Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Fleeing Dragons

Prologue: To Ashes

by Myshu 0 reviews

The Ellichronrisen are put to trial for the murder of the Great Esper Phoenix.

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Crossover, Drama, Fantasy - Characters: Other - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2005-06-28 - Updated: 2005-06-28 - 15698 words

Author's Notes (version 2.1):

Welcome to The Phoenix Chronicles and watch your step. This fic is a later part of the series and is filled with strange crossover goodness and horrors. The games covered here are:

Chrono Trigger/, /Star Fox (post-/Adventures/), Final Fantasy (especially VI and IX), Yoshi's Island and /Pokémon/. For some of these games I'll be treating canon /loosely/, so I hope I can be forgiven.
You only necessarily need background knowledge on CT, FF9 and Star Fox in order to enjoy the story.

This fic draws from its predecessors, "Prelude to the Chronicles" and "Awakening the Hero," as well as from "Tree of Life." It's not necessary to have read any of these to enjoy this fic, though I would recommend it (as the author, I /would/, wouldn't I? ...Well, okay, don't read /Prelude/. That one sucks.)

This prologue takes place about four years after the events of AtH (1007 AD, /Chrono Trigger/).

The Phoenix Chronicles
Fleeing Dragons

Prologue: To Ashes

(You can run, but you can't hide)

So spoke the Darkness. Its chorus never faded. She could hear it in her waking days as an echo of her screaming dreams. It could be cold, disparaging, detached, pithy--yet always, always toiling in the bog of her subconscious, undermining every kind thought, every optimistic mantra and every hopeful note, until all bright inspiration was whittled from her grasping spirit. Years of the Darkness' ruthless therapy had conditioned her to expect nothing at the end but a black pit she could crawl into and disappear forever--no gleaming afterlife, no light at the end of the tunnel.

No more pain. No more misery. No more loneliness. No more ruinous voices. Nothing was her hope.

(Give up
/Embrace the Darkness)/

As easy as it would be to resign from mortality and invoke the inevitable, she still clung to a kernel of life, which pushed her now towards her final goal.

She thrashed her way through the night of Guardia Forest, clutching a basket laden with her bundle of woe. The basket's wickerwork chewed into her bony fingers, though she dared not slacken her grip. The Darkness would not have him, her own life be damned. If there was nothing else to redeem her wretched days, this last gift might make it all worth it.

Should only her dear child live. Should only he have a real family. Should only he grow to never know the Darkness as she has.

Should only he know love, as she never will.

The forest was hot and quiet, though in her cloak she sweated coldly and cringed through breaking leaves and rustling branches. She was lucky that nothing had yet risen from the dreary wood and struck down her endeavor right there, before she'd even have a chance. Once upon a time she had the power to fight down marauders, mystics, and even time itself. "The Great," she called herself, with mirthful hubris that had now been reduced to terrible irony.

Now she had only enough strength to escort the child through the shadows, and then maybe put an end to herself, if fate willed her any dignity. With a grunt of resolve she charged through the snagging undergrowth and arrived with a stumble at the mouth of the trail. Beaten by her travels, she set the basket on the ground with a weary thump, dropped to her knees and panted over her dozing delivery.

At least enough magic still dwelled in her to hold the hypnosis. The child wouldn't stir until she wished him to; with a blasphemous oath she thanked the Darkness for that slight mercy. She dizzily looked up at her destination, which towered out of the black grove with blazing torches and fiery banners painted across its stony countenance.

Guardia Castle in all its regal glory lied ahead, though entrants must first bypass the narrow moat and its guards. By the moon's neon glow she could descry the muddy bricks of the foot of the bridge. Beyond, the proud contours of the kingdom's keep were highlighted by lanterns against the star-peppered sky.

This was as close to heaven as she would ever be, she realized. She bit her lip to repress any tearful farewells. She had no business crying now.

She took up the child and plodded ahead, at last reaching the threshold of the castle. She put the basket down and lingered to look upon her son for the last time. He was so small, so frail! Hardly a year old. She wondered how he would weather his development into a full-fledged man. Would they reject him because of his... special features? Or because of her? Would society cast him aside?

If her friends were as true as she wanted to believe, they would help him. They were all she could depend on anymore. Funny, she never wanted to be a burden on them, no matter what, but now this. She was a rotten person, in too many respects.

Stirring at the head of the bridge broke her guilty trance, and she darted away, retreating into the skirt of the forest. Breaking the baby's conjured sleep, she waited in the bushes.

There came a pair of soldiers, each toting a torch.

"It's important to always be vigilant," one was telling the other.

"Yes, Captain."

"You never know when something unexpected might turn up. Just because it's a quiet night like this doesn't mean that something out there isn't ready to take advantage of a soldier slacking on the job."

"Yes, Captain."

She tensed as they strolled right into the basket's way, oblivious to anything outside their colloquy.

"Most importantly, you should always--"

The yessir wobbled to a halt after bunting a curiously placed wicker basket with his toe. "--ah! What the hell?"

His superior drilled him with a hard look. The subordinate fumbled. "Um, what the hell, SIR."

Both dropped their eyes to the basket that started crying. "What the hell?" the captain echoed.

"It's a baby, sir," the other lamely reported.

"I can see that!" the captain snapped, "What in the world is it doing out here?"

Both stooped to examine the package, the trainee poking the beam of his torch into the basket while his captain sifted through its contents. The infant was swaddled in a torn sheet, and an envelope was tucked against the wall of the wicker. The captain withdrew it, stood up and searched the paper for a label.

A single word he found: Crono

The captain hummed. "It's addressed to Her Highness's consort." He began to scratch his head, mulling over protocol for such unusual circumstances. The trainee meanwhile dug his hands into the basket and molded them around the child, bracing to lift him up. "Hey there little fella," he cooed, "Where did you come from?"

The baby's squalling ebbed a bit with human contact as the soldier took him into his arms. However, the trainee immediately noticed something amiss. He peeled away the child's covers to sniff out the aberration.

"I wonder if we should call Her Highness at this hour," the captain mused.

A wavering voice wafted up to the officer's ears. "Uh... Captain?"

"Quiet, ensign; I'm trying to think," the captain growled.

"S-sorry sir. But I think you should get a look at this..."

When he did, the captain's jaw dropped, and both held the child in awe for a long, aching moment.

She didn't have to hang around any longer to know what was fascinating enough to silence them, or rather what would dull the tongues of many for the length of that child's existence.

He had wings--pretty little bird-ornaments, fire-red and as natural to his back as on a dove's. They were the remnants of her curse bequeathed to him, though she'd give anything to take them away and grant him a normal, human future.

"I'm sorry, Falcen," she whispered as she shrank into the thickets, leaving the last of her vitality behind.

(you can run)

The forest was vast and hostile to her. It didn't yield to her passage, but flogged her every step, as if the trees had damned her, too. The branches were closing in. The Darkness was everywhere. She tripped over brambles and heels of trees, and then missed her footing over a ridge and tumbled downhill. The spinning and bumping and crashing lasted the rest of her life, until she hit a soggy bottom.

(can't hide)
/(not from us)/

Everything grew very still, taken to eerie repose. She could have stayed there forever, letting the Darkness and its kin swallow her. Once the blurry world quit twirling she dimly noticed that her spectacles had flown away in the chaos. She didn't know what compelled her to sit up and seek out her glasses, since they'd shortly outlast their owner--the old habit of possession, she supposed.

The scars that once burned relentlessly were now sore and numb. Her very skin felt dead and cumbersome, like a heavy blanket. She could feel her body quitting, every breath and heartbeat soggy and ragged. She dragged her failing limbs across a sandpit, stopping at something wet on her fingertips. She languidly focused on the pond cutting a hole into the forest, and in the water's reflection she found a pallid mockery of herself.

Her hair was frayed and combed with twigs. Her eyes, sunken into her grave mask, fluoresced with the cold of the Darkness. Bands of charred skin crawled up her neck and wove baleful patterns into her right cheek. She was a masterpiece of the wrong magic. Oh, if Crono could see her now! Broken and hollow, like a burnt-up matchstick.

(it's time)

"It's time," she vaguely heard herself murmur. Bubbling through her last breaths was a bitter, despairing wail. "You bastards! You've taken everything from me! Are you happy?! You've won!"

She broke down, the gritty earth drinking her sobs.

"You've... won..."

The victors emerged from the shadows, no more than shadows themselves. Two pairs of lurid eyes, blue and then red, glowered over her. Their voices came from nothing, becoming everything, all she could hear, lucid as a cracked bell, plain as the sun was dark, and she heard and listened and understood.

(It's nothing personal.)

The Darkness snuffed her out.

(Oh, yes it is.)


Nothing. No fire, no light, no death, no life.

Drowning, drowning, ever falling, ever drifting down into that final abyss feels like floating feels like everything around you is empty there's no time there's no space there's no life...

"Mii Sci Kee?"

...death feels like nothing...


"Mii Sci Kee..."

"What? Who said that?"

But voices never left. "Hello, child of Bahamut."

Who was this voice, now? Not like the brothers, with their twisted rhymes and ill wishes. This was something... benevolent? She couldn't feel its hate, unlike the others. If she called out to it, would it answer?
"What did you call me? Who are you? Where are we?" Voices were now her only grip on awareness.

It did answer. "We are at a crossroads in Time. All souls pass through here on their way to the Esper Realm. It is important that I meet you here. This is the only place I can."

"...Am I dead?" Even as she asked, she didn't know how to feel about the answer, or if she even cared to hear it.

"There is neither life nor death here. This is a gateway. It is a place of neithers. You can call it Limbo."

"Limbo? Why am I here? How did I get here? Who are you, and what do you want?"

"That's the trouble with border crossers: always full of questions. I will answer as many as you need to know. What I want, really, are your answers."

"What? My answers?"

"You may call me Mewtwo. I am agent of Bahamut's, from what you might call the future."

"The future?" She considered the implications, nothing truly far-fetched for all of her experiences. "You travelled through time to meet me?"

"I came to this crossroads to intercept you. I must ask you some questions, and you must answer truthfully and carefully. The fate of the future depends on it. It is imperative that you tell me everything you know."

She didn't expect this kind of reception. Where was death? Where was the nothing? She was so tired... She'd anticipated an end to it all. This wasn't the end; it was an interrogation. "I don't know what you're talking about! What's going on?!"

"Relax, child. Your soul is tense. You mustn't panic."

"Why is this happening...? What do you want with me?!"

"You are frightened. There is nothing to fear here. You should calm down."

She recoiled into her own thoughts, testing any route of escape. She wasn't sure what reality was like anymore, but she wanted no more part of it. Contemplation of her end eased into a logical assessment of her situation. She couldn't help it; cold reasoning and scientific truths were her psychological trap door, a way of shutting out her emotions when they became overloaded.
"Limbo... this is Limbo." Understanding dulled her panic. "I'm dead, then. I just died. That's why I'm here."

"Yes. Now, are you ready to answer my questions?"

Why the hell not. She had nothing better to do. "...I guess so."

"Very good. First, child, what is your name?"

"I'm not a child. And my name is Lucca."

"Lucca... That is a lovely name. Lucca, do you know the Traukee?"


"Please remember. I do not want my journey to be in vain. Do you know the Traukee? And the Mii Sci Kee?"

"Mii Sci Kee? Traukee? I don't know what those are. Didn't you just call me Mii Sci Kee a minute ago?"

"...I see."

"See what? What is it?? Quit ignoring my questions!"

"It is not your turn. Tell me, then, Lucca, who gave you your dark seed?"

"My 'dark seed'? What??"

"Your scars. Where did you acquire them? Who gave them to you?"

"My scars...? I..." This was treading personal territory. She considered all the angles of honesty, and decided she had nothing to lose, after all. "I've had them for a long time. I don't remember anyone ever giving them to me. They just appeared."

"When did they appear? How? Do you remember?"

"I remember... some time after we defeated Lavos. My friends and I, I mean. That's when the scars started appearing. That's when the voices started talking in my head."

"Voices? Tell me about them. Tell me their names."

Funny, he had nothing to say about killing Lavos. She wondered where exactly this stranger's interests lay.

"Mewtwo, for starters."

"Very funny. Why are you so testy?"

"Well, I... because this is crazy! What are we talking about? I've lost my mind! Why am I telling you this?"

"Because it is important that you tell me. You did agree to. Now, tell me about the voices."

God damn verbal contract.

"Okay, okay. The voices... I..." That was the last thing she wanted to reminisce over. "I always heard them whenever..."
"Whenever what?"

The voice was becoming pushy--something insistent--something urgent, and that unnerved her.

"Whenever the scars they... they burned. It was the most terrible pain ever. It always came at night. Whenever the pain became really unbearable, they would talk to me. I thought it was all in my head. I'm just crazy."

"You're not crazy." Cool sympathy, just what she needed, too late. "The Darkness singled you out. It gave you the scars, its special mark. Now tell me more about these voices. What did they say? Did they give you their names?"

"I always thought it was one voice at first. But sometimes I heard them talking to each other, like there were two. They called each other 'brother'."


"Right." She still didn't know why she was so freely confessing all to a random voice named Mewtwo. These thoughts not even her closest confidant were privy to, back when she was alive.
...Oh God, she was thinking in the past tense already.
"They never had much to say, except to tell me bad things."
And talking like an ignorant child, to boot.

"Bad things?"

"They'd talk about how the pain would only get worse, and how one day everyone would know the pain like I do. And then the Darkness would rule over everything."

"I see. You never learned their names? You only know 'brother'?"

"Well, I... no. I mean... wait, maybe. Maybe I did overhear them sometimes, when they thought I couldn't."

"Don't stall. Tell me their names. Tell me the names of your tormentors."

Tormentors? The way Mewtwo spoke to her felt too immediate, too intrusive, too... wrong for this, but then again, what was supposed to feel right in this place?

"I think I heard one call the other, um... Barnath."


"Yes, Barnath. I remember for sure, now. And Bairith. Barnath and Bairith. They're brothers. There, now you have proof I'm as nutty as a pecan tree. Are you happy now? Is it my turn to get some answers??"

"Not yet. There is one more thing I have to ask, though given your answers thus far, I doubt you can enlighten me. I should have caught you at a better place in the time stream."

'What,' she thought, and was minutely surprised that there was a distinction between her mind's voice and the one she gave to Mewtwo, considering all the noise passing through her head like through an open window, 'There's going to be a point where--er, when I WILL understand what the hell's going on?' "Looks like you'll just have to try me now."

"Do you know where I can find the Rut M'blanca?"

"The what?"

"You do know the Rut M'blanca, don't you?"

"No, I've never heard of..." A recognizant flash filled her mind's eye with silver ink on dusky pages. "...Wait! Traukee, Mii Sci Kee, Rut M'blanca... those're names in the T'torlan!"

"You remember the sacred book, then?"

"I remember that book! I've read through it once or twice. I found it in my house's attic. It's full of weird stories and magic spells. I even translated it in my spare time. ...But I was four back then, or something. Heh, I always loved to read, even as a little kid. I later gave the book to Magus, though."

"Huh. So you did. Very interesting. Let me ask you one more, singularly important question: Do you know who wrote the T'torlan?"

"Who? The author? Well, no, it never says anywhere, I don't believe. You mean, it was just one person? Usually texts like that are compilations, from lots of different sources and scholars, and... stuff. Yeah."
'Very articulate, Lucca,' she chided herself, 'Did you leave your brain behind with your glasses?'

"Oh yes, only one. You see, the T'torlan was written by first-hand accounts... retroactively."

"First-hand accounts? By one person? All of it? The whole book?"


"Wait, nooo. That's not possible. The story of the T'torlan takes place over thousands--no wait, millions of years! And describes things that haven't even happened yet, much less could even be true! How could one person have witnessed first hand everything written in it?"

"Haha, child, there are two important facts you must bear in mind. One is that time is not linear."

"Not linear, you say?" If he was going to spout theories on the fourth dimension at /her/, this Mewtwo had better be packing his best game.

"Most humans like to believe in a very straightforward definition of time: There is a Past, comprised of things that already happened; a Present, consisting of things currently happening; and a Future, full of things unknown, yet to happen. What you must free your mind to understand is that those are not the only--and hardly the most consistent--elements of Time. Your common language does not have words to properly describe its full functions. That is another reason why Tri-Xi, the language of the T'torlan, that very book you described, is Time's perfect language. Time is a very intuitive, complex, fragile creature. To understand it is to truly not know it at all."

"That just broke what was left of my damn mind."

"Heh. One day, Lucca, you will know the author of the T'torlan, and you will understand."

"Well I certainly don't understand /now/. How is this going to help me?"

"Don't worry about it. Just remember the other important fact."


"That nothing/--nothing--/is impossible."

"Mewtwo... what's going to happen to me?"

"I mustn't keep you. Your journey is hardly over. Good luck, Mii Sci Kee."

"Mii Sci Kee... What does that mean?"

"You said you read the T'torlan."

"Yes but it... it doesn't..." She felt her own voice slipping, oozing out and away from her like precious bubbles of air in the pool of suffocating black.


The drowning sensation was finally enough to ignite hysteria, but Lucca fast realized she had no body with which to struggle, much less limbs to flail.


She felt like nothing, and fading...



She awoke on the bottom. She opened her eyes and at once she was something again. The floor was something smooth, broad and hard. The air was something cool and light. The sky was something black, but not dark. The horizon was somewhere too far to see.

She sat up warily, like an animal waking in a foreign cage. The plain was an empty void, but a palpable nothing. She could see, and touch, and hear the sounds of nothing on the field of nothing and in the nothing sky.

She glanced to her knuckles, pressed against the nothing soil, and saw the heavy cuffs of a snowy robe sliding over them. She looked herself over. The nothing had garbed her in sheer white. Reflexively she reached for her nose and grimaced at the nothing that had confiscated her glasses. On an impulse she extended her hands in front of her face and focused on them, realizing that she didn't need the spectacles to see her fingernails--and anything else worth seeing--clearly.

'Small mercies,' she thought wryly.

"Looking for something, hon'?"

Before the chill that raced around her spine could finish its laps Lucca was hoisted to her feet, either by shock or the pair of hands taking the scruff of her robe--or were those her own hands trying to keep her heart from jumping out of her chest?
No, her newborn eyes asserted once the visage of another woman appeared in front of her nose, as if out of nowhere--into the nowhere--wherever here was.

"Heya girl!"

Lucca gagged on a greeting and boggled at the arrival. She was a woman, dark, a strong kind of lean, not much later in years than Lucca and with chocolate eyes that danced their sockets like boisterous cats ready to spring. The catwoman was grinning broadly--Lucca would almost say hungrily.

"Damn girl, good t' see you! It's been /forever/! Oh I wish I was exaggerating..." She chuckled wholesomely and released her captive, allowing Lucca to stumble over her buckling ankles. The vision plowed ahead talking, her voice as bold as her tie-dye tank-top.

"It's been, what, hundreds? Thousands? Oh hell I lose count--that happens after your hundredth lifetime! I've had one hell of a ride, but I'll never forget our times together! That was a riot. Hahaha." She threw her head back in another hearty fit of laughter. Something about her entire demeanor reeked of familiar: aggressive, brash, a very tough brand of beautiful... but Lucca couldn't piece together this stranger's identity to save her life--or afterlife, that being the case.

"Do I... know you?" she finally squeaked.

This, at last, fazed the stranger. She plugged her chuckles with a gasp and blinked at Lucca, dumbstruck. "What? You don't remember me??"

Lucca hazarded a guess, though she knew even as she opened her mouth that this outrageous woman bore little resemblance (aside from color scheme) to...

The rainbow-clad woman looked as if Lucca had slapped her across the face. She gaped at the clueless girl, her astonishment toeing the fine line over insulted. Lucca, anticipating a violent rebuff, cringed as the lady reached for her shoulder.

"I can't believe--" In a moment of cognizance, the stranger glimpsed her own arm, examined it carefully and then threw it to her side with a gruff wail. "Ahh!!" Her palm flew up and stuck to her forehead. "Duh! Of course you don't recognize me." She grinned again, winked and held up a finger to give pause. "Just a sec."

The woman stood back and wiggled vigorously, like a wet dog, until the blurry dark turned pale and the black to blonde... very, very blonde.

She stopped, and settled in her place was a different woman: a tall, muscular, battle-scarred amazonian with full, fair curls and clear amethyst eyes. Somehow, despite the transfiguration, the tie-dye remained an established feature.

"Phew! The last time I had to put on this look was for Glenn. Oh honey, that boy is /fine/, but he's such a stiff. And not in the good way, you know."

Lucca swallowed, tried to look around her, tried to look past her, reached to adjust the glasses that weren't there anymore, and then finally worked her lips around the name that was barely slipping by moments before.


The woman drew Lucca into a hug like a dust bunny into a vacuum. "Of course! Oh honey I'm so sorry I'd just forget my head sometimes if it wasn't glued on you wouldn't believe it. I got all up and ready to see you and forgot to think if you'd even recognize me lookin' like that! Oh you're such a scrawny thang--you been eating right?"

"Ayla...?" Lucca weakly repeated, lost in the woman's speeding talk and the sheer absurdity of it all.

Ayla pulled back, holding her old friend at arm's length. "Yeah? You okay, hon'? You don't look so good. You're all pale." She shrugged and giggled again. "Well what am I saying? Of course you just got here and that's to be expected." Lucca was then treated to a squinting appraisal. "You sure are young, though. How old are you?"

Lucca was still short any kind of reasonable explanation for all of this, but she complied with this Ayla apparition as politely as she knew how. "Um... twenty-two."

"Twenty-two? Years? Damn, that ain't long. I'm sorry, girl--I mean, I'm glad you're here! But damn. You didn't go and blow yourself up or somethin', did'ja?" Ayla cupped the girl's chin with one hand, drawing a thumb over the weedy purple scars crawling up Lucca's face. "And what're these? Tattoos? How exotic. I had a hubby once with a whale on his back. It was crazy, let me tell you."

Then Ayla prattled on, or stopped talking, or was talking to thin air, or wasn't even standing there anymore--it wouldn't have made a difference to Lucca, who for a paralyzing moment couldn't see, hear or think past her own nose. She might've passed out if she hadn't already forsaken her real body and left it for dead in the last world.
When her mind finally came around, it became apparent that Ayla was still there, still talking, and not going away soon, so it all might not be a dream, after all.

"Then in my... fifteenth? Yeah, fifteenth-something life I lived on this world called Palli, then later on this place called Celestia--oh honey, beautiful people there, though I don't see how they get such great tans with the sky so dark all the time like that--"

"A-Ayla," Lucca dumbly tried to interject, to make this woman stop, to make everything for the Love of God slow down--

"Yeah?" Ayla faintly registered her own name before blazing ahead. "And then look! Tie-dye!" She pointed to her outrageous shirt. "It's from my last life. Isn't it fantastic? I just love the colors. Some people are born with style. I loved Camio--that's the name of that world--they make these great meals in boxes--ready in five minutes!--microwave ovens are simply the /bomb/--you should'a invented some! You're all smart that way--"
"Uh-huh. Oh honey I can't wait to show you around, girl! This place here is a little drab but once we get in the front door--"


The repetition finally stung Ayla, and she hesitated. "...Er, yeah? Girl, you all right? You didn't hit your head or somethin' on the way over? You're a little slow on the uptake."

Lucca blinked, striving to digest everything thrown at her thus far. "I'm a little... Ayla! You're here," she dizzily proclaimed the obvious.

Ayla squished her face in a look Lucca could swear was intended for people who stand at the side of the road holding up cardboard signs reading, "The end iS neeR."

"Yeah... Okay, I think we're gonna have to start from the top, girlfriend."

"/Girlfriend/?" Lucca grimaced as Ayla hooked her by the arm and started to drag her away, deeper into the pathological train-wreck that was the end of her life.


'I'm dead, I'm dead... I'm dead,' cycled through her head as they traversed space. Lucca's feet skimmed through a nebulous trail of glitter, leaving a plume of evanescent crimson behind every step. She thought of the glitter eyeliner Marle liked to wear and then how Flea had her--his--/its/ face painted the same way while she-he threw fireballs shaped like hearts and then she thought about pretty princess makeup bloodbaths in the stars and she had to blink hard to make the mad imagery go away.

She watched the shimmering specks dance red beneath her and gold beneath Ayla with the same dumbstruck awe she regarded everything since her "crossing over." 'I mean, I was expecting it, but nothing like this.'

Ayla, who had matured into a chatterbox over the millions of years since their last conversation together, carried on to explain the nature of the afterlife while Lucca walked through her shock, occasionally breaking the blonde's stream of words with an inquisitive echo.

"When most people die, they return to their planet. The core of the planet, I mean. There's like, a big... uh... river of souls that all life is born from and all life returns to when it's done. It's just a big pot of spirit energy, like soul soup or something. Every planet has a little 'lifestream' of its own, and then there's the big one that the whole universe answers to.

"Anyway, not everybody returns to the lifestream when they die. If the big shots around here decide that you were an important person, you end up here.

"Some call this place Valhalla, though most call it the Hero Realm. It's kinda a misleading name, since not only good guys end up here. The espers usually keep the really bad apples down in Hades until they've 'atoned for their sins' or something like that."


"Oh yeah, they run this place. This is all part of the Esper Realm, where Bahamut and his crew hang out. Bahamut's like the big cheese in this world. You don't want to piss him off."

Valhalla? Bahamut? Espers? Things Lucca had read about in the T'torlan--fables springing off the page and engulfing reality as she knew it.

"The espers usually keep to themselves on their side of the fence, and we mortals keep to ours. Sprites can cross over between the dimensions all they want. Oh!" Ayla smacked her companion's shoulder to jarr her attention. "Masa and Mune are sprites, y'know? I see them around sometimes. Anyway the big difference between mortals and espers is that we can do reincarnation and the espers are stuck here unless someone from the so-called 'material world' summons them--you know, where the living... live."


"Oh yeah, it's great! What did you think I was talking about when I was going on about all those lives I've had? Mortals like us can be born again howevermany times we like. Our souls get recycled, and stuff. Of course, we don't remember any of our past lives while we're in the middle of a new one--that'd just create all hells of problems, y'know?" She laughed to imagine such complications.

Lucca slowed to a stop, reeling Ayla back like an anchored ship. "What's wrong, girl?"

"Ayla..." She panned a look around the twinkling stars and meteors shooting across picturesque nebulae and galaxies. "Is this real?"

"What?" Ayla set her hands affirmatively on her hips. "Of course it's real! It's as real as you're standing in it! You don't believe you're dead or something? Lots of mortals here go through that. You get used to it in a few days."

Lucca shook her head, dropping her gaze to the pretty road. "No, I... I just don't know if this is one great big hallucination, like those voices in my head."

"Eh?" Ayla knitted her brow. "Voices? What?"

She evaded the blonde's prying look. "...Nevermind."

Ayla shrugged, took her word for it, and tugged on Lucca's sleeve to usher her along. "Hey, it's normal to feel a little overwhelmed at first. But I'm here for ya, y'know? You have anything on your mind at all, you just ask."

"Thanks, Ayla," Lucca replied a little too glumly for Ayla's alacrity, and they started walking again. At length the pair arrived at a massive, gilded door, standing firmly-if-absurdly in the vacuum.

"There we are," Ayla chirped at it. She marched ahead and reached for one of the door's handles, crafted in the likeness of a draconic serpent. It glistened at her touch with the same sandy gold that traced her footsteps. With a laborious growl Ayla dragged the portal's right slab open, revealing a gallery of light, sound and color where the eye expected more of the black infinity that framed the door.

"Com'on!" She waved Lucca inside after her. The bedazzled scientist held her breath, ducked through the giant entryway and emerged in another world.

It was like walking into a painting plucked from a fantasy book. From the floor of the grand plaza, Lucca's eyes were instantly drawn upwards, where tiers upon tiers of open corridors corkscrewed into heavens ablaze with swimming lights, like iridescent fireflies. Dueling flags and banners suspended by crystalline gargoyles depicted beasts and men in vivid gold and silver leaf. Swords, pikes, halberds, axes, claws and spears of all makes adorned the towering supports that through a miracle of physics, engineering or both held the scenery intact. Pearly bubbles with the girth of carriages wafted out of windows and gutters, toting passengers to airy heights. Streams of coursing water defied gravity as they wound throughout the glorious, chaotic architecture like branches interrupting a tree house. People skated over and under these twisting liquid sidewalks like water-beetles, while fish dressed in rainbow frills swam within.
And what people! Standard-issue human beings were vastly outnumbered by mystics of breeds she'd never even heard of. Demihumans of lizards and cats and bugs, feathered wyverns, scaly fowl, big blue men, fuzzy faeries and crooked imps hobbled on the ground and buzzed about the sky.

On her level the traffic was intense and lively, with peoples chattering and bustling all over the grounds. Their banter resounded in pieces throughout the artificial canyon like light broken through a prism. In the background encircling the floor were many more doors like the one Lucca had stepped through, though they were tucked away in the shadows and hardly touched by passers-by.

"Wow," was all the scientist could say as she craned her neck to try to take it all in.

"Welcome to Halcyon Square!" Ayla announced over the roar of commuters. She grinned at her awestruck companion. "Pick your jaw up; you ain't seen nothin' yet! This is just a routing station. People pass through here all the time on their way to someplace else."

Lucca collected herself and focused again on the only familiar sight in the room. "Really? Where are we going, then?"

Ayla tapped her nose. "I'm glad you asked! First we're going to check you in at one of the points here. Records should already know you're here, but they like to make sure, I guess." To answer the apprehensive look that washed over Lucca, "Everybody has to check in, don't worry. But hey! Then I can show you around! I'll introduce you to the guys at the pub! I work a great gig over there."

"You... work at a pub?" Lucca asked haltingly, though it shouldn't have been hard to imagine at this point.

"Work there? I own it! It's named after me!" Ayla the barkeep laughed richly.

Like much of what she'd been told thus far, Lucca didn't know what to say to this, though she was starting to dread a detour into as noisy a spot as a bar when all she wanted was a minute of peace to make sense of it all.

"Well," Ayla hesitated, plucking at her companion's excuse for a ghost costume, "First we'll stop by my place and get you outta that newbie scrub."

"Huh?" Lucca glanced over herself, realizing that her plain white robes stood out amid the colorful crowd. She supposed she could stand a change, especially if it implied a little rest. As the two set off on this agenda--

"Not so fast! Kupo."

The girls turned around, encountering a curious band. Two burly, ape-like sasquatches clutching thick iron chains dwarfed the speaker: some kind of white, hovering rodent not any larger than a badger. Its beady eyes squinted over a bulbous red nose, and a glossy pompom sprouted like a naked sunflower between its pointy little ears. It teetered on some unperceived wind, its tiny bat wings flapping vigorously in place.

In a rather conspicuous aside, Lucca asked, "Ayla, what's--?"

"A moogle. Lots of sprites are moogles. Some call the moogles faeries."

Taking the initiative back, the moogle said peevishly, "My name is Kumog, thank you, and I'll be escorting Lady Lucca from here."

Ayla bent into a put-off pout. "What the hell? I was given permission by--"

"The Council holds precedence in this case! Whoever gave you that permission was out of his bounds this time."

Ayla's expression dropped. "The Council?" she asked, her surprise giving Lucca alarm.

"Yes, the Great Council has issued a summons for Lady Lucca. She's to be placed under arrest immediately."

Both girls did a double-take. "Arrest??"

"W-whoa!" Lucca started as the chain-bearing brutes began to advance, "Hey, hold on a sec!"

Ayla jumped to her defense, though even the hardy cavewoman could only block the way of one of the thugs. Lucca began to stagger away from the other, fast closing in on her. "Hey!!"

"Somebody better tell me what the hell's going on!" Ayla snarled into the stony mask of an ape, and she was answered with an iron backlash. The swift, powerful blow launched her through the air, her back hitting the tiles just as the crowd gave way to her crash-landing. Stray witnesses began to collect around the scene like schoolchildren to a brawl.

"Ayla!" Lucca cried, watching the violent outburst with foot-frozen horror. In her next breath she noticed the other ape, still approaching, and decided that it was a good idea to start running.

"You can't escape!" Kumog's warning underscored the clatter of metal as the second grunt swung his chains at Lucca's retreating back. They caught her by her middle and wrenched her down. In the next blinding instant she was kissing the pavement, the iron links writhing upon her, and instead of trying to squirm away, Lucca wasted the entire moment wondering how a dead person could be in so much pain.

The sasquatch's shadow fell over her just as Lucca caught her breath, and as she turned a look up at the tower of meat and fur she began to realize Kumog's words for truth. "Ayla, Ayla...!" she was wailing between strangled gasps as the sasquatch swooped down and drew her into its meaty grip. She didn't know how to fight, flee, or even understand what and why--only how to cry as she was pulled apart from the only person she could cling to in this strange, foreign afterworld. The crowd parted as from a leper while she was roughly carried across the square, towards one of those shadowed doors.

Somewhere increasingly farther away, Ayla was desperately shouting after her. "Lucca!!"

"Ayla...!" Lucca couldn't see her anymore. Everything was moving too quickly--too much pain, those chains so heavy and tight--too many people, their roaring whispers and pointing gazes bombarding her senses--too fast, too soon, too late over a dark threshold into deeper parts unknown.

Lucca wasn't sure whether to take solace in the fact that, whatever lied ahead, it couldn't kill her.

She was already dead, right?


"Where are we going?"

The giant apes escorting her didn't respond. Ahead, Kumog bobbed through the air like the head of a mule as the group plowed down the long, dark, narrow hall. The passage was lined with silver, and blue torchlight flitted over beastly mosaics and alien caricatures across the midnight stone walls. The corridor gave a lurking, buried feel, like trespassing ancient catacombs or--more applicable to her memory--Magus's castle.

She was chained between the moogle's muscle-bound lackeys, the iron shackles bogging down her every grudged step. Trying to delay the trip in quest of answers, she slowed to a stop and reiterated, "Where are you taking me?"

This garnered a heavy shove and a yank on the chains. She started walking again with a yelp. "Nuc'tech'aum," one of the brutes spoke in the thickest bass she'd ever heard, even compared to mystics of the same stature. The words churned in the ape's mouth like a vat of tar.

Quiet, black caster...? No, witch. 'Quiet, witch.' Her thoughts toiled over the strange tongue that she somehow recognized, so old and familiar it was like a childhood friend. It took a minute to recall that language as the same of the T'torlan, something called Tri-Xi: the dragon's voice.

Espers, moogles, sprites, mortals, Hades, Valhalla, Bahamut, witch...? 'So, it's all true. Every word,' she reflected on the incredible parables of that tome, which she had translated on her own for leisure. Leisure! Just a hobby, it was--copying and decrypting bizarre script from a dusty old book--fairy tales for a little girl--sitting on the floor of her cluttered bedroom and reviewing stories of magic and monsters that rained from the sky and faraway worlds locked in war and people breeding with beasts...

It was sickeningly funny how that book haunted every wrong moment of her life.


And now, her death.

"Please, tell me what's going on," she tried the submissive tack, pleading with her captors.

This at last elicited a less forceful response. "We're taking you to the Chamber of the Fayth," Kumog said as he carried on ahead, not granting her the benefit of a break.

"Chamber of the Fayth?" Finally a term that wasn't familiar at all.

"It's where the Council holds their sessions."


Kumog sighed as if it were a chore to answer. "The Council of Great Espers, of course. What other Council could I be talking about?"

Not willing to press his patience as long as his monkeys held the reins, Lucca took what she could get and kept silent. 'He talks like I'm supposed to know all these things! I just got here,' she fumed. At any rate, she would see this 'Chamber of the Fayth' for herself before long.

She began to wonder why she ever doubted the story of the T'torlan. Everything she witnessed in her brief, crazy life pointed to its validity, and hell--she'd been party to wilder happenings. Time travel? Aliens? Lavos? If nothing else, Zeal and the Fardons confirmed that truth was indeed stranger than fiction.

Far voices, all in Tri-Xi, began to reach her, sifting through cracks in the ever-approaching gate at the end of the corridor.

Great, thundering, inhuman voices.

"This wouldn't've happened if the Traukee had not defied us those years before!"
"He openly and deliberately interfered with Lord Odin's mission to extract the Mii Sci Kee from the mortal world! Why, if not for that meddling, none of the following events would ever have arisen and the Phoenix would be with us today!"
/"That would not have happened if the neiphiti had not cursed them with her bond!"/
"It's the neiphiti's fault now?"
/"You don't have enough grounds to accuse that stray dog of dark poisoning."/
"No, but she did teach the Mii Sci Kee the beast talent! And the rest of the Ellichronrisen, too! There wouldn't be a child to speak of at all if not for that! I say, it's always a neiphiti, meddling and throwing off the order of things!"
/"Which neiphiti? The exiled, or the heathen-spawn?"/
"You're too slow for this talk, Golem."
/"You are too slow for Golem's fist!"/
"For the sake of Esperie, no fighting on the floor!"
/"Peace, Esperie. If we may return to the matter at hand..."/
"We are drawing out the blame too far! I say, none of those circumstances forced the Mii Sci Kee's hand. It was her alone who decided to defy the Code and bear that odious child."

The chains suddenly felt much, much heavier. Were they talking about her? And Myshu, the neiphiti? And Falcen...?

"What are you driving at? We are assuming that the child alone is the Phoenix's downfall! That has less to do with it than the erosion of the spirit through dark poisoning!"
/"The poison is what corrupted her mind and led to the child's conception! Any hopes of salvaging the Mii Sci Kee's soul were completely lost the moment that child was conceived!"/

Then a crisp, impish, familiar voice.

"How could she have known the ramifications? I must argue, in her defense--"
/"There is no defense for the murder of a Great Esper!!"/ a hellish roar cut him off.

The subsequent swell of muttering and growling composed what was beginning to sound like a crowd, not a council. "Murder!" was one of many echoes Lucca could discern through the bedlam, all of which was enough to dampen the rusty yawning of the gate as it yielded to Kumog and his captive.

The vast floor enclosed by rounded tiers of galleries likened the Chamber of the Fayth to a coliseum, not a meeting hall, and accordingly it seated what may have been hundreds--hundreds of /what/, exactly, Lucca was dazedly trying to soak up: imps, goblins, plants with snapping jaws, birds with wings of bats, bats with tails of rats, lions with heads of hawks and tails of crocodiles, dragons, snakes, buoyant pink balloons with fish-eyes, minotaurs, humans, demihumans, people decked in cavernous suits of armor, like bipedal tanks; others in cloaks of black and velvet, like the thickest night, their only discriminating feature a pair of lurid spots in lieu of eyes, some seething red, others mellow yellow; furry men with proud antlers; proud men with too much fur and not enough clothing; fanged things that howled, white-stripped-with-blue and gold-stripped-on-black; cats with two tails; foxes with nine tails; dogs with none.

An archaic gloom built the scene. Brass torchlight glistened off obsidian columns that tapered high into the jet firmament. Fluorescent rainbow pictographs were spread against the bellies of eaves and skirts of doorways, casting the nether corners in neon twilight and cutting brilliant embroidery through the patina that was cold and hard beneath Lucca's bare feet.

Even as she crossed the gate onto the amphitheater's floor, more spectators flooded in from secluded alleys, settling into the balconies and breezeways like bony, furry, fleshy, sighing cement. Lucca didn't know exactly what dead people did in their free time, but she wagered that this was the best show they'd be getting for a while.
The mystic rabble spoke with an ocean's tonality: whispers compounded into a roar; dissonant yet consensual; angry and powerful yet held at bay by a wave's courtesy for a beach.

"Anuc'tu, a'triezie"

Lucca was shuffled forward and thrown to her knees before a semicircle of eclectic beastmen, her arrival pausing their hot discourse. Their inhuman glares seared through her robes and vaporized her cold sweat as the crowd's grunting and howling built into a coherent, ghastly crescendo. The chant was the ineffable mantra of her nightmares, given voice at last.
"Anuc'tu, a'Triezie"
The beasts stood in rank upon the dais at the head of the chamber, the dozen of them flanked by braziers cupped in the gaunt paws of gargoyles.
"ANUC'TU, a'Triezie"
One of them stepped down from the others. He balanced on cloven hooves and held up his lion's muzzle and ram's horns with a bear's composure.
When he raised his arms, heavy scissor claws that would inspire a heckran's envy pointed menacingly into the throng.
"ANUC TUC, A TRI XIEZIE--" he picked up the chorus, his voice as booming, ferocious and clear as hell's church bell.

"BA-HA-MUT!" the entire chamber resounded with a grizzly organ blast; it rattled the stone foundation and Lucca's already shaking nerves. She crouched low and dug her fingers into the fine, ornamental grooves in the floor for support.

'All hail High Lord Bahamut.' Was this mammoth the Bahamut?

An eerie silence descended in the chant's wake. Lucca wondered if she had died, remembered the answer was /yes/, and then asked herself if she had simply gone deaf. Could the dead lose their hearing? She was thrown onto the playing field without knowing the rules.

With trepid starts she lifted her head, expecting the chains to roll off her shoulders with all the subtlety of wind chimes. Their weight slid away like water, surprising her, and when she looked around she realized that they had vanished. Moreover, Kumog and his grunts were gone. Realizing that she was abandoned before, presumably, the Council of Great Espers and a quiet, staring, looming mob--not a friendly looking lot at all--without so much as a defender or a bailiff (unless the twin behemoths at the entrance counted for such. Each was the size of a house, as hairy as a hound and as sharply loaded as a tyrano), she was stuck with a tight feeling in her chest and the notion that she was damned from the start.

That was when she glimpsed two short aliens at the feet of the Council, in their creamy white robes and banana-yellow skin, and so overcome with relief was she at the sight of them that Lucca blurted out their names.

"Masa! Mune!"

Harried glances darted between them and eye contact was finally established. Mune puffed up with anguished concern, and his voice cracked with despair. "Lucca!"

"SILENCE!" Fire spat from the cloven-hoofed's tongue.

The elite beasts' conference resumed, the same with as without the girl of their interest.

"And not only the Phoenix, but murdered with it our livelihoods--nay, our very race in being! This is not only a murder, but a betrayal to all Esperie that are and will ever be. The means or hows or why do not matter! One careless deed--done in ignorance or not--has already doomed us in Ragnarok!"

"She was not aware of the ramifications! There was no way for her to know!" Mune was arguing on her behalf. Lucca could've cried, had she not already spent the last of her tears over her parents' gravestones and Falcen's crib. 'Oh, Mune...'

"Ignorance is no excuse! The T'torlan was practically laid at her feet. She has read it, and known the Code. She knows the laws of our people, and that which must not be sullied. Espers and neiphiti must never mix."

Masa wagged his finger at the goat-lion-bear... thing. "Lord Ifrit, she could not be aware of that most important fact, which neither you nor any here bothered to make clear! She has been brought up in the human world, living and breathing and being as one of them, and then dying just the same, and nary a thought had chance to cross her that she might belong to the Esperie--that she is one of us! How could she know? Did you expect intuition to spring off the pages of the T'torlan and enlighten her?"
/"The laws of non-interference--"/
"Are not relevant in this case!" Mune protested.
"Law is law!" insisted a painted hound, a beast from nose-to-tail as long as the Epoch.
"Isn't it, Fenrir?" countered a man, one imposing with his height and regal wear despite appearing as old as stone. His beard was a glacial waterfall and his voice, perhaps once strong, was mollified by ages of breath, like mountains worn to hills by the wind. "See what good our laws have done in this, a most vital experiment! We suspended common sense for the sake of withering old traditions!"
/"The Law of the Council is infallible! How dare you contest it, Ramuh!?"/
"She had plenty opportunity to know the truth of herself!" Ifrit again. "She shut her eyes to it! Do you see? Do you see the purpose of the Code? There must be faith, unprompted and pure! It is what sustains us! What will become of us the day our own children dismiss our existences as trivia?"
/"We are not fairy tales! We exist!"/
"In the legends of the living, we exist. And when the legends fade from mortal memory..."
/"We will become as nothing. There will be nothing standing in the way of Jorumgand, come Ragnarok. It will truly be the Doom of the Powers."/
"This child's loss of faith is surely a sign of the End Times," Fenrir growled.

"There's still hope--" Even as Mune spoke in the name of optimism, Lucca could see that he was grasping at burning straws.

The cloven-hoofed, Ifrit, snuffed Lucca's defense out. "Where? In which code? Which of the paths allows Jorumgand to be vanquished without the Phoenix? Have you some insight that we, the Great Espers of the Council, do not? Do you not think our High Lord Bahamut has considered every option by now?"

As the Council quarreled over her head in too many respects for comfort, Lucca wondered where this Lord Bahamut was. None among the rather public conclave seemed to fit whatever threadbare description Lucca was given. 'If this is so important to him, why isn't his High-and-Mightiness here?'

Ramuh, the closest thing to a voice of reason Lucca had yet heard from the Council, spoke again. "What then do you propose, Lord Ifrit? What punishment could we possibly bestow that would rectify these matters? If what you say is true and we have no hope, there should be nothing to make right these wrongs. No punishment, no matter its severity, will bring back the Phoenix."

One best described as a large green jackrabbit offered input. "True, but Lord Ifrit does give grounds for some justice. It would not behoove the Council to allow this deed to go unpunished. How would it look to the mortals and valkyries if we allowed to Mii Sci Kee to walk freely while those of lesser crimes are stowed away in Hades?"

'Mii Sci Kee?' The tag finally began to catch Lucca. 'That's what Mewtwo called me, too. They use that name like it's someone important. How am I important to these people? Why was I dragged here?'

Ifrit stomped his feet emphatically. "Why do you yet call her Mii Sci Kee! She's obviously possessed of the Darkness! Have you not seen the marks on her--the dark poison--Jorumgand's brand?"

'Jorumgand's brand? ...My scars?' She studied her pale arms and their searing tattoos, written in the flesh's ugliest, darkest language.

While Lucca considered herself, she lost track of the Council and its argument.

"She's a tainted sprite! A failure! No longer worthy! She must be disposed of!"
/"That brings another good point. We can't allow tainted sprites to trespass here! It'll open the door wide open for the Darkness!"/
"Exactly. To protect our sacred Realm from the vile Darkness, we must throw out the bad sprite before it poisons the whole lot."
/"You're speaking banishment."/
"I'm speaking Intrenosmua/."/
"That is an extreme--"
/"--you only say it's so because she's greatspawn, but we would do the same to any lesser esper that falls on the dark path. As you said, the punishment must fit the crime, not suit the accused."/
"I can't believe this is a criminal case. The Ellichronrisen are no criminals."
/"On that note, what of the others?"/
/"The Mii Sci Kee's friends, the other Ellichronrisen! And the neiphiti woman! Should we punish them, too?"/
"It has been decided now that there will be punishment, I presume."
/"Yes, all Ellichronrisen have been exposed to the Darkness! All have violated the Code by accepting Gi'ira from that errant neiphiti!"/
"Gi'ira is the Ellichronrisen's natural right anyway, Lord Ifrit. Quit exaggerating the case."

"Lord Bahamut has heard all and has made his decision."

The chamber gave heed to a massive serpent with a sapphire hide, a raven's beak and gilded fins. It slid into the firelight from the black gloom behind the Council's bench and reared its head over them, as tall in its cobra-stance as four men stacked on each other's shoulders. Several of the espers bowed to its arrival.

"Lord Leviathan," Ramuh addressed him, "The high lord has sent you with his word on the Mii Sci Kee's fate?"

Leviathan replied in a gravelly, neutral tone that quieted even the whispers from the galleries. "Lord Bahamut has fully reviewed the circumstances leading to the Phoenix's untimely demise, as they have been discussed here. It is of the master's opinion that the manner and cause of the Mii Sci Kee's downfall is not relevant to the ultimate outcome that all must bear in mind: the loss of the Great Esper Phoenix.

"The fact of the matter is that the Mii Sci Kee, as Lord Ifrit has pointed out, is a sprite tainted by the influence of her world's native darkspawn, Lavos, and thus has proven the experiment a failure. Human vessels are not enough shield against the wiles of the Darkness. Without respect to her breaking the Code this is enough cause to discard her."

An undulating groan rippled through the crowd and touched the sighs of the standing Great Espers.

"WITH respect to the Mii Sci Kee's lawlessness," Leviathan continued, which stalled the uproar, "The Lord Bahamut respectfully confers sentencing to his trusted Council, with full recommendation of the cleansing fire of Intrenosmua."

A mixed outburst issued from the crowd--an invidious cry gargling joy and spitting woe--people wailing rejoice at damnation, the ultimate justice. Mune hung his head, his feeble shape wilting before Lucca's eyes. Masa tossed her a teary look that informed the girl with as much voice as all the spectators combined that yes, she was screwed.

And she didn't know why.

"What's going on!?" she spoke for herself at last, flushed with befuddled outrage.

"Lucca! We're sorry!" Masa cried, "We tried to tell them it's not your fault!"

"What?! What's not my fault, Masa?? Why am I on trial here?!"

"Mii Sci Kee!!" Ifrit stepped towards her, his dialect shifting from "refined, foreign roar" to "common roar," for the first time acknowledging Lucca's most familiar language. His pitch suggested revelry of the cruelest sort. "You have been deemed guilty by Lord Bahamut for murder and treason against we, the Great Espers of the Realm. The Council will now issue your sentence."

"I don't know what you're talking about! I never murdered anybody! I've never even seen a phoenix before!" Lucca hotly contested. 'No, only countless dozens of mystics and monsters,' her conscience rang, but she thought better than to justify that detail out loud.

"Your ignorance astounds me! I hope you keep in mind that it will not stave your punishment." The rust-furred fire elemental chortled darkly.

"Don't I even get to say anything in my defense? What kind of trial is this?!"

"The eyes of the Council have seen all there is to know. You are here only to receive justice."

"But that's not..." A flash of bright cloth drew Lucca's focus past Ifrit's beefy goat legs and into the huddle of Greats that judged her. A woman clad in blue down to and clear through the skin stood up from the marble bench and drifted into the dark aisle from whence Leviathan came.

Golem brought her leave to noisy attention. "Shiva! Walking out? Have you nothing to say? This is your pet project, come to ruin. It has failed, just as Lord Ifrit predicted."

"Let her go," Ifrit snarled. "I would not have her say in this anyway. She obviously favors the pet."

Leviathan brought the court back to order. "The fates of the Ellichronrisen and the deviant neiphiti will now be put to discussion."

"But Lady Shiva has--" a woman dressed in golden feathers (and ONLY in feathers, Lucca could not help but notice) started in a sweet, formal tone.

"--forfeited her voice by walking out," Leviathan put that question to rest.

"You all heard Bahamut! I've already pitched my sentence," Ifrit boldly initiated the sentencing. "Intrenosmua, for all of them."

"All of them? Your wrath knows no bounds," Ramuh scolded him. "You forget that the Ellichronrisen did defeat the darkspawn, after all."

"With great difficulty! And learned nothing from it! We have gained nothing from this test aside from one dead darkspawn--and any of us could have done that ourselves."

"Really? I'd like to see you take down Lavos," Fenrir challenged the fire-spitter.

"Do not question my strength--"

"If your strength alone could suffice against a high breed darkspawn, there wouldn't be a Ragnarok to worry about. You know as well as any of us that even a Great Esper cannot approach a fiend of Jorumgand's without withering away like a slug under salt. The Darkness consumes magic--our very lifeblood," Ramuh shot him down.

"Do not instruct me on the ways of the Darkness! I know our enemy as well as you, old man."

"You don't know a thing. Hardly any of us do. And that is half the problem."

The golden-plumed nude ran the discussion back on track by supporting Ifrit. "We can't just let them all go free. Think of the risk. Any one or more of them could have been tainted as well. If the Mii Sci Kee fell prey to the Darkness so easily, they all could have. We can't chance letting a dark agent slip through our gates."
Golem made a rumbling sound in his granite throat. "You're thinking of the shadow one, the wizard."
/"I won't name anyone,"/ she said daintily.
"What kind of world has this become, where we can't trust even the Ellichronrisen?" Ramuh lamented.
"A world on the brink of Darkness," Fenrir gravely answered.

"Besides," the green jackrabbit noted, "Intrenosmua is light punishment compared to Hades."

"I see no other fitting alternative," Fenrir concurred. "Since Lord Bahamut has recommended Intrenosmua, that is the least and best we can do. Their spirits shall live on in the Lifestream."

"That's what you think, Lord Fenrir."

"That is what I believe."

Ramuh ran a gnarled hand down his beard and sighed. "It seems like such a waste, though. We could use the Ellichronrisen in Ragnarok."
/"You've seen as much as they can do for us already. It will not be enough. They were barely able to defeat Lavos."/
"If only the Phoenix could be recovered..."
/"What if we could extract the neiphiti child's soul?"/
"Even if we were allowed to interfere with the cycle of souls and claim the child before he has the chance to have a neiphiti child of his own, the damage is already done. Even combined with the Traukee, the spirit is too far diluted to be fully recovered, and it will only get worse over generations. It is as good as lost already."
/"Ah. I see. It is like in the allegory, 'How do you make a smashed pot whole again?'"/

"Crazy glue," Lucca proffered before she knew what she was saying.

The Council turned towards her in unison, dropping a damning silence on the floor. Lucca squirmed and shrugged sheepishly under their sizzling stares. After a grueling pause the hard faces peeled away from her and resumed business amongst themselves.

"I agree. We had best dispose of our failure before it is capitalized by Jorumgand's agents."

"Outta my way!"

Lucca turned in time to watch one of the grand doors fly open with a crash. A sasquatch, apparently used as a battering ram, hit the ground with a subdued moan, and a blonde fury stormed into the chamber, making a doormat out of the fallen brute.
Ayla was virtually glowing with righteous anger. A behemoth fell from its guard station into her path, but with an impressive display of adrenaline (and an old, familiar technique) the woman delivered a roundhouse to its face at speeds that cracked sound and warped light. The towering amalgamation of scales, coarse fur and horns stumbled back with a pained bellow and held a paw to its snout. The crowd certainly seemed to get a kick out of it, their giddy whoops egging on a death match.

"Ayla!" Lucca sprang up and rushed to meet her, clinging to the closest friend that didn't have an esper standing in the way.

Ayla took her companion by the shoulders and passed a diagnostic look over her. "You okay, girlfriend? I got here as soon as I could."

"Ayla," Lucca nearly choked to divulge the news, both terrible and bewildering, "They were calling me Mii Sci Kee! They said I was some kind of, of failed experiment! Like I'm some kind of lab rat! What are they talking about?"

"I have no idea!" Ayla puffed, still catching her breath, "They never told me anything!"

"They're saying I'm a murderer! I don't know what they're going to do to me! And you..."

"Miss Ayla," Ifrit called her attention. "You are just in time. You, the Mii Sci Kee and the other Ellichronrisen have just been sentenced to Intrenosmua."

"What?!" Ayla shrieked through gritted teeth.

"Intrenosmua...?" Lucca foggily rolled the strange term on her tongue while Ayla started raving, stomping towards Ifrit and waving her arms dramatically. "You can't do that to us! We've served you for longer than most of your valkyries think the universe has existed! We were there at the end of the First Dragon War, putting mankind in their place before some of you were even born! And now this is how you're going to honor us? By chucking us into the universe's trash bin?!"

"Please understand, Miss Ayla. It is for the security of the Realm. We cannot risk infiltration by the Darkness," Ramah valiantly tried to assuage Ayla's tantrum.

"What the hell does that mean?!" In vain.

"There is nothing to argue. Lord Bahamut's Council has spoken," Leviathan dully hissed.

"Oh, this sucks!"

"QUIET," Ifrit boomed.

"I'd temper myself, Miss Ayla!" Fenrir followed through his fellow's warning, "Unless you want to join the heathens in the deepest pit of Hades, where none escape. Or better, Lord Ifrit can obliterate you right where you stand."

The great esper of fire crossed his tree-trunk arms gloatingly. Ayla seethed with indignation and held her breath. Before another word of argument could pass, Leviathan slapped the ground with his forked tail, conjuring a disquieting rumble throughout the hall. As if at that command, a flock of luminous ropes shot out of the floor like roused quail. They fell over Ayla and Lucca, locking them in a magic net.

"The hell?!"
"Eeek! Ayla!"
The girls ducked and thrashed with alarm, to no avail once the bonds tightened around their limbs.

Leviathan nodded to a pile of black chrome seated at the far corner of the Council's bench. "Lord Odin, escort these two mortals to the Edge of Infinity, and once the other Ellichronrisen make homecoming, be sure to give them the same welcome."

A wild, protracted, ugly plaudit from the mob showed Ayla and Lucca out of the chamber and into the custody of the blackest knight of the Esper Realm.


'What just happened?'

Once upon a time, Crono had known the perils of a crooked courtroom. Lucca wasn't there to watch him get carried away by an underhanded justice system; she had received the news only too late to stop the trial and just in time to save him from the sentence.

Lucca was reviewing her facts, looking over her case, deciding her plea--way too late. And Ayla had come to the rescue, too helpless to save her. Espers ruled her life and passed judgment on it, all over her head and beneath her nose.

'I'm... I am the Mii Sci Kee.'

This revelation could explain it all, but what was the Mii Sci Kee? What did being such mean to the Great Espers? Or to the Phoenix? What did the T'torlan have to say about it?

The last her memory could answer, and the exact passage floated to the surface too quickly for natural recollection.

Aloft on the wings of the Phoenix,
/the wrath of the Dragon God shall descend upon/
the Lord of Darkness.
/One to light the way/
One to see the light
/Child of Fire, Child of Light/
Together bring to Life
/Where angels lose their way/
And doves lament their loss
/Shedding tears to wash the blood/
of thousand years of strife.

Child of Fire: Mii Sci Kee/. That was the only reference to the Phoenix in the entire book, as well. At least they were on the same page, but what good did it do? 'Not very helpful.'/

Her ties shone with the coolest red, like a snake that swallowed a glowstick. Ayla's glittered gold, not unlike her footprints on the starry road. Where Sir Odin's silver gauntlet gripped their leashes, the rope fizzled black like coal. Lucca was reminded of something a stray dragon woman taught her about souls and colors, like fingerprints.

The two prisoners were towed through another dim, private corridor, the echoes of a riot smoldering behind them. Soon enough the crowd was in their past and the solemn drumming of feet on stone was their only audience. The footsteps of their bailiff-soon-to-be-undertaker were like rain on velvet, surprisingly subtle for a giant walking heap of metal. Concealed entirely by his armor, Odin looked like a humanoid robot--a twisted, warmongering Robo.
'I wonder if there's a place like this for robots when they...' She stopped her stupid question before it came to fruition and dredged up more memories, most too painful to bear at the moment. 'Robots don't have souls.' For a moment, she envied them that.

Lucca drank in the creepy nostalgia of the stone tunnel, again reminded of a certain medieval castle, its halls blessed by magic, haunted by demons and cursed by Lavos. Meanwhile, to her immediate right, Ayla fumed and sputtered impotently. To say she was bitter was an understatement.

"'Happily ever after,' they said when I got here. What rubbish. More like 'Intrenosmua for all.' Those bastards."

"Where are we going?" Even the way voices rippled across the stone evoked that familiar feeling of doom.

The query dulled the blonde's acrimony. "The Edge of Infinity, looks like."

"What's that?"

"The end of the road for us."

"I gathered that, thanks, but what is the Edge of Infinity? What does Intrenosmua mean?"

Their march was interrupted by a curious barrier. A hoop was set in the hall, its hollow center fitted with an ebbing, iridescent film, like a plug of soapy water in a bubble wand. Beyond, the passage continued as before, though it seemed impossible for the group to proceed without stepping through the hoop.

Odin did not seem interested in the immediate obstacle, however. He turned to a shadowed recess to face another beast-man, one that was less fire and more man than Ifrit. Through the darkness, Lucca could pick out wrought-iron horns, a scarlet leotard and a copious spread of brown fur.

"Odin," the beast-man growled, a sound mixed with deferential and demanding tones.

Lucca shuddered at the first time their captor spoke. Even during the bitter proceedings Odin was a lethally quiet presence, like an ornamental suit of armor in a dark palace, stirred to life merely by enchantments. His voice was exactly what Lucca expected of such: flat, deep and colorless.


Maduin moved between Odin and the shimmering ring. "This doesn't smell right," he spoke in a confidential mutter.

Odin stoically considered the other esper before issuing his command. "Step aside."

"Odin..." Maduin's paw landed on a huge shoulder pad, the gesture finishing his sentence.

For a tense moment neither moved, and Lucca wondered if she'd witness the third fight to break out over her since her arrival.

"The will of Bahamut be done," was Odin's steady reply.

Lucca and Ayla endured another poignant silence before Maduin yielded the path, not another word protesting. Odin flexed the rope in his hand and dragged the prisoners dutifully along, Maduin's eerily human eyes following them through the magic ring and onward. The film didn't pop as Lucca's reflexes anticipated, but rather gave to their passage like the surface of a pool. The hair on the back of her neck (which, like the rest of her body, felt as alive as ever) stood at attention for the transition as a wave of cool energy swept through her.

"That was a clean magic field," Ayla informed her once their usual pace resumed. "It's kinda what it sounds like. It cleans off any extra, eh, influences on the body--things like magic disguises or enchantments. To make sure nobody sneaks anything by."

"That means we're close to the Edge of Infinity now, doesn't it? I'm still waiting for you to tell me what that is, and why we're being taken there."

"Heh..." She hung her head and smiled grimly. "I wanted to be your tour guide, but not like this."


"Remember when I told you that some people call this place the Hero Realm, but that's not technically accurate because not everyone who comes here is a good guy?"

"Yeah. Didn't you say the bad guys go to Hades to atone for their sins against the espers?"

"Yep, that's one thing the espers can do to you if you've broken the rules. The other thing they can do is Intrenosmua. That's where they take you to the Edge of Infinity."

"Right. And what's there? What kind of place is that?"

"It's like the end of the world, I guess."

Lucca wrinkled her nose at the elementary definition. It reminded her of children's tales about the Earth being a great, flat mass that people could "fall off of" if they sailed too far out to sea--a fable geographically and scientifically ridiculous. "The 'end of the world'?" she snorted, her sense of humor presently bordering madness. "What're they gonna do? Push us over the side?"

Ayla's deadpan hammered Lucca's joke flat. "Yeah."

Lucca blinked, flabbergasted. "You're... kidding."

Ayla licked her dry lips and engaged the scientist's skepticism. "Some say there's another dimension out there--something like limbo--just a whole lot of nothing. Others say, when you fall off the Edge of Infinity you fall right into the Lifestream and become assimilated by it--you know, the BIG Lifestream, the one that the whole universe answers to. To tell you the truth, I don't think even the Great Espers really know what's out there for sure. All they know is that nobody that takes that plunge ever returns. It's their favorite way of getting rid of souls they don't want. It's like Bahamut's trash bin: garbage goes in... and it never comes out."

"Oh... crap. Why? Why is this happening to us? And what did they mean, /Ellichronrisen/?"

Ayla tightened her jaw and faced forward, adopting the pensive composure of a soldier. She became a glimpse of Lucca's past, a moment captured on the battlefield, with nothing but history behind them and the fate of the planet before them. She was suddenly /Ayla/, strong, serious, brave, ready to take on the world, right beside her. God, how were they ever so brave? "We're the Ellichronrisen," she asseverated.

"Um, what?"

"You did read about the Ellichronrisen in the T'torlan too, right? I know you had the book; I remember you reading it to us in Kitty's apartment. Remember that time, in the future?"

"Yeah..." Lucca swallowed, frantically sifting through her memories. "I read it. The Ellichronrisen were... I... don't quite remember."

Ayla refreshed her memory. "They were the six warriors that Bahamut blessed in ancient times. They helped bring an end to the First Dragon War. They're the ancestors of the entire neiphiti race. They're---we're--those were /our first lives/. You're a reincarnation of one of the Ellichronrisen, and so am I. You've had tons of lives before, but that one--the one where you fought in the dragon war--was your first."

Lucca blinked. She then ducked into her friend's space, whispering, "What? /Me/? Past lives?"

"Girl, I meant to tell you all about this when you settled down here, but I... I'm sorry. It doesn't look like we're gonna get a chance for you to remember everything."

"You mean, you and me, our souls... I'm some kind of famous warrior, brought back to life?"

"You're dead now." Ayla reflexively corrected her.

"Yes, how could I forget. And now we're going to be re-dead. Super-dead. Whatever. But, you and me, /Ellichronrisen/?" The Darkness-broken child couldn't absorb the profundity of it all.

"You, me, Crono, Marle, Frog, Magus... all of us. All six."

"...My God."

"I don't think He's listening here," Ayla facetiously remarked.

"No, I mean, they--the Council back there said that all of the Ellichronrisen will get Intrenosmua. That means that Crono and...?"

"As soon as Crono and the others get back here, looks like their numbers are up, too."

"No..." Lucca shook her head, as if she could deny it and make reality go away. Not her friends. Not the only people outside her family that ever really cared--ever called her 'friend,' 'comrade'... Not them, punished too. And her fault? Falcen's fault?
"Hey." Her voice cracked, and she swallowed. "Where are the others, anyway? I mean, where's Frog? And Magus? Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"Frog's out on a life right now."

"Oh." That concept was still difficult to digest on its own, but Lucca had greater concerns now. "And Magus?"

Ayla rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, studying the bricks and empty air. "You know? It's funny. Since we last saw him together--you know, alive--he never checked in."

Lucca's brows knitted into a mute, "What?" Ayla shrugged. Odin yanked sharply on their ties.

"Faster, mortals."

Their pace quickened, with or without Lucca. This esper sure was impatient. She didn't know what all the hurry was. After dragging her bare heels for a painfully grating stretch she recovered her step and staggered into rhythm again.

"This is so surreal. I'm going to wake up any minute."

"Keep telling yourself that. Maybe it'll come true."

"Ayla, why is this happening? What did I do? I never murdered any phoenix, Ayla, you have to believe me. I don't even know what Falcen and I have to do with this."

"Falcen?" Ayla narrowed a glance at her comrade. "Who's Falcen?"

A slip. Of course Ayla didn't know him. "Uh, um. Falcen, he's..." Lucca guiltily looked away, hardly able to begin, much less with a straight, forward face. To explain Falcen was to dig up a part of her history, albeit recent, that she wasn't exactly proud of, and it now more than ever spelled trouble... for everyone.

Ayla, smelling vital information being hidden, roughly reached across their ties and snagged Lucca by the collar, forcing the flinching scientist's look right into her eyes. "Who's Falcen?!"

"He's my son!" Lucca yelped. Ayla had always been impatient and straightforward to a fault. 'Better to get it all out,' the scarred girl quickly thought. Better for Ayla to know everything if it would help them both figure out what's going on.

"What?" Ayla's hold slackened, the woman baffled. "So? What does that have to do with the Phoenix's murder?"

"That's what I want to know! I don't--I... His father... I mean, Falcen's..." Lucca had to swallow again. "...He's a neiphiti."

"What? The father?"

Lucca shook her head feverishly, her wispy-thin hair sweeping the air of broken thoughts. "No, no... Falcen is."

One eyebrow arched perplexedly higher than the other. Once the implications of Falcen's paternity sank in, the best way to describe the look on Ayla's face was, "...Shit."

It was a negative reaction, of course, but not without its promise. Lucca rushed in to pursue the flash of morbid realization that crossed her friend. "Ayla, what does this all mean? Please! I still don't understand."

The horrified look melted into outrage. "What the--how the--what possessed you to do that?!"

Lucca defensively responded, "I'm sorry, I just, I don't know, but it's too late now! You have to tell me why it matters!"

Ayla wasn't finished, however, and her admonition continued. "Oh, hell's bells! Did you just wake up one morning, have a cup of coffee, step out into the wild and /fuck the first thing you saw/?! Was that it??"

"I said I'm sorry!!" Lucca shrieked, too hoarse and too battered and too damn tired to dwell on what she couldn't change.

"Silence." Odin's voice rattled them as much as the abrupt snap of their ropes. He received what he called for, both ladies quieted like delinquent children set in the corner.

After a considerate while, once the air had cooled, Ayla spoke again. "I'm sorry, okay? I don't know what's going on here any more than you do. I don't know what your kid has to do with this, even if he is a neiphiti. I know the espers don't like neiphiti, but since the last dragon war that hasn't been news."

"They talked as if Falcen has something to do with my soul."

"Hmm. Well, that's true. Neiphiti kids take their souls from pieces of their parents', unlike normal people, who get a fresh batch straight from the lifestream."

"Huh. So, Falcen's soul came straight from mine?"

"I think that's how it works. Why would that piss off the Council so much, though?"

'Yes, why why why? This is just another riddle, Lucca. It's just another puzzle, like the Tri-Xi in that book, like magic, like time, like robots, like that toaster I gave legs so it could walk even though it fell off the table all the time--it's goddamn magic and even magic has rules, laws--and damned if I can't figure this out too. There's a science to everything. It's simple, simple, right? Magic is based on principles of molecular motion, charged ions to lightning and--God if only this were that easy. So much better than people, people can't be understood, that's the problem. People and espers--espers are people made of magic--damn there's the problem. Why do people have to be so goddamned complicated? What the hell am I doing--Why can't I focus?!'

Lucca's thoughts sputtered out, and she found herself reciting the words she loathed most. "I don't know, I don't know... I... Goddamnit, I wish I knew."

'Because I want to know,' had always been her unspoken mantra, something that drove her creativity and conceived her inventions. It was an umbrella excuse for all kinds and numbers of eccentric antics; she'd used it until it stopped sounding weird and became ingrained in her nature. She used it for Falcen, and now she'd play it again, even at the end of the game, when it was too late to matter, and... why?

Because if she didn't /know/, she'd have nothing to leave with, and that--more than anything--terrified her.

"I wish I knew why being a Mii Sci Kee is so important to them. I don't know why my soul's so screwed up, according to them, that they have to throw it away. Apparently being Ellichronrisen doesn't make a difference, because if our souls are that important, they wouldn't be shuffling us off the edge of the world right now. They're treating me like I'm a damn lab rat, and punishing you guys for something I didn't do! This is completely crazy!"

Nothing made sense, nothing worked, damn it all. It was worse than arguing with a child, one whose fail-proof riposte was, "Because it's magic." Damn magic.

"I said quiet. We're here," Odin announced, startling them with the common tongue.

The passage opened into an antechamber... or not, for at the end of the room, after a pair of short steps, was another doorway leading straight into the emptiest, darkest nothing yet. The place could have posed as a reception room for the Chamber of the Fayth, its decor too much like the gothic colosseum: shady blues on black on jet, fat stone columns blossoming into a vaulted ceiling, and stone serpents crouched in the niches, torches clenched in their jaws. The most unique furnishings were the white crystal chandelier lit with a wheel of blue flame, and the life-sized statue at the head of the room, obscuring the door to nowhere. The statue depicted with classical detail a man with outstretched wings and plated armor--an angel perhaps, his elegant broadsword poised to strike down the monster writhing at his feet... It looked like a naga, Lucca decided.

Though it was placed in the room's focal point, the statue was not the main attraction today. The woman standing at its side, her hand lazily sliding over the naga's tail, stole that honor.

Lucca immediately recognized her as the esper who had abandoned the Council. Her skin was like frosted pearl, and her flimsy shawls were like coral tinted the faintest blue, as if seen on a tropical seabed. Rich blue hair was knotted intricately atop her head, many long, spiny braids spilling out of a loosely ringed bun. She had the fine visage of a lady, all perfect, rounded angles, and a brow flecked with diamond dust.

Odin stopped short, but was otherwise as steadfast as a mountain. "Shiva."

"Sir Odin." Her voice was as cold as her make.

"Do you wish to interfere as well?"

"No." Both girls were intrigued by her response, and moreover anxious when Lady Shiva gestured to the prisoners and stated her intent. "Allow me to speak with them."

Odin mulled over the request, though this was only evident by the silence preceding his response. If he had died in his suit of armor in the interim, none would have been the wiser. "...Be brief."

Then, to Lucca and Ayla's wary surprise, their ties vaporized. Their tenuous freedom was reined in by Odin's heavy hand, gently shoving them towards the blue woman. Shiva set her eyes on the floundering girls and motioned for them to follow with a graceful curl of her fingers. She led them around the large statue and through the door, to the balcony overlooking limbo. There wasn't even a handrail--just a circle of pavement jutting into a black sky.

"Is this the Edge of Infinity?" Lucca heard herself ask.

"This is the Edge of Infinity," Shiva shifted to common-speak to answer.

'This is it?' Lucca frowned and looked down into the void a mere step off the sidewalk. 'This isn't very... dramatic. It's as boring as the End of Time.'
Ayla huffed. She must have shared the sentiment.

Lucca stiffened as Shiva took her by the arm and pulled her close. The great esper addressed her in a delicate whisper, her breath like an arctic breeze and her touch, not surprisingly, like ice. "Mii Sci Kee."

Lucca cringed as much at the title as at the cold touch. "Y-yes?" She could feel Ayla's curiosity boring into the back of her head as the blonde stood by and watched their exchange.

"The Phoenix will not die."

This, before everything, shocked her. It not only contradicted everything she'd been told since her arrival in Bahamut's courtroom, but also instilled her with the disconcerting sense of being let in on a dangerous secret.

"It won't? I mean, it isn't? She? What?" Her teeth were starting to chatter. The room seemed remarkably colder. The shoulder Shiva held was numb.

Shiva gave a slight smile, the warmest feature she could carry, and slipped a chain around Lucca's neck. The girl's trembling fingers climbed down the necklace and wrapped around its weight, a stone coin the size of her palm. Turning the medallion over, Lucca found two gems, one ruby and the other a clear, tawny yellow, both set in a creamy pink, iridescent base that reminded her of rainbow shell. The gemstones were cut in a serrated pattern that neatly complemented each other, like two matching gears, ying and yang. The emblem was only faintly familiar, perhaps one of many etchings from the T'torlan that Lucca couldn't sort through at the moment.

"No, she is not, and will not. It is up to you to revive her. You must find the other half before it is too late. The key is with you."

"What?" Lucca's head was spinning. First she's condemned for killing the Phoenix, and now she's expected to save it! What's wrong with these people?! "Me, revive the Phoenix? What? How? What are you talking about??"

"Shh..." Shiva pressed a finger to her lips, which instantly chapped shut. She then whispered on, "You must find the Traukee and bring the Phoenix back. If you do not, Darkness will swallow everything. This medallion is hers. It will protect you and your friends." She flicked a glance at Ayla, and then back to Lucca. "Please, restore the Phoenix. She will lead the way. If you trust in your guidance, she will lead you to the corners of the galaxies and the edges of the universe, but never have you lost. You are the Mii Sci Kee."

Shiva drifted back, granting her space again, but Lucca clung to the woman's rimy garb, entreating an explanation, anything to make her purpose clear. "You say that--everyone says that! Please, tell me, what is the Mii Sci Kee?! What do I have to do with the Phoenix? Why are they saying I killed it?!"

The esper only smiled and shook her head in pity.

That was it. Cold, tired, burned, drowned, damned, confused and patronized, Lucca was desperate enough to beg, even if not for her soul, then for a resolution she could take with her to her nothing grave--for final peace of mind, for the last word, for an answer to all the wrong whys of her life, brought to bear with one last question. "Please! Tell me! /Who am I/?!"

Shiva stepped in close again. The esper's snowflake gossamer sleeves folded around Lucca's back and drew her into an embrace. The girl felt like a slight thing in the arms of the taller, fuller woman, so she stood very still, at mercy to Shiva's next move.

The great esper spun a thread of Tri-Xi into Lucca's ear that froze the pit of her soul.

"An'to... kei'lei'up fenix'tuc."

Ayla, out of this loop, couldn't hear the blue woman's message. She only saw Shiva hold Lucca fast and then pull away, leaving her friend in wide-eyed, empty shock. "Psst," the blonde spit to retrieve Lucca's attention, and she was granted some dizzy eye contact.

"What??" Ayla mouthed, the air of secrecy demanding a whisper.

Lucca voicelessly shook her head, which was all she could work out before the impossibly skulking Odin stepped into the circle and was again before them. There was some new, dreadful business about the dark esper, best visible in the broadsword readied in his hand. Cornered on the balcony, the girls retreated a measly two steps to the platform's edge.

Lucca threw a quick glance around the statue to find Shiva. The woman was gone.

Ayla's focus was on the sword Odin was lifting over his head, building up for a slash that both girls could easily see they wouldn't be able to avoid. Despite her fighting stance, Ayla was hardly prepared to resist, her mind already at terms with the fact that even if she could overpower the knightly great esper, there really wouldn't be anywhere to run. Lucca wouldn't know where to begin.

"Hey buddy, don't we get any last words?" the blonde sardonically asked her executioner.

Lucca thought he hesitated, or "paused," rather. His sword was suspended at the apex of its swipe, and for a lulling minute the esper was as much scenery as the statue at his back.

"...No," he said, killing the suspense, and the weapon resumed its swift fall, the flat of the blade slamming into both girls and launching them off the balcony with a trail of parting blood.

Lucca felt the hot ring of air, the brick flying out from under her feet and her robe tearing in the blow, but those were nothing in the heat of flight, falling down, down, down, into the cold abyss, watching that little balcony fall up, up higher and higher until it's a little window and then a lonely beacon and then a star and then black like everything else, just she and Ayla again against the world--who're the saviors of time, now?--and that medallion flashing bright the only light she can see--/Intrenosmua/ into assimilation into the primordial soup in the belly of the universe where none shall return and there's no time there's no space there's no life but all life...

'Blood... looks so real.'

...death feels like nothing.
Sign up to rate and review this story