Dawn of New Light
The next morning Auron woke up feeling like he’d suddenly gone to the Farplane. Italia stood by a window in the room they’d rented in a nearby inn, framed by the rising sun and looking radiant in her nightgown. She noticed he was awake, turned, and smiled. Then her eyes focused on something behind Auron. Auron turned around and saw Braska leaning against the door with a small smile on his lips.
No, this can’t be the Farplane yet, Auron reassured himself. If Braska has his way, he’s probably going to live forever.
“Good morning,” Braska said cheerfully.
“It is?” Auron replied.
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Good point,” Auron muttered. “What brings you here?”
“I am still traveling with you, correct?” Braska asked.
“I meant what brings you into our room? It’s not like I told you that you could come on in.”
“You were asleep.”
“Well, you woke me up and got yourself in trouble.”
Italia sighed and continued packing what little she carried as the two men sniped at each other. She finally tossed the small pack at Auron, who deftly caught it out of the air with one hand while making gestures at Braska with the other.
An hour later they were out on a ferry to Besaid, figuring that was where Affectus would go next.
“Just explain something to me,” Auron said as the three of them were sitting down to a long discussion. “What in our right minds are we doing, going after someone who could take on Sin in a one-on-one match?”
“He’s not always like that, you know,” Italia said. “Whatever Affectus is, he isn’t human, that much is for certain. However, his abilities and strengths alter over time. I’ve only been after him for about three months, but from what I’ve observed, and what I’ve learned from people I’ve talked to, his different phases seem to be connected to the moon’s. As the moon wanes, he becomes more and more powerful, until he is able to defeat Sin like he just did. When the moon is impossible to see on the clearest night, it is said Affectus becomes a beast of terrible power, no longer even remotely resembling a human.”
“Sounds sort of like a werewolf,” Braska conjectured.
“Werewolves, if they existed, would only have one phase in which they were supernatural,” Italia replied with a shake of her head. “Affectus is always, at some point, supernatural. As the moon is more easily seen, Affectus weakens. When the moon can be clearly seen, and is full, on even the cloudiest night, Affectus is no more powerful than a human – but the blade he wields, the Coma Vorpal, somehow gains its most fearsome power for that one night when the moon is perfect.”
“So our best bet to tangle with him is when the moon is at a quarter-point, to give us time to hit him hard without having to worry about the sword or the beast?” Auron asked. Italia nodded in the affirmative.
Just then a small boat passed by the ferry. Auron, Braska, and Italia all leaned over the side to look at it. It had a cloth canopy supported by wooden rods, but its passengers were not too hard to see: a woman and a man in a cloak and cape.
“He’s not heading for Besaid,” Auron whispered, trying not to attract attention.
“We should follow,” Braska whispered back, gesturing towards the lifeboats the ferry boasted.
* * *
After following Affectus for seven hours, the boat they were pursuing stopped. Affectus tossed the canopy into the water and began chanting incantations in a forgotten tongue. Auron had no idea what the incantations meant, but he knew what island Affectus had stopped in front of.
The Shimmering Island.
The island had gotten its name from the strange shimmering effect that surrounded it at all times, which came from the permanent imbalance of the four lower dimensions in the area: in this area height, width, length, and time were so horribly different from the rest of the world that anyone who set foot upon the Shimmering Island, provided they survived that feat, would never be able to leave. The imbalance was a result of a great battle fought between many necromancers on the island near the beginning of history.
“Why is Affectus stopping in front of the Shimmering Island?” Auron muttered. “What business could he have there?”
“I think we’re about to find out,” Italia said, pointing. “Look!”
Before Auron’s eyes, the distortion of the four lower dimensions was peeling away like algae being removed from the surface of a pond. Affectus eagerly moved towards the island, and his pursuers followed at a safe distance.
The island, after the battle of the necromancers, was little more than a flat plain in the middle of the ocean, consisting of sand and dirt.
As Auron followed Affectus, though, he felt himself palpably pass through an invisible energy wall. Suddenly a huge, black temple loomed before the three of them. Its base was conical, but at even intervals around its base a total of eight huge spires bristling with sharp protrusions thrust high into the sky, and upon the protrusions were black, exquisitely carved statues of powerful fiends from around the world. The spires also had many, many parapets. It was a fearsome sight to lay one’s eyes upon. Affectus, dragging Simne behind him, entered a door at the temple’s base. Auron gulped when he realized any one of the parapets on the towers was twice as big as the doorway, and the doorway was twice as big as he was, and each tower held at least two thousand parapets, and the conical base of the temple dwarfed the spires in thickness and height. It was a huge monument, but who had built it?
“Shall we go inside?” Braska asked, motioning towards the doorway.
Auron nodded, then asked, “Who’s going first?”
“How about Braska?” Italia suggested.
“Ladies first,” Braska replied pleasantly.
“Age before beauty,” Italia countered.
“Strength before grace,” Braska said, looking pointedly at Auron.
“You before me,” Auron finished as he shoved Braska inside. The three walked down a long, pitch-black tunnel for ten minutes before finally seeing even the tiniest glimmer of light.
The tunnel opened into a positively huge room, shaped like a cone. Auron surmised they were on the inside of the temple’s main structure. In the very center of the room, there was a stone table and a small shaft of light shone down on its center from an opening high above. The shaft of light, due to the fact there was no moon to give it off, gave Auron the chills, but he quickly forgot his discomfort when he saw Simne lying unconscious on the table. Aside from that, the room was cavernously empty. The walls felt strange to the touch, but there was not enough light to see them by.
“Where’s Affectus?” Italia muttered. “Affectus! Where are you?” she shouted. Auron expected the huge room to echo, but dead silence answered Italia’s call. Apparently, the entire temple was acoustically dead.
Then Auron heard a faint panting from behind them. He whirled, drawing Masamune, just as Affectus stepped into the small circle of light.
A yellowish energy haze surrounded Affectus’ entire body, and he shook uncontrollably. “Leave… now… or… die…” he panted, then collapsed.
Auron poked Affectus with his boot, then shrugged and turned towards Simne.
“Auron…” The horror in Italia’s voice prompted Auron to turn around, which turned out to be a very good thing. Affectus had regained consciousness, and something terrible was happening to him. He groaned and flopped around on the ground as the energy haze intensified into a harsh, bright glow, until only Affectus’ shape was visible through the light. It seemed to grow and mutate, then the light faded… and Auron beheld what had to be the most horrifying sight he had ever laid eyes upon.
Affectus had turned into a creature to put werewolves to shame. An elongated snout was topped by a glistening, black nose, under which a dark purple tongue hung out of the side of Affectus’ mouth, which was now lined with three rows of razor-sharp teeth. His ears had expanded to huge protrusions from the side of his head, resembling large fans that twitched and jerked on rotatable bones and cartilage. His eyes had widened to the size of saucers, even though they were still green and slitted like a cat’s. His body was lean, muscular, and supported on four legs. A long, thrashing tail topped with a poison barb completed the transformation. Affectus was also entirely covered in long, black fur.
Auron calmly spoke to his friends: “Did any of us bother to check the position of the moon on this little expedition?”
“Afraid not,” Braska replied.
Affectus snarled and shook off his robe, which no longer fit him. His eyes focused in on Auron, and Affectus actually smiled with his wolf-like mouth. Drool hit the floor as Affectus bared his fangs. Auron swallowed and said, “Good dog?”
Affectus sprang and Auron dropped to the floor, avoiding the beast by a hair. Braska slammed his staff into the ground and shouted, “HELLFIRE!” Normally Ifrit would have exploded from the depths of the earth, but this time there was a dull thud, some cracks spread through the floor about ten meters away, and then there was silence. It would almost be comical, Auron reflected, if it didn’t mean they were one Aeon short to fight Affectus. Braska looked stunned, then quickly recovered and yelled, “OBLIVION!” The floor, already weakened from Ifrit’s impact, shattered, and the huge Aeon, Anima, rose from the ground with a spine-chilling roar. It almost immediately sank back into the ground, also taking Affectus with it. A tense minute later, Affectus rose back to the surface, apparently – and impossibly – unscathed from Anima’s deadliest assault from the very depths of hell. Anima rose back up, too… but in pieces. The Aeon dissolved into pyreflies as Affectus struck again, this time with a piercing scream that brought Auron, Italia, and Braska to their knees. Affectus lunged forward and pierced Braska’s shoulder with the poison barb at the end of his tail. Braska fell to the floor, unconscious. Auron picked Masamune up, the bombardment of sound over, and swung at Affectus, who leaped back twenty meters in the blink of an eye. He then howled and Auron instinctively dropped Masamune and covered his ears.
Auron looked up and wondered where Italia was, then spotted her crawling inch by inch over to Simne, who was still unconscious. Affectus, unfortunately, noticed, and screamed so loud a shockwave of sound carved a fissure through the stone towards Italia. She rolled to one side and broke into a flat-out run, hoping to get to Simne fast enough to avoid Affectus.
Affectus had the perfect counter-strategy. Leaping thirty meters forward, he deftly landed on the table and snarled with contempt. Auron got up and went into a running slash at Affectus, but his enemy caught the Masamune between his teeth, the finely honed edge a hair away from cutting his head in half. Affectus then shook his head wildly, tearing the Masamune from Auron’s grasp. He butted heads with Auron, who went stumbling backwards and onto the floor again. Even as he did so, his tail whipped around and nearly found its mark on Italia at least a dozen times.
Then Affectus opened his mouth and growled in barely legible English, “It has been an enjoyable evening. However, it is about time I ended it and got what I came for.” With that he raised his head and howled again and again at the origin of the shaft of light. Auron and Italia covered their ears, desperately trying to survive the onslaught of sound.
Suddenly the entire room began to pulse with a strange, bluish light. Ornate carvings came into view, hieroglyphics telling of forgotten wars. Then, in a burst of energy, all the light was absorbed into a single, huge sphere hovering above the table. Affectus sprang onto the floor as the sphere slowly lowered itself, completely engulfing Simne, who began to float in the very center of the sphere. The sphere, now with Simne inside, rose back up about halfway to the top of the conical base. Affectus barked something Auron couldn’t make out, and before his eyes Affectus melted back into his humanoid form, his cloak and cape appearing literally out of thin air. Dawn had apparently broken.
“Now I have the first piece of the puzzle,” Affectus shouted as the sphere contacted slowly until it was nothing more than a glimmer above Simne’s chest. She dropped like a stone, and it was no small feat for Auron to catch her.
The sphere floated gently down into Affectus’ outstretched hand. Affectus looked at it and laughed triumphantly, then tucked it into his robes.
Then he turned to Auron, Italia, Simne, and Braska, who had just regained consciousness. Simne was still unconscious. Affectus drew the Coma Vorpal, which solidified into the Blade of Fury. Affectus looked at the blade and whispered, “Seyla mortis emnat hinum. Yui iolt gattashi tuboni. Wey sangquo tiam she-tao-fai.”
A second later a huge explosion consumed the interior of the temple, originating from the spot where Affectus stood. Auron and Italia had dragged the unconscious Braska and Simne behind the stone table with them, avoiding the blast. The temple itself didn’t sustain a bit of damage.
Of Affectus there was no trace.
Auron pulled himself shakily to his feet, then helped Italia and Braska up. Simne regained consciousness and blinked slowly, then saw Auron and exclaimed, “Auron! You’re alive!” She immediately got to her feet and embraced him, but Auron gently pushed her away.
“I’m afraid I’m already married,” Auron said, motioning towards Italia. Simne, at a loss for words, just stared at Italia, and there was suddenly an airship over the island bearing the colors of Bevelle. It landed, and out of it walked none other than High Priest Cimarron.
“Auron, my boy!” he shouted! “Excellent! You’ve rescued my daughter…” He trailed off as he saw Italia. “What the hell is she still doing here? Moreover, why isn’t she dead?” he screeched.
Auron put an arm around Italia and said coldly, “High Priest Cimarron, as of now, I, Warrior Monk First Class Auron, hereby resign my commission, decline your daughter’s hand in marriage, and officially register a suggestion for you to go rot in hell. Italia and I are married, and we’re going to go now and leave you to your petty scheming.” Auron turned as if to go, then paused and said one last thing, something that had taken quite a bit of figuring out: “Braska, meet the man who immorally and illegally engaged in an affair with your wife before you met her. Let’s go home.”
Cimarron was left standing, stunned, on the island, while Simne pelted him with questions.
* * *
Auron leaned back in the booth as he finished his tale. “And here we be.”
Tidus frowned and said, “Before we ask anything else, a couple things are bothering me. First, when did Braska receive the aid of Anima? And second, if Cimmaron was the one that sent Affectus to try to kill Italia, why did he go and kidnap Cimarron's daughter right afterwards?"
"Seymour was older than he looked," Auron replied archly. "Braska had been wandering with no real destination for a number of years before I met him. I asked Jyscal about it afterwards, when Braska explained who Anima was, but he didn't say anything, just told me it happened a while ago and that his son was staying with relatives."
"We still have no real answer, but my best bet is that Cimarron made a deal with Affectus: he'd kill Italia in exchange for being able to take Cimarron's daughter and do what he needed with her. After all, he did procure that orb in the temple on the Shimmering Isle only when she was there."
Tidus nodded and went on, "Still, that doesn’t explain how you and Italia ended up getting separated for more than ten years.”
“Duty,” Auron replied. “Italia wanted to keep hunting Affectus, but Braska had asked me to accompany him as his guardian on a second quest to reach Zanarkand. That, and the fact that Cimarron declared us traitors to Yevon and sent the entire monk army after our hides. Fortunately, Maester Mika intervened, executed Cimarron on charges of high treason, and reduced Simne’s status to that of Lady Monk. He also officially discharged Italia and myself from the ranks of the warrior monks and warned us to lay low for a while, lest some of Cimarron’s old allies decide to go after us.”
“I thought about arranging a meeting after Braska’s pilgrimage,” Italia put in, “but I learned from Rin – I know him from my Affectus-hunting days – that you were really an unsent, and I didn’t think our relationship could continue.”
Auron nodded affirmatively, then added, “But I am alive now, you know.”
Italia smiled and said, “But you’ve changed, Auron. You’re not like I remember you.”
“I want to join you again in hunting Affectus,” Auron said. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Tidus and I are coming, too,” Yuna interrupted. “You two can’t fight this man by yourselves.”
“What about Braska?” Tidus asked. “Do you think he wants to join in the quest?”
“I doubt it,” Auron replied. “The last time we fought Affectus, Braska nearly died from the poison barb. We can handle Affectus on our own.”
“Agreed,” Yuna said strongly. “We can leave the others out of this, too – there’s no need to get them mixed up in this.”
Auron got up to leave, and Tidus asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To do something that I should have done a long time ago,” Auron replied.
* * *
The next time Yuna saw Auron, it was like he was a new man. His old red coat was ironed and smoothed, his hair was neatly combed, he was clean-shaven, and his sunglasses were in his pocket. The reason for the last affectation was very clear: Auron’s scarred right eye had been magically restored by one of the many expert healers in Bevelle.
Tidus whistled and said, “You look like you’re ready for a night on the town, Auron.” Auron nodded and smiled, then his eyes focused on someone coming from behind Tidus. Tidus turned around and had to make a conscious effort to stop from whistling. Italia was walking toward them, her hair hanging over her shoulder and hiding one of her eyes. She wore a simple tunic and baggy, flowing pants that closed around her ankles. Swung over her back was a large staff topped by a magical emerald in the form of an arrowhead, which looked extremely sharp.
“Auron, my friend,” Tidus murmured, “You are an extremely lucky man.”
Yuna slapped Tidus playfully on the shoulder. “Don’t forget, you married me.”
Tidus shrugged and asked, “And your point is?”
Italia casually walked over, unslung the spear, and put the crystal tip under Tidus’ chin. “Don’t forget,” she said to Tidus, “I married Auron.” With that she slung the spear back onto her back and said, “Auron, you look spectacular.”
“If style could kill, Affectus would be dead already,” Tidus chimed in.
Auron ignored him and asked, “So, Italia, what’s our first move?”
Italia replied, “Believe it or not, my sources tell me Affectus has been poking around Zanarkand of late. I think we’re heading there first.”
“I can ask Cid to lend us a ride there,” Yuna volunteered.
“I’ve already arranged transportation,” Italia said mischievously. She whistled, and a man led four chocobos out from an alley. “You remember Sirius, of course, Auron? From what you told us, I figured you would love to travel by chocobo again. So I had this kind gentleman arrange it.”
“Italia,” Auron groaned, “this is not the best way to restart our relationship.”
* * *
Tidus pulled back on the reins of his chocobo as they arrived in Zanarkand. If anything, the city was just a large pile of loose odds and ends; there was nary an intact piece of rubble to be seen for miles. The only ruins that were still standing were the Zanarkand Dome that led to the Chamber of the Final Summoning. Italia pointed towards it and announced, “We go there.”
“Yeah, like that was hard to figure out,” Tidus muttered, licking his lips. This version of his beloved Zanarkand always disturbed him to the point of paranoia, and as a result he became significantly more cranky and critical.
Leaving their chocobos outside the dome, the four moved through the rubble until they passed through the Cloister of Trials and took the lift down to the Chamber of the Final Summoning.
Tidus noted how much the place had deteriorated since he’d last been there, but before he could comment on anything Yuna collapsed to the floor.
* * *
Yuna opened her eyes and found herself inside the Chamber of the Final Summoning. She frowned, realizing she had no idea of how she’d come here or why.
Then it struck her that she had no idea of even who she was.
Panic took Yuna, and she racked her brain for memories. None were there. Desperate, Yuna leaned on the stone wall for support. It melted away. The whole chamber melted away, leaving Yuna in a huge void of nothingness. Yuna felt her own body distort and cease to exist. She tried to cry out, but her voice didn’t work. Such vast emptiness…
For once in her life, Yuna was totally and completely alone.
* * *
Four hours after Yuna had collapsed, she twitched. Tidus was immediately checking her vital signs, listening to her breathing, and cursing the fact that he had no idea what was wrong with her. Auron and Italia sat a respectful distance away, quietly discussing the implications of the event. They had all repeatedly tried numerous ways to revive Yuna, but in the end all had failed and they had just given up.
Yuna groaned and sat up, then looked around blankly. Auron and Italia were on their feet in an instant, while Tidus helped Yuna up. She looked at him, mouthed a word, then said slowly, “Tidus… that’s your name, isn’t it?” The color drained from Tidus’ face, but he nodded. “And we’re married, right?” Tidus nodded again.
Yuna breathed a sigh of relief, then suddenly collapsed into Tidus’ arms, shaking with fear. She gripped his shoulders tightly, her fingernails digging into his skin. “Don’t let him take me again!” she pleaded, sobbing. “So much emptiness! I can’t take all the emptiness!”
“Calm down, Yuna!” Tidus assured her. “You’re safe! You’re here with us!” A small rodent rustled in a corner of the room, and Yuna instinctively recoiled with fright.
“Tidus… help me.”
“I don’t know how to help you, Yuna! You have to tell me how!”
“Affectus has to be close by,” Italia said grimly. “I’m betting he’s behind this.”
“No!” Yuna gasped. She was starting to hyperventilate, she was so scared. “Not… Affectus! It’s… Zaon!”
“That’s impossible,” Italia protested. “Zaon’s been dead for longer than anyone can remember!”
Italia’s defiant expression melted away as the glass over the Zaon Fayth shattered and the statue came to life, pulling itself out of the floor it was carved in. It turned its torso to look at the four of them, apparently fully mobile. Bloodred lights flashed where its eyes would be.
Yuna screamed and ran away from the living statue, running for Yunalesca’s platform in the void. Tidus followed, and Auron drew Masamune while Italia unslung her spear. “Let’s fight this thing, then,” she said matter-of-factly.
Italia started off by coming in with a low swipe at the statue’s feet. Her spear’s head thrummed with powerful magic energy, but it glanced off the stone skin of the statue. Auron swung the Masamune down in a powerful deathblow to the statue’s head, but it glanced off as well.
Then the air vibrated around the statue, and Auron could hear faint whisperings.
“Kill… kill… kill…”
Auron drew back in horror as the statue’s mouth impossibly opened. Blood gushed forth, a river of it. “Run!” Italia shouted, and the two of them ran after Yuna and Tidus.
“Kill… kill… kill…”
Yuna flew up the stairs to the platform above Yunalesca’s. She finally made it. Drained of energy, she collapsed upon the dais in the center of the platform with a silhouetted galaxy emblazoned upon it. Tidus was ten seconds behind her, and Auron and Italia thirty seconds behind him.
“What are you two doing here?” Tidus asked. “I thought you were fighting off that statue!”
“Kill… kill… kill…”
Tidus yelped as the statue suddenly appeared behind Auron and Italia. Both of them turned around, an instinctive combat move. Before they completed the turn, however, the statue swung a massive arm, and both of them were knocked away.
“Kill… kill… kill…”
The statue’s mouth opened again, and the river of blood flowed out of it. Yuna opened her eyes, saw the statue, and screamed so loud Tidus half-expected the statue to shatter from the sound.
“He’s coming for me because I killed Yunalesca!” Yuna wept.
“Kill… kill… kill…”
Tidus drew Caladbolg. “Back off!” he shouted at the statue. A moment later, he was clutching bruised ribs after the statue punched him full-on in the chest, toppling him over onto the dais next to Yuna.
The blood river ran over Tidus and Yuna as the statue stopped beside them. Yuna clung to Tidus, sobbing.
Then, just as hope seemed lost, Yuna and Tidus were picked up by an invisible force and thrown away from the statue. A rippling hole in the platform appeared between them and the statue, and out of it rose Anaroth, guardian of the dead and sender of souls.
Anaroth threw back his hood, and the statue flinched, then plodded forward.
Anaroth snapped a finger.
The statue shook, then collapsed to the ground. A single pyrefly flew out of it, apparently disproving the theory of Zaon’s soul being gone. Yunalesca lied about that, too, Tidus thought. Those thoughts were quickly replaced by ones of the large, glowing, purple snake that dropped out of the statue’s mouth in a final gush of blood. Anaroth calmly stepped on it, and the serpent dissipated.
Anaroth turned around and smiled. Yuna immediately felt calm return to her at the sight of his large, luminous eyes that held the secrets of so many souls. “Yuna, it is a pleasure.”
“Thank you… I think,” Yuna replied uncertainly. “Maybe you could explain to me what just happened here.”
“I think you should go first,” Anaroth suggested.
Yuna shifted uncomfortably, then said, “As soon as I entered the Chamber of the Final Summoning, I fell into a deep blackness like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I was so… alone…” Yuna’s pupils began to dilate, and Tidus shook her by the shoulders.
“Yuna, stay with us,” Tidus urged. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it.”
“Affectus came here before you did and enchanted the statue of Zaon,” Anaroth explained. “The blood you saw pouring from its mouth symbolized all the blood that had been spilled on account of Yunalesca and Sin. You will notice it dissolved as soon as the statue was deprived of its maddened soul.” Tidus realized that he and Yuna, who had been literally covered in stifling blood, were clean of the substance.
“What do you know about Affectus?” Italia inquired. “Moreover, who are you, anyway?”
“Explaining who I am is a long and rather depressing story,” Anaroth said. “However, I do know about Affectus. He is certainly not human. I cannot ever sense a soul in him. The blade he wields is far too powerful for an ordinary human to handle. He is also very, very old, though he certainly does not look it. That is the limit of my knowledge of him, though.”
“Gee, that was real helpful,” Italia muttered.
“However, my friend Cerewin knows more about him than I do. Italia, have you ever noticed how fiends flee from Affectus?”
“Yes – wait a minute, how do you know my name?”
“It is my business to know things of value,” Anaroth replied, and Auron had a sudden flash of déjà vu, though he had no idea why. “At any rate, my friend Cerewin is not only lord of magic, but he also commands the fiends of Spira, though not directly. He tells me there is much talk amongst the fiends about a powerful man that none can defeat in combat.”
At this Tidus puffed out his chest and began to strut, but Yuna slapped him on the shoulder and said, “He means Affectus.”
A small smile crept across Anaroth’s face, then he cleared his throat and continued, “The problem with asking Cerewin is twofold: first, he is on a very dangerous assignment for Spira, assigned by the powers that be, and two, I have no idea where this assignment is taking place.”
“What is the assignment about?” Yuna asked, finding it hard to grasp the concept of people who could order Cerewin around.
“I wish I knew,” Anaroth admitted. “There is a man who can tell you exactly what Cerewin is up to, though – his name is Memnii, and he lives in an astrologically-devoted home on the Thunder Plains.” Anaroth handed Tidus a small map, nodded in farewell, then disappeared. Tidus unfurled the map and looked at it disapprovingly; he would have mistaken it for a child’s absent doodling if not for the perfect scaling technique.
Auron looked at it and laughed aloud. “This is certainly not Anaroth’s handiwork. I look forward to meeting this Memnii.”
As the four of them walked past the statue, Tidus sensed Yuna mentally withdraw into a deep place within her mind, to the point that Tidus could no longer even instinctively sense her presence next to him.
That night, when they re-mounted their chocobos and made for the Thunder Plains, Yuna could have sworn the last glimpse she saw of Zanarkand was of a city drenched in blood.
* * *
It took another several days to get to the Thunder Plains. A severe storm was currently drenching the place, but Auron and Italia insisted on looking for Memnii even through a storm powerful enough to split open the world. The poorly drawn map didn’t help matters either.
In the end, though, they found a two-story building that was made of smooth, stainless steel. It was quite large, and there were only windows on the bottom floor. The front door was the only entrance or exit, and it was made of the same alloy as the rest of the house, complete with a large metal wheel on the front one had to turn to open the door – provided, of course, none of the ten or so exterior locks on the door were engaged.
“Looks like someone doesn’t like to have company,” Tidus said. He grabbed the wheel and heaved, but it didn’t budge. Auron strode over to the door, took hold of the wheel with one hand, and opened the door.
Surprisingly, the inside of the house was a polar opposite of the outside, unless you counted the ten additional door locks on the inside of the house. It was colored in soft hues, with nice furniture and little knickknacks scattered here and there, all of it with smooth, rounded edges. A cooking area could be seen, as well as a lounge, a bathroom, and a bedroom. In the bedroom, on the side of the room adjacent to the queen-size bed, was a staircase leading up onto the second floor.
“Who would like to go first?” Auron asked. Italia laughed quietly ascending the stairs, and Yuna made a mental note to ask her what she found so funny.
The second floor was a nest of readout screens, wires, and tables loaded with either books, chemicals, or both. In the middle of the second floor, which was really only one large room, was a huge telescope poking through a circular hole in the roof. Upon closer examination, one would realize there was a large strip of retractable segments in a three hundred and sixty degree arc around the roof, meaning the telescope could swivel to different angles.
Sitting at one of the readout screens was a small man, about five feet in height. He was bald with a long, thick gray beard that reached down to his knees. His eyes were dark and quick, and his mouth seemed to be quirked in a perpetual half-smile. However, the thing that caught one’s attention the fastest was the way he moved. The man walked like a normal human, but he did so with such quickness and agility in the crowded second floor one had to admire it. His eyes would flash past dozens of readout screens, absorbing all their information in a single glance, then roam to a different part of the room even as his hands moved to open a book or enter a new command into the only input keyboard in the room.
Yuna cleared her throat, and the man jerked. He looked at the four people inside his house, narrowed his eyes, and then greeted them with a blunt, “What do you want?”
“We would like to ask you a few things,” Yuna replied. “I’m Yuna, and this is my husband, Tidus.” Motioning to Auron and Italia, Yuna introduced them as well.
Tidus walked carefully over to the little man, stuck out his hand earnestly, and said, “Pleasure to meet you, Mister…”
“Memnii,” the little man replied, shaking Tidus’ hand without apparent effort but seemingly hard enough; Tidus yelped and massaged his hand after the handshake was concluded. “I haven’t had guests in a long time. Why don’t we go downstairs and I can fix you all something to eat?”
“We really need to keep moving,” Auron said with a shake of his head. “Time is pressing.”
“You’ve only just arrived,” Memnii countered. “Besides, can you really turn down an old man’s hospitality? I haven’t had anyone visit in three hundred and seventy-nine years, unless you count Anaroth.”
“Three hundred… just how old are you?” Tidus asked.
“Four thousand, eight hundred and ninety-nine years old,” Memnii replied easily. “Going on four thousand and nine hundred in four weeks.”
“Wow,” Tidus laughed, putting his hands behind his head, embarrassed.
“Sir, we have no time for frivolities-” Italia began.
“Italia, certainly you wouldn’t mind some hot tea? Along with a bite to eat?”
Italia stumbled over her reply. “Hot tea… it’s one of my favorite drinks.”
Eyeing Memnii, Tidus asked, “Why do I have the feeling he already knew that?”
* * *
Yuna bit into the pastry that Memnii had made her, taking care not to get any crumbs on the floor. It had to be the best thing she’d eaten in longer than she cared to remember.
Memnii calmly sipped a cup of tea and said, “But of course I knew hot tea was one of your favorite drinks, Italia. Everything is displayed in the stars. I can read them like a book, now. I’ve had a long time to practice.”
“How can the stars tell you that?” Tidus asked. His dish was a heart attack on a plate – a large sausage in a bread bun, with at least seven different toppings, none of them particularly healthy.
“Everything people do in the world slightly or largely affects the four higher dimensions of reality,” Memnii explained. “Stars are not simply combusting balls of gas. They are focal points of reality, generators of the four higher dimensions, and as the four higher dimensions change and permutate, the stars change to adapt. I can analyze the change and link it to certain actions or choices. For example, Italia, the stars have shown that you chose tea over other drinks whenever possible. The stars can also adapt to things that may come to pass – like you, Tidus, choking on some of my tequila.”
“Bring it on,” Tidus laughed. Memnii went into the kitchen, poured a glass of tequila, then offered it to Tidus. Tidus took a sip, then coughed and spluttered, chest heaving. He stared at the liquid for a moment, then carefully gave it back to Memnii, as if it would explode. Auron held out his hand, and Memnii gave the tequila to him. Auron sniffed the liquid tentatively, then downed it in a single gulp.
Tidus’ jaw hung open for a second, then he said, “Auron, you must have killed all the taste buds in your mouth and have a liver of steel to be able to drink that stuff.”
“You’ve obviously never had Ronso whiskey, Tidus.”
“Hmm, yes, Ronso whiskey. A bit strong, though,” Memnii mused.
“Too strong for you?” Yuna asked incredulously.
“Alcohol is not what you came here to talk about,” Memnii interjected. “What would you like to ask me?”
“We need to know where Cerewin is and what mission he’s on,” Yuna said. “It’s vitally important.”
Memnii frowned and tapped his head. “Cerewin, yes… I don’t know, but I can always look to the stars for that knowledge. It will take some time, however. Come back tomorrow. I would have you stay, but this house can barely hold one person.”
As they were walking away from Memnii’s house, Yuna paused and asked, “Just something I realized – how can he see the stars through the clouds of the Thunder Plains?”
“My guess is that telescope is enchanted to see through the clouds,” Auron replied. “For now, we should concentrate on renting rooms in the nearby Travel Agency.”
“If it’s still in one piece after… well, you know,” Tidus said. “I’ll see you guys later – I’d like to go for a little walk through Macalania and pick up a few things from Wantz O’aka.”
“Wantz made it through the First Race crisis alive?” Yuna asked, relieved.
“Yep. Hid on Besaid Island with everyone. I said hi to him while we were there.” Tidus veered off from the group and waved, yelling, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning!”
* * *
Fortunately for the three of them, the Travel Agency was in one piece. However, Yuna couldn’t seem to get any sleep – she simply wasn’t used to sleeping alone any more. When she finally did doze off, it was a fitful rest at most.
Finally, sometime during the night, Yuna woke to the sound of someone sliding into the bed with her. She turned over and smiled as Tidus lay down. “You got back from Macalania faster than you said you would,” Yuna commented quietly. Auron and Italia were in a different room, but there was no sense in being loud at twelve-thirty at night.
Tidus just nodded and smiled.
Yuna settled into the bed a bit more, but something didn’t seem right. She didn’t feel any more comfortable than before.
In fact, Yuna could almost swear she instinctively didn’t want Tidus in bed with her.
Shrugging off the peculiar feeling, she leaned over and kissed Tidus. He returned the kiss, but certainly not in the way she expected.
Something long and sinuous slithered through her mouth and started down her throat. Yuna gagged and tried to pull away, but Tidus held her in an iron grip Yuna didn’t know he possessed. She finally pulled away and found the source of the problem. What looked to be a long, scaled tongue was coming from Tidus’ mouth, and it extended for every inch she pulled away.
Yuna was starting to see spots before her eyes as she tried to breathe around the thing in her throat. Tidus reached for her and grabbed her, pulling her closer again. Yuna tried to scream, but she just coughed hoarsely. Just as she was about to black out, reflexes took over. She blasted Tidus with a barrage of nonelemental, undirected magic. Instead of taking on the form of a small mound of soot, Tidus simply jerked, his eyes rolled up to his head, and his muscles went slack. A moment later Yuna could safely ascertain he was dead.
Retching, Yuna pulled the tongue out of her throat. It didn’t help her disposition that it was covered in blood. Yuna tried to say something but only could manage a croak; something in her throat must have been damaged.
Yuna rolled off the bed, grabbing a robe, and crouched in a corner of the room, staring at the thing on her bed. Whatever it was, it certainly couldn’t be Tidus, and she wanted to make sure it stayed dead.
* * *
“What the hell is this thing?”
Yuna woke to one of Tidus’ more blunt exclamations. He was standing in the doorway, staring at the corpse on the bed. Auron and Italia were in the hallway behind him. Yuna tried to say something, but she just groaned and retched up a mouthful of blood.
Tidus was instantly kneeling next to her, asking her what was wrong. “Don’t press her,” Auron said sharply. “Something is wrong with her throat.”
Italia had walked over to the bed and carefully picked up the corpse’s tongue. “I think we know what happened here.” She pulled out her spear and waved it over the pseudo-Tidus on the bed. “Revert.”
In an instant the corpse changed from Tidus to an abomination. It had red, slitted eyes, was covered in scales, and had a long, mouthless snout, unless you counted the small hole from which the tongue extended. Its body was humanoid, but the hands had two clawed fingers and one thumb, while the legs had knees that bent backwards and the feet were in essence one large, clawed toe. A muscular tail extended about three feet behind it.
“This,” Italia said with disdain, “is a Chuu’ndo, one of the First Race’s slave species. It has the ability to take the shape of any living thing in the universe, even if it has never personally witnessed it. They acted as the First Race’s assassins and espionage troops in the wars. I ran into one of them while I was chasing Affectus. Apparently he can control them.”
“That’s wonderful to know,” Tidus muttered. “How did it hurt Yuna? I don’t see any claw marks.”
“It came in here, masquerading as you,” Auron surmised, “got in bed with Yuna, kissed her, and forced its tongue down her throat.” Yuna nodded, though even the relatively mild movement had her seeing stars. Tidus clenched his fists, and Yuna could hear his teeth grinding.
“It’s a good thing Wantz was selling potions to heal internal injuries,” Tidus observed as he pulled a small bottle filled with purple fluid from a pouch at his belt. “This could have been fatal.” He poured the potion down Yuna’s throat. It tasted awful, and swallowing it was an exercise in agony, but afterwards Yuna immediately felt better and was able to talk.
“If Affectus sent this Chuu’ndo thing after me, then he has to know we’re here,” Yuna said. “Moreover, he might know why we’re here. We have to get to Memnii as soon as possible.”
* * *
Memnii’s house remained as they had seen it the day before, and the lights inside were on. Auron opened the door and ushered them all inside. Yuna was still leaning on Tidus slightly, so it was a bit problematic to ascend the stairs to the second floor.
Memnii was there, reading through a volume as thick as the front door. He snapped it shut as he saw them. “There you are. Just doing some light reading while I was waiting.” Tidus stared at the book, which was titled Delving into the Areas of Quantum Power Sources and Dimensional Warping.
“Memnii, do you know where Cerewin is?” Yuna asked.
“Indeed I do, but I don’t know what he’s doing there,” Memnii replied. “You see, I searched the stars all last night, but could find nothing concerning Cerewin. There are only two places in all of Spira that stop the stars from adjusting to your actions. They are the Shimmering Island and the Omega Ruins. Both of them have been disconnected from the four higher dimensions because of massive battles. For the Island, it was necromancers fighting for supremacy and using dimensionally damaging spells. For the Ruins, it was the battle between Omega and the Balrog.”
Yuna frowned. “What do you mean? My friends and I visited the Ruins on more than one occasion. We even defeated Omega.”
Memnii looked shocked at the latter part of Yuna’s statement, and hurried to a large logbook to scribble down the event. “What date was it?” Yuna told him, and Memnii finished the event with a flourish. “Excellent, thank you for mentioning that.” He walked back over to his visitors and said, “The Ruins are disconnected from the four higher dimensions just subtly enough to subvert the stars, not to trap anyone in them for all time – though I know of people getting hopelessly lost there before the stars ceased to tell tales of the place.”
“Well, which place is Cerewin currently in?” Auron asked impatiently.
“He’s in the Omega Ruins,” Memnii replied. “I looked into the future adaptations of the stars, and I saw six beings – two immortals, four mortals – exiting the Omega Ruins not too long from now. The adaptation fits.”
“How are we going to get to the Omega Ruins?” Italia asked. “They’re an extremely long way away from here – farther than Zanarkand, in fact, plus an ocean is between it and us. There aren’t any ferries going to the Omega Ruins, either.”
“I can’t take you there,” Memnii said. “However, do you know about the secret of Macalania temple?”
Apparently nobody did.
“The temple was originally a First Race aircraft that landed near Lake Macalania and got stuck. Later it was abandoned and Yevon moved in, then turned it into a temple. Nobody knows where the control room is, though.”
“I think we’re about to find out,” Yuna said shortly.
“By the way, who was the second immortal you saw leaving with us?” Tidus asked.
But Memnii just shook his head.
After saying goodbye to Memnii, the four travelers had journeyed back to Macalania, to the abandoned temple. The journey itself had only taken a day.
The search had been going on for three and the control room was still not in evidence.
“We’re missing something big here,” Tidus muttered. “I can feel it in my bones. Whatever we need to do is staring us in the face, but we’re too busy searching to see it.”
He and Yuna had begun searching the Cloister of Trials in the temple. Yuna was absently handling a Glyph sphere while Tidus was talking.
“Something that we’re staring straight at, yet don’t see…”
Yuna’s attention shifted to one of the three pillars supporting the ice bridge to the chamber of the fayth.
“And I get the feeling we’ve done it before…”
“The Cloister of Trials!” Yuna exclaimed. “What did every good summoner and guardian do once the Trials were completed?”
“Go on to the chamber of the fayth,” Tidus said. Realization dawned on his face. “They never went back the way they came before visiting the Fayth to obtain the Aeon.” He frowned and asked, “But didn’t we have to go through the Cloister of Trials a second time to get out of the temple after the first fight with Seymour?”
“Maybe whatever mechanism that we have to activate needs a long cooldown time between usages,” Yuna surmised. “I doubt anyone has used these Trials in a long time.” She was already running to and fro, swapping spheres and changing the position of the pedestal in the room. Tidus rushed to help, trying not to slip on the icy floor – due to the Macalania Spheres in the room, there was still ice enough for the Trials to function.
Several minutes later, they had completed the Trials. Auron and Italia had entered to help. However, no signs of a control room presented themselves.
“We’re still missing something,” Tidus stated. “I can’t figure what, though.”
“I get the feeling that whatever entrance we’re looking for won’t appear until the summoner and guardians enter the chamber of the fayth,” Auron guessed.
“That’ll leave nobody behind to find the entrance,” Tidus protested.
“Italia never guarded a summoner,” Auron reminded Tidus. “She is exempt to this rule if it exists.” With that, he walked into the chamber of the fayth, and Yuna and Tidus followed.
Italia jumped back a bit in surprise as a large, circular tower of ice rose from the middle portion of the bridge, stopping at about five feet. The ice shattered, revealing a pedestal like the ones used in the Cloister of Trials, except this one had a large button on top of it. Italia shrugged, figuring it couldn’t hurt, and pressed the button.
The pedestal immediately exploded. Auron, Yuna, and Tidus rushed back out of the chamber of the fayth as the middle section of the bridge reformed into an ascending staircase, leading up into a hole in the ceiling that hadn’t been there before. Exchanging glances, the four of them ascended the stairs and found themselves in what appeared to be a control bridge much like the one on Cid’s airship. Most of the bridge was covered in ice.
“We’ve found the control room,” Italia said. “What next?”
Auron moved over to an unfrozen console, pressed a few buttons, and said, “I think this is the destination console. Everything is written in First Race hieroglyphics, though.”
Tidus walked over, inspected the control panel, and then pushed a large, spherical button. A large globe appeared in the center of the bridge – a map of the world. Auron highlighted a destination on the console, and a speck of light appeared on the globe being projected. Auron finally aligned the speck with the Omega Ruins.
Italia walked to the very front of the bridge, where there was an oddly shaped seat in front of a large control panel. She brushed ice crystals off of the panel and pressed three buttons. The bridge hummed to life around them, and a recorded voice boomed at them.
“Yun ka hie lop ji nis.”
“I think whatever you did, it was a good thing,” Tidus said to Italia as the temple shook and began to move.
* * *
It took them only a little while to reach the Omega Ruins. When they finally landed, they had proceeded cautiously into the forsaken landscape of stone. However, after five days, they found nothing.
Tidus was inspecting a hole in the wall that had caught his eye when he heard scampering and sounds of a tussle from behind him. He turned around and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Then he realized Yuna was gone.
Tidus had been searching for ten minutes and was about to call in Auron and Italia when he heard faint cries coming from a tunnel he and Yuna had been hesitant to enter. Looking on the ground, he saw a trail of blood.
Tidus ran after the trail, heedless of his own personal safety. Caladbolg shone with an inner light as Tidus plunged deeper and deeper into the Omega Ruins.
At one point the trail of blood branched off in two directions. Tidus stared intently at it and then realized one trail was not made of the same blood. He continued following the correct trail for what had to be at least another half mile.
The tunnel led to a vast, underground cavern that Tidus had never been to. The cavern had bodies of dead fiends everywhere and the floor was slick with their blood and entrails. Tidus told himself sternly not to get sick, then proceeded deeper and deeper into the cavern. After a time he saw a light ahead of him; he cautiously approached it to find a most startling sight.
Hundreds and hundreds of fiends were gathered in that area, of every kind of shape and size that could be found in the Omega Ruins. In the center near a fire they had going lay Yuna, bruised and unconscious.
Tidus was roused to fury. He charged the sea of fiends swinging Caladbolg madly. The fiends parted like waves before him while Tidus shouted the most obscene curses he could think of at them.
In only a minute Tidus reached the center of the sea. He knelt down next to Yuna and shouted, “Why? Why have you done this?” He certainly didn’t expect an answer, but he got one.
A Varuna, one of the distant, winged cousins of a gargoyle, stepped forward, the air around it shimmering with potent magical energy. Its colors were faded; Tidus got the feeling it was very old.
<< You are not one of the invaders? >>
Tidus blinked in surprise, then said, “Technically I am an invader, but I don’t want to fight you. I want to take Yuna back to camp with me.”
<< Is she your mate? >>
<< We sincerely apologize, >> the Varuna told Tidus. << We had mistook her for one of the shape-shifting invaders, masquerading as a human. So we brought her here and kept her under guard. >>
Yuna began to wake up, though she was still not fully conscious.
“What are you all doing down here?” he asked instead.
<< Hiding, >> the elder replied. << The invaders are powerful, and not even the strongest among us are a match for them. This is our last refuge. >>
<< And thank you for bringing us to it so quickly, young man, >> a vibrating, elemental voice said from behind him. Tidus turned around and his jaw dropped open.
Silently floating there were two elementals unlike anything he had ever seen. They had a circles-within-circles form, like the red stripes of a target. They were especially like the stripes because they were a deep, crimson red, and poisoned blood flew off them every time they made the slightest move.
<< You! You have brought them upon us! >> the elder Varuna thundered.
Suddenly the Blood Elemental that had remained silent unleashed a thunderous barrage of pure power upon its partner. The elemental shrieked inside Tidus’ mind and fell to the ground, quickly dissolving into a puddle of blood. The attacking elemental suddenly shifted form, and Cerewin took its place.
< What are you doing here? > Cerewin inquired.
“Looking for you,” Tidus said. “What are you doing here?”
Before Cerewin could answer, Yuna got unsteadily to her feet. Tidus grabbed her and embraced her. She returned the embrace, wordlessly communicating her thanks to him.
< Is this some sort of primitive mating ritual? > the Varuna asked. < Because if it is we have absolutely no time for it. > Tidus and Yuna pulled away from each other sheepishly.
< In answer to your question, > Cerewin interjected, < I am here on what you would call a mission of mercy. This mission is directed towards the pitiful crowd you see before you. > An especially large fiend apparently took offense at this statement and leaped at Cerewin. Halfway through his leap he was turned into an especially ugly ice statue. < As I was saying, > Cerewin continued pointedly, < I am on a mission of mercy. I am here to keep these fiends from being exterminated, because the Omega Ruins cannot ever become safe enough for archaeological surveys to be conducted here, and I would much rather the protectors of the Ruins be things I can control and account for. >
“Where did these Blood Elementals come from?” Tidus asked.
“What makes them so powerful?” Yuna interrupted.
< Be patient and all will be revealed. These Blood Elementals and the Chuu’ndo were both slave races of the First Race. Affectus can control all the slave races and thus he is a very powerful man. He has sent all his minions to dig up the secret of the Omega Ruins, and even the fiends here are no match for them. >
“And you expect us to fight these minions of Affectus?” Tidus asked incredulously.
Cerewin didn’t get the chance to answer. Something very large dropped from the ceiling and landed – on twelve legs. It pulled itself into the light of the fire and Tidus nearly gagged in disgust. Five completely black eyes hung from stalks extending from the front end of the creature. Three of them were limp, while the other two looked around at the creature’s surroundings, and the limp and active eyes switched around constantly. Its slimy, fleshy torso extended back ten feet, and the twelve spindly legs extended from it. The legs ended in three clawed toes about two feet in length and gripping the floor in a tripod formation. The mouth under the eyes sprouted four large, clawing mandibles that constantly clacked together and splattered drool everywhere. The thing stood about five feet off the ground with its legs bent.
“That is disgusting,” Yuna gasped.
< It is an Uun'ulk, a larger cousin of the Syrr'ulk, > Cerewin calmly informed them. < Like the Syrr'ulk, it loves to suck souls from its victims – but it doesn’t mind flesh, either. The only advantage you have when facing one of these behemoths is it can’t remember the scent of your soul, as it lacks a nose. >
“That’s just perfect,” Tidus muttered out of the corner of his mouth as the Uun'ulk rose to its full height of ten feet. “What do we do to defeat it?”
Cerewin replied calmly.
“Less talk, more running away,” Tidus urged as the fiends scattered to different corners of the cavern and the Uun'ulk focused its attention on Tidus, Yuna, and Cerewin. It opened its mouth and Tidus braced himself for anything it could throw at him.
He did not expect it to throw up hundreds and hundreds of little beetles on the floor.
< Anii'ulk, > Cerewin explained. < The Uun'ulk can summon these tiny beetles from its stomach at will. If they get above your ankles, consider yourself dead. >
“That’s good to know,” Yuna said shakily, drawing her staff. Tidus hacked and slashed at the approaching mass of bugs to no avail. They just kept coming.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Tidus whined.
“Tidus, get ready,” Yuna warned him.
Tidus’ question was rudely answered as Yuna mentally threw him onto the Uun'ulk. The mass of Anii'ulk climbed up the Uunulk, pursuing Tidus. The Uun'ulk groaned and shook its bloated body in an effort to get the Anii'ulk off. Finally it raised one of its legs and plunged it foot-first into the mass of insects.
The Uun'ulk abruptly collapsed and all the Anii'ulk went limp.
Tidus shakily extricated himself from the mass of dead bodies and spat out one of the bugs, leering. “I never want to fight one of these things again.”
“Who did the fighting here?” Yuna asked pointedly.
“You threw me into a mass of dripping, moving death,” Tidus replied snappily.
Yuna crossed her arms and sighed, “I think we’re about to have our first married fight.”
Before Tidus could reply, five more Uun’ulk appeared out of nowhere.
“Save it for later, Yuna,” Tidus said as all the Uun’ulk regurgitated Anii’ulk. “I think we’re about to have our first married retreat.”
* * *
Auron and Italia were just returning to camp when Tidus and Yuna ran full-tilt into them, followed by Cerewin.
< Get up and pack your things. We must abandon the Omega Ruins. >
“What about this terrible secret Affectus is searching for?” Yuna countered.
Just then the Uun’ulk that had been pursuing them turned a corner, crouched and ready to spring.
“That won’t be necessary,” a cold voice said from behind Tidus, Yuna, Auron, Italia, and Cerewin. The Uun’ulk immediately retreated.
Turning around, the five of them were confronted with the sight of a strange man. He had piercing blue eyes and long, smooth white hair that glistened in the light and went down to his ankles. He had a slim frame and long, slender fingers, exhibiting the same nonhuman characteristics as Affectus – namely elongated ears, taloned fingers, and a slightly tattered and threadbare dark green robe that extended to his ankles. His feet were entirely wrapped in several strips of cloth colored a neutral gray.
“You four must be Tidus, Yuna, Auron, and Italia, as well as Cerewin, lord of magic.”
Auron and Italia had drawn their weapons, with Tidus and Yuna following suit quickly. “We are. Somehow I think you already knew,” Auron said carefully.
“Not really. I had to make sure,” replied the man with a shrug. He gazed at the five of them for a while, then abruptly laughed rubbed his temples. “Of course, we haven’t been introduced. Cerewin, if you would?”
< This is Sanyi, > Cerewin said.
“Why can you control that creature?” Yuna demanded. “Are you in league with Affectus?”
“No,” Sanyi said. “I was able to control that Uun’ulk simply because I can sound exactly like Affectus when I choose. It is no more my minion than you are. I am here to obtain the Vorpal Crystal before Affectus does.”
“Vorpal Crystal? What are you talking about?” Italia snapped.
< Sanyi, you need to learn to keep your mouth shut, > Cerewin said angrily. < Mortals, even such distinguished ones such as these, are not supposed to know of the Vorpal Crystal. >
“Come on, let us in on the secret,” Tidus urged. “Cerewin, we’re friends. You can trust us.”
Cerewin vibrated at a low frequency, going up and down the scale – Yuna took it to be his equivalent of a sigh. < Very well, I will tell you. There can be no more harm, since someone already mentioned it. The Vorpal Crystal is a crystal, perfectly formed, about half the size of your clenched fist. It is black in color and contains the essence of nothingness, the highest dimension. With this crystal, one can project the sense of pure emptiness and aloneness into another’s mind, while leaving an imprint of the crystal’s user on the victim’s mind. >
Yuna was suddenly back in Zanarkand, the blackness taking her.
“We’re too late,” she whispered. “Affectus already has this Vorpal Crystal.”
“How do you know?” Auron asked quietly. “He used it on me in Zanarkand,” Yuna said. “That’s why I collapsed.” Abruptly all four humans clutched at their heads and fell to the ground unconscious. Sanyi looked dryly at Cerewin and sighed. “Affectus obviously likes his new toy.”
< It takes great effort to use, > Cerewin reassured Sanyi. < He will not be able to utilize it that often. >
“We had better get them to the airship they came on,” Sanyi said, slinging Tidus over one shoulder and Auron over the other with apparent ease. “Cerewin, you get the women.”
< Gladly, > Cerewin replied, levitating the two women in the air.
“Now that Affectus has what he wants, the Omega Ruins are expendable,” Sanyi muttered. “If I know him, he’s already after the Scroll of the Aeons. We’ll probably need to consult Memnii as to its location.”
< There is no time for that, > Cerewin disagreed. < We will need to figure out its location on our own and make for it straight away. >
“Maybe we should wait for our esteemed colleagues to wake up first,” Sanyi sighed. “Mortal minds are so fragile.”
< Indeed. >
* * *
Tidus awoke groggy and glad that his experience with pure nothingness had drawn to a close. He had been used to being alone, but it was still unpleasant in the extreme. Yuna had woken up and instinctively collapsed in his arms, which Tidus found reassuring – it confirmed that he was in his right mind. How it did he had no idea.
Auron and Italia were also awake, discussing something over by the destination control panel. Cerewin and Sanyi were in front of the holographic globe in the center of the room, studying it intensely.
Sanyi turned around and exclaimed, “Ah, Tidus, you’re awake. Now we can begin.”
Tidus squinted at the globe and asked, “Begin what?”
“Begin the explanation, first thing,” Auron cut in. “Sanyi, why did you have Cerewin introduce you? Don’t you know your own name?”
“Of course I know my own name,” Sanyi said hotly. “Don’t take me for some half-wit. I cannot ever utter my name without good cause, as it is the initiation word for my most powerful and destructive spell. Translated into your language, my name means ‘Fangs of Light’. This is a last bit of vengeance on my father’s part for my instinctive compassion and brotherhood with mortal races and my inability to accept his domineering ways. In the lost culture I grew up in, boys are named when they can first wield magic, and girls are named at birth.”
“Why would your father not want you to have compassion and brotherhood with mortals?” Italia asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“My father,” Sanyi said grimly, “was Hyrr’bal, leader of the First Race. My mother was a human woman whom I have never seen, only heard about.”
Tidus curled his lip in disgust. “Sorry, Sanyi, but that’s pretty damn disgusting.”
“Hyrr’bal had no problem appearing like a human,” Sanyi growled.
“If he hated mortals so much, why did he choose to be your mother’s mate?” Yuna asked.
“My mother was no mortal. She was a powerful human sorceress named Del Thaxos.”
Yuna was sent reeling back on her heels. “Del Thaxos is your mother? Then why did she end up banishing Hyrr’bal into non-reality?”
“She was tempted and suffered the consequences,” Sanyi said flatly. “That is all. To atone for what she’d done she did what was right.”
“Affectus looks like you,” Italia interrupted. “He has many of the same characteristics. Is it possible he is part First Race too?”
“I do not know,” Sanyi admitted. “I have never been able to figure him out.” Turning his attention on the globe, he continued, “But that is not important right now. What is important is finding the Scroll of the Aeons.”
“The what?” Tidus interrupted.
“The Scroll of the Aeons is a magical scroll. Written on it is the essence of the Fayth. Since the Fayth existed beyond death, the Scroll is the third item necessary to have complete mastery over death, counting the Orb of Poison and the Vorpal Crystal,” Sanyi explained.
< We need to get it before Affectus does, > Cerewin added. < There is no telling what Affectus can do if he gains mastery over death itself. >
“Well, where is this scroll?” Italia asked impatiently.
“We don’t know,” Sanyi replied. “However, there is a riddle about the Scroll:
City of sky and stone,
“The city of sky… maybe it’s talking about Bevelle,” Yuna guessed. “The Palace of St. Bevelle is suspended hundreds of feet in the air.”
“Hey!” Tidus broke in excitedly. “Remember when we took the airship to come and get Yuna? There was so much gunfire that you couldn’t see the sky!”
“That was a year ago,” Yuna agreed. “The city of water and stone…”
“Luca!” Italia finished. “I heard about the explosion at the blitzball stadium in Luca. When it happened, it destroyed all the emergency refill tanks for the sphere pool! The water evaporated, and what goes up must come down!”
Cerewin said excitedly.
Sanyi nodded, then stepped over to a control panel and started punching buttons. “If I can attune the sphere oscillo-finder on this airship to scan for weather changes involving rain, we can have an alert when the Scroll will show up,” he explained. “Hopefully, that will enable us to beat Affectus to the Scroll.” A moment later the sphere flickered and it changed to show a detailed display of the weather on Spira. Sanyi crossed his arms and smiled, his robe shimmering slightly in the light the sphere gave off.
“Now all we can do is wait,” Auron said softly.
Yuna sighed and stood up, stretching. She had been sitting in one of the chairs in the bridge, waiting for the sphere oscillo-finder to go off. It was her watch, and so she was bored out of her mind.
She perked up when she heard footsteps, thinking them to be Tidus’. But instead of Tidus, Sanyi stepped into the light emitted by the sphere. It was the dead of night, and the ship was eerily quiet.
“Hello, Yuna,” he murmured, moving to take a seat and motioning for her to sit down herself. Yuna opened her mouth to decline the offer, but found herself sitting anyway.
“Sanyi, just who are you?” Yuna asked after a moment of silence. “I have the feeling you haven’t told us everything about who you are.”
Sanyi looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Intuition?”
“Let’s just say my trust must be earned in due course.”
“Indeed. You are right; I haven’t told you everything.”
“Why not?” Yuna asked.
“My trust must be earned in due course.” Yuna felt a mild flare of irritation.
Suddenly Yuna bent double in agony as the irritation turned to white-hot pain shooting through every muscle. She raised a shaking hand as if to beg Sanyi to make the pain stop, and purple lightning bolts flared from the tips of her fingers, shooting around the bridge. It was the same lightning that had escaped from her back at the Farplane when she encountered a contingent of warrior monks after talking to Tidus. Sanyi stood in the middle of the bridge, arms crossed. Yuna focused in on him, and the lightning went for him in huge, soaring arcs. A sour taste filled Yuna’s mouth, and she realized it came from an emotion she had rarely felt: fear.
Sanyi visibly braced himself. The lightning impacted his upraised arm, skittered around on it wildly, and then shot off through the viewscreen of the airship, out into the clouds. Without any warning, the outburst was over.
Yuna stumbled over to the hole in the viewscreen, spent, and spat out a foul phlegm that had somehow lodged itself in her throat.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” Sanyi asked. “No, don’t bother to answer. You’d best give yourself a couple minutes before you talk. Open your mouth now, and you’ll probably be staring at the dinner you ate five and a half hours ago.” Yuna nodded weakly, leaning on one of the consoles and wondering what the hell was going on. Sanyi walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. He waved his other hand, and the hole in the viewscreen was suddenly gone. “You’re probably wondering just what the hell is going on,” he said wryly. “I’ll tell you, seeing as how you passed the test with flying colors.” Yuna started to open her mouth to ask what test he was talking about, then felt her stomach start to turn inside out and thought the better of it. “I tested you to see how much dark energy you have inside of your soul,” Sanyi told Yuna. “And let me tell you, you’re rife with it. Your mind is full of inner turmoil because you can’t accept who you are. You constantly tell yourself you could have been a better person if you’d made a different choice here, or if circumstances had been different there. Moreover, you can’t seem to accept all the different sides of what makes you unique.”
Yuna finally found she could talk without throwing up. “Sanyi, why did you test me for dark energy? I’d rather have had another close encounter with a Chuu’ndo than go through what I just did.”
“Affectus thrives on raw, uncontrolled dark energy,” Sanyi explained. “Your friend Lulu is full of dark energy, but she has trained her entire life to harness that energy. You never underwent training of the dark arts. In order to survive a full-on showdown with Affectus, you’re going to have to banish all self-doubt and guilt and concentrate on the good side of yourself.” Sanyi drew away from Yuna and walked to the exit of the bridge.
“Before you go, could you tell me the information that you were withholding earlier?” Yuna asked as Sanyi began to leave.
“I just told you,” Sanyi laughed. “Don’t look so surprised. Affectus’ control over dark energy is the reason I was able to deflect those lightning bolts of yours.”
“You knew Affectus?” Yuna asked. “Did he teach you to deflect dark energy?”
“I taught myself after the first time Affectus tried to slice my soul to ribbons with dark energy,” Sanyi replied. “I was lucky he missed.” With that, he was gone. A moment later Tidus cheerily walked in and announced, “Hey, it’s my shift. Anyone still up here?”
Yuna slowly walked over to him. When she was an arm’s length away, she threw herself into his arms, sobbing. Tidus, surprised, nearly dropped Yuna but managed to keep himself from doing so.
“Tidus, I was so frightened…”
“We’re all frightened at times,” Tidus assured Yuna. “What frightened you?”
“A part of myself that isn’t me,” was the muffled reply.
“That makes no sense… not that I’m complaining.” Tidus gently sat down at the biggest chair in the room, and Yuna found room on it next to him. In a minute Yuna was stirring fitfully in her sleep, with Tidus simply holding her and puzzling over what Yuna was saying.
“Affectus… energy… the crystal, Scroll, orb… Hyrr’bal…”
* * *
Three more nights went past uneventfully. It was Auron’s watch when he began to get nervous.
What if they had misinterpreted the riddle? What if they were waiting for a weather change that would get them nowhere, and what if Affectus was sitting back, laughing at them, and reading the Scroll of the Aeons?
What if, Auron thought dryly to himself. So many variables to consider here. He looked up at the sound of footsteps. Italia had entered the bridge, massaging one of her calves.
“What’s the matter?” Auron asked.
“I don’t know. My calf just started aching.”
“You probably slept on it wrong,” Auron volunteered.
Italia smiled and replied, “Either that or you’re not around to sleep on it for me, so it decided to start hurting by itself.”
Before they could talk further, a red light started flashing on the sphere oscillo-finder in the center of the bridge and it began emitting a beeping sound. Before Auron knew what was happening, Sanyi had bodily pulled Tidus and Yuna out of their bed and practically flew onto the bridge, with Cerewin following him. Sanyi took one look at the flashing light and immediately became a dark green blur, flitting around the bridge and pushing buttons. The airship throbbed with renewed power and it lifted off into the clouds.
“It’s starting to rain,” Sanyi said proudly.
“Where?” Yuna asked sleepily.
“What?” Tidus demanded. “Wakka, Lulu, and Kimahri are in Luca!”
Sanyi was about to open his mouth when another light began flashing on the oscillo-finder and the beeping started going twice as fast. Sanyi turned and his eyes widened in surprise.
“It’s starting to rain in Bevelle, too!”
“Well, Luca started raining first,” Italia started.
“No, they started at exactly the same time,” Sanyi told her. “With the lack of large stone structures to warp oscillo-readings, Luca registered the weather change first. Bevelle, which is mostly intact, delayed the signal for thirteen additional seconds, which tells me they began raining within half a second of each other.”
“I would say we split up, but how?” Yuna asked.
“The escape pod,” Sanyi suggested. “It goes just as fast as the airship.”
“Fine,” Tidus put in. “Yuna, Cerewin, and I will take the airship to Luca. Auron, Italia, Sanyi, you three take the pod to Bevelle.”
* * *
The escape pod rocketed along through the clouds, buffeted by turbulence as it neared the storm over Bevelle. Auron braced himself against the side and watched the clouds flash past.
“I have bad memories of flying to Bevelle by air,” he sighed. “And they were on a relatively nice day, too.”
“We’ll manage,” Sanyi assured Auron as his hands flew over the pod’s controls. “Supposing that we get to Bevelle within two more minutes, we should be able to beat Affectus to wherever the Scroll is.”
“If the Scroll is even here,” Italia said.
“It has to be in either Luca or Bevelle,” Sanyi insisted.
Auron took hold of the transceiver on the pod’s control panel. “Yuna, Tidus, Cerewin, are you at Luca yet?”
“Not yet,” came the slightly distorted reply. “We’re almost there, though. If the Scroll shows up here, we’ll find it.”
Sanyi brought the pod in low over the highbridge leading to Bevelle, decelerating to search speed. The lowered speed, combined with low altitude, stimulated the oscillo-readings that were directed towards searching for the Scroll. The bridge, many miles long, flashed past at fifty miles per hour, yet still stretched on and on.
Suddenly multiple thumps could be heard coming from somewhere behind the pod. Sanyi fiddled with the controls until he got the viewscreen to show the bridge behind them. It was exploding in segments of about fifty feet in the direction the airship was going, and catching up at an alarming pace.
“Sanyi, how much faster can you go before we lose oscillo-readings?” Italia asked urgently.
“I can bring our speed up to about seventy-five of your miles per hour,” Sanyi replied, at the same time pushing forward on the acceleration lever. “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to outrun those explosions, though.”
Auron popped the top hatch and stared at the inexplicable explosions following the escape pod. They were catching up fast. “Sanyi, can’t we just gain altitude to escape the explosions?” he yelled back down into the pod.
“We could, but then we’d lose oscillo-readings completely,” Sanyi yelled back. “I would have to accelerate past a hundred of your miles per hour to get this pod to start gaining altitude. Its guidance system doesn’t work like the airship’s.”
Auron felt desperation grip him, and a new sensation: fear. Not fear for himself, but for Italia, still inside the pod and frantically searching for a scroll they knew so little about. Then Auron spotted the lone figure, running down the bridge at high speeds, barely keeping ahead of the explosions… or was he? When one looked close enough, it was possible to see a long whipcord of energy trailing from behind the figure, and whatever it touched exploded violently.
“Sanyi! Does this pod have a weapon we could use to punch through the clouds?” Auron yelled.
“We’re armed with a single emergency sochu missile,” Sanyi said, “but my oscillo-readings are picking up someone generating those explosions. Wouldn’t the missile be put to better use blowing it up?”
“If that’s who I think it is, the missile would be better used to get me a look at the moon,” Auron replied. “Just lock onto the position of the moon and detonate the missile once it hits the clouds.”
“Will do.” With a roar the missile spiraled away from the pod on a gout of flame, flew up into the storm, and exploded.
Through the hole in the clouds, a crescent moon was visible.
Affectus, Auron thought. “Keep looking for the Scroll! Affectus is down there!” he shouted, then jumped onto the bridge. He took the fifty-foot drop in a roll, his training keeping him from getting hurt. Auron got to his feet, and the figure stopped running about twenty feet away. The explosions stopped, the smoke still filling the sky. The whipcord the figure was holding solidified into a long, angry red blade.
A moment later the man’s face became visible. It was Affectus.
“Auron. You’ve grown up.” Affectus laughed bitterly. “Of course, I haven’t changed. I’ve merely grown older.”
“That certainly makes two of us,” Auron snarled, baring his Masamune. “Affectus, you’re going to die tonight. I thought you might like to know.”
Affectus shook his head, and a strange smile played over his features. A moment later he sprang at Auron, swinging the Coma Vorpal in a downward swing intended to cleave Auron in half. Auron did a full backflip to avoid the move, then slashed back at Affectus’ ankles. Affectus calmly slid back, then hurled his sword at Auron. Auron dropped forward to avoid the throw, then swore to himself when he realized Affectus had planted an image of the sword being thrown in his mind. In reality, Affectus had simply stood calmly, waiting for Auron to drop to the ground, vulnerable.
Auron rolled to one side as Affectus’ downward thrust blew a huge hole in the bridge. Finding purchase with the toes of his boots, Auron slid in a one hundred-eighty degree circle, ending with a kick at Affectus’ legs. Affectus took the powerful move without even wincing. He responded by sweeping his sword in a forty-five degree arc at Auron through the highbridge, trailing small explosions behind the blade. Auron hurled himself up onto his feet and thrust backwards with Masamune. Affectus avoided the blow by collapsing onto his stomach, then vaulting through the air back onto his feet by using the handle of his sword as a fulcrum for his movement. As he landed he wrenched it out of the stone of the highbridge and swung it backhanded at Auron, missing by inches. Auron was turning around to confront Affectus head-on again when he realized that Affectus had stopped his backhanded swing when the sword was at an angle level with Auron’s heart.
As Affectus began to thrust his blade into Auron’s chest, the sections of bridge the two combatants were on exploded into a shower of hellfire.
* * *
As Auron jumped off the pod, Italia was pulling herself up through the hatch. Her eyes widened as she watched him jump to certain death.
“AURON!” Italia hopped back down into the pod. “Turn this damn pod around! We have to save Auron!”
“He did that to delay Affectus,” Sanyi said firmly. “We have to find the Scroll.”
“To hell with the Scroll!” Italia snapped. “I’m going to save Auron!” With that she went up through the hatch and jumped off.
“Humans,” Sanyi muttered contemptuously. “There’s no telling what stupid maneuver they’re going to try to pull off next.” He started to turn the pod around after her.
* * *
Italia was running towards the battle between Auron and Affectus on the highbridge at full tilt as she saw Affectus swing backwards at Auron, missing him by inches. She was only a few feet away when Auron began to turn around, unaware that Affectus had leveled his blade with Auron’s back.
“AURON! NO!” Italia screamed, pulling her spear from her back.
Auron turned all the way around as Affectus began to thrust at his chest. Blind with panic, Italia channeled an uncontrolled magic burst through the crystal head of her spear. A huge explosion took Affectus and Auron, but because it lacked focus there was no real energy behind it, only light. Affectus and Auron stood blinded for a second, which was all the time Italia needed to thrust her spear square into Affectus’ back.
For a moment there was complete silence. Then Affectus said, “Hello, Italia. I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Italia replied cheerily as she channeled enough electric energy to level a building through her spear into Affectus. All of Affectus’ hair stood up for a split second, then it fell back into its normal style. He laughed and asked, “Is that all the power you possess?” He wrenched himself free of it, then in the time it took to blink sheathed his sword and drew it again as a whipcord that sliced right through Auron and Italia. The power of the whipcord was reduced due to its recent utilization in blowing up a bridge, but the force of the blow was still enough to send Auron and Italia flying backwards from Affectus. Sighing, Affectus brushed off his robe as the whipcord reformed itself into the blade of calm.
“Goodbye, Auron, Italia. You have been worthy opponents.” Affectus raised his blade.
“Affectus!” It was Sanyi.
Affectus turned away from Auron in a flash, staring straight into Sanyi’s eyes even from thirty feet away. Sanyi was slowly walking past a prone Italia. His dark green robe fluttered in the wind picked up by the storm. The sound of lashing rain seemed to fade into the background as Sanyi and Affectus faced each other.
“I never thought I would see you again, much less that you would have the gall to face me like this,” Affectus snarled. “So what do you have to say to that?”
“Just one thing,” Sanyi replied easily. “Sanyi.”
Affectus stumbled backward in horror. Sanyi began to hover a few feet off the ground, his feet and legs slack. His eyes glowed faintly, and the air around him began to shimmer. Suddenly he flew into the air. Lightning literally crawled across the sky, forming into a huge, revolving circle of power above Sanyi’s head. The sheer force of it burned the clouds away, and the moon was visible again. The crown of lightning on Sanyi’s head suddenly shot off to the moon, forming a giant eye. It swiveled to stare balefully at Affectus. Auron was just waking up and assessing the situation when Affectus began to do something Auron had never seen him do because of impossible odds.
The moon was suddenly gone, replaced by clouds, and the eye was gone too. Lightning came tearing back towards Affectus, forming great white gashes in the fabric of reality. The space around Affectus erupted in a release of cosmic energy from the higher dimensions, then exploded into a giant shockwave that destroyed the entire Highbridge.
As Auron plunged into the water, there was no sign of Affectus. Sanyi was keeping a still-unconscious Italia afloat. Sighing with relief and swimming towards Sanyi, Auron didn’t neglect to take the gold-enamored scroll floating in the water next to him, inexplicably dry.
* * *
Tidus and Yuna gazed out the viewscreen of the airship speeding towards Luca. Cerewin was looking as well; it was easy enough to sense.
Then the transceiver on the control panel sounded.
Tidus grabbed it and asked, “What is it? Did you find the Scroll?”
“Yes,” came the reply. It was Auron. “We’ve found the Scroll, thanks to some timely intervention from Sanyi. I suggest you get away from Luca as soon as possible. It’s probably a trap Affectus set for us.”
< Too late, > Cerewin said.
They had entered the eye of the storm, and what a sight it was. The eye encompassed the entire city of Luca, and within it floated another airship. It was of similar design to Cid’s airship, with a huge needle-like fuselage ending in a sharp point and topped with a large, bulbous engine drive that kept it afloat. It was colored a dark tan, and the sun reflected off it at multiple angles. At six points on the main body, a smaller needle protrusion gently flowed out of the main hull. Tidus, visibly swallowing, twisted a dial and zoomed in on the thin strip of transparency that was the ship’s viewscreen; inside the bridge about twenty Chuu’ndo were visible.
“Oh, boy,” Tidus sighed. “Looks like we’re going to have some quality family fun, Yuna.”
Apparently deciding to take note of the airship that had entered the eye of the storm, the Chuu’ndo oriented the fore of their ship to face the temple-airship. Over the past few days Sanyi had shown Tidus and Yuna what the different controls did, but Yuna doubted the coming fight would be easy.
The six needle protrusions on the needleship began to glow with bright blue energy. A second later the glows coalesced into large streams of energy all flowing to the needlepoint of the airship.
“This is going to hurt,” Yuna declared.
A moment later the needleship fired a searing blue bolt of energy that shot through the air towards the temple-airship, leaving ripples of heat in its wake. The bolt slammed into the side of the temple-airship, gouging out a huge crater with a deafening roar. Tidus picked himself up off the floor and started punching emergency stabilization buttons. Cerewin quickly floated over to the piloting console and reoriented the temple-airship to face its enemy.
“Burn in hell,” Yuna said with satisfaction as she triggered a full weapons salvo at the needleship. Moisture in the air all around the temple-airship froze and coalesced into giant daggers of ice, which the temple-airship magically launched at the needleship with a dull whump. The ice daggers scored a direct hit on the needleship, badly denting its hull. The needleship counterattacked with another energy salvo, which missed the bridge by no more than two hundred feet. Trying to ignore the ringing in his ears, Tidus gunned the temple-airship’s engines, while Cerewin sent it into a parallel course with the needleship. Yuna triggered a full broadside of ice daggers, which sent the needleship corkscrewing through the air. Exhaust vented out of the back of its engine drive, momentarily distorting the oscillo-readings, which instead of a sphere representing the world showed a model of the needleship as well as estimated damage and weapons capacity.
The needleship oriented itself down towards Luca and fired an energy salvo that wiped out three city blocks. Tidus slammed his fist into the control panel. “This isn’t working! If we shoot them out of the sky, they’ll crash-land and destroy half the city! But if we retreat, they’ll go ahead and blow up the entire city for good measure!”
< I have a plan to stop them,> Cerewin volunteered.
“I’m all ears,” Yuna assured him as she fired off another ineffectual ice broadside.
< Concentrate all your fire on one point in their hull, so as to create a breach. Afterwards, I will swoop in low and you two will be able to jump inside their ship and take control of it. >
“Sounds reasonable,” Tidus said as his fingers flew over the control panel, reloading the energy matrixes for weapons discharge. “But I get the feeling there are worse things than just Chuu’ndo on that ship…”
< We don’t have time to worry about possibilities, > Cerewin said. < Yuna, concentrate all your fire on section seventy-two iota of the needleship’s hull – the sequence will translate as two vertical dashes crossed through with a single horizontal line in the middle, with a diagonal line to the right. >
Yuna quickly punched buttons until the symbol appeared. She triggered a full barrage of weapons fire. The ice daggers blasted a small hole into the needleship’s hull. Cerewin manipulated the pilot console with a strand of lightning, bringing the temple-airship to what was becoming an insanely close vector in relation to the needleship.
< You two have twenty seconds to get to the roof of the ship and jump, > Cerewin announced calmly.
Yuna and Tidus were out the bridge door in a flash, pounding through three corridors in record time and finally opening the hatch to the temple-airship’s roof. The needleship was screaming by at top speed, the sound deafening and the wind whipping past at many miles per hour. Only a fool would jump for a hole barely twenty feet wide in those conditions.
The two were compelled to play the fools. Tidus jumped with Yuna close behind, the wind catching them in midair and sending them flying. Everything blurred, and Tidus felt his horizontal pinwheeling start to become a vertical drop. The drop came to a rude halt as Tidus fell through the hole in the airship and slammed into the smooth deck.
That was fun, Tidus thought, starting to get up.
Then Yuna fell through the hole.
Tidus groaned as Yuna rolled off his prone form, massaging her shoulder. “That hurt,” Tidus sighed. “A massage will do wonders after this is over.”
“Just try not to squeeze my shoulder too much,” Yuna began, then stopped at a baleful stare from Tidus, who got to his feet just in time to be knocked over again. His aggressor was a large, four-legged creature with a muscular, brown-scaled body. Tufts of red hair poked out from in between scales on various places of the creature’s body. Its head was little more than a lump protruding from its front end, with small, staring eyes, no visible nose, and a lipless mouth with dull, black teeth. It growled at Tidus, hopping up and down on his chest.
Tidus said something Yuna thankfully didn’t catch and shoved the thing off him with a grunt. The creature, about as big as human on all fours, growled again.
“What are you going to do? Bark me to death?” Tidus snapped at it.
In response the creature opened its mouth and spewed a long, blue flame at Tidus, who dove out of the way. Yuna blasted the creature with a spell to no effect except to turn its attention towards her. She quickly dodged the stream of flame emanating from its mouth, then jumped over it and joined Tidus in retreating down the hallway. It was colored the same as the exterior of the ship, and appeared to be built in the same smooth fashion as well. The architecture consisted of large, circular hallways and walls that seemed to melt away, revealing doors as the two ran. Finally one wall melted away and revealed the bridge. Tidus and Yuna jumped inside, the wall sealing behind them. A moment later a dull thud came from the other side, accompanied by a yelp of pain.
The twenty or so Chuu’ndo on the bridge all turned and faced Yuna and Tidus. Tidus whipped out Caladbolg and promptly sliced the nearest one in half. Immediately the rest retaliated by shooting out their long tongues, which wrapped around Tidus’ and Yuna’s wrists and ankles, immobilizing them both and sending them falling to the ground. One withdrew its tongue from Tidus’ wrists and kept it poised over him, even from twelve feet away. Tidus did not fail to notice the very sharp end of the creature’s tongue. Looking to his right, he saw Yuna was in a similar dilemma.
Thinking fast, Tidus rolled a bit to his left and slammed his ankles onto Caladbolg’s side. The sword had fallen two feet away from Tidus and cut through the Chuu’ndo’s tongues like tissue paper. His feet freed, Tidus pulled them up and sandwiched the poised tongue between his feet, then yanked. Despite the fact the tongue seemed to be able to extend to a formidable length, it was meant to do so in a fluid motion. The quick and ungraceful yank sent the owner sprawling to the floor. Tidus pulled the same stunt with the rest of his assailants, freeing his wrists, then grabbed Caladbolg and sliced through all the tongues threatening Yuna in one sweep. Ten Chuu’ndo fell back, clutching at their mouths and hissing. Tidus threw himself into a forward sweep of his sword, which cut down six of them. The other four were consumed when Yuna magically overloaded a nearby console, making it explode violently.
The other ten Chuu’ndo were moving in when Yuna shouted, “Tidus, send this ship into a hard turn to port!” Tidus grabbed the control stick on what seemed to be the pilot console and pushed it hard to the left. Yuna blew open two holes in the viewscreen on either side of the bridge. Wind screamed through and swept the rest of the Chuu’ndo out into thin air. Tidus quickly straightened out the ship, then wiped his brow.
“Well, we have control of the ship,” Tidus said, breathing heavily. “However, I get the definite feeling that we don’t have a plan after this point.”
“I have one,” Yuna assured him, walking over to a console. “Tidus, steer this ship over the ocean and get ready to jump.” Tidus reoriented the ship to head for the ocean as carefully as he could, to avoid getting swept out of one of the holes in the viewscreen, then turned and looked at the button Yuna had her finger poised over. It was large, flashed red, and was shaped like a six-pointed star.
“Your plan is to push the big red button?” Tidus asked in disbelief.
“Doesn’t this button just scream autodestruct to you?” Yuna asked evenly.
Yuna smiled and pushed the red button, then grabbed Tidus and the two jumped out of the bridge.
A second later the airship exploded behind them, and a moment later the two of them landed in the ocean with a splash. The impact knocked the wind out of both of them, but they were still alive.
As Tidus and Yuna were climbing back into the city, Cerewin brought the temple-airship down to hover over a large building rooftop. The ramp extended and Cerewin floated out.
< Get in quickly, > he told them. < We need to go to Bevelle and pick up Auron, Italia, Sanyi, and the escape pod, as well as the Scroll of the Aeons. >
“Will do, boss,” Tidus replied cheerfully, just happy to be alive. Ten seconds later the airship was back in the sky.
Five minutes after they picked up Auron, Italia, Sanyi, and the escape pod, the aura of enthusiasm and victory pretty much disappeared when everyone realized they had no idea what to do next.
Auron sat at a table tapping his fingers in his and Italia’s quarters, the Scroll of the Aeons on the table in front of him. He was staring at it, wondering what to do next when a plate of food was plunked down between him and the Scroll. Auron’s eyes slid up the arm doing the plunking to the face of the arm’s owner: Italia.
“Hi,” Italia said.
“Thanks for the food, but I’m not hungry,” Auron told her.
“Nonsense, a grown man needs a healthy, balanced diet,” Italia sassed him back.
“There are things I’d much rather be doing than eating, considering I just survived a fight with Affectus,” Auron told her with a raised eyebrow. Italia smiled and was about to chide Auron on the subject of chastity when he continued, “Like finding out what he’s going to do now that we have the Scroll.”
“I guess I won’t be the one giving the lecture on chastity tonight,” Italia observed with a smile as she slid teasingly onto Auron’s lap.
“Oh, please. Don’t forget you were the one who rolled over to me that one time on Gagazet,” Auron countered, surreptitiously placing his glove-clad hands on Italia’s shoulders.
“You did lie about respecting the possible consequences of our sleeping together, remember?”
“True, true. However, you didn’t let that fact get in your way later that night…”
Italia laughed and picked up the Scroll off the table. “So much trouble over one little scroll. I wonder what it says; nobody’s bothered to read it yet.”
“I have the feeling it shouldn’t be read,” Auron cautioned her. “Remember how the Order of Yevon took the souls of those who died shortly after battles with Sin and made them fayths? I have a feeling that this scroll is how that was accomplished.”
Italia shot a meaningful glance at the door to their quarters. Auron followed her gaze and noticed it was shut and locked from the inside. Auron raised an eyebrow, smiling. Italia took one of his hands in hers and pulled off its glove.
“Why are you taking off my gloves?” Auron asked. “My hands have been scarred enough that the healer in Bevelle couldn’t reverse the injuries like my eye. I don’t usually like to show them to others…”
“Auron, I never would have figured you for the sort who cared about people noticing a few scars,” Italia laughed. “Besides, I’m taking your gloves off for a good reason – if I didn’t, they’d probably get in the way.”
* * *
Sanyi sat at a chair on the bridge, trying to relax. Cerewin floated in front of the oscillo-finder console, taking note of the readings. Everything was quiet.
“So, Cerewin, what do you think our esteemed colleagues are doing?” Sanyi asked, a bit bored.
< What married mortal couples do to relieve tension, > Cerewin replied.
Sanyi growled and replied, “They should be doing something that will help us track down Affectus faster. This whole mates-for-life concept has never really stuck with me. It seems like a waste of time.”
< You have obviously never loved anyone, > Cerewin told him. < Neither have you ever been married. >
“What about you?” Sanyi asked.
< Elementals have to reproduce occasionally, too, > Cerewin said loftily. < The process is much faster than that of a human couple’s, but the result is much the same. ) Sanyi threw up his hands, frustrated. ( Besides, we have the Scroll of the Aeons. The situation has basically become a stalemate until someone makes a move. >
“The advantage of staying on the defensive is that Affectus will eventually have to make the first move and possibly become vulnerable,” Sanyi agreed. “The problem is he is perfectly capable of waiting a hundred years until our mortal friends give up the ghost and make the Scroll that much easier to steal from us.”
< Very true. >
“One of two things that really annoy me is that instead of taking some sort of action against Affectus to facilitate our cause, we’re making idle conversation here while our allies are in bed, blissfully ignoring the situation,” Sanyi fretted.
< Hmm, yes, I can see how that would annoy you. However, I fail to see what action we could take at the moment. >
“That’s the other thing,” Sanyi admitted.
* * *
Yuna and Tidus had gone to bed about an hour before Italia and Auron, who had gone to bed a half hour ago. Yuna still couldn’t sleep; her mind was too full of random thoughts and clutter. Rolling over and sighing, she sternly ordered herself to quaff the untouched nutrient drink on the nightstand beside her without gagging loud enough to wake Tidus. Sanyi could utilize the ship’s mess hall, which featured magic-powered substance generators, to make anything from a glass of chocolate milk to the most elegant, seven-course meal. He was apparently familiar with the technology.
But do I, the pregnant woman on the ship, get any of that good food? No, I get a nutrient drink with everything my body and my baby require. I never thought being pregnant could be so much… fun.
Yuna was lifting the glass to her lips when Tidus stirred and asked, “Why are you up? You need your sleep.”
“I can’t sleep,” Yuna replied. “My mind is too busy trying to sort out everything that’s happening.” She took a sip of the drink, trying unsuccessfully not to make a face.
“Do you want to talk over a bite to eat?” Tidus asked.
“Are we eating something that I might actually enjoy?” Yuna asked by way of reply.
Tidus propped himself up on his elbow and said playfully, “You know, you’re obviously feeling a bit stiff. If you want, I could help you into your clothes…”
“Stop it. I’m afraid you’d get distracted if you did that.” Tidus began whistling nonchalantly, inviting Yuna to whack him over the head with her pillow. “You think you’re real smooth, don’t you?” Yuna teased him.
“Everyone else I’ve slept with thought so,” Tidus laughed.
Ten minutes later they were in the mess hall, and Yuna was sitting and staring mournfully at a plate of admitted synthesized but nonetheless delicious fried fish. Tidus, who had already gotten halfway through his steak, stopped and declared grumpily, “You’ve been doing more thinking and therefore lost your appetite. Yuna, what’s bothering you?”
“A test Sanyi put me through,” Yuna admitted. “To see how much dark energy is in my soul. He says I’m rife with it because I refuse to accept who I am.”
Tidus sighed. “Yuna, trust me when I say you couldn’t be any more perfect than you are now – and that’s a compliment, mind you.”
“Tidus, Sanyi was wrong about me not being able to accept who I am,” Yuna suddenly said. “It’s that I’ve never really known who I am.”
“What?” Tidus asked in disbelief. “Yuna, are you sure you’re not allergic to this food?”
“All my life,” Yuna whispered, “I’ve never really been able to figure myself out. Was I the daughter of High Summoner Braska? Was I a summoner-in-training? Was I just another little girl living on Besaid Island? What about a traitor to Yevon, or Spira’s only hope?” She shook her head mournfully. “Now what am I? A hunter of men, after a person I’ve never fought, only heard about? I don’t think one person can be called upon to play so many roles in life.”
Tidus leaned back in his chair, nodding slowly. “I see what you’re trying to say, Yuna. Let me try to explain it to you so that your life makes sense.”
“Oh, I can hardly wait,” Yuna muttered sarcastically.
“You see, you are the daughter of a high summoner, and a summoner-in-training, and a little girl living on Besaid Island – well, you were a few years back, anyhow – and everything else you said, whether for good or bad. But all those different roles in life have come together to fashion a unique person – you.”
Yuna didn’t know what to say for a moment. Finally she told Tidus, “That was really… deep. It was just what I needed to hear. The only thing that could have made it better was seeing Wakka get lost halfway through.”
Tidus laughed. “I have to hand it to you, that would make it perfect.” For a few more minutes they sat and ate in silence, then Yuna finally spoke again.
“I feel like there’s something I need to say to you, but… we’re already married, and we’ll have a kid in four months. What else is there to say?”
“How about thank you?” Tidus prodded her with a smile.
“That’s it. Thank you, Tidus.”
“Always happy to help,” Tidus assured her, finishing his steak. Yuna got up, stretched, and starting to walk to the exit of the mess hall. Tidus got up and started after her.
Before she exited the mess hall, Yuna turned around and yawned. “Tidus, I’m ready to get some sleep… when we get back to our quarters, do you think you could help me out of my clothes?”
Tidus raised an eyebrow and asked, “Is this another way of saying ‘thank you’?”
“No. I just feel like it.”
* * *
< Sanyi, tell me how you were able to execute your most powerful attack without hurting Auron or Italia, > Cerewin said.
It was an hour after their previous conversation, and Sanyi had just begun to nod off a bit. He looked up at Cerewin and groaned, “All right, I’ll tell you. I figured that Affectus would be too shocked at me actually throwing the attack at him to realize that if he used Auron or Italia as a human shield, I would have to break off. Luckily I was right. Next time, Affectus will keep his head and we won’t be so lucky.”
< I see. You know Affectus well, Sanyi. >
“How could I not know him well?” Sanyi countered sourly. “Considering that back when the First Race was still around-”
He stopped as the door to the bridge slid open and Auron and Italia walked in.
< What seems to be the problem? > Cerewin asked.
“We were… discussing our current situation when the Scroll of the Aeons opened up by itself,” Auron replied. Italia held up the glowing scroll, and Sanyi took it. His eyes slid down the scroll, taking the writing in.
“This is excellent,” Sanyi proclaimed after a minute. “The Scroll’s self-opening shows that it’s placed its protection in our hands. Obviously, it wants protection from Affectus.”
“So, just for curiosity’s sake,” Italia asked, “what does the Scroll say, exactly?”
“Do you really want me to read the entire, twenty-two thousand four-hundred-fifty-five-word incantation to you?” Sanyi asked in reply.
“Maybe some other time,” Italia laughed.
“It’s a deal.”
* * *
Within two minutes of getting back to bed, Yuna fell asleep. Her dreams were strange that night. She fell through swirling vortexes of purple miasmas, dotted with black holes. After what seemed to be both an eternity and no time at all, Yuna stopped falling. She was in a place that transcended any other she had ever been in. There was darkness and light, heat and cold, movement and stillness, yet at the same time there was nothing. Yuna felt as if her senses had switches that someone was constantly flipping on and off.
The constant switching seemed to stop when Yuna saw the cloaked figure ahead of her. Anaroth pulled down his hood and smiled at Yuna. “Welcome to my realm, Yuna.”
“Thank you. It’s… very interesting.”
“Isn’t it? You’re the first person to see it in more than three thousand years.”
“Anaroth, why does that not reassure me?” Yuna asked.
“I don’t know,” Anaroth replied. “Perhaps it’s the fact you sense the dead dreaming. They always do that, here.”
“Anaroth, why do the dead dream?” Yuna asked carefully. “When Tidus was still in the nether-realm, I talked to him. He said he saw me while he was dreaming, while I saw an image of him while I was awake.”
“The dead dream because it allows them to return to the mortal plane through the minds of loved ones and friends,” Anaroth explained. “If the loved one or friend a dead dreamer is trying to project him- or herself through has strong magical powers and both have strong wills, the dead dreamer can appear to the living person as an apparition, which is what happened with Tidus and you. These apparitions are known to mortals as ghosts or spirits.”
A thought then struck Yuna. “Could the dreaming, mortal mind influence the Farplane through the dreams of the dead mind, or vice versa?”
“Possibly. It’s never been done, though.”
“Well, Anaroth, it’s been nice talking to you, but knowing why the dead dream really isn’t going to help me fight Affectus.”
“You never know,” Anaroth reminded her. “I believe life is a shifting tapestry, constantly being reworked and pinned in different places to the wall of reality.”
Suddenly Yuna was back in bed, Tidus snoring softly beside her. Her hair was matted to her head with sweat, and she was breathing heavily.
Yes, it was strange. And now that you’re awake, we can begin.
Yuna sat straight up in bed, startled at the voice inside her head.
I suppose you’ve been wondering what the Orb of Poison does, Yuna. Let me show you.
Yuna felt her entire body seize up in a massive cramp. She groaned and fell out of bed, landing on the deck with a thunk. Colors flashed in front of her eyes, and the world began to fade to black.
It’s really a fascinating item, the Orb. It doesn’t poison the body; it poisons the mind that is dependent on the body. It can cause the mind to order the body to do almost anything. I’m going to give you four months’ notice: come to the Shimmering Island when the moon is full or else when it comes time for you to give birth, your child will die.
Yuna felt all her muscles go slack and her strength leave her. She was utterly unable to move, like a fallen tree.
Tidus stirred and started to wake up. Yuna willed for time to stop, so that she might never have to tell him what had just happened. For a second, there was no sound, no motion, and Yuna thought she had been successful.
Then Tidus muttered, “Where’d Yuna go off to?” and Yuna realized she’d been poisoned in one of the most hideous ways possible – and that she had four months to stop Affectus.
* * *
“Don’t you see? Affectus is baiting us into immediate, unthinking action with this new maneuver of his!” Sanyi protested. “If we wait for a month or two, Affectus will lose momentum and start getting impatient! Then we can strike!”
< We have no time at all to waste, > Cerewin countered. < I doubt Affectus is bluffing, and he will probably take at least a few more months to track down. We need to act now. >
Sanyi and Cerewin had been arguing back and forth for ten minutes after Yuna had gathered everyone on the bridge and told them about what had happened. She was getting impatient; every second she wasn’t doing something stung her like a wasp.
“Maybe, just maybe, you would like to know what I think?” she tried to interrupt. It was a wasted effort. Sanyi and Cerewin continued arguing as if she hadn’t even spoken.
On the verge of screaming, Yuna turned and stormed off the bridge, a move that apparently was of no note to Sanyi or Cerewin. Auron raised a hand as if to stop her, but Italia gently grabbed his wrist and pulled his arm down. Tidus sighed and started after Yuna. Her pounding footfalls echoed through the corridors on the top deck of the temple-airship. Tidus followed the sound of them until he finally reached the staircase down into the Cloister of Trials. None of them knew how it had moved from the floor of the bridge to the rear of the ship, but Yuna took it all the same. Tidus followed cautiously, noting that the staircase was about four times longer than before. Seeing no trace of her in the Cloister, nor any footprints leading towards the temple lobby, Tidus went into the Chamber of the Fayth. The large metal door was upraised, and Tidus could see Yuna in front of the Fayth.
“Yuna, what are you doing down here?” Tidus asked.
Yuna started, then replied, “I came down here to think and be alone.”
“Sorry. I can leave if you want.”
“No, it’s all right.” Tidus took several tentative steps into the room. “Wait.”
“Yuna, what is it?”
Yuna had stood up, suddenly alert. “There’s something wrong here. Something evil.”
That was when the Fayth began to move.
“It’s coming alive, just like Zaon did in Zanarkand!” Tidus shouted over the sound of cracking stone.
“Something’s different this time,” Yuna said. “I’m not afraid of it. Maybe because I controlled the Fayth’s Aeon before.”
“Sounds like a good theory. Can we go now?” The Fayth had risen and was beginning to advance menacingly towards the two of them, its eyes glowing red. Yuna started backing up, then stopped and began walking towards the Fayth. “Yuna, are you crazy?” Tidus yelped. “That thing’s going to kill you!”
“I feel like I know what’s happened to this Fayth,” Yuna said as she walked even closer. “The soul is gone, but the trace magical elements left behind in the statue… they’ve been poisoned!”
“I’m starting to see a pattern here, and I don’t like it,” Tidus observed. “We know, thanks to Sanyi, that the Scroll of the Aeons is how Yevon priests took the souls from people’s bodies and embedded them in these statues. Now we know that the Orb of Poison can somehow alter the magical essence of the Fayth and control it!”
“Not just control it,” Yuna finished for him, “but destroy it, too. The Orb of Poison is a magical device Yevonites used in case a Fayth somehow went berserk!”
“That’s why they imprisoned the statues in these Temples, so they couldn’t escape,” Tidus added. “This is all great to know, but what do we do about our current problem?”
Yuna touched the Fayth’s arm. It crumbled to dust. “I have the Orb’s essence in my body, thanks to Affectus,” Yuna realized. “Somehow it’s altered by my unique magical signature in reality. I’m betting the Fayth’s magical signature alters the essence as well. I can’t control the essence in me, but maybe when two different essences of the Orb come in contact, the stronger one annihilates the weaker one.”
“You have a soul and the statue doesn’t, so I’m thinking you’re the stronger one in this case,” Tidus reassured her. Yuna nodded, then stretched out her arms and took hold of the Fayth’s head. The statue shook, then exploded into a cloud of fine dust. A purple, magical serpent dropped to the floor in the middle of the cloud, and Yuna stomped on it, dissipating it.
After a moment of silence, Tidus asked, “One thing still bothers me. We’ve figured out the purposes of the Scroll and the Orb, but what about the Vorpal Crystal?”
“Well, the Vorpal Crystal holds the essence of pure nothingness, correct?”
“Nothingness is the highest dimension. In my spare time, before the stadium exploded and we got caught up in this whole fight, I had read a book written by someone Mem N. E. II, pronounced Mem En the Second. Of course, the Second is two I’s, leading me to guess Memnii wrote the book.”
“Sounds plausible,” Tidus agreed.
“Memnii theorized that in order for the Fayth to manifest themselves as Aeons in Spira, they would have to punch a hole in the four higher dimensions, making them null and void for an instant, so that the spirit of the Fayth could come through to Spira from the Fayth’s dream-world. An anchor in Spira would be required to do this, and that anchor would be a summoner.
“Now, here’s my end of the theory: nothingness controls the existence of matter, energy, and space. If someone were to use the Vorpal Crystal to project pure nothingness into a summoner’s mind just as an Aeon was being summoned, the projection would restore matter, energy, and space, making it so the Aeon couldn’t get through the barrier.”
“So, if I’m following you correctly, you’re saying that the Vorpal Crystal was another Yevonite weapon used in case a summoner went rogue.” Tidus whistled. “I can see how anyone who possessed the Orb, the Crystal, and the Scroll would have mastery over death – I mean, they could command the power of a Fayth.” Tidus felt like he was about to go cross-eyed, there was so much to take in.
Yuna nodded. “The Fayth could do anything they chose to do if they had the right kind of link to Spira. The only reason they didn’t do more than manifest themselves as Aeons was because there was only one kind of link. Affectus exists on Spira… imagine what could happen if he could command death.”
“Lulu can do that, can’t she?”
“Only through a carefully cast magic spell, only for about five seconds, and only in extreme circumstances. If she accidentally lost control of the avatar that death manifests itself in when she casts the spell, the entire world could end up dead.”
“No pressure, huh?” Yuna had to smile at that.
“We still haven’t figured out what to do about Affectus, though.”