Shana was in Dreamworld, but she wasn’t alone. Beside her was Heart, and across from her, no longer in his throne but standing tall, was Leon, the Radiant King.
Beside him was also Heart. Or rather… her shell.
Leon’s Heart looked so lifeless compared to the Heart that stood alongside Shana. Yet in that hollow gaze, there was also a deep, painful sorrow.
“Surely you have seen it, Shana,” Leon said, holding out his hand. “Heart is incomplete. She was severed, and she must be made whole again.”
Shana expected Heart to speak, but she didn’t. When Shana looked to her, Heart gazed back at her with glittering golden eyes, patient and waiting.
She wants me to take the lead? But… she knows Leon so much better than I do. And after all this time, she has nothing to…
It’s not that she has nothing to say.
It must be too painful to speak to him. After how much she loved him, and what he did to her in the end…
Shana shook her head. “You’re right, but you’re wrong,” she said. “She’s broken, but it’s because you tore her apart. You can’t keep dreaming like this.”
“But Shana, dreams are what we do,” Leon said. “They define us. Why do you think we are both the Dreamer?”
“You were the Dreamer,” Shana said. “Your inability to let that go is what’s causing so much pain in the first place.”
“I sent all others away,” Leon said. “Brought us to the Dreamworld. All so that we wouldn’t be interrupted, so that you wouldn’t feel in danger. So that we could talk, and come to an understanding, Dreamer to Dreamer.”
“You had a great goal,” Shana said. “You were so good, so determined to do what was right, and then…” She shook her head, thinking back to all she’d seen in the Garden of Memory. “What happened? How did you fall so far? Why did you fall so far? That’s what I haven’t been able to understand.”
“Fall?” Leon asked. “What sort of ‘fall’ do you think I suffered?”
“Grimoire,” Shana said, clenching a fist at the memory of the carnage he wrought in battle against Blaise’s forces so long ago. “Sunset Square. The Crystal Palace. And all those experiments, all the people — some children! — who you forced into such trauma, and so many of them died. How could you kill so many, cause so much pain and destruction, when you have such a noble goal?”
“Interesting,” Leon said, placing a hand to his chin, nodding slowly. “Very interesting.”
“What’s so interesting?” Shana asked, fighting back her anger at Leon’s past actions. She worried that if she lost herself in rage, Leon would have complete control over this encounter, and she couldn’t allow that to happen.
He has to wake up. “A dream is meant to be woken from.”
I can’t let him control this. I can’t let him keep Heart divided.
I can’t let him continue the killing he’s done for so long.
“I thought you had more conviction, Shana,” Leon said. “I thought you were as passionate about the Great Dream as me.”
“And now you think I don’t? Why?”
Leon sighed. “The Great Dream is not a game, Shana. It is not some simple goal that can be achieved while clinging to fiction. Conviction, Shana. Conviction is what we need to obliterate the darkness. For light to reign, all the universe must be in light’s thrall. If any step out of the light, they are in darkness, and those in darkness must be dealt with properly. They must be eliminated.”
“What kind of nonsense is that?” Shana asked. “You can’t just kill people because they don’t obey you, because they aren’t loyal to you! There are lots of people fighting against the darkness, people who also wouldn’t dare bow to your way of doing things. But you’ve fought them, too. You killed innocent people, again and again, you’ve fought people who could and should have been your allies. And for what?”
“Shana, you misunderstand,” Leon said, shaking his head. “As I said, you lack conviction. You compromise, where compromise cannot be tolerated, where compromise will undermine the entire Dream. You saw what Heart showed me — the great darkness, and me, the Lord of Light, standing against it all, the only power in the universe that can slay the evil that threatens to devour it.”
“ ‘The Lord of Light’?” Shana asked, incredulous. “You…” She shook her head, finding it so hard to believe what she was hearing. “You really do believe that you’re a god.”
“Victory of light over darkness is the domain of gods, Shana,” Leon said. “Surely you must see that. These powers are too great, too terrible, for mortals to even comprehend. Yet they ask for reasons, over and over again, they debate, they ask questions, wasting time, as if they could ever understand. The fight is not for them to understand. Obedience, Shana, is far more precious than you recognize. Loyalty is more precious than diamonds. Those who recognize they cannot understand the Great Dream, but that they can understand its importance, that they can bind themselves to its success under my banner… those are the righteous. Those who seek to defeat the darkness apart from me? They are squandering what little potential they have on a fruitless fight. Those who would try to sit on the fence, to pretend they can exist in the light without rallying under my Radiant banner? They are blind to the darkness that shackles their souls.”
Shana was speechless, trying to wrap her mind not around Leon’s words, but around how he could possibly believe what he was saying. “Why wouldn’t you… try to reach them? To make them change their minds, or convince them, or…? And you could just ignore them, leave them in peace while you slay the darkness, rescuing them from themselves, right?”
“I’ve been at this war a long time, Shana. It takes us all, united under one banner. Any who refuse to be a part of the Radiance must be convinced or purged. You don’t see the darkness in them, Shana. You don’t see how they’ve embraced evil, you don’t see how they feed the great Enemy. There is no compromise, no ignoring them. There is no room for forgiveness or patience for those who had their opportunity. And they always have at least one chance. But I can’t afford to give them chance after chance. One opportunity, that’s what they all get. I’m not cruel, Shana, no matter what you think of me.”
Leon spoke with such smooth words, with such a warm, calm voice. Shana shivered at how his words clashed with his tone.
Not cruel? After what I’ve —
She stopped that train of thought, realizing what she could do. The magenta clouds, the golden light, the obscured landscape…
This is the Dreamworld.
She stretched out her hand, calling to Heart without words, reaching into the Dreamworld itself.
The clouds swirled and changed, forming shapes and solid form. Soon, new colors were added, bringing life to the scene Shana was calling up from Leon’s memories.
It was a grisly, horrifying scene: the dark laboratory beneath Leon’s home in Grimoire. Many tables were spread out here, tilted at shallow angles, each one with a person strapped down on their surface. Strange machines were hooked up to them through tubes, pumping a pale yellow liquid into their veins.
Not all of the people on the tables were still alive. And those who were dead were…
Shana couldn’t bear to look. Their emaciated forms, the horrified expressions frozen on their faces, and so much blood all around…
“Not cruel?” Shana asked, gesturing at the scene. “How is this anything but cruel? You knew the possibility of a horrific, slow, painful death, but you never told anyone. You just fed them the Great Dream, without the possible consequences. For those who agreed to it, how was that a fair choice? And you forced many more people into these experiments than the number of volunteers you assembled. You didn’t even give them a chance!”
“This shouldn’t be possible,” Leon said, walking through the laboratory, looking all around. “I understand you saw this in the Garden of Memory, but no one can perfectly recreate images from memory, not even from their own memories. This scene came to you secondhand, and yet you’ve brought it back more perfectly than I ever could…”
Shana’s eyes gleamed. “I’ve always had a perfect memory,” she said.
Just like Shias. And that’s my weapon here. He tried to destroy those memories, to banish them where no one could see them. How long has it been since he confronted his own wickedness?
I can show him all of it, without any omissions, without any alterations. I can show him exactly what he’s been avoiding for so long.
“You’re a very dangerous girl, aren’t you?” Leon asked, his tone just as calm as ever.
“You can’t see this and claim it isn’t cruel,” Shana said. “You tried to destroy this memory, tried to escape it. You’ve been running away from your cruelty and pretending it doesn’t exist.”
“Very bold claims,” Leon said. “And perhaps I was wrong. You do have a fire in you, misplaced though its aim may be. But Shana, tell me — what price is too high for eternal life? When the aim is so great, when the Great Dream requires such time, such a union across the entire universe, it cannot be achieved in one lifetime, and it cannot be achieved alone. I did what was necessary, Shana, for the sake of the universe, for the sake of so many generations to come.”
Shana gritted her teeth.
How do I make him see how horrible he is? How do I wake him up?
That’s exactly what he’s doing — dreaming. Denying reality in his dream. And this dream has been going on, uninterrupted, for so long. What’s it going to take to wake him up?
He needs to see reality. He needs to reckon with what he’s done, with what he still plans to do.
She waved her hand, dismissing the scene, reforming the clouds into new shapes, calling forth a new scene from the distant past. It was a beautiful city, bathed in golden light from the west: Sunset Square.
And it was at war.
Light and sound flashed and boomed, magic crackled and exploded with fury and power. Buildings were torn in two and collapsed to the ground in a cloud of ash and dust. The streets were on fire, and people ran in a chaotic scramble, either fleeing in a mad panic or boldly rushing to fight.
But it was all a façade of war. For Shana knew the truth of the people of Sunset Square, knew the great handicap they bore in fighting against Leon’s forces.
“They can’t take a life,” Shana said, watching as Leon, seated in his chair, commanded his troops. There was Void, ripping people apart and sucking them into his magical voids. Galahad, slicing through men and women one after another with his gleaming sword. Nyx, crushing buildings and people alike with her beastly, raging Summon. Ignis, burning even women and children alive with his scarlet flames. Titan and Platina, fighting side by side, their weapons tearing through all opposition. “But that didn’t stop you. You massacred them without a thought. They would fight you but could never take your lives, and you knew that. You knew they weren’t really a threat to you.” Shana turned, glaring at Leon, tears stinging her eyes. “So why?”
Leon clenched one hand into a fist. “Grimoire was to be my seat of power,” he said, his warm tone tinged with the slightest hint of anger. “I had no quarrel with the Crystal Family. But they interrupted everything, ripping me and my Radiance from Grimoire, from Earth, from the human realm entirely, locking us into the Enchanted Dominion. And we were weak, weaker than I thought we were, weaker than we would become. We could not assail the Crystal Palace then. We needed a way to draw out the Crystal Family so we could fight them directly. Such an atrocity was regrettable, I will never say otherwise. But I did give the people of Sunset Square a chance. The first plan was to unite them all under my banner. The Crystal Family wouldn’t have been able to ignore that, either. It would have been just as effective a lure. But the people refused, at the last moment, just as I thought we were making proper progress. It was a heinous betrayal.”
“So you slaughtered them all?” Shana asked.
“Many survived, as you must know,” Leon said. “We destroyed half the city, and killed many, but then the Crystal Family arrived, just as we hoped. They couldn’t stand violence being enacted against those who couldn’t properly defend themselves, with both law and culture forbidding the taking of life. I thought we could win. I was wrong.”
Shana shook her head in disbelief. “It was just revenge. Just angry, bitter vengeance. Why did you have to fight the Crystal Family? Why did you even have to fight Blaise in the first place? Why did everything have to start with such violence against people who aren’t part of the darkness? You could have been tracking down the Sons of Night and the Lord of Night, could have been finding the darkness living beneath Grimoire like Delilah did, but you just kept killing people who had nothing to do with it! My little sister did more for your Great Dream, more against the darkness, than you’ve ever done!”
Leon tilted his head to the side, his shining face hiding any expression. “That is an… interesting perspective. And yet there is still darkness festering beneath Grimoire. There is still darkness all throughout the universe. The darkness cannot be so simply purged by Light Catchers, by Relays, by Bastions. Those are defensive measures, and they fail because people are weak. People give into the darkness. Why does Grimoire still suffer? Because its people rejected the light, and they still reject the light every day.”
“They rejected you,” Shana said. “Nothing more than that. You can talk up whatever big ideals you want, but in the end, you’re just full of anger and arrogance. You’re a tyrant playing at being a god, repeating excuses to yourself over and over until you’re blind to the evil you’re committing all throughout your grand quest. This isn’t the fight against darkness! It’s a war of conquest, of you trying to bring everyone to kneel at your feet. Kneel or die.”
“Arrogant and angry, am I?” Leon sighed. “A tyrant? Shana, can you not see? This isn’t about conquest or tyranny. I see the truth. I see the only way forward, a way that requires sacrifice, yes, that requires pain, yes, but I can see beyond the unpleasantness of the moment to what lies beyond, and what lies beyond is beautiful and perfect. I never wanted this suffering, but if we must suffer for a moment so light may reign in the future, then so be it. I will even be the hand that doles out that suffering, for no one else will do it, no one else can see. Not even you, my fellow Dreamer, the one I hoped would see better than any other.” He turned towards Heart, the real Heart rather than her shell. “Surely Heart has told you what she showed me, that marvelous truth.”
“That truth was a lie,” Heart said suddenly, startling Shana. Heart gazed at Leon with what at first looked like anger, but Shana saw a deep sorrow in that gaze, too. “I thought I could inspire you. I thought I was being good, giving you that grand vision of what you could accomplish. But I was wrong, Leon. I showed you something that can never be, that should never be. Shana is right. You have become something terrifying and destructive, and I can no longer stand idly by, for it is… my fault.” She released a heavy, bitter sigh. “The Dreamer is vital in protecting all peoples from the darkness, yes. But that is their role: to protect. You were never a slayer of the darkness, because you cannot be that. You are no god, Leon. You are not the Lord of Light. Nor do you serve him and his purpose. The proof is right in front of you, has been all this time, if only you would see it.”
“What proof?” Leon asked, his voice soft and cautious.
“The gleam of your radiance,” Heart said. “Don’t you see? It’s gold. Have you seen the true Light, Leon? Have you seen it? It isn’t gold, no. It is white, pure and bright and perfect. It is true radiance.” She bowed her head. “I am so sorry, Leon. I led you to a dream of grandeur and self-importance that I never intended. The monster you have become is my fault.”
“Monster?” Leon asked, his voice stretched taut. He flicked his wrist, and the image of the Sunset Square massacre that was still all around them vanished into magenta clouds.
“Please, Leon,” Shana said. “I don’t… I don’t expect you to listen to me. But surely you can listen to Heart. She knows you better than anyone, doesn’t she? She knows —”
“No, I wouldn’t listen to you, Shana,” Leon said, his voice suddenly cold and bitter. “How could I? Heart, you did lie to me. But not the lie you claim, no. Your lie was that the next Dreamer would maintain my Great Dream, that she would finish what I started. But don’t you see? She is no true Dreamer, but merely a shadow that forces you into disunity, forces me to bear your shell, forces you to live divided. She is more of an enemy than I realized. She lacks conviction, lacks passion, lacks the will to do what is necessary. She’s a little girl who just wants to go home.”
Shana stepped back, fear clutching her heart.
A little girl…
…who just wants to go home…
I never wanted this. I didn’t want to leave home again, not when we knew how to save Nocta. I didn’t want to come here and face the Radiant King all alone.
I just wanted…
I can’t believe I was so full of myself. I can’t believe how in over my head I was, thinking I could challenge him, when he was the Dreamer for centuries and I’m just a little girl who’s known Heart for a month.
It’s all over.
I’m so sorry, Heart.
I can’t wake him up.