Fade To Black Chapter 15
An unearthy silence took its toll over the eradicated World of Balance, now a contradiction of itself. An eerie tranquility superceded all others, the burnt-out remains of once-populous towns and kingdoms standing cadaverously unmanned. For their terrible day of Judgement had come at last. It was the end of December. The end of the year. The end of the millennium and most likely the end of mankind. . .
Locke's eyes sank into his skull as the brilliant light of the early morning sun poured down on his face. The treasure hunter groaned.
When it came to movement, Locke discovered that his arms and legs were tied down at the ends of an enormous crucifix. It faced eastward just above the vestibule of Doma castle, and at either side of him, he found Clyde and Cyan. They, too, were fastened securely to large wooden crosses.
"So, this is how the story ends," Setzer cried out, not expecting any sympathy from Locke.
"Armies rise. . .cities fall," Locke stated, disclosing a dagger singlehandedly from his sleeve. He began to cut loose his restraints. "But hope still survives."
"Locke, face it," Cyan tried to beat into his senseless head. "It's over. The Returners are gone. Rivalin has Terra. There's nothing left for us."
"No, there's still time," Locke persisted, equipping his Gaia Gear. "New Year's Eve is not for another nine hours."
Cyan sighed. His passion to rescue Terra was nothing short of extraordinary.
"Goddamn it, Locke! Why do you have to be so stubborn?!" Setzer cursed, siding with Cyan. "It's over."
Locke shook his head, nearly driven mad from such illogic.
"I don't understand either one of ya. Do you wanna die or what? There's still people out there that need our help. Cyan. . .do it for Elaine and Owain. And Setzer. . . do something Daryl would stand for for once in your life. . .please? Do it for all who went before us. . .and those yet to come."
Cyan and Setzer exchanged glances. Finally, they nodded.
"What's the plan, Locke?" the king of Doma asked.
"From what we've all heard, only Zozo still stands. I'd say that's where Rivalin took Terra."
"And how do you figure we get there when my airship's totaled?"
Cyan was the first to provide an answer for Setzer. "I've had chocobos specially bred for just such an occasion. Unless, Locke, you've had something better in mind.
Locke shook his head. "You're still the king, Cyan. Probably the only one left in the World of Balance.
Cyan nodded, not knowing how to react at being the last king standing.
The light of day began to dwindle, as did time for the Returners. In the domains of Zozo, the final rites were unfolding. Sconces holding brilliantly lit torches encircled every last free-standing structure in the city. At the apex of every building, there stood a cross, burning in ethegy. Hooded figures paraded through the empty alleyways and squares, each wielding a torch of their own. At the foot of the town's largest edifice stood a wide altar. The satanically garbed beings clustered around it, their anticipation burning as the crosses did heavenward.
A single hour remained.
In unison, the followers of Rivalin began to chant out a cryptic dirge that kept his hopes high. He now stood before the altar with Terra stretched out before him. He began to remove her clothes. She never resisted. All of this was being taken in by three similarly hooded individuals, though their presence was with the three burning crosses triangulating the ritual. Lock felt somewhat mesmerized by the sight of Terra's nudity. Setzer threw a whisper of protest.
"Are you still with us or what?"
As the trio pulled tight the ropes of the burning crucifixes. Rivalin drew his lips dangerously close to Terra's. Again, she never faltered from his wishes. At either side of the Dark One, Gestahl and Maduin's bearded faces cracked wry grins.
Their conspiracy had taken shape.
"Resist no longer, my dear Terra," Rivalin uttered seductively. "You know you want this."
And she did. But as their arms shrouded one another, the steady hum of his faithful servants rose to screams of terror. Terra and Rivalin glanced up to see the enflamed crosses raining down on the hooded figures. They all disbanded as Terra suddenly came back to her senses. Gestahl and Maduin held her down against her will as Rivalin climbed on top of her. Commando style, Locke, Cyan, and Setzer belayed themselves down along the walls of the skyscrapers and dropped before Rivalin's sacrificial table.
"Happy New Year!" Locke quipped as he and his party pulled out their swords and halberds.
"Or should we say Happy New Millennium'?" Setzer jeered, seeing Cyan prepare himself for a SwordTech.
With this momentary distraction, Terra had freed herself from Rivalin's grasp. But through his cobalt eyes, the Dark One made it known with a simple glance that he was nowhere near finished.
"There will be no new millenium!!" he warned.
In a heart-stopping moment for them all, Maduin exploded into esper form while Gestahl pulsated, mutating into an earth-shattering Hans Gigas. Rivalin remained poised forward, empty eyes suddenly filled with inextinguishable anger.
"Seize those horn-haters!! Pay me my tribute!!"
No sooner had Rivalin given this order did Maduin and Gestahl besiege Locke's scanty army. Terra turned the tables with her own abilities, for it took an esper to fight an esper. Her flesh had suddenly become woolly and white. Her hair from green to a blissful violet. Red eyes fueled her determination to end Rivalin's prophecy. In some distorted way, Locke felt that it was Terra leading the assault on the servants of the Dark One. Even the ones who had survived the collision of the crucifixes from the heavens went on fighting. As the genocide went on to claim even more lives, the Returners detected that Rivalin was suddenly absent from the altar.
"So, Kefka was right to enslave us," Terra spoke out towards her dissociative father. "It wasn't out of power, but protection of the World of Balance."
Through the bulk of the esper's plated skin, Maduin's face contorted in vexation.
"Kefka was a fool!!!!" his beastly roar clamored throughout the square.
"Just as all of you are!!!" caterwauled the demonic titan Gestahl, smashing its head into the heavily fixed base of a nearby tower.
Setzer had missed the impact by inches. A dust cloud of concrete debris still found him, almost rubbing him out from the unsurpassable enemy. Locke and Cyan did their best in dispatching the endless sea of hooded adversaries, though they were beginning to bleed and tire excessively. Terra's own vigor remained heavily concentrated as she and Maduin traded vicious blows, both physical and metaphysical.
"Just another game," Setzer thought, coughing explosively in pulling his body out of the chunks of rock. "Hey!! Gestahl!!"
The Hans Gigas had wished to make short work of Locke and Cyan, which he very well could have. Instead, his attention was diverted back to the foolish gambler, who stood before the pillar of a tower. A pillar that was in extreme danger of collapsing from the cumbersome weight above. All that was at Setzer's disposal was a mere gold halberd and a simple yet costly plan of destroying this demon. Gestahl took off in a mad collision course with the mortal. Nothing ever seemed as clear to the hidden saint of Setzer as things were right now.
"Come to me. I'm right here."
As he had said a million times in the past, all of life is a game of luck, and sometimes, luck belongs solely to someone other than oneself. As Setzer's halberd swung back and shattered the pillar of stone, he accepted the consequences of the game he had forever taken for granted.
Setzer had folded.
But Terra couldn't hope to reach him now. The tower came toppling down on him as it did the tyrant, Gestahl. Dozens of Rivalin's serfs went with it. Cyan dispersed from Locke to aid Terra, since the fallen tower became somewhat of an intrusion on her train of thought. In doing so, the army of darkness shortly deteriorated. It was now all commandeered by one soul, who stepped forward to Locke. With a fiery will to exact vengeance, Locke braced himself for war. The hood was thrown from the head.
"Celes?" Locke said, takingin the bloodied mess of her misshapen joints and askew head of dirty blonde hair.
"Locke," she said, almost sweetly. "Did you remember back in South Figaro when you said that you'd take care of me?"
Vacantly, the head of the treasure hunter's sword plummeted. Its head struck the cobblestone pulpit as fire continued to burn all around them.
"I. . .I remember," he admitted to her.
"Yeah? Well, now it's my turn to take care of you."
He could have cried as Celes shook back her robe, revealing an exact attire of the general's uniform she had worn when she first met him. Her Runic Blade placed a fearsome emphasis on her own desire for revenge. Locke was sure he was crying as Celes stepped up and bowed a chivalric bow, customary before all duels.
"Celes. . .please. . .I don't wanna fight you."
"Why don't you just join us. Come on. The second you do, you'll wonder why you resisted in the first place.
Locke said nothing. Celes smirked.
"That's what I thought. Then, stand and defend yourself. . .thief."
And that was the point of no return. Fire was now burning in his own eyes as the pain became reborn all over again.
"Call me a treasure hunter or I'll rip your lungs out!!"
It was a sorry yet stately display of fighting. Celes versus Locke. Empire versus Returner. General versus pillager.
And lover against lover.
Parry and thrust. Kata and riposte. They somersaulted, cartwheeled, and eluded the death blows of the other. All was representative of their training yet always failed to succeed in their individual blood quests. At one point, both blades became locked overhead at the hilts. Their eyes met one another's.
"You've never been able to defeat me!" Celes snapped, with Locke suddenly understanding who this being was.
Maduin lay wasted before the esper girl and her disabled comrade, Cyan. But her father would never return again. The man was evil to the core and Terra was no different in giving in to the anger of destroying him. Back to her human form, she inched over to Cyan, cradling his injured body into her arms. A claw from the monster esper was impaled through his chest and blood exited the wound abundantly.
"Cyan? Don't go now! We're so close!"
"You're safe now, Terra. . ." he uttered, his last thoughts being his wife and child. "You're safe. . ."
With that, the retainer of Doma lay expired in Terra's lap, at peace at last. Terra kissed his forehead, lovingly embracing his immortal title. The title of being a defender.
Locke abruptly dropped the juxtaposition. Celes went sprawling down to the ground and on her hands and knees. No longer a time for mercy, he quickly clamped a knee down on her spine, grabbed both arms, and pulled hard. Her backbone ruptured sickeningly. Her Runic Blade fell down at her side in a puddle of water. Her body fell without constraint to the ground. Locke backed away, his gloved hands balled into fists so tight that they could have pierced his skin.
"What have I done."
"You have sinned," came that same dark voice last heard back in the castle of Figaro. "You've preyed on the innocent to alleviate the pain of being a mortal. You are no different than any of us."
Terra, garbed in the ragtag fabrics that once graced the altar, came to his side. She came sobbing and whining over the deaths of Setzer and Cyan. They both watched on as Celes' body got back up and became, right in front of them, the dark, cardinal-eyed Shadow, Rivalin.
"Gestahl was the one that saved me. Turned inward, I took it upon myself to safe him from you. You owe it to yourself, Terra, to bring back the espers."
"I've done nothing to them," Terra defended. "Thus, I will do nothing for them."
Rivalin looked as if he would attack. "We don't have an option here, Terra!"
He leapt to the air and came down with fangs hissing. Crying out, Locke flung his sword out to the hub of Rivalin's chest. He was flung backwards into the metal gate that surrounded a certain section of Zozo. Its jagged fencing impaled the demon fully through the torso, leaving it writhing in agony.
"Come on, Terra," Locke pleaded, grabbing the reins of his proximate chocobo. "We gotta get you out of here."
Rivalin watched on as their feathery steed took to the dark skies. A shower had begun to fall, smothering the burning flames of Zozo.
"You cannot escape me!" he called out after them. "The prophecy must be fulfilled!!!"
With that, his body went limp.
Their millennium had but a mere twenty minutes remaining.
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