Rating: PG, mostly for violence.
Summary: What if the heroes of Dissidia and Duodecim were replaced with their supporting cast instead?
In the end, her search led Faris to ExDeath, deep in a gateway with a magnificent floating castle. They fought, but he didn’t give her much trouble at all – he was slow where Faris was lightning fast, and her strong, precise sword strikes were enough to interrupt his deadly magic before it became too great a risk to her, to find the narrow gaps in his impressive blue armour. She closed her ears to his taunts and calls for the void, and fought with swift, brutal efficiency.
When the crystal materialised before her, though, she still did not entirely comprehend.
The air shimmered, and Cosmos appeared. “Your crystal. Well done.” The words were somehow both slow and whimsical, as though the goddess had all the time in the world to speak.
“Was it a test? Did you grant me this?” Faris asked, gaze still transfixed on the reward of her toils.
“No. This power comes from within.” She closed her eyes, as though savouring the feel of the breeze on her face. “You’ve long found strength in your companions.” The goddess’s words were like bells, carried on the wind. “Now you’ve found strength in yourself.”
Faris’s fingers reached out and clutched the shard of crystal – shaped like a sea dragon’s tooth.
In that moment of what should have been reverence, all she could think was how infuriating it was that Balthier had been right all along.
Maria bent over, hands on her knees, gasping for breath. “Locke… wait up!”
It was obvious Aeris had left the gateway. She was skilled with magic – far more skilled than Maria could ever hope to be. She’d put them to sleep so easily, after all. She might have even been able to teleport out without a stone, the way some of the Chaos’s forces could.
Locke wouldn’t hear a word of it, though. “We’ve got to hurry!” he urged her. “She could be in trouble!”
“Locke, calm down, she’ll be fine! Locke-!”
Too late. He was already running ahead. Headstrong, idiotic…
Her rant was interrupted by the clink of quartz and dainty, rapid footfalls. Two beings of crystal – one in the visage of young Arc, the other in the form of Rydia – rushed to intercept her.
“Locke! Wait!” she yelled.
Maria cursed under her breath, tearing her gaze away from her comrade’s retreating back as the manikins sent a volley of colourless magic at her. She leapt clear, drawing her bow, and let loose a flurry of arrows. Most missed, but two of them struck true.
“You won’t even get close!” she warned, throwing out a spray of fireballs. The manikins skirted the radius, trying to dash in closer, but another rain of arrows kept them back.
Soon, the manikins were nothing but crumbling piles of glittering pebbles. Maria toed the nearest pile cautiously, then sighed, looking around. Locke was long gone, and in the battle she’d lost track of the direction he’d headed.
“Great. Just great,” she sulked.
War was so pointless. She wanted to leave this world already.
Locke rushed through the seemingly endless gateway, scenery barely registering in his wild search for a glimpse of a pink dress.
“Aeris!” he called. “Aeris!”
His only answer was the echo of his own voice, bouncing off the walls.
He couldn’t believe it. Where had she gone? He just knew she was in trouble. He would never be able to live with himself if…
“You idiot. You’re running around so blindly, you didn’t even notice me,” a woman’s voice called out from the stage.
Locke jerked to a stop, drawing his dagger in one lightning-fast motion. The voice wasn’t Aeris’s. He gauged his surroundings warily.
The setting felt oddly familiar, though he hadn’t noticed until he paused in his search. He stood in an empty theatre with lush red carpets and a wide, wooden stage. The roof was tall, accommodating a balcony and a mess of metal scaffolding high above his head. No sign of the person who’d spoken, though. “Who are you? Show yourself!”
Stepping from the wings came a beautiful woman – a blonde with delicate features that hid a fierce nature. “…Celes,” Locke said, shifting into battle-ready stance.
She looked surprised. “You remember me?”
“I saw your fight with Aeris,” Locke replied cautiously. It had been how they’d met, though Celes had left as soon as she caught sight of him. Chaos’s side were cowards – they never stuck around when they were outnumbered.
Celes, strangely, looked disappointed at that. “Of course.”
For a long moment, silence stretched between them, fraught with tension. Locke wasn’t sure whether to attack straight away or not. Celes was a little different to the other warriors of Chaos he’d encountered – she didn’t have the burgeoning ego of Xande, or the indifferent cruelty of ExDeath, or the lust for battle of Garland.
That didn’t make her less dangerous, though. If anything, it made her a bigger threat. She was unpredictable.
“…Did you take Aeris?” he asked, when she didn’t seem prone to making a move.
“The girl?” Celes shook her head. “You should give up on her, Locke. You’re wasting your energy. This cycle is already lost.”
“The hell! I won’t abandon her! I made a promise!”
“Did you now?” He couldn’t read that expression on her face. The rasp of steel echoed through the theatre as she drew her sword – heavily inscribed with runes. “Then prove it to me.”
“Huh?” Locke took a reflexive step back, then a leap as the air crackled with frost of a Blizzara. He scrambled away, taking cover behind one of the pillars as the theatre rapidly cooled under the onslaught of magic.
“Fight me!” she ordered. “Or you’ll never see her again.”
Locke saw red, and dashed into the open.
In a fight so heavily populated with magic heavyweights, Celes was terrifying. He’d seen that first hand in her battle with Aeris. It didn’t seem to matter how powerful the spell was – she’d catch it on her sword, siphoning the energy away until all that was left were some harmless sparks.
And when his dagger clashed against steel, he discovered her swordplay was nothing to dismiss lightly either.
Out of Cosmos’s champions, though, Locke was perhaps the one with the best chance. His skills rested in his daggers and his speed – he was useless at magic, and had developed other abilities to compensate. Celes was quick in her own right, but she couldn’t keep up with his deft touch or speedy footwork.
And Locke was driven. He had a promise to keep. He would not fail Aeris.
He spun and dodged and attacked relentlessly, desperate not to give her the chance to cast any magic and regain any distance. She blocked and parried the most dangerous strikes, but she had only one sword to Locke’s two daggers. Slice by slice, he drove her back, bled strength from her one glancing blow at a time.
Then with one hook of his wrist, her runic blade spun from her grip and clattered to the stage.
Before Locke could take advantage, she jumped away, white cape flaring and a hail of ice covering her retreat. “You get your wish, then.” She picked up her sword, and for just a moment, looked wistful. “May we meet again in the next cycle.”
Then, with a flash of magic, she was gone, and Locke was left alone in the theatre.
It seemed a kind of lousy climax.
As though summoned by the thought, the air shimmered, and a crystal with fire burning inside appeared before him. Surprised, Locke reached out and grasped it. It felt warm in his palm.
“…My crystal?” He broke into a grin. “I did it!”
His elation was short-lived. After all, he still had to meet up with Aeris – he couldn’t get swept up in this brief success. But the fight reassured him somewhat. He was strong enough. If he could defeat someone like Celes, the rest of Chaos’s champions wouldn’t be any trouble at all!
Deep down, though, Locke couldn’t entirely shake the doubt that she’d let him win. But that didn’t make any sense at all.
Snow had known, heading into this gateway, that Chaos’s forces would be waiting. He didn’t have a choice. He’d been slow to find his crystal – one of the last, he was sure. He didn’t want to hold the rest of them back, so struck out alone. Or rather, Auron had taken off in pursuit of something, and Rydia had taken the opportunity to ditch him right after. He hadn’t seen either of them since. He was sure they were fine though – the little missy’s summons were downright scary, and the older man had an air of experience about him.
Being left behind didn’t really bother him either. Manikins didn’t worry him that much – they could wail on him all day and he’d come out fine. The one thing he’d always been good at was taking a hit.
He never expected to come across the kid, though.
They were standing in the middle of a frozen lake – the waves captured in time, curling high above their heads, the froth at the edges sparkling like crystal. It was as pretty as it was eerie.
“So who are you?” Snow asked. They’d met a couple of Chaos’s champions in the conflict, and Auron had told them about a few more, but he’d never mentioned anyone like this. Sure, Chaos’s side had all types – there’d been that weird alien chick with one wing that didn’t talk, and that mad scientist, and that guy in the blue armour that was also a tree – but Snow had never expected some white-haired kid.
“You don’t even remember?” the child seethed. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, and that was a generous guess. He was a short little shrimp, and didn’t even wear any armour – the clothes not so different in style to his own.
Snow honestly couldn’t see how he could be a threat. The only weapon he could see was some kind of boomerang.
“Sorry, guess not. The whole amnesia thing, you know. Have we met?”
It was, apparently, the wrong thing to say. The kid’s face twisted with rage.
And the air was suddenly filled with a rain of magic.
“Holy-!” Snow dropped into a shield at the last minute, bracing his arms against the onslaught. It was fast, too – the kid tossed out spell after spell the way Maria shot arrows.
“Fight back!” The kid snarled. His boomerang whistled through the air. Snow slapped it aside with his palm, then winced at the line of red it left on his palm. The thing was sharp.
“Sorry, but I don’t much like the idea of fighting kids. Can’t we just go our separate ways?”
Light flared, and rising in front of him was – was that a castle?!
“I’ll kill you!” the kid yelled.
It didn’t look like Snow was going to have a choice.