Alone in the huge city of Vector, a single man sat in his office, trapped in a maze of iron and rust, searching through files. He felt more than a little frightened; evenings in Vector were as dreary and dark as the mornings, or the nights, as it seemed that night never truly fell on that city. It was always aglow with the glittering lights of the lanterns, and the stranger luminescence that glittered from its buildings. The strangest of them all was, oddly enough, an ancient building, almost large enough to be a warehouse, covered with rust and decay. Fire and lightning erupted from it constantly, uncontrolled and wasteful, a necessary side-effect for greater creations.
Few would credit such a decrepit-looking building as the birthplace of MagiTek. But there it was - the birthplace of the machines that had wiped out half of the continent, and would soon destroy untold other civilizations...
... but that wasn't why Cid was sitting at his desk, reviewing notes from the beginning of the project for some clue as to what he'd done wrong that day. He'd done exactly the same thing, almost every night, and every night he hoped to see something that would tell him that he was wrong, that it wasn't their fault that the project had gone so completely beyond their control. But of course, the imagined redemption had always given way to the black ink on the paper, impossible to ignore, spelling out his guilt in bold letters - "Project Approved."
No, the machines weren't the problem. They were only machines - and while it was possible to misuse them, they could at least be controlled, in a way that a living being shouldn't be controlled. What he'd done was out of control. It wasn't a machine that could be destroyed; the only way that this one could be destroyed was through an act of murder, an act that would be met with the most severe punishments. Cid was probably the only one to realize just what their actions had done, Heaven help him.
The hair on the nape of the Professor's neck tingled.
Suddenly disturbed, he whipped his head around to see the familiar figure staring at him, wrapped in his airy, drifting robes. The fire burned in his eyes as he threw back his head to laugh a cruel laugh that sounded in his memories, even though it could not pass through the soundproofing of his offices.
Once again, his first human guinea-pig was laughing at his folly.
The problem - or rather, Cid's role in the problem - had begun with MagiTek. If one wanted to find the ultimate source, they would have to look to the beasts that the Empire had captured, those "Espers." They were kept in that same facility, floating in a set of glass tubes that kept them alive and reasonably healthy, although Cid doubted that most of them would remember how to move if they were let out.
The Empire had found them on a raid that Gestahl had led himself, based on a set of mostly-fictional legends that the old man had been absorbed in for some time. He'd spent hours reading them in his private quarters, not allowing any interruptions - even for emergencies. The soldiers had joked that he'd been "enchanted" by the magic books, and Cid had idly thought many times that they'd been more right that they'd known. The raid itself had been entirely too easy; the soldiers had managed to drug and drag away a great number of the beasts, and only a few had been lost to the magic, or the closing of the gates. They'd even found a little baby, and the human who had claimed to be her mother - but the mother was dead, by the Emperor's hand.
Those Espers had been kept in the Empire's giant research facility ever since, a huge building that had once been used for aeronautics research and construction; that department had been evicted once the Empire had decided that those old, decrepit legends were going to be the future of the Empire. The tubes had been invented out of necessity; keeping the Espers drugged forever would've most likely killed them. It would have certainly killed the little girl. But the tubes could keep them alive for years. They floated in an inert gel, with gas masks forcing air into their noses and mouths to keep them breathing, feeding tubes surgically inserted into their digestive tracts, and catheters and the like positioned to collect waste. Sensors attached to their skin monitored their vital signs, so that if one was to fall ill, some kind of action could be taken.
The sight had been hard to bear at times, especially the girl. Sometimes, even after he'd had her released, he could still see her floating in the gel with her eyes wide and frightened, little fists trying to bang against the walls of her capsule, but held all but immobile by the viscous fluid around them.
The discovery of the magical properties of the Espers' blood had been a happy accident - they had expected to find a link for some time, but the specific tests that they had uncovered nothing. Cid was the one who had received credit for it only because he'd happened to be leading the scientists when it happened. Someone had drawn a sample of blood from one of the Espers - a peculiar, blue-skinned woman-like creature who had stared at her captors with sad blue eyes - and was going to use it to run the same tests that he'd run a half-dozen times before on the others. Being a bit of a klutz - and probably drunk on the job, although no one had bothered to test him in all of the excitement - he'd dropped one of the glass tubes that he'd drawn it into. Part of the blood had landed in a beaker of distilled water that he needed for his tests. He'd sworn loudly and leaned down to dump out the beaker and get a new tube drawn from the subject. But to his shock, and the amazement of everyone else on the team as they'd turned to look, a network of ice crystals had already began to radiate outwards from that tiny drop of blood.
That accidental discovery sparked off more research than any other single discovery ever made in the Empire. Soon every Esper in the facility had had their blood taken and studied in minute detail, tested with every medium that they could think of and then some. Cid had been forced to call off the testing for that day, for fear that the Espers would be too weakened by the constant drawing of blood to live to see the next. He'd also managed to keep the researchers from running a half-million tests on the young half-human, who was far too young to withstand the shock of blood loss.
Despite those setbacks, it wasn't long before the Espers had been categorized, according to the way that their blood affected their surroundings. They had been able to identify several different classes of magic. There was an Ice class, taken from the beautiful blue Esper. There was a Fire class that was extracted from a creature that resembled a demonic beast more than anything else. A Lightning class had been discovered when two separate samples of blood taken from an Esper that had taken the form of an old man had gotten close enough together to arc electricity through two technicians, nearly killing one and burning the other. A Holy class, capable of healing injuries, had been drawn from two separate Espers, one a mysterious green-maned monster, the other a horse with a single spiral horn. A single-eyed monster had proven to provide blood that could induce nausea and sickness in those that handled it - Poison blood.
There were more, of course, but not all of them had been discovered by the end of those first few days. Some of them had been discovered only later, just after Cid had created the MagiTek mechanisms, the first crude machines that could extract the magical power from the thick Esper blood, store it in tanks, and use it in battle. But it was those first five discoveries that had sparked the entire project. The Emperor's attention had been captured by the news of their accidental success.
At that point, calling the loose confederacy that had existed between Albrook and Vector an "Empire" had dignified it too much. Emperor Gestahl had maintained an army, but it wasn't enough to take any of the other cities on the continent. But he'd seen the promise of power in the discoveries that Cid and his team had made that day.
Trapped in a great blur of activity, Cid had barely noticed the exact events leading up to the sudden installation of the MagiTek program as a vital force in the Empire. He'd been given a grant - as much as the Emperor had been worth at the time, he was sure - to continue his studies. The money had motivated him and his team, and soon they were building machines that could utilize the raw power contained in the blood of the Espers without destroying themselves. The exact methods would be forever kept a secret, but they had been created.
In a short year, Gestahl had used these new weapons to attack the neighboring city of Tzen. Soon, very soon, the city was his.
That had been the beginning of a glorious new era in Imperial history. It had also been the beginning of the end.
But the machines hadn't created this madness that walked the halls of Vector. If it had not been for the Emperor's visit, only a few short weeks after the near-destruction and occupation of Vector, they would have never inspired such a thing.
"You've accomplished a lot with these machines, Professor," the aging Emperor had told him, with a calm voice and an excited twinkle in his eye.
He'd bowed in response. "Thank you, Emperor."
"Now," Gestahl had replied, ignoring the formality, "I want you to move a bit further. If you can extract this magic and give it to lifeless pieces of junk -"
Cid distinctly remembered wincing at having what he practically considered his children treated in such a cavalier fashion, but there was nothing he could do to interrupt, not when the one speaking of them was judge, jury and executioner.
" - then you can surely do more with it," he'd continued.
"Majesty..." Cid had, in all honesty, been confused. He hadn't understood the implications behind Gestahl's words, not just then. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
"Mage Warriors," the old man had replied with a smile - a remarkably greedy, frightening smile. "Think of it, Cid. Me, commanding real mages! Can you imagine how much that will do for the Empire? And I have no doubt that you can do it; I've seen your data reports on the Espers and their attributes. Hell, that arrangement you made up for their capsules was pure genius!"
He'd leaned forward, catching Cid's eyes in his own. "So make a magician for me, Cid. You have as much time and as much money as you need - just do it as soon as you can. I've waited my whole life for this, and gods take me if I'm going to wait any longer!"
The idea didn't fill him with as much enthusiasm as it did Gestahl; in one way, it filled him with a dread, a fear that they may have died out for a reason. And yet, in another way, the concept of creating something anew that had been nonexistent for centuries had a certain appeal - especially when it had been accompanied by such generosity.
Cid had been in his office that very night, sketching out preliminary ideas for the process of infusing a human being with magical power. It wouldn't be easy, by any means. The secrets of the Mage Warriors of the past had long since been lost; the legends only implied that it was possible to create them, and had given them no clues as to the process.
He could only hope that since high levels of magic seemed to be found in the blood of the Espers, and that human-Esper crossbreeding was apparently possible, the infusions could be made directly into the bloodstream. There were few other alternatives that wouldn't involve major surgery, or other methods and techniques that would make the cost prohibitive; as the old saying went, the simplest method was almost always the best. Perhaps it would even work. As much as it had galled him to admit it at the time, the only thing that he could do was make barely-educated guesses and hope for the best.
Then there would be the matter of selecting a subject, although the actual testing and selection would best be postponed until they had a method. It would be best, Cid had assumed, to use intelligent subjects, with high creativity and reasoning skills. After all, they would have to be able to utilize the power they would be gaining, and they'd have no one to teach them how to use it.
It was a pity that there hadn't been any tests available to test for "strength of mind," or whatever that abstraction could be caused - the ability to stand up under pressure. Cid had no clue what the physiological effects of introducing magic into a human body would be, but he'd been willing to bet that it would be initially unpleasant. The best he could do in that regard was to ask to ensure that potential specimens would be screened for every mental disease that he could think of, and probably a great deal that he couldn't.
Cid wasn't a psychologist; his ideas were only preliminary musings. They'd have to be checked later for errors and inconsistencies by the psychologists on the research team, whenever he gathered them. He already knew that he'd have any researchers that he'd want; they'd all jump at the chance to work at this project.
Something about the idea of playing God seemed to bring out the greediest sides of human nature.
Once the team had been assembled, the project had moved along like a perfect dream. The psychologists immediately took over the screening criteria for the human subject, having nothing else to do until the rest of the project was planned. Biochemists were already preparing animals for the first test infusions, to ensure that a living organism would be able to survive the process. The engineers had some minor difficulty in choosing a machine that would actually infuse the magic into the bloodstream. Eventually, one of them had the idea of modifying a transfusion device to allow a slow drip of the magical fluid into blood taken from the body at an earlier time, then re-transfused. This had sparked quite a lively argument between the engineers and the biochemists, who had been concerned with the effect of the infusions on the anti-coagulants that would be necessary for such a scheme to work.
Cid, being the head engineer and the authority on MagiTek, had done almost nothing. All he'd really needed to do was supervise the project and make sure that the others didn't get out of control; he didn't even have a budget to worry about. While the common people in Vector didn't know much about MagiTek or the current project under development, they had heard that Cid had a new project; they'd been quite proud of him, he recalled....
Time passed. The occasional failed experiment did little to dampen their spirits. Once, one particular subject, a Leafer infused with a bit too much Fire magic, had spontaneously combusted after setting fire to several non-critical documents; that was the closest they had come to a major accident. The machines themselves seemed to work well enough to infuse the magic to their satisfaction; it was the creatures themselves. Many of them were quite obviously in pain as their infusions were performed, although it would take a self-aware subject, one capable of self-reporting, to make any progress towards fixing that problem.
Cid declared the project ready to find its human subject a mere five months after it had started. He'd supposed that time would tell if he'd been too hasty.
For that particular job, the psychologists and interviewers had been the most important ones, and once again, Cid had done practically nothing. He'd waited in his office, reviewing notes and anticipating the first message, the one that would be delivered by a bored technician who would blandly inform him that no one had even come close to the strict criteria that he'd set for the first experimental subject. And he, of course, would sigh and order them to expand the search, going to the areas outside of the Empire and enticing potential subjects away, or forcing them away if need be. The subject must meet these guidelines, he'd say. It's critical to the success of the project, and to the future of the Empire. There would be no substandard subject for this experiment - was that clear? He'd rehearsed that scene over and over in his mind, trying to sound as authoritative as possible; authority was not a hat that fit him very well.
He was halfway through the twentieth repeat of the day when the first messenger burst into the office. "Professor Cid! We've got a potential subject!"
Cid had sighed. "Well, keep looking! Expand the search- " Then the exact contents of that message had hit him. "What? We've found someone that meets the standards??"
"Not only that, Professor! According to the psychologists, he meets half of then and exceeds the other half!" The messenger handed him a sheaf of papers inside of a manila folder. All the while, he babbled about what an opportunity and lucky break this was, and how amazing it was that they found someone this quickly, and how much he hoped that this one would work out. Cid only barely heard him as he scanned the stack of papers - the tests and results of a young man from Albrook, one Kefka Palazzo.
The name was completely unfamiliar to him.
Finally he'd looked up and interrupted his overeager young charge. "Tell them not to celebrate yet," he'd said, although he knew very well that it was too late. With a project like this, any lead was worth celebrating. "Keep looking. We may need a backup, just in case something happens. But I'll take a look at his profile, and if everything looks alright, we'll interview the young man and go from there."
"Yes, Professor!" It was quite obvious that he was deliberately calming himself to comply with the project leader's orders, but he walked out of his office with a bit of that bounce still in his step.
And how could he blame him? Inwardly he was doing the same thing. Amazing! They'd made progress so quickly... maybe they'd have the project done before the end of the year. He hoped so, at any rate; they needed something to show to the Emperor as soon as they possibly could - and a ready subject would be the most impressive showing they could give him, by far.
Now that he could think without that boy's babbling in his ears, he could read the files in earnest. This Kefka was a young man, only eighteen, studying many subjects, mostly history and classical studies, with a variety of tutors. He'd lived in Albrook with a cousin for five years, after his parents had died in a home fire. Even from a young age he'd been quite intelligent and quiet, preferring his studies to time spent with other children.
His test scores were every bit as outstanding as he'd been led to expect. He had a superior IQ, along with excellent abstract, analytical, and lateral reasoning skills, and was on the high end of the attention-span index. His scores on the Hathery Creativity Scale were especially high; his average score was a good twenty-five points above the threshold he'd set, 125 out of 150, quite impressive. Fearing that such a wonderful mind had some kind of taint to it, the team had screened him for every disorder that they could think of - depression, bipolar disorder, and especially every single form of schizophrenia that they could find a test for, among others. Everything had been normal; he'd appeared clean of any derangement. On the downside, the youth's physical tests - strength and endurance, mostly - had been slightly below average. He'd need a bit of physical training if he was chosen for the test subject, but nothing overly difficult to arrange.
Only the enclosed references had given him pause. The psychologists and interviewers had only managed to obtain a few, mostly from tutors and fellow students - in answer to one question, he had claimed no family nor close friends, a definite plus for such a delicate and confidential project. And all of them said more or less the same things. Kefka was, by their accounts, a rather taciturn young man, appeared mature for his age, and seemed to have an excellent memory and a wonderful mind in general, although he tended to be hard to work with because of his quiet, stand-offish ways. Their only complaints were about his rather odd behavior. He had often been caught in the dark, alone, speaking out loud to himself as if in prayer, and the prayers that had been overheard were to no deities that they had ever heard before. That, coupled with his almost fanatical studies of mythology and his refusal to claim any particular religion, had led most of them to believe that he was some kind of heretic, in a way. All of them denounced his strange behavior, although none of them could speak of a way that this would specifically constitute a threat to the Empire, in whatever form his service would take. Still, the fact that they all spoke so strongly against that one trait was a bit... unnerving.
He had been certain that this Kefka would be the one that they would use - such a perfect match would probably never happen again - but the interview would most definitely have to be arranged. Cid firmly believed that there were certain traits, easily concealed on tests, that would reveal themselves in person. Besides, it would be best to introduce himself and the rest of the team to him before making a definite decision...
In a matter of days, he'd been able to arrange an interview with this young man. By that point, everyone on the team was buzzing about how this Kefka would definitely be the next subject; the interview had become little more than a formality, necessary only to satisfy any remaining doubts. It would've taken something extremely abnormal to make them look much harder for another subject; there had been others found since then who had fallen within the recommended range, but none that had exceeded them in any category.
This one had clearly been something special.
"Isn't he here yet?"
"Professor Deliz, it's not half-past two yet," Cid had answered his colleague absently. They were waiting in a rented office in the small town of Albrook, waiting for this Kefka to come and meet with them. The middle-aged, thin woman was one of the head psychologists, and the one that had organized the majority of the battery of tests that the potential subjects had been required to take. Efficient as she was, she wasn't known for her patience.
Beside her sat a somewhat younger man, Professor Larisi, another head psychologist, and one of the few on the team who had specialized in mental disorders. "I'd hoped he'd come early. I want to see this paragon. I'm just hoping that he's all that he seems to be - aren't you?"
"Yes, yes, of course," Deliz answered, a bit snappishly.
"That is why we're here, " Cid continued with some amusement. "But I wouldn't be suprised if that isn't him right now." He'd heard a door slam outside in the hall, and the receptionist speaking to someone. "We'd best be quiet for now."
Almost before Cid closed his mouth, the receptionist opened the door. "Right this way, Mr. Palazzo," he'd said softly.
"Thank you, Sir." The young man - almost a boy, with his slender build and almost-pretty face - had stepped slowly into the room, moving towards the chair. He'd stopped behind it and bowed slightly to the three interviewers.
"Ah, come in, young man. Sit down," Cid had said amiably; the youth had been eager to obey.
The engineer's first impression of Kefka was pretty much what he'd expected it to be. The young man had been dressed in a dark jacket with shining cuffs and threadbare elbows, matching slacks with frayed cuffs, slightly scuffed leather shoes, and a plain white shirt. The only things that appeared new about his clothing were the shining golden buttons; many of them were uneven, showing that they'd been sewn on after the old ones had been cut away. His hair was fairly long, and the color was a peculiar shade, caught between gold and red; he wore it tied back in a neat tail, with only a few wisps escaping to hang around his face. His eyes were a striking a grayish-blue, dark enough to be confused for black in the dim light. They roved back and forth from time to time, jumping at every motion and sound - but when they were focused on one particular person or thing, they were quite calm and impassive, almost apathetic.
But his eyes were deceptive. Kefka's voice was anything but apathetic. The youth spoke quietly, almost in a whisper, but there was no ignoring the intensity in that voice. He had the air of someone who knew exactly what was happening - a bit unnerving, considering that Cid had ordered the ultimate purpose of the project to remain a secret - and had every intention of twisting it to favor him. And yet he had the reserved, quiet air that had probably made him the laughingstock of his less academically-inclined peers. Probably not a very good leader of men, but that made no difference; once the project had created a living, breathing mage and proven its worth, they could concentrate on shaping the perfect general.
The interview had gone extraordinarily well. Cid barely even remembered most of the questions; his colleagues had taken that responsibility, for the most part. After all, they knew what kind of questions to ask. He had kept a close eye on them, and had seen no dissention in their calm faces; they seemed to approve whole-heartedly of this young man.
Cid did, however, ask a couple of questions, near the end.
"Tell me, Mr. Palazzo, can you tell me about your immediate family?"
"What immediate family? My parents died in a house fire when I was ten," he replied calmly, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket - a fine one, made of silk, and colored a brilliant shade of crimson red. "I still miss them sometimes... but mourning them isn't going to make them live again. So I went on with my life. Some days, I don't think about them at all."
"And no other family members, except for your cousin."
"No, none. At least, none that I know of." He turned away, concentrating. "My mother was from Jidoor, she said; maybe she has some relatives there. Do you want her maiden name?"
Cid shook his head. "No, I don't think that'll be necessary. Unless you've met any of these relatives, of course."
"Of course I haven't. I've never been off of this continent."
The other team members exchanged glances. Why that statement should inspire them to do that, Cid couldn't say. "Well, Mr. Palazzo, your test scores are quite impressive. That's mostly why we're here, in fact."
Kefka nodded. "Yes, I know, for this secret project of yours. But other than that..."
"Well, the project is confidential," Cid said hastily. "Assuming you're accepted.."
Was it his imagination, or did he see a gleam of amusement in those impassive eyes? But they broke away from his too quickly to tell -
"...we'll be able to tell you - but under the strictest confidentiality. No one unaffiliated with the Empire must know the nature of this experiment." The young man nodded his understanding. "Now, I do have one more question."
"As many as you like, sir," Kefka said quietly.
"Are you a religious man, Mr. Palazzo?"
The question took Kefka aback for a few seconds - but only a few. Soon he was smiling, and an unwonted, unexpected mirth was dancing in his eyes. "Ah, I think I see. This is about my... heretical behavior, is it not? You have no idea, Professor, how often people ask me that question. I've grown used to answering it."
"Do so, please." His colleagues were giving him very strange looks. They didn't seem to understand why he was bothering with that question, any more than he'd understood why the fact that he'd lived in Albrook all of his life was an issue to them.
The younger man paused, patting his forehead with the silk handkerchief, his eyes averted and thoughtful. "I suppose this is the answer you want, then. Yes, I do have my own beliefs about... the nature of this world, you could say. Some find them odd. I don't speak about them anymore, because that's what got me into this situation in the first place. But they have little impact on my life. They'll certainly not stop me from doing whatever it is you require of me." He leaned back, smiling a bit. "Good enough, Sir?"
Cid would have continued, had he been alone. But the looks that Deliz and Larisi were giving him were enough to still his tongue. "Yes, good enough, Mr. Palazzo. Could you excuse us for a moment? We have a few things that we need to speak about."
The three interviewers stood up and walked out through the back door, behind the false mirror. The second they closed the door, the arguing had begun. "Professor Cid, was that really necessary?" Deliz had said quietly.
Larisi had nodded his agreement. "We don't want him to think we're bigoted, you know."
"He didn't seem offended," Cid had retorted. "Besides, the entire purpose of this interview was to clarify any unusual or striking points about the subject. I thought it unusual that every single reference had mentioned his personal beliefs, so I asked him about it."
"I still don't like it." Deliz had shaken her head, glancing over at the young man. They were all speaking in whispers; the room had been proven to be soundproof, but it was hard to believe that, especially with the man in question sitting in plain view. "I know that we can force him to cooperate if we have to, but I'd rather have him come of his own free will."
"He will. Didn't you see how eager he was? And while we're asking questions, why did you two think it was good that he'd been in Albrook all his life?"
Larisi gave him a look that would've only been appropriate if it had been to one of his own students, and a dim one at that. "Because it means that he definitely has no loyalties to anyone off the continent. We can verify that claim easily enough, right?"
"I suppose." Cid didn't see where it made that much difference. He'd been willing to go off-continent to find a suitable candidate, at any rate. "At any rate, we agree that he's the subject?"
Both of his colleagues had nodded. "Finding someone this early in the search... it seems like a very good omen," Deliz had whispered. "And his scores are high enough that we probably wouldn't find anyone better, even if we did expand the search."
"Agreed," Larisi had replied. "He's the one."
"Good. I'll tell him." Cid walked back through the door, putting a smile on his face. Kefka looked up expectantly. "Kefka, how soon can you leave Albrook and come to Vector? We're going to need to run some tests, and it'll be better to have you there."
"Tonight, if you want," he replied quickly. There was a restrained delight, but no surprise, in his eyes. "I can be packed and ready to go in just a few hours."
"That won't be necessary. But since you seem so eager to join the project, we can have a room ready for you tomorrow."
Kefka bowed his head. "Thank you, Sir."
True to his word, Kefka had shown up at the offices at dawn, clutching a carpet bag that contained all of his worldly belongings. They'd carried him back to Vector that day.
That same night saw him in a laboratory, with the biochemists and nurses performing various kinds of blood tests; they'd given themselves two months before beginning the infusions, and needed to make the most of the time. The scientists had tested samples of blood against the purified infusions from various Espers, searching for interactions and allergic reactions. They'd tested it with various types of anti-coagulants, and injected one that looked particularly promising, to ensure that he wouldn't suffer any ill effects.
Most of them were quite pleased to discover that his blood type was capable of receiving transfusions from anyone; it was quite likely that they'd need to give him a few transfusions. If the magical levels in his body grew too high as they were performing the infusion, they'd have to immediately stop the flow of his own blood into his veins, and replace it with someone else's; otherwise, the magic could severely injure him. Fortunately, his blood type had made it much easier to find donors.
Cid's primary job had been to test the machinery, make sure that they would work as well with human blood as with animal blood. Once again, the other engineers and the biochemists had done much of the heavy work.
Of course, Cid had also been the only one of the project to whom the Emperor would speak. He had come to watch the work only rarely, however, and Cid could only remember one time that he'd come to speak to him, in the last two weeks before Kefka was slated to begin the infusion process.
He'd walked into Cid's office one afternoon as Cid was planning out the infusion process one last time, ensuring that things would go as near to planned as they could. "Professor Cid, a question for you."
"Yes, your Majesty?"
"I understand that the infusions are to be done in two weeks?"
Cid smiled a bit and pointed at the diagram that he'd been drawing on at that moment. "Yes, that is correct, Majesty. We've already selected the drugs and the infusion - we've got one Esper that has tri-elemental power, Fire, Ice and Lightning. If we infuse him with that one's magic, we'll have saved quite a bit of time."
The Emperor gave him a rather condescending look. "Really. And what made you presume that you were going to be the ones to select the infusions?"
"I-" What??? Cid blinked. "But Majesty, we've already done tests, this is the least stressful-"
"But the others are possible." It hadn't been a question; Cid had no way to deny it. "I already know what elements I want this mage to have."
"Sire, it's too early for that, we need to ensure that the process will -"
"Silence! I have every confidence that the process will work. And I want the infusions for this boy to be Fire, Lightning and Venom. See to it, Professor!"
"Majesty, are you suggesting three separate elemental infusions??" Cid had jumped out of the chair at once, hoping to explain things to the Emperor and stop the mad plan. "We don't know how the elements interact with each other yet! If we don't want to risk delaying the project or killing the subject, we're going to have to extract a pint of blood for each separate infusion! Requiring three would drag the process out for far too long!"
"He won't be fully recovered for at least three months after the first infusion, and that's if we transfuse him with someone else's blood in the meantime -"
The Emperor cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Do it. Time is of the essence for this project."
Cid swallowed heavily and tried again. "Sir, if you would allow us to use the Tri-Elemental infusion, we'd be done much sooner-"
"So you would. However, I've already told you I want. This mage is going to be under my command, Professor, and I know what I want him to be."
I know what I want him to be.
The Emperor had risked this young man's life and sanity for the sake of being able to choose what he was going to become. And Cid hadn't had a choice; he'd been forced to comply. Without the Emperor's backing, the project - all of that hard work - would fall apart.
Cid shuddered in his quarters, looking over the old notes. He'd crossed out "Tri-elemental" that night and had replaced it with the Emperor's selected elements, written in a shaky hand. Thankfully, though, that had been the only change made to the project by the Emperor's meddling.
It felt strange to think of the Emperor as a meddler, but what else could he be called? He'd come into the project, knowing nothing about the mechanics and science behind it, and made a change that had almost been unreasonable. The other scientists had nearly torn their hair out at that, Imperial funding or no Imperial funding...
...but as always, the money had won out.
Yes, things always seemed to go wrong in projects like that... and then there had been the other visit. Not so cataclysmic to the project... but disturbing nonetheless.
On the night before the infusion would begin, Cid had been sitting in his office, going over the process one last time. He'd been somewhat surprised by the sudden, diffident tapping on the door; it had been late at night, and he doubted that his own scientists would be up - he'd ordered them all to get a good nights' sleep. And the Emperor wouldn't have bothered to knock; he would've burst in, regardless of whether Cid was performing some delicate procedure.
"It's unlocked. You can come in."
The man behind the door complied - and Cid found himself looking at the thin-framed, blue-eyed young Kefka. "Thank you, Sir," he replied, quiet and diffident as always.
"Of course." Cid had smiled, trying to put the lad at ease. He'd seen a lot of him over those two months, but they hadn't had the opportunity to speak; most of the time, Cid had been checking on some experimental design or another, and Kefka had been in the clutches of the other scientists. The boy was somewhat paler than usual; the others had already taken the blood and prepared it with the first infusion, the Fire infusion. He seemed a bit wobbly, and Cid had risen to catch him if he did fall. "Mr. Palazzo, you should be in bed," he scolded very lightly. "You must be feeling a bit weak right now."
The other waved it aside. "It's nothing," he said lightly. "And I couldn't sleep. That's why I'm here; I have something to ask, and no amount of lying sleepless in bed is going to help me until I know the answer."
"I see... but then, why didn't you ask me before?"
Kefka laughed a quiet laugh. "There was no time. The others were too busy with me, pricking me with needles, injecting gods-only-know what kinds of drugs into my body... you know. The experiment. It just took up too much of my time, and when I had time, I was too tired to come by."
"Well, that's reasonable enough... so," he'd said, gesturing to an empty seat, "do sit down. You do need your rest. And tell me, what do you want to know?"
"Thank you, Professor." He had happily accepted the engineer's offer of a chair. "Now... I want you to tell me everything."
"Everything? What do you mean?"
"Everything about this project. Everything about what you're doing here." He'd swept his arm around the room, pointing out everything, but nothing in particular. "I want you to tell me what you're doing to me."
Cid had been taken aback for a moment. He'd walked back to the chair behind his desk and sat before answering. "But I've already told you everything I can tell you. The rest is -"
"Confidential, Cid?" Cid? He's never called me that before...! "Come on, now," the younger man had continued, smiling. "I'm not an idiot; you chose me because I'm not an idiot. I know a lot more than you want me to, I'm sure." He'd stood, a mad light blazing in his eyes, a trace of a smile still on his lips. "You're the man that created MagiTek. Now, why would that man want a human subject? Hmmm? I'm sure you can catch my drift without too much difficulty."
Cid swallowed, hard. "Well.. of course, that much isn't confidential. But you want to know exactly what we're going to do-"
"Yes. Yes, I do." He's been leaning over the desk, staring at Cid with those mad eyes... not his eyes. They couldn't have been. "We're in a castle, Cid. People gossip, because they think that no one's going to listen. People say things that they shouldn't have said. I've heard what your colleagues say when they don't think I can hear them. They talk about elements. They talk about magic."
"Kefka, stop this at-"
"Tell me about the Espers, Cid. Are they from this world?" He paused significantly. "Or did they find them from some other world?" He asked it as a question, but his eyes knew the answer.
Cid had frozen. All of the soldiers who had participated in that raid had been mind-wiped immediately. There was no way.... "Who told you? No one but the Emperor and I knew that!"
"Why, you did. Just now." Kefka had merely laughed at his look of confusion. "I've been studying the old myths for years now, just like your precious Emperor. I know about the Espers. I know that they're from another world... and I'm this close," he continued, squeezing his thumb and forefinger together, "this close to finding out exactly what they're hiding in there. It's something big, very big."
"Kefka... this is going too far!" Cid had tried so hard to muster his courage again, but his voice had cracked and faded. "Get out of here, or else you're out of the experiment - and don't think you're going to escape with your life -"
"Oh, really! That's too amusing, Cid. If you hadn't wanted me to be in this experiment from the start, you would've looked a bit further for a candidate. No, I've heard your colleagues say that too. I'm something special. You're not going to dump me very lightly." He leaned in towards Cid a bit further, his eyes burning, and the smile fading. "Besides, what is the Emperor going to say when you tell him that you're going to have to start all over again? He's not going to be happy, I'm sure."
"Yes, but... if I have to-"
"You don't, Cid. You don't have to worry about my loyalty." His voice had sunk to an impassioned whisper. "You can take my bloody pound of flesh, or my soul if you want. What you're offering me is the realization of every childhood dream I've ever had. I've studied so long, hoping for an opportunity like this, and I'm not going to compromise it. I'll be loyal to the Empire, as loyal as you want me to be.
"But I need to know if the books that I've studied all these years were right. I need to know the truth. Tell me, Cid. What are you going to do to me?"
Cid had tried to swallow again, but found nothing there; it had all dried up under the intense gaze. Part of him - a part that he wished he'd listened to then - was babbling in fear. Surely the tests were wrong... stop him now, Cid... kill him, don't let him have this power... he's mad...
But there was that old fear, the fear of what the others would think... and the Emperor. Kefka had been right. "All right..." he said in a frightened whisper. "I'll tell you. But if it leaves this room..."
"It won't. I assure you, I have more to gain by keeping my secrets." Kefka had smiled again, red lips startling against white teeth.
And Cid had told him everything. He'd shown him the few shots of the Espers, the beasts that flailed helplessly in their tubes - but he did not show him Terra, not then. Then he showed him his diagrams, told him the process, the infusions that would be injected directly into his blood, the origin of those infusions....
"Magic seems to literally be held in the blood of the Espers," he'd said at one point, pointing to a centrifuge. "We have to take the blood, destroy the cells within it, use a centrifuge to force the solid particles out of the blood, and run it through a few purifying filters. That's what we use for the infusions."
"A blood pact..." Kefka's eyes had been miles away. "How fitting. How very delightful." The words had sent even more shivers through his body. What kind of madman was this Kefka? What kind of mistake was he about to make...?
Cid had talked to him for even longer, somewhat surprised at his comprehension; he never asked him to explain, even when he used the most technical language he could think of.
An hour had passed before the young man left. He'd looked back at Cid before walking out of his office, and his eyes had been just as docile and impassive as they'd been before.
"Thank you, Professor," he'd said in his soft voice, before turning and walking away, shutting the door quietly behind him.
And finally, Cid had been able to breathe again.
The next morning had been the big morning - the morning that would see the rebirth of the Mage Warriors, the first of an army of Imperial soldiers skilled in the once forgotten art. The nervousness that hung in the air was deafening, in a way that a sound could never be. The former excitement of the technicians had given way to whispers and glances, as they spoke only when they thought that it was absolutely necessary.
The atmosphere had gone to Cid's head, no matter how hard he'd tried to distract himself. Kefka's visit on the previous night had done nothing to soothe his nerves, and everything to frighten him; the misgivings he'd had that first night that the Emperor had approached him seemed more and more justified. If it had been within his power, he would've been glad to stop everything, throw the notes away, and make sure that no one else would ever attempt such madness again...
...but it was impossible. Not with the Emperor staring at him from behind that wall of glass and wire, the one that the old engineers had erected to protect them from flying debris during engine tests.... Cid had tried to tell Gestahl that there was little danger, but he hadn't listened. There had been a kind of terror in his eyes. He'd seemed unafraid of magic in a dumb machine... but with human intelligence behind it, it became much more terrifying.
A strange attitude, Cid mused, for the man who had begun this obsession to have.
The door to the prep room opened silently. Kefka, flanked by two guards and followed by an older female technician, walked into the room, dressed only in an open white sleeveless gown and shorts. His arms, legs and much of his torso had been left bare for the needles. That deceptive calm had returned to his wandering eyes, calm that masked a storm of obsession and desperation. The old professor's brow was covered in beads of cold sweat at the memory of last night... it was frightening, the way that Kefka had intimidated him, especially since he'd been expressing his own eagerness to serve the Empire....
The younger man spared him a calm glance before settling onto the white, hard operating table. The guards stepped back, ready to catch him if he started convulsing and fell off the table; the nurse stayed, swabbing his arms down with an antiseptic. "Now, we're going to have to stick you with a couple of needles," she'd said soothingly. "Two of them are going to be for the infused blood - we've already discussed all of this - and there are going to be a few sensors, to make sure that we haven't put too much magic into your system. We have to insert those below the skin, since we haven't found a way to measure magic from outside of the body yet."
"Fair enough," Kefka had responded, rather blandly. "I don't mind a little bit of pain."
"Wonderful," the nurse had replied, ignoring Cid's sudden shudder. "Now, I'll go ahead and get the infusion lines in, and Professor Cid will handle the sensors..."
That was his cue. He'd walked over to the table, his gloved hands running over each other nervously. The sensors - really little more than several bundles of wires attached to needles - waited for him. They'd been treated with magic themselves. A trace amount of magic would light the white lights of the sensors; once the magic grew too powerful, the warning lights would flash a brilliant red, much like litmus paper for acid. It was primitive, but much better than allowing the magic to build up to dangerous levels; that Leafer had shown them how unwise it was to take chances.
Inserting the needles wasn't a difficult task, if one knew how to do it. The only difficulty was in finding the veins for the infusion. Kefka was unnaturally relaxed, considering that he was about to be the subject of a ground-breaking experiment in technology, so there was no excessive tension; the needles simply slid in.
It was no pleasant sight, seeing the young man - pale from the loss of the blood taken the previous night, and his eyes surrounded by huge dark circles from lack of sleep - lying on that table, with more than a half-dozen wires dangling from above him, embedded into his flesh. The tubes were still clear, full of a saline solution, and attached to the machine that would ensure that blood flowed through both at the same speed.
They were ready. "Let's go," Cid said quietly, nodding to the other technicians.
Kefka had squeezed his eyes closed as the flow of saline was replaced by blood, far redder and more vibrant than blood had a right to be. It had flowed perfectly; the anti-coagulants had done their work.
Soon the magic sensors had lit the white lights that indicated the presence of magic. Cid had found himself nodding his approval, pleased in spite of his previous misgivings; there was something hypnotic about seeing one's own inventions working properly.
He hadn't been so pleased to see that unearthly serenity on Kefka's face. He had still been quite pale, but the color was growing stronger and stronger by the moment, thanks to the replenishment of his blood. But every animal test subject had been in intense pain, almost as soon as the magic had entered their bloodstream. And Kefka's expression had been utterly, completely blank.
"The transfusion's fifty percent complete, sir!"
"The magic levels are still steady."
"Good, good," murmured Cid in response, a bit distractedly. He was too busy staring intently at the thin, frail-looking young man, lying on the cot as if asleep, with all of the wires and tubes still dangling from his body. He'd been sure that the sight of it was going to give him nightmares....
"Seventy-five percent, sir!"
Kefka's eyes had slowly fluttered open, as if he'd simply awakened from a natural sleep. They'd swept around the room, once, twice, trying to absorb everything before finally focusing on the wires and tubes that connected him to the strange machines. A slow, vague smile played across his lips.
A smile?? Cid had only been able to stare in shock. How could Kefka smile? How had he been able to ignore the pain?
He could only stare in sickened awe as Kefka tried to sit up, wires straining at the motion. The woman technician reached out to comfort him, holding and hiding the ampoule with the sedative in her other hand. "Sir! Please, calm down, it'll be over before you -"
Before she could finish her reassurance, Kefka had reached out, one hand pulling free of the tubing. Blood flowed from the wound as he caressed her face - and his hand started to glow bright orange. Her gentle words were replaced by a bloodcurdling scream as she turned away and fell, her face a mass of blisters.
Kefka had watched her fall, apparently fascinated, for a few seconds - then he'd laughed the most chilling, terrifying laugh that Cid had ever heard, as he'd forced himself away from the table. The wires and tubes were pulled out of his body, ripping the flesh; blood stained the robe and shorts as it oozed from the wounds. Everyone had been screaming, all but stunned. One of the two guards had been the first to recover, only to fall, clutching at his burning flesh, after Kefka's magical touch had seared his face and chest.
It had all happened so quickly.... Kefka's screams were incoherent as he reached out. Bursts of flame, licking from his palms, had swept across the room, scorching flesh and machinery alike; he seemed to take great pleasure in the screams of the injured.
Cid had found himself walking up to the youth, clutching his own ampoule. He'd approached him as he'd stood, surrounded by his own streams of fire, laughing at the sounds of the technicians lying on the floor that were curled into small balls, deathly afraid and begging for mercy.
He hadn't hesitated. The needle had gone deep into his side, releasing the drug. Kefka's laughter had given way to screams, and he'd turned to face this new threat -
- Cid couldn't help but take a step back. Kefka's blue eyes had disappeared - and in their place had blazed a pair of deadly orange eyes, glowing dangerously in the dim light.
He saw Cid's fear, and laughed at it again - and with his hand he reached out to touch Cid's face. Somehow the engineer managed to block it with his arm - but he screamed as he felt the flesh blister and burn, the plastic coat that he wore melting into flesh....
Through the haze of pain, all he could hear was the laugher... until it slowly faded away. Kefka had collapsed; the drug had done its work. Lying on the floor beneath his feet, he'd seemed much weaker, smaller and more pathetic - almost enough to pity him. But... no. All he'd had to do was feel the blistered flesh of his arm, listen to the moans and screams....
"Don't just stand there, you idiots!" The voice of the Emperor had rung out through the intercom; Cid had barely heard it. "Get him to the healing beds! Do it, he's going to bleed to death!"
Soliders burst in, picking up the unconscious body of Kefka, carrying him away... and Cid had found himself staring at the Emperor, at the accusation in his eyes. You've failed me, Cid, they'd said.This destruction is your fault... unless you can redeem yourself, you're finished...!
Cid stiffened and turned - to the same young technician who had brought him the news about Kefka in the first place. "Sir," he said, a bit timidly, "do you think that we've done anything wrong?"
Out of the mouths of the innocent, if any of them could be called totally innocent... Cid had wanted desperately to speak his mind, to tell them all that their wrongdoing was allowing this madman to receive the power. But he couldn't, not with the Emperor's fiery gaze burning into him, demanding an explanation.....
But he didn't have one. The others in the room shouted their agreement, started making suggestions... but Cid himself had been silent. Completely, utterly silent.
And so, the process continued, albeit with a few small changes. Even Cid could think of no reason to discontinue the process. In his shock and confusion after the destruction, he'd gotten it into his head that the damage had already been done, and that no further harm could possibly be caused by finishing what he'd started. It was yet another notion that he'd have good reason to regret later on.
Thereafter, Kefka was drugged to unconsciousness before the infusions began, each of them a third of the first, repeated over the span of a week. There were no more outbursts after that one.
The other technicians, seeing this, applauded themselves on a job well done, and immediately started the process of choosing the next test subject - a child this time, they'd already decided, so that they could study how magic affected their malleable minds. Of course, they had the half-Esper child to study, locked away in one of the tubes that held the Espers themselves until she was old enough to be released without killing her liberators. But she was far too wild to count as a real human.
Cid, of course, had once again been the head of the team. He was the king of empty excuses, he thought bitterly. He'd managed to come up with a thousand reasons why his actions wouldn't make any difference, even when he knew that he had the authority to at least slow the whole thing down. It was because of his lauded cowardice, of course. He didn't want to lose his position, and perhaps his life, by snatching away the Emperor's daydreams of an army of MagiTek soldiers, led by generals capable of wielding more power than those strange machines could ever dream of, if machines could dream. No, dissenting could do nothing, he'd told himself. The team had tasted blood, as it were, and he was sure that some of them had the know-how to continue without him, at least to some point; once they'd reached and passed that point, he'd have the blood of that child as another stain on his soul. He had to continue. He'd gone too far to turn away.
She was a pretty little girl, blonde, pale-skinned and blue-eyed, the young daughter of parents who had defected from Maranda for fear that they'd be killed if they stayed there long enough for the inevitable invasion. Celes, their only child, had been the price they paid for their safety. At least he could ensure that she would be well-treated; he had done his best to do so. His suggestions - never actions, merely suggestions, as it had been for most of his life - had ensured that she was kept in a crèche rather than a containment tube, although allowing her company of her own age was too much to ask. He'd visited her constantly, and had tried to teach her to trust the Empire, to ensure that she wouldn't turn against any who tried to speak to her; he had learned the importance of such lessons when Terra had been brought to Vector. He'd found the best tutors that he could find to teach her the things that they'd deemed it necessary for her to know. Cid had even held her trembling hand as the anesthetic had taken hold before her infusion.
Gestahl had chosen Holy and Ice for her infusions, perhaps showing his own prejudices - or perhaps because Ice seemed like a less dangerous choice than Fire; Terra had shown them all exactly how dangerous Fire could be. As had Kefka... but that was a subject never spoken of where anyone could hear. Kefka had been a success, and any statements to the contrary were sufficient to warrant a charge of treason.
So far, Celes had been an unqualified success - calm and patient, and yet a deadly fighter. Her magical skills were growing more powerful every day. It would take some time before they were certain whether or not she would be as excellent a leader as she was a fighter, but the tutors that Cid had provided for her would teach her battle tactics and strategies that would almost certainly aid her there.
Still, no matter how successful the second infusion would be, it would never overshadow the failure of the first - not in Cid's mind, anyway. Day by day, he had watched the quiet and intelligent man that had been selected for the experiment fade away, twisting into what he was now. The conservative dark clothes, bearing only the slightest hint of decoration, were gone. This Kefka wore brightly colored, billowing robes that swirled around his narrow frame as he stood on the parapets of the castle, staring and laughing at nothing in particular. His face was painted with streaks of red around his eyes and on his lips, giving him the air of a demented jester, not the soldier that the team had expected to create. The intense blue eyes that had held him so helpless not long before were still there, but were overshadowed more and more by the other colors that had come after the infusions. Now they were blended with a shimmering apple-green that confounded and sickened those that looked too closely, the bright, incandescent blue-gray of the sky before the storm, and the blazing orange that he had seen so clearly that day. All of those colors fought for an unstable dominance in his eyes, the eyes that were calm no longer. Now they shifted and rolled back and forth, constantly, as if he were seeing everything. And everything he saw seemed to require a laugh, a need which he would satisfy with those insane giggles and bursts of manic laughter that had first burst from those lips after receiving the Fire infusion.
He'd created a madman... not only that, but he'd continued with it even after knowing that his subject was using this procedure for his own purposes. Why else would he have wanted it so badly? And what else was the bastard after? He didn't know. He couldn't know, now that the new general - a title given only by default, really - had his Emperor's ear. Gestahl had grown less and less interested in his human Empire, it seemed, since Kefka had been infused; Cid couldn't say what was drawing his interest, but whatever it was, it was probably so beyond his understand that a sane man would have never thought of it.
Whatever Kefka's ultimate goal was, it seemed that he was well on his way to achieving it. Only a few short days ago, the Emperor had approached him with a request that had nearly knocked him senseless then and there.
"You want me to give you a MagiTek infusion??" He'd gasped, unable to believe that this was the same man who'd been unable to stand in the same room to watch Kefka and Celes receive their infusions. "A Fire infusion? After what happened to-"
"Professor," the Emperor had continued in a blandly-amused voice, "if you'll recall, that little incident was due to an error in your procedure, an error that you claim to have corrected. As long as you do it right this time, I'm sure there will be no difficulty."
"But why? We don't even know the long-term effects of this magic on the body yet - or the short-term effects, for that matter!"
"Watch yourself, Cid! This rudeness borders on insubordination!"
"Y-yes, your Majesty!"
Gesthtal stared at him for a moment... then he'd done something that Cid would've never expected. He'd sighed. "Why? Because I'm an old man, Cid. Because if I don't get this infusion, my own Generals are going to rise up against me someday."
He'd been too stunned to reply at first - but even then he'd been conscious of something else, as if there were important parts of the story that he hadn't told. But he wasn't going to get a chance to find out. In a matter of moments, a shadow had passed over Gestahl's face, the moment of weakness had faded away, and he'd become the grizzled, stern old Emperor again. "But I've said too much. If I find out that my... private concerns have gone beyond this room-"
"Yes, your Majesty. I understand."
"Good. You will have the infusions ready in two weeks. Understood?"
"Two weeks... that's impossible, unless we were to start preparing the infusions immediately. Can't it be done -"
"No." And with that single word he'd sat in one of the cushioned chairs, pushing back one of the sleeves of his robes. "Do whatever you have to do. Start immediately. But I want to be sitting in the MagiTek Lab exactly two weeks from now, receiving the first infusion. See to it, Cid!"
See to it, Cid.
He'd followed orders. The Emperor had long since recovered from his infusion; he'd watched him training with it, casting powerful flame spells that were capable of destroying entire rooms of training dummies at a time.
Now he wants all of his soldiers to be mages, Cid thought ruefully. There's no stopping... nothing is enough. He'd been working on a lower-cost way of creating MagiTek infusions for some time, hoping to find a way that would be reasonably safe and still pass the magical power on to the subjects. Unfortunately, it seemed as though he was quite close to discovering the secret.
He spared another glance up to the window. Kefka was gone.
What fires did I spark when I created that monster...?