The Esper Saga

The Trial of the Espers
In which Gehenna has an inner sun, and Gwendolen combines the elements

Presently, the heroes had a little time left to prepare for their final showdown with Alexius and Siegg. Being back in Pandemonium, they used this time to draw strength from the greatest of teachers – the Espers themselves. Gehenna went to speak with his father, and Gwen reunited with Titan, to finish her lesson on inner strength.

A final trial stood before Gehenna, one which could potentially destroy him. In order to face the Emperor, he would have to unlock his true potential as a son of Ifrit – and to that end, his father told him, he must conquer his deepest fear. This was no easy task. Gehenna revealed, with a heavy heart, that the thing he feared most was fire itself. It had burned him, scoured him, for his entire life, and had left him as dangerous and consuming as fire itself. Ifrit nodded, and presented a final task: The Fire that Burns the Mind, a pool of radiant lava into which Gehenna must descend.

Meanwhile, Gwen too was descending, thrown into a cave beneath the earth by the mighty Titan, to fight her way back up. In doing so, she slowly came to realize the power of her inner Esper – the power to change herself, to become anything. Titan had presented her with a challenge of rock, so she became hard as metal. Carving out a path through the bedrock, she slowly climbed back to the surface – only to be faced with a wall of iron. She pounded her fists against it, but it would not yield. So she touched it, took its strength, and forced it aside, turning its own power against it.

Gehenna reached out with his mind, and became one with the magma that surrounded him. If fear conquered him, he would forever remain there – his body burned into ash, his mind trapped by the fires of Hell. But he reminded himself that he was one with the fire, and then, that he was stronger than it. He need not fear fire – he had the Sun in his stomach.

Gwen fought her way past two more barriers. A roof of molten magma, which she defeated by absorbing its heat, turning it into brittle obsidian – and a room full of nothing but air. Strength would not apply here, but her other powers did; with the heat she’d absorbed from the magma, she ignited the natural gas in the cave, and shot herself through the ceiling. There remained a final task – a giant cube of composite materials, such that no single element could defeat it. Gwendolen, however, had the heart of a human. Combining fire, water, air, earth, and heart, she slammed through the cube.

At that very moment, Gehenna was reborn. Shooting from the earth like a phoenix, he flew from the magma bathed in flame, having conquered the fire of fear, and added it to his own strength. He had assumed his true form, a burning, red-skinned devil with wings and horns of darkness, and had become far greater than a half-Esper. He had taken a step on the path to true ascension, and become Judgement incarnate.

The trials were over. Gehenna had transcended his mortal form, and Gwendolen had learned to wield her extraordinary powers at will, absorbing the strange metals in the cube.

They met on the blasted, rocky fields of Titan, each now far more than human. Gwen didn’t act the part.

Out of curiosity, she tried to copy Gehenna’s power – burning her clothes to cinders in the process. She ran off with Ryana, looking for something to wear besides the bits of metal under her mental control. Gehenna had more lofty goals. First, he showed off to his brother, and then, he went to look in his dad’s basement where he wasn’t allowed to go. Gwendolen joined him shortly thereafter, wearing a pretty pink dress she’d found at the Hard Rock Café, Titan’s establishment.

There, she spoke with Gehenna. She asked him to make a diamond for her, because she intended to propose to Ryana. She’d spoken with her, and apparently it happened in the world outside Ruhenheim that women married other women, so “they might as well”. Gehenna congratulated her, and squeezed a diamond out of some coal.

In the Heart of Pandemonium, in Ifrit’s basement, stood a massive portal. The two spied through it, and saw into the prison of Bahamut, where the Father of Dragons spoke with Diablos. Finally, Diablos revealed a little of his plan – he intended to kill Siegg, but being an Esper, could not do so himself. So, he had instead attempted to outwit him. Carbuncle, he explained, who had once been the Esper of Truth, would be fighting on Siegg’s side. With this, he could not help – but there was other aid he might provide.

The two heroes learned from Ifrit about the portal’s true power. Now, it could merely be used to scry on the mortal world – but once, it had been the gate to the Esper Realm. It had been destroyed by Carbuncle, nobody knew how, and the artifact called the Foot had been constructed to take its place – but ultimately, the Espers had decided it was too dangerous. Carbuncle had betrayed them all, and in doing so, stranded the Espers in this world. The only way back was through the dangerous ritual that Alexius was about to undertake – a ritual that risked destroying both worlds, were it finished.

It was time to go. Alexius and Siegg must be stopped, and the heroes now seemed to be as prepared as they could. Gwendolen visited her sister one last time, and gave her the pretty pink dress. It had been given to her by a man named Papillon, who apparently had plenty – and thus, it was now her only real possession. She gave it to Bathilda as a reminder of her humanity – whatever else happened, they could never forget what they were.

Suiting up, the heroes prepared themselves for battle.

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Dungeons and Molonkeys
In which the Wraith awaken, and Gwen is reunited with her family

Outside the border of the Savage Woods stood a small gathering of men in black. The shadow of a dragon swept over them, and landed. Dismounting Momo, Gwendolen and Gehenna met once again with Reno.

Reno explained everything, as was his custom. The Jerks had not kidnapped Gwen’s sister – they had taken her to keep her out of Siegg’s hands, being aware that the Acampemy would raid Ruhenheim for servants, and find her. Now, however, something had gone wrong. The Secret Turks were not responding, and it seemed some misfortune had befallen them. Two Turk agents named Ralph and Sophie were preparing to investigate, so the heroes joined them, venturing into the woods to find the lair of the Secret Turks.

It had been abandoned. Seemingly it had been very suddenly attacked, and not a soul was left alive – but neither were there any bodies. Gwen suspected monkeys were behind it, but when they discovered tunnels leading into the camp, she concluded it must be mole-monkeys, or molonkeys. She told everyone dread tales about the dangerous molonkeys that lurk underground, but only Sophie believed her. She was scared witless.

They descended through the tunnels, into the darkness. Soon, they picked up undeniable clues that this had been the work of Wraiths. The tunnels split into two directions, and the team stopped to argue which route was best to pursue – but Gwen picked up the scent of her mother, and left without a word in one direction. Gehenna, however, sensed that the real threat lay further down, and so he led the group through those tunnels, into the lair of the Wraith.

Gwen found a cage holding the Wraiths’ victims. Most of them were Turks, but she recognized an older woman held in their midst, and attacked the guards with relentless fury. Within moments, the Wraith were dead, defeated by Gwen and Ryana, who had followed her. They freed the Turks and her mother, who were all very weak from having been drained of life by the Wraith.

Gwen spoke to her mother, and learned about her sister’s name – Bathilda – and that she had been taken to a room downstairs for some kind of ceremony. She introduced her mother to Ryana, and they had a short but heartfelt conversation, before the heroes departed to rescue Bathilda. The Turks promised to look after Gwen’s mother, in the meanwhile.

Down below, the Wraith were conducting a ceremony to drain Bathilda not only of her life, but also of her power. It was presided over by the first female Wraith they had ever seen, a Queen in a long gown, seated on a throne. Within moments, the ceremony was interrupted, mainly because five of the celebrants were suddenly set on fire.

Jessica, Leesa, and Sophie stormed in, while Gehenna hovered above the mayhem, directly challenging the Queen. She possessed great psychic powers, and tried to use them to invade his mind – but Gehenna’s defenses were much too strong. Tempered in fire, hardened by magma, perfected in his own inner inferno, his mind was an inviolable palace, and he slowly pushed back against the Queen, reaching out with his powers to set her aflame. The Queen, in response, howled to summon more of the wraith, and also unleashed a caged giant gorilla. Upon seeing it, Sophie was filled with dread – was it the fearsome Molonkey?

Just then, Ryana, Gwen, and Ralph arrived. They flew into the melee, just as the giant ape unleashed its terrible powers. Spinning like a top and striking everything in range, it accidentally knocked out several Wraith leaders, but also struck Jessica and Sophie so hard, that they were thrown off their feet and rendered unconscious. Gwen avoided the attack, however barely, and delivered an uppercut to the ape that left it reeling.

As Gehenna overpowered the Queen, Gwen threw Jessica’s sword through the ape’s chest, killing it gruesomely. The Wraith Queen, with her dying words, said that many more of her kind would come crawling from the depths of the Earth, for they were an old race, much older than anyone had thought. For now, however, the Wraith fell dormant, powerless without a Queen or leader to command them.

The heroes freed Bathilda, only to instantly learn the nature of her powers. As soon as she touched Jessica, she absorbed her Esper powers, snuffing them out like a candle. Gehenna intervened in time, stopping her from breaking Jessica’s power. Studying her Magi, he learned that this girl was beyond what anyone could have expected – a human with the innate power to steal an Esper’s power, perhaps for good. She had been born with exactly the power that Siegg had sought to obtain for years. Perhaps he had misread the portents, and taken Gwen instead of her sister – if so, that was very lucky for the world. Nonetheless, this seventeen-year old girl posed a very real danger.

It was resolved to return her to Pandemonium at once. With such power, she could save the world… or doom it. Before they left, Gwen said farewell to her mother, who was dying… and with her last breath, made Gwen promise to protect her sister.

~

Odine hurried to meet them in Pandemonium. He and his father took Bathilda aside, to study her under the heroes’ supervision. Consent among the Espers was to kill her. Odine explained, that unless she could learn to control her powers, she would be a huge danger – and even if she did, such power was still greater than any might a human had ever possessed. Gwen tried to hold her hand, but in doing so, they nearly destroyed Pandemonium, for neither Gwen nor Bathilda could control the immense power they wielded.

Learning this, Gwen stole Odin’s spear, and turned it upon her sister, ready to kill her. Bathilda swore, then, that she would fight to protect the world – that she would never let the power control her.

Reluctantly, Gwendolen spared her life – recalling Siren’s vision of the young Alexius, but also the promise she’d made to her mother. Perhaps it had been the wrong choice, but for now, she declared, the girl must live. That was that. It was decided she’d be kept in Pandemonium, so that Siegg could never lay his hands upon her. When he was dead, perhaps she could become one of the Kardus.

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The Acampemy
In which the Living Weapons are set free

It was a normal day in the training camp for R-Series Weapons, when the shadow of a dragon swept over their heads. From this dragon fell Gwendolen and Gehenna, like the fists of an angry god. Gwen landed in the middle of the camp, declaring freedom or death to each and everyone there. Some hesitated, a few broke free, but four turned to fight, recognizing the two as enemies of Siegg. These were: Serphenthos, the Son of Siegg, who had received the dubious honor of being R-1. Lethina, the Daughter of Bahamut, who had been the second subject. Remus, the Duelist, the fourth, and Mileina, the twelfth. They were the only ones unaccounted for among the original fifteen Weapons.

Serphenthos declared his undying loyalty to his father, and so, Gwendolen attacked him relentlessly, throwing herself in the midst of four very dangerous foes. Gehenna, meanwhile, rained down fire and flame upon them, confident that Gwen would avoid it. She did, but both Serphenthos, Lethina and Remus attacked her, and the combined skills of all three proved overwhelming. She was struck, cut, and stabbed, yet kept on fighting. Before long, Remus had been slain by hellish flame, and Serphenthos’ beard was on fire. Mileina tried to attack Gehenna, but he did not even notice her.

Serphenthos and Lethina realized that their strength as Living Weapons would not be enough. On the bearded man’s command, they each unleashed their potential as Children of Espers. Lethena grew wings of leather, and Cerphenthos turned into a tall, gaunt demon, drawing his Siegg-forged sword and turning it on Gwendolen. The result was disastrous. He barely had time to hit her, before his head violently burst into flame – courtesy of Gehenna, who had used his beard as a fuse.

The Siegg-forged sword did not attack the body, but rather sought to slay and subjugate the mind. The effect on Gwen was rather unexpected. It stripped away her conscious faculties, reducing her once more to a snarling monster. Although Gehenna had already defeated Serphenthos, Gwen fell upon him and destroyed him utterly, turning the power of his sword against him to break his mind with seven years of torture. When Serphenthos died, Lethina was snapped out of some kind of hypnosis – she had been his unwilling slave, and was finally free. Mileina gave up of her own accord – Gehenna still hadn’t even noticed her.

Keith, however, had failed to defeat Tony, and he was far more dangerous. Arriving at the battle field, the Iron Fist, the sixth of Kardus, turned his fists against Lethina, and beat her senseless for her “betrayal”. With combined forces, however, Gwen, Gehenna, Ryana, Leesa, and Jessica were able to bring him to his knees, and he fled.

The heroes pursued him into the basement of the Academy, where he fell down at Elizabeth’s side. The two were lovers, and now they were doomed – Siegg had installed a killswitch in them both, which guaranteed their death if they failed in battle. He pleaded for a last moment together, and it was granted. The two died in peace.

~

It was with much surprise, that Gwendolen learned who the inhabitants of the Acampemy were. Many were young R-series members, or else prospective recruits for the horrible process of transformation into a Weapon – but some were mere servants and attendants, and these had been taken from Ruhenheim, Gwendolen’s home town. To her surprise, she saw neighbours and acquaintances, and finally learned her age. She had been kidnapped from Ruhenheim at the age of seven, and it had since been seventeen years.

More dire news reached her ears, however. Her family was not among the citizens of Ruhenheim. Her father was dead, slain by SOMEONE. Her mother, however, had been taken by a band of black-clad Turks, a special secret division that Gwen dubbed the Jerks – but a greater surprise to Gwen’s ears, was that her sister had also been kidnapped. She had never met her sister, or even been aware that she had one, but apparently the Jerks believed she was the child spoken of in some obscure prophecy, a child of great power. To this end, they had taken her from Ruhenheim, and the inhabitants knew not where.

Gwen turned to the surviving members of the R-Series. She instructed them that they were free, but that with their power came certain responsibilities, the first of which was to take care of the good people of Ruhenheim. Anyone who used their power for selfish gain, who became a monster, an oppressor, or a tyrant, she would find, and kill. Only one dared stand against her: Sabin. His loyalty to Siegg was unwavering, and so, she threw him into a volcano of Gehenna’s making. He died in agony, never knowing the taste of freedom.

Gwendolen now asked her friends for help – to set out and save what remained of her family. It was all she had left to do, before the final battle against Alexius Bane and Professor Siegg. Her friends granted this request, and they journeyed north – into the forests of the Savage Land.

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In The Name Of The Moon
In which Elizabeth returns

Having finished their business in Pandemonium, the heroes now resolved to free the rest of the R-Series. These, Odine had told them, were trained in an academy somewhere on the borders of the Savage Land, formerly well hidden but recently revealed to the eyes of the Espers. This academy – which Gwendolen dubbed the Acampemy – held most, if not all, of the remaining R-Series weapons. They also learned, that Gwen’s home village – Ruhenheim – had been abandoned, and resolved to investigate this after the R-Series had been freed.

The five climbed up on Momo’s back, and flew eastwards. It was a long trip, and not one which could be cleared in a single day. Momo must land to rest his wings, and the heroes themselves would need time to prepare their attack. Gehenna spoke with Momo, and learned some troubling things; after a short rest, he borrowed the dragon and flew northwest, to the prison of Bahamut. There, he spoke to the old Esper about Truth and Reconciliation. The Father of Dragons told him, to seek the hidden passage in the Heart of Pandemonium, where he might find some answers.

Gwendolen, meanwhile, sought to test the strength of Ryana. They went into the forest to fight, intending to sharpen their skills against other Living Weapons. Ryana had learned much in Pandemonium, it seemed – she had mastered a form of secret martial arts known to the Esper MISTER MIYAGI.

While they were away, however, a band of roving cultists of Konsu, the Moon God, fell upon their camp. They attacked Jessica and Leesa; in themselves, they were a small threat – but unfortunately, they had been duped into service to Elizabeth Weir, the Tenth of Kardus. She arrived, amused by the battle – and came face to face with Gwendolen, returned from her training with Ryana. Elizabeth’s duty was to guard the Academy, and she intended to fall back to this more strategic location – but Gwendolen managed to goad her into attacking by being really, really annoying.

The ensuing battle was chaotic and dangerous. Jessica and Leesa held off the cultists, while Gwen and Ryana – shortly joined by Gehenna, who arrived from Momo’s back – did battle with the Tenth of Kardus, whose power was the ability to manipulate swords. Gwen shattered her weapon, but it didn’t help; as long as Elizabeth held the hilt, she could control the fragments of the weapon, and turned them into a swarm of sharp, jagged metal. Gwen tried to wrestle her down, but it was foolish – she and Elizabeth were both struck by Gehenna’s pet meteor, and shortly thereafter the swarm of jagged metal tore the Living Weapon to shreds. Gehenna remained to fight Elizabeth almost alone, and while he defeated her with fire and flame, it was not before she could deliver a mortal wound unto him. Only Ryana remained standing.

Now, the fight came to a standstill. Elizabeth Weir was not alone. Tony, the Iron Fist, the Sixth of Kardus, came to her aid. He could have slain the heroes there and then, but Elizabeth’s wounds were too serious – he could waste no time in returning his ally and lover to the Academy, so that her life might be saved. He did, however, punch out Ryana.

~

After Gwendolen’s body rebuilt itself, she was a far cry from her usual self. Snarling, naked, bleeding and bestial, she had only revenge on her mind. Gehenna feared what he saw, and took her aside to speak with her. He learned her true nature, at long last.

The battle had come to a draw, but the heroes had an advantage. The Esper Alexander arrived, healing their wounds, giving them another chance to attack the Academy before Elizabeth could recover. Keith and Michael designed a plan – Keith would distract Tony, while the other heroes made a frontal assault.

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Special Training
In which Gwendolen and Gehenna receive special training

After the vision ended, our two heroes were met by Shiva and Siren, welcoming them back to the waking world. With them was Odine, whom Gehenna immediately confronted about the Espers of Truth and Reconciliation. He had been told these two Espers returned to the Higher Realms, but Odine informed him that some said they had indeed been slain and reduced to lesser forms, for betraying their nature. The legend said that Venia – Reconciliation – had failed to forgive humanity, and Veritas -Truth – had lied to protect him from the other Espers.

That the Espers had changed had destroyed them – something that interested Gwendolen. She had herself already changed an Espers’ power, by adapting Alexanders’ powers to become her own. In doing so, she had done what none of the Esper could do – she had changed her own inner Magi.

Presently, Titan knocked on the house. He requested some of Gwendolen’s time, for she had drawn his interest. She accepted, and accompanied Titan to his collection of very large rocks, where he gave her training in the art of mental focus, and using Magi to enhance her already impressive strength. Furthermore, she received training from Leesa in how to channel the Magi of an Esper.

Meanwhile, Gehenna was training with Zochaan, in the art of combining their powers. The training consisted mostly of blowing things up.

Now, when Gwendolen was done training, she had a theory to test. She appeared before Gehenna, and told him to strike her with his powers. Her training could not be completed unless she was placed in a genuinely dangerous situation, and Gehenna was by far the most dangerous person she knew and trusted. She promised him that she would use the shield of Alexander to protect herself, but in this, she lied. Gehenna struck at her with the full power of himself and Zochaan combined.

Gwendolen dropped her guard. An ordinary human would have been instantly turned to ashes, but she did not – instead she became a creature of living flame, adapting her Esper Magi to become like Ifrit and his children. Thanks to her infusion of Esper Magi, she had become capable of adapting to even Esper-like powers. Though the fire hurt her, she was able to survive it.

It was resolved, that she should take advantage of this ability to adapt. By encountering other forms of Esper Magi, she might gain a degree of protection against these as well; thus she resolved to face Sarasvati in battle, that she might absorb some of her ice-powers. She entered Sarasvati’s cell.

The battle was short, and ended in a draw. Gwendolen never hurt Sarasvati, but when the battle drew to a close, Gwendolen had become so truly impervious to ice that even the most powerful attack could not harm her.

The Espers decided, that Sarasvati’s fate would be left in Gwendolen’s hands. She agreed to let the half-Esper go, if she agreed to take a bath and have a friendly conversation with her, Leesa, and Jessica. She agreed. In this conversation, Gwendolen learned a great deal about Sarasvati, but most of all, she learned something about herself.

Gwen said it was obvious that Gehenna and Sarasvati were in love. This was not true. In saying so, however, some things about her own feelings may finally have come into the light.

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Siren's Vision
In which the past is revealed.

The following was revealed to Gwendolen and Gehenna in a vision, granted by Siren. During this vision, Gwendolen’s consciousness resided inside Palom Zeromus, while Gehenna’s resided inside Juutila Dawnshire.

Long ago, the five nations lived together in harmony – then everything changed when the Fuuka Empire attacked. Only the Kardus, masters of all forms of Magi, could stop them – but when the world needed them the most, they vanished.

Years passed, and Palom Zeromus discovered a new Kardus, a swordsmaster named Alexius. And though his Magi-bending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But Palom believed Alexius could save the world.

On the same day he discovered Alexius, Palom also found a young girl – cursed with strong poisonous Magi, so that her touch was deadly. Her name was Juutila Dawnshire. Palom gave her a pair of gloves, capable of containing Magi so that her powers would not be quite as dangerous, and told her that if she willingly joined the Kardus, he could train her. She accepted.

Together with Alexius – at this time a mere soldier – they set out to stop a gang war in Alexius’ home town. Between the three of them it was an easy task, and they easily threatened the gangs into submission, warning them that the Kardus had returned.

Alexius was unwilling to leave his home at first, but Palom persuaded him to try and make a difference on a grander scale – so they travelled to the then-capitol of Fuuka, XXXVILLE. There, they planned to find out what the Emperor intended to do with all the money he had earned from his raised taxes. Juutila investigated his archives, and found that they contained references to archaeological digs; this greatly disturbed Palom. The biggest excavation seemed to be under the great Coliseum that was being constructed, so Palom contacted the local underground resistance, and bade to use their secret tunnel. By means of his mastery of the elements, he extended the tunnel into the caves underneath the Coliseum – and there, they found something quite disturbing.

There, beneath the Coliseum, was a massive glass tube marked “Siegg”.

Palom’s suspicions were confirmed: Siegg was still alive. Palom told his companions what he knew: Siegg had once been an Esper, but he had been banished from the Esper Realm, caught somewhere in a strange in-between state. He had been experimenting on humans and half-espers, and for this the Espers had banished him – but when his evil experiments continued, the Kardus had hunted him down and imprisoned him. Since then, the imprisoned Siegg had apparently been stolen – by the Turks.

Just as the vision ended, Diablos appeared in a strange vision, telling the tale of the Espers of Truth and Reconciliation. They had both betrayed their natures, and for this, changed into something else. One of these was Siegg; the other’s identity was unclear, but could perhaps be Carbuncle.

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Interlude in Pandemonium
In which Gehenna speaks with Sarasvati, and Gwendolen fears the bunny.

Now, in Pandemonium there are many rooms, and the Espers bade the heroes to stay there and rest, for there was a great many things that must be dealt with. Now that Alexander no longer had the seven stones, he would have to try some other means to reach apotheosis, and for that he must wait for the planets to align. For once, there was no great hurry.

There were other matters at hand, however – some of Alexanders’ power was still imprisoned in thaumarecorders, and Odine also told Gwendolen, of a camp where the remaining members of the R-Series would be trained. Maybe it might be best to liberate them, before they were fully trained soldiers in Alexius’ army.

The most pressing matter, however, was the rebellion of Sarasvati. The Espers were not sure, what to do with the rebellious child – so they asked Gehenna to speak with her. While the woman remained frozen in ice, he had words with her. They spoke for a long time, about their parents, their rivalry, and of their envy for each other – but Gehenna explained, that it would not be right for them to hate each other. Winter does not hate summer, nor summer winter; they struggle because it is in their nature.

Perhaps Sarasvati learned something from this talk. When it was finished, Gehenna left for his fathers’ hot springs, to compete with his brother Zochaan.

Gwendolen, meanwhile, went to explore the home of the mighty Esper, bringing Ryana with her. She saw a strange shape in the smoke, and thought it to be a bunny. Bunnies are the subjects of Carbuncle, Jessica’s mother – so she thought to follow the white rabbit, in the event that it led to the Esper of Woodland Creatures – thought dead, but perhaps just missing. Alas, it was not what she thought; as Angela would later explain, it was a horrid undead creature, which the toughest children of the Espers would hunt and fight as part of their trials. But Gwen did not know this.

She was interrupted in her search, however, by a subject of Ifrit. Had the mighty Esper not intervened and smashed the offending fire elemental to ashes, there might have been a fight in Pandemonium that day. But there was not. Ifrit saw Gwendolen’s great strength and bravery, though, and was impressed.

Gwen and Ryana returned with Angela to visit Titan’s Tavern, a strange building constructed by the great Esper of Strength. On the way there, Gwendolen learned of the undead bunnies, and promised to stay away from them henceforth. They met Gehenna, and soon they all installed themselves in the great rooms, where half-Espers would sometimes stay as guests of Titan. And soon, they were fast asleep.

But in their dreams, they had visitors. Siren came by Titan’s Tavern, and with her strange magical harp, she wove for them a vision…

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Showdown at the Center of the World
In which the Emperor is injured, and the heroes reach Pandemonium

Arriving in the Sanctum of Phoenix, Gehenna had words with Ramuh and Phoenix. To his great surprise, before they let him leave to find Momo, the Espers instructed him to bring the remaining stones, up until then kept safe in the hands of the Espers. He was given the Heart of the Forest, the Eye of Ra, and the Heart of the Mountain – told to carry these along the Eye of Konsu to the center of the world. Gehenna questioned this decision in his heart, as he knew there was a risk they might encounter the Emperor – but he knew not to disobey the Espers, and so he took the four stones and hid them within a secret shadowy dimension, from which only he would be able to retrieve them.

Meanwhile, Gwendolen, Ryana and Ma-Ha-Sutra were moving through the forest from the old Warp Zone, heading north towards the Sanctum. They did not get all the way there, however, before they were interrupted by a team of five Wraith, led by Serenity – the R-Series girl from the Arena. A fierce battle ensued in the woods, with the heroes already quite injured. Ma-Ha-Sutra – who had managed to steer clear of Zjaar’s attacks – tackled Serenity to the ground and wrestled her down, while Ryana and Gwendolen did their best to deal with the wraith. They overpowered Ryana, and she might have died if not for Gehenna’s timely intervention. He arrived, riding on Momo, just in time to burn almost all the wraith to the ground with three swift bolts of fire.

Furiously attacking the last Wraith that had so greatly injured Ryana, Gwendolen struck it with full force – and something flared up inside her. Something greatly like the light of Alexander exploded from her hand, filling her up from inside. She finally revealed, that she had somehow absorbed a fraction of Esper power when they had fought Ogawa Beatrice; somehow her body had adapted to it. Gehenna was greatly worried by this development, because Gwendolen was different – she wasn’t merely wielding an Espers’ power like so many of the villains they had fought, she had somehow managed to make it her own. Gwendolen was shocked by this – and told Gehenna that she would understand, if he would have to kill her when all this was over.

But presently, Ma-Ha-Sutra restrained Serenity, and Gwendolen interrogated her about her service to Siegg. Although she had been thoroughly brainwashed, there was the slightest chance of a spark of free will inside her – so even though Serenity struggled and protested, Gwendolen decided to spare her life. She left the girl in Ma-Ha-Sutras care, instructing him to restrain her and do his best to reverse the brainwashing. Serenity said she would want to see the world burn down to the ground and be recreated; Gwendolen wished the same fate for Serenity. At least that way, she would be free.

Ma-Ha-Sutra took Serenity back to Phoenix’s Sanctum; the rest of the heroes climbed aboard Momo and flew east overnight, towards the great Central Ocean. Gwendolen, Ryana, Leesa, and Gehenna finally got a chance to rest some, while Jessica kept watch – and so they slept, flying over the great expanses of Terra, seeing nothing of the beautiful world below.

When they arrived, it was a spectacular sight. The great mighty ocean had been frozen, a great lid of white ice covering the waters. It was clear that Leviathan, its great guardian, had been defeated – and that someone was channeling Shiva’s powers. At the very center of the ocean stood a great tower, built by the Ancients to hold enemies of Terra and of the Espers; it was inside this oubliette that Leviathan and Shiva were no doubt being held. Momo refused to fly any closer, repelled by Shiva’s powers – so the heroes must cross the vast expanse of ice on foot, until they reached the doors at the base of the tower. There was a brief discussion about how they should enter – but Gehenna said, that his father had taught him to “walk in proudly through the front doors”. It was decided, that a direct approach might perhaps be preferrable.

So it was that the five heroes came face-to-face with Juutila Dawnshire and the Shadow Stalkers, waiting inside the tower. They had been given orders to destroy the intruders, and it looked like a bloody battle was inevitable; but Gwendolen spoke to Juutila, and convinced her that it was her duty – as a Kardus – to protect the world from Siegg, and that serving Siegg’s interests would be to betray her cause. She saw the error of her ways, and turned upon the Shadow Stalkers – killing them.

Gehenna, Gwendolen, Jessica, Leesa and Ryana slipped past the ensuing battle, reaching a set of old windtunnels designed by the Ancients. Traveling through them was as easy as thinking of your destination, and so the five shot through the wind-tunnels into the heart of the prison, located deep beneath the ocean. They arrived far from the center, and must walk before they could reach the central chamber – where a terrifying scene unfolded before their eyes. The mighty ocean was kept out only by a frozen Magi forcefield, so that the walls glittered like ice and the shapes of great sea-creatures could be seen outside – but the King of the Ocean himself had been chained inside the chamber, pinned to the ice-walls by magical spears. Inside the mighty Leviathan’s mouth was Shiva – crucified to one of Siegg’s dangerous devices which kept the monsters’ jaws open, powerful enough even to drain an Esper of her powers. In the center of this dismal scene stood four people: Sarasvati, Tobias, and two Kardus members. The first was Reginald, the Second of Kardus, a dangerous psychic. The other, Medina – the Fifth of Kardus, the Berserker.

Sarasvati had almost achieved apotheosis – her naked skin turning blue like her mothers’, and ice crystals forming on her body. She turned towards Gehenna, and told him she would destroy him. Gehenna was not threatened – for he knew that Sarasvati had misunderstood the lesson of their parents. The reason the Espers torture their children so, is to give them strength of their own. To steal power, to take a shortcut, would be to deny ones’ own strength. Sarasvati did not believe him, so he proceeded to teach her a lesson.

Within moments, the room was enveloped in a storm of ice and fire, as Gehenna poured out all his own strength against Sarasvati’s stolen might. The will of the gods clashed, and in the ensuing chaos, Gwendolen threw herself against the Berserker, while Tobias and Reginald attacked Leesa and Ryana. Jessica – thus free of distractions – set to tearing loose the spears lodging Leviathan to the wall. The battle was short, but furious: In the end, Gehenna bested Sarasvati, and drove her to the ground in flames. Now free from distractions, the half-Esper could unleash his fury against the bonds tying down the true Gods. With but a thought, he melted the spears free from the walls, releasing Leviathan and Shiva. Reginald, surprisingly, turned on Tobias and killed him before anyone could intervene.

And then, everything happened very quickly. Alexius entered the room, throwing down a defeated Juutila. He turned against Gehenna, ready to slay him and steal the Hearts and Eyes for himself, completing the plan – and at his side stood Angela. With a gesture, she revealed that this very room held the setting needed to complete the weapon, that the seven magical stones would form. They flew from the Emperors’ hands and from Gehenna’s cloak, to assemble into a weapon lacking only the Heart of Flame. It seemed like the Emperor would win, for Gehenna was gravely injured by his fight against Sarasvati. And then, in a great flaming meteor, Zochaan slammed into the Emperor, wielding the Heart of Flame against him. The Heart was taken from him, however – drawn out of his chest and into the mighty weapon that was forming in the central chamber.

Alexius recovered, and it seemed he and Zochaan would fight to the death – but then, Gwendolen intervened. Grabbing Leviathan’s tail, she lifted the great Esper and hit Alexius with it. It didn’t injure him, but it distracted him enough for Angela to make her move – and in the span of a heartbeat, she drew her black blade and plunged it deep into Alexius’ side. The anti-Magi of Phoenix poisoned him, and the spark of immortality instantly faded from his body. Alexius could do nothing but flee, and the heroes must do the same – for Zochaan had damaged the stability of the prison, and it was collapsing.

Reginald and Medina revealed, that they too intended to betray the Emperor. Hearing that Juutila had decided to abandon Alexius’ cause, they took her and fled by their own means, using Reginald’s telekinesis to escape. Gwendolen used the flickering flame of Esper power within her to revive Leesa, who had been hurt in the fight, and the girl formed a force field around them and the Weapon – just in time to leap into the ocean and float to the surface. They crashed through the ice and landed near the shore, where Momo waited for them.

Climbing aboard Momo, they flew away from the ocean and towards what Gehenna instructed them was the actual center of the world: Pandemonium, the home of Ifrit and the largest Esper Sanctum in all of Terra. It was a short flight, for Momo flew quickly – almost as if driven by fear. They arrived in the great Sanctum, where they met Ifrit and Alexander, and the host of lesser Espers as well.

They were told that Gehenna had been given the stones as a lure, a gamble to assemble the Weapon and take back the two missing stones from the Emperor. Now that all seven were gathered, the completed Weapon would be kept in the hands of the Espers, so that not even a fraction of its powers could be wielded by Alexius. There would be more to explain, but first the heroes would need rest; and thus it was, that Gehenna could invite his companions to stay in his fathers’ house.

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Interlude in Taribia
In which Gehenna repairs a sanctum

Angela explained that she had been infiltrating Alexius’ ranks this whole time. Palom was old, and already dying from the Magi coursing through his body; his death had been a necessary sacrifice to maintain the charade, and also to find a weapon that could be wielded against the Emperor. True, the blade had absorbed Palom’s soul and could be used as a key to open the gates of Heaven; but it had also allowed her to absorb the power of Phoenix, which is the only weapon that could be used against the Emperor.

None of the heroes quite trusted her, so they pressured her for information they could use. She revealed this: That Sarasvati had kidnapped her mother Shiva and taken her to the Center of the World, there to attempt to re-awaken Leviathan and – in league with the emperor – steal the sleeping Espers’ power.

Having told them this, Angela disappeared – giving them one last warning that they had very little time. Thus, they devised a plan to reach the ocean at the center of the world as quickly as possible – Gehenna would take the half-Espers back to the Lost Sanctum, where he would repair it using his newfound powers. If successful, the resulting Magi backlash throughout the Gulag Blizzard would activate the old Warp Zone, allowing Gwendolen and Ryana (along with Ma-Ha-Sutra) to ride it back to the Land of Fuuka. The Half-Espers could travel alongside a true Esper from Sanctum to Sanctum using the old secret paths established by Ifrit and the other Eidolons, reaching the Sanctum of Phoenix and Momo, the dragon. They would then re-unite somewhere in the Land of Fuuka, as the Sanctum and the Warp Zone were only about a day’s travel apart.

Said and done. Gehenna took Leesa and Jessica to the Sanctum, trekking across the blizzard, while Gwendolen and Ryana found and repaired the old Warp Zone in Taribia, replacing some missing stones. After a brief conversation with Ramuh, Gehenna repaired the Sanctum by unleashing his awesome power, lifting the curse of Shiva’s daughter without triggering the volatile mountain. Gwendolen, Ryana and Ma-Ha-Sutra threw themselves into the vortex of Magi opening up inside the Warp Zone, and were carried to the Land of Fuuka. Gehenna, meanwhile, had a warm bath – before he took Ramuh’s hand and traveled alongside him on the secret paths, that only the Espers know.

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Lava Passion
In which Gehenna meets his brother

The heroes set out from the Lost Sanctum towards Mount Gulag early in the morning, Gwendolen carrying Ryana who was still suffering from injuries and hypothermia. It was believed that if they could just reach the warm jungles around Gulag, she would be safe. To this end, they trekked through the snow with Gehenna taking point, and soon they reached a pass which would be a shortcut into the magical jungles, kept warm by the mountains’ burning heart. Evidently the Emperor had predicted that they would find this shortcut, for one of his Shadows was waiting for them on the other side.

A brief battle in the outskirts of the jungle ensued, in which Lisa watched over Ryana while the other three assaulted the Emperor, uprooting trees and setting fire to vines. It seems he had not expected them so soon, for he was taken by surprise and they defeated him without so much as a scratch from his black sword.

Knowing now that the Emperor was aware of their presence, they hurried their pace towards the village at Gulag’s foot, where the strange natives dwelt. In this time, the blizzard of Shiva completely surrounded Gulag, and so its natives were completely cut off from the world – the traveling heroes had no idea what to expect. Thus it came as a relief to them, that the natives paid respect to only two entities: Konsu, the Moon – and Ifrith. When Gehenna presented himself as a child of the Infernal Lion, the village elder knelt before him. Gwendolen also fell to her knees, but that was unrelated – it stemmed from a combination of deadly jungle fever and having eaten poisonous juju beans, which cause fearsome hallucinations. The sickness is instantly fatal to most humans; Gwendolen shook it off in a night.

They rested at the village for one night, and received vaccines against the jungle fever. Gehenna also spoke with the village elder, Gary, about their faith. He learned that Ifrith had visited the people around Gulag every hundred years ever since the Espers first came to Terra. Even before that time, the village had received the Eye of Konsu in a flaming meteor from the sky, and hence they were doubly blessed by the Espers. Gehenna convinced them to give him the Eye, as it could no longer be safe in this village. Gary agreed that it was better for a son of Ifrith to protect this ancient gemstone, even though without it, the village would be without protection.

The following day, they set off towards Mount Gulag, accompanied by a native guide called Ma-Ha-Sutra. They traveled through the jungle, and entered through an old hollow that led deep into the mountain. Someone – Ifrit, perhaps – had carved out tunnels that were safe for them to travel. Now, as they came closer and closer to the heart of the mountain, Gehenna seemed uncharacteristically nervous, and it wasn’t long before he told them he must leave. He had made a promise to his father, and now was the time for him to fulfill it. Lisa begged to come with him, but this was something he must do alone.

He took of his clothes, and left them with Lisa – revealing a body covered in scars. A child of the Espers, he explained, must be tempered and tested in order to reach their full potential. Now was the time for him to face his true test: A trial of adulthood, which he had been preparing for all his life. Without this trial, his powers would never grow strong enough for him to face the Emperor – but there was a real risk he might fail the trials, and die. Such is the way of Ifrit.

They said their farewells, some with sorrow, others – such as Gwendolen – claiming that he would return in no time. As it would turn out, she was correct.

When Gehenna entered the chamber of the trial, he found a strange, bronze-skinned man with features not unlike those of his father. It was his brother, Zochaan. Zochaan explained that he would be conducting the trials, as he had done numerous times before – and pointed to a pile of ashes on the floor, the remains of a brother who hadn’t made it.

First was the trial of Wisdom. Gehenna found himself surrounded by a wall of dancing flames, slowly closing in on him, burning too hot even for him. Thinking quickly, he created fires of his own, burning up the oxygen supply and turning the air in the chamber into bitter poison – depleted of fuel, his brothers’ fire weakened, and he could step through it unharmed.

Second was the trial of Strength. Zochaan drew his flaming sword, and attacked Gehenna; a fierce battle ensured, which Gehenna could only win by exploiting his brothers’ arrogance. Feigning weakness and fear, he made his brother careless – until an opening in his defense allowed Gehenna to strike him with his flaming staff, searing his hand and leaving a wound that would not heal for days. Thus, he had proven his worth as a warrior.

Zochaan told him that now, only the final trial remained: The Trial of Endurance. He struck the ground with his palm, and it opened up beneath Gehenna – dropping him dozens of feet into the raw, molten heart of Mount Gulag, immersing him in magma. The Son of Ifrith gave a horrifying scream of utter agony before the liquid stone swallowed him, and he was gone.

Meanwhile, Gwendolen and the others had come face to face with the guardian of the Heart of Fire: Zjaar. Zjaar was a creature made entirely out of molten magma, and he had been ordered by Ifrit to fight anyone who came in his presence – even an Esper. The creature, a simple construct, must obey its orders and so attacked them. Gwendolen, thinking fast, tried to tear out its heart; unfortunately, this did not kill it – it merely morphed, from a humanoid form into one like a great dragon. A drawn-out, fierce battle ensued, for the girls could only fight this beast with great difficulty, surrounded as it was by searing heat and armed with deadly lava. It looked as if all was lost when Lisa lost her footing, and was thrown by a backfiring spell into the magma under their feet.

Just then, however, Gehenna rose from the magma under their feet. Refined and reforged by the pain he had endured, his mastery of fire and flame had grown tenfold – he rescued the badly seared Lisa, and proceeded to tear the Heart of Flame from the dragon’s chest. This killed it instantly, and it collapsed, solidifying in a pile of obsidian immediately. Gwendolen, covered in burn wounds, congratulated him on his return, but said little else – for now, saving Lisa’s life must be the first priority.

They made their way through the tunnels back to Zochaan, and he reluctantly allowed them to stay there. As Gwendolen – with the aid of Ma-Ha-Sutra – tended to Lisa’s wounds, Zochaan and Gehenna spoke. He learned, that his older brother had been confined to this mountain for attempting to wield the Heart of Flame against their father, trying to usurp him and take his place. Now, Gehenna faced a choice – carry the Heart himself, or bestow it upon his older brother, who swore he had changed his ways. He decided to trust Zochaan, and gave him the stone – much like Gehenna’s power had grown tenfold, so did Zochaan, and he grew horns and a mane like his father. He promised Gehenna would not regret this decision, and left – eager to use the Heart of Flame once more. Hopefully, this time, he would turn it against the enemies of Terra rather than use it selfishly.

A tunnel from Zochaan chamber would take them back to Taribia. Gwendolen did what she could to treat Lisa’s wounds using herbs and simple bandages, but she would need more advanced medical supplies. Thus it was resolved they would return to Taribia and search for medicine there. Before they left, Gehenna performed one last feat of Esper-Magi; retrieving his clothes from Lisa, he unwove the Magi inherent in them, and absorbed their power into himself; clothing himself now in a cloak made from pure darkness.

They barely had time to arrive in Taribia before they came face-to-face with no less than four people: Juutila Dawnshire, Angela Tragent, and two assassins from the R-series calling themselves the Shadow Stalkers. Angela ordered the others to leave, and then addressed the heroes. She had a secret to tell them, one that could only be told safely here in the blizzard: She wanted them to save Alexius Bane.

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