KJ (owlmoose) wrote in halfdead_au,
KJ
owlmoose
halfdead_au

Chapter Thirty-Two

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Chapter Thirty-Two

So, the time had finally arrived: the attack on Bevelle and Yevon was imminent. Every member of the rebel army had his orders. Every mind was made up that the corrupt and murderous reign of the Maesters could not continue. It was with a feeling of exhilaration that they went to this battle, confident of the righteousness of their cause and the certainty of their victory.

-X-

Squab advanced warily down the causeway, his sword in his right hand, a long dagger in his left. He continually swung his head from side to side, alert for any suspicious movement. There! To the right! A warrior monk leapt into the center of the walkway, feet planted wide apart, two-handed sword at the ready. Without a pause, Squab rushed on his foe, defending with the dagger and lunging with the sword. The blade passed smoothly under the rib cage of the monk and spitted him like a roasting fowl. As he withdrew his weapon, Squab hoped Lucil had seen him in action.

-X-

The Ronso had carefully placed Yuna in a convenient niche and stood in front of her, his broad body filling the opening and effectively shielding the small summoner from any danger. As the battle surged about him, Kimahri almost casually dispatched any enemies who came with reach of his long arms, strangling, stabbing, ripping off limbs, whatever came most easily to hand. Then the first rush eased up, and he stepped aside, letting Yuna out to hurry down the bridge, toward the temple doors.

-X-

"It's better when you let me fight at your side," the young man spoke confidently.

His older companion looked fondly at the lad. "I'm glad you're here. At least I know you're ok."

-X-

The dark healer was puzzled. Ferata had expected to be far busier with caring for the wounded than he actually was. The number of enemies was vastly fewer than he had thought likely, and a surprisingly large number had simply laid down their weapons at the sight of the invaders. What was going on?

-X-

Lucil shook her head in amusement, sending her long red hair swirling about her face. She had watched Squab take out the warrior monk with smooth efficiency. He was so obviously posturing for anyone watching that she had to laugh. Of course, he was a splendid fighter and needed no one's admiration, but there was something boyishly appealing about the joy with which he went about dispatching his foes. She had time for such reflections since the passage down the corridor was turning up only a few defenders willing to stand and do battle. There was something very wrong about the way this incursion was turning out. It was not the bitter and deadly struggle she had anticipated. Could there possibly be treachery afoot? It was not normal for the adherents of Yevon to give up so easily. She wondered if she should send a messenger to Nooj, then remembered he was always at the head of his troops and would have noticed this odd behavior long before she had.

-X-

Paine's first sight of a mechanical soldier gave her pause. She stared up at it, all odd angles and no arms as it bounced on one of its huge metal legs. No visible weapon; how would it attack? No time to wonder, so she turned instead to its warrior monk minders, shooting one in the shoulder before he could fire back as she saw the other one fall, victim to Nooj's first shot. Drawing her sword, closing to finish him, she heard a shout of "Look out!" from behind her; she just had time to twist away before the machina foot could come crashing down on her head. It caught a glancing blow on her back instead, and she landed on the ground, gasping with shock as much as pain. She rolled over and looked up, then slashed at a weak point with her sword, half-severing one of the cables that attached the attacking leg to the metal body, and then it was buried under a deluge of water. Spitting and sparking, it toppled over with a crash, and she sat up to see Lulu, who caught Paine's eye, nodded, then hurried forward to catch up with her party.

"Paine!" Nooj hurried forward as she stood, carefully.

"I'm fine," she said, taking advantage of the momentary lull in battle to take a tentative step. It hurt, but she would do. "Just bruised, not broken." She looked around. "Not as much resistance here as I would have expected. Baralai must have done well."

"Indeed," Nooj replied, "although I would feel better if I knew where he was."

"Me too." The pair resumed their trek down the Highbridge, guns drawn and ready for the next encounter.

-X-

"Hah!" Rikku jumped the warrior monk, negating the advantage that his machina rifle gave him at a distance, slashing at his arms with twin knives. He dropped the weapon and grappled with her, wrestling her to the ground. She squirmed away and stabbed again; he howled in pain and then grabbed at her again, but she was too quick for him. She bolted toward the cannon behind him and quickly worked to dismantle it, snagging valuable components in the process. Turning, seeing the monk bearing down on her again with murder in his eyes, she locked the knives in front of her in a defensive pose, and then the monk went down, caught in the back of the head by a blitzball.

-X-

Lucil and her chocobos had formed a perimeter around the entrance to the temple complex as the rest of the army streamed onto the semi-circular courtyard that framed the single door. The door was only wide enough to admit one person at a time; it would never do for admitting a force of this size.

"Stand back!" The cry rippled through the ranks as Lulu gathered together every Crusader, warrior monk, and Al Bhed able to tap into black magic. They formed a tight circle, hands resting on shoulders or arms linked, and then each in their own way called on the power of lightning. The wall shuddered under the repeated strikes, each stronger than the last, and then they began to crack, glass and steel and concrete breaking and tumbling to the ground. The assembled army cheered as it dissolved into a pile of rubble.

"Enough," Lulu called out, and the mages ceased their casting. She wiped the sweat from her brow and took the restorative that Yuna handed her as the Al Bhed rushed in, the machina clearing a pathway as archers and gunners covered them from the sudden hail of bullets and stones from above.

-X-

Kinoc stood at the pinnacle, frozen in horror as he watched the wall tumble down and the small horde of rebels pour through the breach. He had just gotten the report of the opened Highbridge gates; both Baralai and the warrior monk he had set to guard were missing, so he had his suspicions. An airship whined overhead, firing missiles at a screaming Evrae.

"Your Grace?" Logos spoke quietly into the Maester's right ear. "What are your orders?"

Before answering, Kinoc contemplated the scene below him. Bevelle was lost; it was over for Yevon. The warrior monks and machina in the temple courtyard and along the pathway here would slow the enemy troops, but there was no way to stop them entirely. "Maybe Seymour had it right after all," he muttered.

Logos looked at his commander, confused. "Sir?"

Kinoc shook his head sharply. "Never mind. I have something to take care of. Protect the Grand Maester with your life. If the rebels get up here, concentrate on taking out the summoners -- without the summoners on their side, they will need Yevon to protect Spira from Sin. Even traitors should know that much. If you don't hear from me otherwise, evacuate him and any other survivors to the waiting ships in one hour. Understood?"

"Yes sir," Logos replied with a salute, which Kinoc returned before heading down the stairs. "And you? What will you be doing?" he called out after him.

Kinoc paused, turned around, looked up. "The last resort," he replied grimly. Then he began trotting down the stairway, back to the depths of the temple, to make one last attempt to control the weapon down beneath. He would not allow St. Bevelle to fall to the rebels. Whatever the cost.

-X-

The debris proved no real obstacle to the forces entering the temple complex of Bevelle. The narrow door would have been the sticking point but with the wall crumbled before them the way was clear. Like an advancing tide the mass of soldiers followed their tall commander into the courtyard and their objective loomed before them. Mindful of the directive to spare civilians, they made their way carefully toward the great entrance of the cathedral proper while dodging the hail of arrows, bullets and stones from the ramparts which surrounded the inner properties.

Nooj paused in the shelter of the sanctuary wall. He glanced at those around him: Paine, Aquelev, Gippal, Jayn. "Major, you come with me. I shall need your knowledge inside the temple. Gippal, gather as many Al Bhed as you can and hold the exterior grounds to prevent our being trapped inside. There's no use rubbing the noses of the Yevonites in the your race's presence and we need a trusted guard out here. Paine, stay with Jayn and me until we see what we're up against inside. Aquelev, ..."

"I'm going in with you." The Al Bhed healer declared robustly. "You're not going to stop me now."

Nooj did not waste time arguing. He knew his friend well enough to know when it was useless. Instead he turned to a Crusader whom he vaguely remembered from earlier days. "You there, go back to take a message to Sir Auron and the other guardians. Tell them we are going inside and will try to hold the center until they get here. Warn them about the snipers on the walls."

The man saluted and set off at a trot, bent double to evade the attacks from above.

Nooj raised his voice and commanded, "I want every archer and marksman who can hear me to start picking off those enemies on the parapets. Aim well and kill them all." He then advanced to the doors. "Open these."

A dozen soldiers rushed to forge a path for their leader, flinging the heavy doors aside as though they were cardboard.

Nooj gestured for the troops to hold back as he, himself, took the first step inside the great temple. For a moment he was unable to see clearly in the dim interior but slowly the shape of the structure emerged. Before him stretched a broad aisle leading to the rear of the vaulted room. To either side, subsidiary aisles led to other rooms and finally joined the main path at the raised platform in the smoky distance. Clouds of incense decreased the clarity of the scene and floated serenely near the ceiling. At first there appeared to be no other people in the offing when suddenly groups of defenders emerged from all directions and made a concerted rush on the invaders.

The doors were wide enough to permit Crusaders and warrior monks to form themselves into wedges and drive into the shrieking attackers, breaking them apart and isolating them for individual slaughter or capture. The objective of those who attempted to hold their fortress was to terrify the rebel army and drive them from the cathedral before they could establish a foothold. This plan was not the success Kinoc had assured them it would be. They quickly found themselves outnumbered and outfought on every side. Most, remembering what they had heard about this army, threw down their arms and trusted they would not be slain out of hand. The few who kept the faith were forced to retreat and, knowing their territory well, vanished into the upper reaches of the building, prepared to hold the more defensible ground.

-X-

As the three friends from the Djose Temple made their way along the way to the crumbled wall of the great cathedral of Bevelle they did not notice the snipers dodging along the battlements surrounding the courtyard.

Suddenly one of the defenders high above drew back his arm and hurled a stone with an athlete's strength and a marksman's eye.

The missile caught Xaq just above the ear with a hollow 'thunk'. The man went down like a poleaxed steer, flat on his back with his arms outstretched, his hands limply open.

"Xaq! Are you dead? Is he dead, Tepil?" Marp almost dropped his bow in his distress.

"I don't know. He looks dead. Was he shot? I didn't hear any noise. Just a thunk." Terpil stared at his fellow monk.

"Do we leave him here? We've got to get in the temple and fight."

"You want to drag him along with us?" Marp knew he was talking nonsense but could not seem to stop.

The two stood, uncertain, over their friend's supine body trying to decide on the proper course when a twitch from Xaq's leg startled them.

"He's alive!" Tepil cried.

"Maybe not. Could be one of those cadaveric spasms."

"Where'd you hear that? You don't know what that means."

Marp had the grace to blush. "I heard a healer say that when a dead man kicked him."

Unnoticed by the others, Xaq had pushed himself into a seated position, his legs sprawled widely in front of him. He braced himself on his palms and shook his head slowly from side to side.

"Wha' happened?" he moaned.

"You got shot but it didn't kill you, I guess." Marp told him kindly once he had realized the truth.

Xaq thought for a minute. "Then why'm I not bleeding? My head hurts."

Tepil stooped and picked up a fist-sized stone lying nearby. "Hey, I bet this hit him. Those bums on the walls are throwing rocks at us."

The patter of a series of stones landing confirmed his observation and the three monks stared up at the battlements in confusion.

"They're throwing rocks; let's get outta here!" The trio made for the shelter of the church itself where they would be shielded from the catapulted shower.

-X-

Ferata concentrated on chasing down and corralling the fleeing monks. Most were happy to lay down their weapons -- if they had not dropped them already -- and consented to being locked in the various storerooms of the temple. They felt safer there.

-X-

"Look, there's Nooj! He oughta be giving the victory sign any minute now!"

"Yeah. I don't see any more monks around here. You think the Maesters got away?"

-X-

Nooj stood to one side of the gate to the lift at the far end of the central aisle. Paine was at his right hand in her accustomed place.

"It looks like our young friend has had considerable success in persuading his associates to rethink their loyalties. I've seen more arms thrown down than used against us."

"I knew Baralai was good but I never thought he could be this good. He and Gippal have more than done their best. Can you imagine the casualties if Baralai had not been inside? Do you think we had better get up to the battlements where those damned snipers are?"

Nooj pointed up to the balcony above them. "Not by this lift. Look up there. Aquelev has already had that idea. He's holding the door to outside. This temple was built for defense; it never seems to have occurred to the Maesters that an enemy might get inside the doors. No, leave this route alone. There has to be another way up to the roof and the tower. Stairs ... Nobody relies just on mechanical lifts. They can be disabled. Stairs ... They can't move the entire mass of monks without stairs. We have to find them."

"Want me to go look?" She braced herself to speed off.

"No. I need you by me. Flag down a couple of soldiers and let's send them off to carry the word to hunt for stairs instead of chasing down monks who are trying to surrender."

-X-

The word had spread quickly from many mouths. "We're supposed to look for stairs."

Soldiers poked into every likely spot, behind screens, under flagstones, within recesses. Swords crashed into any suspicious wall hunting disguised passages. Hangings were ripped down and tall chairs hurled aside.

-X-

When they had spread the word amongst the troops milling about with little to do since the defenders of the temple appeared to have melted into the vast spaces of the cathedral, Nooj turned again to Paine.

"How's your shoulder? Did that machina do any lasting damage?"

She shook her head. "It was mostly my back it hit and it's just a bruise. Don't worry about it; I'm tough."

"That you are." He grinned at her and moved over to another area overlooking the nave. "Damn this confusion. I can't see what's happening."

"Boost me up on that lectern and I'll be able to see over everybody." He leaned his gun against the side of the wooden stand and, gripping her around the waist, lifted her lightly to the top of the narrow platform. "Don't slip." He held her thigh to steady her.

She did not answer for a minute, busy scanning the main floor. "Nooj! I think that's Kinoc, heading back toward the doors. I'm sure it's him! Help me down; let's get after him."

Without a word the tall man swung her down and to his side. "Which way? Hurry!"

-X-

"The stairs, this way!" The shout came from the left, and the troops followed the sound into the antechamber and up a stairwell that had been hidden until someone had torn the secret door from its hinges. Auron raced up the winding stairway, Kal a step ahead of him, Kimahri a few paces behind. The drumming of feet echoed off the stone walls as Auron tried to get his bearings.

"Where are we?" he shouted to Kal.

"Warrior monk barracks," Kal called back over his shoulder. "Should be, anyway. We ought to be coming out at the top any minute!" His words proved to be prophetic as the next few steps brought them out of the darkness and into bright morning sunlight. Auron paused and took a moment to look around. They were several levels above the courtyard now, on the temple roof. Doorways and spires surrounded them; where could the Maesters be hiding? He looked to Kal, who just shook his head. "Could be almost anywhere," he said.

"Look!" Jayn, who had led the charge up the stairs, pointed up to the highest peak of the temple. "Up there!"

Auron peered upward along with the rest of the soldiers; he thought he could just see a squadron of warrior monks, a fleet of machina, and a small figure in the Grand Maester's robes. There was one; where was the other?

Kal was clearly having the same thought. "We'll search for Kinoc down here. You head for Mika with the Major. Good luck."

"You too." Auron caught Yuna's eye; she nodded, and the guardians headed for the stairs, where Jayn and her Crusaders had already begun making their way still farther upward. As he mounted the first step, Auron paused, and took a look around. Where were Nooj and Paine?

-X-

Running down even as the others ran up, Paine and Nooj had followed Kinoc through a hidden door into a dark stairwell. Paine paced herself so that Nooj could keep up with his awkward running gait, but he was already starting to tire and it seemed that the maester was slipping away.

"He must not escape," Nooj panted. "I'll never catch him at this rate, but you can if you hurry." She looked back at him with a questioning look. "Go! That's an order. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Paine took only enough time to nod, then put on a burst of speed and flew down the stairs, jumping them two at a time. True to Nooj's prediction, in only three turns of the winding staircase she had caught up with the Maester; she reached forward and snatched at the back of his robes. With a gasp, he lost his footing and tumbled down to the next landing, unmoving on his back.

Was he dead? It seemed too easy, if so. Paine approached cautiously, sword out and ready. Then she ducked, dashing to the side as Kinoc drew a pistol and fired. The sword slipped out of her hands, falling to the stairs with a clatter, and she pulled out her own gun as the Maester fired again. But by then she was close enough to kick his hands, knocking the gun free. It, too, bounced down the stairway, and then she was upon him, her pistol buried in his throat.

"Paine!" The shout echoed down the stairway, followed by the heavy thump of Nooj's walk. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she answered as he appeared a flight of steps above her. She pressed the barrel tighter against the man's fat neck, and she heard him suck in his breath. "Do you want him?"

Nooj looked down at the Maester for a long moment, eyes hard and unreadable. Then he shook his head. "He's yours."

Paine nodded and, without another word, pulled the trigger.

-X-

After the last of the Crusaders and warrior monks disappeared inside the temple, Gippal took a moment to look over the courtyard, patrolled by dozens of machina crawlers and a handful of Al Bhed to keep an eye on them. Along with the chocobos walking up and down the Highbridge, these forces would be more than enough to hold off any attempt to retake the city. Confident that they could go on without him, he finally let himself be consumed by the worry that had nagged at him ever since entering the city walls: where was Baralai? Last anyone knew, Baralai was planning to open the gates, but Gippal had figured that, afterwards, he would join the battle. So his absence was worrisome, to say the least. Jayn had said something about a gatehouse near the courtyard entrance, and a quick glance over the walls brought a series of rungs camouflaged against the bricks to Gippal's attention. He clambered up them and found himself on a small platform next to a half-hidden doorway. Trying the handle, he discovered that it was unlocked, and he pushed his way inside.

There were three bodies on the blood-stained floor -- two dead warrior monks and another man clad in green, crumpled in a heap next to the lever that controlled the gate mechanism.

"Baralai!" Gippal breathed as he dashed forward, grasping his lover by the shoulders and rolling him over, looking anxiously into his bruised face.

The other man opened an eye and smiled. "Gippal," he murmured. "You're here." He coughed painfully and tried to sit up, then fell back with an exhausted sigh.

"Yeah, we're all here. And it's been a piece of cake, thanks to you." Gippal began to examine Baralai for serious injuries. "What happened, are you..." and then he sucked in a breath as he found the gunshot wounds, two of them, one in the shoulder and one in the back.

"Hurt?" Baralai finished Gippal's sentence with a feeble chuckle. "One of them... not quite as far gone... as I thought. He got me... in the back... just after... I opened the gates." He breathed heavily, then rolled his head enough to meet Gippal's single eye, his own face glazed and unfocused with pain. "Glad... you found me... needed to tell... you...." Then his eyes rolled up and closed, and his whole body slumped.

"No." Gippal shook Baralai by his shoulders, suddenly caught with terror and panic as he finally realized just how much blood covered Baralai's robes. "No, 'Lai. 'Lai, wake up!" The other groaned softly but did not regain consciousness, and Gippal leapt from the floor and ran to the doorway. "Help me!" he shouted over the courtyard as several heads turned in his direction. "Someone, please, I need a healer, now!" He heard footsteps pounding in his direction as he turned back to Baralai and, kneeling back on the floor, grabbed a hand tightly in both of his. "Hold on, 'Lai. Please, just hold on."

-X-

"You can't make it up these narrow stairs; there must be hundreds of them." Paine spoke truth bluntly to her companion.

Nooj grimaced and nodded. "I know. I couldn't even make it down that one long one without almost falling. Damn! There must be a way. I wonder if there's some connector from that balcony in the main sanctuary, the one Aquelev took."

"I didn't see one. Keep looking. There must be some sort of executive lift somewhere. Can you see someone like the Grand Maester walking up all those flights? Or even Kinoc, fat as he is... was." She chuckled grimly.

"True. They always did arrange to be comfortable. Even in the middle of a desert." He set out down the passage behind the altar area. Paine noticed with some concern that his limp was much worse and he leaned heavily on his cane.

They pushed into every promising nook and then into those which were less promising and even impossible. Nooj thought if they could find the private quarters of Mika the postulated private lift could not be far away. He breathed deeply and caught her arm. "Wait. Look for Mika's rooms," he panted.

She immediately understood his meaning. She should have thought of that. It would be much easier to find a suite than a hidden panel. With a thought as to how much they were needed on the roofs and how Nooj needed to be at the head of his army, she redoubled her efforts, springing ahead of him in her haste.

It was he who spotted the short flight of steps leading to a heavy set of draperies. "Here!" He pointed.

Behind the velvet was a door, locked but unequal to the force exerted upon it by two strong and determined Warriors. And behind the door was what could only be the private residence of the ruler of this fortress. The first chamber was walled in books and furnished with tables and lounge chairs. On the sideboard was a tantalus holding various bottles which Paine recognized by their shape as containing some of the rarest vintages on Spira. This was no abstemious priest!

The inner room was the sleeping-chamber with tall curtained bed heaped with pillows and duvets. The walls here were hung with tapestries. The two searchers did not bother with niceties but simply pulled the hangings from their fastenings to reveal the bare stone behind. Nothing.

They returned to the first room and began sweeping the books from their shelves. In the dimmest corner, the edge of a wooden sheet could be seen partly obscured by a chest. Nooj gripped the item with his left hand and ripped it away from its braces. A panel appeared with a recessed handle. Paine shoved it open and there ... just as they had predicted was the lift. They leapt inside, pushed the button with the arrow pointing up and felt themselves moving through the walls of the building. This could only lead to the roof. But the conveyance moved with ecclesiastical deliberation and there were many levels to go so they had no recourse other than to settle themselves down to be a patient as possible. At least it was the right direction and Nooj did not have to walk.

-X-

The warriors ran up seemingly-endless flights of marble stairs, covered in red carpet and connected by long stone walkways that rose high above the temple, the city spread out even further below them. Auron had been up here a time or two, for ceremonial occasions, as a young warrior monk, and always then he had taken a few moments to enjoy the view. But today there was no time. His focus had to be forward, on the Grand Maester and on the groups of monks and machina who blocked his way.

As the group pressed on, it had thinned, Crusaders stopping to disarm and imprison those warrior monks who chose to surrender, others falling to the enemies who fought on, and soon the two summoners and their guardians found themselves at the vanguard. It made Auron slightly nervous to have Yuna so vulnerable, but he also had the feeling that she and Dona would want to confront Mika personally, and so escorting them safely to him was his most important task. Disabling a machina cannon with a careful stroke of his sword, he knocked it aside and pressed ahead to a small knot of warrior monks who stood at the base of the final stairway that would take them to the courtyard where the Grand Maester had last been spotted. Three of them clustered on the bottom step, raised their rifles, and pointed them straight at Yuna.

"No!" came a great roar from behind. Kimahri lunged forward and pushed Yuna out of the way, interposing himself between the monks and their target as they fired. His body jerked as the bullets slammed into him, but he kept charging forward into the group, spear thrusting forward and into the gut of the monk closest to the edge. Even as he died, the warrior monk shoved Kimahri into the low wall, and the two surviving monks turned on the Ronso, letting loose another volley of gunfire, the momentum of their combined attacks knocking Kimahri and the man on his spear over the rail to tumble hundreds of feet to the ground beneath.

Yuna screamed her protector's name, but there was no time to mourn, or even really to react, as Auron, Tidus, and Barthello each raised a blade high and ran into the fray, engaging the foe at close range, showing no quarter as the monks fell to their swords, and to Wakka's blitzball, and to the blasts of fire that Lulu sent among them. Soon the enemies all lay dead or injured at their feet and the surviving guardians were within a few feet of the Grand Maester, who stood on a dais in the small courtyard, pale but determined, flanked by only five warrior monks.

Mika's eyes swept scornfully over the rebels assembled before him, and he turned around, his protectors closing ranks and shielding him with their bodies as he headed toward the back of the courtyard. Twin doors behind him opened... and he stopped dead in shock as Nooj and Paine stepped forth, the commander with his gun out and aimed at the center of the Grand Maester's forehead.

"Paine," Nooj spoke without shifting his eyes from his target. "Take my pistol and shoot the first monk who even looks like he is contemplating moving. Mika, this is the end of your run. If you are thinking that some rescue is still possible, understand this: your last henchman, Kinoc, will not be coming to your aid. He is dead in the lower levels of this building. The woman warrior at my side cut him down and you have no allies left. Will you yield to our forces or must we stop your heart as well?"

The Grand Maester's eyes flickered from side to side, searching almost without volition for some way to escape. His last five defenders stood frozen under the watchful eye of the woman, their firearms useless with unrelenting foes on either hand. They understood, if their master did not, that any threatening gesture would bring instant death from one direction or the other.

At Auron's motion, Tidus and Wakka moved forward and firmly disarmed the monks before pulling them away from their leader and binding them as prisoners.

"Well?" Nooj asked. "Have you made your decision? I am waiting and I am not a patient man."

"Should I have brought you one of your bottles to give you the courage you need to make your choice?" Paine sneered. "You are very quiet for one who has so often preached your false doctrine to multitudes."

Mika looked at Paine, eyebrows raised. Then he began to laugh.

"You foolish girl," he said. "How little you understand. Do you really believe I might fear death? I, who have been dead for over forty years?" He spread his arms and his whole body darkened, a dozen pyreflies lifting from his feet and lazily drifting into the air. A gasp of fear and shock rippled through the bystanders, rebel and defender alike, and Paine trembled, taking an involuntary step backwards.

Turning around, Mika gazed out over the rebels, eyes filled with serenity and contempt. "You are all fools," he stated. "Spira cannot survive without the teachings of Yevon. Sin will destroy you all within the year."

"You're wrong," Tidus called up the steps. "We'll find another way!"

With another bitter chuckle, Mika shook his head. "There is no other way. And I have walked this world too long to watch it die at the hands of traitors and heretics." He lifted his arms, looked to the sky, and, with a single word, dissolved in a shower of color, the pyreflies shooting up into the air and then away, flying in the direction of the Farplane.

Stunned silence ruled the scene, broken only by the muffled sobs of one of the last defenders who blubbered uncontrollably into his own shoulder. Then Nooj shook his head and let loose an oath. "Damn!" He glared at the rifle in his hands, then threw down the hated weapon. "Useless, useless, useless."

Paine took a step closer to him and rested her fingers on his arm. "He's gone for good," she said softly. "They all are. That's enough, isn't it? To have seen Yevon defeated?"

She asked the question of Nooj, but it was Auron who responded. "Yes. It is." He bowed his head respectfully. "Congratulations, Commander. The day is yours."

(Next chapter)
Tags: chapter-32, chapters
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