|Shards of Memory - Table of Contents|
"Does it distress you, to know that your lord's desires can no longer be achieved?"
Ultimecia folded her arms and waited for Garland to answer. The knight was polishing his sword, the steel gleaming in the light of the Chaos Shrine's torches.
"The only distress I have ever felt in this cycle is the unknown threat of Mateus' machinations," Garland replied after a moment. "Now that the emperor has fallen I may remain confident in our path, as may Chaos. That is enough to alleviate any lingering doubts I may have."
"So you do not care that your lord is sitting alone in his dark realm pondering that his imprisonment will endure?" Ultimecia pressed. "Some loyal knight you are, to defy your lord's wishes for your own selfish satisfaction." Garland stopped his hand movements and narrowed his eyes.
"Chaos' desires are well founded, but the many cycles are taking their toll on his judgment, and in desperation he turned to an uncertain and potentially disastrous alternative course. Ultimecia, you know the grand purpose of our war. Can you claim with honesty that Chaos' whimsy is important enough to jeopardize millennia of work?"
"I claim no such thing," the sorceress sniffed, turning away. "I only state that which is factual. It is we who shall kill the Warriors of Cosmos, it is Chaos who called us all here for that purpose, and it is Chaos who shall awaken the Weapon when we are victorious. How he chooses to go about his path is his decision, not ours, and not yours. Chaos commands you, not the other way around."
"You know nothing of command," Garland said lowly, turning to walk down the ramp of the shrine. "Mateus' schemes may well have ended this cycle before its time, and that is something I cannot allow. Chaos is the god of discord, lord and master of all darkness. He must not fall prey to momentary lapses of judgment due to personal discomfort with our plan. I am his right-hand and so I assist in his needed guidance, to the outcome that must result. That is all there is to it."
"I see…so then, you're no different from Mateus," Ultimecia chuckled, casting him an aside glance. "You fancy yourself Chaos' better and would rather see your own plans succeed over his. And to think you posture and strut as though you were loyal…"
"I've no choice. I do what I must, I do all that I am able," Garland whispered, clenching a hand into a fist. "I am just as much a prisoner of this cycle as Chaos…the difference between Mateus and I is that he can afford to take careless risks such as that Crystal of Darkness…" Garland raised a hand and the doors of the Chaos Shrine creaked open. He walked out the doors to stand on a small platform of land just outside. A long wooden bridge connected the shrine to the ground some distance away. The shrine itself levitated above a giant pit, the Void pulsing far below. High in the sky the clouds swirled together into a funnel of darkness, thunder rumbling within them. Ranks of Crystelle of every color and shade imagination were in single-file lines on the far ground, standing at attention and moving not an inch.
"Hear me, elite minions of Chaos, shades of discord, manikins of destruction!" Garland bellowed. The Crystelle moved in sync to turn and face their general. "The Warriors of Cosmos come now to destroy us, and wrest the final Crystal from the shadows! This will not come to pass." Garland flung his hand to the side. "Find them, and eradicate them! If they succeed your existences, fleeting though they may be, are forfeit! Use all means at your disposal to halt their progress!" The Crystelle voices a single, warbling cry of confirmation. "Now go!" The Crystelle turned and marched forward, keeping formation and footsteps falling in perfect harmony.
"Do you truly believe they can do any damage to our enemies?" Ultimecia asked, standing in the shrine doorway behind Garland.
"No, but they are merely hollow puppets, automatons with only the most basic of instincts. These elite warriors are granted heightened awareness and intelligence by the increased power of discord, but they are still nothing more than transitory beings. They have no purpose to their lives but what we set for them, and their purpose now is to die."
"Seems a waste," Ultimecia said.
"Perhaps it may be, if my suspicions are not proven," Garland nodded. He held out a hand and focused. With a soft flash of light, a glowing blue shard of Crystal appearing hovering above his palm. He let out a long, low sigh as he watched the light within it brighten and dim. "Hikari, the light of the Crystal grows weak. Your time has come at last, and you must now make your choice…do not disappoint me."
"We are fortunate," Cecil said. He, Tidus, Terra, Onion Knight, Golbez and Jecht were gathered around the unfurled map on the main deck of the airship, the map resting on top of a large empty barrel. "According to the images this map is showing, Hikari and the others are on their way to the Chaos Shrine as well," he said, the vocalization of the two adjusting the map's appearance to show the two blinking dot representing their comrades and their destination. "We can adjust course to meet up with them without losing time and then continue on to the shrine as a group."
"How long 'til we meet up with them?" Jecht asked.
"I've pushed the engines to their maximum, aside from the flight being a little more unstable there doesn't seem to be any serious problems with this. At this pace, depending on how long they stop for, we can meet up with them the morning after tomorrow, maybe sooner if we catch a good wind."
"Good," Jecht nodded. "Not to complain, but we got any food on this tub?"
"I can manifest some ice and melt it if you want a drink," Terra offered. "The taste is a bit off though."
"Nah, I'm good."
"Figures you'd be worrying about food with the end of the world coming," Tidus muttered.
"Can't kick ass on an empty stomach," Jecht grinned, slapping a hand on Tidus' back, making him grunt and jerk forward at the force. "I wouldn't expect a scrawny bag of bones like you to notice, but a real man fights with a full belly to keep his head in the battle." Tidus made a face but didn't reply.
"Cecil," Golbez said quietly, his eyes scanning the map. "What is our plan when we reach the shrine?"
"I'm hoping we can look to Hikari for leadership once we find him," Cecil admitted. "If I remember correctly, he said Garland holds the final Crystal, so when we reach the shrine we need to find him and destroy him. We outnumber the Warriors of Chaos more than two to one at last count, so it should be a simple task to defeat them, even if they've been given enhanced strength."
"Simple nothing," Terra said, shaking her head. "You know what Sephiroth did with his power, and the way you described it Mateus was tossing you and Tidus around like ragdolls before Jecht stepped in. We can't get complacent, even outnumbered they can still overpower us."
"She's got a point there, we can't just run in swinging blindly," Onion Knight agreed. "What do we know about them, fighting styles, capabilities?"
"Cecil and I faced a man in the basement of Pandaemonium, I've never seen him before. He had silver hair and fought with a combination of Holy and Flare-type magic," Terra said. "He was also flying a lot, he had five orbs of energy encircling him that flew out to attack on their own accord.
"Sounds like Kuja," Jecht nodded. "He was a wimp last I saw him, took him out with one good punch. Hope he's buffed up a bit or it might not be any fun."
"There's Sephiroth too, in that new form with the wings," Tidus said. "Terra, what did he do when you fought him?"
"He…" Terra pushed away the painful memories of Cloud's final moments and mentally analyzed the battle. "Blasts of energy, tendrils and orbs of darkness, teleportation. He's still got his sword, and he's swift with it, faster than anything I've ever seen. We had to struggle to get close to him to land a hit, but he was more than a match for Cloud in melee fighting."
"He might be trouble, if he took the two of you down we might need the numbers to overpower him," Onion Knight said. "So that's two of them, plus Garland and anyone else they revived. You guys hung out with Chaos' bunch, what's Garland like?"
"Big guy, really big. Doesn't talk much, but when he does it's usually something worth listening to," Jecht recited. "He was the only one of us to have Chaos' ear, except Mateus I guess."
"I spied on him training once," Golbez said, crossing his arms. "His sword is massive, nearly the size of Garland himself, and its form unlike any I've ever seen. It extends on a chain as a flail, and bisects into two for him to wield two blades at once. It possesses no visible means of shifting its form like this that I could detect, but it shifts so quickly that I could only surmise its changes occur by will of the user. To face an opponent with such an adaptable weapon could be dangerous. I recommend we be careful."
"Figures their leader wouldn't be a pushover," Tidus muttered.
"We also can't discount the Crystelle. We've had ease fighting them before, but we've seen evidence that they're getting smarter, and in great numbers they may still pose a threat," Cecil reminded. "We need to be prepared to face any unknown number of them, and to dispatch them as quickly as possible and press our offense to Garland. Even if they're in our way Sephiroth, Kuja and any other unknown allies he has are merely distractions. Garland has the last Crystal, and he must be our target when we strike."
"Agreed," Golbez nodded. "We will fight our way through the shrine to him, and we will destroy him. There is no other option. With all ten Crystals, the path to Chaos' realm will open, and we can confront the God of Discord at his throne, the Edge of Madness."
"His throne?" Onion Knight snickered. "Edge of Madness, Order's Sanctuary…who names these places?"
"All this talk of plans is good and all, but let's face it, we have no real clue what we're heading into when we get there do we?" Tidus said. "Terra and Cecil are the only ones that know what Sephiroth and this Kuja guy can do, and Garland is a mystery."
"We do not know much, true, but it is better to know little than nothing," Golbez said. "We've no perception of the true power of our enemies, but we know who we face and have at least a marginal grasp of their capabilities, and that is enough to prepare ourselves."
"Yes. For now though, we can't do anything but travel. It's late, I suggest we retire for the night and rest for the coming battle. We will need our strength. Onion Knight, if you can fly the craft for the night, I will take over its flight in the morning and allow you to rest then."
"Sure, pick on the kid…" Onion Knight grumbled.
"I shall fly the craft. I do not need much sleep," Golbez said.
"Are you sure you can pilot it?" Cecil asked.
"You forget, it was I who took command of the Red Wings after your tenure in the position. I am sure I can manage," Golbez nodded. Cecil nodded back and the group dispersed. Terra watched Cecil and Onion Knight move to the stairs, while Tidus and Jecht drifted off to other parts of the deck. Golbez silently moved to the back of the ship to look over the controls. Terra thought for a moment, then moved towards Jecht. He didn't hear her approach, he was looking over his sword, kneeling and brushing stray specks of dirt off it.
"Excuse me," she said softly. Jecht turned his head and looked up.
"Hey," he replied. "Terra right?" she nodded. "What's up?"
"I believe I know of you. Cloud mentioned he fought with you before. Is that right?" she asked.
"Cloud, blond guy with spiky hair?" Jecht shrugged. "Yeah, we had a little brawl. The kid cut me up something good, he took everything I threw at him and still managed to come back and make me turn tail. The guy's got spirit."
"Why did you attack him?" Terra continued.
"Well, let's see, was a while back…as I remember it, the gang at the Chaos Shrine was planning a big ambush, set Kuja up to distract Cloud while Kefka did something to drive you nuts, then Kuja would run and leave Cloud to run back and find ya. The way I was told you two would fight until you were weak, then Kefka and Sephiroth would take control of the two of you. Thing is, Sephiroth was planning to use Cloud to take out my kid and his friends, so I roughed Kuja up a bit and took his place, stalled Cloud longer than they wanted."
"I see," Terra nodded. "Thank you, then, for helping us."
"Eh, you're welcome I guess, didn't do it for you though," Jecht shrugged. "My boy was in trouble, and I stepped in. That's all there is to it."
"Perhaps, but your intervention may have saved my life, and Cloud's as well. I'm grateful. It seems you and Golbez have been helping us more than I thought."
"Yeah, well…what can I say, I like being heroic." Jecht grinned and beat a fist on his chest. "Makes me feel all warm and tingly inside, ya know?" Terra giggled slightly.
"I was so worried that day, I thought I had killed Onion Knight. Then Golbez came to me in the forest afterwards, and told me he was alive. I didn't know it was him then, but he continued to appear and help guide me. Thinking back…" Terra looked away to the back of the ship where Golbez was solemnly and silently piloting the airship. "I'm not sure I could have made it that far without him. Him and Cloud both…"
"He spoke to you after that scheme went down, huh?" Jecht muttered. He thought for a moment, then began to chuckle. "That magnificent son of a bitch…" the chuckles grew into full laughter as Jecht turned and headed up to the controls of the ship. Terra followed him, confused. "You are a piece of work, you know that?" Jecht said, stopping before the platform where the ship's wheel was. Golbez looked down at him.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Golbez asked.
"You set me up to take out Cloud back then, didn't ya?" Jecht accused. "You planted the idea in my head to take Kuja's place, because you didn't want to get your hands dirty, is that it?"
"Are these questions rhetorical?" Golbez replied dryly.
"Yeah, I know the answers…you played me good, Golbez. Played me real good."
"Do you think you are the only one I have manipulated? On either side?" the mage replied, crossing his arms. "I did what I had to do to see Cosmos' plan to fruition. This required you to face Tidus and lose, so he may obtain his Crystal. I guided you to that path."
"What do you mean?" Terra asked.
"Jecht was prepared to defect and join your side, I convinced him to stay and work with me to assist Cosmos, and to allow Tidus to defeat him and take his Crystal," Golbez explained. Terra blinked. Jecht made a face, and the two of them came to the same conclusion.
"Mateus used Tidus and me to create that evil Crystal," Jecht muttered. "I didn't know it then, but if I'd kept going over that bridge, if you hadn't stopped me…"
"Then you and Tidus would never have fought, and neither Crystal would have manifested," Golbez nodded. "Mateus obtained the Crystal of Darkness from you and Tidus, because I put the two of you on a collision course. Then, I lead Chaos to Cosmos' doorstep and allowed him entry. And even now, I provided a distraction for half your band from the true objective we only now turn our attention to." The three fell silent for a moment, Terra watching Golbez's face for a flicker of what must have been a maelstrom of emotion playing through his mind. "Can you two still say with honesty, that all that has transpired since we gathered at Order's Sanctuary has not been my fault?"
"It isn't. You had no way of knowing," Terra protested.
"Ignorance does nothing to relieve my guilt." Golbez looked off into space, his mouth set in a thin line. "Perhaps this is my fate, to be a tool of others, an unwitting pawn who causes destruction and sorrow to all he touches without realizing how or why."
"Fate didn't make you kill Cosmos, Mateus and Chaos tricked you."
"Did they? I did nothing but follow the desires of my own heart, and we've seen where they lead me. It is my destiny to be blind to my own actions, an unwilling condemner."
"Good thing for you then there ain't no such thing as destiny," Jecht grunted, pumping his fist. "You know what we do with destiny and fate where I come from? We punch them in the face and tell them 'piss off, I don't feel like doing things your way', and from there we make our own path!"
"You punch metaphysical concepts in the face?" Golbez asked quizzically, giving Jecht an odd look. Jecht grinned.
"Yeah, just gotta try! Everyone is gonna try to tell you what to do, destiny is just a bit bigger and more persuasive than the rabble, that's all. You defy it the same way you defy a parent or an official, you do things your way and don't look back. If there's one thing my boy and I have proven, is that there's always a way, no matter what anyone says."
"Perhaps your 'fate' was to help Cosmos kill Chaos, and it was Mateus who interfered to stop you," Terra chimed in. "No one can know their destiny to the absolute end, so how can you possibly say something is 'destined' to happen? You can't, so you don't worry about it and keep going. What happens will happen, it doesn't matter if it's destiny for it to happen or if it's how people set them up to happen. And it doesn't matter if you were tricked into helping them or destined to, now you're free of them and can do as you like."
"Perhaps…or perhaps, this too is destiny. As you said, we cannot tell what is and is not fated to occur, can we?" Terra and Jecht didn't have an answer for that, and Golbez resumed his piloting duties a moment later, violet eyes scanning the controls and pointedly avoiding the lingering gazes of the two figures below watching him.
"Golbez…" Terra began hesitantly. "What was it you and Cosmos were attempting?" Golbez did not show any signs he heard her, and Terra began to consider walking away after several seconds had passed, when he spoke suddenly.
"As it has always gone in the past cycles, the ten Warriors of Cosmos collect the ten Crystals by defeating their chosen rival among the Warriors of Chaos, and then travel to Chaos' throne to challenge him. At the pinnacle of the battle, the divine dragon Shinryu appears and purges the land, destroying all the chosen warriors for both gods and restoring the worlds. Then eventually Chaos makes another play for dominance, seizes ten more Crystals and the cycle repeats itself. At least, that is the story told to me by both Chaos and Cosmos. If it is true or not I cannot say. My goal was to assist you heroes in obtaining your Crystals sooner by guiding your journeys and helping you overcome your psychological limitations, in the hopes we could do as we do now – journey to the Chaos Shrine and use the Crystals to enter Chaos' realm, and destroy him before Shinryu awakens. Of course, the intent was for Cosmos to be alive at this point…"
"If we kill Chaos now…then both gods are dead," Terra whispered. "What happens when both gods are gone for good? What happens to Shinryu, and the Crystals…what happens to our worlds?" Golbez closed his eyes.
"I very much wish I had an answer…"
Sephiroth stood silent in his quarters in the Chaos Shrine, green eyes surveying the room without a flicker of emotion. He had almost become accustomed to this place, in his several months here. Time had passed so quickly it seemed. To his surprise he had even come to welcome the return of his need for sleep, and the restfulness and relaxation that it brought as he remembered. That would all be gone, soon.
"Sephiroth." The swordsman turned his head as Kuja floated down the hall towards him. "I have been waiting for a chance to speak to you privately," the genome smiled, lowering to his feet in front of him.
"Is that so?" Sephiroth asked, turning fully to face him.
"Oh yes, I simply had to offer my sincerest congratulations to you," Kuja held out a perfectly manicured hand. "As you are the only one of our number to dispatch one of Cosmos' peons." Sephiroth thought for a moment, then took Kuja's hand and shook it.
"I have long been able to destroy Cloud. In the past, my own arrogance and underestimation of his power lead me to squander my chance to deliver the final blow. This time, I did not allow myself such diversions, and the results are self-evident."
"Of course, of course, a weakness we all share, is it not?" Kuja said drolly, waving his hand through the air as Sephiroth released it. "Hubris and gloating, we have our chances to finish them but somehow they prevail despite being inferior to us in power. I've more strength in one finger than that cretin Zidane has in his entire being, and yet I lose. Such a tragic comedy…"
"Yes," Sephiroth agreed, ignoring the genome's forced elegance in speech. "Cloud…he is a mystery to me even now. I have faced many opponents in my lifetime, and prevailed against all of them. Compared to my past foes Cloud is nothing special, he has no genetic augmentations beyond what any other SOLDIER would have, he possesses no magical powers and is not particularly skilled or well-trained…yet somehow, he always found a way to defeat me…" His eyes grew distant as Sephiroth mentally replayed their many clashes. Three times they had fought each other in single combat, and three times had he been beaten.
"I have been challenged by countless enemies, but Cloud was different from them, and not simply because he has been the only one to defeat me…somehow, in spite of being superior to him in every way, I continually lost. I still cannot understand it, but he possessed strength beyond my understanding…" Sephiroth closed his eyes and smirked. "To defeat me again and again, even if by consequence of my own arrogance, is something I will never forget. Though I am loathe to admit it…Cloud may be the closest I shall ever come to finding a true opponent, an enemy worthy of exercising my full power against…hmph. Well, I did so last time, and look what became of him then."
"They are a peculiar lot aren't they?" Kuja mused, tapping a finger on his chin. "It is as you say, we are superior to them, but whenever we push them to the brink somehow it just makes them fight harder. We take strength from within ourselves, using our own skill and power, which is why we are so strong. They, they are weak but take strength from wherever they may find it, and make it their own. We are superior on principal, yet fate toys with us as we toy with them and inevitably we fail and die to borrowed power and false hopes…until now, of course. A refreshing change of pace…"
"Indeed…" "But we haven't succeeded yet, have we?" Sephiroth thought. "There is still a chance we will fail…as Kuja says, they fight hardest when pushed to the edge of defeat, and is that not precisely what we have done?" He wouldn't voice it, but something was making Sephiroth slightly uneasy. "Killing Cosmos, killing Cloud…it seems so much simpler than I'd expected…did it really all go according to plan? Or is there something else…Cloud…"
"No matter how much you taunt him, no matter how you manipulate him and try and control him, it doesn't change the fact that in the end, Cloud Strife is stronger than you could ever be! Why do you think he keeps beating you!"
"Completely absurd…" he decided, sneering as he remembered Terra's words that day in the Forgotten Capital. "Cloud stronger than me…impossible."
"Something wrong?" Kuja asked, noticing his face.
"I am merely wondering…" Sephiroth whispered, turning his mind back to his thoughts before Terra's words. "Mateus was always too arrogant for his own good, and sought ever greater power…was he truly content to settle for being Chaos' pawn? Or was there something else in mind?"
"Mateus?" the two turned as Garland walked down the hall at an even pace. "The fool thought to use the Crystal of Darkness to claim Chaos' power for himself. He believed that if the Warriors of Cosmos killed the God of Discord, then in the next cycle of war he would absorb Chaos' power and be transformed into a new god."
"A foolish plan," Sephiroth snorted. "How did he think to accomplish it?" Garland gave him a stern look and continued walking past.
"It is not of your concern," he muttered, not looking back. Sephiroth watched him go, glaring slightly.
"On the contrary…I've very concerned…whatever means Mateus sought to use to become the God of Discord is something worth investigating…"
Terra blinked her eyes open and lifted a hand to her mouth as she yawned. She had slept surprisingly well the past night. The previous day had been uneventful as they flew at a steady pace to where Hikari and the others were. The journey however had given them insights on the world around them. More and more areas they had passed were consumed by the Void, and whenever they flew over the pulsing black and purple mass of darkness Terra got a chill. She swore the Void was self-aware and that she could feel it trying to stretch its hold a bit higher to consume the airship and the bearers of light aboard it, but thankfully their travels over the Void areas had so far been safe. She wrote off her suspicions of a higher intelligence guiding the Void as simple paranoia.
In the areas of land meanwhile, they had seen Crystelle. Hundreds of them, traveling en masse. It was Onion Knight who had noticed they were walking the same way they were flying, and from there it was easy to deduce the automations were either seeking Hikari, or were congregating at the Chaos Shrine. Either way, they now fully expected to be confronted with an army of Crystelle at some future point. The puppets were more aware now and they looked up and shouted warbling cries of gibberish when the airship passed by overhead. A few had flung up spells or thrown weapons, but none made it high enough to hit them. The only break in the monotony of travel was when they had come across a monster, a Behemoth. The giant purple monstrosity was battling a horde of Crystelles, spitting out fireballs and batting them away three at a time with swipes of its claws or a flick of its tail. However the supply of Crystelles was endless and eventually, as they kept flying and watching the battle, the Crystelle overwhelmed the beast and it was lost beneath a sea of color crystal, its roars filling the air. Terra had felt like they should go down and help it. They had compared notes afterwards and it turned out they all had experience fighting different breeds of Behemoth on their own worlds and none of their experiences had been pleasant. However, the Crystelle were profane automations born from corrupted light. They had no right to exist, while the Behemoth, a monster though it may have been, was a living, breathing being.
Swinging her feet over the edge of the bed, Terra stood up and slipped her feet into her boots, picking up her cape from where she had folded and placed it on the bed beside her pillow, and clipped it over her neck. She walked out in the hall and headed for the stairs to the main deck, stopping along the way to duck into Cloud's room. He was still lying bare-chested and motionless on top of the sheets, eyes closed. As she had done for the past few days, Terra walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. She reached into the pocket on her skirt and withdrew Cloud's Crystal. She placed it in his palm and closed his fingers over it or a moment. For some reason she felt it was important the Crystal and Cloud remain in contact, even in his current state.
"So, this is why you have spoken so sparingly of him." Terra turned to see Golbez in the doorway. "You had not mentioned he had been slain. I assume this is Sephiroth's doing?"
"Yes, and he almost killed me as well," Terra replied. She hesitated for a moment before saying what was on her mind. "Do you think there's….you know, a way to bring him back?"
"I do not know," Golbez admitted. "I have seen many things that I would have believed impossible beforehand. It is conceivable that there is a way, yes. A way we will discover? Perhaps we shall, and perhaps we shall not. There is no way of knowing for certain." Terra nodded, a bit disappointed. She had been hoping he would have a more encouraging answer for her. There was always hope, she knew that, but she had no way to pursue it.
"Hey!" Golbez turned his head to the end of the hall where Tidus was on the stairs waving them forward. "Come on up!" Golbez nodded and followed him, leaving Terra to follow, Cloud's Crystal still in his hand. The three emerged on the deck of the ship to find Onion Knight piloting with Cecil overlooking the map nearby. Jecht was at the bow of the ship looking over the edge and turned his head in their direction.
"Look!" Jecht pointed down, and Terra and Golbez walked up to him and looked over the edge of the airship. A few small distant forms were on the ground in the distance, walking across a grassy plain. "I think it's them!" Onion Knight nodded and adjusted the controls, the airship slowing down and lowering. As they came closer Terra saw the figures up ahead turn, and one of them broke off and ran towards them. She could make out Zidane's tail on the figure's backside at the same time she noticed he was screaming and flailing his arms. A strange sensation crept up her spine, and Terra's senses went on alert.
"Something's wrong," she whispered. She looked at the ground and put a hand on the railing of the ship, jumping over the side and gliding to the ground. Beside her the ship ground to a halt, and a rope ladder was thrown over the edge.
"Nice find!" Zidane called, running up to her. "I think we're gonna need it. We've got a problem."
"What is it?" Terra asked. Beside her Cecil climbed down the ladder, Tidus still climbing up higher.
"It's…Hikari," Zidane said slowly. Behind him the other four came into view, and Terra saw what he meant. Bartz was carrying the warrior's shield and sword, and Hikari himself was stumbling to stay upright, Firion and Squall supporting his arms over their shoulders. Sweat rolled down his face, and his breathing was labored. Terra watched with a feeling of dread. The sensation she had felt a moment ago was coming from him.
"What's wrong with him?" Cecil asked.
"We don't know, he won't tell us. Just kept saying we couldn't stop to check him out, said we had to keep going and find you guys," Bartz shrugged. Hikari lifted his head and forced a smile.
"G-good," he gasped out. "We are all here…then there's still time…" He pulled his arms from around Squall and Firion and took a shaky step forward. He took a second step and stumbled, Cecil moving to catch him if he fell. "I am…strong enough for the time being…but we must hurry…"
"Is there anything I can do? I know healing spells," Terra offered.
"No…I thank you for the thought, but I fear even your magic cannot help me…this is the will of a force greater than any of us," Hikari replied. "Come, we must…I must speak to all of you together. There is much to say, and not nearly enough time to say it all…and one final task to complete. We must get aboard the airship…"
"I'll fly you up, you're in no condition to climb," Terra said.
"Thank you…" Hikari suddenly grimaced and fell to his knees, clutching his chest.
"Hikari!" Cecil cried. The Warriors of Cosmos watched as Hikari's lower arm suddenly turned transparent, a few stray particles of light drifting up from his body. He gritted his teeth.
"No…not yet…" he grated. His arm solidified again, and Terra knelt next to him. The dark presence had intensified when his arm had dispersed.
"What's happening to you?" she whispered. Hikari slowly lifted his head and locked eyes with her.
"I…I am dying…"
|Shards of Memory - Table of Contents|