Chapter 8

Jowy sat down by the fire that had been lit in the center of Cosmo Canyon. He watched the flames in their intricate dance and wondered how it all was even possible. Seeing, hearing the devastation that Sephiroth had caused brought it home. It was real.

Now he knew what Sephiroth had meant, what seemed so long ago but could not have been more than a few days, in Burg’s town square. Compared to this, what Jowy had done did not seem like so very much.

But the flames offered no clue as to how to truly comprehend what had happened, and Jowy’s mind simply couldn’t do so. Millions, perhaps billions - he’d never seen so many people in all his life, almost certainly never would.

The villagers’ deaths were all too real to him, comprehensible.

And no matter of scale could change what he had done.

"Well?"

He looked up.

The old Cetra, Bugenhagen, floated on the other side of the fire from where Jowy and the other Destined Ones sat.

"You have seen what the Leader wished to show you," Bugenhagen said. "What do you think?"

"It does not matter," Ghaleon said. "We have more important matters to attend to."

None of the others spoke. Perhaps Aeris’ words had hit home for Rufus Shinra, or perhaps Sephiroth’s had. Either way, the man said nothing. Jowy himself did not know his thoughts, much less how to express them.

Bugenhagen nodded. "I am glad you all feel that way. Now, I will tell you of Espers."

Jowy forced his mind back to the matter at hand. It was all that mattered, now. Saving the worlds from devastation on a scale even more unbelievable than the one he had just been faced with, and saving the -Heirs- who would make that possible.

"The Espers were created more than ten thousand years ago. They were created by the Cetra, as were dozens of other races, which some of you may be familiar with. As, for that matter, were humans and elves, like yourselves. They were called Descendant Races, the children of the Cetra."

Jowy listened in silence, and was glad that the others did as well, as Bugenhagen explained more of this strange time of the Cetra - thousands of worlds colonized, the power to create new races of beings, magic and technology harnessed together.

"But the Espers were special. They were meant not as mere Descendants, but as Successors. It was hoped that they would, in time, surpass their creators in power and vision. They are beings of magic, born to and of that which others can only tap into. It was a fine vision." Bugenhagen smiled sadly, pausing before he went on. "Like most fine visions, it was not to be. As the Esper genotype neared completion, a new threat to the Cetra arose. It was called simply the -Menace-."

Jowy had seen the word in the Cetra records. Bugenhagen spoke it in hushed tones, his voice hesitating upon the pronunciation. He was afraid of it. And the way he said it made Jowy nervous, too.

After all, it had threatened all that the Cetra had created. That incredible genius, the magic and machines that had crossed the stars, had been endangered by it.

"The Espers were remade. Not as Successors, but as soldiers, a warrior race to battle the -Menace-. Their magic grew strong, and they were sent against the enemy. The war was long, but they could do nothing but delay the -Menace- at the cost of their blood. Battles raged through space, destroyed whole planets, tore the Cetra’s worlds apart. Esper and -Menace- unleashed such power that whole suns were consumed, their energy drawn forth when magic failed, killing star systems in their attempt to stop the invasion. It was not enough."

"The Espers must have been pretty stupid," Rufus said, getting to his feet. "Sounds like you used them as cannon fodder."

Bugenhagen chuckled, but his eyes were bleak. "You are perceptive, Leader. The Espers saw it the same way, and, despairing of a victory against the -Menace-, turned against us. It is because of this treason that they were banished."

"They have returned," Ghaleon pointed out.

"Of course, Player. The banishment was not meant to be permanent. It was hoped that it would keep them safely away from the other Descendants until they were rehabilitated. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the banishment has served its purpose." Bugenhagen’s eyes were fixed on the fire. "It was the most beautiful of worlds, their place of banishment. Lush, unspoiled - ready for colonization, but not yet inhabited. I cannot imagine why they wished to leave it."

The fire crackled, and Bugenhagen stepped back to avoid a spark. His reverie broken, he said, "But they have. Not to rejoin the fold, but to renew their hateful rebellion. Because of this, you must go to that place of banishment, find the -Heir-, or, I suspect, all three -Heirs-, and bring them back."

"Althena is on the world you speak of?" Ghaleon asked, rising abruptly.

"I can see no other possibility."

"Then we will go there." Ghaleon spun around, his robes billowing behind him, as though he intended to leave that instant.

"Wait, Player," Bugenhagen said.

Ghaleon paused.

"We have preparations to make. And you must return to the Bearer the last of what is his."

Jowy blinked in surprise. With all that had happened, he had half-forgotten that he had at first pursued Ghaleon to recover the last five True Runes. He’d discovered his purpose, only to forget what he needed to fulfill it. He got to his feet.

Ghaleon seemed torn. He stood with one foot still on the raised platform where the fire was lit, the other already on the dusty ground.

Jowy took a step toward him. Though he had helped them, Ghaleon had not earned Jowy’s trust. For what he had done to Jillia and Pilika, he could never be forgiven.

Unconsciously, Jowy rested his left hand on the hilt of the King Dragon Sword.

The Destined Ones should work together, not as enemies.

He would give Ghaleon the chance.

Once.

Ghaleon turned and thrust out his pale hand. For a moment, Jowy thought it was an attack. His sword began to slide from its scabbard. But he released the hilt.

Ghaleon’s Runes, normally hidden by illusions, flared brightly in the crisp night air. "Take them, you fool," he hissed. "Before I change my mind."

Jowy nodded. He grabbed Ghaleon’s wrist, and, just as when he’d done the same to Leon, the True Runes began to glow brighter. Their marks seemed to burn off of Ghaleon’s flesh, and Jowy could feel them inscribing themselves on his own body, completing the set.

He stumbled back.

This was not like the other times he’d gained a True Rune, not even like when he had taken all of Leon’s.

The power was overwhelming, phenomenal, unthinkable.

He could hear the Beast Rune’s howl, desperate to take this full power into itself, snapping at the back of his mind. But it fell silent, and he knew even it was awed by the power he felt building inside himself.

He held up his hand, watched as the black lines spread from each runic tattoo, covering his entire body with a glowing web, searing his skin.

Almost casually, he realized that he was crying out.

And then, it was over. With one last pulse, the terribly burning True Runes faded back to their usual dull glow. The web work of lines was so thin, he could barely see them. Even the power felt diminished, receding until it was needed.

He was ready.