Chapter 28

Rufus awakened in a dimly lit room. He blinked, trying to get his eyes adjusted to even this much light. The room was tiny, barely large enough for him to lie flat in - he’d been slumped up against one of the black stone walls - and he shared it with Jowy.

The Bearer’s eyes were closed, and he wasn’t moving.

Rufus shook his head, trying to remember what had happened. The Espers had filled the corridor, charged for them. He’d thrown two of those Materia grenades from Bugenhagen’s arsenal, but they’d kept coming. He got off a few shots, but then one of the Espers, a big thing that didn’t seem to notice the energy bolts that smacked off its hide, had leapt on him.

The last thing he’d seen was Jowy, sword drawn, cutting through Esper after Esper with his blade and his spells, the talking sword covering his back. Magicites had clattered to the floor even as Rufus had blacked out. But one of the Espers had gotten past Jowy’s guard... and then Rufus hadn’t seen any more.

He reached over, feeling Jowy’s wrist. The Bearer’s pulse was faint, but definitely there. That was something, at least.

The Runic tattoos that covered his body were still visible, and so was the network of black lines that linked them together. But the almost palatable aura of magical energy was just... gone. The two Runes that Jowy had said corresponded to the swords were also faded, and Rufus wondered where the blades themselves had gotten to, or if they could even exist without their corresponding Runes.

Wonderful.

There was no sign of Ghaleon, or of Sephiroth.

Just wonderful.

"Wake up," Rufus said, shaking Jowy’s shoulder. When he didn’t get an immediate response, he stopped shaking and tried a good, solid punch to the same shoulder.

That did the trick.

Jowy returned the punch, knocking Rufus backwards, and sat up. "What did you do that for?" he asked.

"Wake up call," Rufus said, rubbing his jaw where he’d been hit. "I pulled my punch, you know."

Jowy shrugged. "You hit someone, they hit back, right? Where are we?"

"Prison cell, I think," Rufus said. He glanced around. The room didn’t offer much in the way of a view - or of a chance to escape. He thought back to the Espers who had been punished in the great hall of the spire. "Or what passes for one around here. Considering what we saw before, I doubt they go in for life imprisonment."

Jowy didn’t respond. He was staring at the dull black outlines of his Runes. "They’re... gone," he said slowly.

"Looks like they’re right there to me," Rufus said. The last thing he wanted was the Bearer having a damn panic attack.

But Jowy shook his head. "Not the Runes... I mean, not the symbols. Their power! I can’t feel it at all. Even when they’re used up, it’s not like this."

"Who the hell knows?" Rufus got to his feet, cursing under his breath when the back of his head hit the roof of the cell. "You’ll figure something out, I’m sure."

No response.

Just wonderful.

Rufus patted his sturdy coat - at least the Espers had left him that. Maybe a mistake on their part. Rufus had sewn quite a lot into the patches on the coat - the lock picks wouldn’t do much good here, but he had the parts to a miniature pistol. It wouldn’t do a hell of a lot to an Esper, but it might surprise them...

No good.

They’d torn the patches off - just the ones that had something under them. Clever little bastards, he’d give them that. Not so little, either, most of them.

He gulped.

There was something else missing. Not just his weapons and equipment, but the RTD, the teleportation device Bugenhagen had given him.

Their ticket home.

"Oh, shit," Rufus said under his breath.

"What’s wrong?" Jowy asked, looking up from his faded Runes.

"What isn’t would be more like it," Rufus snapped. It wasn’t really an answer, but it was enough of one to shut the Bearer up. Maybe he’d stay shut up long enough for Rufus to think of something - anything - that could reasonably be called a silver lining. Maybe.

Jowy looked back to his Runes. He seemed to be meditating, probably trying to figure out some way to unseal his powers. Yeah, right, Rufus thought. Like the Espers would go through all the trouble of catching them just to make it that easy to get away?

Rufus sat back down.

"Ghaleon betrayed us," Jowy said suddenly.

"Maybe." Rufus wasn’t all that fond of the Player, but he didn’t see any reason for him to have betrayed the others, either. "Maybe the Espers knew we were here the minute we stepped into this damn spire."

Jowy reluctantly nodded. "I guess so."

The waiting was hell. With no change in the dim light, no indication of how long they’d been unconscious, and no sound from outside the room, it was impossible to say how long they sat in silence.

Finally, Rufus asked, "Any ideas as to how we get out?"

"We wait," Jowy said. "They’ve kept us alive, so they must want us for something. Maybe when they come to take whatever it is that they want, we can get free. And who knows, Sephiroth might have gotten away."

Rufus shrugged. He didn’t trust Sephiroth in his sight, much less out of it. Even after three weeks of following him across this crazy world, he’d as soon take his chances with the Espers as with the Seeker.

The wait dragged on in silence from that point. Rufus tried to judge how long it had been by how hungry he was, but he’d been hungry when they’d gotten to the spire, and it had only gotten worse. One thing he definitely was, was thirsty. What he wouldn’t do for a drink of that crap liquor from Cosmo Canyon now.

The wall behind him bubbled up, and Rufus stumbled forward. The wall was flowing just like the outside of the spire had, opening onto a passage.

In the passage stood a green-skinned Esper, flanked by two others of his kind, tough soldier types.

"Zalbard," Jowy hissed.

"I am flattered that you recognize me, Bearer," the one called Zalbard said. He waved to the guards, and they grabbed Rufus and Jowy, pulling them roughly into the corridor.

"Where are you taking us?" Jowy demanded.

Rufus was surprised that the Esper answered.

"You gentlemen are being taken to the Master," he said, laughing at the expression Rufus knew came unbidden to his face. "To the Master... and to the Convergence."