Chapter 20

The darkness filling the great chamber was complete, hiding it even from Jowy’s magical senses. He couldn’t hear his own breathing, couldn’t smell the sweat soaking the Destined Ones’ clothing - even the feeling of his booted feet on the smooth floor seemed to be numbed.

And all around him was a voice. A deep, melodious voice that made his skin crawl. "People of the Obsidian Spire, our children, your Master speaks."

Jowy turned, trying to find the source of the voice, but it seemed to be at once all around him and in his mind.

"The time is fast approaching when we will bring low all the works of your hated enemy, the Cetra. When we shall put an end to the countless millennia of your imprisonment and lead you forever into the light."

Jowy was certain he had sunk to his knees, and he could not understand why. It was just a voice, he told himself, nothing to fear. Just a voice.

Run, flee, hide!

His instincts screamed at him to leave this place, to turn around and never look back and hope that the owner of that voice never turned his gaze upon the feeble little man called Jowy Atriedes.

To feel that gaze would be to feel death itself.

"Those of our children who remain loyal shall be exalted in the new order. But know that we will see into your hearts, and those who hold treason against their Master will be punished. Believe not the voices of sedition that whisper to you of escape, of freedom from this world by your own hands. Only your Master can free you from your chains."

Would it never end? Jowy felt as though a lifetime had passed as the voice of the Master filled his mind and the darkness closed in on him.

"You know that we control the third and final princess of the Cetra, the third -Heir-. You know that the time of Convergence is nearly upon us. Know that we are watching, and that you will be judged harshly if your gratitude is found wanting."

At the back of his mind, Jowy heard the Beast Rune snarl in anger. The Hunter did not want to flee from this voice. It wanted to lunge at it, tear out its throat and silence it for good. And Jowy knew then that he was being manipulated, that the fear he felt was not real but a construct of the will of the one called Master.

Though the darkness remained, he was no longer afraid.

He would not bow to this enemy. He got to his feet.

The Master was not quite done, though. He intoned, "Bear witness the fate of those who would betray their Master at the moment of our glory."

The green light returned, brighter than before. In the center of the great chamber, suspended by magic alone, was a handful of Espers, one of the soldiers and a half dozen workers. Their fear was almost palatable to Jowy, and though they were high above him, he almost thought he could see their terror-stricken faces.

They hung there, suspended in mid-air for a moment longer, and then, it was over. The same unseen force that held them tore them apart, their remains fading into nothing along with their screams.

Seven magicite shards clattered to the hard ground far below.

Jowy shuddered.

"We must move on," Sephiroth whispered. Even he sounded shaken by what they had just experienced.

"We know Althena is here," Ghaleon said. If he’d felt the wave of fear, he gave no sign of it. "I think we can agree that it would be preferable to remedy that situation? Soon?"

Perhaps he had felt it after all.

Rufus had already started up the passageway. "I think we can agree to give that Master guy a wide berth, huh? Other than that, I just want to get the hell out of here. And yes, that means soon."

Jowy nodded, and they began their ascent.

When they re-entered the halls, Jowy’s fingers again brushed against the Star Dragon Sword’s hilt, and he willed it to restore their shroud of darkness. Since the others did not even miss a step, he could only assume the Cetra goggles they wore did the job well.

They hadn’t gone far, though, before Ghaleon’s voice broke the silence of the halls. "Althena!" he cried.

Jowy spun around, either to tell him to stay quiet, or to see what had drawn the exclamation from his lips.

But Ghaleon was already gone.