Some Enchanted Evening Chapter 4
"We still have a few cards to play." We landed our shuttle at the mouth of a large gorge. Rena spoke of giving me something before heading out, something for the battle at hand. "It was forged by a man a very long time ago, created from antiproton energy and guaranteed to strike a mortal blow every time. He called it 'Sacred Tear'."
"Whoa . . ." 'Whoa' was an understatement. Its blade gleamed a transparent blue, almost gemlike with distinct zigzag facets running down the middle. The hilt was no less a splendor, its pummel curved like the blade of a scimitar, astoundingly lightweight. "It's remarkable."
"It belonged to Claude."
I hesitated, then handed it back. "No, I can't."
But Rena persisted. "I think he'd appreciate it that I gave it to as skilled a swordsman as yourself. But whatever you do, don't let the blade come into contact with anything other than its scabbard. As I said, it's an antiproton weapon. If you're not careful, you could kill yourself."
I gave it an uneasy look. "Duly noted."
"And I thought you might also be wanting this back."
I smiled as she handed me my Runic blade. "I considered just leaving it behind in Figaro, then it occurred to me that it may yet have its uses in the not-too-distant future."
"Old friend . . ." Nothing felt quite so good as to hold it again, a blade that had been by my side for many years and had seen many battles. It lifted my spirit all over again. "I'm ready, now."
"Me, too." She pulled on a pair of razored knuckles, each one with the same intrinsic blue glow as the Sacred tear. "Our first order of business should be to gain the trust of Rezonia. We'll need it for what's coming."
I nodded. "Indalecio."
Stepping out into the humid homeworld of Rezonia, I gave my new weapon a few experimental twirls to ward off its uncomfortable weight. "Mind if I ask why this Indalecio fellow is so bent on destruction?"
Rena took a stance behind me, her eyes ever cautious of the gorge ahead. "It's a long and complicated story."
"Is there an abridged version?"
She kept both fists out before her, keeping focus. "He was exiled a long time ago, he along with nine others. Over time, he manipulated the nine to his own advantage and steadily, his power grew."
"I get it, your standard, run-of-the-mill, power-crazed maniac. Reminds me of someone I used to know . . ."
We both stopped. A low rumble, coupled with the ominous trickle of stone and sediment, left us reevaluating our strategy. An arcane force bent and twisted the air around us, making it difficult to determine whether we were standing before a vast sprawling city or a barren wasteland. The sheen of city light and the torpor of distant tablelands mixed chaotically, as though they were both there and 'not' there. And all at once, a dizziness came over me, one not entirely like my first taste of space travel.
"What . . ."
"I feel it, too." She put a hand to her stomach, though careful not to let the prongs of her gauntlet touch her. "They must be aftereffects from the chroniton stream. Temporal flux must be crippling the planet."
Our dizziness subsided before long, but the rumbling in the distance did not. If anything, it became more violent as we continued on, until it became difficult to keep a foothold. I tried telling myself they were nothing but seismic tremors, even as the fragile reality around us kept me on edge. Something was coming for us, something large, something fast . . .
"What is it?"
"It's them." She took a nervous breath, her gleaming azure gauntlets held defensively before her. "Rezonians. Celes!"
In an eye's blink, distant clouds of dust parted, revealing a near infinite tide of grotesquely twisted creatures, each one identical to the test subject we had seen back aboard the Calnus. Their sinews were sharp, their numbers beyond count, and they were all heading straight for us!
"What are you waiting for?" Rena's voice somehow broke through the din of endless marching, apparently deciding to attack me verbally before anything else. "Let's get them before they get us!"
It didn't make sense. First she had suggested coming to terms with the natives, now she was about to go on the offensive against them! Even as the killing swarm rumbled ever closer to our position, the contradictory nature of it all struck me dumb. And that's when I had an epiphany . . .
I took to running after her, though not to join in the fray. It was a no-win situation after all; we were outnumbered at least a thousand to one. They'd have to be controlled, and I knew just the trick.
With dust strangling my lungs, I jumped, swirled underneath her, and threw out a leg, taking Rena's feet out from under her. The swarm was right on top of us, mere yards from ripping us to shreds. They can be controlled, the Admiral had once told us. And so, I took a breath, held my Runic blade out ahead of me, and waited.
I must have closed my eyes. When you're a stone's throw from death, many things tend to run through your mind. It isn't life flashing before your eyes. You get too scared for that. Rather, you take the last few seconds of rational thought to evaluate bits and pieces of your life, wondering how you could have went about handing them differently.
It felt like an eternity.
"Celes . . ."
When I came to, Rena and I were utterly surrounded. Their lust for blood, on the other hand, appeared to be quenched and they stood idle in a circle around us. Still mesmerized by the sight of my Runic blade, they looked like ten-foot-tall statues, with only their breathing giving them away as living beings. Disconcerting, I suppose, but far better than having razored mandibles rip the life out of you.
"I'm impressed," said a timid Rena as she held a hand up to a towering Rezonian. She waved her hand experimentally but its line of sight never wavered, focusing solely on my Runic blade. "So, the Admiral was right all along."
"I remembered him saying once that the greater their LEA metabolism, the greater their potential for magic. Since my Runic blade is the product of-"
"I get the picture." Evidently, there was no time to go into a long, drawn-out explanation. "My only hope is that it's enough to make them understand-"
The sky went dark without warning, the air bitter cold. So long had I been drafted on this mission that there wasn't any point in speculating over the energy ribbons and coccoon-shaped beings racing across the horizon. Rena grabbed my arm, the one holding the Runic blade, and pointed it up toward the airborne chaos.
"The enemy!" she called to those around us. "Conquer or die!"
Rena knew all along that our coming to Rezonia was a last stand, a final ditch effort to put an end to all the torment - theirs as well as those she had lost. Part of me suspected that those onboard the Calnus knew this as well, and that not all of us were going to come out of this alive. Rezonia, to be sure, could feel the entropy of this situation, too. Even despite their hyperevolved state and their newly honed instinct for genocide, their eyes still mirrored the uncertainty of it all. They knew. We all knew.
Fire ignited the sky.
The beasts, which Rena had called 'xenomorphs', broke beyond the unholy blaze without warning. Everywhere their shelled, multi-armed bodies fell like rain upon their foes, flinging entire flanks of Rezonians left, right, and center. A crackling like lightning ran rampant across the battlefield, drowning out the sounds of bloodlust and death. Then, just as swiftly, the tide shifted, as our winged, reptilian fighters took to the fray with renewed vigor. With mandibles swinging and the element of flight in their favor, Rezonia fought back.
And each side overwhelmed the other.
"We mustn't linger." From the view of our hillock, Rena's expression became grave. "We've been trained for this contingency. Rezonia will be overrun if we do nothing."
"And just what are we supposed to do against creatures of those size?" The sword in my hand was suddenly very heavy. "We can't go down there! It's suic-"
Out of nowhere, another of the squid-like behemoths dropped from the air, crashing onto the escarpment behind us. Rena wasted no time, swerving on the balls of her feet and ran with uncommon daring to deal a close-quarter blow to the beast. The hiss of electricity surrounded us as the xenomorph's appendages reached out to either strangle or electrocute its attacker. Dauntless, Rena parried each one in succession and retaliated with a well-timed jab with one of her gleaming gauntlets . . .
I expected blood. I expected viscera. At the very least, there should have been a cry of either agony or anger. Instead. A brilliant white flash ignited within the beast. And then, nothing. It simply disappeared!
"Whoa . . ."
"Whoa indeed," said Rena, priding herself. "Still believe it's suicide?"
She reached out to me and clasped my arm, a gesture that needed no explanation.
I nodded. "To victory."
As one, Rena and I leaped from our precipice and down to where the ever familiar chaos of battle awaited us. Rezonia had our scent by this time, knowing us to be allies in a common interest. But our battleground was nonetheless haphazard, with cramped bodies letting nothing come between hunter and prey. In an eye's blink, the scene was different, with Rezonian and xenomorph alike being laid to waste in a sea of ichor and mangled limbs.
Rena was the first to find her footing. Sidestepping the fervor of her Rezonian brethren, she was quick to vanish from my sight, lost as she was to the call of battle. Singling out xenomorph from Rezonian was no difficult task, as one of the former easily dwarfed over an entire troupe of the latter. I took heart as their electric discharges swept aside one killing charge after the next, parting the Rezonian tide as though it were nothing but a meadow. I kept to my feet, endlessly evading and waiting for the next xenomorph to appear.
I didn't have long to wait. Blown back from yet another concussive force, a line of Rezonians crashed down on top of me. The world went spinning in all directions. A dark haze danced on the edge of my consciousness, making it near impossible to discern where my attacker was. It had obviously drawn first blood; the copper taste of it filled my mouth and crimson streaked my vision. But of course, first blood wasn't as important as last blood.
"Show yourself, you bastard!" I brought both of my blades to bear, my Runic to lure the beast off-guard and Sacred Tear to deliver the fatal blow. "What are you afraid of?"
Finally, as my vision began to clear, I saw it. Less than a few yards away, flanked on all sides by dead Rezonians, a xenomorph - larger than any I had encountered thus far - had its amorphous form hunched low to the ground, waiting to capitalize. It already had the advantage: its platinum exoskeleton reflected the light of an azure sun, blinding me further. Nothing short of classic Imperial precognition kept me ready for the battle at hand.
"That's it . . . follow my lead." With my Runic to the fore, I gave a vaguely hypnotic wave, taking heart as the xenomorph's tentacles swayed with the esper metal of my sword. Ever so gradually, so as not to break the beast's trance, I inched ever closer, one careful footfall after the next. Yards closed to feet. A guttural growl started to build from somewhere within that shelled and shapeless mess. Go time . . . "Come on!"
An inhuman blur. Its limbs broke free of my spell, pinwheeling and raking the empty space between us. I froze. One touch of those python-sized arms had felled an entire phalanx of Rezonians. If the same happened to me, I'd be dead for sure. I stood rooted in place, with only my arms moving to parry and feint what seemed a maze of serpents, each with a mind of its own. Endless. Relentless. They were gaining ground with ease. I breathed at last and ran for the kill, Sacred Tear held out in a killing thrust. Like an enormous gavel about to pass judgement, an appendage came down on top of me . . .
A yard . . .
A meter . . .
Then it was gone.
It was everything I could do not to collapse, to occupy the space which only seconds earlier had been host to the creature I had just lain waste. The cacophony of war trailed on without interruption, yet I was still alive. The day had not yet been won. More and more of the xenomorphic beings fell as hail to the twisted landscape, crushing earth and Rezonian alike. There soon appeared to be more of them than there were us. But I pressed on, eager to finish what we started.
The going got easier. My muscles complained as my mind began to register the sheer size and quantity of the nightmares I had on my hands. But my training kept it all from my mind. Just how long had it been since last I experienced a good fight? Too long, it seemed. My strategy was ever tried and true. Feint with the Runic. Thrust with Sacred Tear. Spiced liberally with caution and focus, this quickly became my recipe for endurance. And the tide began to shift . . .
So lost was I to the fervor of battle that I didn't even bother replying until another xenomorph was ripped from reality. One brilliant flash of light later, I gazed out across a wave of insanity personified. Across the way, covered head to toe in ichor and entrails but smiling nonetheless, was Rena.
"Hey!" I cried, waving back at her. "What a row! I got nine so far!"
She grinned. "Thirteen!"
I returned the grin with a false scowl. Just who did she think she was dealing with? "What?! You wiseass! I'll show you!"
All in good fun, she took but a second more to laugh before returning to the skirmish at hand. It was the reason we were here. Rena for her home, me for mine, the Rezonians for theirs. How deeply I missed it at that moment. And to think that only two days or so ago, I had wanted nothing more than for it to go away. Faith guided my stroke as another xenomorph was ripped to oblivion before me. I couldn't fail them, not Rena nor the Admiral nor Rezonia. Not Locke.
Eleven, twelve . . .
"Hey, I'm caught up!" The scaled armies didn't seem to take notice as the war raged on. "That'll show Rena she can't fiddle with Celes Chere in a game of wins!"
It was then that I took notice of something I hadn't before. Our Rezonian hordes, while still as active as ever, were marching in the wrong direction. They were heading away from our enemies, as though they were afraid of something . . .
At first, it seemed like some wondrous gift. With my fire for battle still stoked, their forsaking the battlefield only meant more action for myself and Rena. But I looked again. Each of these twisted beings had begun to change somehow, to coalesce and grow larger. In the time it took for Rena and I to regroup beyond the mouth of the gorge, the xenomorphs, united into a confusing jumble of flesh, fluid, and energy.
I let out an exhausted sigh. "So, what do we do now?"
Rena's expression didn't change as the entity before us all came to life, gathering tendrils of power from all around it.
"Running would be a good idea."
Nothing else needed to be said. In concert, Rena and I turned tail and ran with the masses, hoping to be beyond the tablelands before the enemy had a chance to do . . . well, whatever it was a xenomorph of its incomprehensible size did to turn the tables. We were bumped and shoved without relent; a superhuman swell of Rezonian warriors could very easily bulldoze over you if you weren't able to keep up with the flow of movement. With a body coming dangerously close to shutting down on me from sheer exhaustion, it got more difficult to imagine a worse fate than being trampled to death with every frenzied step I took.
Then, it happened.
All of reality convulsed and spasmed around me. Infinite heat and light filled every corner of Rezonia's war-torn world. It 'became' the world. I was going to die. Ever fibre of my being was absolutely convinced of it. Something alien, almost metaphysical, crept up my spine, something I had believed buried since the days of the Empire. Fear. Panic. I was coming undone, becoming unmade. Screams of warriors, who had once cried out of fearlessness, now did so out of uncontrolled agony.
"What do we-" I started to say.
"End this," was all she told me. She brought an index finger to her lips, giving voice to a cantrip in a tongue that was lost to me. All the while, a tide of unholy fire reduced our hellish army to cinders. And we would be next . . . "Finish what it was we've started."
"Rena . . ."
She took hold of my arm, and I suddenly felt whole again, complete, no longer fearful or doubtful of the confrontation at hand. With her last ounce of strength she had passed onto to me a spell of protection, a safeguard against an inferno none other would survive, Rena included. She stood statue still only a moment, her calm expression utterly betraying the entropy of such a hopeless situation.
And then, her form became ashen and fell away into nothing.
I suppose I should have felt hopeless, if not by choice then at least to show some degree of respect for the sacrifice my friend had made. But I wouldn't. I couldn't, not after seeing things more clearly than I ever had before. The earth roared and split open beneath me. I was at once aware that not even the tablelands around me had survived the hellish barrage of Indalecio. But I wouldn't be swayed. 'We may yet see our loved ones again if we truly believe it'. They had been Rena's precise words.
"And so you shall," I whispered to myself, "So you shall."
Gritting my teeth, I straightened at the edge of a precipice which had, only seconds earlier, been a deep gorge. One vicious singularity after the next flew at me but simple feints with my Runic blade threw them off course straightaway. The entity closed on me. Already, it had resumed taunting me. I could hear Locke's voice, Terra's, Edgar's, Cid's, even Rena's seemed to be pleading for the life of this creature. But I kept true to my instincts, never faltering.
The time had come to put an end to this.
"Come on, big boy!"
It reacted. Gone in an instant was the subtlety of the one named Indalecio. The precipice beneath me disintegrated. All the cosmos were ablaze. All sense of time and direction had forsaken me. Head over heels I fell, my hold on the hilt of Runic faltering and my hold on consciousness none the better. But Sacred Tear was still in hand. Swift and violent, with faith and purpose guiding my stroke, I fell like a comet upon the foe. The antiproton metal found home, penetrating membrane, tissue, bone, and finally vitals. This one screamed, but did little else other than writhe from the power of my strike. All over again, my enemy exploded into brilliant light and flame. I howled my victory.
And every last fibre that had been the godless reality of Indalecio was no more . . .