Chapter One: The Storm at Besaid
Massive storm clouds rolled over the horizon, rapidly approaching the small, sleepy island of Besaid. Paine, perched on the roof of Besaid Temple with her skull-hilted sword at her side, frowned even deeper than she normally did and leapt from her vantage point. She hit the ground running, sprinting past the citizens and priests cowering in the Temple’s main chamber, right to the elevator to the Cloister of Trials.
She paced on the elevator, her cloak trailing behind her and the goggles bouncing on her forehead with every step. She swung her sword a few times and checked to make sure that her pistols were properly holstered before pacing again, her boots patting out an increasingly high tempo pattern on the accursed symbol of Yevon beneath them.
Finally, the elevator reached its destination. She bolted off the platform, past a range of simple and already solved puzzles before reaching the door to the chamber of Fayth. “Rikku.” Paine called, pounding on the door. “Rikku, we need to get out of here. Now. He’s found us.”
No response met her pounding. Paine debated just beating the door down.
“Rikku! He’s almost here. We’ll have another chance later, but we can’t waste any more time, now.”
Still, nothing. Paine made a growl of frustration and stomped away from the door.
“She can have that effect, sometimes.” Came a voice from near the entryway. Paine turned, and saw Lulu, and the creaking, hissing machina that now served as Lulu’s legs. She barely knew the young woman, who looked older than the twenty five years of life she actually possessed, aged beyond by stress and trauma.
“I’ve noticed.” Paine replied, glancing back at the door. “If she keeps this up, this’ll be the last temple we visit as well as the first.”
“Not even a little faith?” There was something tired and cruel in Lulu’s tone. “That’s not very becoming of a guardian.”
Paine glared as only Paine could. “I’m not interested in being a model guardian. I’m interested in keeping Rikku alive. Whether or not she completes her pilgrimage isn’t important.”
“Then what’s her point in living?” Lulu said. Paine sometimes wondered if they were cousins, by some blood relationship erased by the ravages of Sin. Moments like this only confirmed it in her mind. “You know what this means to her.”
Paine responded by looking back towards the door and tightening her grip on her sword. Lulu sighed and rolled her eyes.
“She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”
Paine did not dignify that with anything but a snort.
“Hm. Young love.” Lulu looked off, past the wall. “It’s a wonderful drug, isn’t it? All of the harsh realities of the world just melt away.”
“Are you done?” Paine asked, voice not registering anything but vague annoyance.
“I suppose so.” Lulu said, sounding a mixture of bitter and amused.
“Good.” She looked back towards the door.
As if on cue, the door slid open, and out stumbled Rikku. As was the usual, lately, she was half-wearing a bright yellow kimono, her orange tank top on clear display. Her machina left arm whirred very slightly as its metal fingers took a better hold of Rikku’s “staff”, which was actually a rifle with a barrel nearly as tall as she was, with charms tied to the grip. She looked up at Paine with a goofy smile on her face, one that fluctuated slightly when she saw the girl’s expression. Her orange eyepatch even seemed to match the suddenly concerned look in her one remaining eye. “Uh oh, am I in trouble?”
“He’s here.” Paine said, and then strode forward and took Rikku by the fleshy arm. “We need to go. Now.”
“Oh, he is! Great!” Rikku grinned.
“No, not great. He’ll kill us, Rikku. We’re not ready.”
“But Valefor and I can totally take him! Or at least drive him off.”
“No.” Paine started to pull Rikku, but the newly minted summoner stayed resolute.
“I’ve been running for three years! I can fight, n--”
Rikku was interrupted quite suddenly by Lulu. “You will die if you stay and fight.”
Rikku pouted. “But--”
“You will die.” Lulu repeated. “And then Yuna will have died for nothing.”
“She’s right. We need to go. Now.” Paine pulled on Rikku, again.
Paine gave Rikku a very quick kiss, right on the lips, to which Lulu very obviously rolled her eyes. Rikku looked up at the warrior and blinked.
The storm had many names, and there were many theories as to what, exactly, it was. Some, particularly those with ties to the Church of Yevon, said it was a manifestation of Yevon’s anger at the High Summoner Yuna having acted in so many heretical ways. That was where it had received its most popular name. Wrath.
Others thought it was a collection of all of the dead, every single soul lost to Sin throughout the hundreds of years since the fall of Zanarkand, finally taking shape. They, too, clung to its popular name. Wrath.
Rikku, standing in the town square of Besaid, looking past the temple and into the approaching, black sky, looking to the massive white mask, styled after an effeminate man’s face, hovering in the front of the rolling storm, knew it by a different name. Its true name.
Paine was further down the street, preparing their two-seater airship. The vehicle, known as the Centigrade, was little more than a rocket engine, a piloting system, and a pair of seats. She glanced back impatiently at her Al-Bhed partner. “Rikku!”
They were not clouds, exactly. They were a massive swarm of pyreflies, one so large it condensed the air around it. One so large it did not create weather so much as it was weather. Rikku’s grip tightened on her rifle-staff as she stared up, into the swarm, and past it, to Seymour’s mask-like face, a face that dwarfed Besaid.
Paine rushed over to her and grabbed her good arm. Wind was starting to pick up around them, rushing past them and kicking up small clouds of dust and sand. Rikku looked back at her, expression pleading. Paine, however, was resolute, and started dragging the new summoner towards the airship.
“But the people!” Rikku called. “Paine, they--”
“We don’t save Spira if you die.” Paine said, voice stern.
“Paine!” Rikku broke away from her hold. “I can’t just...” She trailed off, as she saw something out of the corner of her eye.
A massive hand descended from the clouds, towards Besaid. As it reached the town, the hand burst, and lightning streaked across the massive storm that was Seymour. The pyreflies making up the hand rapidly descended towards Rikku and Paine, grouping together and congealing into fiends, hundreds and hundreds of dog-like monsters, flan, elementals, massive birds, drakes, lizards, and more, dozens more.
Rikku’s eyes widened, and she knelt, lifting her staff-rifle, and turning the barrel towards the approaching onslaught. Paine, meanwhile, drew both of her pistols, and stepped in front of her partner, though not directly.
The fiends closed in, and both of Paine’s pistols erupted in fire. She swept them across the oncoming tide of monsters, and dozens of them fell under the withering fire. Meanwhile, Rikku’s rifle, barrel resting on her flesh arm, fired with several bangs that nearly drowned out Wrath’s thunder. Each crack of the rifle took out not just one fiend, but an entire line of them.
For every fiend that fell, though, bursting into a cloud of pyreflies, ten more took its place. Paine holstered her pistols and drew her sword, slashing wide and taking three canine fiends in a single strike. Rikku’s rifle fired two more times before she got to her feet and started backing towards the airship.
A Zu swooped down towards Paine, claws outstretched wide. The warrior leapt towards it, sword out, and met its charge by plunging her blade right in its chest. Paine kicked off the massive fiend and ripped her sword through its torso, pushing off of it even as it dissolved into a mass of glowing motes. She landed in a crouch near Rikku.
The onslaught of fiends, however, only closed around them. Seymour’s mask was now floating directly over them, a bright beacon among the black clouds now filling the sky. Though its expression had not changed, Rikku thought it was smirking malevolently down at them. Her fists clenched, just watching it.
She had to do something.
Paine grabbed her partner’s arm and pulled her back again. As she did, explosions suddenly filled the mass of fiends, bursts of purple and green, consuming whole swathes of them whole. More blasts of magical energy erupted throughout the horde, destroying a dozen or more at a time, until all that remained were a few stragglers under a rapidly dispersing cloud of pyreflies.
Lulu stepped out of the temple on her shaky machina legs and stared up at Seymour. “Go. I’ve waited a long time for this chance, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t follow. A hand is a good start for paying back everything he’s taken from me.”
Rikku ran to the back seat of the two-seat craft. A bright blue drake leapt over the vehicle, claws and monstrous jaws bearing down on her.
A single punch from her good hand connected with its skull. There was a sickening crack, and the reptilian fiend flew back, breaking down into pyreflies before it hit the ground. She grinned at her fist. “Still got it!” Rikku looked to Paine, who was already getting into the front seat, which was also the main pilot’s seat.
“Gloat later. Come on.”
Rikku got in and looked back. The sky was black, and Seymour was looking directly at the defiant Lulu. A blast of Ultima exploded against the impassive mask, to little effect.
The Centigrade’s engine roared like a wounded animal, and the ship immediately lurched off the ground, shooting off with a flash of flame and a cloud of smoke. Rikku continued to look back, saw the blackened sky amid flashes of magic, and yelled, “Hey! Do a pass!”
“I’m not letting another friend die! Just a pass, we won’t stop.” Rikku removed her safety harness and stood up in her seat. She held her staff in front of her with both hands.
Paine made a frustrated noise, and turned the wheel hard. Rikku nearly toppled out of the airship and made an alarmed squeak, followed by a big grin. The Centigrade had already shot out to sea, and now it almost as quickly rocketed back towards the village. Rikku spun her staff in her hands.
Lulu’s legs were sparking beneath her. Her moogle doll was missing an eye and featured heavy charring. The storm was directly above her, now, and the blackness was slowly, steadily, growing around her, and in it, Lulu could feel fiends start to form, gathering in the dark.
She was fully aware that she was probably going to die, right here, right now.
She lifted both of her arms. Her doll lifted the only arm it had left. As she brought them down, another explosion of green and purple erupted through the darkness, and three giants of metal fell to the ground in a cluster of lights.
“You’re toying with me.” Lulu sneered. “That is unwise.”
A ripple of light erupted from the cloud above, along with a cacophony of whispers and discordant musical sounds. The mask lowered closer to the ground, so close it was filling the black mage’s sight.
“It’s true, I suppose. My magic can’t last forever.” Lulu stared defiantly up at the blank eyes of Seymour Guado.
The whispering intensified, the discordant music containing hints of a musical voice, but distorted almost beyond recognition. Electricity crackled across the mask, and with it, the damage Lulu had inflicted, meager though it was, completely vanished.
“It’s cute that you think that.” Lulu very suddenly fell to her knees. Her machina legs were now completely still. “But you obviously don’t know Rikku very well.”
Rikku lifted her staff up, and through the clouds, a light began to shine. Through them, in a burst of rainbow light came Valefor, swooping down the keep pace with the Centigrade. Rikku grinned, and pointed at Seymour. “Sick ‘em!”
The Aeon’s beak glowed brightly, and a beam of light shot out, slamming right into Seymour’s eye. The blast intensified as Valefor flew closer, and, with a massive burst of rainbow that pierced the black clouds, the beam burned straight through, cutting past it and, for a very brief moment, exposing the blue sky beyond Seymour.
Rikku smiled, and then fell off the airship.
Paine cried out, and started to put the Centigrade into a dive, but before any heroics could be done, Valefor caught the new summoner on her back. Paine let out a sigh of relief, and then gunned the engine as fast as she could. She zoomed off into the horizon, her partner on the back of her Aeon, close behind.
And, in their wake, Wrath lost interest in Besaid, and, like a storm rolling over the land, pursued. The charred hole where once was its eye, as well as the other, were fixed on the new summoner’s wake.