Arc IV Chapter 36: Radiant

 

“A dream is meant to be woken from.”

Those words resonated in Shana’s mind as the white void vanished and she returned to the Garden of Memory. Looking around her, it was clear that no one else had heard what she’d heard.

A dream…?

“You pass the test,” came the melodious baritone of the Guardian of Memory. He lifted his sheathed sword, carrying it at his side as he turned, walking into the building. “Follow me.”

“Where are you leading us?” Shana asked, hurrying after him with the others.

And… whose voice was that?

“To the memory you came here for,” the Guardian said. The building they entered was a vast, open place with high ceilings held up by deep red wooden pillars. The spheres of glowing words that marked memories in here were contained, floating within glass boxes atop stone pedestals.

“How do you know what it is?” Shias asked. “We don’t even know that.”

“The Dreamer knows,” the Guardian said. “Her memories showed as much.”

But I don’t…

Wait.

He saw my memories. Then he saw Heart and Nocta tell me to come here.

So then…

He knows what they’re after? What they want me to see?

I know it involved the Radiant King, but I don’t know anything beyond that.

“This particular memory has been sought after by the Radiant King’s forces multiple times,” the Guardian continued. “They wish to expunge its existence from reality itself.”

“But why?” Shana asked. “What could be so… frightening? Or dangerous?”

“You may understand after you see it,” the Guardian said. The long walk through the open interior of the building finally led to a grand staircase descending through the floor. “Perhaps, as the Dreamer yourself, you will see more clearly than others.”

“The Dreamer yourself…”

Why did he phrase it like that?

Lamps to either side lit as they descended, flickering with silver fire. Down, down, down they went, until they finally arrived at a wide, cylindrical chamber. There were four memories on pedestals here, and at the far end of the chamber was a huge circular door made of stone and interwoven with glittering silver. There were no key holes to be seen, no handles or opening mechanisms.

On the floor just in front of the door was a circular symbol, and the Guardian stepped onto it. He tapped his sheathed sword on the floor once, and the symbol at his feet gleamed with white light.

The massive door vanished.

The Guardian led on wordlessly, and Shana and her friends followed. When they’d all gone through where the door had been, Shana looked back to see that the door was there, blocking the way out.

Through a dark hall lit by silver lamps they went, until they came to a domed chamber with a ceiling that was alive with silver light. In the center of the chamber was a tall, circular stage with stairs leading up to it, and atop the stage was a memory sphere bigger than any Shana had seen. Where all the others had been perhaps the size of a soccer ball, this sphere of glowing words was as big as a car, glittering and gleaming as its words flew this way and that. Climbing up with the Guardian to stand before the sphere, Shana felt stunned by its presence.

“This is a single memory?” Kathryn asked.

“It is a collection,” the Guardian said. “Many memories linked together, memories that are inextricable from each other, all following a central theme.”

“How do I…?” Shana started.

“Simply touch the sphere,” the Guardian said. “You may all do so together, or you may do so alone.”

“Together,” Shana said with a nod. Shias, Kathryn, Rae, and Ben came to stand alongside her. The Guardian watched them wordlessly.

The five of them stretched out their hands and touched the memory sphere as one.

-----

Shana stood in a dark, small bedroom. Moonlight filtered through a gap in the curtains.

A faint voice could be heard, sobbing.

“Where are we?” Kathryn asked.

Ben went to the window and reached out to push aside the curtains, but they remained immobile at his touch. “Weird,” he said. He stepped closer, to peer through the gap. “It looks like… Grimoire?”

“You can’t tell?” Kathryn asked, joining him at the window. After a moment, she murmured thoughtfully. “Yeah, this looks like Grimoire. But, like… a lot… older?”

Then everyone was at the window, doing their best to peer through that gap in the curtains. When Shana finally got her turn, she gasped in surprise.

It was most definitely Grimoire. A Grimoire she’d seen bits of in textbooks, in grainy photographs and detailed illustrations.

It was Grimoire of the past. From what she could see – the faint outline of Lunar Plaza, the hill atop which sat a much older and smaller Grimoire Academy – she could place it in moments.

“It’s only a hundred years after its founding,” she said, stepping back from the window.

“But why are we here?” Ben asked.

“Because the Radiance started in Grimoire,” Shias said.

Now their attention turned to the sobbing. It was coming from the bed. Shana came to stand beside it, and was surprised to see the face of a little boy, probably only five years old. Tears clung to his cheeks and wet his pillow, and he looked absolutely heartbroken.

And yet…

“He’s asleep,” Shana said.

“I don’t want this to happen,” the boy murmured in his sleep. “I don’t… don’t want…”

With a gasp and sudden jolt, the boy was sitting up in bed, staring wide-eyed around the room. After a few moments, he rubbed his eyes with his fists, then shook his head once.

He was a skinny boy, unhealthily so. And yet his face had a youthful vigor to it, his hair was a thick mass of unruly blonde curls, his eyes shone pale blue in the moonlight.

“I can… change it?” he asked, staring at his hands. “Was that… really a dream?”

A dream…?

“I mustn’t forget,” the boy said, rubbing his eyes again. He pushed with his arms and scooted haltingly to the edge of the bed, and then carefully slid over the side and into…

A wheelchair.

That’s when Shana saw that, as skinny as his arms and torso were, his legs were far worse. It was as if they were, quite literally, nothing but skin and bones.

Who is this boy…?

Shana and her friends followed the boy to a desk, where he put a ring on his finger. The ring flashed once, and a spark shot out to a candle, lighting it. In the warm glow he lifted a pen and began to write in a leather-bound journal that appeared to be handmade.

Shana stared in shock at the words the boy wrote. But in an instant, that scene vanished.

“What the —” Ben started, turning in a circle. They weren’t in the boy’s bedroom anymore, but in…

Grimoire’s public library.

Shana felt a swell in her heart at the sight of one of her favorite places as it was hundreds of years ago. So much of Grimoire still had remnants of its history in the modern age, but the library…

It’s so familiar. This is centuries ago, and yet…

It’s hardly changed.

They were in the center of the library, on the second floor balcony overlooking much of the lower floor. Sitting by the railing were two people, a boy and a girl. The boy was clearly the boy from earlier, sitting in his wheelchair, and while he was older – probably in his early teens – his hair, eyes, and face were unmistakable. Across from him, the girl…

Shana stared. Could she be…?

“Leon, you’ve got to know how crazy this sounds,” the girl said, leaning forward. Her grey eyes bore into the boy intensely.

“And yet you’re not calling me crazy,” said Leon, meeting forward to meet the girl’s gaze just as intensely. He reached out a hand. “I can show you.”

“Show me?” the girl asked, staring at the offered hand. “You’ve been practicing Illusion Magic, haven’t you?”

“I promise I haven’t,” Leon said. “I’ve never even tried.”

He’s younger than me, but he seems so… mature. He has such intensity, such focus, as if his whole life is already driven towards a singular ideal.

The girl studied his hand for a moment longer, then clasped it gently with her own. “Fine, show me, then,” she said.

Shana and her friends gasped as the scene was suddenly awash in golden light.

Golden light, filtered through magenta clouds.

“It’s Dreamworld,” Shana said breathlessly.

“What?” Kathryn asked. “But that would mean he’s…”

“What is this place?” the girl with Leon asked. Then she gasped. “You’re standing!”

The pair were standing on the rocky spire Shana knew so well, the place she always started in Dreamworld.

Leon laughed. “This is the beauty of Dreamworld,” he said. He spread out his arms and spun in a circle. “I can walk of my own power, can spin, can dance, can do whatever I want!”

“This is real…” the girl said, stretching out her hand and watching as a magenta cloud split apart between her fingers.

“I need to show you the most important thing, though,” Leon said, switching back to being intensely serious with surprising ease. “I’m not sure how long I can keep you here.”

“You’re still learning,” came a voice all too familiar to Shana, beautiful and melodious. “In time, nothing will be impossible for you.”

There was Heart, coming to stand on the spire between the pair. She smiled warmly at Leon. “Dreamer, you push your powers so much so quickly,” she said. “I’m impressed.”

“Thank you,” Leon said, bowing reverently. “Can I show Minerva the vision?”

Heart nodded, taking off into the sky. The girl, Minerva, stared in wonder. “She can fly?” she asked.

“And so can we,” Leon said, taking Minerva’s hand in his. “Let’s go!”

They soared after Heart, and Shana and her friends followed. Perhaps because it was someone else’s memory, all of Shana’s group could fly freely, easily keeping up with Heart, Leon, and Minerva.

After a while of soaring through the colorful sky, they came to stand with Heart, Leon, and Minerva on a stone walkway that led into a glass, domed chamber floating in the sky. Inside, Leon touched a central pedestal, and the room darkened, while the glass portrayed images that came into stark form.

There were many twinkling lights, faint, small, but great in number.

But then…

Darkness.

Darkness began to sweep across the starry veil. One by one, the lights went out. On and on the darkness went, and the light could not stand against it.

Until…

Until one light, a magenta cloud wreathed in a golden glow, rose up against the darkness. The darkness burst apart, then rallied, pushing against the glow.

Other lights, then, came to join the golden light. Their light added to the greater one, and more and more they strengthened, pushing back the darkness, and then…

Utterly and completely overcoming it. The darkness rolled back like a curtain, and the entire universe was light everlasting.

“What does it mean?” Minerva asked.

“Darkness threatens all life in the universe,” Leon said gravely. “And the light cannot stand against it. Not unless a greater light leads them.” He looked to Heart, and the two nodded to each other. “The Dreamer is the one who can lead the fight against the darkness.”

“The Dreamer?” Minerva asked. She stared at Leon. “You mean you? You’re going to defeat all the darkness in the universe?”

“It’s my duty,” Leon said, looking far older than his years. “No one else can do it. But I need help.” He held out his hand, and Dreamworld vanished, leaving the pair back in the library. “Will you stand with me?”

Minerva laughed, then, and Leon gave her a puzzled look. “Oh, don’t look like that,” she said. “What a stupid question. I’ll always stand with you.” She took his hand, smiling. “We’ll defeat the darkness together.”

Leon smiled. “I’ll need more,” he said. “More like-minded individuals, those willing to do whatever is necessary to vanquish the darkness. I was hoping your sister might join us.”

“Then why don’t you ask her yourself?” came a voice. Leon and Minerva looked up, and, watching them with hands on her hips and a casual smirk on her face, was a girl. She looked a few years younger than Minerva, and even though she was just an adolescent, Shana knew now more than ever.

“That’s Artemis,” she said softly. “And Athena. And Leon is…”

“The Radiant King,” Shias said. “This is how it all started.”

“But he called her Minerva,” Ben said.

“They chose new names, remember?” Kathryn asked.

“Because they became ‘gods’,” Rae said.

As if responding to that one word, the whole world changed again. Leon sat in his wheelchair in a dark room, and he was now a young man, perhaps Caleb’s age. He sat at a desk lit by moonlight from a tall window, dozens of notebooks and loose notes strewn before him.

“There’s not enough time,” he said softly, kneading his forehead with his knuckles.

“Time need not be an issue,” came a whispering, chilling voice that Shana had never heard before. Leon spun his chair around, raising a hand on which he bore his ring Talisman. He shone golden light into the room, and what looked like a vast, murky shadow suddenly coalesced into the form of a man.

The man had white hair, and a long scar stretched from a corner of his forehead down to his neck on the other side.

“Jormungand,” Shana said, staring.

She’d never seen or heard him. But Isabelle’s description of the man had stuck in her mind.

“Who are you?” Leon asked, glaring at the man. “How did you get in here?”

“I’m merely a humble scientist,” Jormungand said, his voice somehow sweet even as it chilled Shana to the bone. “One with a secret that will aid you in your glorious cause.”

“Scientist?” Leon asked. He didn’t lower his hand that bore the ring, and continued to eye Jormungand warily.

“I study the applications of Magic into… less conventional territories,” Jormungand said. He gestured to a chair. “May I sit?”

“Pull it farther back,” Leon said. Jormungand did so, lengthening the distance between them. When Leon nodded, Jormungand sat. “What do you know of my cause?”

“You seek to vanquish the darkness,” Jormungand said. “But you are running out of time.”

“You know a great deal for a stranger,” Leon said, eyes narrowing.

“I have cultivated a wide gaze,” Jormungand said. “You have garnered allies. But you have faced some pushback. And you don’t have the time you need to fulfill your Great Dream.”

Leon’s eyes flickered with surprise. “And you can give me time itself, humble scientist?”

Jormungand nodded. “It is a complicated method,” he said, “but I have seen it bear fruit before. An application of Time Magic with other magics, and some magitechnology of my own invention…”

“Magitechnology?” Leon asked.

“Simply a way of broadening the possible uses of Magic here on Earth,” Jormungand said. “Humanity, as you know, struggles with Magic itself. Hence that ring you bear, and other conduits Humans must use.”

“You’re not…?” Leon started, and Jormungand shook his head. “I see. What results do your methods lead to?”

“Life everlasting,” Jormungand said. “Simply put, those who survive the process will live forever, young and healthy for all their days.”

“Can it extinguish the sickness that tears me to pieces?” Leon asked. It was then that Shana noticed a blanket draped over his lap, covering his legs entirely. And yet…

The blanket lay so flat. Was there anything under there at all?

“It will not mend what has been broken,” Jormungand said. “But it will halt the disease’s spread forever. You will have all the time you need, and you needn’t fear for your life any longer.”

Slowly, Leon lowered his hand, staring thoughtfully at the ring her bore. “To live forever…” he murmured. He looked up. “What must I do?”

The answer to that question was stolen away as the whole world changed once more. Flashes, images flew by, images that sent a shiver through Shana. She saw dark rooms, eerie green lights, strange mechanical devices…

And blood. So much blood, among glimpses of other horrifying things. She was glad it went by so fast.

And then the dark rooms were gone, and there was light, so much, in so many colors. Sound came roaring back, the sounds of explosions, of violence, of crumbling stone, blazing fires, clanging metal.

Shana saw Athena leaping from a rooftop, landing on a Grimoire street and raising her shield just in time to block a series of vicious slashes from a pair of swords. Light flashed, smoke roiled, so much was hard to see. There were bright green darts, emblematic of Artemis’ arrows. Nyx tore people apart with her roiling, vicious Summon.

It was war. Grimoire was facing a battle the likes of which it had likely never seen or would again. From Chelsea’s accounts of the battle she and Caleb and so many others had fought against the Radiance and Blaise’s forces, this battle in Leon’s memories was on a whole other scale, vicious and brutal and horrific.

She and her friends were inexorably pulled, zipping through streets and over rooftops, past mangled corpses and those who still fought on, until they stopped at the edge of the cliffs overlooking Grimson Bay. Framed by the ruins, by The Gate far behind them, were two men. Leon was one, looking to be in his mid-thirties now, seated in his wheelchair, the ring on his hand blazing with golden light. Despite all the violence, all the destruction, he was untouched, unhurt, unscarred by the vicious war. And across from him…

Was Blaise Mathers.

He was young, couldn’t possibly be older than twenty-five. He carried a long, thin sword that shone obsidian from one angle, but looked pearly white from another. Blood stained the middle of the blade and much of Blaise’s clothing, slowly dripped from wounds on his neck, arms, and chest. He glared at Leon with a visage of rage and fury.

“Your madness ends today, Leon!” Blaise cried, brandishing his sword. “The lives you’ve taken, the friends and family I’ve lost, the people you’ve ruined with those horrific experiments – it’s all over!”

“You brought this upon yourself,” Leon said, calmer in voice than Blaise, but his eyes shone with fierce, unbreakable intensity. “You were given the choice to ascend with the rest of us, to be a part of the Great Dream.”

“We could have been partners!” Blaise cried, emotion bursting through the rage, tinging his tone with grief. “If such an apocalypse as you claim lies in our future, we could have faced it together! But you insist on making people into pawns, on absolute loyalty. You insist on placing all others beneath you, and you’ve resorted to abominable experiments that no righteous hero, as you claim to be, would ever engage in.” He pointed his sword at Leon. “We were friends, once. But you threw it all away. Look at yourself! You’ve become a monster!”

“Disloyalty and fractured leadership are the largest obstacles to seeing the Great Dream fulfilled.” Leon sighed, a sad sound of heavy resignation. “I wish it hadn’t come to this. But your friends need not spill more blood. Stand down. Call for your forces to stand down. Your lives will be spared.”

“The lives of those left,” Blaise said contemptuously. He shook his head. “No. You will not destroy my city.” He glanced sideways, just as someone else approached the fight.

It was Anastasia.

“It’s time,” she said, turning her violet eyes skyward.

“Time for what?” Leon asked, a tinge of worry in his voice. “What have you done, Blaise?”

Blaise looked at the sky, then let out a heavy sigh. “What I had to do,” he said.

Sudden white light engulfed the world, blinding Shana. When she could open her eyes again…

Cool blue filled the world.

“This place…” Rae said softly.

“It’s what it used to be,” Shana said, staring at a throne room that, in terms of its architecture, she recognized. Of course, she’d only seen it as part of the Radiant Palace, gleaming gaudy gold so bright she’d needed protective lenses just to see it properly.

This was the Crystal Palace, long before the Radiant King had taken up residence and transformed it into his seat of power. Up on the throne room’s dais were four thrones. The two largest in the center were occupied by a man and a woman, while the smaller thrones to their sides were occupied by a young boy and a girl on the cusp of adulthood. All four of them wore glittering blue robes, as if woven from sapphires. Their eyes shone with blue light, and all four had hair like spun gold. Upon the man and woman’s heads sat resplendent, crystalline crowns, while the boy and girl bore gleaming circlets.

Below them, surrounded by dozens of soldiers dressed head to toe in gleaming blue armor, sat Leon in his wheelchair. His hands were bound to the chair’s arms, and his head was bowed, his face ragged and worn, his eyes dull.

“You had a request,” the man in the largest throne, the Crystal King, said. His face was like an oncoming storm, set with a fierce strength, eyes flashing with an air of inevitability. “Speak, would-be king, would-be god. Your time runs thin.”

As exhausted and probably malnourished as he was, Leon’s eyes flashed with rage at the words of the Crystal King. Yet when he looked up, his eyes were pleading. “I ask only for two things,” he said in a weak voice that betrayed no pride. “Spare the lives of my friends. Imprison them for eternity if you wish, but let them live.”

For a long time, the Crystal King was silent. “And the second?” he finally asked.

“The Eternals,” Leon said, “those who did not join me. They have done nothing wrong – they’re mere victims in all of this. Even if they cannot return to Earth, let them be free in the Dominion, untouched by your rage. These two things are all I humbly, desperately beseech of you.” He bowed his head.

Once again, the Crystal King’s silence stretched long and heavy. Finally, with a tone that resonated with finality, he spoke. “Both shall be granted.”

The world blurred, and then Shana and her friends were in a new part of the Crystal Palace. It was a small room, much darker than the open throne room before. In here were only the Crystal King and Leon, whose wheelchair was nowhere to be seen, but was rather seated in a crystalline chair in the center of the room, with four pedestals surrounding him. Each pedestal bore a pale, translucent crystal.

“Before you breathe your last,” the Crystal King said, “do you have any final words?”

Leon looked worse than ever, gaunt and exhausted. And yet…

And yet his eyes were alive with light.

“I will see the Dream fulfilled,” Leon said, so softly that Shana barely heard him.

The Crystal King raised his hand and snapped his fingers. The four crystals surrounding Leon suddenly blazed with light, light that came…

From Leon.

They were each pulling at him, draining away the very Magic from his body. Leon opened his mouth, gasping, but then…

He was torn apart. Light burst from his body, and then the faint remains fell to the floor in a smoldering heap. Shana stared in stunned silence.

What…?

He’s…

But he can’t be…

The Crystal Palace faded, and in the white void a distant wind howled across rocks. Slowly, the white void gained color and shape.

It was Dreamworld, its magenta clouds gleaming with golden light.

Leon floated in the clouds, buoyed by them. His entire body shone with a faint golden aura.

“I’m…” Leon started, looking around himself in surprise.

“You’re not alive,” came the voice of Heart, filled with grief. She floated on the air beside him, tears in her eyes. “This is merely… a last chance. To say goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” Leon asked, staring at her. “But… I don’t understand. What will happen to you?”

“I will go to the next Dreamer,” Heart said. “I can already see her, in a way. She’s far off. For a time, I will be alone, but it will not last.” She smiled, though it clearly came with effort. “You need not worry for my sake.”

“No,” Leon said. He came upright, flying under his own strength rather than being buoyed by the clouds. “You told me. You told me the Dreamer could do anything. So then death…” He shook his head. “Death is just a word.”

“My dear Leon,” Heart said, shaking her head. “Your Great Dream will be fulfilled by others. The next Dreamer will see it through. You need not fear that the darkness will prevail.”

“It was our Dream,” Leon said. “To fulfill together.”

“I’m sorry,” Heart said. “But you started something wonderful. Though you made mistakes along the way… I assure you. It was not all in vain.” She started to drift away. “My time… has come —”

Heart gasped, a pained, confused sound.

Leon had grabbed her by the wrist. She no longer drifted away.

“What are you doing?” Heart asked, staring at Leon with wide eyes. She looked around herself, panic filling her movements, her expression, her voice. “This isn’t… this can’t happen. Leon! You must let me go!”

“It isn’t over,” Leon said, his eyes bearing that intensity, that unbreakable focus. “You and I will see this Dream fulfilled. Darkness cannot stop us. Why should death?”

“You must not do this!” Heart cried, pulling at Leon’s grip. “Release me! Your time is over!”

“No,” Leon said, his voice hard as stone. “My time has only just begun.”

His entire body burst with golden light, light that flashed outward to consume Heart. She cried out, pulling at him…

Down swooped a shadow. Nocta was here, the Nightmare Queen, and she stretched out her talons to Heart. Heart grabbed hold, and together they pulled…

And…

A blast of magenta light exploded from Heart, a line straight down the middle of her body. And then Nocta was flying away with Heart in her talons, but…

Leon was holding onto Heart, another Heart, as well.

What just…?

Dreamworld faded. All was bleak and empty for so long, very slowly, painfully slowly, coming into focus once more.

In the execution chamber of the Crystal Palace, Leon sat alone in a wheelchair. He looked up beside him, and saw Heart, but…

Her eyes were lifeless.

“Heart?” he asked, his voice emanating as if it were many voices. Heart looked down at him, responding to his voice, but…

“You…” Leon continued, staring at her. “I… what have I done? I… you’re just… a shell? What have I…?” He began to bow his head to bury his face in his hands, but then stared in shock.

His whole body was gleaming with incredible golden light.

In the midst of the light, Shana thought she saw him smile. And as the image began to fade away, as the memories came to an end, she heard him say one word:

“Radiant.”

 

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