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.