Chapter 17

Jowy had not found the journey through the thick, poisoned jungles a pleasant one.

For as long as they’d stayed by the river, it had not been that bad. They’d camped far enough away from the water that none of the giant fish-things that lived on the bottom could grab them for a meal. Another of the great beasts had attacked them while they were traveling, but between Sephiroth and Jowy, they’d managed not only to kill that one, but to haul it out of the water. It had been almost forty feet long from its blunt head, where the tentacles ringed its mouth, to the tip of its club-like tail.

It had been risky, but they’d tried eating the monster. Jowy was surprised that its magically charged body wasn’t toxic, and, aside from a vile taste that he still hadn’t gotten out of his mouth, there had been no ill effects. That had been the best meal Jowy’d had in weeks.

But when the river had ended in a great lake, glowing a faint green with the poisonous magic that permeated it, they had been forced to leave the shore and plunge back into the jungle.

Hot, sticky, hungry, coughing despite the Cetra environment fields provided by the masks, they’d made their way south. For days and nights on end, there would be no sure sign that they were going in the right direction. Only Sephiroth’s belief that they were, which Jowy couldn’t help but suspect was as much a guess as anything, kept them moving forward.

Ghaleon fretted about the time it took them, Rufus complained about everything, and Sephiroth said nothing but where to go. Jowy himself had ceased to think about it long before, had lost track of the time they’d spent in the jungle. Had they passed the Spire? He didn’t know.

The Rune of Illusion hid them from sight, magical and physical, and he’d concentrated on maintaining that disguise. Not that anything could be seen in the jungle - the sky went from black to burning orange above the canopy of trees, but beneath it he couldn’t say what was day and what was night.

Three times in as many weeks, they’d come across Espers, the same feral, malnourished, poisoned kind that they’d fought in the clearing. Each time, they had pointed to the Spire - and so that they would not inform those within, they had died, silently.

And always, they pointed south.

The only break in the monotonous routine was when there was a storm. Jowy had once, in his travels, been caught in a typhoon in the island nations far south of Toran - but never had he seen such storms as these! They were strong enough to tear apart the canopies of rubbery trees, drenching the Destined Ones with waves of rain. Even with the jungle as a shield, the wind was enough that it had knocked Sephiroth to his knees, and sent the others tumbling, painfully, to the ground.

They didn’t try to travel during the storms after that.

Jowy rubbed his arm. The storms seemed to be too much for the environment field, and where his soaking clothes rubbed against his flesh, terrible rashes appeared. He’d left his tunic behind weeks before, but the rashes remained.

The insects did not help. The smaller ones, which traveled in great swarms, couldn’t penetrate the environment fields. But some of them were longer than Jowy’s hand, and their stings and bites added sharper pain to the constant irritation of the rashes. They made it nearly impossible to sleep.

And sleep, or rather the lack of it, was the worst of the problems. They took shifts at night, two awake, two asleep. It wasn’t nearly enough rest to maintain the long days - how many hours would it have been back home, he wondered - of marching. What little rest he got only made him want more. But the terrible dreams, Beast Rune dreams, awakened him again and again. Some nights, he took two shifts just to escape those dreams.

They’d been in the jungle for so long. Bugenhagen had said the Convergence was growing near. Would the Destined Ones be too late? It had to have occurred to the others, yet they’d said nothing.

Perhaps for them, the thought did not hold such personal ramifications. The only person Ghaleon seemed to care about was ahead. Rufus and Sephiroth, in their own ways, played at having nothing to lose. Jowy wondered how much of that was an act, and how much they believed it themselves.

Perhaps the other three, too, worried. They simply kept it to themselves, as Jowy did, because to speak of it would avail them nothing.

He sighed.

How much further, now? Would they come across a band of Espers, beat them into the ground until they raised clawed fingers to the Spire, only to find that those fingers pointed north?

Lost in thought, Jowy nearly ran into Sephiroth.

"What is it...?" he asked, but his question trailed off as he looked up at the answer.

They had not gone past the spire. It would have been nearly impossible to do so.

It rose black as night into the orange sky, so high that Jowy could not see where it ended and that sky began. How wide it was, he couldn’t say, but it could easily have swallowed Muse and Greenhill combined within its circumference. Its surface was as smooth as glass.

Behind him, Jowy could hear Rufus and Ghaleon emerge from the jungle. Even they were struck dumb by the sight of the spire. No insistence to hurry from Ghaleon, no complaints or sarcasm from Rufus.

The four Destined Ones were speechless. There were no sounds except those of the jungle behind them. Nothing moved but the sun, slowly dipping behind the gathering clouds.

At last, the Star Dragon Sword broke the silence. "I believe this is the place."