LoRaSe was now keeping pace alongside of FuSoYa. The old Lunar was speaking rapidly in the moon language. By the look on the guard’s face, he was given the instructions on what to do to begin the Lunarian evacuation. LoRaSe responded to some of the curt demands with a furrowed brow and worried intonations. But in the end, he stopped, gave a quick bow to FuSoYa, and trotted quickly back the way that they had come.

“Ben… what’s happening? What are they talking about?” Chase was half jogging to keep up with the long strides of the Master Wizard.

Golbez must have noticed the boy’s efforts. He reached down and carefully lifted Chase up, balancing him on one shoulder as if the child weighed nothing at all. “We are making preparations. It’s likely to be dangerous from here… I wonder if you should go with the rest of the Lunars.”

Chase clutched tightly to the green robes. “No… Ben! I want to stay with you!”

“I know you do. But if we can’t seal the Crystals in time, they may all be destroyed. All at once,” Golbez’s voice was deep and serious. “You saw what happened when only two were destroyed, right?”

The boy nodded.

“Well, this time, there are eight. And they are all in the same room.”

Chase gasped a little. But he didn’t stop clutching the green robe.

“Stop talking like it’s already happened,” Edge snapped from the other side. “We have a chance to stop it. And a lot of it is going to be in your hands… so don’t botch it.”

Golbez glanced over at the ninja with a grim face, “I guess that means you’re going to have to put your trust in me, yes?”

The Eblanian King gave a sniff. “Only because it’s the last ditch effort.”

“Thanks for the support,” the Master Wizard grumbled. He was becoming more and more used to the ways of sarcasm.

“I believe you can do it,” Rydia’s voice interrupted.

Golbez paused in his step, glancing over at the green haired Caller.

“Don’t listen to a word that Edge says,” she continued, “He’s just jealous because he can’t get the spotlight.”

“That’s not true!” the ninja whined.

“Face it. It most certainly is,” Rydia waved a finger in his face.

An argument might have escalated at that point if they had not arrived at the Crystal Room. The moment that FuSoYa stopped, a call rang out over the hall and another young, freckled-faced Lunar rushed down the steps towards the group. The boy seemed to remember himself as he approached, giving a low bow. His eyes were wide and green when he straightened, staring with a pale look at the group of people that followed the old Lunarian.

“Humans…?” the boy said in an accented Common. The word was barely a whisper, his expression caught between disbelief, awe and slight fear.

“NaTu,” FuSoYa interrupted the boy’s momentary lapse with a stern but gentle tone, then continued in a long string of Lunar words. Something in the way that he spoke, even if Cecil couldn’t understand the words, indicated that this young Lunar in particular was one that their Uncle was fond of.

The boy responded with nods and wide motions of his hands, though his eyes flicked back now and then to steal a look at the group of tall strangers that had arrived in the hall. His tone was quick and urgent. Every now and then, Cecil could hear the word “Crystal” enmeshed in the strange flow of sound.

“What are they saying?” the Paladin whispered up to his brother.

Golbez had been observing the conversation with a keen eye. There was a troubled expression on his face. “The Moon Crystals have been reacting to something unknown, behaving erratically. This has been an ongoing thing, it seems. But has gotten much worse now. I assume they are having a bad reaction to the loss of the Blue Planet Crystals.”

“Is there something we can do?” Rosa asked with a concerned frown.

“Besides balance out the energies…?” the Master Wizard answered vaguely.

“Well, if we do recapture Incrytan, can’t you just… you know… remake the Crystals that were destroyed?” Kain looked over with gritty teeth.

“I… don’t know,” Golbez’s gaze dropped a little.

“What do you mean?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead, to tell the truth,” came the answer. “I’m not exactly the Crystal Master that my father was.”

“But you made Incrytan?” Chase pointed out.

“And look at what’s come of that,” Golbez murmured, half under his breath.

Cecil reached out and placed one encouraging hand on his brother’s shoulder. “We’ll worry about that when the time comes. Right now, our Father’s people need us to fend for the Crystals here. Let’s concentrate on that first.”

His brother glanced up, lips pursed as if to fight back his surprise. But it reflected in his eyes. After a moment, Golbez nodded, straightening a little, looking ahead.

NaTu was pulling back on the handle of the door, opening the way to the Crystal Chamber. Even through the thin crack, a shifting light shown. Cecil could feel the energies, rising and falling. But unlike the calm peace he had felt from the Moon Crystals before, there was a sense of disarray. The crackling of random streams of light tracing over the lines of the walls.

Slowly, Golbez hoisted Chase up in one arm, then lowered the boy down to the ground. When the child glanced up with big questioning gold eyes, the Master Wizard ruffled his hair in what could only be a very human, affectionate gesture.

“Good luck, Ben,” Chase offered.

“I will do everything I can,” Golbez nodded. Then his face took on a look of determination as he and FuSoYa stepped into the shifting light and shadow of the adjoining chamber.

Ch11-4: The Watcher

“I will not allow you to destroy this place,” the boy responded quietly.
Luccious could see the Lunar Homeworld through Joran’s misty eyes. He could feel the warmth of the damp, balmy air against her skin.

Something about the way the light shifted across the ground through the tall, deep-green fronds was familiar. Something locked in the depths of dead memory told him that he should know this place… that one time long ago, he may have felt the soft tropical breeze on his own body. During a time before all he could feel was cold mist and spirit light.

But just as quickly as it came, the feeling was gone.

There was no room for feeling. No room for emotion. Not where he was. Not where he would take the rest of them.

The last survivors of the Dreigiau’s people. He had found them. After many long centuries of hunting, searching, battling the Trine. The Dark Sygnus would descend upon the last of the Dregiaiu’s people and fulfill his destiny as their Bane.

Perhaps then, the Hatred that boiled within him would rest. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Chaos that drove Zeromus, his claimed-father, to his downfall would finally grip him as well. Who knew what waited beyond the fringe of final fulfillment.

There was nothing… no one…  left in the living world for Luccious. The concept of Earthian love was only a faded dream of his short-lived childhood. All that he had once held dear, he had destroyed. So there was nothing left for him to do but move forward and destroy the rest.

Joran’s footsteps changed in tone. She was no longer walking along a dusty path. Instead, she was mounting the crystal-stone steps to the front of a tall, mountain-appearing fortress. Spires of glittering crystal jutted up towards the sky, seeming to have been summoned from within the stone of the planet itself. It was where Incrytan was leading them. Towards the final remaining Crystals.

As the girl walked forward, a sudden stream of young Lunarians bustled through the doors. There was the sound of sharp commands and numerous complaints as the children made their way down the stairs in a disorganized manner.

The Lunarians were evacuating the fortress.

This meant two things. That the others knew the next target would be the Crystals of the Moon. And that they had arrived before Joran had. If orders for evacuation had already been given, then it would be very likely that the Crystals would be protected. Or in the process of being moved.

Either way, the trifling must stop. Luccious was far too close to freedom for the Earthians to come and stand in his way.

“Joran?!” a voice called. A hand reached out and grasped the girl’s wrist, bringing her advance to a stop. “What are you doing here? Where have you been?”

A Lunarian boy stood there, his face lit with recognition as the green eyes stared up into her face. It seemed that the girl was known there. Not knowing what to say that would not blow her cover, Luccious caused the girl to shake her head slowly.

“You can’t go back in there,” the Lunar intoned gravely. “We’ve been given the orders to evacuate everyone.”

“I know,” Joran answered in a dull monotone. “But I have to.”

“Come with me,” he began to tug back on her arm.

It would have been nothing to have taken out Incrytan and done away with the boy right there. But it would have made it far more difficult to get into the fortress if they did. It would have certainly raised an alarm to the others, and that was not something that Luccious wanted to do. If he could take them by surprise, all the better.

“Let go of me!” Joran snapped forcefully. With a jerk of her arm, she yanked back from the surprised young Lunar.

“Joran, wait!” he called.

But there was no time to wait. Her feet were moving. Running. Making speed up the steps towards the fortress. Weaving in and out of the bobbing white heads that all flooded in the opposite direction. Soon his calls faded into the din of the evacuation. The boy did not seem to be so stubborn as to make a chase.

That was all well because Incrytan had begun to glow. Joran kept the stone wrapped away in the pouch of her belt, yet the closer they got to the rest of the Crystals, the more it had begun to react. Though most of the Lunars were far too busy making an escape, there would always be that one or two that would stick their nose where it wasn’t wanted. Instructed to ignore calls and shuffling of feet, Joran pushed her way through the tide, following the direction of the thrumming under her fingertips.

Before long, she had arrived in an area that was quiet and dark. There were little signs of other Lunarians here. The halls had grown wider and taller, arching high and bearing faint glowing designs on the face of the crystal stone. Ahead, the hall was lit with a luminous light, spilling out around the arching corner. Luccious could feel the pressure of a deep hum that seemed at once both immense and quiet at the same time. It vibrated through the girl’s body, making her steps shaky.

Incrytan was fully glowing now in response to the other Crystals. It would not be long.There came the sound of voices ahead – only two, wrapped in the soft intonation of magic. As Joran crept closer, her eyes fighting to pick out shapes within the Crystal light, it became apparent that one voice belonged to an ancient, bearded Lunar. And the second belonged to a tall, white-haired man. They were working together to draw warding energies around the Crystal room, in hopes to deflect that which they could not escape.

Joran’s eyes rested on the white haired man momentarily. Something about him caused her to pause, even at the force of the Dark Sygnus’ will against her mind. There was an emotion there, so deep and longing. Something strong enough to muster the will to struggle against him, as weak as the struggle was.

It was nothing to restrain her again. But Luccious couldn’t help pondering the intensity of her response.

He, too, knew this white haired man. It was the one that OMEGA had targeted. The one that was called Golbez. And in stopping to get a better look at him, Luccious realized the impossible.

This man was a Sygnus-Half.

But how could such a thing exist? Either one was a Sygnus or was not. There was no in between.

Yet, against his better judgment, there it was. A Sygnus-Half. One who stood divided, his power shared with someone else. But who… who could that someone else be?

Before he had a chance to observe further, a shout rang out across the hall. Other people were within the Crystal Chamber along with the two mages, but it had been hard to tell that before with the feeling of light and power flowing through the room. Now Joran had been spotted.

It was time to act.

Luccious’ will crushed the breath from her lungs as he forced the girl to rush into the chamber. She flipped open the top of the pack at her hip, pulling the brilliance of Incrytan out between cupped palms. The others reached for her, lunged to grab the girl. To capture her and hold her back. But Incrytan’s energy was fed from his own. Walls of silver mist-grown-solid sprang up around her, violently throwing anyone back if they got too close.

Their shouts of frustration and pain were rewarding. There was nothing they could do to stop the girl as she sped up to the dais that held the waiting Crystals. The warding that the two mages had been placing was incomplete. Though it took a bit more of a shove to break through the ring of protection, Joran walked over their boundaries and straight into the center of the chamber.

“Joran!” Golbez’s voice was hoarse, hands still dripping in the warding magic that he had been so desperately casting. Seeing that the spell was now worthless, he dropped his hands at his side. “Please… please don’t…”

Again, that welling feeling rose within the girl. Enough to make her pause. Enough to make Luccious have to repossess her.

“Please just give Incrytan to me. We can help you…” he reached out to her. Strangely, he seemed more worried about reclaiming the girl than his Crystal.

Taking a bit of pity due to the miserable look on the man’s face, Luccious force words into the girl’s mouth, “Joran is not here. It is not her will to carry Incrytan. It is not her will to do what must be done.”

Golbez reeled back from her voice as if he had been bitten. His green eyes were round and horrified, mouth stammering, “Who… who are you? What have you done to Joran!?”

It would seem that this Sygnus-Half was a complete idiot.

The sound of low laugher echoed in the hall, “You fight against something you do not understand. And what do you think you can accomplish? How can you hope to fight me? You are nothing but a mere Sygnus-Half.”

“Luccious…” the elder Lunar hissed between aged lips.

At least one of them seemed to know something.

“No…” Golbez almost groaned, his tone turning pleading, “Let her go! Surely whatever you need to do doesn’t require an innocent girl!”

“The time for talk is over,” came the reply. Then the girl’s hands lifted, Incrytan shivering between them.

“No! Joran!” he implored yet again.

Futile.

Already the Moon Crystals had begun to respond to the light of Incrytan. The sound was tremendous – the pleading keens of the living stones as their magics began to boil and break down from the inside out. Cracks split the surface of the Crystals, one at a time. And Luccious could feel it. The bonds on his power, on his awareness, slowly… slowly… coming free.

“Joran!!!” Golbez cried through the growing maelstrom of energy.

“No, boy!” the old Lunar grabbed the Sygnus-Half by the arm. “It is lost. We cannot stop what has begun. We must get out of here before we are consumed!”

“But Uncle! The castle… the Lunars..!”

“No time! Save what can be saved!” he began rushing through the chamber, pulling the bigger man along with a strength his old body wouldn’t have appeared to possess on first sight.

“JORAN!!” Golbez’s last call came as the two rushed down the other side of the dais, running for the door.

Slowly the stones had begun to dissolve, fragments rising into the air, energies drawn to the pulse of Incrytan. Frantic shouts rang from outside the spiraling ring of energy.

“Golbez! FuSoYa! What’s going on!?”

“I can’t see anything!”

“Chase? Are you alright!?”

“Cecil, we’ve got to get out of here… fast!”

“Rydia!? Where did you go?!”

“I’m right here! You can let go now?”

“We’re screwed! If this whole place is going to come down on us anyway, we should stay and fight!”

“Chase?! Where are you?”

“Enough — we must run! NOW!”

“Shit! There’s nothing we can do at all!?”

“RUN! THIS WAY!”

The shouts broke off, obscured by the roar of the energy vortex as it grew. The walls shuddered, trails of stone raining down as the hall groaned and rocked from the pressure swelling within. Slits of red appeared on Joran’s body, tiny gashes where fragments of flying crystal grazed her flesh. Her body was shaking under the impact of power drawn into Incrytan, only held up by his will alone.

She was growing weaker, her heartbeat erratic and breath labored. Feeble as Earthians were, he needed her to last just a little longer. Long enough to complete his release. Once that was done, she would be destroyed, along with the rest of the Dreigiau’s people.

There was no pity for the Lunar children, those who were descended of the Old Worlders. Their arrogance and intolerance had brought their own ruin. They had never accepted him… had treated him like the Bane. And the Bane he had become, true to their word.

He would be sure to repay each and every “Lei’ Igro” that had fallen from their lips.

As if in response to his eagerness, one of the Dark Crystals gave way completely. The implosion nearly sent Joran sprawling as Incrytan jolted in her hands. Part of the far wall cracked, a tall gash racing along the surface, up to the ceiling.

From the middle of the raining debris and dark haze, a form began to materialize. At first, it seemed just a trick of light and shadow — it was merely a small thing. But then it began to move. Approaching.

Yet another Crystal buckled, shattering like brittle glass into the roar of the vortex. Yet the shape continued forward, into the maelstrom of Crystal power unhindered

A little boy stepped out onto the dais.

At first, he appeared merely human — soft child features under a flow of sandy brown hair. But when the boy’s gaze lifted, burnished gold eyes blazed with an ancient, knowing light. A power radiated in shimmering golden waves around him, clam and controlled. As he had always been.

“Aur,” Joran’s forced words spoke. “So… Zemi sends his Guardian Watcher to do his work for him?”

“I will not allow you to destroy this place,” the boy responded quietly. Golden eyes watched, unblinking.

“I see,” came a soft laugh. “You are even weaker than when I last saw you. What do you — a washed-up Guardian trapped in a child’s form – expect to do?”

“I will do whatever I must.”

A statement to test out. So Luccious did. Yet another Crystal quivered, cracked and shattered. More red lines began to stripe the white of Joran’s arms. The walls groaned again, stone leaning under the impact.

Then suddenly, the groaning stopped.

A golden light spread from the boy’s form, wavering as it fought to absorb the shock of the energy blast. It rose up, expanding into the shape of a colossal golden lion, arching tall over the Crystal platform in a luminous, protective shield. With all the power that was left to the Watcher, he strove to contain the tempest of Crystal annihilation.

“You believe you can protect them, Watcher?”

In vindictive response, Luccious gathered his own will – now stronger with each Crystal that shattered. Then with a terrible focus, he unleashed it — a pounding wave of Incrytan’s light, spreading in every direction. As it flashed over the last remaining Crystals there was a moment of cold silence. Then a vast release as each living stone splintered apart simultaneously.

“Are these Earthians worth that much?”

The surge welled up against the great golden form, as its ethereal claws anchored down, holding against the blast. But the Crystal light was too much. Patches of gold began to dissolve and burn away. Streams of white broke through the shield, piercing through the beast’s body like a hunter’s arrows.

“What are you willing to sacrifice?”

“Everything,” came the Watcher’s answer.

Gold gave way to burning white Crystal light as the shield shuddered and failed. And a tremendous howl of anguish shook the Lunar Fortress.

Ch11-5: Full Circle

“You’re safe…”
The ground trembled, sending Ben stumbling against the wall of the hallway. A terrible, inhuman sound rang through the very core of the Lunar Fortress. Something about it left him shaking all over, a cold pit of dread filling his stomach.

“We’re not going to make it!” Edge shouted. He, too, was thrown on his face, jolted by the sudden motion of the earth.

Somewhere in the back of Ben’s mind he could sense the final release of power. Perhaps it was due to the last thread of connection he had to Incrytan, but he knew when the Moon Crystals were no more. The air crackled with energy as Ben pushed himself back on his feet, peering around with a questioning look. He had the itchy feeling that something important was missing.

Everything became absolutely still. Aside from the occasional rain of crumbled stone from the walls above, there was not a sound to be heard in the Lunar Fortress. One by one, his companions began to rise, heads shaking with puzzled frowns.

“Is it over?” Cecil asked coughing out a stream of sand-dust.

“I think so…” Ben nodded slowly.

“The Moon Crystals?” Rydia asked with a stunned face.

“Gone,” he answered.

“But then… why are we still here? How is this place standing?” Edge brushed off the front of his tunic with a frown.

“I don’t know,” Ben spread his hands.

“It can’t be just luck,” the Ninja fixed his bandanna. “That place was falling apart in there. Something has to be up.”

“We should go back and look,” Cecil took a few steps back the way they came.

“Wait…” Ben’s voice wavered as everything clicked. He knew now why he had felt as if something was wrong. “Where’s Chase?”

“He wasn’t with you?” Rosa’s eyes widened in concern.

“No… Cecil? I thought he stayed back with you?” the Master Wizard’s face paled.

The Paladin gave a quick breath, “He was. But I haven’t seen him since Joran appeared…”

“Oh no!” Ben hissed. A million terrible scenarios ran through his mind – images of the poor child being crushed to death. Or burned away in the vortex of flaming energy. Or swallowed up by a crack in the floor. So many things that could have happened. All of which sent him dashing back the way they had come without a second thought.

The others followed without an argument. The way to the once-Crystal Room was littered here and there with fallen stone and tipped furniture. But overall, the damage that was done was far less than it should have been. Especially when he had hardly expected the fortress to be left standing after the destructive impact of all eight Crystals.

Ben rounded the final corner to find the hallway leading to the chamber coated in a fine crystal dust. The room was far dimmer now with the painful lack of Crystals to illuminate it. It was replaced by a flickering shift of light flowing in a wide ovular pattern at the far end of the room.

A rift? Here?

The room was silent. There was no sign of Joran or Incrytan. Nothing left of the living stones that had once rested there. A lump caught in Ben’s throat as his footsteps echoed dully from the buckled walls.

“Chase?” he called into the dimness. “Chase, where are you?”

He has to be here somewhere. I saw no trace of him in the hallway. Unless he was taken. Or completely…

His mind shied away from such a terrible thought, heartbeat coming faster in his chest. Time and time again, Ben had argued against allowing the boy to come with them. Had argued the dangers of their quest. He had feared for the safety of the boy and now the worst had come to pass. But somehow, the boy always slipped through the cracks.

“Golbez!” came a call from the other side of the room. Edge was stooped over, reaching down behind one of the pillars. “Over here!”

Scrabbling through the Crystal dust, the Half Lunar rushed over. The Ninja was brushing dust and debris from the pale and limp form of a young boy.

“Chase? Chase!!” Ben dropped to his knees right there, using his cloak to clean the child’s face. There was just one tiny trickle of blood along his forehead. But to the Master Wizard’s relief, he could feel the faint rise and fall of breath within the boy’s body.

At the sound of his name, the Chase began to rouse. He gave a hoarse cough as his gold eyes slowly opened, focusing on the face above him. Then he smiled. “Ben..?”

“I’m right here,” the Half Lunar answered, gently lifting the boy up in his arms. Cradling his head and stroking his hair. “You’re safe…”

“Is everybody… okay…?” his little voice creaked.

“Yes. We’re fine. Everyone is fine.”

“The castle…?”

“The fortress is still here, too,” Ben gave a soft laugh. “You should be more worried about yourself.”

“I’m glad,” Strangely, the boy just smiled all the more. Then his head turned in the direction of the rift. “Ben…”

The Master Wizard paused, following the boy’s gaze with his own. The light tripped and wavered in a rippling pattern. A rift still very much open. Left open for a reason.

“She took Incrytan there,” Chase struggled with the words. “To the Red Moon. Where Luccious will be.”

Ben wasn’t sure how the boy knew these things. But he had learned not to ask… to simply trust and accept the truth for what it was.

When the Half Lunar didn’t respond, the boy urged, “You have to go there. Joran is in danger.”

I know…

He took in a ragged breath.

But what can I do? I’ve already failed her… she’s been taken by Luccious.

Ben rose to his feet, gathering Chase up as he did.

What can I do? We can’t hope to fight him as only a half Sygnus. And Cecil. He’s the hero… he should be the one.

“He is right. You must go,” the soft voice of Sparrow rose in the chamber. The winged girl now stood by the rift, her dark eyes glittering. Where she had been during all that had just happened, Ben didn’t know. She had a way of coming and going at her own whims.

“Golbez,” Uncle Fu murmured. “Bring the human child here. I will look after him.”

The Half Lunar felt something in his throat tighten. But he nodded and slowly carried Chase over to where the ancient Lunar stood. Then wrapping the boy in his cloak, Ben set him down, propped against the wall. He could only stare down with a deep reluctance.

“Don’t worry, Ben. I’ll be fine,” Chase smiled encouragingly.

Still, Ben gave a long, regretful breath.

“Go… fight with the blessings of your father’s people,” Uncle Fu spoke, unexpectedly.

The Master Wizard’s shoulders straightened in response. And he felt the touch of his brother’s hand on his arm. As their green eyes met, neither said a word. There was nothing that needed to be said. Just the two of them and the unknown that waited before them both.

The moment was broken at the sound of Edge’s sudden exclamation, “Alright! Let’s go rescue your girl, Golbez, and kick some Sygnus ass!”

Rydia just groaned, planting her face in one palm.

“He sure knows how to put the hero in the heroic, doesn’t he?” Kain observed drolly.

But the Ninja didn’t hear. He was already moving towards the rift.

As the rest began to follow, Ben took a glance back at Uncle Fu and Chase. Just one look. It was met with a soft, reassuring smile from the young Page boy and the bristled-eyebrow determination of the ancient Lunar.

For them…

Ben drew in a deep breath, turning back around. He did not look back anymore.

For them. For Joran. For the people of the Blue Planet.

His thoughts scattered as the cold white light of the rift spread over his body. For just that solitary moment, the familiar feeling of displacement. Of shifting through space faster than one had a right to. Then his footsteps on the gritty pitted floor as he came through the other side.

The Red Moon…

This place, too, was familiar, colored with memories of darkness and battle. The core of the Red Moon. A place that had meant the salvation of the Lunar people as they escaped the fiery destruction of their home world. For Golbez, it was the place that he had gone, expecting to face death. It was where he had taken up arms against the Hatred, Zeromus.

Miraculously, he had survived. But in surviving, he had found himself faced with another problem. The Blue Planet would not welcome him home. Not after his treachery. So he had chosen to depart, to be placed into fitful slumber with the rest of the Lunarians.

There was a time and a place where he may have hoped to have slept forever. To never wake. A time when the only thing he could see before and after him was the darkness of his own deeds. But the story was not content to end that way. And he had found himself stepping into the realms of impossibility… returning to the blue living world. Returning to face those that had once held him as an enemy.

There, Ben had found pieces of himself that he never knew existed. Pieces that were lost to the shadows of a past he could not remember. Emotions that were nurtured through the unexpected acceptance and friendship of humankind. And he had earned the love of a young Lunar girl.

He carried within his heart the final message that his father gave him. Ben knew now that whatever should happen, he would do everything within his power to protect the ones he had learned to love. That was his one true purpose.

Nothing was the same. Not him. Not Cecil. Not the humans or world around him. Nothing that he did could ever reclaim what had come and gone, he realized. Not his innocence. Not his darkness.

Ben had come full circle, to the core of the Red Moon. And Joran now stood before him.

Ch11-6: To Know Loss

“I… love you…” she told him.
Incrytan shown in fierce multicolored light and shadow, cupped between Joran’s two palms. Her face was lit with the energies. Her eyes were glazed with exhaustion. Long streaks of blood trailed from a multitude of tiny slashes over her body. Her posture spoke of weakness, as if she was being held up by some outside force alone.

Ben felt a sharp pang in his chest at the sight of the Lunar girl. So much she had suffered. So much she had feared. All for the sake of trying to save him from himself.

She had told him that she loved him. And maybe somewhere inside of doubts and confusion, he cared for her too. Regret filled him with the realization that he really didn’t know how to return her feelings. Maybe one day he would… but not just yet.

He found himself walking towards her, despite the protests of his companions.

I’ll make this up to you, Joran. I promise.

As if hearing the fringe of his thoughts, the girl’s face twisted in an otherworldly smile. Her face moved mechanically, controlled by something that was not herself. Her voice was dull and distant, “Do you really believe you are going to save her?”

Ben’s brows lowered, his hand wrapping around the grip of his sword.

“Don’t you know that it is the fate of the people of the Dreigiau to be consumed by the Bane. They could not stop it… they merely delayed it.”

“I don’t know what all of that means… but I don’t believe in that kind of fate,” the Half Lunar glowered.

“There was a time that I wanted to think like you. But reality is cold. Truth is rarely the thing we want to believe.”

“We choose what we become with our actions and our thoughts,” Ben took another step forward. He had drawn his blade, eyes searching the shadows of the Moon’s core for any sign of the force that controlled the Lunar girl. But there was nothing.

“Is that so? What do you expect to do even if you were to defeat me, Sygnus-Half?” her lips curved up. “Don’t you realize that in time, you would only come to take my place? The Arweinydd of the Time Before called us the Darkstar for a reason.”

“I don’t believe you,” his face grew hard, forcing himself to stand against the cold words.

“Then what do you believe? In idealistic hopes and dreams?” the voice paused then shifted in tone. “I can see it in you. You are a lot like me. You long to be accepted by the world that condemns you for things that were out of your control. I have been in your shoes before and I will tell you that there is no such thing as a happy ending.”

A shiver rippled over his body as the silver words rang in his ears. Would there ever be an acceptance for the once Dark Lord? Was it just his wishful thinking that made him believe that they saw something beyond Zeromus’ pawn?

And even if he was to walk out of here alive, what would he do then? Where would his future be? In the human world… or with the Lunarians?

A low quiet laugh rose from Joran’s throat. Then, very deliberately, she turned and began to walk towards an opening between two tall pillars of moonstone. Incrytan was the only light within the dead core.

“Golbez,” a quiet voice came from behind. The voice of his brother. “Don’t listen… none of it is true.”

Caught up in his internal struggle, Ben had almost forgotten that the others were still behind him. They seemed at a loss as to how to proceed, knowing that the Lunar girl was someone that he wanted to protect. The humans somehow understood that… and had respected his attempts to sway her back.

“That’s right,” Edge added quickly. “He’s shoveling you a load of crap. He’s trying to tear you down.”

“Don’t forget where we’ve been and why we’ve come here,” Kain murmured in a low voice. “There’s too much at stake to cop out now.”

“I’m not copping out,” Ben closed his fist in a tight ball at one side, mustering determination. Grateful for the unexpected support, no matter how tactless some of it was.

They’re right.

Ben forced himself forward, moving quickly after the Lunarian girl. He could hear his companions following behind. His mind began to flit from thought to thought, trying desperately to grasp what needed to be done.

There’s not much time.

He knew he couldn’t sway Joran back to their side. Luccious had too much control over her.

Why did he bring Joran here?

He knew that somewhere within the core of the moon, the Dark Sygnus was sealed.

Luccious has destroyed all of the Crystals. Wasn’t that all he needed to break free?

Yet, the Dark Sygnus had still not appeared.

There must be something more.

The girl strode forward, Incrytan in her outstretched palms.

He’s been gathering the Crystals’ energies inside Incrytan. A wavering spiral of silvery-blue began to form in the heart of the Crystal.

Maybe with the last seals broken, he can use the combined energies within Incrytan to…

His green eyes narrowed, reflecting the Crystal light. He suddenly realized.

I can’t let her reach Luccious with Incrytan!

If that was the final thing that the Dark Sygnus needed to be released into the world, then Ben had to make sure that something like that could never happen. He found his hands tightening on the grip of Onyx, blade drawn and reflecting in a cold green light.

What had begun as a dream to revive his lost family had turned into a nightmare for the Blue Planet. Despite what it would do to him – even if it meant his own death – he knew that it had to be stopped.

I am Incrytan’s maker.

And through his connection to the stone, Ben bore the power to destroy it. To conduct the remaining stolen energy from his father’s Crystals… and repower the seals that had been placed upon the Dark Sygnus. To destroy Luccious’ chances of freedom. Though there was very little chance that Ben would survive, either.

This world is better off with a Paladin Sygnus… than the Dark Sygnus I would become.

As Ben lifted the length of his blade, somewhere behind him, he heard the shouts of his companions. Maybe they knew what he was going to do. Maybe they didn’t.  The most important thing was to get a clean strike… to take out the Crystal and make sure that Joran and the rest were shielded from energy release.

Ben lunged.

He felt his breath go cold, caught in his throat.

Onyx’s flame was almost blinding as the point rose into the air.

All of his concentration was bent upon the flicker of Crystal light between Joran’s hands.

The blade blurred forward, lashing out with his full strength and will.

Then, Joran turned.

He couldn’t stop it. There was nothing he could do.

Joran turned. Purposely pulling Incrytan out of the blade’s strike.

Putting herself between the Crystal and the blade.

A fountain of crimson spray exploded across his vision. Onyx sunk into her chest, nearly up to the hilt. Warm blood, sticky, ran over his hands.

Joran’s blood.

A ragged cry broke from Ben’s lips as the girl slumped over on the end of his sword.

Her arms cradled Incrytan. Protecting it.

“NO!” he stared in disbelief, hands shaking. “NO! JORAN!”

Her green eyes lifted, squinting in pain. With the last of her strength, she pulled backwards, slipping off the blade.

“Don’t move her!” Rosa’s cry came from behind. The White Mage rushed forward, hands already grabbing for anything that could serve as bandages.

But there was so much blood.

“I… I didn’t mean… I…” Ben stammered, face horrified as he dropped next to the girl, on his knees.

“Golbez…” Joran’s voice came, a soft whisper. The voice was her own, now. The dimming light in her eyes shown the way he always remembered. She reached a pleading hand up to his face. “Forgive me.”

“Forgive you?” he echoed in shock. He caught her hand, then gently pulled her head up, cradled in his arms. “Why?”

I know what… you were… trying to do. I couldn’t… let you destroy In…cry…tan…” when she coughed, it came up red. “You… would… die…”

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way…!” Ben’s face was hot with shameful tears. Guilt. Terrible guilt. He couldn’t pull his eyes off of her face. He couldn’t bear to look at the spreading pool of blood. “I was supposed to protect you.”

“And I… wanted to… protect you… too…”

His companions were there, around him, working as hard as they could to assist. Rosa’s hands were stained crimson as she fought to spread healing energies over the girl’s body. But they could all feel the hopelessness of the situation.

“Don’t leave…” Ben’s voice cracked as he pleaded with the girl. Pain swelled within his chest. Immeasurable sorrow.

If Joran was afraid, she did not show it. She simply offered a quiet smile and stroked his face, an attempt to comfort his grief.

He clung to her hand as if it could hold her there a little longer. If through will alone, a miracle would come. Regret… there was so much they could have done… if only he had been more aware. If only he had realized earlier how she felt.

A soft sob shook his body as Ben leaned down and touched his forehead gently to hers. Her mental response was a wave of sudden joy… as if with one quiet motion, he had made Joran happier than she had ever been.

“I… love you…” she told him.

For the first time, too late, he understood what that meant.

Before Ben could figure out how to respond, Joran shuddered in his arms. Then with a quiet, gasping sound, she fell limp.

Ch11-7: The Dark Sygnus

“You can’t have forgotten me!”
Grief draped over the two forms upon the floor – the motionless Lunar girl and the crumpled half Lunar who held her. The pang was sharp within Cecil’s chest as he was helpless to do anything but stand back and watch his brother’s agony.

Golbez spoke not a word. He simply sat holding the girl’s hand in his, tracks of tears on his face. His grief was silent. But the air hung heavy with the tragedy of death and triumph of one girl’s sacrifice.

She loved him so much that she gave her life to protect him.

No one had known how deep Joran’s feelings had been. Maybe not even Golbez himself. But the bitter tears that the Master Wizard cried were tears of a heart that had learned to love in return… even if he had not recognized it himself.

It was very hard to see the Dark Lord in him now.

Cecil was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of a soft gasp. The winged girl, Sparrow, was moving forward, her dark eyes wide as she stared at the two forms there on the moon-stone floor. The Paladin couldn’t help but puzzle at the reaction – after all, the girl hardly seemed to have the mind of a child. She held herself as one who had seen her share of death.

That’s when he realized she wasn’t looking at the people. But rather the strange happenings in the air around them. Cecil’s eyes could make it out, nearly imperceptible at first – a stream of silvery mists that rose from the still form of the Lunar girl. Something about it left a chill over his body.

The way that Sparrow was responding told him that it couldn’t mean something good.

“No..! Lucci… don’t!” the black-winged girl rushed past the group. Her eyes searched the shadows of the core as she turned around and around. Her voice was cracked and weathered with unexpected sorrow of her own.

By now, even Golbez had noticed the strange silver mist. His upturned face did not register understanding. Just confusion. Grasping for a last moment of hope that something may save Joran yet.

But it did not.

Instead, more silver mist began to billow into the chamber, seeping from between the cracks of the stone. It crept along the floors. Weighted the air with murky thickness. And where it touched flesh, left the feeling of cold death.

“Cecil..!” he heard Rosa’s alarmed call.

The Paladin lifted his head, squinting. There was something forming where the mists were gathering the thickest.  The shape of a tall, winged man. It left his mouth dry, breath catching in his lungs. His mind reeled as the reality around him blurred in his vision.

Just like my dream…

The dream where he had watched Baron burn. The dream where he had witnessed the death of his brother at the hand of the winged stranger.

Was that… a dream of the…

Cecil had connected the name to the image, though he wasn’t sure how he knew. Something within him responded to the misty figure. Something deeper than instinct or knowledge.

Dark Sygnus?

The dark shape solidified as the last of the silvery light broke away from Joran’s body, drawn into the winged man. Features began to form. Sharp and cold — silver eyes and long silver hair. Wings the color of winter’s frost. A slender black blade strapped over one shoulder that bore a darkness so thick that it seemed to drink away the light.

Luccious…

The Dark Sygnus took a slow step forward, his eyes focusing on the group before him. Unconsciously, Cecil felt himself moving forward as well. A Paladin putting himself between the enemy and his companions.

Golbez is in no shape to take this battle right now. And despite what Sparrow has told us, there is still no sign of a Sygnus on our side.

As the young king drew the shimmer of his holy blade, Luccious’ gaze fell heavy upon him. Instantly, it felt like all the breath had been sucked from his lungs. His body grew numb and icy cold. The grip on his blade felt weaker, arm shaking as if it was all he could do to keep hold of his sword.

It feels like… facing Zeromus all over again.

The mists swelled around him, clinging damply to the surface of his armor. Sights. Sounds. Sensations. Everything was muted and distant. He was slowly being swallowed up by the eerie white.

I don’t even know how to bring Sygnus out… if it’s true that Sygnus really is the only thing that can face Luccious.

The Dark Sygnus’s lips curled upwards, watching him with a hint of amusement. There was no pleasure in the amusement. Just the flat, emotionless look of one that had seen too much.

I can’t move!

Luccious’s silver eyes held a vacant, dead gleam to them. Like one who was viewing the world through the haze of nightmare. A nightmare that Cecil felt descending upon him. He could feel his doubts gripping him. Choking him. The cold mist filling his senses with a deep, terrible dread.

He could hear the slow scrape of Luccious’ long, dark blade being drawn.

I can’t…!

That’s when another voice broke in. The Paladin could see the small winged girl rush forward, shifting through the wall of white.  His first instinct was to reach forward and pull the girl out of harm’s way. But she seemed to be having less issue keeping control of her limbs than he was.

“Lucci… finally! I’m here!” Sparrow had placed herself between the Dark Sygnus and all others. There was no fear in the way she stood. Only a wavering familiarity – as if the tall silver-haired man had been someone she had once known, but she was not certain if she knew him anymore.

Luccious’ face did not register anything at the sight of her. He simply pulled his blade clean from the scabbard.

“It’s me. It’s Suzume!” the girl reached out with both tiny hands.

His silver eyes observed her for a moment. Then his focus shifted past the girl, back upon Cecil. “Sygnus-Half… you must be the other…”

“Lucci!!” Sparrow demanded, seeing that she was not keeping his attention. “You can’t have forgotten me!”

The Dark Sygnus paused, his intent gaze bearing down upon the winged girl. She shivered for a moment despite the determination that lined her face. Her palms were still outstretched towards him, a motion of longing and pain.

She earned one gruff word from him, “Move.”

Then he began to stride forward again, to walk right past her.

“You have to remember!” her voice rose an octave in desperation. “You can’t fight here! This is a trap! Zazo is trying to lure the Sygni together to destroy each other! You MUST listen to me!”’

“It doesn’t matter,” Luccious told her.

“Yes it does!!” tears sprang up in her dark eyes. “Everything I’ve done was to find you again! Now that I have, I don’t want you to die!”

The Dark Sygnus remained unmoved. But the fierce power of his will had shifted, the concentration pulled away from Cecil as Luccious struggled with the words of the pleading winged girl. As if there really was something more going on behind the cold silver eyes.

It was enough for the Paladin to get his bearings. His hand gripped the blade, his limbs coming under his own control again. The mists had thined out and he could feel the presence of his companions somewhere behind him.

That’s when everything happened. So fast. So little time.

Seeing that she was getting no response to her verbal pleas, Sparrow reached out. Caught Luccious’ sword arm around the wrist. Doing everything she could to hold his attention. To make him listen.

A tiny dark shadow struggling against the huge silver light.

But there was something more feral in him than the girl had accounted for. Luccious lifted his arm. Just an effortless snap of his wrist sent Sparrow sprawling back. She gave a piteous cry as he cast her away and turned with his blade drawn ready.

Cecil didn’t know if the Dark Sygnus was going to strike the girl. He never would know what the winged man had in mind at that second. Because all the instincts of a warrior and Paladin kicked in and he found himself lunging forward, his holy blade swinging. Attempting to intercept anything that Luccious might do to the child.

A shout of dismay rang from his companions. They had not expected Cecil to attempt to strike at the Dark Sygnus alone.

But if something should happen to me… then… Golbez might become the Sygnus…

Luccious’ raw strength was astounding. As Cecil brought his sword down on the long slender blade, the Dark Sygnus did not flinch. It was like slashing the stone of an ancient mountain. He was fighting a force that had existed so much longer than he had… a force that was determined to conquer and remain.

This is not good!

Luccious flipped his blade back, meeting Cecil’s second swing with a look of pointed disdain. Almost disappointment. The one swing sent the Paladin reeling back with a force that was more than just physical. He fought to keep his feet underneath himself.

Still, he was driven hard, down to his knees.

In that moment, he heard someone calling his name.

Rosa!

It was so distant, muted by the swelling white mists that poured in from all directions.

I’ve got to get up!

The flash of the long blade disoriented him, like coming face to face with the heart of a furious nova.

Defend yourself, Cecil!

His limbs were dragging.

You can’t let him do this!

He wasn’t fast enough.

Move! Move!

The whistle of Luccious’ blade filled his ears. It grew louder. And louder. And louder. A swing suspended in slow time. A twisting of his senses.

There was nothing but a haze of white in his vision.

Then suddenly, a large looming shape leapt before him.

“Cecil!” It was Golbez’s voice. Raspy. Broken with grief.

Cecil could only stare up as his brother lunged forward with both arms outstretched. His face was desperate, straining with all the strength that he had left. Fighting to protect him.

The Master Wizard buckled back as his body took the blade. The dark tip sunk through his stomach, bursting out through his back.

Luccious’ momentum was unbroken. Only focused as he drove the sword further.

Cecil’s cry of dismay broke off as pain exploded through his chest. He gave a choked gasp. The shaft of blood-stained metal plunged downward, stealing his last breath.

Then everything fell dark and silent.