Intermission 1 In the Lunar Library

Date: Three Human years before present time.
Location: Titlianus Library, New Lunar Homeworld.

The huge Lunar towered over her, his eyes reflecting darkly in an unreadable expression.

The Grand Library felt like a crypt.

Row upon row of ancient tomes filled the chamber with their long decadent stares. A shroud of silver dust lay blanketed across everything, touching every corner and crevice. It dangled like tiny ornaments from the lace of cobwebs that flourished in the shadows. Each breath was gritty with must and neglect.

So this is all that is left…

Sorrow rose from the depths of Joran’s chest as her gaze traced the forgotten wasteland before her. She lifted one hand to coax a book from its lair upon the shelf. With a heavy sigh it succumbed, the pages opening bare before her.

Her green eyes widened as she traced a longing finger over the symbols that shimmered across the page. Joran recognized the writing as old Runnian. It was a language that predated even the first memories of their society. In the short time that she had spent training at the Manor, there had only been one person that held any sort of comprehension of the old script. He had been her teacher, KluYa.

Uncertainty rose within her chest, just as it always did when Joran thought about him. Reflection brought old memories to life. Not far behind them trailed the gentle sweep of sadness.

She could still so clearly remember the very last time she had seen him. It was after their long journey to the core of the Moon where the Lunar sleeping chambers had been assembled. Still shaken and numb by the loss of their home planet, Joran had been terrified at the concept of the Long Sleep.

KluYa had reassured her with his gentle lopsided smile, taking her hand and leading her to a sleep pod. Though Joran had wanted to fight the slumber that fell upon her, her spirit drifted off to his final words.

“Sleep now, I shall see you when you wake.”

Joran slowly shut the cover of the book, sliding it back into its place on the shelf. She closed her eyes for a long, quiet moment.

But when I woke, you weren’t there.

It had taken a long time for her to recover from the double loss. Even though she knew it had been the space of many hundred years since the destruction of the Runnian Home Planet, for her, it felt like only two years had passed. The loss of her home was still tender in her mind and KluYa had been the closest thing to family she had ever known. Sometimes it was hard to tell which one hurt the most.

Now they were both gone, without any explanation.

In her heart, she wanted to believe that KluYa was somewhere on one of his grand adventures. He was forever touting off without notice into the wilderness of Runne, always to return with a journal full of sketches and observations he had made.

Joran had wished more than anything that one day he’d allow her to join him. She often thought of how much he would have loved the challenge of their new home planet. It was a feral and alien world that radiated so much life energy.

Yet, it was all silly hopes, she knew. And though words did not speak it, perception told her that it was doubtful she’d ever see her teacher again.

KluYa would turn blue if he saw the state that our people have allowed themselves to dissolve into.

She gave a deep sigh, tracing the spine of the book gingerly with one finger.

Even the written word is being lost, replaced by screens and technology. He would have never stood for such neglect and escapism.

Joran pivoted on one heel, turning to leave. Something inside wishing only to be rid of the suffocating presence of what had once been.

In mid-arc, she froze. Slowly, she turned back towards the darkness with a squint.

I thought I saw…

Only a solid wall met her vision.

But I’m sure I saw a flicker of light somewhere.

For just a moment, it had looked as if there had not been a wall there at all, but rather a long hallway with a strange green light shining from behind. Head tilted, Joran took a slow step forward. Then another. As she drew closer, the solidity of the wall worked against her judgment.

I know I saw something. What was it?

Joran reached out a probing hand, her fingers quivering. Where her vision told her cold stone should be, her touch met nothing but air. She stared for a moment at her hand which looked to be stuck straight into a wall.

Instantly, she drew back with a low hiss.

A secret illusionary chamber?

Joran tentatively reached forward again, finding the same result.

Why not? If there were any place where something could be hidden in this tower, it would be here. No one comes down here.

There was a long, struggling pause.

No. I shouldn’t pry. 

She grit her teeth.

But, for something to be hidden away like this… it could mean something bad. Maybe something even FuSoYa doesn’t know about. Why else would someone take the energy to conceal this location so well?

Joran closed her eyes.

If something terrible is going to happen that could be avoided, I have to see to it. KluYa would have wanted it that way.

Pulling together every ounce of willpower she owned, Joran forced one foot in front of the other and slowly pushed through the illusionary wall. Letting out a low ragged breath, she peered around to find herself standing on the other side in the arch of a short curved hallway. The other end rounded a bend where nothing could be seen except the strange pulsing of an eerie green light.

I knew it! I really did see a hallway here!

Joran listened for signs that anything that might be stirring. Her footsteps and her heartbeat were loud within her ears. With her back pressed against the wall, she traced the curve of the structure and slowly poked her head around the bend. Her vision was filled with brilliant green light.

The illumination came from a line of torches that hung on the walls of the chamber. Each was crowned with an ordinary flame, except for the striking emerald color.

A low gasp escaped her, curiosity seething as her eyes flickered over the room that appeared at the end of the hall. Huge wooden shelves towered above her head. Each was laden with books, gadgets, and all manners of trinkets. Tomes of ancient writings sat alongside bits of strange floating rocks, glowing metal rods, and scripted prints that outlined strange mechanical structures.

It was as if the room couldn’t make up its mind whether it was the keeper of ancient artifacts or of technological discoveries.

Then her eyes fell upon it — a cold glimmer of steel in the shadows of the furthest corner. Joran was halfway across the room before she realized she was staring at the hilt of a huge broadsword. It was resting in its scabbard, leaning quietly with its oval pommel against the stone wall. Beside it was a strangely shaped mountain shrouded in a black velvet cloth.

She couldn’t figure out what urged her to reach out and pull the cloth away. But she did.

As the dust scattered from the velvet covers, the cloth dropped away to reveal a towering black-armored devil. Spikes glittered coldly as the light itself seemed to forsake touching the dark plated scales.

It creaked as it shifted, leaning down at her.

Joran screamed and flung the cloth back at the beast. The sound choked within her throat as she watched the empty helmet roll off and clatter loudly to the stone floor.

It was empty!

She stared down at the spiked helmet where it lay. It didn’t move.

I knew that…

Carefully, Joran reached down to pick it up. Somehow, just the touch of it felt tainted and stained. She had the sudden impulse to run and wash her hands.

And to laugh at her foolishness.

Nothing but a dirty old helmet.

She took a step back to look at the rest of the armor.

Who in Bahamut’s name would wear an enormous suit like this? People just don’t grow so tall!

Joran took another step back, bumping into something large and unyielding. Thinking at first she had stumbled into one of the bookcases, she turned to make sure no damage was done, and nearly dropped the helmet in shock.

Her cry of alarm was cut off as a large, firm hand rose to cover her mouth. Terror ripped through every limb as she came face to face with a Lunar that seemed so large that it defied imagination. Obviously he was the owner of the huge suit of armor.

Joran’s body tensed. Her hand reacted with the first defensive move that her brain could come up with.

She shoved the helmet spike-first straight into his face.

“Odin’s Blade!” he shouted hoarsely.

Ducking just in time to miss losing an eye, he swung his other hand up with impossible speed and caught her wrist in mid-thrust. With a quick painless twist, he tore the helmet from her fingers. One big fist was all it took to pin both of her wrists above her head against the wall. The other palm remained planted firmly over her mouth.

Noooo!

Joran writhed and twisted in his grasp, eyes wide and glazed with horror. The huge Lunar towered over her, his eyes reflecting darkly in an unreadable expression. He said nothing. And did nothing. He simply watched her until she fell silent with exhaustion.

“Are you done, now?” he asked finally.

His tone was neither soft nor hard. And his voice was too golden to be unpleasant, even as frightened as she was.

Slowly she nodded.

What choice do I have? No one can hear me all the way down here even if I did scream.

As if he also knew this, the Lunar drew his hand away from her mouth and relaxed his hold upon her wrists. His green eyes were deep, mesmerizing, and strangely familiar. She suddenly found herself lost within his gaze as he spoke.

“How did you get in here?”

Joran’s mouth suddenly opened as a flood of words rose. Fighting as hard as she could to find some fake excuse, she found herself compelled to speak only the truth. Something in his eyes wouldn’t allow anything else.

“I was down in the library looking at books. I turned around, and when I did, I thought I saw a light behind the wall. So I went to look at it, and I realized the wall wasn’t real at all.” Her tone changed in slight apology, “I didn’t mean to pry, really! I just didn’t know if there was something down here that was dangerous, that someone like FuSoYa should know about… I…”

His face softened slightly and she felt herself released. “Don’t worry. FuSoYa knows.”

Joran drew her hands up to her chest, rubbing her wrists. “Who are you? And what is this place?”

The big Lunar’s expression grew sharp again, lips pressed firmly together, “That’s none of your business.”

“But…!” the word came out in a breathless rush.

He picked up the helmet, his face blanching. He turned and placed it back atop the set of armor. With a quick flip of his wrist, he threw the veil over it. Then he glanced back at her.

“Leave and don’t even think of telling anyone else about what you’ve seen,” his eyes grew bright, as if light from an energy within. “It’s best that you forget about it entirely.”

His words were not a request. They were a pure demand. And something about it left a curdled taste in her mouth.

Who does he think he is, bullying me around? He’s not the High Sage! I don’t see where he can toss around orders!

Joran straightened slowly, “I hadn’t planned on saying anything to anyone. But if FuSoYa really knows about this place, then what do you have to hide?”

“That is also none of your business,” there was a low growl of warning in his voice that sent her a step back. “Besides, do you expect me to believe you are trustworthy? A stranger that has just broken into my room and attempted to spear me in the face with my own helmet?”

“Ah…” Her mouth was left hanging open with lack of response.

He gave a grimace, “Exactly.”

There must be a reason for this place to exist. He’s being so hushed about it, and I have to know what’s going on! KluYa would have expected no less out of me.

“My name is Joran SuKi,” she gathered all of her courage and strode up to the big Lunar. Chin lifted, she proclaimed, “So, there! You know my name. We’re not strangers anymore.”

As his mouth opened slightly, a look of confusion passed over the big Lunar’s face. It was obvious he wasn’t used to people boldly walking face-first into his wall of intimidation. No doubt most people would have run away.

But there’s something about him, something I can’t place, that’s so familiar.

“Well?” Joran tilted her head.

“Uh,” he scowled down at her and took a step back simultaneously.

So now I’ve got him uncomfortable? 

“Don’t you know that when someone introduces themselves, it’s rude not to respond?” her voice hinted with soft amusement. Her initial fear was draining away as the seconds passed.

“Uh…” His stern façade wavered one last time before he scratched the back of his head apologetically, “No, I’m sorry.”

So all that cold nastiness was nothing but just an act?

“Okay. You’re forgiven.” She took another slow step towards him, noting his expression of discomfort. “Let’s try this again.”

His green eyes observed her warily.

“My name is Joran SuKi,” she extended her hand towards him in a friendly offering. “What’s yours?”

“I am Golbez Benjamin Ya.” He hesitated a moment before taking her hand. His face had grown colored with an expression akin to shyness.

“Ya?” Joran’s breath hissed quickly as she stared up at him. “Did you say Ya?”

There was a pained glimmer in his green eyes as he nodded and withdrew his hand.

She was dumbfounded, reaching for the only conclusion she could make, “As in relation to FuSoYa?”

“Yes,” the big Lunar straightened. “I’m his nephew.”

Joran’s mouth grew dry as realization fell into place upon her. She felt her pulse quicken, a dizzying flurry of emotion rising about her. The three words came without her bidding.

“You’re… KluYa’s son?”

His meek lop-sided grin was all the answer she needed.

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Intermission 2 In the Light of the Blue Planet

Date: 172 human years before present time.
Location: Crystal Fortress, The Red Moon.

The graceful curve of the Blue Planet rose in a gentle flow below, the living glow illuminating even the furthest recesses of the planetary observatory.
The doorport to the Viewing Chambers rippled, leaping back from his touch. As always, the verve-crystals within the room gave a warm melodic welcome as KluYa stepped over the threshold. They knew their master’s presence.He carried with him the clinging icy air of the Red Moon’s surface. It misted off of him, the flakes of frozen moisture shivering into water droplets that dotted his furs in an azure shimmer. It was so much warmer within the lower chambers of the fortress now that he had the absorption and distribution system fine-tuned.

It’s a good thing moon crystal is a natural conductor of heat. I don’t think I could stand being stuck in the Core Room for warmth all the time.

It was within the Core Room that they slept.There was something about sitting in the same room with hundreds of Lunars in a cadaver-like sleep that unnerved him. Especially since he had known a number of them personally.

Pulling first one glove, then the other from his hands, KluYa knocked them together, and tossed them aside in the far corner.

“You have been to the surface again, have you not?”

“I have,” KluYa answered, working down the straps of his hide boot. Long white hair streamed down into his face as he lifted his gaze to peer unerringly into the palely lit corner. He knew he would find his brother sitting there.

FuSoYa gave a strong look of disapproval. “You know I have told you how it is far too dangerous to—“

“Pash,” the younger brother made an indelicate sound. “Get off my back, Fu. I was tweaking the heater.”

The old Lunarian gave a harsh grunt.

“Come on, you’ve gotta admit it’s warmer in here?”

FuSoYa’s face grew sour. Then he answered slowly, “You know that you are supposed to inform me before you leave the fortress.”

“You were napping.”

“You would ask me to do the same.”

“Not really. You can handle yourself just fine. I don’t require myself to keep tabs on your constant whereabouts.”

“What if something were to happen to you and I did not know where you were?”

“Highly unlikely.”

“But possible. Do you not think that I worry about you when you run off like that, boy?”

In a quick practiced motion, KluYa shrugged out of his bulky warming furs, discarding them in the corner with a heavy scowl. This did not portray the Lunar as anything less imposing. He then began to pace the room, his strides swallowing the length and width of the crystal floor whole, his gait like that of a caged wild animal. The room shrank and bowed before his presence.

“Fu, I’m a big boy. And quite capable of taking care of myself,” KluYa turned on his heel, his hands splayed to call attention to his towering height. “Just because you raised me doesn’t mean you run me. You’re my brother — not my parental unit.”

The moment of silence was only broken by the sound of the big Lunar tossing his boots in the corner one at a time.

“You have been tinkering with the Whale again.” It was not a question.

“Maybe.”

“KluYa… we have talked about thi–“

“Time and time and time again. Yes,” came the sighed response.

FuSoYa gave a sharp look, speaking volumes about his brother’s lack of manners. Without further hesitation, he rose to his feet. “You are not going to the Blue Planet. I said it before. I meant it.”

”Fu…” the younger Lunar’s face suddenly fell with a shattered expression. His words were choked. “I wasn’t going to go alone, of course. I wanted you to come with me!”

“Absolutely out of the question!”

KluYa winced, “But…”

“No, KluYa.”

“But…”

“I said no, KluYa!”

“But…!”

NO!

“You won’t even listen to me!”

“I have already heard you. And I said it is not going to happen. We have probes that work just fine for exploration of the Blue Planet. There is no need for us to abandon our post here. We have a duty to the others. How could you think to for–”

“Fu… what about us? Look at you… look at me! I want… I want a life! I’m tired of this cold, lifeless rock! I don’t want to die here never knowing…” Klu Ya leaned against the viewing portal, his gaze far away. “The planet… do you see how green it is? How it flourishes? I bet it’s warm there.”

“Foolishness!”

“Foolishness?” the big Lunar rounded with a flash in his eyes. “Foolishness is us sitting up here waiting for something to happen! What are we doing, Fu? What do you think we can accomplish by just sitting up here?”

“You know full well that if you or I were to go there, we could greatly upset the life cycle of the planet.” FuSoYa followed his point with a forward jab of his finger. “Maybe even cause the u–“

“Ultimate destruction of the world… yeah… yeah… I know,” KluYa rolled his eyes with an unconvinced huff.

“One with such power as yourself… should not view the consequences of your actions so lightly.”

The younger brother fell silent, finger tracing the ovular indentation on the wall. His voice came haltingly, “We’re wasting away, Fu… Our time is running out.”

“Time is running out for everyone,” the old Lunar made his way to the doorport, pausing to look over one shoulder before he stepped out. “But for either of us to go down there before the time is right, no matter how long the wait… it would only speed up the destruction of everything you and I have worked for.”

His last words echoed through the chamber.

“There is nothing more I have left to say on this issue.”

KluYa choked down the frustrated growl that bubbled up into his throat as the door closed behind his older brother. Turning on his heel, the big Lunar slammed his palm into the wall. The chamber responded with a hurt and mournful sound.

“WHY? Why won’t you listen?! What will it take before you see what I’m trying to say?”

::Count to ten, boy. And stop slamming your hand like that. It’s the one you write with.::

KluYa did not react to the words despite the fact that they seemingly came from the midst of nothing. For he knew his father’s voice; it had always spoken to him in such a manner ever since he could remember.

In all his trials, troubles, and years, KluYa knew that he had never been alone.

“Father… Look at that,” he said placing a hand against the crystalline portal.

The graceful curve of the Blue Planet rose in a gentle flow below, the living glow illuminating even the furthest recesses of the planetary observatory. It was the only room in the entire palace that constantly faced a fixed position to view the Earth. This was KluYa’s favorite place to be. This is where he basked in the ebbing pulse of terrestrial spirit.

“Even now, upon my thousand-somethingth time seeing it, this world always fills me with amazement,” his voice dropped down to a whisper. “So close… but so far away…”

::Ah, reminds me of how Nefol once was. So wondrous, so alive, yes?::

“The Blue Planet just seems all the more alive since everything up here is… well… dead,” KluYa gave a soft bark of bitter laughter, fingers tracing his own reflection upon the looking glass. “Wait, wait, wait, wait! All we do is stare and wait. Fu talks about the right time. When will it finally come?”

::Impatient child… I see my younger self in you. And I have told you of all–::

“–the troubles that have befallen you for your lack of patience… Yes. Yes! So I’ve heard…” KluYa drummed the tips of his fingers against the wall then broke into a long-gated pacing back and forth over the constraints of the room. “But… I want to see the forests! The beasts… the birds… the oceans! The mountains! The clouds, the flowers, the sunlight! The people! What I wouldn’t do to be surrounded by people who were not dead as duskstone! Uh… present company excluded…”

::Naturally.::

“Fu seems to think it is for the sake of these very people that we do not descend into their realm. I mean, I know we’ve sent probes and gathered information and such… but… how can anyone be sure if no one’s actually given the people down there a chance to talk for themselves?”

::What news did the probes bring back that would make SoYaFu so inclined to hermitize not only himself but the whole Lunar colony?::

“Well…” KluYa frowned. “It is true the Humans fight amongst themselves — a lot. They seem to thrive on war and creation of things just to better their own power. There is even a working seal on the magic in that world. It is as if even those of their own kind are afraid of what their kin might do if given full knowledge. They are a scattered, destructive and rather lost lot, if you ask me.”

::Is that so much their fault?::

“Hrm?”

::Who’s fault is it that a child is not properly brought up to know right from wrong?::

“The one that was responsible for teaching them that, yes?”

::And who exactly was accountable for the nurturing and upbringing of the Human Race?::

“Well…” KluYa squinted. There was a long pause before he finally shook his head. “I don’t know.”

::Precisely. Because there wasn’t anyone. How are they to know the proper ways to do things if no one has ever given them a chance to learn? If no one has taken the time to teach them?::

“But to take up a crusade to enlighten an entire planet… That’s inconceivable!”

::It only takes one tiny drop of water to make a ripple in the pond. You’d be surprised.::

“Well, who in the Seven Universes would be crazy enough to try to do something like that?”

Silence grew heavy within the room. The light of the planet below reflected from the Lunar’s green eyes. Slowly, there grew a deep wisdom within them, a measureless sense of self-discovery.

Within that moment, KluYa knew exactly what it was he was meant to do.

Intermisison 3 Sealing of Souls

Date: 23 human years before present time.
Location: Mysidia.

“Daddy… you can’t let him take Cecil.”

You’d think that the gift of Foresight would make things easier. But I’ll be the first to tell you otherwise. The vast expanse of unknown stretches before us all. It is just as frightening to me as it is for the innocents of the Blue Planet. Oftentimes, knowing hints of what is yet to come only works to remind you of how little time there is left in the big picture. It’s a thought that most of us would be well advised to consider.

But it’s only in retrospect that one realizes.

I can still smell the tinge of salt on the air. I can hear the rushing sound of storm-swelling surf pounding the wooden wharf of Mysidia. Though it was near dawn, the city remained huddled under a billow of slate colored clouds. On this morning the light would not break.

I knew.

Of course I knew. This was the day of my trial. This was the moment that all the events of my life converged into a final ultimatum. My choice was at hand. And I remember being afraid that I would not be able to know the best choice to make. I could see into both paths and each one seemed choked by its own circling darkness.

The air whispered hoarsely of a silence before the storm. I waited quietly. There was nothing more to do. I was faced with the inevitable. All fears and worries were shed time and time again. But nothing could stop what was meant to be.

It was my purpose. My children’s purpose. And I had learned not to let fears of the unknown run away with me.

At that time, I was known as KluYa. I do not know if that name still lingers or if it has been forgotten. That matter is not important to me. I was never the one that was destined to remain. The shadow of the mountain has always hung over me.

My brother, Fu, always said I was a brash and foolhardy spirit. Considering my heritage, I suppose I can’t really argue. But there was something more than mere foolishness that drove my actions. Coming to Blue Planet was one of the most impetuous things I have probably ever done… next to marrying a girl of the terrestrial world.

In looking back, the happiest times of my life came during the simple day-to-day means of family living among the humans in Mysidia. It is strange to think that I could say that with such honesty. But for all my days as a celebrated teacher at the Runnian Manor, it was the time I spent guiding the human race that filled my heart with the most joy.

The people of the Blue Planet were still young in so many ways. There was an air of untouched innocence to their world. It was nothing like the rigid structures of the planet I grew up on. And the humans, though their lifestyles were fickle and undeveloped, retained a basic good-will in their overall nature.

Fu would probably disagree with me when I claim that the Lunars and humans could have successfully merged in cultures under the right conditions. But I have walked among them and I believe it could be so.

I met my wife in Mysidia many years before. She was quite young then and under my training as a White Mage in the newly developing school of Magic Arts. Even then, there had been such a powerful drive within her to learn to use her untrained talents to reach out to others and bring them comfort. Maybe it was this part of her that first drew me. And it seemed the more I came to know about her, the more enchanting she became.

It was through her that I first learned what it was like to share a living bond with another. Time found us “falling in love” as the humans call it. And it wasn’t long before we both chose to take the Bonding Oath and live our lives together as husband and wife. From then on, she was one of my greatest inspirations. She worked closely at my side in spreading the knowledge of magic and machine through the world of her people.

The one truth we did not share in all that time was that of my origins. Until this day, it is something I deeply regret. I don’t know if she ever suspected. Nor do I know how she might have reacted if she had learned that I was a Lunarian… a being from an entirely different planet than her own.

I was the Son of the Dreigiau.

It was fear that drove my silence. Fear that this knowledge may have led her to harm.

It was that very fear which spurred me until the end.

I remember the last morning. I remember watching the storm clouds roll in over the ocean while sitting cross-legged on the front steps of our house. It wasn’t a big house… or a fancy house. But it was a real home. A home that we had fashioned out of the bindings of love. It was a place that represented all of my deepest dreams made into reality.

The advancing darkness reflected across the tops of the ocean waves. It was the vision that had haunted my sight since I first placed foot upon the lands of the Blue Planet. I knew that the darkness was here to take all my dreams away from me. And with these thoughts, I remember feeling defeated, lost and unsure of myself. The pit of my stomach curdled with the knowledge that there was nothing I could do but stand by and watch the shadows come and destroy my family and everything I had fought to create.

The sound of approaching footsteps was slight in the stillness of the veiled air. Soft padded feet traced their way from the front door, pausing behind me. The familiar touch dotted my shoulder as a second pair of green eyes cast a glance towards the thickening horizon.

“Ben?”

I often called my eldest son by his human name out of habit. Both he and his mother seemed to favor it over his Lunarian name, Golbez. Not that I could blame him. Though Golbez was a fine enough name to me in the Lunar tongue, it must have sounded very strange to the Mysidian populace. The boy felt most comfortable being known as “Ben” so I never argued the point.

Ben always had a sense that he and I were not the same as the humans of the Blue Planet. Though he was a very curious child, he had never questioned his Lunarian heritage aloud. He had always held an innate knowledge and acceptance of what we were. For this, I was glad. I’m not sure exactly how I would have answered him if he had confronted me on this matter. But he seemed to understand and remained content without explanation.

Ben never sought to abuse the power that he had inherited. Even at an early age he proved to be astoundingly adept at the use of magics of every sphere. His human blood had given him a balance and connection to the flow of the Blue Planet energies that even I could not touch upon. Coupled with a thirst for knowledge and a quick, energetic mind, I knew that with the right training he would one day surpass my own skills.

Still, despite all these things, Ben had always chosen to be a very normal child. He was greatly affectionate towards myself, his mother and especially his baby brother, Cecil. Just like any other peasant-born boy, he ran the streets of the town amidst the other children of Mysidia. He had many friends due to his warm and agreeable manner.

Even now, in the face of the oncoming darkness, there was softness in the understanding of his gaze. His bushy white hair had come out of his ponytail in small bunches, framing his face in a quiet curtain that lent to the sense of keen observation. The depths of his eyes were bright as they lingered upon the distant storm clouds.

“Ben,” I ventured. “What’s wrong?”

I’m not sure why I asked the boy such a question. Especially since I already knew the answer. But I was always one to prod the thoughts of others with a questioning mind.

Ben seemed unable to tear his eyes from the vision before him. He answered with an unwavering awareness that surprised even myself.

“It comes.”

“What comes?”

“The Darkness.”

I remember being chilled by the simple yet resounding tone of his voice. It was so calm. As if he knew something more than even my Foresight could tell.

Ben squinted into the distance. I remember the look of shifting pain on his face. It was as if he could see it all riding down upon him. As if he, too, knew of what the choice might bring. His little hand tightened upon my shoulder. I felt my skin prickle.

“Daddy?”

My eyes turned toward him. Distress found me too hoarse to speak aloud.

“Daddy… you can’t let him take Cecil.”

Something stirred as the truth of the words rose struck a chord within. Up until that moment, I remember myself groping blindly for any direction that might open a door to me. I had found my answer in the flicker of my eldest son’s eyes. It was then everything fell into place. I knew what had to be done.

At the very second that the thought awoke within my mind, the cloudburst broke. The darkness bore down upon the sleeping city with speed beyond any normal storm. The shutters began to rake against the side of our little wooden house, the foundations beginning to creak as the winds lashed over the land with the sting of salt. Somewhere in the back of my senses, I heard the baby begin to cry.

“Benjamin…” My voice was distant, as was my mind. The immensity of the oncoming power drowned out all other thought. Only single-minded desperation. The one thing that I knew to be true.

I remember Ben’s face. I remember his hair sweeping back as his head lifted in challenge. He stared right into the eye of the shadow as it swooped low to touch the surface of the ocean waves.

He did not speak but I knew he was listening.

“Benjamin. I want you to get your mother and Cecil. I want you to take them to Baron through the Serpent Road. I will come for you…”

“But…”

I could sense his hesitance to leave me. Now that I was ready to face the choice, he was ready to stand at my side.

“Benjamin, you must protect Cecil.”

As my words echoed into the rising darkness, he took a step backwards. Though reluctance was still there, I could hear him as he turned and ran into the house. I knew that he would follow through as he was told. Ben was always a good boy.

My eyes lifted unerringly into the sky. The clouds billowed forth in great pillars of rolling shadow. It was a storm unlike any other that had swept across the ocean tides. Something within me warned that I could not let such a tempest pass the steeples of the human city.

I could feel my family scatter towards the Road. Three pinpricks of warm light… two a bit brighter than the third. Ben had led them out the back door towards the town as I had instructed.

Now, with them safely away, the battle would begin.

As my mind became increasingly aware, my body flickered away, growing more and more insubstantial. Time and space drifted off through the putrid fog that rained down in sheets over the coastlands. No longer was I standing upon the solid ground of my home. Through simple projection, I found myself drifting through the swirling clouds far above the sleeping human habitat.

The ghosted outline of my form was fuzzy around the edges as power seeped into my veins, drawn by the flow of energy around me. Just as I had come, I was ready. I knew that he waited within the heart of the storm.

“Zemus!”

A vast gale cycloned around me at the sound of his name. I resisted the pull.

He had ever been my rival… however the years of stewing in cold sleep seemed to have increased the power that he held. I could not understand what it was that he had come for. It was certain that his destruction would be eminent should his shadow challenge me — especially now that my brother was not there to hold my hand from striking against him.

The clouds parted, slipping away into fragmented vapor trails. Something was there. Something hidden deep within the churning mass of moisture. And it certainly did not look or feel like Zemus.

“KluYaaaaa…”

His voice hissed through the shadows. I could recognize that painful arrogance anywhere. What he had become, I couldn’t tell. The mists were too thick. I could only see a dense conglomeration of writhing blue.

“What do you want from me?” My voice was calm. Much calmer than I actually felt..

“I have come to offer you the choice.”

“Return to your sleep, Zemus. Or I’ll have to report your activity to FuSoYa.”

I was bluffing. And I knew it. But the question was… did he know it?

“Report? FuSoYa? What do you take me for? A fool?”

Obviously he did.

“You have not reported back to FuSoYa since you came to this world.”

I gave a soft grunt.

“Do not cast empty threats at me KluYa. It is a waste of my time and yours,” he continued.

“So you have come with your own empty threats, I see. Do you think you can harm me with nothing more than a shadow projection?” I grated in return.

“You have not been paying attention, KluYa. It is quite the shame…” His sentence bubbled off in cold laughter. The clouds began to grow more dense. More cold.

My skin began to prickle. Something told me there was more to this visit than a simple shadow projection.

“What do you want from me?” I repeated myself. This time I was much more cautious. Something was very wrong.

“To offer you the choice.”

“Which is…?”

“Do you plan to show me your true power?”

I grimaced, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I suggest that you remember,” his voice had become somewhat more distorted. “Or your family will be the ones to pay for your lapse.”

I grit my teeth. I didn’t believe he could hold any power over my family. They were safe in Baron by that time.

I had no idea how wrong I was.

“Show me your true power, KluYa!”

My eyes narrowed. I knew exactly what he was talking about. And I knew the danger that it represented not only to myself but all those I loved. Perhaps I might save them anguish now. But should I give in to Zemus’ demands, they would only perish later by my own hand.

“No…” my voice was hoarse within my ears.

The darkness shifted in agitation.

“You are truly a fool, KluYa… And they shall suffer because of you…”

He must have sent minions down when I didn’t see. Maybe it was his intention to distract me. One way or another, the creatures slipped through my detection. I never knew that my family was in direct danger. Not until it was too late.

Not until I felt the sharp pang in the pit of my soul.

It was far away. Distant. But I knew. I knew blood had been spilled. I could feel sacrifice. I didn’t have to be there to sense the cruel deliberation of death.

Images shattered before my eyes. Images of the life I had come to know upon the Blue Planet. And the one love that had made me more real to myself than I had ever been in my life. Like so many grains of sand, it all slipped through my fingers.

My wife was gone. He had taken her from me. My children would be next.

I felt the rage swelling up within me. I grew until it filled the entire cavity within my soul… and beyond. Pressure building from within… rage that I had not felt the likes of since the destruction of my world. Rage that brought me upon the knife’s edge of disaster… for it was what Zemus would have wanted from me.

My form shifted and twisted, expanding as the power of a frenzied fury grew too large for me to contain. For the first time since I had come to the Blue Planet, I embraced the gift that had been planted within me by my father’s hand.

As vast as it was, this was not the power that Zemus desired to see manifest in me… this I knew. I would never give him the pleasure of knowing the secret that I refused to tell even myself.

The Dragon raged through me. It ripped away my thoughts, my feelings… my every desire, dream, and wish. The fire pounded within me and I quivered within the power’s grasp. I was terrified yet exultant. In fury yet balanced. I commanded and it came with ease, filling my soul with the song of the sacred beast.

Bursting up, reaching, filling my vision… fang, claw, scale, wings. I was no longer man, but beast — fury in raw form, shimmering scales of gray pearl. It had always lived within me, though I had fought to hold it dormant for so long. Now gripped within the greatest of rage, I rose up as a terrible shape in the sky.

“Ap’Dreigiau.” His words mocked me. They mocked my father. They mocked all that I had stood for… all the visions that I had for the people of this world.

 

At the time I thought that my rage was my power. But now I know that it was my greatest weakness.

All I knew was fury… and the desire to hurt him the way that he had hurt me… the way that he had hurt the ones I loved. Without a shred of caution, I leapt upon him. As we came together, I could not feel the pain of my own flesh being ripped asunder, only the joy at each wound I inflicted. Fierce elation swept me skyward, twisting, plunging, and tearing.

I led my rival away, tracing crimson lines across the sky.

The summit of the mountain called to me. Nameless and alone, it appeared below us in the midst of the storm. I aimed for the craggy peaks in order to bash the darkness against the cold stone. But Zemus held similar ideas.

The mountain rushed up to greet me as I flailed wildly to gain dominance. Snarling and snapping, raking with my limbs, I fought madly as I became more and more tangled within his cerulean web. The mountain top embraced us just as the last ounce of rationale was ripped from my mind.

It was then that I heard it. His voice. One that I knew to belong to my father who had passed from these realms long ago.

-My son… you must not fight now…-

Confused and battered, I could not understand at first. My family… my sons… my wife… their images floated through my scorched mind and forced my fury to further heights.

-KluYa, to win this battle will mean the death of this very planet… you must stay your hand!-

My breath tore at my lungs as I heard these final words. I understood. Anger draining from my form, I finally lowered my head. And I believed.

It was with this knowledge that I fell to the darkness.

My body lay broken on the summit of the desolate mountain. No longer the Dragon, I clawed helplessly at the grip of my blade while lacking the strength to draw it.

I felt Zemus’ hatred growing ever stronger. Only then did I realize how I had foolishly fed its hunger with my own anger. And I tasted the defeat of my own making.

The rock rose up around me. It swallowed my being and embedded my heart into the mountainside. I was both imprisoned and sheltered. My soul had been ripped from my battered flesh and entombed within the crystal closures of the tiny room upon the summit.

My vision became instantly clear.

I could see more clearly into the future than ever before — the paths that would be chosen, the people that would be used and the ones that would use them. The darkness would eat away at the light. It would take the ones I love and use them against each other. And I had no choice but to stand by and watch it all happen.

I could hear the Hatred’s mockery as it left me encased within the cold crystal. The call of the summit had been the song of eternal unrest.

As time lost all meaning and my mind drifted into eternity, somewhere in the distance a speckle of light flickered and quietly began to grow. I could feel greater things at work in the cosmos. My imprisonment — my sanctuary — upon this mountain was but a single element, a key of freedom for the future of the Blue Planet… as well as my own people. With this knowledge, my grief gradually subsided.

Another thought filled me. I knew that somehow, one still remained — my youngest son.

Cecil.

I knew there would come a time that he would have need of me. I had to be ready for that day.

I bowed my head over the shadow form of the crystal blade in my lap. It had been my companion for over two centuries. Now, it could not even show me my own reflection. I knew my son’s hand was destined to take this blade and that he would honor its name well. With what was left of my power, I began to inscribe…

One to be born
From a dragon
Hoisting the light,
And the dark….

Intermission 4 Lost to the Light

Date: 23 human years before present time.
Location: Baron.

Ben struggled to hold on to his strength as he clutched the blanketed form of his younger brother to his chest.

“Benjamin, you must look after Cecil!”

Those had been his mother’s final words as she had pushed him into the light of the Serpent Road. Ben had not wanted to leave her there alone. He could sense the nature of the creatures that were pursuing them.

And I don’t know if she understands…

But he didn’t have a choice. His mother’s wishes were to protect Cecil… even as she remained behind in Mysidia to set warding spells over the portal to Baron.

Mom will be okay… she’ll be okay… she’s a powerful White Mage… and Father won’t let anything happen to her!

The boy’s heart drummed frantically in his chest as he stumbled from between the white pillars of Serpent Road into the early morning fog. Though the rift between the two cities didn’t sap his strength nearly as much as it would other people, it still left his limbs feeling weak and watery.

But if that’s true, then why did she tell me…

Baron reflected around him in a dim, morning light. It was still too early for the city to be stirring. The silence sat like a veil across the tops of the tall stone buildings.

Why did she say…

Ben struggled to hold on to his strength as he clutched the blanketed form of his younger brother to his chest. Though the boy was large for his age, Cecil was two years old and heavy for him to carry for too long.

-You must look after Cecil!-

The words echoed in his mind, thrumming with the frightened beats of his heart. Despite the fear… despite the overwhelming feeling of loss… despite his own feeling of smallness within the world…

…Ben ran.

Clutching Cecil to his chest, he ran with every last ounce of courage he had. The sound of his sandaled feet slapping on the cobble-stone streets echoed sharply from the faces of the houses as he darted between them. Shadows shifted and twisted in every corner, tendrils of darkness spinning long webs across the uncharted side streets and alleys.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ben could feel it.

The darkness…

The darkness that he had seen on the Mysidian horizon as he had sat with his father… the darkness that had chased them through the city all the way to the Serpent Road… That darkness was now there in Baron.

It’s following… it’s coming closer! It knows where we are?

Ben’s breath came in sharp gasps between his bared teeth. Fear bubbled frantically within his throat, his chest tightening and burning with the effort it had taken to run so far with Cecil in his arms.

“Don’t worry…” he said, voice rasping with fatigue. “I won’t let them take you.”

Ben didn’t know how he knew… it was like a simple, undeniable fact. The darkness wanted to take them – both himself and Cecil. Where it wanted to take them to, he did not know.

I won’t let them…

Determination flushed his cheeks as he skidded around the nearest corner, pausing to pant over one shoulder. His back pressing against the stone wall, Ben fought to catch his breath as he peered down at his little brother in concern.

I’ll… I’ll figure something out. I promise, Cecil.

Cecil had remained silent the whole time, as he always tended to be. A tiny pair of green eyes blinked sleepily up at Ben from behind the shelter of the blanket. An expression of peaceful trust was written on the toddler’s face.

Ben’s gaze swung around the silent streets. Had there been any adults awake at that time, he might have felt a bit safer. But there was no crowd to be lost in. There were no adults to run to for help. There was nothing but the two of them… and the deepening silence.

That’s when the idea sprang to his mind.

I can hide Cecil somewhere!

Ben began up the street with tired, staggering steps.

After I hide him, I’ll run the other way… Then maybe the darkness will think that he’s still with me. And it will follow me instead of looking for Cecil!

His feet led him down the lesser-worn streets of the western edge of the city… further away from the Serpent Road. There, the roads were no longer cobble. Only a small trod-down dirt path marked the way.

Then I can find somewhere to hide till the danger goes away… And I’ll come back to get him. Then we can go home.

Ben worked through the plan in his head with a thought of triumph. Once more, he paused.

Only… where’s a good place to hide Cecil?

His eyes fell upon the little bronzed sign that sat outside the stone gate of one of the houses nearby. Written in rough script was a single name: “Pollendina”.

Oh… Master Cid!

The boy’s face brightened up. He began to trot towards the little stone building.

I’m sure he wouldn’t mind watching Cecil for a little while…

Ben knew the young Engineer mostly from the long days that he had spent in Baron. His father had helped Cid build a number of the first airships there.

He’s always been really, really nice to me.

Cid was probably one of the most cheerful and kind-hearted adults that Ben knew. The Engineer never forgot to bring a special treat of some sort when he knew that the boy was coming to spend the day in the shop – be it a little toy or just something sweet to eat. Plus Cid always had some funny or light-hearted story to tell…

“Be good for Master Cid,” Ben stooped to sit Cecil down on the doorstep. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, okay?”

Cecil just tilted his head with a hazy-eyed yawn.

Ben smiled and patted his brother’s head. Then one hand lifted, knocking loudly at the front door.

It was a moment before he could make out the sound of movement inside the house. But as soon as he was sure someone was on their way to answer the door, Ben darted off around the corner, through the bushes.

I have to lead the danger away from Cecil…

Ben was still tired from his run through Baron. His legs felt leaden as he jogged.

I have to protect him… just like Mom said.

Pushing all thoughts of exhaustion from his mind, he focused ahead of him, towards the edge of the city.

I have to fight the darkness… just like Father does… I have to–

Ben pulled up short as a long sliver of shadow stretched low across his path in the foggy light. Where the darkness touched his skin, his hair stood on end. A shiver wracked his body as he took a step backwards, green eyes widening.

The darkness!

The shadow stood before him in the shape of a man. But it was impossible to see anything except the slitted glow of blood-red eyes from the core of the darkness.

It’s already here!?

The boy would have screamed… except his voice would not come. And had he shouted, there would have been no one to hear him there upon the fringe of the town. His limbs felt weighed down with a force too impossible to move. His eyes suddenly grew heavy as if with a bout of numbing sleep.

“Golllbezzzzz….”

The twisted form of a hand rose up at the side of the shrouded shadow. It reached for him, slicing through the chilling silence in a slow, deliberate manner. The eyes seem to grow brighter as the fingers trailed closer to his face.

“Golbez… come to me.”

The sound of his name jolted the boy from the strange, trancelike state that swept through his mind. His eyes narrowed in fury, suddenly focusing sharply upon the dark form. Teeth bared, he shrugged free of the steel-trap feeling that had wrapped around his body.

“N-noooo!” Ben instantly lashed out.

Thoughts of protecting Cecil… of his mother’s words… of his father’s sorrow… all built into a tremendous flame, born of wrath.

I have to protect them!

The tempest of green and white flame leapt from his hands. It was a power that he did not know he possessed… a power that had never before been tempered in anger or fear… a power that had never been turned on another living creature before that very moment…

A sudden, terrible pang of guilt rose in Ben’s heart as the flame devoured the shadowy form…

I… I… hurt someone?

…only to be washed away at the terrifying realization…

That the shadow-man remained standing before him, unharmed.

The boy’s jaw dropped open in shock.

“So… you already know how to tap into the power of your rage,” there was a trickle of laughter mixed into the coldness of the statement.

Ben stumbled back, falling upon his knees the grass.

“Good…. very, very good…” the voice purred next to his ear.

Terror shook through every inch of Ben’s body, breaking any hold that the suggestive words might have had over him. The boy’s breath drew in frightened, ragged gasps as the dark hands reached slowly closer. Still too weak to struggle, the boy was helpless as the shadow expanded to darken his vision.

“Daddy!” The only words that rose to his lips came in a frightened whimper, “Daddy, please help me!”

Intermission 5 Dark Embrace

Date: 23 human years before present time.
Location: Tower of Zot.

I want to go home.”
The trappings of his room in Zot were more luxurious than any Ben had ever seen in Mysidia. There was a large bed in one corner which was piled with thick downy pillows and crowned with a soft inviting blanket. A brazen fireplace was built into the far wall, a blaze crackling pale orange in its depths. The walls were high and adorned with long ancient looking tapestries.

There was a huge oak wardrobe in the far corner. All the clothes that were inside looked to be able to fit him. Despite this, he preferred the tunic and trousers from back home. The clothes inside the wardrobe were all a deep black hue.

There was an overwhelming feeling of wrongness that hung in the air. It clung to his skin like a pinprickled sweat.

Father…

The day wore on, the light on the wall shifting to stretch across the far corner, casting a glow upon the tapestry there. Upon it were woven images of some sort of paradise land. The sky was very blue and the flowers were bright and colorful. The people looked very happy. They all had wings.

Where are you?

Ben startled as the door opened, a large gaping darkness from the other side. His tiny fists balled, clutching at his knees. There was a man there. He was tall, handsome, with striking white hair drawn back in a loose ponytail, a cold smile pasted upon his lips as if he really wanted to mean it.

His hair… it’s white…? He looks somewhat like Father?

The man approached slowly, long violet robes rustling with his movements. The child found himself sliding away across the floor until his back was pinned against the wall.

There’s something about him. Something very very wrong…

The voice smooth like warm honey, “Hello Golbez. How do you like your room here in the Tower?”

How does he know my name? I’ve never met him before.

The boy did not answer. He simply drew his legs up closer to his chest. The wall was cold against his back.

The man did not seem to even cast a gaze about the room, but said, “You did not touch your meal. Was it not to your liking?”

Father… where are you? Please come and get me. Come take me away from this place.

The child still did not answer. His green eyes blinked up at the man, uncertainly. On first glance, the man did not seem to want to hurt him. But…

…But the feeling I get when I look into his eyes… Makes me dizzy.

“Were you not hungry?”

Ben shook his head.

“Now come, certainly you must be. You’ve had such a long trip.”

The boy wanted to ask where he was. And how he had come to be there. Instead, he said, “I want to go home.”

“Golbez.” The man chided softly. “You are home.”

Ben felt his lip quiver ever so slight. “Where is my Father?”

“Father?” his grin seemed to turn sharp as the question rang across the chamber.

The boy’s green eyes hardened, “My father, KluYa! Where is he? I want my father!”

“Oh… KluYa?” the man turned away, face stricken by what seemed genuine pain that did not touch his voice. “He’s gone.”

Gone?

Ben struggled to his feet, “G-gone? Where?”

“Away.”

No… He can’t be.

“Well… wh-when… will he be back?”The man drew a deep, hard breath, reaching a hand slowly out to the boy. The child flinched slightly, but allowed the hand to settle softly upon his forehead. “Golbez… He’s not coming back.”

What? I don’t believe it!

“What? Why?”

“He… left you.”

Left me…?

Ben’s green eyes reflected upward, misting with confusion. The pain behind his eyes kept the images from growing clear. “He would never leave me.”

There was a strange feeling as the man smiled down from above, like a twisting in his mind. “But, Golbez, he has.”

-He’s gone. Not coming back.-

“W-w-w-” Ben took in a sobbing breath. Something was happening to him. Something was not right… but… he… was much too sleepy to try to figure it out.

– It is not your fault he didn’t want you, Golbez…-

“Father..” the child hissed from between dry lips. “Didn’t… want me?”

-But… I do. Let me show you… let me teach you… so much you have yet to learn. You will be my dark star.-

“Golbez… I… will be your Father now. Let me show you the way.”

-I will never leave you… never let you go…-

The man reached out, and drew the mesmerized child into his dark embrace.

Intermission 6 Zot

Time: Six years before previous time
Location: Tower of Zot.

Golbez had already captured her chin in the crook of his forefinger and thumb.
Locked within Zot’s dark embrace, Rosa felt the sorrow of the Blue Planet resounding through her entire being. Strapped to the cold steel mechanism in the inner chamber of the Tower, she felt not unlike a hunter’s trophy hung above the mantle.

A dim, soiled world pressed in around her, a mechanical existence that was not quite living and even further away from death.Time crept a monotonous cadence through her mind — how long she had been there, she could not say. Neither partaking in night nor day, for both seemed equal to senses that were so far away from the sun’s gentle touch, it felt like eons. The Tower stank of death and the delight of evil. The warmth of her heart seemed the only living thing within the cold, mechanical structure.

As the hissing of the sliding door sounded, Kain entered the room. He was all cold gleaming metal, withdrawn into his darkness and hidden in the shell of his dragoon armor. She thought that perhaps once, she might have known him. That this may have been the boy that had danced her about the ball room only two years ago… the Kain had hidden under the bridge of the waterway in Baron as kids when they played chocobo tag. He had been the boy with the brilliant smile and a witty word to fit all occasions. She had been “Rosey”. Cecil had always been Cecil. The trio had been inseparable.

This man was no longer her Kain.

Pain intermingled with disgust woke inside every time she saw what he had become. She cursed Golbez for what he had done to Kain — for taking away one of her dearest friends. She sometimes found herself cursing Kain for being too weak to deny the darkness. She often cursed herself for putting Cecil into this danger.

Rosa wanted to weep, overcome with the sorrow that rushed through her at the sight of her old friend. The last ounce of pride would not let her — not in front of the man who was once Kain. The spark within refused to let her give up, as much as Golbez’s darkness pressed on her and gnawed on her self-will. She would never give up the hope that Cecil would soon come to find her. She knew, without knowing how, that he would.

The dragoon took his position at the far end of the room, his spear gripped tightly in one fist. Rosa could see his eyes glittering under the dragon skull mask as he watched her with a feverish light. She was here because the man who was once Kain had wanted to keep her close to him.

They had never been further apart.

He guarded her in complete silence. She never attempted to speak to him.

Images flashed through her head hundreds upon hundreds of times. The sounds echoing, her sense merging, until she wasn’t quite certain that the things she remembered were actually the truth. Memory saw the man who was once Kain towering over Cecil’s broken body, a spear raised and gleaming in the Crystal’s silent light. It had been in Mysidia… no Damcyan… no Fabul! Yes, Fabul… Fabul…. Fabul…. The images became too painful to conjure up, yet too relentless to lay aside. Her Cecil, a crumpled heap upon the silver-sheened tiles of the Fabulian Crystal chamber. And her Kain at fault, ready to put him past the pain of this world.

Her words had stopped it — “No, don’t!”

She had awaken from sweat streaked dreams there in the Tower, calling these words. The man who was once Kain heard them. He knew what they meant. They had saved Cecil’s life. Perhaps it had been that last spark of what was once Kain coming to life, having mercy. Perhaps.

Then Golbez’s darkness descended upon them all. Rosa, weak and powerless in the grips of the Dark Lord, had been taken from her love. If only she hadn’t demanded Cecil to allow her to come… if only… if only… But she had foolishly wanted to fight by Cecil’s side, to prove her worth to him. She did not know she would have to face the man who was once Kain.

Being merely a White Mage, Rosa could not fathom what twisted powers the Man of Darkness had worked on the man who was once Kain. Like all of his tainted creatures, Golbez had granted the man who was once Kain powers and strengths unnatural. The man who was once Kain seemed to have little problem in taking them. This was what frightened Rosa so. The gifts of Darkness were a double-edged blade.

The Kain she had remembered was a tall, slender-built man, and a skilled fighter. There had been a glow to his face, an unshakable love of life and joy of being. He had cared for Cecil like a brother, despite the fact that the dark knight had often been able to best the dragoon in most of their sparring matches since as far back as she could remember. Cecil had always held an unnaturally keen sense for battle and a great talent for sword skills. Kain could not match up to the dark knight. Though his heart was strong, and hand steady, he had always lacked self-control.

Rosa now looked at the man who was once Kain. She had seen this man in action and knew that he had defeated Cecil without much difficulty. Nor a second thought or consideration for the one that had once been a brother to him. That was why he was not Kain. She hated the twisted and vengeful powers Golbez had granted him. It was he power to kill without heart. The power to murder. She shuddered as his haunted, dead eyes watched over her.

He thought this was love.

Rosa wanted to scream. She wanted to hit him until he came back to his senses.

This is not love! Love does not purposely hurt the one you care about!

Golbez was suddenly there — he did not enter by any means she could see, he just simply was. The room shrank and bowed as he stepped into the center of the chamber. Light itself seemed to fear him, dancing from the huge plated armor that concealed his body, wrapping him in gloom. The man who was once Kain seemed small beside the Dark Lord.

Rosa felt minuscule.

How is Cecil going to be able to fight that?

“Kain,” the voice that came from within the helmet should not have been there. It was deep, golden, resounding — wrapped within an ancient lilt that had never fell upon her ears before. It was as if the words were blessed to be spoken by this man…. until one remembered who he was. “There is duty for you below.”

“Master…” the man who was once Kain bowed from his waist. His hot, darkened eyes fell upon her and Rosa could feel the possessive loathing seeping from the shadows. He didn’t want to leave her alone with another man, even if that man was his own Master.

Rosa didn’t want to be left with the Dark Lord, either.

Thus far, Golbez had not harmed her nor made any untoward move in her direction. If she didn’t know better, she would think that he was actually attempting to avoid contact with her. She could not understand why. But, she was thankful for every moment that she did not have to spend in his presence.

Rosa could only watch helplessly as the room dimmed at the man who was once Kain’s exit. Now all that remained was the darkness. And the frantic drumming of her heart. She swallowed back the bile of fear that filled her mouth with its bitter taste.

Golbez, too, seemed to watch as the dragoon left. Rosa could hear the rise and fall of his breath, the only indication that something deep within the mountain of midnight armor was actually alive. When the door had closed securely behind, the Dark Lord turned full attention upon her.

Rosa shrank back inside her skin, horror thickening the air as it clung to her damp form. She tugged uselessly at the bonds around her wrists and ankles, the rope nibbling at her flesh. Golbez had already captured her chin in the crook of his forefinger and thumb. His gauntleted hand held firm but gentle, big enough to smother her if he were to spread his palm wide. She could only quiver in frozen terror, caught by the hand of darkness itself.

“I find that Kain is taking a little too much enjoyment in his duty here with you,” as the voice spoke, its strange lulling magic washed over her. The young White Mage could feel a whimper bubble within her throat as Golbez turned her head from side to side very, very slowly.

Just one quick twist of his wrist could–

“Obsession clutters the mind. A cluttered mind does not fight well. He needs a bit of time away, don’t you think?”

Rosa could only close her eyes, feeling time creeping around her, wondering if the sun or moons shone outside. Her stomach reeled as the Dark Lord began to trace one finger softly over the slope of her chin and down the white flesh of her throat. He paused, as if not certain whether he should continue.

“Mmmm…. you are lovely…” Golbez murmured, almost a true feeling passing those lips.

Shiva…! What is he going to do to me?

Her breath was icy in her lungs, catching in her chest painfully.

He wouldn’t possibly..! I belong to Cecil! And only Cecil!

Her body prickled as she hung in desperate fear, the scent heavy in the air. Rosa could only tremble, like a tiny and frightened creature caught in a predator’s mighty maw. She felt violated. She felt terrified. Whatever Golbez wanted, she knew she was powerless to stop him.

“So… beautiful…” He stroked the back of his fingers down one cheek, then the other, feeling the wet tracks of the tears she could not hold back. The Dark Lord brushed the straying hair away from her eyes. Then he tilted her head up to look at him. His darkness filled her vision, and she wondered in fearful awe what was actually under the ebony plated helmet. What eyes watched her so?

“What do you know of beauty?” She had thought. To her dismay, she realized she must have uttered it aloud.

His soft, throaty chuckle floated through the room. It was a warm, brazen sound. Golbez tilted his head as he gazed down into her face. “I have eyes that can see, just as you do. That is all that is needed to know such a thing.”

“A man who recognizes beauty of any kind… must posses the heart to understand what he sees,” she was too afraid to speak louder than a hoarse whisper. Still, he heard.

“Child,” spoke that strange, magnificent voice. It sounded almost regretful. “I’m living proof that he does not.”

Much to her surprise, Rosa found her response rising through the darkness of the chamber, “Then, why didn’t you just kill Cecil when you had the chance?”

Golbez suddenly jerked back, a choked sound coming from within the depths of the helmet. Rapidly, he turned away, like someone blinded by a moment of terrible realization.

Caught by surprise, Rosa wrenched back away from his presence. After a moment of gasping breath, she glanced up at the Dark Lord’s back, and a strange thought ran through her mind.

Is it possible… that Golbez is reaching for the Light… somewhere within him and he doesn’t even know it?

A tension that Rosa had not even noticed had faded in the room drew back around the huge, armored man. As if regaining his senses, he swept his cloak around him like a dark shield. She shied away again as he turned to face her.

“I think it is better if you were not to remember today’s conversation,” he intoned.

Rosa gave a muffled gasp as the Dark Lord motioned his hand in front of her eyes. A deep, chilled sleep rose up to take her, and she knew upon awakening, she would remember none of what had passed between them.

Intermission 7 The Ultimate Ordeal

Place~ Summit of Mt. Ordeals
Time~ 4 Years before Present Time

The fire did little to ease the chill, though he sat as closely as he could to the flame.
The wind was bitter cold. Of course it was near midnight, it was a mountaintop, and the season wasn’t exactly mid-summer. But, still, the wind was bitter cold.

Even that annoying fact had been pushed beyond Kain’s mind. Beyond all thoughts.

One must clear the mind to let the Truth come in…

The Truth…

What was the Truth? There had been a time the dragoon had been sure he knew. Once, long ago when he could easily say he understood who he was and his dreams in life. But those days were so far behind him. He was no longer that young, self-assured warrior who had turned his back on Baron’s gates that day at his childhood friend’s side. He honestly could say he had no idea who he was. Not anymore…

Finally, the frigid winds broke through his concentration and Kain fell out of meditation.

Why can I never keep my mind clear of these thoughts? Why?

The wind ripped at his blond hair as he sat in lotus position, head bowed. The dragoon shivered.

The fire did little to ease the chill, though he sat as closely as he could to the flame. It was at the lee of the outcrop, sheltered from the full blast of the wind, yet it still danced erratically in the pitch dark. It was the only light Kain could see in the world. He gazed into the fire’s soul, drawing a cloak about his shoulders for extra warmth.

Am I ready for this? Is it too soon?

Kain didn’t know how long he had been atop Mt. Ordeals. He had left behind the world of order and time upon dismounting the chocobo at the base of the mountain. He had been there long enough to see the warm days turn cold. And, yet, he ever pondered… and worked at his battered spirit.

Why am I here?

He had often asked himself that while gazing over the stretch of flat lands that ever bowed low to the great peak. He had to be honest with himself. There were two reasons. First, it was, as he said, to train to be a true Dragoon… to vanquish the darkness held in his soul. But, he had a second motive that was harder to admit. He just didn’t want to be there for their wedding.

Kain knew of the growing love between his two dear friends, Cecil and Rosa. He knew that in this life, they were meant to be. But he never could accept that… ever harder did he fight to win the love of the one who would never love him. And in the end, it could only pull them further apart. Now, he felt as if he was upon a tiny deserted isle, and they were upon a beautiful tropical paradise, and hundreds of miles of ocean between them…. with Leviathan heading straight for him. Kain had never been so lonely in his life.

Only… the quest of Mt. Ordeals, the place that he had sought to find inner peace, had simply served to alienate him further. As of yet, he had not found that piece of mind that he so desperately sought. And, he was tired of seeking… Tomorrow, ready or not, he was going to challenge the peak.

Kain shoved a stick into the flame, poking the fire higher, with short and vicious jabs.

Why do they get to be happy… and me… I’m cut off from everything I’ve known and loved? Why? When do I ever get–

“Is this seat taken?” a deep, powerful voice broke into his thoughts, startling him instantly. Kain peered up into the looming darkness to see the darker outline of a man against the sky.

How… did he get up here?

“If this fire is taken, then that is okay?”

“N-no! Please, forgive me… you are quite welcome.” Kain attempted to make up for his loss of mind. “You must excuse me. It’s just that I haven’t seen or heard from another person in so long…”

“I know,” the man replied, causing a chill to tug at every blond hair on the nape of Kain’s neck. He made his way into the firelight, sitting easily down upon a nearby stone.

“Would you like..?” Kain held out a hardened loaf of bread, or what was left of it. That was another reason he had to challenge the mountain soon. His rations were low, and with cold days coming, food would be impossible to find.

“No, thank you,” the man replied. “I do appreciate this, though.”

The visitor motioned to the fire. It reflected strangely in his slanted green eyes, his hair changing colors in the flames’ dance. He did not actually seem to be cold.

Kain was getting a few ideas about the newcomer, but he wasn’t sure that he liked what they added up to. “Oh, no problem. No problem at all.”

The man turned, glancing at the dark outcropping of the summit. Then he returned his gaze on Kain. “You going to try it?”

“Thinking about it… tomorrow maybe.” The dragoon didn’t question how the man knew of the trial upon the mountain. After all, it was a pretty popular legend anymore.

“Really?” the man asked, falling suddenly silent. He studied the flames. “You think you will find your answers there?”

The dragoon looked at him sharply, “Of course… if I live.”

“Oh, you’ll live all right,” he was still lost in the blaze. “But what do you expect to win?”

“Win? My true self, of course! Why else would I be here?”

“Ah…” the visitor looked up finally. “Your true self, you say. Are you so sure?”

“But… Cecil won. He became the Paladin! He destroyed his dark side!” Kain found himself suddenly getting desperate. The visitor was voicing the very doubts that had been nagging the Dragoon each and every night.

“Yes, Cecil…” the man sighed, eyes saddening, and confirming Kain’s fears. “But, you aren’t Cecil.”

“What are you saying? That this trial can work for Cecil but not for me? Why not?”

“Cecil… ” the man began slowly. “He was already the Paladin. It was in his heart, his spirit, his destiny. The moment he took it into his mind to start a quest to cleanse his soul… he became the Paladin. But, it was not until he faced the darkness within himself that he could realize this, and embrace this hidden power.”

“And..?”

There was silence.

“What does that have to do with me?” Kain pressed.

“As I said, you are not Cecil.”

Kain clenched his fists by his sides. He was almost shaking with rage. “So what are you saying? I’m soiled and evil with a stain that can never be erased?”

The man looked at him calmly. “Did I say that? No… I believe that those words came from your mouth, Kain.”

“That’s what you’re suggesting, though!” He was so angry he didn’t think to ask how the man knew his name.

“No, actually, it’s not. If you would like to listen, I could possibly tell you,” a droll glance up caused the disgruntled Dragoon to fall quiet. “Very well, now… As with Cecil, the true spirit of Light is held Within.”

Kain sighed, “So I’ve been told.”

“Yes, but… it is not there…” He motioned to the mountain’s summit. “Nor can it be won using this.” He reached a practiced hand back to caress his sword’s grip. “The Light is held here… and here…” He touched his chest, then his forehead. “If it is not there, then it does not exist.”

Kain frowned. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“A man is nothing more than he makes himself, Kain,” the visitor shook his head. “If you keep telling yourself of your wicked and sinful ways, eventually you will come to believe, and even live these proclamations. Man makes his own evil. It’s always been that way.”

“So, you’re saying that Cecil became a Paladin not because he over came his dark side, but because he believed he was a Paladin?” Kain shook his head again.

“In knowing that he could become Paladin, that he was not chained to the world by his past deeds. By believing that the Light would accept him… in those ways, he could overcome his past darkness.”

Kain was growing ever more confused. He sighed.

The man frowned. “You cannot expect to embrace the reality all at once. But, know this… If you do fight tomorrow, you will not find the answers you seek. You will walk away from Mt. Ordeals having defeated your own self, and that is what you will see.”

“Then… what can I do? If not here… then where?”

The man reached out, poking at mid-air, but Kain plainly felt the warmth of the hand on his chest. “There. In yourself.”

“But…”

“There is so much self-doubt in you, Kain. The Light cannot accept one who does not accept himself. You must learn to forgive, child. Others at first, then yourself. To learn self-love and appreciation. The day you can honestly stop calling yourself ‘evil and stained’ is the day you will begin to embrace the Truth.”

“And where do I go to learn that?”

The man made a wide motion, a sweeping that took in the world in every direction. “Life is Man’s greatest teacher. Up here you’ve left that behind, Kain. Not only do you need to learn who you are, you need to learn how to truly live again. That’s a pretty tall order for one young Dragoon…”

“Hey!” Kain barked, “I’m not just any young Dragoon, you know!”

“I know… that’s why I have faith in you. And know this one last thing — you are not alone in your quest. Every man on the Blue Planet faces a similar journey in his life. Not everyone is successful.”

Kain was packing up his stuff as quickly as he could, figuring that his meager rations would last. He didn’t have much time. His greatest ordeal would begin tomorrow.

“What are you doing, Kain?”

“Packing…” the blond haired man looked up. “Tomorrow I ride for Baron…”

Something like relief passed over the traveler’s face. He smiled, though somewhat sadly. “Well, then, peace be with you, Kain…”

The man rose, extending one hand to the Dragoon.

“And with you, too, KluYa,” Kain took the hand, surprised at how solid it felt. He smiled in return. “Thank you.”

The spirit nodded, grinning impishly. “Hey, don’t get me wrong. I was just tired of seeing you moping around up here all the time.”

“Yeah… right…” Kain laughed, then returned to his packing, though he still felt the strange eyes upon him.

“Kain..?” the voice was oddly subdued, “Please… take care of my boys for me.”

“Boys?” Kain asked, looking up.

His sight was greeted with the early morning mists rising from the valley, and nothing more.