LOCATION: Great Hall
TIME: Sunday, roughly 7:00pm – 11:00pm.
WHAT: Crescendo Event
RATING: V for Violence.
In a moment, Cid realises the Board has been successful, as a massive shield of energy closes them away from the rest of the Great Hall. It is planned, but all the planning in the world can't prevent the realisation hitting him like the shock of cold water. He cannot deny that the danger is still massive, that so many lives hinge on his and Edea's success, but he quietly stores that knowledge away until he has time to worry and panic. This is the reality of the moment; this is the hurdle they must overcome.
All three move fast, two with their wands already drawn, one acting without. Edea casts shields, fast, but maybe not fast enough when they are faced with the mistress of time itself. They are two against one, but in these circumstances Cid does not feel especially sorry for the inequality in numbers.
Her laugh is low, and quiet. It sends a shudder down Cid's spine, chill pooling in his gut. “Stand down,” he calls out, although he knows the action is likely futile. “You cannot win here, Ultimecia.”
“Kannot? Kannot?” Her laugh pauses. “Is that so?” There's something sickly in her smile, an unhealthiness and twist that was not there before. Not even when they last crossed wands did he think she had seemed as terrifying, or not in this particular way. “I have already won, Cid. You are fighting against the tide. The moon herself pulls my viktory near.”
Edea remains silent, save for the murmur of more shields, using every moment she can drag together to develop a strong defense. There is a long, uneasy moment where Cid is trying to read Ultimecia's actions, pre-empt her next strike. He remembers, even with a decade passed, the strength of her magic, unthreading and re-stitching time to her convenience. He hopes that strength has wavered, wishes for it, but even Cid knows that he is too much an optimist.
The warning is fractional, but he catches it. A strange skip in time; it pulls up a memory, instances where others tried to pick apart Ultimecia's spell work, understand what made her most dangerous. Cid's own thought was that it was the combination of her skills that made her most terrifying; the ability to hold time, arrange attacks in a condensed field to her liking, and then allow time to move on and unleash all those attacks at once.
It's happening now, and even as Edea has been building walls, the points of light that flash immediately towards them both are terrifying. He moves reflexively, wand cutting an intricate pattern in the air. “Miles Militus!” Magic spins out from his wand, alive. “Contego. Lancea. Battuo.” Each beam of light is a cutting blade targeting Cid and Edea, but each incantation of his own draws out a new defense and counter, striking those attacks out of the air.
With each new onslaught there is a new hitch in time, caught only by the strange tripping of Ultimecia's voice or staggers in her otherwise fluid movements. Cid feels not dissimilar to a rag doll tossing in the wind, constantly falling into defense rather than being able to counter effectively. These were her tactics, toying and wearing down those who opposed her. He grits his teeth, stretches out his hand and braces himself for his next spell. “Estus.” Magic crashes over him and pushes her spells away with a barreling wave of energy.
For a moment there is silence, disrupted only by the sound of breathing. A brief glance to Edea; she is fine, skin shining with exertion and what he can only think must be anxiety; fear. This is not a fair plan, he knows, forcing her to come face to face with the cause of so many waking nightmares, but it is the only way to play the hand dealt them. He is not able to look to her for more than the barest fraction of a second, but he recognises the tightness in her jaw and the whiteness in her knuckles.
“So noble,” Ultimecia breathes, gaze flicking between the two of them with what could be mistaken for some perversion of affection. “I have missed you both so terribly.” Gold eyes fixing on Edea, Ultimecia smiles. “We used to be such klose friends. Will you not dance with me again, Edea? We might tear apart this little pile of rubble together, think of happier days.”
Cid can feel the anger simmering in Edea's magic, close to making her barriers ripple, as the Dark Witch continues. “Just as with the Garden, do you not think? But there would be so many more bodies here to break.”
“You won't hurt these children.” Edea's voice is controlled, but her emotions are just barely so. Pain twists the line of her mouth, brings a waver to her words. “I will not allow you to hurt these children.” Not again, Cid is certain she is thinking, memories of what Edea had done under Ultimecia's sway flashing through his mind as vividly as when he had first seen those ruins of the orphanage.
Once again, Ultimecia sounds amused. “Won't allow me to? My dear, the school is overrun with the undead. You have already.”
It is then that Cid strikes, as eager to silence her as he is to take advantage of the moment of distraction. A new exchange of spells is sparked, the sum of years of magic wielding come together in a fierce blaze. Advance, engage, counter, parry, riposte; he can hardly tell how long the conversation of their spells carries on, when the back-and-forth becomes a roar, colour and light, elements and blades, time twisting around and shields snapping and cracking. It is a maze of magic and energy, enough to trap and suffocate. It carries on endlessly, and for no time at all, seconds, minutes, hours contorted into one another with the flick of Ultimecia's wrist.
Wordlessly, a new spell roars from his wand; light, tinged blue and green and yellow and blindingly bright. The beam twists and writhes from his wand, banishing any darkness from the room. It is a nameless spell; an unspoken spell, that draws its fuel from the very core of his being and writhes and strikes at Ultimecia like a great serpent; a lion's maw, an eagle's talons, a badger's claws. Magic glares and twists, and in that moment Cid feels his fingers gripping at a window to victory.
The grip holds, until he feels the splash of hot blood.
Cid doesn't look down. He can feel the sting across his chest of a fresh wound, coupled with cold air at his skin. Still, the spell continues, until another gash follows and another. He cannot see, but he can feel; Edea's shields have stopped - fallen. His own magic falters and he looks to Edea.
He does not know if it is relief he should feel, or despair, because she is not fallen. She stands; proud, unshaken, wand extended.
“Edea.” Not this. Not again. Horror registers on his features as he beholds his wife, not as herself, but once again a tool of Dark magic.
There is not another moment for him to gather his thoughts, retaliate, before another spell from her wand cuts through his hand, severing tendons. His grip loosens around his wand and Cid swears, trying to drag together his magic and force his hand to work, to pick up his wand. His left hand is able, still, and he casts a shield, strong, but little more than a device to buy time.
Ultimecia is watching, doing nothing but calmly pulling the marionette strings of imperius that are suppressing Edea's will. In that moment, Cid feels nothing save the thudding ache of hatred and the seeping cold of fear; of failure. The students, the staff, Edea – he has failed them all. The knowledge digs in its claws, and even the knowledge that the staff have orchestrated a secondary line of defense in the forest does little to ease that realisation.
There are steps approaching. In the next moment, he's looking up at Edea, her gaze cold and distant; completely unlike her. “Edea,” he whispers, urgent, as if the power of his own desperation can drag her back from Ultimecia's hold. “Edea, listen.” It's useless, he knows, and somewhere beneath the surface she knows. The bitter truth of it snags in his throat and chest.
His wand is out of reach, and his heart has turned against him. He looks past Edea's wand; he knows what spell is about to be cast, as surely as he knows anything. It starts as a swelling pressure in his chest, thudding dull and sharp all at once, and escalates in seconds that pass like hours.
“I'm sorry,” he finally manages. His hand is a wreck, and sweat rolls down his jaw to mix with the blood pulsing from his chest. It can't be over, not yet, but every idea his mind rolls out is dismissed quicker than the next can arrive. The blood is flowing quickly, drawing his energy with it.
Ultimecia's laugh slithers from her lips. It is a harrowing sound, enough to strip flesh from the bone. She carries on, as the shield falls, as Edea stands with the tip of her wand pressed to Cid's forehead. Warmth flows from it, the magical conduit of graphorn skin and birch setting his nerves alight. “Mm. I think... I will do the honours, Edea dear, if you do not mind. Mister Kramer and I have travelled so long together.”
The request-- the order appears to register on the even blankness of Edea's expression, and she steps back, wand dropping to her side.
“Thank you.” Ultimecia takes a moment to savour it, relish the moment before the pressure bought on by her prior defeat urges her to take action.
“Avada,” Ultimecia starts-- before a wet splatter cuts her off.
It's followed by a shocked gurgle. There, Ultimecia stands, jagged edges protruding from her stomach, her chest, her neck. Blue-white crystal shards run her right though, glistening with a bloody mist that rolls towards the points as she staggers.
Ice, Cid realises, as surely as if it were whispered to him. Ice strikes. Another look to Edea, who isn't looking at him now, but watching Ultimecia, grim determination on her face as she pulls another blade of ice to cut through a major artery. Needlessly, he suspects; there is no sound of pain or surprise, only a wet slice as Edea's element does its work.
Even the most accomplished of magic wielders cannot cast if they have no energy, cannot twist time if their life is already gone. Still, Cid watches with disbelief as Ultimecia falls, the action passing slowly. She has barely hit the ground before he twists away, scrabbles for his wand awkwardly with his left hand, while still cradling his right. It is no trick, though; Ultimecia does not move. She does not breathe.
Reality takes a moment to register, and Cid is painfully gasping for breath as he falls to the floor. Edea catches him as he crumbles, brings him down gently as the blood continues to spread across his chest like a flower in bloom.
“Ah-- hah. Edea,” he manages, speaking between jagged breaths. “You're--”
“Shh.” She soothes him, quietly. “Not now, Cid.” Her voice is raw, even as she murmurs healing spells over him. Draws the flesh back together, makes it whole. The blood slows, then stops, the wound healed over. It itches, still, feels irritated and tender, but Cid ignores the discomfort in favour of watching Edea.
“I should alert the Board,” she finally says, softly, and presses a hand to his shoulder when he tries to push himself up. “Rest. You need more help.” There's a pained note in her words, regret and horror marring any shred of closure or relief to be drawn from this so-called victory.
Cid simply nods, silent, but takes her hand a moment before she pulls away to accio her journal from beneath the rubble. A flicker of a smile at his lips, met with a hesitant nod from Edea, and then she carries on.
Letting his head rest back against the cold stone, Cid closes his eyes. Listens.
“Astraea?” A beat, a soft response he can't catch. “ ... Yes, we've... Ultimecia has been defeated.”