By: Shannon "Magpie" Chilton
The surrounding land was oddly still save for the whisper of the cool canyon winds. A wind that carried with it the last traces of the planet's essence which helped in the last stand against the apocalyptic meteor. The peace that now pervaded the land reminded him of the ringing of one's ears after prolonged exposure to a deafening roar. A relief, yet mildly disconcerting. Just then, the chocobo churred softly and ruffled its feathery head making its harness jingle slightly. Mog chuckled and slapped his companion on the side affectionately.
"Yes, friend, I know. But he should be coming soon. You know how he is."
Mog gazed over the grasslands that separated the Mythril Mountains from its counterpart swamp to the sinking afternoon sun which bathed everything in darkening hues of fiery reds and oranges. The clouds above were still whipped into elegant, bubbly forms caused by the violence of the life-stream's power. This night was a time he looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. There was peace once again in this world, but also it meant the parting of friends.
Just then, a low roar slowly intruded upon the moogle's quiet reverie. His chocobo began prancing about nervously squawking its uneasiness. He rubbed the bird's side again.
"Easy there, Choe. You aught to be used to it by now, you big feather head.
Without warning, a gaping black hole expanded into being against the mountains in front of Mog. From it a fabulously huge steed leapt through making the ground tremble slightly as it landed solidly on all six of its legs. Mog looked up at the porcelain-like features of the horse's head as it gazed down at him. It shook its great ebon mane and nickered.
"Ah Mog, how good it is to see you again," said a deep, rolling voice.
"Greetings to you too, Odin," Mog replied, his voice comically high and small compared to the warrior god's. "Still haven't lost your touch."
Odin chuckled appreciatively and regarded the mountainous clouds as they enveloped the sunset like the closing of a book. He brought his horse about so that he had a clear view of his diminutive friend. "Time to go."
"Where will it be? Do you know?"
"I do believe it will be at Round Island. Arthur and his knights have been kind enough to lend us the use of their island for the gathering. Leviathan will be keeping an eye out for any water-bound intrusions assuredly."
"It's been an interesting time here," Mog remarked absently.
Odin pulled out his glowing spear and held it so that the sun's rays glinted off it. "It has indeed, my friend. It has indeed." With a slow sweep of his great weapon, both he and the moogle disappeared within the growing shadows of night.
High above the darkening world, a rather unusual bass shriek filled the air. "Damn you, Bahamut! Why did I ever let you talk me into this . . ."
The great black dragon king roared in laughter as he rocketed through the chill air over the vast ocean far below with Titan clinging for dear life on his scaled back. "Oh c'mon, old man, where's your backbone?"
"Down on the ground where it bloody well should be you big, overgrown lizard," Titan muttered through gritted teeth.
"Hmm? What was that?" the dragon called over his shoulder.
Bahamut flared his wings, pulling out of his dive as a gradually growing spec appeared on the horizon. The only light illuminating the cloudy sky was the deepening blue glow of twilight on the western horizon.
"Don't worry, old man, Round Island is just ahead," Bahamut said. Titan growled something under his breath. The dragon couldn't help another snort of mirth. "After all our ventures together, you still hate to fly."
"I'm getting too damn old for this."
Bahamut's rumbled laughter was quieter that time and he eased his flight to accommodate his old friend. As the island loomed closer, he could see an opaque lighted dome encompassing it completely, sparks of electricity skirting over its surface from time to time.
"Seems like Ramuh's already there," the dragon commented.
"Well, don't you think-- ulp . . ."
Bahamut pulled up suddenly, cutting Titan's reply off. The warrior was about to grace his friend with another scathing comment when an eerie, sepulchral voice made him bite his tongue.
"Bahamut, Titan, I presume?"
"Yes, Hades, yes. None other. Let us pass," Bahamut replied a little impatiently.
Titan peered over the dragon's shoulder. A large, humanoid shape almost half the size of the dragon himself hovered before them, effectively blocking further passage to the island. It's blood red robes shifted in the wind as the apparition appraised them, arms folded. The only part of its body left uncovered was the leering skull grinning down at them from beneath the thick hood. Out of all the legends Titan had known in his multi-centennial life on all the worlds he had resided in, Hades was the one creature that unnerved him the most.
Titan cleared his throat. "I'd like to get on the bloody ground already. Let's be about it now."
Hades chuckled darkly. "You won't get far with Ramuh's shield up." It held up a skeleton hand and opened it, boney palm facing them. A piercing flash of light suddenly bathed the both of them.
"What the blazes . . . !" Titan roared and covered his eyes from the light's intensity.
Bahamut, too, held up a clawed hand to shield his eyes. "What's the meaning of this?" he growled.
The light disappeared abruptly and Hades folded its arms once again. "You may go now. The shield will permit you." The embers within its darkened eye sockets flashed once and then robed form vanished.
"I sincerely hope that ghost is staying on this world," the warrior muttered.
Bahamut rumbled in agreement and he made a slow spiral to the island below.
Ifrit, Odin, and Ramuh laughed heartily as they drank large mugs of ale and regaled each other with one story or another they had on this world and others. Shiva went about checking on the half dozen banquet tables scattered about the small vale lighted by Ramuh's electric shield and made sure everyone had what they needed, every now and then touching a stein or two to chill the ale within.
"Shiva!" a baritone voice called out from behind.
The ice goddess turned around and was promptly surrounded by a mound of muscle. She laughed and managed a muffled "Titan!" through the warrior's arms as she tried to wrap her own arms around his immense girth. Just then, a shattering crash made them both jump. They turned around just as muttered curses and a sharp roar of laughter filled the air.
"Will you please shrink your scaly butt before you ruin the whole place?" Bahamut demanded of a mammoth, platinum-plated dragon who was, at the moment, looking a bit flabbergasted.
Shiva covered a growing smile as she watched the ironic scene. Even though both of Bahamut's children, Neoroth and Zerolu, were vastly bigger than their sire, his presence still commanded respect. The crimson Neoroth laughed again as his sister looked quite trite.
"C'mon sis, if y'want to fill that mountain of a stomach of yers, ya gonna have'ta get just a little bit smaller, right?"
Titan chuckled and started back the other way where the ale was being served. "Let's go, Shiva. That's all we need is to get squished by arguing dragons. Bahamut's on his own on that one."
Shiva smiled, giving the demolished table one last mournful look, and followed Titan across the vale. "So you and Bahamut have been friends for a long time," she said, more of a statement than a question.
"Since the beginning," he replied quietly. "Seen many worlds, many people." He gazed upward to the sky he knew was there beyond the electric dome.
"You can always stay this time. Seniority allows you that choice."
He shook his head and smiled ruefully. "No . . . . It's time to move on. Besides, Bahamut is sure to go. Someone has to keep an eye on the big oaf." He glanced back at his friend who was now giving his son some sort of lecture as Zerolu watched on with a toothy grin. He chuckled. "After all this time, he hasn't changed a bit."
A gust of wind suddenly started to swirl around both Shiva and Titan, whipping their hair about their faces, and then a bizarre figure abruptly winked into existence, hovering directly in front of them.
Shiva blinked. "Typoon!"
The demon's eyes sparkled mischievously in his nothing-but-head-like body. "Miss the party yet, gentlemen?" He bowed low, but then kept on going until he flipped over, showing his other face that replaced where a normal creature would have kept its hind end. "And gentlewoman, of course," he continued in a higher voice without missing a beat and winked.
Titan folded his arms. "The charmer as always eh, wind demon?"
Typoon wagged a finger at the warrior. "Of course! And let us not forget always fashionably late. Am I the last?" He folded his spindly arms and flipped over to his more robust visage, his voice dropping an octave as he spoke. "That Hades character though, that guy really needs to lighten up." He paused for a moment, then a guffaw escaped his fanged maw. "Lighten up! That's a good one . . . . You don't suppose some sun would kill him, do you? Do us all a favor!"
Titan rolled his eyes. A sharp whistle pierced the air and an earth-trembling rumble echoed throughout the island. "That would be Alex. I do believe that everyone's here now."
Typoon gave them an overly dramatic look of distress. "Drat! That would mean Ifrit and Odin would have drunk all the ale! What a cruel stroke of fate!"
Shiva arched an eyebrow and a smile tugged at her lips. "How . . . unfortunate."
Titan laughed. "Come on then. I'm sure we can find an untouched barrel somewhere for you."
"Only one barrel?" the demon moaned, but then grinned. "Well it looks like things are starting already. Here, allow me." With a sweep of his hand, a cushion of air scooped the both of them up and carried them along with him to the growing group of legends gathering together in the middle of the vale.
Bahamut sat with his children, both now shrunk down to their father's size, the three of them creating a semi-circle around the gathering legends. The great bull Kujata snorted and stamped, startled, as a great bubble of water came into being beside him. The bubble burst and Leviathan emerged into the light. He arched up, coiling around himself, and then regarded everyone, old friends and new acquaintances alike, with a timeworn smile. The ancient water serpent then spoke, his voice as deep as the ocean depths he ruled.
"And so the gathering is complete. Let it now begin."
With a flash of light, a majestic knight in full battle regalia appeared before the gathered legends. A reverent hush fell over them all. Even the recalcitrant Hades let the embers burning within the depths its skull cool. Then the spirit of King Arthur spoke.
"Welcome to my island. I am honored to hold these proceedings this night. Tonight we honor accomplishments, however large or small, we have made upon this world and we commit to memory all that we have seen and done so that we may yet use this knowledge when there is once again a need for our powers and advice. Now our calling here has come to an end. Some of us will part this realm to help those in need on other worlds and some will stay to keep the memory of our knowledge and power alive for those who wish to remember what we once were."
The knight raised a gauntleted hand. Ramuh and Ifirit nodded at the signal. The mage lifted his staff and the protective dome funneled down to the crystal embedded in its top as a bolt of lightning, casting the vale into darkness as the night sky appeared over the island once more. Ifrit then made a motion with his hands and dozens of flame sparks blinked into being, surrounding the gathering, casting upon their faces a flickering glow and bouncing shadows along the ground around them.
Shiva closed her eyes for a moment letting a tear trickle down her cheek. A hand touched her shoulder and she looked up into the face of Odin who smiled warmly at her. She returned it.
"I have done this so many times and still its beauty moves me. And its sadness."
Odin said nothing, merely squeezed her shoulder comfortingly.
"Come avian legend of rebirth, guardian of the passages of time!" Arthur commanded, arm still outstretched. "And bring forth the key to the next stip in our path."
Everyone looked up as one as a glowing amber drop speared across the starry vista above them and fell to earth. It hit the ground between Arthur and the gathering like a raindrop in a pool of water making the ground burn a brilliant shade of crimson. From it emerged the fiery-winged form of Phoenix as she stroked the air with powerful beats of her wings. Clamped tightly in her hooked beak was the elegantly wrought blade, Masamune. Phoenix landed in front of the knight and bowed, presenting the blade to him. He took it and placed a hand on the head of the human-sized bird in gratitude. In her eyes was the smile she could not make physically, and she stepped back with the rest of the legends. Arthur held the six foot blade before his eyes concealed within his visor.
"Remember the touch of those who have held you and keep the histories you have seen. Now it is time to call back what we have lent to this world so that we can pass through the gates of space and time to those who still need our help.
Arthur lifted Masamune's point to the heavens and the rest of the legends lifted their faces to the sky. Each closing their eyes, they all began to chant the ancient words of transcendence. Slowly at first, then quickening with every passing moment, a whirling torrent of energy surrounded the island. It grew thick and pulsed with its own inner light. And then, a storm of colors exploded over the vale and whirled around each of the legends as the small tokens of their being, the materia, were gathered from the world, broken, and returned to their bodies. For long moments the magistorm raged around them as the released energies returned back from where they were created. At last, the tempest faded and the remaining magical forces swirled around Masamune and then was absorbed.
All was quiet. The only light now came from the stars above and the glow of the sword held by Arthur. The knight parted his hands from its hilt and it stayed in place, in mid-air, before him.
"It is time, my friend. The key is set. Go. Open the gateway for those who will follow you."
Masamune flashed, then disappeared into the night.
"The transcendence is complete. The gateway opens at dawn," Arthur said quietly. "I wish you all good fortune in the paths you choose. It has been an honor to know you." The knight bowed to the legends gathered before him and then he, too, disappeared into the night.
Starlight bathed Round Island's highest peak in the faintest of glows. On a jagged ledge overlooking the sea sat Titan, Bahamut, and his daughter Zerolu, who was now back to her three-hundred foot glory. The vast span of the platinum dragon's triple wings stretched out over them as she stretched.
"It'll be sunrise soon. I suppose I'd better go. I envy you, papa," she added quietly.
Bahamut reached up and laid a clawed hand on his daughter's shoulder. "In time . . . in time. Then both you and your brother will be able to make the transcendence. And when you do, I'll be there waiting."
Without pretense, Zerolu swept her father up in her arms. Bahamut let out an involuntary yelp of surprise as he was hoisted a good hundred feet into the air and then smothered in a long hug. Titan smiled up at the two dragons, the dragon king looking not so unlike a large stuffed animal in the arms of a child. After a while, she finally put her father down and stepped back.
"Keep safe," Zerolu said softly. "I'll miss you."
"Keep safe, my daughter."
The platinum dragon bowed low, spreading out all her wings to their full extent. Suddenly, her body was engulfed within a whirling vortex of stars and then they flew outward up into the heavens.
"I'll miss you too," he whispered sadly at the sky.
The two ancient friends then sat together quietly on the rocky ledge watching the eastern horizon slowly lighten its way to dawn. The sea's breeze flowed up the mountain face and whipped through Titan's long white hair.
"It's been interesting this time around," the warrior said, breaking the pensive silence. "Seems like the further we go, the more complicated things get."
Bahamut rumbled a short chuckle. "That much is certain. It's the way life always is. You think you're up to it, old man?"
Titan gave him an indignant look. "Of course, you overgrown bat!"
The dragon laughed aloud. "Ah, my old friend, al least there will be some things that will never change. C'mon, the sun's almost up. I'd like to leave in style."
"Oh no. Don't you dare! Hey-- !"
Bahamut grabbed the warrior and planted him firmly on his scaled back. He then dove off the cliff and rose into the crisp ocean air. The mountains echoed Bahamut's joyful whoop and also Titan's shouted curses as he held on for dear life. As the sun's rays leapt out over the watery world below, the great black dragon king flared his wings out to their full length. The light struck the both of them, capturing the scene and freezing it for an instant. And then they vanished into the wind without a trace.