And with the new year: Dawn of New Light.

Yes, it’s a new year and I thought it suiting to post the second FFX fiction I wrote, Dawn of New Light. It’s the sequel to Twilight of Spira. If you haven’t read Twilight, PM me and I’ll send you a copy since the thread is gone.

As with Twilight, Dawn of New Light is not broken up into chapters, only scene transitions. I shoot for an immersive reading experience and I feel that transitions are disruptive enough. Chapters are too harsh, so to speak. So I’ll post six or seven pages an update, whichever is more suitable to leave off dramatically.

I have two more things to say before going on and presenting Dawn. First, FFX-2 was indeed out when I wrote this. However, it IS a sequel to Twilight, and that fiction was written before FFX-2, so it ignores FFX-2’s storyline (which I liked only so much anyway). Second, I did not originally intend to follow up Twilight. I wrote Dawn due to popular demand from those I showed it to. And like many sequels, I consider this one inferior in some ways to the original. It’s shorter and I don’t like its story quite as much as Twilight’s. I do, however, love its ending. Now, without further ado…

Dawn of New Light
Based off of Final Fantasy X
Written by Mengde

The city of Luca had been burned down and beaten into ashes. As time had passed, reconstruction had begun, but the road to recovery was a long and hard one. The man standing in the blitzball stadium knew that intimately.

His long, black hair reached to his shoulders, while his eyes were slitted and colored a dark green, much like a cat’s. His nose and mouth were small, his ears smaller than those of a Guado but larger and more elongated than that of a human. Broad shoulders and a muscular frame as well as dark brows gave him an imposing look. He wore a robe so deeply blue it was almost black, with sharply angled shoulder pads flaring out dramatically. The long, flowing, similarly colored cape he wore began at these shoulder pads and extended to his ankles. Most impressive of all were his hands; they had five long, delicate fingers that ended in razor-sharp talons. On his feet he wore black leather shoes. At his side he wore a sword sheathed in a scabbard seemingly too large for it, even though the hilt of the sword was nearly a foot long and as thick as a man’s spinal cord.

The cape picked up the morning breeze, fluttering in the wind. Despite the noontime sun, his shadow was impressively long thanks to the cape. Repair teams seemed to instinctively avoid him, while small animals that had made the wrecked stadium their home scurried away at the sound of his footfalls.
The man walked towards the center of the stadium. As he walked his foot brushed against a severed limb. It was covered in sleek brown fur, and ended in a four-fingered hand. Aside from a slight tightening of his jaw muscles, the extremity provoked no reaction from him.

Finally he reached the middle of the stadium. He slowly placed his hand on the hilt of the sword at his side.

A grumpy-looking Guado workman spotted him and growled, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be here-”

The mysterious stranger let his rage loose with a howl that shattered every glass construct for a mile. He drew his sword in a flash. Instead of a blade at the end of the sheath, a long, fiery, and deadly whipcord of energy lashed at the workman, cutting him in two. The whipcord retracted from six feet in length to five, and in a flash of light and a blast of heat resolved into a smoldering steel blade. The blade was long and thin, with finely honed edges and flames licking its sides. The blade itself was not entirely solid; hollow areas perfected the fearsome look of the weapon. People were suddenly running towards him, shouting curses in many different languages. They drew various blades and the occasional gun.
The man closed his eyes and began muttering to himself. “Seyla mortis emnat hinum. Yui iolt gattashi tuboni. Wey sangquo tiam she-tao-fai.”

A split second before a hurdling mass of angry people and sharp swords descended upon the casual murderer, the ground split open around him. Dark and nameless things skittered out of the deep places the fissures reached to.
Then the entire blitzball stadium detonated in an explosion that sent a shockwave of dust blowing through the entire city.
Of the man there was no trace.

Yuna stared in disbelief at the explosion. The little residential building that had been hastily completed for her and Tidus’ arrival shook with the force of it. Pictures and mementos fell of the shelves and walls. They would have crashed to the ground and made a huge mess had Yuna not mentally caught them in mid-air, a considerable effort.

Tidus came falling out of the kitchen area, where he’s been catching up on old times with Wakka. “What the hell what that?” he shouted.

“The entire blitzball stadium just exploded!” Yuna shouted back.

Wakka came bounding out of the kitchen and looked out the window. A look of pure horror plastered itself on his face. “The stadium! There’ll be people hurt!”

Yuna shook her head. “In a blast that big? No… anyone within a mile of that stadium is dead.”

Ten minutes later they were in front of what was left of the stadium, which was next to nothing. The heat was still intense, and law enforcement officials desperately sprayed water on any remaining fire while ushering people away from the blast zone. Wakka simply stared at the carnage in a sort of stunned disbelief. Tidus put a hand on Wakka’s shoulder.

Yuna turned as something caught her eye in the center of the ruins. Where the blast had originated was an untouched area. It was about four feet in width and length, and it was formed in the shape of a seven-pointed star. Yuna blinked, but the image did not vanish.

Tidus walked over to it, sweating. He turned and said, “The air’s cool when you stand inside the star.”

Yuna raised a skeptical eyebrow and stepped into the star. Immediately the ambient temperature dropped by thirty degrees. Wakka stepped inside and whistled. “What do you suppose did this?”

The inside of the tavern was smoky and the illumination was low. People skulked in the shadows or staged an uproar at the results of an ill-fated card game. The bartender was a suspicious-looking Guado… but everyone in the tavern looked suspicious.

The tavern was located in the city of Bevelle. It had suffered much the same fate as Luca; it had been pillaged and made a base of operations for the First Race. However, the city was always full of assault machina that responded rather violently to any threat, meaning Bevelle weathered the change of management much better than Luca.

Tidus put his foot up on the table in front of him. The booth he and Yuna shared was a bit cramped for his tastes and there were several large tears in the faded leather upholstery of the seats. The table itself looked like it could be used as a shield in case someone drew a gun, and Tidus had not missed the drain in the center of the room – easy cleanup in case of a bloody mess. To fit in with the clientele, Tidus wore a black shirt with a dark leather vest, along with long, black pants with red highlights, as well as black gloves.

Yuna was half-sitting, half-lying in the booth, head propped up on her arm. She wore a short-sleeved, white shirt underneath a dark blue jacket with open, flowing sleeves. She also wore dark blue pants and had dyed her hair black. Auron had insisted that they meet him there, and had told them what to wear in order to blend in.

Tidus stretched and started to yawn, then thought the better of it. “When is Auron going to show up? He’s twenty minutes late.”

Yuna shrugged. “Auron’s probably keeping us in suspense. You know, for dramatic effect. I always get the feeling he likes to do that sort of thing.”

Tidus nodded sagely, then narrowed his eyes as a tall, brawny human male dropped slid into their booth. He grinned, displaying a perfect set of white teeth that Tidus wanted very badly to dislocate.

However, Tidus only broke the man’s jaw when he sneered at Yuna, “Hey, legs. Why you hanging out with pretty-boy here?”

As the jerk crawled out of the bar, Yuna raised an eyebrow at Tidus. “Touchy.”

“I didn’t marry you just to have some guy call you ‘legs’ and ask you why you’re hanging out with me,” Tidus said amiably. “Besides, you’re already five months pregnant.”

Yuna nodded, a pinched look on her face. “I’m starting to feel it. Our kid is kicking me in the middle of the night.”

It was Tidus’ turn to raise an eyebrow. “So that’s why you woke up and blasted me out of bed with you. We still have the dent in the east wall of our bedroom to prove it.”

Auron sighed dejectedly and stared at the sign above the entrance to the tavern, which boldly proclaimed the bartender could serve up any drink a man could name. Auron had used the place as a meeting area for many years and he had never been able to get Ronso whiskey.

Looking around, Auron could clearly see how much the area the tavern was in had degraded – and that was saying something. He’d had to stare down eight wannabe thugs to get through one of the streets.

As someone tapped him on the shoulder teasingly, Auron inwardly cursed himself for getting his eye scarred. Women had said it lent him a dangerous look. Maybe if I still had two eyes… oh, never mind.

Auron sighed pointedly and said to the woman behind him, “No, I don’t have any money. Take your business elsewhere.”

“That’s no way to talk to me, is it?”

Auron stiffened at the voice. He stiffened even more when the woman who’d spoken turned him around and kissed him full on the mouth. Surprised, he disengaged from her.

“Italia,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

“Indeed it has,” Italia replied.

Italia was truly a stunning woman. Her long, blonde hair reached to her waist, highlighted with gold as it cascaded and twisted in the breeze. Large, luminous brown eyes could draw any man into them. Her face was flawless, her form strong but slim.

After ten years of missing her, it was hard not to jump all over her.

Auron withdrew several paces from her and said, “I’m here to meet someone. Follow if you wish but please keep out of it; we can catch up later.” With that he turned away and entered the tavern. Italia smiled and went in after him.

Tidus was suspiciously scanning the crowds as Auron slid into the booth next to him. Tidus turned and said, “About time! You’re twenty-two minutes late.”

Auron looked him in the eye and replied evenly, “Twenty-three. Is there a problem?”

“No, not at all,” Yuna answered before Tidus stick his foot in his mouth. “What do you need to talk to us about, Sir Auron?”

“It’s about the explosion at the blitzball stadium three weeks ago,” Auron said. “I believe I know who’s behind it.”

“Would it be that woman?” Tidus asked jokingly. Auron looked in the direction of Tidus’ gaze and saw Italia. Auron sighed, said something to himself that Tidus was disappointed he couldn’t make out, and replied, “Her? You’ll find out about her soon enough.”

“You two ever involved?” Tidus asked bluntly.

“You’ll see.”

“Oh.” Tidus elbowed Yuna playfully and said, “That’s Auron-talk for ‘yes’, you know.” Auron cleared his throat, and Tidus leaned back and said, “So, who’s behind the explosion?”

Twenty-two-year-old warrior monk Auron stared at High Priest Cimarron and coughed into his hand. “Let me clarify what you’ve just told me, High Priest,” Auron said carefully. “You want me to marry your daughter.”

The High Priest nodded amicably and replied, “You’re physically fit, mentally healthy, and spiritually strong. You’re honest, kind, you don’t make mistakes… I don’t believe there could be a better man for my daughter.”

The rotund priest patted Auron on the shoulder with a meaty hand. “Think about it, my friend. Fame, glory, power… all these things come from marrying Simne, my daughter.”

As the High Priest left, Auron sank to his knees, holding his head in his hands. This certainly complicates matters.

In his quarters he shared with fellow warrior monks Kinoc and Jyscal Guado, Auron explained the situation. Kinoc stood in the middle of the room, jaw hanging open. Jyscal nodded slowly and said, “Well, I sincerely believe High Priest Cimarron made a good choice as to whom to marry his daughter to,” he said softly. He always spoke softly; it was his nature.

Auron simply sat on the side of his bed, staring at the floor.

“Auron, pal, haven’t you even considered what might happen if Da-Priestess Simne doesn’t like you?” Kinoc asked. “Do you love her? Do you even like her?”

“That’s not the point,” Auron replied, exasperated.

“You have a point,” Jyscal agreed. He then walked over to Auron, knelt down next to him, and nodded slowly. Physical contact had never been one of Jyscal’s strong points, unless you counted spilling out an enemy’s innards with no more than a dagger. “I would consider this carefully, my friend.”

Auron didn’t raise his head to reply.

It was eleven o’clock at night. Most of the Palace’s residents had gone to bed. Auron had taken to wandering the halls, thinking. Finally he had arrived at the gym and decided to go a few rounds with training machina.

That had been an hour ago. Now Auron in front of a large pile of smoking bits and pieces of machina. He idly picked a bit of wiring off his sword, thinking it was about time to go to bed. That was when he heard the muffled noises. Auron frowned, instinctively calling upon what he’d been taught as a boy. He immediately confirmed the sound was not coming from the gym. Following it, he walked down the hall… and arrived in front of Da-Priestess Simne’s room.

Inside he could hear Simne conversing with someone. Whoever was inside the room with her also sounded extremely angry. Auron’s curiosity took hold, and he knocked on the door.

“No! Don’t come in!” he heard Simne say.

“Quiet!” snarled the other voice, and there were sudden footsteps pounding towards the door.

Auron leapt away from the door as it splintered into a hundred pieces. Standing in front of Auron was a man wearing a cape and robe, with long black hair and strange green eyes. His ears were elongated but not as long as a Guado’s.

“Oh, it’s only a human,” the man muttered. “Of no consequence.”

Simne appeared behind him. Her blonde hair, brown eyes, and slim body were highlighted by the silk nightgown she wore, and Auron made an effort to keep his gaze fixed on the man and not her. “Auron! Run!”

“I said QUIET!” the interloper snapped, and waved his hand at Simne. She groaned and fell over, shuddering. Auron drew Masamune and growled, “Who the hell are you?”

The man looked back at him and said, “My name is Affectus. I’m here for the Da-Priestess. And you would be…”

“Warrior Monk First Class Auron,” was the reply. “I’m… the one that High Priest Cimarron wants the Da-Priestess to marry.”

Affectus stared, then threw his head back and laughed. “Cimarron has such terrible taste! The fool could not have picked a worse specimen to wed his daughter to!” Then he looked closer at Auron and sneered, “It’s too bad about what happened a few months ago, don’t you think?”

Auron ground his teeth together and snapped, “Shut up and leave or fight me. It’s your choice, but I would go for the leaving part – I’m ready for anything you can throw at me.”

“You’re but half right,” Affectus said imperiously. “Physically you are in excellent health. Mentally is your weakness. You are plagued by self-doubt, and a recent loss clouds your mind.”

“How do you claim to know that?” Auron asked, tightening his grip on the Masamune.

“Should you survive this encounter, take a while to set your mind straight,” Affectus replied, and without further adieu pulled his sword from its scabbard. Auron raised the Masamune to block the strike. His eyes widened in horror when a long, green whipcord of energy sliced at him instead of a blade. Upon impact with Auron’s sword, it threw Auron back into the hallway. Auron landed heavily, but was back on his feet in an instant. The whipcord suddenly shifted into a long, deadly blade, colored a poisonous green. Sharp protrusions lanced from its sides and the end split into three points. Upon its surface were etched lines following the curves of the weapon, and the air around it rippled with a barely contained power.

“Let us fight.”

Affectus came forward in a sudden blur of motion, bringing the blade down on Auron’s head. Auron raised Masamune to deflect the strike. The two enchanted blades met in an explosive clash, sending both combatants flying backwards again. As Auron got to his feet he mentally gathered the essence of weakness and insufficiency and channeled it into the Masamune. His blade began to glow an explosive red. Affectus rushed forward again, but this time struck low at Auron’s ankles. Auron twirled Masamune in his hands with only minimal difficulty, blocking the strike. Before Affectus could move, Auron hurled Masamune at him. Affectus ducked, though it did him little good as the power of the Masamune brought the entire wall crumbling down on him.

The last thing Auron saw of Affectus was the green blade fizzling out of existence. He walked over to the pile of rubble and pulled Masamune out of it. Supporting the sword on his shoulder, Auron ran towards Simne’s room. He failed to notice the white glow coming from the rubble.

Simne walked tentatively out of her room. Seeing Auron in one piece, she ran forward and embraced him. Auron stiffened, not sure how to react to this display of affection. He decided on a professional manner.

“What did that man Affectus want?” he asked.

Simne drew away from him a bit and said, “I don’t know. He kept asking about a ‘key to the temple’.” She then looked over Auron’s shoulder with some difficulty and gasped, “Look out!”

Auron whirled, Masamune at the ready, but it was too late. Affectus had risen from the pile, and he had a glowing white blade. Its edges swept gracefully upward at its hilt, but then melted into two gradually straightening circular sections and ended in a straight point. Down the middle of the blade were hollow areas in the forms of hourglasses, bordered by outward-facing, hollowed semicircles split down the middle with an arrowhead.

Affectus lunged forward, ducking beneath Auron’s guard, and slashed at Auron’s leg. The leg suddenly went numb, and the rest of Auron’s body quickly followed it. Only then did Auron realize the blade was poisoned.

Affectus grabbed Simne by the shoulder and sneered, “I’ll be leaving, now!” As he ran towards Simne’s room, he sheathed his sword. The blade flowed into the scabbard as water flows into a glass; there was no friction at all, despite the scabbard being three times too thin for the sword to fit.

Feeling instantly returned to Auron’s body. He leaped to his feet and ran after Affectus and Simne… just as Affectus dragged them both off the balcony extending from the side of Simne’s room and the Palace. As they fell into empty space, the balcony exploded and Affectus’ chilling laugh could be heard for miles.

There is the first part. After going through it again, I can most definitely say that I dislike how Dawn starts up - flashy and fast. I do hope you don’t mind, though. There are good bits too. ^^

Before I go, let me clear up a few things. One, “Affectus” is not a weird mashing together of “affect” and “us”. It’s Latin for something. I was asking a friend what a good Latin word is that’s related to emotions, and he gave me that. Look it up, I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. I thought it sounded nice.

Two, you’re thinking “omgwtfflashbacksux”. Remember: popular demand. People liked Auron and wanted to know more about his past, so I’m giving him what’s probably the longest flashback ever. Bear with me.

Three, he has the Masamune when he’s a warrior monk because he does. No comments.

That’s all for today, then. I hope you come back later… there’s more goodies to be had. :booster:

Definately off to an interesting start. While Twilight stood alone well enough, I’m sure there were a few more stories to tell within. And we know how good a writer you are…keep it coming. :wink:

Phew, if at least 1 person liked the beginning well enough then I’m happy. Now, the next update.

Jyscal and Kinoc had found Auron lying in a heap in Simne’s room. When he had woken up he’d explained everything.

“I need to find Simne and this Affectus on my own,” Auron said as he walked towards the Palace’s exit. “It’s my fault that she was kidnapped in the first place.”

“Did you ask this man to come and steal her away?” Jyscal asked. “It’s not your fault, Auron.”

Auron spitted Jyscal with a glare and said, “You know what I mean. See you later.”

Jyscal shook his head sadly as Auron walked away. He turned to Kinoc and said, “Do you want to tell High Priest Cimarron about this, or should I?”

“You’re the diplomat of the squad,” Kinoc said. “You can be sneaky and conniving while you still remain a patriot.”

“Everyone’s a cynic,” Jyscal replied.

“High Priest Cimarron is going to be the ultimate cynic after he finds out what happened,” Kinoc muttered. “It’ll be hard to explain to him.”

Jyscal raised an eyebrow and asked, “So you’re volunteering?”

“Who, me? Not on my life!”

Auron stopped about halfway into Bevelle’s main market with the realization of the utter futility of his quest. He was supposed to search all of Spira for two people? He didn’t even know where to start!

Auron had taken to leaning against a wall and was contemplating his dilemma when something brushed against his foot. He scooped it up without thinking and saw it was a ball about the size of his fist. While he was wondering who threw it, someone tugged on his robe. He looked down and saw a small girl, five or six judging from her age. She had light brown hair, a blue and a green eye, and was grinning like someone had told her it was her birthday.

“Can I have my ball back?” Her voice was sweet, but a little on the high-pitched side of the octave. Auron handed it to her without a word. The little girl scrutinized him and then asked, “Why are you wearing those funny clothes?”

“Yuna! That’s quite impolite!”

The little girl turned around and said, “Sorry, daddy.”

A tall man wearing a bluish robe and an old warrior monk headpiece bearing the seal of Yevon approached Auron. He had kindly eyes and his smile gave him a peaceful look. “I’m sorry about my daughter, Sir Monk. She can be overly curious at times.”

Auron nodded and said, “It’s all right. My name is Auron, Warrior Monk First Class.”

“My name is Summoner Braska.”

Auron jerked at the name, then said, “So you’re the fallen summoner everyone was jeering about three or four years ago. I’m sorry.”

“It was my decision to marry an Al Bhed,” Braska said softly.

“I’m here on a mission. I’m going after-”

Braska shook his head, then looked Auron straight in the eye and asked, “What’s happened to Simne?”

Hiding his surprise, Auron replied, “A man named Affectus recently kidnapped her. I don’t know why, but I’m making it my mission to find out.”

“Think I could tag along?” Braska asked.

Auron gestured towards Yuna, asking, “What are you going to do with this lovely little girl of yours?”

“I have a friend who can take care of her while I’m gone – her name’s Nien. Charming woman, really.”

Yuna listened to the banter with remarkable calmness, not blinking or showing any kind of shock at the things being said.

“Are you sure Yuna will be all right?” Auron asked.

Braska shrugged and replied, “I’ve had to go on long trips before. Yuna was perfectly fine about it.” He crouched down in front of the little girl and asked, “Weren’t you, Yunie?”

The little girl nodded solemnly. Turning to Auron, she said, “You take care of my daddy. I want him back.”

Auron chuckled and said, “All right, I’ll take care of him… I promise.”

Auron looked around the tavern Braska had brought him to. The interior was smoky, badly lit, and there was a rather conspicuous drain in the middle of the floor. Calling the place a dive would elevate it several notches.

Braska slid into the booth with Auron and said in a low voice, “I’ve always met friends here. An informant that owes me a favor always comes here at six-thirty – that’s in five minutes. Watch for a man in a cloak.” Auron nodded and took a sip of his yet-untouched drink. Looking around to make sure nobody was watching, Auron poured the rest of his drink into the only potted plant in the room. The specimen suddenly changed colors and grew two feet in height. Auron quickly turned away and pretended not to notice.

He did notice, however, the man that sat down next to him in the booth. He was in a black cloak that concealed all his features. No part of his face was visible.

“Glad you could make it,” Braska said. “What news do you have for me about Da-Priestess Simne?”

“Well, Auron told the truth-”

“Wait a minute,” Auron cut him off brusquely. “How do you know my name?”

“It’s my business to know things of value. Your name is one such thing.” Turning back to Braska, the man continued. “Auron told the truth. Simne was kidnapped by a man named Affectus. I know they were last seen heading south towards Luca.” Without further word, the man gathered up his cloak and disappeared into seemingly thin air.

Auron stared at Braska, who shrugged and said, “He’s very good with children, I’m told.”

Auron looked around at his surroundings. They were not the most innocent ones. He was standing inside a large, opulent penthouse filled with furniture, food, and all the trappings of wealth… including half-naked women.

Shaking his head, Auron wondered why Braska had led him into this private whorehouse. Anyone with half a working brain could tell the man in charge was not the kindest soul on the face of the planet.

Braska emerged from behind a sliding door, followed by a muscular, well-built man with a strong jaw and a full hairline. Motioning towards the man, Braska said, “Auron, I’d like you to meet Sirius, an old friend of mine.”

Auron nodded but said nothing. Sirius waved his arms in an encompassing gesture and said, “My friend, don’t you like my home?”

Auron stiffened as an especially noticeable woman brushed past him. He replied, “It’s certainly… different.”

“Please make yourselves at home. Hopefully you will be able to find what you seek here.” With that, Sirius turned and left.

“Braska, how is it you know a man who runs a private whorehouse?” Auron asked in a low tone.

“He prefers to think of it as an elite club,” Braska replied in lower tones. “Besides, we went to school together.” He raised his head, scanned the area, and said, “To your right. Do you see him? The one surrounded by the masseuses?”

Auron looked but couldn’t see anything for the masseuses to surround. “You mean there’s someone actually trapped in that circle?” Braska nodded, and Auron frowned. “Is it traditional for a wealthy man’s masseuses to wear almost nothing?”

“Ignore that for now,” Braska said. “That man’s name is Don Tseng. He’s the one who can get us transportation to Luca fast enough to beat Affectus.”

“All right, then let me handle this,” Auron said. Braska held up a hand of warning, but Auron was already striding purposefully over. Instead of trying to push through the throng of women surrounding the man, he kicked over the table of lotions that was next to him. The throng abruptly withdrew, bringing into view a small, weasly-looking man. “You’re Don Tseng?” Auron asked incredulously.

The man nodded and said, motioning towards the spilled lotions, “Those were very expensive.”

“I’ve got something even more so in mind,” Auron said threateningly. He ignored the frantic gestures Braska was making and grabbed Don Tseng by the collar of his robe. Seemingly out of thin air, five burly men appeared. Auron froze, then released Don Tseng and said, “I can pay for the lotions.”

Then he was dropping to the floor as the five henchmen all leaped at the spot he’d been standing in, crashing into Don Tseng instead.

“You idiots! Get him!”

“Who are you calling an idiot?” one of the men asked.

The slip-up on the thugs’ part gave Auron enough time to get to his feet and deal one of the men a solid kick to the jaw. He jumped and grabbed hold of a large lamp hanging from the ceiling, then sent it flying into the face of another man. At the same time, Auron scooped up the table he’d knocked over with his foot and hurled it into the third man’s gut.

He didn’t have time to do anything else because that was when the fourth and fifth men took him in a wild tackle. Auron braced himself for several broken bones and an extremely wounded sense of pride before Braska knocked both men unconscious with a twirl of his staff.

Auron got up and grabbed Don Tseng by the collar again, growling, “Now, maybe you’ll be more willing to talk with us.”

A few days later Auron swore under his breath as his chocobo nearly tripped over its own big feet. He shot a withering glare at Braska and accused, “You never said this crime boss of yours specialized in chocobo travel.”

Braska shrugged and replied, “Well, it’ll get us there faster than Affectus. Besides, don’t you like the feel of the wind in your face?”


They had passed through Macalania Wood, the Thunder Plains, Guadosalam, and the Moonflow. Now they were just starting down the Djose Highroad, and after six days of chocobo travel Auron was just plain sick of it.

Then, as Djose Shore came into view, Auron smiled for the first time in what felt like forever. A passing trade caravan had apparently made camp upon the beach. “Braska, look! It’s a trading caravan.”

Braska looked at it for just a bit too long, which made Auron nervous. “Braska, what are you staring at?” Auron asked.

“The caravan… there’s something wrong with it.”

“What do you mean? The caravan is perfectly fine,” Auron replied.

“You sound like a little boy, insisting the fee to enter the carnival isn’t too high.”

“I’m telling you, there’s nothing-” Auron started, then froze. He had been wondering why all the sand around the caravan was red. Now he knew - it was stained.

With blood.

Auron ran down the slope, leaving his chocobo behind. He looked wildly around at the scene, wondering what had caused the devastation.

“Look,” Braska said. He held up a man’s torso, perfectly severed at the waist. “I’ve never seen such a clean cut.”

“I know what happened,” Auron muttered. “Affectus was here.”

Braska straightened and said, “Wait a minute. I hear something.”

Auron quickly drew Masamune and said quietly, “He strikes very fast. Be ready to dodge anything he throws at you.”

Braska drew his staff and said, “Easy. You search by that pile of bodies, and I’ll search by this one.” He then drew closer and whispered, “Be ready to come to my aid. Whoever is hiding is hiding by my pile.” The two split up, trying to stay quiet while instinctively avoiding the bodies sprawled all over the ground. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Braska yelled and something wet and meaty hit the ground.

Auron was next to him in an instant, and Braska said sheepishly, “Sorry. A corpse fell on my head.”

“What caused it to fall?” Auron asked.

“I did,” replied a voice.

Auron tensed, but not nearly fast enough. The pile of cadavers exploded, spraying red blood and gore everywhere. Braska put up a mental shield, but Auron got a liver full in the face. He swore heatedly and ripped it off just in time to dodge Affectus’ long whipcord. The whipcord slammed a huge gash into the ground and missed Auron by a hair. He sighed and muttered, “This is getting… old.”

“It’s always fresh for me,” Affectus laughed. The whipcord solidified into the long and deadly green blade he’d used before. “You’ll note I’m leaving you in one piece because I took the liberty of slaughtering those chocobos of yours. Goodbye for now.”

He leaped ten meters into the air, pushed off the nearest pile of bodies, and practically flew away. Auron turned around, furious, and saw the river of blood streaming down the slope from where they’d left their chocobos.

Auron swore heatedly, not for the first time, and then swore again as he saw Affectus grab an unconscious Simne and get away. “We have to follow him!”

“Stand back,” Braska said. He closed his eyes, then space around him erupted in magical energy. The sky itself seemed to peel back, and the Aeon Bahamut landed on the beach with a thunderous crash. Auron held his breath; he’d heard stories of Aeons tearing people they didn’t like apart on a whim.

“I have him under control,” Braska said. “Get on his back.”

“You want me to ride that thing?” Auron asked, dumbfounded.

“You have a better idea?”

A second later they were on Bahamut’s back, flying at high speeds after Affectus. Auron swallowed and tried not to look down; he had never been afraid of heights until now.

Then he spotted Affectus streaking down the Mi’ihen Highroad, Simne in tow. “Over there!” he shouted, and Bahamut swooped down on an extremely agressive angle of attack. The wind nearly tore Auron off Bahamut, but he managed to hold on. Affectus spotted them in turn, then drew his sword. An angry red whipcord of energy sliced out at them, but it had extended to several hundred feet instead of six. Bahamut dodged hastily, then responded by throwing blue-black balls of dark energy at Affectus, who dodged easily. “Braska!” Auron yelled over the wind. “Don’t hurt Simne!”

The whipcord resolved itself into a long, red blade with razor-sharp edges. The air around it constantly shimmered with heat.

“I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!” Affectus yelled. He swung the blade, and the air began rippling wildly all around him, distorting Auron’s view of him.

When the distortion cleared, Affectus was gone.

Auron sighed and wondered why he’d let himself by convinced by Braska to undertake this quest of utter stupidity. He then corrected himself, realizing he had drawn Braska into the quest and not the other way around.

“I have an idea,” Braska announced.

“That’s good. What is it?”

“We swoop in to an extremely low altitude on the Oldroad so as to avoid detection,” Braska explained, “then when we encounter the dead end we should pull up and surprise Affectus as he tries to enter Luca.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Auron agreed. “The question is, can Bahamut fit in that small a space?”

“It’s not really that small,” Braska replied. “And Bahamut can tuck his wings in to minimize his target profile and the space he takes up.”

The trip was uneventful until they reached the dead end in the Oldroad. As Bahamut began to curve into a ninety-degree ascent, Auron realized he’d left out a crucial factor in his calculations: managing to not fall off the Aeon when it began flying in a vertical direction. He gripped Bahamut’s shoulder as hard as he could, and the Aeon barked a low growl of annoyance.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Auron yelled over the screaming wind as the Highroad came into view.

“Trust me, it’s safe,” Braska yelled back. “Bahamut would never let us fall.”

“Guess again!”

Affectus was back. As he flew through the air, he whipped out his blade. The whipcord was a long green one again, and Auron found he was tiring of that particular hue.

That thought was quickly dismissed from his mind when the whipcord sliced through Bahamut like magic through paper. The Aeon groaned, then went limp and began a long, curving descent. Auron yelped as he was nearly thrown off.

Then the Aeon disappeared in a burst of pyreflies, and Auron was sent shooting towards the stairway leading down into Luca from the Highroad.

He landed just short of it, but bounced to it and rolled down all the steps at a high speed. Auron finally smacked into a guardrail and ended up staring down at one of Luca’s main marketplaces.

Braska landed deftly on his feet next to Auron. “I think I’m going to throw up,” Auron muttered.

“No time for that! Look!” was Braska’s only reply. Affectus leaped over them and into the crowded marketplace, Simne still in tow.

“If we lose him in there, we’ll probably never find the Da-Priestess!” Braska said urgently. “Auron, get up!”

Auron painfully got to his feet and said, “Let’s go.” He drew Masamune and charged down into the marketplace, following the blue flashes of Affectus’ cape. Braska, apparently quite an agile man, leaped from rooftop to rooftop, chasing Affectus in concert with Auron. Affectus was quite the runner, though, and both the humans found it hard to keep up.

When Affectus leaped fifty feet into the air to avoid a large statue, Auron decided the last straw had broken the camel’s back. He was tired of being in the dark about Affectus.

“What is he?” Auron shouted.

“I don’t know!” Braska shouted back. “He’s most certainly not human, though, that much I can tell. Look at his ears and his feet.”

“I noticed,” Auron said. “That sword of his is certainly something, though.”

“I have a theory about how it works,” Braska said. “I’ll tell you it after we catch him!”

Just then Affectus turned and slashed at Auron with the whipcord. It was the searing red variety, and it left a rather large and unseemly gash in the street. Auron increased his speed even more, knowing it was becoming increasingly likely he would trip over his own feet at this rate. At that moment Simne decided to wake up.

“What… where…” Simne was silent for a moment, then she screamed at the top of her lungs.

“Quiet!” Affectus hissed, but Simne just took the command as an invitation to scream even louder.

“AURON! HELP!” Auron gritted his teeth and took a wild leap, managing to catch the edge of Affectus’ cape. A second later he was being dragged in Affectus’ wake. The man made sure Auron slammed into most every obstacle he passed, but Auron endured, refusing to let go of Affectus’ cape.

“GRAB MY HAND!” he yelled at Simne. She reached out and grabbed his hand, then Affectus leaped high into the air and went into a full, three-hundred-sixty-degree spin. His cape ripped nearly in half, and Auron went flying.

A moment later he slammed into Braska, and the two of them fell off the low warehouse they were standing on.

Auron picked himself up off the ground and said, “Now I’m sure I’m going to throw up.”

Braska shrugged and said, “You take your chances.”

“We need to think of a plan to trap him. He’s just too fast and agile for us to catch like that.”

“Did you figure that out by yourself, or did it take divine intervention?” Braska muttered. Raising his voice, he said, “If you have an idea, now’s the time to say so.”

Auron shook his head.

They’d rented a room in a blitzball hotel. Sighing, Auron rolled over on his bed. It was full of water and its pillow was shaped in the likeness of a rather flattened blitzball. You win some, you lose some, he thought. Braska was still downstairs, finishing his soup. Auron glanced wearily at the clock and realized Braska had been finishing his soup for three hours. He put his ear to the door and thought he could faintly hear women’s shrieks of delight from downstairs.

Maybe I misjudged him, Auron thought. Maybe he’s just a no-good drunk whose only pleasure comes from renting rooms in fancy whorehouses like this one. Wearily he went down the stairs, intent on tearing Braska away from any less-than-innocent activities the man was engaging in.

When he arrived, he realized the blitzball hotel wasn’t a whorehouse like he’d thought. The dining hall had been transformed into a full-fledged casino, and Braska was in the middle of it all. He had a sizable stack of chips in front of him – then Auron realized they were all gold chips. Auron mentally multiplied the number of chips by sixteen, found three percent of the number and subtracted it – one had to be honest about one’s taxes, after all – and he was looking about seven hundred thousand Gil.

He whistled, and Braska spotted him. “Auron, friend! Come on down!” he yelled. “Get down here, help me win some more, and we’ll split it fifty-fifty!”

Numerous groans issued from the surrounding spectators at Braska’s proclamation. Auron put on his best grin and smoothly slid down the banister. He walked up next to Braska and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “And I thought you were down here up to no good.”

Braska arched an eyebrow, but made no comment. The pile in front of them quickly grew to a million Gil. Auron felt sweat start to break out on his brow and whispered to Braska, “Why are we doing this? What the hell are we going to do with a million Gil? It’ll be like a hole in our bank accounts.”

“Trust me,” Braska whispered back. “Even people like Affectus have to eat, and this is the only place in Luca that serves food at this time of night. Did you think I came down here for fun?”

“How do you know this is the only place open?” Auron countered.

“I’ve been to Luca before, you know,” Braska replied.

At that moment what seemed to be no more than a shadow slipped into the lobby. It slid over to the man at the front desk, whispered something, and the man hurriedly gave it some money.

“Braska, are you by any chance prophetic?” Auron asked quietly.

“Braska? Summoner Braska, the Fallen Summoner?” It was a man in the crowd gathered around their million-Gil stash, a newscaster by the looks of him. “And this must be the young warrior monk Auron, pledged to marry the Da-Priestess Simne of Bevelle!”

“Shut up!” Auron urged, but it was too late. The shadow tilted its head and looked at them, then went for the exit.

Auron drew his sword and started after him, but Braska acted faster. “HELLFIRE!” he shouted, seemingly on a whim.

The ground in front of the door exploded, and the Aeon Ifrit dragged itself out of the molten depths of the earth. It engulfed the shadow in a fireball of immense proportions, then heaved up a huge chunk of flooring at the shadow. One apocalyptic explosion later, Affectus was lying on the floor, still alive.

Auron walked over and carefully nudged Affectus with the toe of his boot. Without warning Affectus’ eyes sprang open and he drew his blade. The whipcord of pure white energy missed Auron’s head by a hair, then resolved into the hourglass blade he’d seen before. Auron leapt backwards, yelling, “Braska, careful! This blade is poisoned with something that freezes your muscles!”

Affectus backflipped onto his feet, laughing. “A very well-executed trap, Summoner Braska! If it had been an ordinary human you were facing, you’d have caught him for sure!” With that he turned around, ran up the wall, and pushed off towards Braska. He flew horizontally through the air, spinning like a top while his sword flashed in front of his head. Braska fell on his back to avoid the blow, then brought his staff up squarely into Affectus’ gut. The move didn’t even slow Affectus down. He went crashing into the wall behind Braska, spiderwebbing it with cracks. Ifrit roared, conjured a flaming meteor, and hurled it at Affectus. Affectus rolled out of the way, and a large hole was blown through the wall. Outside, Auron could faintly see the stars glimmering.

“We must do this again!” Affectus yelled. He ran out the hole and was gone.

In the dead silence following the battle, Auron said, “Well, the million Gil we won should just about cover the damages to this place.”

Braska nodded and said, “Of course. You think I decided to gamble a million Gil for fun?”

And there’s update two. The more I look back on Calm, the more I realize how markedly different from its predecessor it is in terms of pacing. Maybe I was on speed or something when I wrote it. Hope you all enjoy it. Comments are appreciated.

This is great. Right up on par with your last work.

blinks Oh, goody. Glad you’re liking it… God, damn Priests and their instacast power shields… (WoW = good) Anyway, I’ll post the next update now so I can forget to this weekend. :wink:

Auron sat back and relaxed for what felt like the first time in ages. The ferry he and Braska had boarded was headed for Kilika Island, where Affectus had most certainly gone. The only thing that could go wrong in their pursuit was if Sin decided to show up suddenly. Auron dreamed of one day beating the accursed thing, but if he couldn’t beat Affectus he certainly couldn’t beat Sin. Braska was on deck, talking with sailors about any suspicious people they’d seen in Kilika port. All the reports so far seemed negative, however, which was good news, considering that if Affectus was already at Kilika they had no hope of catching him.

While he was at it, Auron decided to wonder why Braska had joined him on this quest at all. He had already been married, he had a wonderful little daughter… why did he risk his life for a stranger he barely knew? Why risk his daughter’s future?

At that moment Braska slid into the seat next to Auron. “Greetings and salutations,” Braska said. “You look as if you just had a revelation of divine proportions.”

“Braska, why?” Auron asked. “Why are you risking yourself and your daughter to help me on this quest to find Simne? You have everything to lose, while I have nothing.”

“Several reasons,” Braska replied. “First… Simne is a relative of my wife, meaning she’s Al Bhed. That means I also know about the estranged sister, Somne. She was sent away to be raised in a fighting school. I think the name of the establishment was Sine Helka Vor. It’s supposed to mean ‘Warriors of the Gods from Hell’ in a forgotten language, signifying that the warriors in question have both the powers of heaven and hell on their side, making them the ultimate fighters.”

“I know,” Auron said, suddenly fully awake. “I was raised in Sine Helka Vor.”

Braska stared at him for a full minute, then replied, “Well, that certainly explains where you learned how to fight so well.”

“You said something about having a theory on Affectus’ sword,” Auron probed.

“Right,” Braska replied, still uncomfortable. “It’s a very ancient weapon called the Coma Vorpal, also known as the Prism Blade. It emerges as a different weapon from its sheath depending upon the emotional state of the user. Red is anger, white is patience, green is calm, blue is sad, purple is passionate, and yellow is envious. It is rumored there is a final blade when true mental perfection is achieved, but nobody has been able to prove it.”

“Of course there’s a final blade,” Auron muttered. “Every great weapon has to have a secret to wielding it.”

Braska nodded sagely at Auron. “It certainly seems that way. Nobody knows what emotional state triggers the final blade, either.”

Before Auron could open his mouth to continue the conversation, one of the ferry’s crewmen ran over to them and said, “Excuse me, sirs, but we’re nearing Kilika. There are also possible signs of Sin in the region; please be ready to defend yourselves.”

At that moment the water to the starboard of the ship churned and Sin shot out of the ocean in all its destructive glory. The shockwave of water swamped the entire ferry, nearly capsizing it. When the wave seceded, Auron and Braska were the only ones still on the boat.

“This is bad,” Auron declared.

Just then a lone figure leaped from Kilika. He flew impossibly towards Sin.

“That’s Affectus,” Auron yelled, pointing.

Affectus drew the Coma Vorpal. The whipcord was long and white. It glanced off Sin’s outer energy shield. As the whipcord formed into the Blade of Patience, Affectus impossibly penetrated the energy shield without disintegrating. He slashed one of Sin’s eyes with it, and the creature suddenly dropped like a stone back into the water.

“TAKE COVER!” Braska yelled. The resulting tidal wave swamped the ferry, breaking it in two this time. Auron and Braska barely managed to hang onto the guardrails lining the ship.

Affectus descended into the water after Sin. When he hit, another tidal wave resulted, and the ferry was torn to shreds.

Auron slowly and painfully opened one eye. When Simne met his bleary gaze, he got to his feet and panted, “Simne! You’re alive! Where’s Braska? Where’s Affectus?” Auron was ready for any answer, no matter how gruesome or brutal.

However, he was still surprised when the woman punched him full in the mouth. He had to take a step back to absorb the impact; she was that strong.

“NEVER, EVER say that name when I’m around!” she growled. “My damned sister is lucky we’ve never met eye-to-eye!”

Auron got warily to his feet and said, “You’re her twin sister? What’s your name?”

“My name is Somne,” the woman replied. “Ever since that bastard Cimarron decided he could only have one daughter, which was about twenty years ago, I was raised in Sine Helka Vor.”

“That’s impossible,” Auron replied. “I was raised in Sine Helka Vor, and I never met you.”

“You just don’t recognize me,” she said with a smile.

Auron’s eyes widened. “Italia?”

The sun set in the east, casting a golden reflection upon the water. Gentle winds whipped along the island of Kilika, and Braska stood on the shoreline and watched Auron and Italia embrace as long-buried memories suddenly crashed upon the shore…

Sixteen-year-old Auron smirked to himself as his opponent, a seventeen-year-old named Chidun, stepped onto the mat. Sine Helka Vor was blooming with colorful flowers and plants of all kinds. It was about noon, and the sun, shielded by a few wisps of cloud, beat down on the fighting home with a bit less intensity than usual. The campus was circular and had an area of about twenty square miles, most of which was made up of carefully prepared terrain and wilderness to test the abilities of all the children and teenagers who lived there. The main building was three stories high, had eight sides, and served as a central hub for the eight smaller, squatter two-story buildings that surrounded it on all sides. It was connected to them by long, enclosed, and transparent walkways made entirely of glass. The walkways protruded gracefully from the second floor of the main building and connected to the top floor of the secondary buildings, which were all about a quarter of a mile away from the main building. The first floor of the main building was the lobby, dining hall, and armory. The second floor was the transit floor, made almost entirely of enchanted glass as well. Nobody knew what was on the third floor except the staff, and armed and armored guards stood vigilantly in front of the only way to the third floor: a staircase. The lower, squat buildings all had sleeping quarters on the second floor and a fighting arena on the first. Four were dedicated to boys and four were dedicated to girls. Each of the squat buildings was connected to the two next to it by similar, all-glass walkways, but guards were posted on the walkways between the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. The general architectural and color scheme of the buildings were black marble floors, jagged, bloodred marble pillars, and long, vaulted ceilings composed of polished, unsmoothed obsidian. There was not a painted surface in sight.

None of that mattered, however, because Auron had a duel to win.

He started with a forward somersault that took him over Chidun’s head, then kicked out behind him as he landed. Chidun went down on the mat with a grunt. Auron spun, rolled forward onto Chidun’s back, then slammed his palm into the small of the larger boy’s back, compressing all the nerves on his spinal cord.

Chidun was down and defeated in less than four seconds.

“Well done, Auron,” the sensei declared. “A very impressive display. You may go now.”

Auron got to his feet, bowed at the waist to his sensei, then turned to leave.

“Before you go, Auron, Italia would like to speak to you.”

Auron nodded, then turned and left the battle arena, going up the stairs to the second floor. He felt short of breath, though it had nothing to do with the short match between him and Chidun.

Italia, the most beautiful girl in the entire school, the girl every man I know tries to impress, wants to talk to me?

Italia was sitting about five miles out into the wilderness. The rock she had chosen was smooth and had plenty of room for two. A willow tree cast shade over it, and the sun was nearly out of sight in thick clouds. A small stream ran nearby, and the grasses came up to Auron’s knees.

The beauty of the environment seemed to wither and die when Auron compared it to Italia. Her blonde hair went down to her shoulders. Her brown eyes could suck a man in and keep him there for as long as she wanted. Everything about her was perfectly proportioned, creating a woman that men would kill for.

What in all the hells of reality does she want to talk to me for? Auron wondered.

Auron cleared his throat and said, “You wanted to talk to me?”

Italia turned her head to look at Auron. Her gaze swept up and down him, then finally focused on his deep brown eyes. Auron simply stood there, impassive, though Italia could almost sense the gears turning inside the young man’s head, wondering what she wanted to talk to him about. It’s funny he doesn’t get lost in my eyes, she thought. Every other boy in this school does, but not him.

“Hello, Auron. I think you already know who I am,” Italia said carefully. Her voice was light and perfectly pitched, the kind of voice to catch one’s ear even in the middle of a crowd. It provoked a reaction from every boy she’d ever known. Auron didn’t even twitch.

“Yes, I do know who you are. What did you want to talk about?” Auron asked. His voice, though soft and mature, was still tinged with the excitement and brashness of youth.

“Yes, I did want to talk to you. I don’t know you very well, Auron.”

Auron cautiously moved to stand next to her. In turn, Italia pulled him down onto the rock to sit next to her.

“What do you mean, you don’t know me very well? You’ve talked to every friend I have about me, asking questions that none of them would tell me about.”

“It’s because I told them not to,” Italia said with a faint smile. “After all, what strapping young man could decide not to do me a favor?”

“I could,” Auron stated flatly. “Simply because you have every other boy under your thumb does not mean I have to be in the same situation as the rest of them.”

Italia laughed lightly and replied, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You never seem to be around when the boy-versus-girl exhibition matches are declared, simply because I always enter them. Yet every other boy does, and I beat all of them.”

Auron smiled and said, “The reason they enter isn’t to win – it’s to have an excuse to get you in a headlock or another fairly close position.”

Italia nodded. “I thought as much. Why don’t you enter the exhibition matches? With the way you fight, you probably wouldn’t have to get me in a headlock to win.”

“No offense intended, but I could easily beat you. I don’t want to, however, because it would distance me from my friends. I would become the ‘guy that could beat Italia’. I just want to be considered an ordinary student like everyone else.”

Italia inched closer to Auron, who in return stiffened just a bit. She nodded slowly, pursing her lips and thinking to herself. After a few seconds she got to her feet, turned to face Auron and said, “How about we have a match right here?”

Auron raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are you sure you want to?”

“Unless you’re scared I’m going to beat you,” Italia challenged him.

Auron slowly got to his feet and threw back his traditional student robe, revealing the red coat and black vest he always wore. He dropped into a fighting stance and nodded at Italia, who did the same.


“I’m waiting on you.”

For the first few minutes of the match, the two simply circled each other, looking for signs of weakness, neither willing to make the first move and open themselves up to the other. Finally, when the circling brought Auron to a point where he was facing Italia and she had her back to the rock, he made the first move.

Auron leapt through the air at Italia, right foot first. Italia shifted her weight onto her back foot and braced herself, right arm ready to block the kick, her hand open to grab his ankle if the opportunity presented itself.

It did not.

Too late, Italia realized Auron was not launching an attack at all. His right foot landed on her shoulder, and he lightly pushed himself off her. Italia immediately lifted her right foot in a one hundred-eighty-degree kick to her rear, but hit only empty air. As soon as he had landed upon the rock, Auron had jumped again, this time grabbing hold of one of the willow tree’s branches. He used his initial momentum to twirl himself around the branch, then, when he was facing straight down, pushed off with his hands.

He hit Italia like a load of bricks. She groaned as he landed on her back in a crouch, then pushed off her, did a full backflip in mid-air, then landed deftly in another crouch about two feet away. Italia was pulling herself to her feet when his foot connected with her jaw hard enough to snap it shut and send her entire body flipping backwards onto the rock. Italia gasped for breath as she lay on the rock, then exhaled as she saw what Auron was going to do next.

Auron tucked himself into a continuous forward roll. As he rolled over Italia, he grabbed her by the shoulders. One roll later, he sent her flying into the small stream five feet away.

As Italia came to a couple seconds later, she laughed and pulled herself out of the mud. “That was incredible,” she managed to get out.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Auron admitted.

“What, let yourself go like that?” Italia asked. “If you’d let me win I’d be very disappointed in you.”

“No, I shouldn’t have done the rolling throw. It messed up your hair.”

Two years later both Auron and Italia turned eighteen. It was the age of Release. After completing a final test, eighteen-year-olds were released from Sine Helka Vor to find their path in the world, usually as a summoner’s guardian.

Auron’s test would be a special one.

That day the head of Sine Helka Vor, one Tyr Unus, had summoned Auron to his office on the third floor of the main building. The guards respectfully stepped aside as Auron ascended the staircase he had never been up in all his life.

Once one ascended the staircase, the entire world changed. All the harsh marble was gone, replaced with smooth, gently curving glass through which pure saltwater was circulated. Inside the saltwater teemed a multitude of sea life. The walls, floors, and ceilings seemed as living creatures unto themselves. It was all a little overwhelming at first, but Auron quickly drank it all in, fascinated.

Tyr Unus worked at a desk carved out of a piece of Sin’s carapace. Behind him was the only glass in the room that had no water behind it: a huge display case with a miniature model of Sine Helka Vor.

“Welcome to my office, Auron.” Tyr Unus stood from behind his impressive desk. The man was physically fit, broad in the shoulders and quite powerful. A dark purple robe swirled around him. His dark green eyes had a surprising depth to them, and his neatly combed brown hair gave him a dignified look. Looking over Auron’s shoulder, Unus added, “It appears my other guest has arrived, as well.” Auron turned around and saw Italia enter, apparently just as wonderstruck as he was about the third floor.

“Headmaster,” Auron asked, “What do you want to talk to us for?”

Unus settled back in his chair, which had belonged to Lord Zion, Lady Yunalesca’s husband. “Please, sit down and everything will be explained.” Auron opened his mouth to ask where to sit, but the floor beneath his feet shifted. The glass arose as a shimmering column and formed into a chair. The same thing happened for Italia. Auron warily sat and found the glass chair surprisingly comfortable.

Unus steepled his fingers and began, “First of all, I want you two to know that personally I believe the both of you are the most successful students I’ve trained in years, and I wanted to offer congratulations. Now for the real reason I asked you here: your final tests.

“You will be working together on this final test. I understand the two of you are the best of the best, so this test will be a special one. Your task is to head to the hollow interior of Mount Gagazet. There we believe is a way to the very roots of the mountain. Lately a fiend known only as the Myrmidon has been terrorizing the Ronso populace. We know the fiend makes its home in the depths of the mountain. Once you have exterminated the Myrmidon and brought back proof of your deed, you will be graduated from this fighting academy.”

Italia raised an eyebrow and asked, “Why doesn’t the Ronso populace simply exterminate this Myrmidon themselves?”

“We’ve told them two of our finest students will handle the situation for them, at no cost to them,” Unus replied proudly. “I’m confident you two will hold up your end of the bargain. Dismissed.”

As they descended back down onto the second floor, Auron asked Italia, “How do you feel about this assignment? Sort of odd for a final test, isn’t it?”

Italia nodded and replied, “Maybe it is, but we are the best of the best. Besides, it’ll be our first excursion out into the real world. Why not do it together?”

Auron nodded sagely, privately agreeing with her. Over the two years since they’d met, Auron had started to develop feelings for Italia, though he hadn’t told her about any of it. As far as Auron knew, Italia only considered him a friend. Therefore, the feelings he was experiencing weren’t mutual. Therefore, they should be left alone.

Three days later, Auron felt freezing cold for the first time in his life. It was not an entirely pleasant sensation. He trudged along the frozen roads of Mount Gagazet, Italia right beside him. They did their best to avoid the fiends in the region, armed as they were with Ronso pikes specifically designed to fight the armored body of the Myrmidon.

“I never thought snow was so… cold,” Italia shouted over the screaming wind.

“What did you expect?” Auron countered. “If my estimation is correct, we’re just a few hours away from the inner cavern!”

“Not in this storm!” Italia said. “Make that nine hours! Plus we’re going to freeze if we keep going like this! We have to find shelter!”

“Over there!” Auron pointed to the hastily erected grave of a summoner, marked only by a large boulder. The boulder blocked the wind, though, which made it a good resting place.

Italia laid out a makeshift camp and suggested, “We had best get some sleep. The storm should recede by tomorrow, and we can make for the inner cavern then.”

Auron nodded in the affirmative, then lay down on a blanket Italia had laid out and pulled another, woefully thin one over him. He was still freezing, but at least he wasn’t in danger of death. Italia did the same about two feet away from him.

Just as Auron was falling asleep, he felt himself being engulfed in a great warmth.

Auron stirred and woke up. Italia did the same at exactly the same time. The reason was sometime during the night they had become entangled in each other’s arms.

Auron pulled away with a start, his heart skipping a beat. “What happened?” he asked.

Italia sat up and said, “We must have rolled over in our sleep.”

“I’ll say,” Auron said, embarrassed in the extreme. “Sorry about that.”

Italia shrugged. “It’s not your fault.”

Embarrassed, the two gathered the camp up and made ready to leave. Italia, though chilled to the bone, wiped her brow; obviously Auron hadn’t stopped to consider the fact he hadn’t moved from the spot in which he’d bedded down.

Italia was just about to strap her pack onto her back when Auron took hold of it and put it on the ground. She raised an eyebrow at him, then felt her heartbeat quicken as he said, “I didn’t move last night.”

Italia was trying to summon up a reply when Auron stepped forward and enfolded her in an embrace. Italia angled her head upward, and her lips met Auron’s. They stood there like that for what seemed to be a long time.

Finally Auron disengaged from her and said, “We had best get going. We still have a test to finish, after all.”

Italia nodded and felt a bit of shame when she felt herself blush. The storm had indeed burnt itself out overnight, and the two of them made steady progress. They rounded the bend in the road to the entrance to the mountain cavern and entered. Inside, the sound of dripping water lent a sense of increaed monotony to an already monotonous search for the entrance to the roots of the mountain.

Finally Italia spotted something a less careful observer would have overlooked entirely: a crack in the wall. A faint light glowed from deep within it.

“Auron? I think I’ve found something,” she said. Auron walked over, took one look at the crack, and whistled.

“I’ll say. It looks like we’ve found our entrance.”

Italia looked skeptically at the crack, which one could barely fit a sword through. “Two things, Auron. First, how are we supposed to squeeze through there? And second, unless this Myrmidon fiend is as thin as a piece of paper, I don’t see how it could get out.”

“There’s probably another entrance into the roots of Mount Gagazet that we haven’t found yet,” Auron replied. “But,” and at this he meaningfully hefted the explosives he’d bought from a Ronso tradesman, “as long as we’re here, I say we take this way.”

One explosion later, the two of them were walking through a narrow passageway. A light constantly glowed at the end of it, but it never seemed to get any closer.

Finally the passage opened up into a small room. It was completely empty except for a very startling object in the middle of the room: a doorway. It was a wide, arched door, colored a bright red and wreathed in flame. Ornate carvings decorated the door, saying things in a forgotten language. The whole doorway was about twice as tall and wide as Auron. Possibly the most interesting thing about it was there was no passage behind it. The door was simply there.

“The passageway dead-ends here, unless you count the door,” Italia said. “We might as well go inside.”

Gingerly, Auron touched the only part of the door that was not on fire: the doorknob. He turned it ever so slightly…

The door burst open in a blast of flame and heat. Auron yelped and tried to let go of the door, but he was thrown into a searing inferno through which nothing could be seen. Italia flinched backwards, then dove in after Auron.

The door slammed shut behind her.

If you thought Cloud’s flashback in FFVII was long… well, yeah, you haven’t seen Auron’s. He even takes the time to have a flashback in his flashback. Crazy stuff.

And yeah, now that I look back on where they realize their love for each other and such stuff, it seems really awkward. Then again, most every similar scene I’ve written seems awkward when I look back on it. I guess now I know why I was never driven to be a softcore porn writer. Meh. Good night everyone.

Still, it’s a nifty little backstory you’ve worked out here.

OK, the next update. Hope everyone else had a good weekend.

After what seemed like an eternity, Auron and Italia came back to consciousness. Within seconds of doing so, both wished they hadn’t.

The two of them floated weightlessly in the middle of hell itself. A huge sphere made of equal parts lava and solid rock enclosed them. Fire issued from seemingly out of thin air. A long, armored, centipede-like creature – without legs – whipped past the two humans.

“That must be the Myrmidon!” Auron yelled.

“Where are we?” Italia asked.

“The planet’s core,” replied a deep voice that shook the entire sphere. “I have not burned human flesh in ages. Thank you for coming.”

For the first time, Auron noticed the ball of pure flame at the very center of the sphere. It resolved itself into a catlike creature with four legs, horns, and a wreath of flame.

The Balrog.

“We really are in the planet’s core!” Auron shouted. “That’s the Balrog, which was imprisoned here by Omega long ago! He made the core possible to live in so the Balrog would be forced to spend eternity here!”

“Mighty Balrog, let me help you in this battle, so that I may feast upon manflesh again,” hissed a serpentine voice that apparently emanated from the Myrmidon. It twisted through the air in dizzying contortions, its huge maw flashing pearly white teeth stained with blood.

“Then attack,” the Balrog boomed. Auron sighed, thinking that this was going to get ugly. Just then, an idea occurred to him of how they could dispose of the Myrmidon and the Balrog in one fell swoop.

“Italia! Stay out of the way! You’ll know what to do when the time comes!” Auron shouted. With that, he kicked through the air, building up momentum in the apparently weightless core of the planet. The Myrmidon was a thousand times more agile and fast in this environment, and it corkscrewed after him, hissing with delight. As it was about to swallow Auron whole, Auron spun and slashed the Myrmidon’s face with his pike. The fiend hissed and peeled off, its back end whipping around and smacking Auron hard in the chest. He pushed off a wall of the core, burning off the soles of his boots in the process, and flew straight towards the Balrog.

The huge fiend roared. A stream of flame shot from its mouth at Auron, who spun out of the way. The Myrmidon angled in for another attack, and Auron fended it off again, herding it ever closer to the Balrog. After a fifth repitition, Auron was flying right towards the Balrog’s mouth, the Myrmidon close behind him. Italia was floating several meters away.

Just as the Balrog opened its maw wide to swallow Auron, he yelled, “Italia, now!” Italia swooped through the air and rammed into Auron at full speed, sending them both off course and away from the Balrog’s mouth.

The Myrmidon was not so lucky. It flew straight into the giant fiend’s gaping maw, all one hundred-plus meters of it. The Balrog belched flame everywhere, and inside its ghastly body the Myrmidon could be seen writhing and twisting as the Balrog unintentionally cooked it alive.

Then the Balrog exploded into a million glittering pieces. Auron and Italia grabbed each other instinctively, and as a huge piece of rock was about to hit them, the door opened behind them.

Auron and Italia, both with their robes caught on fire, came tumbling out of the doorway from whence they’d came. They rolled end over end until they finally came to a stop. The door slammed shut. Auron picked up his pike; it was stained with the Myrmidon’s blood and had an armored plate stuck to it. Auron didn’t bother to remove the armor plate, knowing it would serve as their evidence of taking the Myrmidon down.

Italia rolled onto her back and wheezed, “Well, we did it.”

Auron stamped out a last flame in his robe. “I’ll say.”

“Wait until Tyr Unus hears we took down the Balrog too!” Italia said excitedly.

“I don’t think we should tell anyone,” Auron replied. “Some extreme religious groups take the Balrog as their god.”

“Pretty damn extreme,” Italia muttered, and Auron found he could not help but disagree.

Auron groaned as he felt a leg muscle pull – and not for the first time. The trip back to Mount Gagazet’s entrance was infinitely more difficult than the trip to the cavern, considering the debilitated condition both he and Italia were in. Plus the storm from the night before had come back with double the force.

The two of them had taken refuge behind the boulder again, though the temperature always remained at about ten degrees below zero. The wind was kept away, though, which meant Auron could light a small fire. He hadn’t the first time the storm struck for fear of the Myrmidon seeing it and taking them by surprise in their sleep.

And the way we were sleeping, it would have had one mouthful on its hands instead of two.

Italia rolled over under her blanket and said through chattering teeth, “Auron, we’re both going to die of cold if we don’t get some more warmth.”

“At least you have a legitimate reason this time,” Auron replied calmly from the other side of the fire. “Before it was just infatuation.”

Italia suppressed a growl and snapped, “So what if it was? Do you take offense at my finding you attractive?”

Auron snorted and said, “Please be serious. You’re the most beautiful and talented woman I’ve ever met, and there were a few even in Sine Helka Vor, believe me.”

Italia rolled over again and looked Auron in the eyes through the flames of the small fire. “So how do you explain your hesitation, then?”

Auron paused, then answered, “We’re not married, we still have a mission to complete, and it really wouldn’t be proper at any rate.”

“Auron, we’re out in the middle of nowhere, freezing to death. Nobody is going to find out what happened between the time we killed the Myrmidon and got back.” Suddenly the sound of Auron’s snores interrupted Italia’s chain of thoughts.

“Fine!” she pouted. “If you feel so strongly about it, then just go ahead and play saint for a while.” Italia readjusted her position under the blanket and firmly told herself she was going to stay right where she was, and not move an inch for the rest of the night.

Then she felt Auron’s arms wrap around her.

“I thought you said it was a bad idea,” she whispered.

“I lied.”

To their credit, the two of them had managed to make it through the night alive. They were still chilled to the bone when they woke up, but the storm was mostly gone, with only a few errant breezes left to impede their progress.

Six hours later, they reached the Ronso-guarded entrance to Mount Gagazet, where their airship pilot awaited them. “About time,” he exclaimed. “I was getting worried about the both of you!”

Auron and Italia exchanged meaningful glances. “We got along just fine, believe us.”

“As well you should have,” interjected a new voice. Tyr Unus, ducking his head, got out of the airship parked alongside the cliff. “I had your pilot swing around and pick me up while you two were off Myrmidon-hunting.”

“We brought proof,” Auron said, holding up the armored plate his pike had gouged from the fiend’s body. Unus took it from Auron, inspected it, and nodded.

“Very good, Auron, Italia. You pass.”

About seven months later both Auron and Italia had turned nineteen. As customary for graduating students of Sine Helka Vor, they had been given the proper credentials and legal papers for any job they chose to undertake in life.

Unfortunately, neither of them knew what they were going to do.

Sine Helka Vor received generous donations from the Order of Yevon and many third parties, so it was one of the richest places to live in all of Spira, though only those chosen at birth could live and train there. Besides taxes and the occasional bribe, the sinu jindo had nothing to really do with all its money. So it gave considerable amounts to graduating students.

Auron and Italia were living off that money in a small apartment in Bevelle, but the two of them still had to get jobs.

“I never really thought so far ahead as to what I was going to be in life,” Auron said one day as he relaxed in an armchair he’d bought at an auction. “I was always looking just ahead, thinking how to win that fight or pass that test.”

“I think all who attend Sine Helka Vor have that mindset,” Italia theorized. “Maybe it makes getting into life a final test, one that even the largest sinu jindo couldn’t accurately simulate.”

“Sine Helka Vor is the largest sinu jindo on Spira,” Auron reminded her. “It’s practically the only one left that follows the old traditions. Every other sinu jindo asks that you pay to get your child in, and none of them are as good as the one we came from.”

Italia was draped over a large couch, thinking. “Supposing that my theory is right, we should not try to think ahead, but back. Auron, what have you dreamed about doing in life?”

Auron shrugged and replied, “Defeating Sin once and for all.”

Italia snorted and said, “Every boy dreams about that one time or another. I mean, what career could you take to accomplish that?”

“Guarding a summoner, of course,” Auron replied. “They’re the only ones capable of defeating Sin.”

“And most fail anyhow,” Italia mused. “Why not become a scientist and develop weapons to make fighting Sin easier?”

“I hate math.”

Italia opened her mouth in a silent oh, then pursed her lips in thought. Auron joined her, and the two of them probed every possibility they could think of, all of which ended up as dead ends.

Auron was just contemplating the possibilities of becoming a banker – the one bank that has no fear of robbers would be his motto – when the door to their apartment burst open.

Two warrior monks stood silhouetted there. One was a Guado, and the other was a bearded human.

“Can I help you?” Italia asked, stretching languorously before getting to her feet. The Guado punched his human companion lightly on the shoulder as the man whistled, then put on what had to be his straightest face and said, “Greetings, citizens of Bevelle. My name is Warrior Monk Third Class Jyscal Guado, and this is my associate, Warrior Monk Third Class Kinoc.”

“That’s good,” Italia said. “What do you want?”

Jyscal and Kinoc looked slightly taken aback at this direct approach, then Jyscal palpably mustered his courage and replied, “I have heard rumors you and your friend are from the famed sinu jindo, Sine Helka Vor. We’ve come to offer the both of you first class assignments in the elite cadres of warrior monks in the service of Yevon. Both of us are third class in this organization. I can guarantee the pay is good and the work is never dull.”

“What about places for us to stay?” Italia asked.

“Rooms will be provided for the both of you,” Kinoc replied, then leaned closer and said playfully, “though Jyscal and I have a bunk open in our shared room.”

“I’ll take that bunk,” Auron interjected brusquely. “Italia should be given a room of her own.”

“Then it’s settled,” Jyscal said with satisfaction. Kinoc looked disappointed and smitten at the same time. “I’ll tell the unit commander. If you could just sign here…” Jyscal offered the both of them a small contract. Auron and Italia read through it carefully, then signed it with a pen Kinoc offered them. Jyscal looked at their signatures and, apparently satisfied, tilted his helmet in a gesture of respect and gracefully stepped out of the apartment. Kinoc followed with a nod.

The door closed behind them, and Auron growled. “That guy was hitting on you,” he complained.

Italia tossed her hair over her shoulder and struck a pose. “Let him.”

A week later Auron and Italia had been installed among the ranks of the Warrior Monks of Bevelle.

Three years later the both of them were twenty-two. Both had proven themselves able warriors in the service of Bevelle and were well known to everyone. Auron in particular had an ego of momentous proportions, which he gracefully kept in check. Recruitment posters all over the world promptly featured him and Italia rushing a group of enormous fiends or rebellious troops. However, none of that mattered to Auron at the moment. He was in a jewelry store, looking at the various selections of beautiful rings.

Auron was doing this because the next time he and Italia went on one of their off-duty outings, he was going to propose to her.

As Auron left, he inspected his purchase for the fifth time: a beautiful ring made of silver, with a sapphire jewel embedded in it that refracted light as beautifully as a prism. The ring had cost him four months’ pay, but he didn’t care.

An hour later Auron made his way back to the palace and noticed something was wrong. The two guards at the front checkpoint were apparently sleeping on the job, slumped in their seats. Auron stiffened his back, thrust out his chest, and put a serious expression on his face as he walked forward to reprimand the two monks.

He deflated like a popped balloon when he realized they were dead.

In a split second Auron was inside the palace, witnessing to his horror the carnage that had taken place. People had been sliced and hacked to shreds. The polished floors were glistening with blood, and several dead bodies hung from the statues that lined the halls of the palace. Auron recognized several of the bodies as fellow monks, but then thoughts of Italia thrust themselves to the surface of his thoughts, and Auron ran to her quarters like the legions of hell were after him.

Auron slammed the door open just to see a man cloaked in a dark blue robe and long, dark blue cape pick Italia up by the collar and hurl her out her five-story window. The cloaked man leapt after her, and Auron stood there, stunned for a second. Then reflexes kicked in and he ran to the window and looked out, dreading what he might see.

There was no sign of the robed murderer, but Auron’s heart leapt in equal parts joy and horror when he saw Italia hanging over the edge of a balcony a story down. Auron ran back out into the hall, raced down the steps five at a time, and went out onto the balcony in less than ten seconds.

Auron threw himself forward, hands outstretched, just as Italia lost her grip. Auron caught her, and tried to haul her up. The balcony was made out of smooth stone and Auron could find no traction. He rolled onto his back and braced against the guardrails with his feet. Italia managed to grab the balcony with one hand, and Auron finally pulled her up onto the balcony.

The two of them lay there, panting, as the wind whipped by them. Italia rolled over onto her side and gasped, “Thanks.”

“Italia, can I ask you something?” Auron asked, getting to his feet.

“Of course,” Italia replied, getting to her feet as well. Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled with refracting light as Auron opened the small case containing the ring.

“Will you marry me, Italia?”

Italia just gaped at the ring for several long seconds, then, leaning on the guardrail out of shock, she replied, “Yes, Auron. I will.”

Auron felt his breath catch. Time slowed, and Auron felt his heart nearly stop as a dark blue figure rose up behind Italia, seemingly on the currents of the wind. The wind whipped the man’s cape in front of his face, hiding his features. Auron started to move forward, to warn Italia, but he was too slow. The cloaked man grasped the balcony guardrail with both hands, strained for a moment, then ripped it off. Italia gasped as she fell, still in slow motion, away from the balcony and down into the streets. The cloaked man pushed off the balcony with a foot and was suddenly gone.

Auron reached for Italia’s hand, trying to save her again…

…and missed.

For months Auron remained despondent, unable or unwilling to be comforted. Then one day Jyscal came up to him. Auron muttered a greeting. In return, Jyscal nodded and said, “The High Priest Cimarron wants to see you. He’s in the Palace right now. I’m not sure what he wants to talk to you about, but I’ve heard several rumors it’s about his daughter, the Da-Priestess Simne…”

All this passed in front of Auron’s eyes and through his mind in a heartbeat as he embraced Italia on the shore. He drew away from her and said, “You have got some explaining to do.”

Italia nodded and said, “All right. I owe you that much, certainly. After I fell, I landed in one of the large fountains in the main square. It was still enough to break most of my bones. A man in the crowd took me into his home and healed me. Since I was considered dead, I had my hair colored to hide my identity and I’ve been looking for you and Affectus ever since.”

“I mean, about you assuming this identity of this Somne person. I want an explanation about that.” Auron crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow.

Italia simply remained quiet for a while and gazed into Auron’s eyes, then sniffed and broke down crying. Auron found himself embracing her again. “What’s the matter, Italia?”

Through her sobs, Italia managed to say, “Auron, I am Somne. The person you know as Italia was created as an identity for me to be raised by at Sine Helka Vor. The reason for this was because the High Priest Cimarron bore me along with Simne. We’re twin sisters. Officially he did this with his wife, the Priestess Erilan, but it was really with someone else. I don’t know whom. It was disastrous for Cimarron. Everybody knows that Priestesses of Yevon are magically rendered incapable of having more than one child in their lifetimes, and only with Priests of Yevon, to preserve their sanctity. If I was allowed to stay in the palace, Cimarron would be found out and stripped of his post. So he sent me to Sine Helka Vor under the name Italia, to be quietly raised there and ultimately forgotten.

“But then Jyscal and Kinoc threw an unexpected hitch at him by recruiting the both of us as warrior monks. Cimarron figured he could keep it contained, but when he found out we had fallen in love and that marriage was inevitable, he knew I would eventually tell you all of this. Since you are officially the finest warrior Bevelle has ever seen, Cimarron must have been scared to death of the idea of your retribution, so he sent Affectus to get rid of me.”

Auron gasped, then shook his head and said, “Affectus. I should have realized he was the one that ‘killed’ you. But why has he kidnapped the Da-Priestess Simne?”

“I don’t know,” Italia replied. “It could be that Cimarron angered him, or something. All I know is I’m here to get revenge on Affectus and Cimarron, not rescue my no-good sister.”

“Italia, you’re still alive,” Auron said plaintively. “What need do you have for revenge?”

“I’m not avenging myself,” Italia replied. “I’m avenging you. Affectus and Cimarron must have hurt you very badly when you thought you had failed to save me – even worse, they just opened a wound and let you make it worse for yourself by self-blame.”

“There’s another thing,” Auron said through gritted teeth. “Cimarron has told me I’m to rescue Simne… and marry her.”

“That bastard!” Italia spat. “One final act of contempt for me, Cimarron?” She shook her fist at thin air, the expression on her face enough to burn the gold out of Cimarron’s robes of office.

Auron took Italia by the shoulders and said, “Italia, I swear that I will never marry Simne. I’ll resign my commission and rot in hell before I do that, now that I know you’re alive.”

Italia smiled faintly and said, “All right, Auron. That sounds good to me.” Braska, sensing the conversation between the two was winding down, walked down the beach towards them. Italia nodded at him and said, “You must be Braska.”

Braska nodded and said, “Yes, I am, Italia. Or shall I call you Somne?”

“Italia, please. Somne is dead.” Italia walked over to the ocean and took a small bottle from her belt. She opened it up and poured what looked like a lotion into her hair. Immediately, all the black fell into a puddle at her feet, and Italia’s hair was golden again.

“I think we have one more matter to attend to before we resume our chase,” Braska said. He retrieved a small bag from its robes and handed it to Auron, who reached a hand inside and found a small case. Opening it, he saw the ring he’d presented Italia. “Remember Sirius?” Braska asked pleasantly. “He told me this ring had been in your quarters when a local thief picked it up during your initial absence and gave it to him. Sirius, upon seeing me with you, handed the ring over free of charge.”

I guess he wasn’t such a bad guy after all, Auron thought. He nodded and said, “An informal ceremony to be sure, but I think well deserved, don’t you, Italia?”

That night the two bedded down as a married couple.

Huzzah, we’re moving right along. The flashback in a flashback is over, though the flashback isn’t quite spent yet. Strangely enough, when I conceived the part about Simne and Somne I had been forced to babysit relatives that insisted on watching one of those ubiquitous Mary-Kate/Ashley switcheroo films. I guess they’re good for something.

And for those of you who read Twilight, you’ll see the Balrog scene was a reference back to it. Hope you’re enjoying this so far. Good night, everyone.

Aah crap, I just remembered I’ve posted this in here. Oooh… damn. Oh well, what’s done or not done is done (or not done). Update!

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.”

“And Affectus?”

“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…”

Hooray, we’re done with the flashback!

Freaky stuff with the Fayth… I think I’d just watched some horror movie, can’t remember what it’s called, and I was in something of a frightful mood. I hope you’ve enjoyed this update.

You know what I think about this, but I’m posting so you don’t have to make a triple post. (Which really isn’t a problem in threads like these, but hey, whatever it takes to get more out of you. ^_^)

Kthnx GG. I understand multiposting is not a bad thing in story threads, but life on other boards has been harsh to me. =P Update time so I don’t have to turn off WoW for the next 48 hours.

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.

OK, that’s about it for two-day, and I don’t mean today. :wink: Not much to say here, except I had to go to a real effort not to make the Chuu’ndo too much like an Alien. I swear that tongue with a mouth is the coolest alien feature I’ve ever seen.

Update time!

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?”

<You don’t defeat it,> Cerewin replied calmly. <You make it defeat itself. It is completely invincible to all forms of attack, both physical and magical. However, its claws excrete a deadly poison that kills an Uun’ulk with one drop, a side effect of this creature being assembled from three different fiends. >

“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.

“For what?”

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,
City of water and stone.
The first city loses its sky,
A year later the second loses its water.
Upon the next rain does the Scroll come

<Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to figure it out yet,> Cerewin said.

“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!”

<It hasn’t rained anywhere on Spira since the explosion, with the exception of the Thunder Plains,> Cerewin said excitedly. <Sanyi, if you would do the honors?>

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.

And the plot thickens. =D

Blah blah blah post more. :slight_smile:

AAAGH holy crap. What with the Saga Galloway’s writing I totally forgot I’d even posted this here. Sorry, update time.

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.

Goodbye, Italia.

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. <You two will not like it, however. >

“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.

“Sort of…”

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.

Jeez it’s been a while. Blame me and my faulty memory. :noway:

K I think I’ll update this beast. Never know when I’ll have the motivation or opportunity. =P

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. <What else would they be doing? >

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.

“Excuse me?”

“Just kidding.”

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.

[i]Strange dream.

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.”

Deep stuff deep stuff deep stuff. I must have been smoking something. Oh well. Peace out.