SquareSoft: Generations Chapter 6
The Tree of Life
By Dawn Wilkins
"...Is that all that we are good for...just a stretch of mortal time?...Is this God's experiment...of which we have no sense?...In which we live in paradise...if only for a day?(Written in the Stars; Elton John's and Tim Rice's "Adia" Sound track; Leann Rimes & Elton John)
Rain. More Rain. Terra didn't know if she could endure this journey any more. Pelts of rain slammed against her chest like a thousand needles striving to render her immobile. Her breath came in ragged gasps. And the lightning continued to savage the skies.
As she glanced about she saw the sodden woods they navigated. Cecil was to her left, slightly ahead of her, head bent low against the vicious wind. In the distance her wavering vision revealed the mysterious Magus, cloak rippling like blood.
They had been travelling like this for hours, even days, to evade the silent shadow monsters which pursued them. There was no rest. There had been several assaults by those vile creatures. Each time one might believe safety is at hand another would materialize and the race would continue. It remained only a constant race to escape capture. It all seemed a dream--no, nightmare--pervaded by apprehension and fear.
Lightning flared overhead. She glanced up to see a ribbon of light trace its path across the sky, branching off into various veins. The wizardess sighed. She missed her band. And everything was so frightening. The matter wasn't helped any that this small companionship of her, Cecil, and Magus endured merely because without it there could be no survival. The tension was sometimes unlivable.
Cecil's voice, tossed erratically by the wind, came at her disjointed, "A city...I see...it...look!"
Her head shot up to see a massive city some distance beyond. She thrust herself for it, hair plastered against her body like a second skin. If they could make it to this residence perhaps they could obtain shelter from the coming storm....and beasts. Water streamed down her body, as more pelted her seeming determined to prevent her from reaching her destination. But just as before when evil sought to hold her down she got up more resolute than ever.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the ominous Magus stagger and fall. As she darted towards him, considering aiding that which she did not trust, she heard his snarl, a warning to stay away. Lightning flashed, brutal cords of light reflecting partially on the wizard's bloody face. Terra turned away and caught the sight of Cecil rested against a tree.
"Not...much...further now...must...go on," the warrior gasped, low and uneven.
The wizardess nodded. She had hortatoried her band to continue. Certainly mere rain would not stop her!
As fog dissipated a figure, enlarging in dimension, strode to them. He seemed but apparitious, another monster, but Terra knew it was not so. As his details became more defined she started for him. At first a walk, then a jog, and then finally she ran straight for this enigmatic man.
She dared a look over her shoulder to catch Cecil's concern plainly on his face. She twisted at such a keen angle that the esper girl lost her balance, slipping in the muck. She struggled to stand. The mud stuck to her, another hinderance. Then Terra heard them.
Softly they came, like your silent shadow that never leaves just fades away then to return when you least expect it. The Shadow monsters. Strong arms grabbed her and the esper girl fought. Mud clogged her eyes, concealing her sight. Finally the mud disappeared and her vision returned.
She was a few feet from the enormous gate being stared at by the man who had her. Her breath, one she'd had known she had been withholding, released. This man was a flesh-and-blood being, not one of those petrifying nightmares.
"My dear, you are a mess," he was saying. "Let me get you inside."
She sucked a tight gasp. "My friends..."
He frowned, his extensive white mustaches bunching. "Oh, I see. There they are." He squinted his eyes critically. "Not much better than you, evidently."
As she glanced back, Terra saw Cecil and Magus. Both were drenched, filthy, and looked more than half dead. Neither looked as grand as before. She giggled.
Cecil looked sheepish and Magus' face radiated fury.
The man shook his head sadly. "Come on, let's see if we can help this mess."
Bang! Smash! Creak! Smash! Smash! Crash! Bang!
"Never you folks mind. Just a broken cup."
Cecil's eyebrows rose curiously, Magus' narrowed dangerously but Terra's bunched in laughter.
"Just a moment longer."
The esper girl heard a hiss. There was no need to seek the owner; she knew that the sorcerer was utterly impatient. And as for Cecil...well, he seemed amused if slighty bewildered. But Terra just decided to enjoy herself. There had been little of that in the past few days.
After being discovered by the friendly man, he had insisted they follow him. They had washed, changed, and eaten, and finally they had converged here to discuss the past events. This man, self-titled Ben the Great, was preparing some wine. Cecil had graciously accepted the service while Magus remained silent and suspicious.
"A moment more, my guests."
Terra glanced about her. They rested in a lavish den, complete with gold-molded fireplace and cosy furniture. Rain continued to assault the window, some globes of liquid, others strings of water. To stare outside would make you dizzy as the rain distorted all images. Cecil sat beside her on the gold-colored couch. Magus refused to sit; rather he planted one boot on the seat and bent forward in a half-crouch, always vigilant.
"Ah, here I am!"
Ben had entered, a tray of silver loaded with various decanters in his arms. He was a welcome sight. Long white hair drifted about his shoulders. Two mustaches framed his upper lip. "Ah, yes great to see you my friends. Now the first order of business is...Help!"
Suddenly everything went haywire. Ben was in the air, his legs flung up, being the victim of a loose carpet. The tray darted up then down. Instinctively, Terra dashed to Ben's side to aid him to his feet. And Cecil gracefully plucked the tray out of the air and laid it on the wood coffee table beside him. Magus did nothing, entertained contemptuously by the display.
Breathing heavy Ben shooed Terra away and turned to Magus. "My, you're helpful...must be the blood."
Magus frowned. "What was that?" he asked irritated.
The snowy-haired man shrugged. "Never mind. You're Magus, I presume."
"How did you know my name, old man!?" demanded the wizard.
Ben ignored him. "Terra Branford." He swept a hand in her direction, then the other to Cecil. "And Cecil Harvey of Baron."
Cecil and Terra gaped at each other. Magus growled deep in his throat.
Ben grinned. "No need to ask why I know your names. I know a great deal as I intend to tell you. Now if you would all just have a seat..." Warrior and woman resumed sitting while the mystic stubbornly remained in his suspicious stance.
After grandly landing in a tan-stripped chair Ben's eyes absorbed the four. Once he finished his assessment he steepled his hands and began an oration. The sum of his reckoning he kept to himself:
"I am now going to tell you a story. Not one you'll know or even will be interested in, but it will be vital to your purpose. Numerous years ago--"
Magus had spoke. The esper girl had suspected he'd might interject his point. Though reserved in his past the wizard was not reserved in his personality. Figures.
A cough from Ben clearly stated that the mystic overstepped. Magus didn't care. He retitrated his inquiry. And got the same reply. Blue hair fanned like a waterfall as Magus straightened. He snatched his cloak with one gloved hand. His red-purple eyes flashed.
"If you not prepared to answer my questions, old man then I'll take Cecil and Terra and we'll depart. I appreciate the hospitality but a child's history, particularly one that you riddle with, is of no interest to us." It angered Terra that Magus thought himself as their leader. She glanced at Cecil but the paladin just shrugged with a helpless sigh. However as the sorcerer moved no more than a foot got past as Ben stood and barred the exit.
"Not so fast. Aren't you forgetting someone? Me? What am I chopped liver or something?"
A smile, the sneer that epitomizes him, took Magus' face. "Chopped? Ha! Aren't you putting yourself on a pedestal?"
Ben's azure eyes flared indignantly. It was clear to Terra that the elder thought that Magus was breaching his barriers. But at last he consented.
"All right, Janus--"
"All right, Magus. Since you're so adamant I'll tell...no, show you our purpose! Our future!"
The aura of Ben's seemed to radiate determination and sorrow. Weaving like a man half his age, the odd elder approached a chest. Lifting the lid he glanced back at the three, to ensure their attention was riveted the esper girl assumed. Reverently, he held a small pyramid in his hand.
The crystal object glittered like a stolen star as light penetrated its surface. Those beams fragmented then bounced off. Each transparent side was curved immaculately. Simple. Beautiful. It was simply beautiful.
Breathy came Ben's words, "This is our universe..."
And down it went. Shattering.
A hundred--no, thousand--tiny pieces showered the floor in a wave. Terra wondered why Ben would destroy such an impressive artifact. It didn't make her feel any good. Not at all.
"...and there went our future."
No one uttered a syllable. Cecil stood in silent concern, the mystic frowned, and Terra started liking this even less than before, if that was possible.
In deliberate steps Ben scooped up a portion of the debris and exhibited them.
Despair preyed on Terra's insides. "Surely this is not our fate...life must persevere...it can persevere...it can..."
A reassuring smile was what Ben offered her. Its feeble effort did nothing to cheer the esper girl. Then, the elder's eyes locked on Magus. "Tell us your prophecy." The wizard's mouth parted like a tide. "How did you know about the prophecy?" he asked. His voice had lost some of its edge.
"'Darkness pervades the worlds. He, born of deception, shall give rise to his title. Only the virgin love shalt bring salvation, beared by a blade.' Is that it? Am I missing anything? Erroneously added something?" questioned Ben.
"Accurate. Down to the last letter." Magus scratched his chin and turned away. Swirling back he murmured, "If the world is to be destroyed then so be. Humanity can't stay the hand of fate if life is truly to cease as that." He gestured to the fragmented remanets.
No hope? The world destroyed? Terra couldn't believe it.
Ben shook his head. "No, no, no. There is a way!" Realizing he had their rapt attention he continued, "My story is a little history and theory in one. Sit and we shall discuss the world's salvation."
Silently they sat. Even Magus.
"Years and years and years and beyond my time to describe the universe came into existence. As it has been declared, an essence composed of everything that stood for harmony formulated the universe. It was a being known simply as the Genesis. It was life. It was love. It was everything positive."
Terra sighed, enraptured by the tale. She listened intently, watching his empathic movements to absorb the whole experience. He continued:
"That existence created our existence. The theory also goes on to say that the creature vanished, allowing humanity and its worlds to flourish unhindered. And we did. A quadrant of worlds formed. Each had a connection to one another, resembling a pyramid."
Cecil asked, "Are those four worlds our worlds? Is that why we have similar weapons, landscape, and what not?"
"Yes. Most observant."
Nodding his head Cecil seemed to digest this information with an intelligent, if questionable, air. Magus lips curled in a frown, perhaps wondering if this imminent disaster could be efficiently warded with Ben's narration.
Ben bent forward, his hands gripping his chair's arms fiercely. "But there was an anti-force, counter power, to the majestic Genesis. Dubbed Nirvana, the essence existed purely for destruction. It was the negative elements of nature. Since Genesis had created Nirvana took its self-assigned task of terminating the universe. War was waged and in that the world was devastated. There was no victor."
Terra noted that the rain had ceased and now a deep fog smothered the city. The lightning flashed on, however.
Ben's eyes were glistening with grief. "Humankind was nearly wiped out. Plagues spread beyond conceivable control. Fires claimed entire forests...but the living survived. By this time both of the forces disappeared, wounded by the confrontation. And many claimed it was mere legend."
As Ben slunk in his chair wearily, the three exchanged eyes. Cecil didn't know what to make of it. Magus was interested but also seemed he might challenge the validity of the words. For Terra, however, this beautiful tale sounded tragic if it should all end. How could life end?
"Elder." She caught his attention. "You said that salvation shall come beared by a blade. Is salvation out there? If it is then I'll go find it. My people must be saved!"
Ben kindly smiled at her. He seemed genuinely pleased by her determination. "Yes, dear one, there is a 'blade' to be found. I've read the books. If we find it we can confront Tarus and--"
He was interrupted by a leaping Cecil. The paladin's beautiful eyes shone as he said, "Then let's do it!"
Magus groaned. "I guess we must go save the world, hmm? My, this is becoming quite a habit of mine."
Slowly Ben stood. He stared at each one of them in turn, absorbing their souls in his blue-eyed gaze. "Good. Let me finish and we'll see about becoming good old heroes, aye? Tarus, a dark-hearted wizard who lives in a tower south of here, has plans to summon Nirvana. If that happens the world is in dire peril. We can penetrate his tower and neutraulize the threat then he'll have no time to bring about the monster." He frowns then murmurs, "North of here there some caverns and mountains that legend has it a sword of immense power exists. We can retrieve the weapon then head to the tower. How about that?"
Before warrior or woman could agree Magus speaks, "I demand to know more about this wizard, Tarus. Who in the void is he? Why is he trying to kill us all anyway?"
"Well, that information is...ah,...not available..."
The sorcerer's eyes gleamed furiously. "The hell it isn't. You tell me NOW!"
As if some god of anger struck in tune to his words an enormous fireball slammed into the coffee table. Flames instanteously engulfed it. A scream came to Terra but she swallowed it. A second jet of flame followed accompanied by a third. With that chaos ensued.
Cecil darted to his feet while grabbing Terra's wrist to drag her away. Both Magus and Ben dodged smaller bolts of fire. Smoke belched from the wooden torch. The band, at an unspoken signal, filed out the a hidden passageway (shown by Ben) to the main corridor. Enormous columns of smoke seemed to be coming from down the corridor as well. There they encountered a middle-aged knight who, breathing heavily, gagged:
"Tarus' army has attacked...gasp!...they're killing everything!"
Ben slide forward to brace the man. "Calm down, Thomas. Breath slowly. Now, tell me," commanded the elder in a unusually authoritative tone.
The knight Thomas obeyed, breathes, then mutters, "Tarus has set a surprise assault on the southern sector of Avida. Black knights, Black slimes, even Nightstalkers, they're all here. Now! Killing!"
"Blessed Genesis! We must fight! Call the army to attack!"
"They are, Lord Zephyrain. The enemy demands we give them some folks called ah, Terra, hmm....Cecil and oh, this one's a doisey,...Magus."
Terra's, Magus', and Cecil's greenish-blue, fire-and-lilac, and silvery-blue eyes locked on each other in a bizarre trance. The monsters were after them!
And now they had found them. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Their gaze dissolves as Ben turned to address the trio. He gaze, grim, no longer was this befuddled character. This was the storyteller of heart and drive and now he demanded their attention. And received it.
"Apparently our shadow friends are...looking for you. The hour to battle is upon us. Will you challenge this dark evil with me? For as I have said, we are but one existence of many worlds...and your worlds are threatened as well."
Though savagery of strife and the stench of blood could be heard and smelt the three could sense nothing but the urgency of the task. Pandemonium raged outside with an air that the band knew all too well. Perhaps this would be the last time they would ever hear it.
Before Terra could act the paladin unleashed his powerful blade and held it aloft. Firelight danced along the curves as his words, as passion as the flames, took voice. "We are but of a family that struggles against the darkness of tyranny known as evil. Be it at home or another dimension I shall fight for the restoration of light!"
Ben slapped him good-naturedly on the back. Smiling, he cried, "That's the spirit!"
Excited, the esper girl added her sentiment to the calling. "I've learned the significance to strive for the victory so others may have a good life." She paused, thinking of her friends and her children in Mobliz. Then continuing she whispered, "I shall give my heart and soul to this task." She could almost hear the happiness in Ben's face as he gripped her hand gratefully. "I knew you would, dear."
Terra knew Magus must have felt the eyes on him, silent with the question. The wizard, as unimpressed as she supposed was possible, tossed his blood-emulating cape back with a hand. Glancing into his dark pupils, Terra knew he didn't give a cracked iron piece about this all. For a moment she believed he would refuse. Then...
"This is really going to be a long day, I can see...Sigh, damn it I wasn't given much in this life so all I'll have to lose is my life...and that was never worth much anyway."
Though the declaration wasn't genuinely inspiring Ben seemed delighted none the less. He gestured down the hall. Thomas and Cecil followed without hesitation. The sorcerer, with a grunt of displeasure, floated after them.
A glint of silver caught Terra's eye. As she spun to take up the rear the wizardess could swear the glimmer was the shattered pyramid.