# FFL Part 26: Heralds

It was cold. The air was heavy with the promise of rain. Shallow
footsteps drifted through the city streets, echoing unexpectedly from
alleyways and buildings. Shadows cast by the gibbous moon shifted like
snakes in the flickering torchlight the people of the city had lit to
ward off the evils of the night. His body was weary and his head felt
like an angry Sleeper had taken up residence. He was hiding at the
moment, waiting for the patrol of Dragoons to pass by.

"How did I get myself into this?" Piette wondered aloud as the group
of armor-clad soldiers disappeared around a corner. Of course, the
question was pointless... he knew how he had gotten himself into this.
It was his curiosity, again. He'd been exploring the underground
library and lost track of time. Instead of coming out at midnight,
like he'd planned, he'd shown up in the middle of a meeting of the

Then, in a panic, he had cast Petrify on one of the guards.

That had pretty much been worse.

He jumped as a crash sounded behind him. He was halfway to calling a
Spirit when he saw the black cat scurry away from the toppled trash
heap. Letting out his breath he forced himself to calm down. "What
would Davin do at this point?" Piette found himself asking. Probably
something foolish, like start fighting his way through the city like a
man possessed until he was finally taken down. Maybe doing what Davin
would do was not such a good idea after all.

"Halt!"

Piette turned and hissed sharply. Three dragoons, silhouettes
brightened only by the glitter of their Tri-fan pins, were looping
down the street towards him. They must have heard the crash and come
back to investigate, and here he was standing out in the open...

"You there, stand and identify yourself!"

Piette didn't do either of the above. There was something in the
dragoon's voice and the way he moved that told Piette he wasn't about
to get a pleasant reception. He choose the better part of valor and
ran down the alley out of which he had seen the cat exit earlier.
Piette didn't much believe in bad omens, unfortunately for him as it
turned out.

The alley stopped about five feet in at a locked door. Piette spun in
place and stared as the three dragoons cautiously made thier way into
the alley. So much for catching them by surprise. Grimacing to himself
he knelt down and placed his hands on the ancient stones of Yahl
Russa. The spirits answered his summons almost immediately. Something
in the area was agitating them, and they were itching for a chance to
attack it.

"Ancient spirits within the halls of man..."

"He's casting!"

"Take him down!"

There was a woosh but it took all Piette's concentration to hold the
spirits in check. Whatever was wrong here, they wanted do blast the
whole block to bits to get at it. He wasn't about to let that happen.

"...burn with life unchanging since the start of time!  Elf Fire!"

He raised his hand and globes of blue-burning ethereal flame erupted
from the cobblestones all around him. Unfortunately none of the
dragoons were anywhere in sight to be affected by this. Then he looked
up and had time to sigh before one of them came down at him. The butt
of the dragoon's lance set him into unconsciousness.

"That wasn't magic... that was Geomancy," one of the dragoons
complained as he landed next to the attacker.

"The priests say he is a magus, so he is," the leader said as he
leaned down next to the unconscious scholar. "All I know is this one
did something bad enough to earn punishment in the Wall."

The younger dragoon's eyes darkened. There was no need to explain what
the sergeant had meant. "Still," he said as they began to lift him up.
"I wish he had used magic. All this training to fight magi and I
haven't faced one..."

"Not many of them up around here," their until then quiet companion
added. "This one," he indicated the lanky blonde's unconscious body,
"is the first I've ever seen. And I've been with this unit for five
years."

They continued like this, making idle chit chat and drifting from
topic to topic while slowly navigating the streets of Yahl Russa.
Finally, when they were only a minute or so from the guardhouse, they
came to a halt.  A figure in black armor barred their way.. The light
from a torch overhead played over her delicate, almost spritish
features. Long black hair streamed out behind her, buoyed by a silent
wind. The armor was cut well, revealing the curves and swells of her
dancer's physique and yet at the same time hiding it all behind hard
steel. The dragoons couldn't help but stop and stare at this vision
which had emerged from the night to greet them. They didn't even
notice the stirring air grow chill with her presence.

"Is that him?" she said with a voice like harsh music. For a moment
the three dragoons thought she was addressing them. This turned out
not to be however. Presently, an old man, spry for his apparant
age, emerged from the shadows.  Yet even though he moved as far into
the torch's light as the woman had, the darkness seemed yet to hold
him in its grasp.

"Oh yes," he said with a grim chuckle. "We spent a great deal of

"And you say he can not only evoke the accursed stone sleep but also
end it?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Excellent." She turned the the three suddenly wary dragoons. "You
will give this man to me."

They looked at each other. This was definitely unusual. Still, they
were well trained and knew how to react. Two of them let go and took
up flanking position in front of the third. This one stepped back and
held Piette's body in a fireman's carry. "I don't think you know what
you're asking, this is a heretic of the worst order and we-"

"You don't understand," she interrupted, "That was not a request."

They began to move, but she was faster; very, very much faster.

"Havoc Wing!"

They were dead before their bodies even realized that most of its
parts were not, strictly speaking, attached to each other any more.
She moved among the carnage and approached the still unconscious body
of Piette with a fierce glint in her agate eyes.

"Thus begins the end." She turned to the demon in the shadows. "Leave
me, I have no more use for you."

"Yes, mistress."

=====================================================================

FINAL FANTASY LEGACY

Knights of the Round

Created by: Brian Stricklin
Based on the Final Fantasy series by Squaresoft

Chapter Twenty-Six

Heralds

By: Aaron Peori

=====================================================================

The Shrine of the Oracle in the city of Matanbuwan wasn't very
remarkable. Compared to the fabulous ivory Castle of the Moon in the
shadow of which it had been built, it was downright homely. It was not
without its charms however. It had no graceful minarets, or lavish
frescos, but seemed built of one solid piece of rock. Rumor among the
natives was that the Oracle herself had raised it from the bones of
the world. They had no other explanation for the sudden appearance of
the building overnight nearly twenty years ago.

Outside the city was festive. One of the innumerable carnivals or
feasts or celebrations that crowded the Rupantao calendar like flies
on honey was busy dying down to the dull roar that preluded tomorrow's
festivities. Inside the Shrine one could find peace. Here the noise
was drowned down to a pleasant hum, the air soft and sweet with
the fragrance of old wood and untreated stone. The meandering, almost
mazelike hallways were dotted with tiny alcoves where the occasional
acolyte or guest could be found sitting and enjoying the serenity of
the place. The Shrine was a sanctum, a balm against the wild city
which thrived around it.

Thus it was that when loud, irreverent shouts echoed about the
building, they drew the attention of the oracle herself. She quietly
stepped out of her bed and dressed herself in the linen smock which
was her only symbol of office. She tried to relax, but the dreams had
started again. Dreams of the past, dreams of those last terrible
days... days where she had watched so many friends die. Their last
days together.

She drove those thoughts from her mind and stepped out into the hall.
Several acolytes were out there as well, staring in the direction of
the shouts. It was hard to tell where they were coming from, due to
the echoes of this place. Over time you got used to them however.
Carefully putting on a neutral expression she strode quickly and
confidently through the grounds of the shrine until she came upon the
disturbance.

It was two young men, no more then twenty to judge by their looks.
They argued harshly in the language of the moon, their voices raising
and falling with the cadence of the fight. She paused to listen,
trying to figure out what all this was about before she stepped in.

"<I don't care -who- they say they know,>" one young man growled.
"<These foreigners invaded our land, the punishment for that is
absolute!>"

"<You are a fool!>" the other replied. "<They had no choice...>"

"<According to their story!>"

"<Which we must take as the truth,>" the other man replied. "<Or are
you calling them liars?>"

A hush fell over the room at that. No one in all Rupantao ever called
anyone else a liar. It was considered an insult higher than any other.
The Oracle decided that then was as good a time to intervene as any.

"<What is going on here?>" she asked in a neutral voice.

"<Oracle!>" On stammered and fell back, bowing. The other stared at
her slack-lipped. The disadvantage of being a legend she supposed.

"<I believe I asked a question?>"

"<Oracle...>" the hothead gulped. "<We meant no disrespect.>"

"<I believe you.>"

"<It is about a party of foreigners, Oracle,>" the other added. "<They
arrived on Paanbatala not a day ago and already they are causing a
stir. Apparently the nobles can not decide what to do with them, so it
will fall to a vote from the senate.>"

"<Foreigners?>" She blinked. "<On Paanbatala? Impossible. And even if
it were true, why would they not be executed like all other
trespassers?>"

"<Ah, that is the thing,>" the second said. "<One of them is a Ryukin,
a shadow-servant and claims... if you can believe this, to be a
disciple of Master Cid!>"

"<Cid?!?>" she didn't mean to let her voice break like that. The name,
coming so close on the edge of her dream, shocked her more than she

"<I believe it was Shizuka...>"

Everyone in the room went still as the Oracle straightened and her
eyes widened. Nobody had ever seen her so surprised, not a few were
afraid this meant they had somehow offended her and she would have to
kill them for it. Such was, thankfully, not the case. Instead she
slowly regained control of herself. "<You two, go to the Palace. Tell
them that the Oracle of the Moon will decide the future of these
trespassers. I want them brought to me immediately!>"

"<Oracle...>"

"<Now!>"

"<Yes, ma'am!>"

***

The forest was silent once more. The path which Zarela had been
following had disappeared. The moogles no longer needed it, now that
their enemy was no more. The moved in silent groups, like tiny white
clouds, steadily passing away from the slight swell which marked the
knight's premature grave.

This lasted all of five seconds. Then the earth erupted, a geyser of
soil and mulch spewing nearly five feet into the air. The moogles
scrambled for cover, hiding behind trees and in bushes. They all
turned to the figure emerging slowly from the pit. She was covered in
dirt, her pristine armor was stained and soiled. The surcoat she wore
had torn itself to shreds. In both hands she clenched swords. Large,
heavy swords; the kind best used to break things. She did not look

"You..." she hissed, "made me dirty my SWORDS!" She drew herself up,
and closed her eyes. For a moment the stillness of the forest
returned. Then her green eyes snapped wide. "For that, I can offer
no forgiveness!"

"Kupo..." one of the moogles said, which, roughly translated, meant
'Shit'.

***

Pearl hadn't seen any sign of her pursuer in over fifteen minutes.
This was not quite reason for celebration yet. Still, it had her hopes
up. It had come to the point in the journey where she would either
have to head towards Cid, or else give up the trip entirely. She
stopped at the fork in the animal trail. Her keen hunter's instincts
told her which one was the false trail, and thus the one she would
have to follow to get to Cid's cottage.

been when her father was still alive... She forced herself not to
think about that. She only wished that the work the two of them had
been doing could have ended before he had died. She knew her
grandfather would have loved nothing more than to see the Legacy
completed. Still maybe this girl Marcine would be able to finish it
for him. Maybe... maybe this time it wouldn't end in so much death.

A sudden scream snapped her out of her reverie. She turned towards the
source of the sound and quickly realized that it had come from behind
her. "That was no human scream," she told herself in the sudden
stillness of the forest. When the animals fled, you knew something bad
was up. She waited a moment and then the scream came again. It was
different this time, more urgent and from a different voice. She felt
a lump catch in her throat. She knew those voices.

It wasn't her problem, she told herself. The moogles were the ones who
attacked the woman. They would take care of themselves. But she had
been the one who had lead her pursuer into this part of the forest.
She had wanted them to take care of the Church's puppet for her. This
was her problem...

Her mind made up, Pearl unsheathed her starsilver scythes from her
pack and started back along the trail. Another scream later and she
was running.

***

"Come back here and die you filthy animals!" Zarela cried into the
woods. She moved among the trees with the speed and ferocity of a
tornado. Everywhere she passed trees feel crashing to the forest
floor, some having been splintered nearly to sawdust by the force of
her blows. She fought two-handed, Zeigfried and Verboten, her dual
broadswords whistling in the air. "You can not hide from me! Face
judgment!"

The little... things fled before her. Driven like leaves before the
hot wind of her rage. Now that she could see them her rage only grew.
To think that she, Zarela Grenados, Divine Knight of the Church could
be so humiliated by... animals! Little fury white animals that looked
like nothing so much as animated teddy-bears with wings! It was
unthinkable, it was impossible! It made her want to hurt things!

Unfortunately for them, the moogles were the first things she saw and
thus they faced the full force of her wrath. They tried to fight back,
in their way. But twigs and leaves and stones, even aided by the
spirits of the forest, were no match for the cold steel of Zarela's

Zarela laughed. "Not so smug now are you! Can't hide in a forest when
it no longer exists can you! No, don't run, I'll level every tree in
the world if I have to!"

"Lullaby!"

Zarela stopped short as ethereal music briefly drowned out her
ranting. Wispy red music notes danced in the air around her. She
stumbled, the energy seeming to drain out of her. She felt her eyelids
growing heavier by the moment. It grew harder and harder to stand...

"NO!" she screamed in defiance and growled. With a will found only in
the great and the stupid she forced herself to ignore the spells
power. It did, however, calm her down. She turned slowly to face the
figure that had emerged from the forest behind her. It was her target.
Trust a heretic to strike from behind. Forgotten, the moogles fled
into the forest. "You..." Zarela examined her quarry.

With her flowing clothes and viciously curved weapons Pearl made a
imposing figure. She pointed one of the weapons she held at the
knight. "Okay," she said. "If you want a fight so badly, I'll oblige
you."

"I wasn't supposed to kill you," Zarela grinned as she stashed her
broadswords. With an elegant flick of her wrist she drew Blansh,
her favorite dueling saber, from its sheath. "I was just supposed to
follow you to Cid. But I suppose I can make you bring me to him. All
this skulking was setting my nerves on edge."

copper pieces from her palm. "Devastation of my enemies, come in forms
of light ethereal! Matra Missile!" she cried and suddenly the coins
where light, streaking towards Zarela like comets.

"SPELL BREAK!" Zarela roared and pulled her sword in a tight arc. The
edge struck each of the lights, causing it to fizzle out in a flash of
purple light. Pearl stepped back a bit at that. Nobody should have
been able to do that, not without an enchanted sword. And this woman
didn't strike her as the type to carry one of those. "Heh. Surprised?
Your petty beastlore is no match for the Divine Swordskill of Zarela
Grenados! No power exists that I can not destroy!"

"We'll see," Pearl spun her scythes in tight arcs. Cid had taught her
the pattern, it allowed her to strike out in virtually any direction
while making it hard for her opponent to guess her next move. "These
are Starsilver, and your overgrown kitchen knife won't stop them!"
She charged.

"Kitchen Knife! Now you've pissed Blansh off!" Zarela roared and met
her. Blade struck blade and sparks flew across the clearing. The force
of the meeting was so great it nearly knocked both opponents of their
feet. Zarela recovered before Pearl and captured the initiative. Blow
followed blow, Blansh darting like an adder at Pearl. The hunter gave
ground, her feet almost slipping on the debris strewn earth. But she
held her own, not letting a blow through.

"Not bad," Zarela grunted. "I would not have expected such a powerful
defense. Perhaps you are worthy of my ultimate technique!"  Zarela
disengaged and stepped back. Suddenly she was posing, holding her
sword parallel to the ground and out from her body. It was a foolish
stance, and left her so open even Pearl couldn't resist the
opportunity. She began to attack, but never finished.

"Hellcry Punch!"

For a moment it seem like the knight was holding an entirely different
sword, one made of pure sapphire light and as large as a tree. Pearl
couldn't even hope to evade, and the blow smashed into her with all
its fury. There was a sound, like glass smashing, and then Pearl was
airborne. She flew only a few feet before landing in a heap on the
earth. Her hands were covered in blood... her blood. She looked down
to see shards of glittering metal imbedded in her palms. (I must be
going into shock,) she thought to herself. (I don't even feel it.)
Then her mind grasped one thing... her weapons were gone. She looked
around and her spirits fell.

The clearing looked like someone had scooped a bowl of stardust from
the sky and sprinkled it around the area. Whatever that move was, it

"Now," Zarela approached her and fished a wickedly barbed and
thoroughly nasty looking falchion from her pack. "Let us talk about
Master Cid, hmmm?"

***

Jil looked down into the water and felt like crying. To think, after
all these years, after all she had done to be reduced to this. Better
to end it all now, better to consign herself to the briny depths then
face this. She wanted to scream and rage against it all, but couldn't
draw the strength. There was no point. Her life was over.

"Uh," Kyle said from beside her, "it looks like a perfectly good boat
to me."

"Boat! Boat!" Jil turned on him with the speed of an cat. "It be a
scow! A wreak! She be barely see-worthy she be! It be an insult!" She
waved her hands at the vessel. It was small, about half the size of
the Lucky Star and the boards were still green. It had only one mast
and even that was barely tall enough to catch the good winds.

"If the lady is not pleased with the vessel," a weasel-faced Seiryu
bureaucrat said from the dock beside her. "She can always head back to
Suzaku, where I am sure that the Emperor can provide better
equipment."

It took all three dragoons to keep Jil from drawing her sword and
beheading the man on the spot. Yelping in fright he took off down the
peer, his long silk ropes flapping in the wind. Finally the captain
calmed down and Kyle, for one, drew a sigh in response.

"Listen Jil," he said. "You know we can't waste time with all this
bureaucracy around here. We have to find... Marcine," he forced
himself to say her name. "We have to do it quickly, before this
bastard Siegvin does. If he... if he kills her then I don't know what
will happen to me."

She looked at him, and it suddenly dawned on him that he was the only
one still holding onto her. Leaping back almost two feet he began to
stammer an apology but couldn't seem to form the proper words. It
didn't help that Reill and Martin had those huge, idiot grins on their
faces again. He glared at them until they stopped. He was sure that as
soon as he turned around they would be back at it again however.

All this was threatening to give him another headache. Like the one he
in the back of his head. Funny how sometimes it took the absence of
sometyhing like that to make you notice its presence in the first
place.

"Ye be right, Kyle," Jil nodded. "But we canna nae be going straight
to her in this craft. We musten make landfall at La Verde first, I
'ave meself a good nestegg there with which I can buy me a new
vessel."

"Isn't Atlantea the closest port?" Cheney asked.

"Aye," Jil replied. "But La Verde be where me nestegg be."

"Then it's settled," Kyle nodded. He'd never been to La Verde, the
only thing he knew about it was that it was a port that wasn't
frequently traveled. That was probably because the only real claim to
fame it had was its proximity to the Mystic Academy in the nearby
mountains.

"Then I suppose this is farewell." The group turned to look at their
until now silent companion. Hiro fidgeted in his ill-fitting armor and
gave them all a rustic grin. "I must stay here, and protect my Emperor
from his enemies."

"But who's going to protect the Emperor from him," Martin whispered.
Kyle caught it and shot the private a look that promised a severe
talking to later. At least he had the decency to look ashamed of
himself.

"Well," Jil said and clapped him on the shoulder, "at least ye be no
makin' voyage on this junk heap anymore dangerous!"

"That's right!" the young samurai's grin widened. "Thanks Jil, you're
a true friend!"

Jil blinked at that, not quite sure if the boy really was that dense,
or whether it was all an elaborate ruse. Watching him trot off into
the city, and promptly smack into a passing sedan chair, spilling the
passenger out onto the ground, she decided it was probably the former.

***

The water lapping up onto the beach was quiet. The sand was the color
of ash, which pleased the man standing on it for reasons he couldn't
quite put into words. There was a serenity to this place that had
perhaps been lacking for awhile. He took a few moments to allow that
to fill him. As his mind cleared he allowed the frustration and pain
flow away into that lapping water.

His hand found the hilt of his sword, the spoils of war, and began to
stroke it softly. That was the last time he would let himself be
defeated, he vowed. Too many times, chance and fate and meddlers had
saved the girl's miserable life. No, next time would be different.
Next time there would be no confrontation, no dramatic final battle.
Next time the girl would be dead before they even knew he was there.

He smiled, behind his iron mask. A small part of him wondered how this
girl kept evading him. Maybe, this small part said, Darovan was right.
Maybe those rantings in his final years of life had held a hint of
truth, and that his Legacy would indeed change the world.

"Bah!" he sneered. The girl was just a girl, no better than that fool
since the beginning of time. Only Clea had ever come close... No, she
would die. Then her head would be his and from there it was only a
short hop to the Stone of Infinity. And once he had that, none of the
Knights could stop him.

Secure in the purity of his purpose, the purpose which had driven him
for two thousand years, he took his unseeing eyes off the sea. He drew
from his cloak a simple device, a crystal suspended on a golden chain.
Muttering the brief incantation which evoked its magic he watched it
begin to twitch gently to the east. So the girl was far away, well, he
would fix that. Laughing at the irony of using a Manakyr device to
track down their prophet and kill her, Siegvin started on his long
journey.

Behind him, the rotting body of the Guardian Tri-toch slowly sunk into
the sea. Its blood colored the waves red. Another challenge defeated.

***

The boat ride was short, less than a day to move from Indong to the
capital. By evening they walked the streets of what was called by its
people, "The City of a Thousand Moons". Davin could see why; it was
beautiful. Most cities he had been to were covered in filth and dirt.
advances coming out of Tienne in the last few decades. This city was
kept spotless however. Every surface was covered with pristine white.
Some of it was ivory, some of it was a pearlescent that Ka Bikke told
them was made from polished oyster shells.

The reason for this beauty became apparent after a short time.
Apparently unseen by the hustling crowds were people. Covered in only
the sheerest clothes, so much so that Davin couldn't look directly at
the women, they toiled on the city. Cleaning and polishing and
endlessly erasing the grime and decay which was the inevitable
aftereffect of mankind's habitation.

Mika asked their guide who they were.

"Those?" he blinked. "They are only Bisho, the Soil Children, pay them
no mind." Mika stared at him in utter disgust as he casually walked
their group right through groups of the workers, causing them to
scatter like animals. Shizuka, seeing the look on the little girls
face and instinctively knowing what it meant, intervened.

"This one would like to show you a trick Mika," she said and began to
cause a tiny silver needle to dance on her fingertips in the most
ingenious ways. Mika gave her a skeptical look, and closed her mouth.

"I won't cause a scene," she said huffily. "You don't have to treat me
like a two-year old."

"This on is sorry," Shizuka's face fell. "She meant no disrespect to
Mistress Gilchrist." She fell back to the end of the group, her
shoulders slumped in obvious disgrace.

"Oh geez," Mika sighed. "I swear, if its not one thing with her, it's
another!" She fell back to walk beside the ninja. "Don't pout you big
baby, and call me Mika damn it!"

Davin chuckled at this bizarre turn of events. He caught Shizuka's eye
and she gave him a long slow wink. His opinion of her went up a notch
or two, if she could be that subtle about dealing with Mika.

"We are here, honored guests."

The group stopped and took in the Shrine of the Oracle. Compared the
the beautiful, almost opulent city, it was soft on the eyes. Davin
immediately felt the presence of the spirits in this place. They were
stronger then he had ever felt them before. They stone, the grass, the
air, all of these things were full of spirits. And they weren't here
to play either. They had a purpose.

These spirits were tame.

"Impossible," he said softly.

yellow hat, having found one much like her old one among the clothes
the servants had laid out for her this morning. She wasn't sure she
trusted these people yet. She especially wasn't sure if they should
trust this Oracle. During her years being raised by the church she had
heard this place denounced again and again from the pulpits of a
hundred priests as a 'cauldron of sin' and a 'empire of decadence and
corruption.' Then again, these were the same priests who called magic
evil, and sealed those who dared speak against them in lifeless stone.
So she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

"N-nothing," Davin said with awe in his voice. "You wouldn't
understand." She backed off a bit, hurt more than she was willing to
show by his words.

(He must be talking about his Geomancy,) she thought to herself. Was
what he said true, was there things that she would never be able to
understand about him? Was there always going to be that wall between
them, because of what he was and what she wasn't? Was it the same with
her magic, would he never be able to understand her because of it?

Before she could ask herself where all these thoughts were coming
from, and more importantly where they were going, their guide spoke.
"Come, you are expected," he looked at them each in turn. "Few are
ever summoned by the Oracle herself, this is a great honor, especially
for foreigners."

"In other words," Davin whispered into her ear, "don't mess up the
furniture." He grinned at her and she couldn't help smiling back as
they made there way into the labyrinthian hallways. Maybe it didn't
matter what was between them, she thought to herself.

"Hey Marcine," he whispered to her. This time there was no play in his
voice. She immediately grew cautious and began to look around them.
Seeing that no-one else could overhear she nodded to him. "Check out
these halls, notice anything strange?" She looked around but had no
idea what he was talking about. She said as much. "They aren't just
meandering," he explained. "They double back on themselves, slowing
down anyone who wants to get in. And those niches, they're always
around bends where you suddenly pop into them. Combine that with the
way those window are so small..." She gave him a blank look. "Someone
built this place to hold of an army. I think with a big enough force I
could hold this place against all the dragoons in Tienne!"

"Davin," she hissed. "Keep your voice down. Someone will hear you."
She looked around and saw that no one seemed to be paying any
attention. No one except Shizuka. When her eyes fell on her the ninja
nodded her head thoughtfully. Whether she was agreeing with Marcine,
or Davin, the young magus couldn't tell.

Finally their tour ended and they were escorted into the central
chamber of the Shrine. It was a study in elegant simplicity.
Translucent drapes billowed gently in soft breezes and comfortable,
yet firm chairs dotted the floor. The entire place felt of quiet and
solitude. This was a room meant for contemplation and discussion. All
four of the visitors knew this instinctually and they stepped into the
room in silence. Even Mika seemed taken by the subtle beauty of this
place. And there, at the other end of the chamber, clad in an
unadorned white smock and leggings was the Oracle.

"Hey," Mika cried. "She isn't one of these moon people!"

Everyone turned to her with the same expression of shock and
amusement. Well, everyone except Ka Bikke, who looked like he was
about to blow a vessel. "Indeed I am not little one," the woman said
as she stood up. She was old, Marcine would guess in her late fifties.
At least as old as her father. Her skin, blue eyes and blonde hair
were obviously not native to the perpetually tanned Rupantao. "I was
born and raised in Atlantea I live here because it seems the office
of Oracle is not merely held by natives."

"This one gives you greetings," Shizuka said and stepped forward
before prostrating herself before the woman. "She is your humble
servant, and wishes you well in the name of her family."

"Shizuka," the Oracle said slowly. "Rise, Cid would not want you to
prostrate yourself before me. We may not have agreed when he decided
to bring your family's... special skills into this conflict. But I
will honor his wishes."

"This one understands your reluctance," the Ryukin woman said as
she stood. "This one would change her nature to please you, but finds
it difficult to do so." There was no sarcasm in her words.

The Oracle grinned. "So, what are you doing here? I thought you were
supposed to be looking out for the Legacy?"

that word before?

"With all due respect," Shizuka bowed and stepped back, "this one
thinks her companions could more easily explain."

The Oracle's eyes turned to the party, and Davin felt Marcine and
Mika's eyes turning on him. Sighing to himself he stepped forward.
"Oracle," he bowed stiffly. not used to the motion. "My name is Davin
Highwater-"

"Highwater!" the woman stood up and stared at him. "Davin Highwater?
Son of Vingerd Highwater?"

"This can't be a coincidence," the Oracle said as she began to pace
back and forth. "Who are you people?"

"Mika Gilchrist!" Mika piped up. The Oracle took a moment to stare at
her as well, obviously recognizing the name.

"And I'm Marcine," the magus said hesitantly. "Marcine Cavanaugh"

"Cavanaugh..." For a moment the air in the room grew chill. "You,
you're Armand Cavanaugh's daughter aren't you. The daughter of the man
who invented TIAMAT!"

called TIAMAT.

"This one reminds you," Shizuka stepped forward again, "that you have
already said this was not a coincidence." For a moment the Oracle
seemed about to do something, but finally Shizuka's words seemed to
penetrate and she fell back into her seat. A sudden weariness seemed
to cover her brow.

"You are right," she said. "No wonder Cid never found the bloodline,
it was right in front of us, all this time..."

"What are you talking about?" Mika broke in. "Bloodline? Legacy? I
Staring with who you are, and including who this old fogy Cid is I

The Oracle smiled. "Very well," she said. "It would be rude of me not
to introduce myself after you already have." She stood up. "My name is
Gyn Samson. I am one of only three survivors of the Light Warriors of
Tienne. Together we fought to save our people, and, in secret to
complete the quest that Clea Manakyr started so long ago. We are
trying to free the Three Gods."

Silence descended on the room.

"GYN SAMSON!" Mika screeched and rushed up to tackle the Oracle. "THE
Gyn Samson! Wow! You're a bonafide hero! I know all your stories, 'Gyn
versus the Three-Headed Beast that Sleeps', 'Samson and the Dragon's
Nest', 'The Revenge of Gyn, Outlaw Hunter'!" She grabbed the woman's
arm and began to pump it vigorously. "It's an honor to meet you,
you've been my hero, well, my hero next to Davin of course, but still
quite a role-model. I even have the official Gyn Samson action figure
with realistic cursing action! Mrs. Walters would have tanned my hide
if she knew I had that one let me tell you! And wow..."

Davin couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. Ka Bikke was leaning
against a wall, trying not to foam at the mouth. Marcine and Shizuka
only exchanged glances and shrugged at the same time.

***

>WHACK<

"I'm beginning to lose my patience."

>WHACK<

"Where is he?"

>WHACK<

"If you don't answer me soon." Zarela held her falchion up and made
sure Pearl could see the sharp, serrated edge. "I'm going to have to
let Montessier here start cutting you."

"Go to hell." Pearl spat. The wad of mucous stuck to Zarela's face and
slowly began to dribble of it. She wished she could do more than that,
but tied to a tree like she was it would have to do.

"Okay," Zarela nodded. "I'll just find him myself. Say a prayer to
whatever demons you worship that your soul won't burn too much in
hell."

Pearl closed her eyes, unwilling to see the blow coming. But it didn't
come. Finally she opened her eyes and looked at her captor. The woman
was still holding the falchion, but her attention was on something
across the clearing from them. Pearl looked there as well, and gasped.

He was standing just outside of the shadows, his posture causal and at
ease. He carried no weapons, not that he need any. You could tell that
from his eyes, clear and confident in his weathered face. Thinning
silver hair cut short contrasted with his red cloth outfit. It hung
about him like a vest, wrapped in some intricate pattern and tied
about the waist. His lithe body served it well. A heavily muscled arm
extended from his right shoulder. His other didn't, ceasing as it did
at the left shoulder. His loose black pants rustled as he began to
move into the clearing.

"Who are you?" Zarela pointed her sword at him. "Can't you see I'm
busy here?"

"Let her go," the man said. "She's a friend of mine," he added
absently.

"You dare order me about? A Divine Knight of the Church? Pah! I pah at

"Cid!" Pearl cried. "She's tougher than she looks!"

"Oh," Zarela snuck a look at Pearl. "So this is the mighty Cid?
Heretic of the first order. I'm not impressed." She turned to face
him. "I have been ordered to place you under arrest, in the name of
the Church and the Three Gods. If you resist," she grinned. "Please
resist. This one wasn't much of a challenge."

"You have no idea what you're dealing with," he shook his head. "If
it's a fight you want, then come at me."

"I thought you'd never ask!" Zarela charged, her sword swinging around
in a brilliant arc. "Mind Break!" she roared as she closed. Cid only
rolled his eyes and leapt, easily floating over her head and landing
softly behind her. Zarela skidded to a halt and began to turn but Cid

"Wave Fist!" he shouted and thrust his palm at her. Zarela sneered and
drew her sword in front of her.

"Spell Break!" she roared and a puff of purple light burst from her
sword. Cid stepped back, grinning to himself.

"Not bad girl," he nodded. "But you're thirty years to early to have a
chance of beating me." He rose his hand. "Mighty hammer of the Gods,
force which rent heaven and earth, shatter of worlds, destroyer from
the starry void..." Pearl gasped. The sky had darkened and lightning
danced in the clouds overhead. She swore; despite the clouds she saw
stars dancing in the air overhead.

"At last true magic!" Zarela grinned. "Your puny spell will be no
match for my Divine Swordskill; do your worst!"

"Come down, rain of torment and annihilation, unleash the fury of the
Gods upon the infidels of this world.... Meteor!"

Then they came, the sound was like a thousand thunderclaps. The very
air lit afire in their wake. There were dozens of them, flaming stones
the size of horses falling from the sky with deadly purpose. Zarela
roared, her voice drowned out by the cacophony of destruction. Her
sword flew in her hands, cleaving on of the comets in twain and safely
knocking the pieces aside. But she couldn't readjust in time for the
second, or the third or the fourth. By the fifth she was struggling
just to survive. Brutally and without mercy they crashed into her time
and time again. The earth blasted out from under her by the force of
the explosions, the very air burnt by their blazing entry. She did not
stand the attack long. Pearl lost count before the last one hit and
drove Zarela to the ground.

Cid then turned and calmly walked over to her. His mouth opened and
closed but she couldn't hear anything over the awful ringing in her
ears. He paused then touched her and slowly chanted. Feeling the
familiar rush of Esuna, she sighed as her ears cleared. He grabbed the
ropes binding her and with one expert tug snapped them.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Pearl looked at him with a newfound respect. "I never knew
you were capable of -that-."

"Perhaps a bit of overkill at that," he chuckled and rubbed the back
of his head. "Sometimes I show off too much, I guess."

"Is she?"

"Dead?" he seemed shocked. "Heavens no, girl! You know I swore never
to end a life with magic! Did you think I'd forgotten that?" He walked
over to the unconscious figure of Zarela. "I'm surprised Lambert
hasn't sent someone like her after me sooner." He sighed. "She wasn't
meant to beat me, only to test my strength and my resolve." He leaned
down over her. "Chakra," he breathed and a light flowed out, spreading
along his arms and bathing the woman with its soft radiance. When the
light retreated her wounds were no more, and she lay in restful
slumber. "I'll send her back where she came from," he said standing
up. "This will only take a moment."

Pearl stepped back; having seen this trick before she knew what was
coming.

"Time, space, bend and flow and break at my command. Unseal that place
between places, unseal the world where They wait in Sleep for Call,
unseal here and there and send this one through... Remove!"

There was a snap, like wet wood cracking. Then Zarela faded, as a dark
void seemed to open up behind her. The edge of the void rippled and
her eyes refused to look directly into it, for fear of what she might
see. Then Zarela was gone and the void snapped shut with the
suddenness of an animal snare.

"So," Cid turned to her with a big grin on his face. "What brings you
out to see me?"

"I..." she paused. Now, telling him, emotion threatened to overwhelm
her. "I have terrible news."

***

The garden had been cleared of people, leaving only the small group of
adventures, their guide and the Oracle inside. The trees around them
were ones Davin had never seen before. Large leafy palms with thin
trunks that swayed and shifted in the evening breezes. Ka Bikke stood
apart from the rest of the group, pretending to be enthralled by a bed
of tastefully arranged flowers. Mika was sitting next to Shizuka, both
of them listening attentively as Davin told the Oracle about their
adventures. Davin paused as he realized this would be the first time
Shizuka had heard all about the story as well. Marcine was toying with
the egg she had acquired in the deserted village near Ashgar.

"So that is what Siegvin was after..." Gyn mused to herself.

"Hmm?"

"The mask of Slydigirag," Gyn said. "We'd heard about it, back then,
but thought it was a legend. Then again, we thought Knights of the
Round were legends too."

"You've met Siegvin before?" Marcine looked surprised.

"Yes," Gyn's eyes narrowed and she had to close them and sigh before
Davin saw the anger flow from her face. "We fought him... well, Cid
fought him. He lost his arm to that maniac."

"That's one more we owe him then," Mika hissed. Shizuka gave Davin a
long look which he refused to return.

"So, after Genji, what happened then?" Davin was about to continue
with the story when she interrupted him. "But first, where's Syeira?
She was with you all this time right? Did she get translocated to a
different part of the world?"

"No," Davin said and looked at Mika. "She came with us... in a way."

Gyn studied his face and slowly he saw understanding begin to creep
across it. With that understanding came a sort of sadness, but that
wasn't surprising. What was surprising was how much of it came. Davin
saw her shoulders begin to slump, her head seemed to draw back and she
sort of flinched, like she had been struck.

"Tell me," she said with a broken voice. "What happened to Syeira, I
have to hear it!"

Davin, unable to figure out why she was having such a strange
reaction, told her. "Siegvin killed her." He said it as quickly as he
could but it still hurt, to admit it like that. He looked at Marcine
and wondered what it would be like to say those words about her. No,
no he couldn't imagine it, couldn't even begin to think it. Not about

Gyn seemed to wilt when she heard the news. She clenched and
unclenched her fists for a moment and then softly began to cry. Mika,
who had been on the verge of tears herself was startled by this.

"Did you know Syeira?" she asked.

"Know her..." Gyn replied. "You mean... you didn't know?"

"Know what?"

"Syeira..." she rubbed the tears of her cheeks with the back of her
forearm. "...was my daughter."

Davin had no reply to that, so he merely sat there, opening and
closing his mouth like a fish for a few moments. Finally he recovered
the presence of mind to close his mouth. "I'm... more sorry than I
could ever tell you." He forced himself to speak levelly. "We didn't
know, she never told us her last name."

"Davin is right," Shizuka said with an almost inaudible catch in her
voice. "This one did not know Syeira was of such noble blood. This one
would have told you sooner, had she known. This one's failure to save
her is more profound now."

"Nonsense," Gyn snarled. "Siegvin took her life, there was nothing you
could do to stop him. I know, I've faced him before."

"Does this mean, that she knew, about all this?"

"Yes," Gyn nodded. "Cid taught her. My daughter and I had a falling
out several years back, over a..." She laughed, a short bitter kind of
laugh. "It was a petty thing. But we hadn't seen each other since.
It's all so meaningless now."

"We all have regrets," Marcine said stoically. "The trick is, not to
let them overwhelm you, and to learn from them."

"You're right," Gyn replied. "Syeira, was assigned by Cid to the
Tienne area, mainly because she wasn't known to be connected with us.
She was supposed to watch for the Legacy, but not reveal herself to
whoever it was."

"What is this Legacy?" Marcine asked again.

"It's a bloodline," Gyn looked skyward. "A very special bloodline. One
that has the power to unleash the power sealed up with Darovan over a
thousand years ago."

"The power to?"

"Unseal the Sleepers of course."

"What?" Marcine blinked. "That can't be right. I mean... that is..."

"You thought just anyone could do the Calling?"

"Yes," she paused. "But the Church..."

"The Church isn't as powerful, or as influential as you once thought
it was. I think you would have learned that by now. No, others have
tried but none can do it. Not even Cid. He almost died learning that."
She paused and shook her head. "But I'm getting off the point. Which
is you."

"And my brother..." Marcine whispered but no one heard her. Talking
seemed to be helping the woman, at least she wasn't crying anymore.
Then again, maybe it only helped her forget, or put the feelings aside
for the time being. Marcine remembered when she had lost her mother,
going on over ten years now, and how she had ignored it in her heart
for almost a year. It hadn't been healthy for her then, and probably
wouldn't be healthy for Gyn now.

"Why is Marcine's family so important?" Mika asked.

"Because in her blood, runs that of Darovan."

***

The study lights were low, Lambert having not bothered to adjust them
when he came in. In his hand he held the leaden weight of the
medallion which was the key to Gilgamesh's tomb. For a moment he
considered throwing it out the window to the streets below; banishing
it and all those other things from his mind forever. Maybe then he
would be able to sleep at night, without nameless fears awakening him
in a cold sweat. But no, he had chosen his course. He would stay it,
ensure that the people were saved. Even if he had to destroy them all
in order to do it.

There was a knock on his chamber doors. The aging priest rose and
walked across the luxurious carpet to the teak door. It was all for
show, Lambert could care less about those trifles. They were status
symbols, used to show his wealth and power. A necessary evil in the
increasingly political world of the Church.

"Enter," he said when he was no more then five paces from the door.
The portal slowly opened and in walked the Dragoon Commander. His
armor was still on and it was laced with the dust and dirt of the
Lambert said curtly, "what is the rush that you could not make
yourself presentable first?"

Armand paused, looking puzzled. "But your note-"

"My note said we were being invaded, yes," Lambert motioned towards a
chair. "But you have gained, what, ten minutes by not taking the time
to clean. A wasted ten minutes. Add to that the fact that you will no
doubt raise questions about what could be so urgent you would enter my
quarters in so vulgar a fashion."

"Questions?" Armand sat down and gave the High Priest a long level
look. "You mean, the people do not know?"

"Of course they don't, you fool." Lambert sat across from him and
poured himself a glass of brandy from the claret. "It would cause a
panic. Especially if they knew the identity of our invaders."

Armand caught the implication, but being a military man felt the need

"Yes," Lambert answered. "They have landed in La Verde, the city has
fallen to them."

"The event in Atlantea was huge," Armand said. "But to make such an
open move, they must be truly desperate..."

"Or else sure of victory," Lambert replied. "Your Dragoons are
trained to fight magi, they can take on any but the most powerful
spellcaster. But can any of them face a Calling?" Armand stiffened,
but other than that he gave nothing away. Lambert smiled. "Your
daughter is the first you know, the first to ever stray from us.
Perhaps it was a mistake to spare your bloodline after all. With the
Sleepers to contend with, we may not win so easy a victory as we did
five hundred years ago."

"The heretic was last seen going westward to Ryukin," Armand said. "Do
you think the Cult awaited her there?"

"More than likely," Lambert downed some of the bitter liquid. "If you
sail west from Ryukin the first port allied to us is La Verde, that
can't be a coincidence. Thankfully, the Mystic Academy holds the only
pass inland from the city. We should have a week or more before it
falls to them."

"I've increased the production of the GOLeM," Armand stood up. "I'll
send messages to all the other Dragoon regiments to meet me here. With
a week to gather we should have a sizable enough force to push them
back into the sea."

A sudden knock at the door caused Lambert to almost drop his brandy.
He looked at the wood, wondering who it could possibly be, then back
at Armand. From the Dragoon's expression he had no clue either.
Finally Lambert called for them to enter. It was a young Dragoon,
obviously in a near panic. His eyes darted to the Commander and he
paled. The man gave the cadet a long, level look and finally the youth
spoke.

"Sir," he said and saluted Armand. "Your Eminence," he added with a
bow to Lambert. "A messenger just arrived from the Mystic Academy."

"They have come under siege already?" Armand frowned.

"Uh no sir," the cadet squeaked. "The Academy has not come under
siege," he coughed. "The Mystic Academy has fallen!"

"This complicates things," Armand said after a pause. Lambert ignored
him and instead walked over to the window. He held the keystone in his
hand. From her he could see the Wall. They were coming, and he knew
somehow that this time they wouldn't stop them. They were coming for
the heart of that Wall. They had the secret, he knew that now. They
were coming...

(I will save us,) he thought to himself. (Even if I have to destroy us
all to do it.)

***

"The Light Warriors of Tienne," Marcine shook her head. "I've never
heard of them."

"I'm not surprised," Gyn replied. "After we turned our backs on the
Church, they did their best to eliminate all mention of us from
history." She looked at Mika and almost smiled, almost. "It appears
they haven't been entirely successful."

"You turned on the Church?"

"Not all of us," Gyn said. "In the end Onias stood with Lambert in
their denouncement of Cid. I don't think he'd ever really forgiven
himself for that. He told me it had to be done. That Cid was 'reviving
a power best left asleep'."

"How did Cid learn magic?" Marcine asked.

"The same way you did," the Oracle replied. "By studying texts
gathered by his fellow Red Monks. He vowed, when Onias caught him at
it, that he would never take a life with magic. I guess that was good
enough for him, because Onias never turned him in."

"What do you mean you're going to help finish what Clea started?"
Davin asked. "I heard Pervical say that they intended to 'free the
three gods'. What does that mean?"

"The fourth crystal," Gyn replied.

"What?" Marcine seemed taken aback.

"We don't know how it was supposed to work, or even if it existed,"
Gyn explained. "But Clea's teaching told of a Fourth Crystal which
could be used to free the Three Gods. We've been looking for clues to
its location or manufacture for decades..."

"You mean, like the ones Davin and Marcine saw in that buried church
and I saw in Yahl Russa?"

"Exactly like those."

"Maybe we should start looking for this fourth Crystal ourselves,"
Davin said. "It would be better that wandering around aimlessly
anyway."

"This one agrees."

"Don't expect it to be easy," Gyn warned. "It was said that only
Gilgamesh ever knew the true secret behind the Crystal, and no one has
seen or heard of him in five-hundred years."

"Maybe another Knight would know where he is?"

"This one knows of that," Shizuka said. Everyone looked at her and she
blushed. "This one has heard, from her clan that the old Emporer's
used to converse with Genji quite often. This one knows that the
Emporer spoke of Genji's 'brothers across the seas', which he could
talk to through, 'the stone of his heart'."

Marcine's hand reflectively went to the stone she carried. She saw
Davin do the same to the one embedded in his sword. This comforted
her, for reasons she couldn't quite put into words.

"So if we find a Knight, then he can tell us how to find Gilgamesh?"

"This one thinks so," Shizuka nodded. "Unless Marcine wishes to try to
figure out the secret of calling Knights through the stone she
carries?"

"No thank you," Marcine shook her head. "I have enough on my plate
just trying to figure out what this Legacy and my relationship to the
Sleepers is all about. There has to be more to it that just my
bloodline... I," she hissed. "I have to believe that my power is more
than Darovan's legacy! I refuse to accept that."

"I think," said Gyn getting up. "That's enough for tonight."

***

The sea glittered blue in the harsh noon sun. Kyle had stripped off
his armor and stowed it in the hold with all the rest of their
supplies. He moved about the deck in only a cloth jerkin and short cut
pants but still sweat seemed to pour out of every inch of his body. It
didn't help that he was busily making up for the fact that they had no
crew, per se.

Jil had taken one look at the 'men' the Shogun had sent to man her
ship and threatened to disembowel all of them. Now he and his command
were learning to be sailors, the hard way.

"AR ye mangy dog!" Jil spat at him from the wheel. "Move it or I'll
keel-haul ye!"

"Yes captain," Kyle said in a less then dismissive tone. Either Jil
choose to ignore it, or she didn't hear. Given the tongue lashing
she'd given him about the 'chain of command' on a ship earlier, he was
pretty sure it was the latter. Kyle turned to see Cheney grinning at
him. For a moment Kyle hated the old man; who, despite working in his
much heavier clothes (and doing it twice as competently according to
Jil), hadn't even broken a sweat.

"Har, I'll make sailors out  o' the lot o' ye yet!" Jil laughed as she
smirked down at them.

"Captain!" Reill cried from up in the crow's nest. "There's something
off the lef... er off the port bow."

Jil turned to look, and unable to help himself so did Kyle. All he
could see was a black dot on the horizon... no wait, it was growing
bigger. "It be only a cloud!" Jil roared back. "And only one at that,"

"No cloud moves that fast Captain!" Reill called back. "And I saw a
glint of metal."

"Maybe it's the silver lining," Martin called back. "Gods know we
could use one."

"Shut up, Martin," Kyle told him.

"Yes sir."

"I'd believe him Ji... Captain," Kyle said. "I took Reill on this trip
because of his eyesight. It's better than even Cheney's here."

"He's right," Cheney added. "And I think I see something strange about
that 'cloud' too."

"Well," said Jil. "There be nothin' we can be doin' about it for now.
Back to work!"

For the next five minutes they worked in silence. For some reason a
sort of gloom had descended on them. Kyle wasn't sure if he could
blame it on the mysterious cloud or not. Still, Jil had never been
quiet for a minute ever since they had left port.

"By the Three Gods!" Reill swore. Kyle looked up and his jaw nearly
detached itself from his skull. Above them floated an impossibility.
It was large, three times as big as the little scow which they now
manned. It was metal, made of a glittering red metal like that used to
construct his armor. (No wait), Kyle thought, (that's the same metal!)
And now that he looked at them, the large vents on the side of the
craft were just like those built into his Boost Armor, but on a much
larger scale. On its back four giant rotating blades, like windmills,
pushed it forward. The entire thing was build like a huge egg, and
beneath it, suspended by steel girders was a ship much like the one
they traveled in now.

"W-what is it!" Martin cried.

"I don't know," Cheney gasped. 'I've never seen anything like this
before."

"It's an Airship," Kyle said as the craft floated past overhead.
"Father and Valecrest were working on a design... but he told me it
could never fly. Then he started muttering about wings..." he shook
his head. "There is no way, physically, that thing should be able to
fly."

"Magic..." Reill said, his voice awed.

(Magic,) Kyle thought.

"Now that," Jil breathed. "That be a SHIP!" Kyle looked at her and
realized, from the look on her face, that she had fallen in love with
it. He shook his head and watched as the airship passed harmlessly
overhead. Whoever controlled that craft, apparently a ship such as
there's was too small to be noticed.

***

"You wanted to see me?"

Davin and Marcine stood in the garden again. He'd had a better sleep
last night then he'd had since leaving Tienne... what was it, nearly a
month? It had felt like much longer. Like his entire life before
meeting Marcine in that prison had shrunk down to nothing.

"Yes," Gyn looked at Marcine. "Alone,"  she added.

Davin looked over at Marcine, who seemed somewhat surprised by this.
He considered protesting but she only nodded at him. "I'll just wander
around the Shrine for a bit," she said. "I think I need time to sort
all this Legacy stuff out in my head anyway. Time alone."

"Okay," Davin reached out and touched her hand. "I won't be far."

"I know."

She walked away and Davin couldn't pull his eyes off her until she had
turned the corner. When he looked back at Gyn she had the strangest
smile on her face, like she knew something he didn't and found this
vastly amusing. Davin frowned back and she composed herself. She had
obviously been crying, from the dark circles under her eyes. She was
calm now.

"Follow me," she told him. He followed her down another corridor, and
around a bend and then suddenly Davin felt her reaching out. He looked
at her more closely and she looked back at him and winked. She turned
her face back to a wall and Davin turned to look at it. For a moment
he didn't know what was happening, then the wall seemed to vanish.
The sudden flood in his mystic sense told him otherwise.

"The wall..." Davin blinked. "It was one giant spirit creation?"

"Yes."

"How, how did it get so permanent? The longest anyone can bind a
spirit for is one sunset. Much less the dozens a wall like that would
have taken..."

"You already know the answer," she said. "You knew it the moment you
saw this place."

"The spirits are tame?"

"Yes."

"Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Among other things. Come, there's more down here."

The wall had blocked off a staircase, which was itself carved out of
the living earth all around it. For a moment Davin stood on the
threshold of the path downward. He felt like something was clutching
at his heart, like he couldn't breath. No, he was over this... he'd
contacted the spirits in the mountains right? But somehow this was
different. That had been in the open, in the light. This...

"Don't be afraid," Gyn called from halfway down the staircase. "Trust
the spirits."

Davin nodded and slowly, one foot after the other started downward.
Once he got moving he found that it was a lot easier. He just had to
trust himself and the spirits around him. Or at the very least,
concentrate on them to the exclusion of his surroundings.

The hallway at the end of the stairs was short and led to a simple
wood door. Gyn called to the spirits, who opened it for her and
stepped easily inside. Davin moved in behind her and took a look
around.

It was an armory, the walls were coated in blades and halberds and
bows of every description. Baskets full of arrows and other rudiments
of war sat in the corners by the dozen. In the center stood several
tables, each one covered in several sets of simple leather and chain
armor. Davin moved around the chamber, examining the weapons and
finding them all to be quite well made.

"I was right," he said aloud. "This place was designed to withstand a
siege."

"Indeed," Gyn nodded. "There are other rooms like this, accessible
only to me a a select loyal few. Not even the King and Queen know
about them. Now you see why I didn't want Ka Bikke following you."

"Yes," he replied.

"Come along," she said. "What I really have to show you is behind this
door." She indicated another door and stepped up to it. As she did so
she paused, like someone who just steps out into the cold air.
Manually releasing the catch she stepped into the room beyond. Davin
followed her after a moment. It was then he knew why she had paused.
Suddenly, after a world suffused with spirits of all kinds he stepped
into one which had none. He shuddered, remembering the tomb in Ashgar

"Why is this place like this?"

"I could never convince the spirits to inhabit this place," she
replied. She waved her hand at the small room in which they stood. It
was no bigger than a closet really, and had only one decoration. On
the wall opposite the door hung a sword, curved like the one at
Davin's belt.

"Is that?"

"Yes," Gyn nodded. "A sword of Ashura. Just like the one you carry. I
suspect it is the reason that no spirit will venture into this place."

"Why?"

"I think that these swords still carry the taint of the demon with
them, and over time they taint their surroundings too. Leave a weapon
like this in a place long enough, and you change the nature of that
place." Again, Davin found his mind draw involuntarily to the tomb in
Ashgar. From there, it conjured images of a man with a metal face. He
dismissed those thoughts.

"I take it this is what you wanted to talk to me about?" He drew his
own blade. "Genji told me these things are cursed. But he said his
heartstone would protect me."

"And it probably will at that," Gyn nodded. "But this sword is related
to what I'm going to say."

"Which is?"

"What?!"

"And the person who did it, killed him for that sword you carry at

***

Mika was bored. This was perhaps a far more frightening prospect then
Siegvin, Legacys or Ashura swords combined. At least, as far as she
was concerned. Davin and Marcine had wandered off before she'd woken
up, and Gyn Samson was nowhere to be found. This left here in the
company of perhaps the most boring person in existence.

"This one humbly suggests you stop pacing. The mistress may wear a
trough in the floor."

"But I'm bored!" Mika complained. "I can't even practice my alchemy
around here. Every time I start a dozen or so of these people start
starring at me with this weird expressions on their faces. Haven't
they ever seen alchemy before?"

"This one thinks so," Shizuka replied. "The people of the Moon revere
Alchemy, considering it the greatest achievement. Only the nobles are
allowed to practice it, and they do so only in secret. Thus this one
believes it has gained something of a legendary mythology."

"You mean," Mika frowned, "they think I'm some kind of princess or
something?"

"This one would not put it that way, but Mistress Gilchrist is
essentially correct."

"Oh that's just wonderful!" Mika said in a huff. "Who wants to be a
princess?"

"This one thought most girls the Mistress' age wished that."

"Pah!" Mika sneered. "All they do is sit in castles all day looking
pretty and waiting for princes to rescue them from ogres or something.
I want to be a heroine, like Davin, or Gyn."

"This one thinks you may succeed in this ambition; much more easily
than this one thinks you would succeed in becoming a princess."

Mika sat down on the bed that had been provided for her and began to
sway her legs back and forth. Their didn't seem to be a door to the
room, which was one of the sources of her consternation. Didn't these
people believe in privacy? Finally she forced herself to stop thinking
about that. Her expression began to mellow as she decided there was
something else she could talk about.

"Shizuka, why isn't magic outlawed in Ryukin?"

"What was that, young Mistress?"

"On Ryukin, you use magic all the time there right?" She paused. "When
I heard that Father Onias used to be one of these Light Warriors it
got me to thinking about him. The last time we talked..." she trailed
off but shook her head and continued. "Last time we talked he told me
why the Church outlawed magic, at least the official version. It got
me to wondering what your people thought of it. Why you use it so
much."

"Ah, this one thinks Mistress Gilchrist is confused," the ninja
replied. "In Ryukin, use of the True Magik is not forbidden, it is
just... considered taboo. To rely on external forces such as magik,
one weighs down the souls karma."

"Huh?"

"It is complicated. Magik is not practiced in Ryukin."

"But you use it!"

"This one is sorry if she has mislead you," Shizuka bowed her head.
"This one use the Arts, not True Magik"

"Arts?"

"The Arts are internal, drawing on your soul, your chi, to affect the
world. It differs from the external skills, Geomancy, Magik,
Beastlore... The people of this empire call it prana.  It fuels the
fighting forms of our Samurai, the litanies of our clerics and the
skills of my clan. Together they are called the Arts. This one
believes the Red Monks of your country know of these things."

"How do you learn them then?"

"All one needs is dedication of mind and purity of purpose."

"And a teacher?"

"A sensei is only a help in showing the Way, the Arts you must learn
for yourself, for they come from within."

"I see..." Mika said and sat down. "So, hypothetically, if one wanted
to learn these things you could do it on your own?"

"Hypothetically yes," Shizuka allowed herself a tiny smile. "Perhaps
hypothetically."

"Hypothetically," Mika agreed.

***

"So this girl, Marcine you say, do you think she could be the one?"

"Syeira didn't say, I don't think she was sure at that point," Pearl
replied. She brushed aside a leafy twig that had fallen in her way.
The path they walked was recently made, and the plants still sprung up
in springy shoots from the moist earth beneath her feet. "But I
learned while I was in Tienne that Leviathan appeared. I think it may
be related to this girl."

"After all this time," Cid rubbed the back of his head. "The
Cavanaughs, what a perfect place for the Church to hide the
bloodline, right in their greatest family!" He paused and they walked
in silence for a while. "I only wish your grandfather could have lived
to see this. He knew I was right you know, he just didn't want to

"Of course he knew you were right!" Pearl snarled at him. "He always
knew and he admitted it. He also knew that what you want to do is too
dangerous. You're playing with forces you don't even comprehend..."

Cid laughed, which only angered her further. She had to resist the
urge to punch him straight in the nose. That would wipe the stupid
grin off his face. "If only you knew how much you sounded just like
him." Cid patted her on the shoulder. "Come we're almost to the
cottage, once there we can decide what to do about all this."

"Fine," Pearl let out the angry words she had been holding in a
soundless sigh. It was hard to remain angry at Cid for long, he was
just so... earnest.

"But first!" He declared, "we eat, I'm starving!"

Like a child really.

In a few minutes the underbrush gave way to a gentle glade. While the
trees still towered overhead, with the light filtered through their
green branches, it seemed very open. A carpet of browned needles that
had fallen from the evergreens coated the dirt, except for a narrow
path that led to the cottage. The cottage itself was well built and
obviously well maintained. It was one room, and had no chimney. Large
windows opened out from all the walls.

"Ah home sweet home," Cid grinned mischievously and began to stride
briskly towards the door. "And more importantly my pantry! Not that I
don't love roots mind you, but I need meat every now and then."

"I don't doubt it," Pearl rolled her eyes. She paused to scoop a few
of the dried needles from the ground and place them in one of her many
pouches.

Cid stuck his tongue out at her and stepped towards the door. It
opened before he even reached it and for a moment Pearl thought he was
just showing off. Then she saw him stiffen and draw back. Immediately
she reached for her pouches. Cid stepped back and the two of them
watched a woman step out of the cottage. Her long black hair flowed
behind her like a cape caught in the wind, and her well-cut black
armor stuck to her figure like skin. She turned her pale face to Cid
and smiled. It was not a pleasant smile.

"Cozy," she said.

"Madonna," Cid flowed into a battle stance.

"I haven't come for you old man." She reached up and absently brushed
a flock of hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. "I only want
some information."

"Look elsewhere."

Though she had seen it several times, the transformation in the old
monk was amazing. Gone was all the playful earnestness that she
couldn't help but like, and in its place was an intensity few
warriors could match. His entire body seemed loose, relaxed and almost
lazily held in place. But his eyes, his eyes were as narrow as razors
and fixed on the woman like meteors. Pearl didn't know who this woman
was, but she had better be careful not to piss him off.

"It's a simple request," she touched her hand to the strange curved
sword at her side. The same kind of sword that boy Davin had carried
now that she thought of it. "I'll find out myself eventually, but this
way will be much quicker. I'm looking for a plant, ice blossoms I
believe they are called."

"Ice blossoms?" Cid blinked. Pearl rapidly flipped through the list of
lore components in her mind. Finally she found them, Ice Blossoms were
a rare flower... but the only Lore they were useful with was Goblin
Punch... why would someone want to waste time collecting them?

"Well," she said. "Do you know where they are or don't you?"

"Of course I do," Cid sneered. "I know every inch of this forest. But
I turned down membership in your little 'cult.'"

"You don't have much choice here Cid," she said. "I'll find out where
they are eventually. Even if I have to let my psychomancers tear your
brain apart one neuron at a time."

"What do you want them for anyway?"

She smiled. "Have you ever heard of Soft?"

His eyes widened. "But, that's just a myth!"

"No it isn't." She drew her sword. Like St. Elmo's fire a flickering,
ominous green glow began to play along its edge. "I have the secret to
its creation. With it, I'll free Him, and the legion of followers
imprisoned with him." She smiled again. "I can't wait to see those
pathetic mortals cringe when they realize why we let them capture and
'neutralize' all our most powerful magi over the ages. Won't that be a
sight Cid?"

"Pearl!" Cid shouted and the woman's eyes leapt to the hunter. She
stood frozen for a second. "Get out of here... I can't let this woman
go. Not with what she knows!"

"But..."

"Do it!"

"Maybe I'll solve this problem for you, as a gift," Madonna said. She
raised her sword and pointed it at Pearl. "Die."

"NO!"

***

"Who was it?" Davin clenched his fists. "Who killed... killed them
all?"

"It was Lambert."

"Who?" Davin blinked. For some reason, he had half expected it to turn
out to be Siegvin.

"The High Priest of the church, the only one remaining now that he's
eliminated Onias as well," she explained. "He knew about the power of
these swords, and knew that they can somehow be connected to the
Fourth Crystal. He ordered a squad of Dragoons to raze your village
to the ground, and take the swords back with them."

"Bastard..."

"And this is why I wanted to talk to you alone Davin. The man who led
that squad of dragoons was Armand Cavanaugh. I saw him murder your
father with my own eyes. There was nothing I could do to stop it, he
simply outclassed me."

Davin stood in silence for a moment. For a minute, he couldn't even
begin to form complete thoughts in his mind. This was too much. How
could he even begin to deal with it?

For a moment, his mind skipped back to the Academy, those first years
struggling to find a skill which he could master. How everything he
tried seemed to slip through his fingers like water. Then he
remembered Piette, calmly explaining Geomancy to him. "No, you're
doing it all wrong. You don't go for it all at once, you take small
steps. Simple moves, laid out one after the other. Like walking. Now
form them into patterns, simple ones at first but once you master them
you combine the simple patterns into complex patterns. That's they way
it works."

Simple steps, one idea at a time.

His father was dead, really and truly. He had always hoped, in the
end, that his father would be alive. But now that hope was over. It
still hurt, even though he'd known that it was a possibility for
years. Still, there was a finality to that. Maybe he could come to
grieve later.

Armand Cavanaugh and Father Lambert were responsible for his death.
That left him with two options. He could either forgive, or seek
revenge. His heart told him to find them and punish them. But there
was nothing he could do now. Both of them were half a world away,
surrounded by legions of troops and, in Armand's case at least,
superior fighters to him. Maybe it was best he decided what to do

No, nothing would change how he felt about her. The sins of the father
were not the sins of the daughter. Of course, that left the question
of how he did feel about the daughter. Which was something he wasn't
quite sure he was willing to think about at the moment.

"I'm fine," he told Gyn. "I... thank you. I don't know what this means
yet, but I know that it means something significant."

"It was my duty."

"So," Davin said as he reached out and touched the sword on the wall.

"No," Gyn shook her head. "Both of the ones in that village were taken
by Cavanaugh back to Tienne. This one," she indicated it, "I acquired
from a village near Ashgar. It had corrupted its owner there and he
went on a killing spree. I was there searching for a Guardian Egg at
the time." She paused. "I never did find it."

Davin felt there was something naggingly familiar about that story,
but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what.

***

"Is this him?"

"Yes your Eminence," the cadet responded with a bow. "He's still very
tired, he ran all the way from the Academy to here with the news."

benediction absently in the cadet's direction. "Go now and leave us,
tell no one of what you heard from this man."

"Do you defy my orders?"

"Your will, Eminence," he said softly.

There was a click as the door closed behind the cadet. Armand frowned
at the High Priest, probably upset that he had treated a dragoon so
taciturnly. They both turned to the man in the bed. He was young, clad
in the garb of a hunter. That would explain how he managed to evade
the Manakyr; few were as good at woodcraft as those trained to hunt
monsters.

"My son," Lambert said and gently shook the man by the shoulder. "My
son, awaken." Stubbornly, the man refused to awaken. Lambert sighed
and quietly drew forth the energy in his mind. With a soft whisper of
"Arise" he released the simple spell and let it take effect. Instantly
the man was awake, his eyes darting left and right. Whatever he had

"Where am I?"

"Safe," Armand said. "You are in Tienne. I am Commander Cavanaugh of
the Holy Dragoons. You have a message for me?"

"Sir!"

The man tried to rise but Lambert gently pushed him back down onto the
bed. "You are still weary, rest and answer our questions my son."

"Yes..."

"I hear the Academy has fallen, is this true?"

"Y-yes sir," the man gulped and nodded. "We never knew what hit us."

"How long did the battle last?"

"An hour, maybe three... I couldn't tell. It was terrible sir, they
came from the sky! Carried aboard metal ships they were, that floated
like clouds. It was awful. They rained fire and ice and thunder on us
and nothing we could do would reach them. Once they had us weakened
they fell like birds of prey and started slaughtering everyone who
didn't swear loyalty to Darovan! Darovan! He's dead one thousand
years! It's not..."

"Hush, my son," Lambert said and gently held the man's mouth closed.
"Rest now, you have told us all we need to know." The man nodded
thankfully and lay back down, closing his eyes. Once he was no longer
looking Lambert began to chant, slowly, methodically. "Send his soul
to rest, may it join its brothers in the land of the dead. Cut short
its stay, oh Gods, and end his life with mercy..."

"LAMBERT!" Armand shouted in shock.

"...take him now, for his purpose in this world is finished. Reap this
soul, draw him into darkness and let him see light no more, Death!"

Armand stumbled back, staring in horror as a grinning ethereal skull
rose from the floor beneath the man. It flowed through the bed like a
specter, and as it touched the man its mouth opened wide. For a moment
it seemed to hold a shinning spark within its jaws, and the man in the
bed writhed and moaned. Then they snapped shut, and the man ceased
moving.

In an instant, the skull was gone.

"Lambert!" Armand hissed. "That was going too far."

"Grow up Cavanaugh," The High Priest hissed at him. "Go inform the
guards that he had a heart attack. No one can know how the Manakyr are
fighting us Armand, NOBODY!"

"I... I will do as you ask."

"Oh and Cavanaugh?"

"Contact Valecrest," his voice became cold. "Tell him to do whatever
it takes to get the Excelsior airborne. No questions asked."

***

"So what do you plan on doing with your new knowledge?"

"I don't know..." he looked at her. "You wouldn't happen to know
anything about Mika's parents would you?"

"I know one thing. They are still alive."

"They are?"

"Yes, they and your mother. They fled the village, your father gave
his life to protect them. Lambert still wants your mother dead, so
they're still hiding. I never have found them."

"Why would he want my mother dead?"

"I... can't tell you that. You'll have to ask her, when you find her."

"Then, if that's all," he looked at the roof. "I guess I plan on doing
what I was going to do all along. Help Marcine discover the truth
behind her power, and if that means I have to help finish what Clea
Manakyr started all those years ago, then so be it."

"I'm glad to hear it," she smiled. "But before you go I have one last
thing to show you." She reached over and drew the Ashura sword off the
wall. "The man you face, Siegvin, is a fearsome foe, made moreso by
the fact that he knows the secret of the sword you carry. He knows how
to tap its power."

"He does?"

"Yes," she nodded. "If you're ever going to defeat him you have to
know the secret as well. The knowledge to unlock the secret within

"Do you know it?"

"You know it already," she said. "Watch."

He watched, and not just with his eyes. His other senses, those
special ones that felt the word around him watched too. And as she
drew up her sword, he felt the call go out from her. (Geomancy?) he
thought, (But there are no spirits in this room. We already know
that...) And suddenly he realized she wasn't directing the call at the
spirits of the room, but at the sword.

"Spirit within... let your strike focus the ties that bind all
things... GRAVITY WAVE!"

Davin stepped back, watching as an arc of purple light sprang from the
sword. With a sudden smooth chop of her hand she released it. The wave
passed harmlessly through the rock in front of him, but he knew how
devastating that move was on living flesh.

"Now, do you understand?"

Davin looked down at his own sword, and the glittering symbol for Holy
in the Manakyr language began to glow in front of him. The spirit
which had contacted him in the mountains, the ultimate technique of
Geomancy, Siegvin's deadly sword arts and how they all connected

"Yes," he said. "I understand."

***

"Wind, come and blow with limitless strength. turn into a hurricane,
drive my enemies far away!  Di-Aero!"

Pearl watched as the spell began to form around her, creating a
swirling rending vortex of air. She knew that she didn't have a hope
in hell of evading it, so she sucked it up and prepared to take the
brunt of the blast...

It never happened. Instead she found herself being slammed aside by a
powerful force. It felt like a blow to the guts, but thankfully it was
a lot less worse  than it could have been. She looked up to see Cid
with his hand extended, palm open to perform his Wave Fist technique.

"Your magic doesn't scare me Madonna," he smirked. "Or are you afraid
to fight someone who is at least your equal."

She looked at him, her eyes twinkling in the green light. "Fine," she
said. "Winds of the west, winds that carry the stench of death..."

"In the name of the one who walks between," Cid chanted quickly under
his breath. "Trump all magic, divert and destroy my enemies instead...
Reflect!"

"...gather here and become a tornado, the perfect storm, Tri-Aero!"

Before her spell had a chance to go off, however, a red glow seemed to
melt out of the air around the old monk. Then it flashed violently and
he smirked. Madonna raised an eyebrow as the spells power deflected
back at her. Suddenly a violent tornado, taller then the trees and so
thick that nothing could be seen inside it, erupted around her. She
screamed and Pearl felt herself breathing a sigh of relief.

Then the tornado disappeared, and Pearl's heart sank. Standing
unharmed in the circle blasted free of debris by the spell was
Madonna. On her chest, a glowing green ruin was slowly fading from
view. Pearl recognized the manakyr symbol; it meant "wind".

"Knight of the Round!" Cid stepped back. "No, that's not possible! You
followed Clea's teachings!"

"We did?" Madonna smiled at him and raised her sword. "You're a fool,
old man. Who do you think convinced the others to fight on the side of
Darovan after her death? I knew, even back then, the bitch Clea chose
the wrong side. Darovan..." her voice took on a dreamy quality.
"Darovan was a prophet, he knew the Three were not gods, merely
opportunistic scum. I will fulfill his vision, I will destroy them!"

"So that's what he was after," Cid stepped forward. "I'm not going to
let that happen."

"You don't have much choice here."

"We'll see..." He charged forward. "Fire Dance!"

Cid spun as he moved, drawing his arm out. Suddenly fire leapt from
his palm and he began to spin rapidly as he moved forward. Madonna
charged in to meet him, swinging her blade but was driven back as the
flames suddenly doubled, then trebled in size.

Driven back by the flames Madonna leapt and ran with the grace of a
gazelle. Seeing her outdistance his flaming spin Cid stopped and drew
the remaining flames into his fist. With a shout the flames burst
apart, forming a white sphere. With a cry of "Aurora Bolt!" fired a
stream of light at her. She held up her sword and deflected the beam,
blasting a tree to smithereens instead.

He'd counted on that, and with a roaring "Flare!" unleashed a spell.
Unable to dodge Madonna clenched  her fists and waited as the sparks
of glowing red light filled her body. When the explosion came it was
strong enough to blow a crater into the ground five feet deep.

But Madonna was still standing; burnt, but standing nonetheless

"My turn?" she asked. Before waiting for a reply she lifted her sword
and charged, Suddenly Cid found himself on the defense. Blow after
blow he could do nothing but dodge. She was so much faster, it was
only a matter of time before she scored a blow. Still Cid was
surprised when it did land, cutting across his legs and forcing him to
his knees.

"Now I'll give you one last chance to end this gracefully," Madonna
said and pointed her sword at his chest.

"Dammit," Cid grunted but the wound on his leg prevented him from
rising. "I won't let it end like this."

"With my will, I call forth the healing wind from the
sea, flow through my allies and restore energy, White Wind!" Cid
looked over in surprise to see Pearl sprinkling the white sand which
was her catalyst into the air. Suddenly a breeze burst out from under
him, and for a moment he could only see the white sparks of the lore
taking effect. Then he felt his legs moving again. With a roar he
thrust out his arm with all his strength, his blow catching Madonna in
the gut.

There was a crack and the Knight was sent flying across the clearing.
She landed in a heap next to the cottage. Cid rose to his feet and
gave Pearl a thumbs up. She grinned back at him and pulled out another
catalyst from one of her many secret pockets.

"Impressive," Madonna said as she propped herself up on her sword.
"You cracked my armor." Pearl turned and saw that was indeed true. A
large crack had appeared in her armor, cutting a slash across her
chest. "But you didn't kill me."

"Aurora..."

"Havoc Wing!" Madonna shouted, cutting Cid off. Suddenly around her
dozens of rippling arcs of air began to form. Cid's mouth dropped and
he leapt at Pearl, dragging her to the ground with him on top. The
arcs suddenly flew out, slashing into the ground all about them and
throwing great geysers of earth into the air. One blade slashed
through where they were laying. Cid screamed as the arc of air tore
open his back then lay still. Pearl struggled for a moment, trying to
throw his weight off but he was too heavy. Blood began to run down
onto her face.

"Don't worry girl," Madonna said as she walked forward. "He's not
dead. I need him alive... for now."

"Bitch," Pearl snarled.

"You, however," Madonna grinned, "I do not."

Pearl couldn't believe this. This was not how she was planning on
going. Getting saved from one psychopathic bitch only to be killed by
another was not her idea of humorous irony. If only there was
something she could do to-

"Kupo."

"What?"

Madonna turned around and raised an eyebrow. They had come out from
between every tree, they had swarmed onto every branch. They stood
everywhere that Pearl could see. Madonna smiled. "What is it little
ones? Angry at me for disturbing your forest?"

"Kupo," they all stepped forward and, with a disorienting ripple of
sound, raised there hands at the same time.

"Begone beasts, or perish," Madonna held up her flaming sword.

"Kupo." The moogles all brought down their arms at once.

The world exploded.

***

Light.

Pearl blinked, trying to get that light out of her eyes. Then she
realized that she was conscious. Following that came the realization
that she was alive, felt pretty good, and the world had not exploded.
This was okay so far. With a groan she sat up and opened her eyes
fully.

She was in a glade of some kind, soft grass cushioned her and elegant
leafy trees grew up all around her. A beam of yellow sunlight bathed
her in its soft radiance. She felt an odd warmth and realized that her
weariness and pain were rapidly disappearing. Then she spotted them,
not exactly hiding, but not coming right out in the open either.
Moogles, dozens of them.

"Where's Cid?" she asked them, fearing the worst.

"Right here," a familiar voice called out. She looked over her
shoulder and saw him sitting in a tree with what was, as far as she
could tell, an old and wrinkled moogle. "Glad to see you're up and
around!"

"What happened?"

"Earth Rave."

"Huh?"

"One moogle can control nature to a limited degree, but many moogles
all working together can perform feats that would put a sleeper to
shame." He leapt to the grass and walked easily over to her. She
couldn't see any sign of injury, except for the fact that his cloth
bindings had been retied to account for the damage done to them. "They
used that attack to save us from Madonna. Apparently you impressed
them earlier when you went up against Zarela to protect them."

"Uh, thank you?" She said to the moogles. They all danced a bit and
kupoed back to her.

"They said thank you."

"You can understand them?"

"You can't?" he grinned and rubbed the back of his head. "It's an
acquired skill."

"All they ever say is kupo! How can you fit a language into one word?"

"Like I said, its an acquired skill."

"I don't know," Cid said seriously. "I don't think that attack would
have finished her off. They had to tone it down so as not to kill us
after all."

"So what do we do?"

"There are two ways to defeat a Knight of the Round," he said.
"Overpower her yourself, which we've tried and failed, or fetch
Gilgamesh to do it for you."

"Gilgamesh... but no one knows where he is."

"Not entirely true," he smiled and rubbed the back of his head. "One
Knight can always find another, and I happen to know a Knight who
lives near here."

"You do?"

"Ever hear of Ivan Tsarovich?"

***

Lambert sat in his study, trying to control his thoughts. But always
they drifted back, back to the same topic. There was no going back it
appeared. Maybe that fool Onias was right and that eventually the
Legacy would change the world. No, not on his watch. The world was
doing quite fine as it was, without magic, or Gods or Guardians. Even
if he was the only one trying to save the world, he would succeed.

But how. He had sent two assassins after the girl and apparently
neither had succeeded. Now she was luring an army of magic users armed
with stolen technology on Tienne. It was all falling apart. He was
running out of cards to play.

A knock on his door broke him out of his thoughts. He briefly
considered sending whoever it was away, but that would seem strange.
Forcing himself to display his most cheerful face he walked over and
opened the door. On the other side, he saw a face he had hoped never
to see again.

"Yes, Your Eminence," she staggered in. She looked like hell. Her
armor had been cracked and broken, several pieces (including some that
afforded her modesty) were missing. She was crying, and in her hands
she clenched several bent and twisted objects, some obviously snapped.
"He-he destroyed them your Eminence, all my precious swords! Gone!
All except Blansh, he didn't destroy her."

"Who?" Then his mind caught up with her narrative. "Cid? So you failed
to eliminate him?"

"Yes," she sat down on his floor and rubbed her eyes with the back of
her hands. "And he sent me here so I would have to live with my
failure. My swords failed me, my Divine Swordskill failed me... I am a
failure. I beg you to end my miserable life!"

"Oh no, Daughter," Lambert said and placed his hand on her shoulder.
Mentally he drew one of his cards and prepared to play it. "I have
just the sword for you, and just the mission to perform it with."

***

The rubble that had once been a beautiful glade in the Great Russa
Forest moved. Stone by stone it slowly shrank. Then with a vicious
explosion of flying, rock the creature trapped within stepped out. Her
armor had been torn to shreds by the blast, and she had several large
wounds which would be crippling on a lesser being. None of this was
about to stop her. She still had her sword, and those other things
were mere inconveniences.

"So its a game of cat and mouse then old man?" she said to the air.
"You can't escape me..." She reached into her armor and withdrew a
tiny crystal. Immediately it began to pulse and spark as she poured
magical energy into it. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed a
picture formed within. It was one of her flunkies, she didn't care
which one.

"Halt the advance," she ordered curtly. "And send me our best
Clairmancer." She closed the channel without waiting for a reply. Now
all she had to do was wait. Time was on her side.

<End>

Authors Notes:

BWAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I'm finished (despite being called out to work no less than four
times). In case you haven't noticed, this is a big chapter. That's
because I needed a big chapter to tie up virtually every loose end
introduced since chapter one. I saw no one else was doing it, so what
the heck.

Also, this is fight scene lite for a chapter by me, live with it.

I'd like to thank all the people who pre-read for me. Especially
Tereance Fergussen and Eternal Lost Lurker for helping me decide how
to write a lot of scenes. Thanks to Bernard Sayers (aka Swordfish) for
actually knowing the color of Zarela's eyes, which no one else seemed
to. And to Signus Megido for a lot of ideas I stole from his chaoter
outline that he never got into the last chapter.

Okay thats it for the thanks. Now, send me commentary you ungrateful
swine. Maybe I should rephrase that. Nah. I have an image to miantian
after all. Comments can be directed at me directly at
tzubi@ns.sympatico.ca or to the message board (I probably won't

Just a few notes. I intorduced Madonna because the Cult of the Manakyr
has been doing nothing since they first showed up in chapter 6, and
they needed some direction. Also, I wanted all the Ashura swords in
play, along with the Airships because we're on chapter 26. The longest
running Impro (to date) is Do-Gooders with sixty chapters. So I figure
we're at least past Disc 1 by now.

BTW, you may notice the consipious absence of Stine, that is because
we have no less than seven or eight distinct groups running around the
globe in various time frames and multiple interlocking plots. Damn it
people, its getting too complicated. Take the hint in my chapter and
let some of the character be absent for a little bit (like say
Siegvin) as they aren't necesary at the moment. Please.

Okay, I'm finished.

-----------------
Epsilon