The Siege

Cosmo Tower, also known as the Cult of Kefka Tower, loomed in the purplish-blue glow of dusk. Lights winked on in various levels on the enormous structure, the lit windows seeming like cruel, heartless eyes. Even the golden marble and deep mahogany of the tower seemed somehow intimidating, and malevolent.

Xain sighed. It wasn't always that way, it wasn't his intent to create a haven for ugliness and evil. He always heard about the legendary Tower of Babil, how it stretched from the realm of the dwarves below, to the overworld where humans lived, and then soared up towards the sky, almost reaching out to the Lunarians living there. It was a structure that signified peace, hope, and love between all peoples. While Cosmo Tower wasn't even close to the size of the Tower of Babil, the concept and ideals behind it still lay there. Cosmo Tower was meant to become a place of peace, a place of learning. All peoples were welcome, and none would be turned away from its gilded doors.

And neither would the phoenix. Xain closed his eyes momentarily, remembering the image he had when he was an adolescent. He, like many nobles, was hated by the poorer people in Jidoor, and at that time these poorer residents had yet to move away and form Zozo. Xain never did anything to the poor people; he in fact felt pity for them. That didn't stop them from lynching him one night. They performed all forms of horror on his tortured body, and merely laughed at his pleas to be released. Then Xain remembered giving up, letting the darkness close around him, and giving his last breath. He remembered walking through the deathly still forest that lead to the phantom train of the dead, he remembered feeling sorry for himself. Then there was a flash of brilliant light before him, and Xain's world reformed itself before his very eyes. He didn't find himself in that forest: he was back in Jidoor, surrounded by red, gold, and amber flames. The flames didn't burn him, but rather comforted him.

" this?" he heard himself say. He remembered the fear in his stomach, but also the strange feeling of love that seemed to emulate from the flames.

You are freed, my child. It is not your time to venture to the underworld yet. The voice was soothing, calm, and decidedly female. Xain turned to see a bird in mid-air before him, its fiery red pinions flapping lazily, as if it didn't even need them to suspend itself. I have chosen you, Xain of Jidoor, the phoenix said within the vaults of his mind, her gentle voice rushing over him like a warm blanket. For in return of this deed I have granted you today, I only ask that you follow me.

Xain remembered weeping. Xain remembered pledging himself to the fiery being, without question. And Xain remembered the blessing that the bird had given him, she naming him his priest, follower, and avatar. It was then that Xain knew that the three goddesses were the false way, and the true way was the way of the phoenix. And through the phoenix, he knew he would finally find who he was...


The prince's long-lashed eyes snapped open, bringing him back from his memory. He turned to see Celes standing there. She regarded him with a questioning expression that was mixed with concern. Briefly, Xain recalled how close they had once been...but that was past now. She had Locke, and Xain had...Xain had his own duties.

"I'm fine." he said. "I was just thinking of things...just things that happened." He drew a breath, and looked up at the tower. "I was thinking that this wasn't what I wanted when I built this place." No, I built it for you, Celes...

The ex-general sighed. "Yeah...I know. It's really a shame. But don't worry." She took his hand in her own, and gave it a reasurring squeeze. "We're here to change all that." Her beautiful baby-blue eyes flitted to the side, hearing somebody calling her name. "Oh, Locke needs me for something. I'll talk to you later." She smiled, and then turned to run back to the man she now loved, her golden hair flying behind her. Xain watched her go, his face not displaying his jealousy. But it was jealousy towards a friend, a jealousy he would never mention.

Xain sighed, and turned back to stare at the tower once more.

* * *

"All set?" Locke said.

"Yeah...Xain seems to be a little mopey, though." Celes frowned. "I can't say I blame him...his tower's been misused."

The treasure hunter scratched at his sandy-colored hair. "Yeah. But I think when this is all done, he'll be happy. He can open his tower to people, like he planned, and continue doing his phoenix thing." He looked over to where Edgar, Setzer, and Django stood off to the side, discussing their plans of attack. Behind them all, soldiers from Jidoor milled about in the brush, behind boulders, in caves...anywhere that would hide their number. Locke sighed. "I think those three are ready. I just hope they don't do something stupid."

Celes laughed. "Edgar? And Setzer? Stupid?"

He frowned. "It's not funny, Celes. Both Edgar and Setzer are love-starved jackasses that are on a mission to save the woman that they both seriously feel something for. I know if it was you up there in that tower, I'd do some pretty rash things to get to you." He sighed. "At least Django's there with them." He kissed her. "I'm going to tell them to get their asses moving. Why don't you get over with the other mages and form a marching order?"

She nodded, and walked over to where Strago and Relm were. Locke watched her go, and then headed to the three that were to be Terra's rescue party. "You guys ready?"

Django snorted, flicking his blue-flamed tail. "I've been ready. It's just these two keep taking their sweet time."

Setzer glowered down at the feline-like creature. "That place is swarming with baddies, kitty cat. We don't want to be toasted by the time we reach the second floor."

Django laid his pointed ears flat and growled at the gambler, but Edgar stepped between the two. "Knock it off...we have business to attend to, remember?" He turned to Locke. "We're all set, Cole. Go tell the others that we're moving out, and give us a good twenty minutes before you start. Got that? We need AT LEAST twenty minutes."

"Okay okay, sheesh...I'm not stupid."

"No, but I know for one that you tend to jump the gun...a condition that seems to affect people around you." The king of Figaro sighed. "Let's go." He turned and ran towards the tower, Setzer and Django close behind. Locke watched them go, and then headed back over to his group.

* * *

Terra slid on the gravel of the roof, gaining several painful brushburns in the process. But she didn't cry out, or flinch; she merely stood up to face Caezin and Shadow. Caezin merely leered at her. "Behave."

She glared at him with her grass-green eyes, but said nothing. Her hair fell into her face in ragged emerald coils, partially veiling her expression of hatred. At this point, Terra didn't bother hiding her hate for Caezin. Shadow was another matter, but Caezin was the one who oversaw the way she was treated for the most part...not to mention the one who treated her that way.

Shadow stared up at the small amount of stars in the early evening sky, seemingly oblivious to the staring match between Caezin and Terra. Then he looked straight at the half-Esper. "It's time. Are you ready?"

She didn't respond.

Shadow sighed. "Very well." He held up the red material, the material that contained Terra's blood, and fixed his now-blue eyes on it. "Meltdown Tempest." Instead of waves of green shooting out from his feet, multi-colored orbs of light flew about him, gathering to his slim form with a brilliant flash of light.

Terra screamed, and held at her head. What was happening to her? She felt pain rip through her body, and then suddenly felt stronger and more sure of herself. She screamed again, but it wasn't a woman's was the scream of something else. Something wild, something with immense power.

Her clothing vanished even as white fur formed on her slender limbs, limbs that grew more muscular. She felt herself rise into the air as she clutched at her chest, thrashing her head from side to side as her green hair shifted to shades of pink and magenta. Sharp teeth flashed from her gaping mouth, and then the Esper stopped her useless struggle. She stared at Shadow coldly with glowing purple eyes, but that faint expression was the only hint of the old Terra that lay within the beast.

Caezin stepped back, gasping. "M-Master...she's..."

"I always told you, Caezin. She is an Esper..." He smiled a thin smile. "MY Esper."

"What will you do with her?"

Shadow laughed then, a chilling, malicious laugh that bordered on the fringe of insanity. Even under his control, Terra shuddered at the laugh, having heard it before, or something like it. She knew the laugh, the laugh that haunted her dreams, the laugh that reminded her of her pain while in the service of the Empire. It was different somehow, having touches of Shadow's being on it, but the core of it was the same.

It was Kefka's laugh.

Caezin flinched visibly at the cold laugh, and then fled from the tower, stricken by fear from the sound of it. Terra remained hovering, held there by the power of the red material. She couldn't move, let alone speak. But she could use the one thing that all Espers had.

You are Kefka... Her thought said in Shadow's mind.

He stopped his laughter, and regarded her. "Yes, and no. Kefka was merely yet another all are vessels. Before Kefka, it was Ex-Death. Before then, it was Zerumus. And so it went...back into the vaults of our history.

I don't understand.

"No, you don't. But be assured...this spirit that I house is similar to the one that you house. We are reborn; just us, Esper. I, to cause pain to the world; and you, along with your friends, to heal and protect it. It is the destiny of us, for as long as this planet lives."

Why do you share this with me?

He narrowed his eyes. Light blue eyes, like Kefka's. Like Ex-Death's were. Like all those before him. "Because you belong to me. When we join, you will know this anyway. I can at least grant you a few favors for your service."

Then... the Esper's purple eyes flashed, glowing brighter. ...release me.

"You know I can't do that. Why would you even ask such a thing after I've gone through all this trouble to get you where I want you?" He took a few steps towards her. "I think we've had a long enough chat for today." Shadow raised the material, and it flared red. Terra shrieked in pain as every nerve felt as if it was being ripped apart.

He regarded her coolly. "There are forces gathering below us, at the foot of the tower. Go. Destroy them."

* * *

Locke glanced at his pocketwatch. Actually, it was Setzer's pocketwatch, but he doubted that the gambler was going to miss it at the moment. Nearly twenty minutes. Nearly time. He turned to Celes. "I think we're just about ready to start."

Celes nodded, and turned to look at the troops, who were being briefed by Xain and Sabin. Members of Django's tribe were mixed in with the brown-garbed members of the Jidoorian army. These poor men...who knew what fate they'd meet? Celes sighed, trying not to think about it, and turned to say something to Locke.

She was interrupted by a inhuman shriek, emulating from somewhere at the top of the tower. Celes and Locke exchanged a look. They had heard that scream somewhere before...

Relm ran up to them, yelling frantically. "Guys! I hear her! I can hear her!"

Locke looked at the girl. "Who?"

There was another scream at the top of the tower. "Terra! I can hear her thoughts! She's...she's an Esper!" Interceptor, who had run up with Relm, whined.

Xain turned, hearing this. "Impossible. Terra's Esper side is dead, or so you've said."

Relm made a rueful face. "It's true! I can hear her! She's talking somebody. Somebody like Kefka...but it's not Kefka." She made a whimpering sound, seemingly in pain. "I just don't understand."

Another scream, an animalistic shriek with undertones of self-loathing. And it was coming closer.

"Look!" One of the members of the army pointed with a shaky finger. Something white and pink was, flying down the side of the tower, giving off a faint trail of white as it streaked down towards them at an incredible speed.

Locke's brown eyes widened. " can't be her..."

Celes flung herself on him. "Get down!!"

Suddenly, the Esper soared over their heads, the wake of the speed of her flight causing a booming sound and a fierce, crushing rush of air. There was confusion as the army and the others were bowled over, pushed down by the sonic boom. A high-pitched wailing was heard over the confusion, a wail mixed with a scream. Terra rose above the group, taking in the surroundings with cold, purple eyes.

Locke's voice caught in his throat. " we do? We can't harm her..."

Xain turned to Locke. "We have to stop her somehow! MEN!" he roared at the troops. "OPEN FIRE!"

The ranks of men raised crossbows and javelins, and let loose a deadly rain upon the Esper. Locke heard himself cry out, but couldn't move, Celes and somebody else pinning him down.

The missiles stopped and fell even before they reached the Esper. She regarded them with her pupiless eyes. The crossbow fire stopped, and the crowd fell into a hush, stunned.

Terra raised her arms above her head.

Then she flashed red. "Merton."

A hot breeze, like that from off the desert, came wafting into the valley to wash over the army. It changed from a warm breeze to a scorching wind, worse than the heat felt inside the Cave of the Phoenix. Worse than any fire spell. It continued to flow around the army as they screamed in pain, the cosmo beasts giving animalistic screams of fury.

Celes gasped in pain next to Locke. He could feel it himself, but barely recognized it as pain. His mind was too numb, he almost couldn't feel the fiery heat burn in his lungs. He lifted his face to look at Terra.

The Esper seemed unconcerned, unaffected by the fire. Why? Terra was always harmed by fire before. She fixed her unblinking eyes on him, her face unreadable, but yet...

There were tears coursing down the white-furred face.

Celes rose up slowly, enduring the pain of the Merton spell. "Terra...why?"

It's not my idea. It's only my action. I do as I'm commanded. The Esper's thought rang out in their minds clear and true even as she cast another Merton spell, doubling their agony.

The Ex-general cried out, holding at her sides. "I...can't let..." She slowly drew her sword, dragging her feet as she stepped towards the Esper, who hovered only a few feet above the ground.

I'm sorry, Celes, everybody. But you can't win this fight. Go away before I'm forced to kill you.

Celes continued her advance, her face contorted into a look of pain and determination. She held her gold-hilted sword in her hand as she walked.

I don't want to do this, Celes. Stop. There was a note of urgency in the Esper's thought.

The honey-haired woman shook her head even as the heat singed her pale skin. "I...won't...let..."

Very well. Terra raised her clawed hands. "Merton."

"NO!" Celes raised up her sword high, flashing a cold blue color as mystical energy ran up and down her body, into the weapon. As the Merton spell came in as a massive wave of fire, it swirled, and directed itself to her. It spun around her like a maelstrom, and formed a funnel as the sword siphoned it into itself, and the woman bearing it. The spell dissipated, leaving the army surrounding the two women stunned, but free from its affects.

I didn't expect this.

Celes fixed her blue eyes on Terra's pupiless ones. "Neither did we. Please Terra, don't do this. Nobody wants to fight you."

That's too bad...I'm sorry. Terra summoned forth yet another Merton spell.

Celes held her sword aloft again, flashing blue as she cast runic once more. Once again, the sword absorbed the energy and power of the spell.

Terra screamed, fangs flashing in the silver moonlight. Master...please! I tried!

Relm's face went pale as she stood on shaky feet. So that's what it she knew what was happening. Terra was being controlled by not only a Kefka substitute, but the next incarnation of him. Everything else she gleaned from the Esper's thoughts was a jumbled mix of images, and could explain nothing.

The girl took a step towards where Terra hovered, and sent her thought out. Stop. It wasn't a request.

The Esper writhed in pain and screamed, apparently being commanded by two people at once. Please...leave me alone!

No. Terra, stop. Return to the top. We will save you. Relm's thought was commanding, even stronger than the one compelling Terra to attack.

Terra's shoulders slumped. He will...hurt me. Again. I can't take it anymore.

Yes, you can. Return. Go back. I will be with you in your mind.

Terra screamed, holding at her head, and then she shot up towards the top of the tower, spiraling up like a corkscrew, leaving a trail of sparkling white behind her.

Relm sighed wearily. "We'd better get moving. Her Master knows we're here."

* * *

Django disposed of yet another sentry with ease. It didn't take much...just a quick bite to the throat to crush the jugular and the windpipe. He let the dead man slip from his jaws, watching as the blue-faced body slumped to the floor. Behind him, Edgar rained arrows on the other guards with the Autocrossbow, killing them nearly instantly.

As soon as the obstacle was removed, Setzer coolly stepped over the bodies, unconcerned. They had gone up at least fifty floors at this point, although Setzer had lost count at somewhere near thirty. Surprisingly, they had made it this far without a hitch; Django's knowledge of the tower led them through less-traveled passageways and hidden hallways, leaving them to roam undetected. Now, they were out in a main hall, where occasionally guards or cult members would run past frantically. Usually, they let them go, but these particular guards they just killed were standing in front of the detention block.

Edgar took a key off one of the bodies, and after a few attempts, managed to open the door to the detention area. The three slipped into the area, dragging the bodies with them. After throwing them into an empty cell, they shut the door behind them, and looked around.

Django sniffed. "I don't smell anything female here." He padded down the hall, glancing into each cell by standing on his hind paws. The two men accompanying him also looked into the cells, but didn't see anything.

Setzer kicked the wall in frustration. "This is so goddamn stupid. Why the hell wouldn't you keep a prisoner in your prison?"

Edgar opened another door, and then read what was on the door. "This is why..."

Django looked up at the clipboard hanging there. "Looks like medical records or something." He sniffed. "This room smells like..."

"Terra." Edgar said, walking in. Laid on the bed wasn't the woman herself, but her gauzy cloak, her hair clip, and her jewelry. The king of Figaro slowly stepped towards the items, reaching out to pick up the necklace laying there. Maduin's pendant shone in the cold glow of the fluorescent lights. The king sighed, closing the pendant in one large hand, and bowed his head.

"C'mon, Ed. We can't stay here..." Setzer put a hand on the king's shoulder. "We have to find her...apparently, she's been moved from here to a lab, and visa versa."

Django continued to read the contents of the clipboard. "She's being held in lab 4, or so this says." He turned to look at the two men. "I know where that is. We'd better get moving."

Edgar nodded, dropping Terra's belongings into a pocket, but then paused. He slipped Madiun's pendant around his neck, and then sighed. "All right, let's go."

* * *

Sabin blew away yet another cult member with Aurabolt. They were much weaker than he had expected, or maybe he was just getting haughty. Still, his friends didn't seem to have any problems disposing of them. Locke threw daggers like a madman, making the cult members fall down like cut grain. When he ran out of dirks and daggers, he drew his short sword, and caused just as much damage.

Celes wasn't even bothering to use material. Last time they were here, magic was a must: physical attacks simply wouldn't work. Apparently, now that the cult was under "new management", the members here were like normal men. She watched as yet another fell under her sword, and turned to see if she could find any more to eliminate. Celes was normally a kind and gentle person, but when it came to battle, she was a soldier; she was cold, ruthless, and saw the world through red-fringed vision.

Strago threw out his blue mage skill with ease. He still hadn't lost his touch, even after all this time. As Aquarake washed over a battalion of the cult's own personal guard, he turned and watched as his granddaughter control several cult members with her telepathy. Relm didn't seem concerned as she ordered the men to slaughter each other.

Interceptor was easily holding his own, ripping out the throats of cult members and guards alike, his sharp fangs shining with their blood. Every once in a while, the dog would pause and look at Relm. The girl would nod in approval, and Interceptor would wag his whiplike tail gleefully. Then he would lunge to bite the neck of the next cult member.

Xain ran up the stairs, his slender war sword bloodied. "Move! To the next level!" That was their cue to move on ahead, and let the troops below finish up the dirty work. They had modified their plans slightly, and now the members of Django's tribe were up ahead, ripping through the troops and causing chaos. It helped them a great deal; without a doubt, things would be moving much slower if the beasts hadn't run on ahead.

The group fell back into their marching order: First Locke and Celes, then Sabin and Xain, then Relm and Strago. Gau, Cyan, and Mog were close behind, running up the stairs.

"I'm getting to old for this..." Cyan muttered as they rounded yet another staircase landing.

Gau smiled. "Father, I think you'll never grow to old for this."

Cyan smiled, patting his adoptive son on the back. "I do believe thou art right, Gau. I could never give this up."

Mog flew alongside them, his small purple wings a blur. "Yeah, ain't it great to get into action? I thought I was gonna collect dust for the rest of my life." He sighed. "Too bad Umaro had to miss it."

"Where is thine yeti friend, Mog?"

Mog made a face. "He has a girlfriend now. all he does is hang out with her. He has no time for me!" He frowned as Cyan and Gau laughed. "But it's true! All he wants to do is be with her."

Cyan smiled. "Mog, someday thou wilst understand the meanings and workings of love. Then, thou shalt be in thine friend's place."

"...yeah, right." the moogle grumbled. Suddenly, the line came to a halt. "...hey, what gives?"

Relm turned to them. "Terra's nearby...and so is her master. And they sent a friend for us to play with."

The moogle flew up to see over their heads. A man stood, in green and white robes, stock-still. Surrounding the man were wounded and dying cosmo beasts, the force sent up ahead. Mog gulped down the bile rising in his throat. "Uhh...this doesn't look good."

The man leaned on his staff, the only part of his face seen was his gray eyes. "None shall pass."

From behind the group, Mog squeaked something about the "...darn Black Knight...", but nobody paid attention to him. The senior cult member stepped forward, raising a hand. Interceptor growled from where he stood next to Relm.

Celes stepped forwards too. "We WILL pass."

"Very well." Waves of green energy shot out from around the cult-member's feet, ruffling his white robes, as a material orb in his staff blazed. "Comet2."

Locke frowned. "What the hell spell is th--" He was cut short by a flaming rock that hit him square in the chest, knocking him backwards into Sabin. More red-hot rocks rained from the sky, pelting them and the wounded cosmo beasts laying around the cult member. Xain dodged a flaming rock, and raised a hand. "Give me fire!"

Not waves of green, or even waves of red shot out from around the prince's feet. Instead, his entire body gave off a white aura that was intermixed with flames of blue and yellow. A large ball of fire formed on his hand, and then sailed towards the cult member's face.

Who batted away the fireball with his staff, laughing.

Xain's normal calm look broke into one of surprise, even as the cult member raised his staff.

"Bolt3." He said.

The rain of rocks stopped to be replaced with a rain of intense electricity from the heavens, pelting them. Relm screamed in pain, and clutched at her grandfather, the old mage having fallen to his knees. Locke reached out towards Celes, but the woman was already under the influence of the spell, her body spastically jerking.

The spell stopped, leaving them stunned and wounded. They slowly stood, looking at the mage ahead of them coldly.

"Leave in peace." He said. He didn't say it in a mocking tone, or a threatening tone. He merely said it.

From the back of the group, Mog was heard grumbling. "...where is the stupid thing...leave in peace, my furry behind...."

The man looked at them again, and hit them with another Bolt3 spell. "Leave in peace." he repeated.

Mog flew up above them, ignoring the pain of the lightning. "Leave in peace he says! Yeah right!" He landed in front of Celes, only about ten feet away from their assailant.

Locke blinked. "Mog, what the hell are you doing??"

The moogle clutched something in one paw, while he held his spear in his other. "You want us to go away? I don't think so! I'm just about tired of all...this...stuff! Yeah!" He held up the relic he held in his hand. "So why don't you go away? Huh?"

The cult member faltered, staring down at the moogle, his gray eyes wide with fear.

Mog growled a squeaky growl. "You heard me! Leave in peace!"

A ragged gasp came from the man in robes, as he backed away, dropping his staff. Mog took a step towards him, and the man backed away more, bumping into the railing of the balcony they stood upon. The moogle flared his wings, and growled again, waving what can only be described as a doodad in his tiny hand. The cult member screamed, and jumped off the balcony, screaming "nonononono..!" until he hit the ground far below. Mog watched him go.

There was another faint thud below. Mog laughed. "Oh cool, they bounce!"

Locke helped Celes up, while Relm and Sabin cast Cure spells on the group. Xain looked at the moogle. "What is that....thing?"

Mog looked down at the small piece of what appeared to be obsidian, with weird beads glued to it. "Ohh, this thing? My charm.'s really cool. I just hold it up, and my enemies think I'm their worst fear. I dunno what that I guy thought I was, but he was really scared of it."

Xain actually laughed. "Really? Well, keep holding it up, moogle...and take the lead. I think you can definitely help us on this siege."

Mog saluted, drawing himself up to attention. "Sir, yes Sir, Mr. Xain! You can count on me!" He rubbed his paws together. "Finally...I get to have some fun!"

* * *

Lab 4 wasn't locked, strangely enough. Setzer found a lightswitch, and flicked it on. There was a flicker as the strange florescent lights lit, and then the room was bathed in their cold glow. The gambler looked up at the lights.

"You know what? I like these things...maybe I ought to snag one, since they don't seem to get overly warm when--"

"Never mind, Setzer." Edgar said. "We're here for a more important reason." He walked over to the cold metal table, examining the straps hanging from the sides of it. "Terra...what have they been doing to you?" He noticed a few drops of blood on the silver surface, and touched them. They were dry. "Apparently, they haven't been in here for a while."

Django sniffed around the drops of blood. "You're right...nobody's been in this place for hours." He fixed his golden eyes on Setzer. "What do you have there?"

Setzer was holding up a wide-mouthed flask. The inside was stained a fiery red. "Is this stuff inside blood...? Blood doesn't dry bright red..."

Django sniffed at the container, and then sneezed. "Blood, and lifestream. It's the same blood that's on the table it must be Terra's." He grunted and sat on his haunches. "I don't get it...why would you mix blood and lifestream?"

Edgar paled at the thought. "I think I can come up with several reasons. Think about it...if lifestream is used to make material, and you have to seal a spell into makoro to make it into a material orb, what would happen if you mixed the blood of an Esper with makoro?"

Setzer's eyes widened in understanding. "That's right....magitek technology used the essences of taking it from their blood."

"Exactly. So they must of tried to--or actually did--make a material orb that can control Terra."

Django frowned, or at least seemed to. "So now they control an Esper. This isn't good."

Setzer set the flask back down on the table, and looked around at the unfamiliar equipment. "No, it's not. I think I want to get her out of here, fast. No telling what they've done to her, and no telling what they can get her to do right now."

The silver beast nodded, and padded out the door. "We'll check around this floor for awhile, and then check the cell block again. They'll most likely take her back there." He sniffed the ground. "I smell...her. And somebody else...sort of stinky.."

Edgar snapped his fingers. "Caezin! Can you follow the trail?"

Django gave a chuckle. "Of course. Come along, you two. I think we're almost there." He then led the way down the hall. Edgar followed, pointedly ignoring the lab implements and equipment around him, flicking out the lights. Setzer paused, reached up, and pulled out one of the florescent bulbs out of its slot in the ceiling, along with the small device next to it, and slipped both into one of the large pockets inside his trenchcoat. Then he followed as well.

* * *

Terra lay crumpled at Shadow's feet, no longer in Esper form. She was seriously weakened, and barely had the energy to remain in something of an upright position. Shadow looked down at her, his expression unreadable. "This doesn't work as well as I thought...why is her power so weak?"

Caezin shrugged. "Master, she IS haf-Esper, after all. Perhaps it's watered-down power."

The Master's pale eyes flashed in anger at Caezin, and then calmed. "Yes, it seems that way." He sighed. "I myself will deal with those attacking, since I know how they fight. Take her with you...I have no further use for her."

"Master? What about reaching the Esper world?"

The cult leader looked down at Terra, who's clothing hung in tatters. "I doubt she'll ever have the power to open it again. I'll have to find some other way. Now take her away...she's yours."


Shadow's light blue eyes flickered in the light of the moon. "Consider it a prize for your services. I know how you look at her, Caezin. You can't hide things from me." He sighed. "Now go."

The mage grinned, showing his brown teeth. "Thank you, my Master." He roughly dragged Terra up by her arm. "Come on, you. We have things to do."

Shadow watched as the two of them left, and nodded in satisfaction. Good. Not even the Esper knew that the moment Caezin touched her in any sexual way, he would use the red material orb. Caezin's life force, the force of a powerful mage, would be drained into Terra, and the Esper would regain her full strength. Then, that would be the time to summon her, to have her open the gate.

He smiled coldly, and sat down on the harsh black gravel, waiting.

* * *

Yet another group of cult members rounded a corner, brandishing staffs, daggers, and material orbs.

Yet another time, Mog stepped forward, holding up his charm. "Leave in peace!"

And yet again, the cult members fled in terror, as their worst fear commanded them with baleful eyes. The moogle rolled around on the ground, laughing uncontrollably. "I LOVE saying that!"

Xain sighed. "Mog, please stop. We must keep moving." He picked the small creature up, and set him on his feet, then turned to the others. "We're almost to the top floor, so be ready. I'm sure that the leader will be standing there, waiting for us."

Relm frowned. "Terra's thoughts are...mixed. From what I get, they don't need her anymore, and are taking her away."

The prince nodded. "Very well, that means that they will no longer use her against us. That's something of good you know where they're taking her?"

She shook her head, blonde curls bobbing. "Nope. She's with Caezin, though."

Strago grunted. "I know Caezin...he'll probably take her someplace and try to use her power anyway."

"Don't worry about it." Locke said. "Edgar, Setz and Django are probably hot on their trail as we speak. I know Django; he's an expert tracker." He looked up the staircase. "We'd probably better get moving. I don't know about you, but I just want to get this over with."

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