E Pluribus Unum Part 2
Requiescat in Sanguinem
A petite woman snuggled into the cushy leather armchair near the window in the presidential office. She stared outside, watching the transports zoom past in their clear tubes. It was on days like today that she missed home. Any of them.
The White SeeD ship had been like a prison only in that she couldnt leave. It was bland; yet, every day she could see the clear sea and the arching spines of porpoises dancing in the sunlight. Every evening she could see the sun sink, tracing lavender and vermillion in bright streaks across the sky.
The stone orphanage had been cold, damp, and musty, as buildings of that age and design tend to be. There was a shore to scour. Surf made for feet to dance in, sand for castles, and seashells for collecting. Fields of flowers and tree. Friends and companionship.
As for Winhill, that was always family. In the back of her mind sometimes, she could recall a sweet lullaby and a whiff of perfume. Freesia and honeysuckle. Every once and awhile, she would catch a whiff of wildflower in some florist-sent bouquet, and she would revert to the three year old searching for her mama, and never, ever finding her. The midsummer stars and the smell of threshed grain could take her back to that one moment: Raine exhausted, her arms barely strong enough to hold her newborn, and her one repeated question. Where are you, Laguna?
Whether for good or bad, Esthar had left very little impression upon her. Despite the bright futurism, the cold urban landscape was as cold and unfriendly as the Lunar Base, adrift in orbit. Almost as bad as Galbadia, which she hadnt though of as bad, until
Elle? Laguna stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him. Kiros told me that you were here. Is something wrong?
She turned to him, eyes brimming. Yes, she whispered.
He walked over to her, sitting down on the arm of the chair. He wrapped an arm around her. You know that your Uncle Laguna is always here. What is it?
He blinked. Whats gone?
My power. Its gone. She sniffled. Im so-sorry. Her face in her hands, she began to cry openly.
But how? Elle I dont understand. You talked about getting rid of it, but Odine said he couldnt do it. That his specialty was sorceress power.
Odine screwed up, because a sorceress sucked it right out of me. And Ive been looking around, with my eyes and ears open. Every person whos had some sort of specialness unusual powers, magic. Its disappeared. With one common bond. She swallowed.
What is it? Laguna was a very good man, but very literal, and horrible at guessing games. Ellone remembered beating him often at things like charades.
All of us, people who have had our abilities stolen, had been near Rinoa.
His expression was one of pure shock. Why on earth
I was in Galbadia, on vacation. They hold a festival to honor the peace called between Galbadia and Balamb Gardens, you know. I wanted to go see it. Of course, Squall was invited. So she was there. I only spent a few minutes with them the energy in the room got all weird She fiddled with one of the buttons on the chairs back. I dont know how, but all I know is she gave me this bizarre smile as she walked away and I suddenly felt like I was naked, for all to see. She blinked furiously, and a few more tears fell down her cheeks.
Im so sorry, honey. He pulled her closer to him in a hug, as she cried into his shoulder. but what do you want me to do?
Im not a clueless old kook, Laguna said. I know that you were in Galbadia a few months ago, and youre coming here now. Youre looking for help.
I want to know why. And I want to stop her. Its not just the principle; its scary. She was already so powerful
What do you want me to do? Arrest her? She lives in another country. Kidnap her? Thats sure to lead out to full out war with her father and her boyfriend. Whos my son.
Can you ask Squall to come here? Ellone asked.
I can. Why?
I want to talk to him. And go to Odine. I dont blame Rinoa, this might be even more dangerous for her. But something needs to be done.
She settled back against her uncles shoulder, slowly calming herself down. A piece of herself was missing that she would never get back, but she could help make sure that didnt have to happen to anyone else, just because they had a touch of Hynes gift.
* * *
Squall paused in front of the door to his quarters. I shouldnt have to feel uncomfortable walking into my own place. He took a deep breath before sliding the keycard into its reader. The light flashed green, and the door slid into its pocket with a whoosh.
He found Rinoa sitting on the couch, watching the news on the television. Suddenly, a whistling sound drifted from the kitchenette. He walked towards it to investigate.
The tea kettle, however, was already being taken care of. A force that worked like invisible hands lifted the steaming container, removed the infuser, and poured the hot liquid into two waiting mugs, never spilling a drop. He rolled his eyes as they began floating through the air, towards the coffee table in the front room.
Yeah, hon? She had a mug in her hand now; giving him a pointed look, she deliberately blew on the liquid before taking a sip.
You know how I feel about that. He paused. Ive asked more than once.
And you know that not using my powers doesnt magically mean Im not a sorceress! She took another drink. Besides, Squall, what does it matter what I do when youre not here? Youre not around to get uncomfortable
The point is that I came in, and you didnt stop. He smoothed his chin length hair back with his hand. Youve been doing this an awful lot lately; I wouldnt bring it up, otherwise. He looked down at her, the one who had taught him so much. How to be open, how to be free and every time he saw her face, it seemed more closed off to him.
She pulled her hair behind one ear, and he saw a faint purple line running across her temple to her eyelid. I forgot. Between the news and the whistling teapot, it didnt register that you were in the room yet. Plus, her voice softened as she looked up at him with puppy-dog eyes, I made some for you. Why dont we start over? You can walk back in the door, and I can carry your after-work drink right to you She reached up and unbuttoned the first few buttons of his shirt.
This wasnt anything new. Ever since that first, fumbling night after the world-saving-celebration-ball-thing (Selphies name), Rinoa had been using sex as a bargaining chip. He was beginning to wonder how her brain functioned.
Squall doesnt like me using my sorceress powers frivolously? Sex.
Squall wants to look for jobs outside of Garden that may accidentally lead to a locale closer to Caraway? Sex.
Squall wants to spend more time with friends? Sex.
Talk about problems. Sex.
Talk. Sex. Talk. Sex.
There was a time in his life--around seventeen or so, big surprise!--where Squall would have been definitely content, probably ecstatic, if every time someone wanted to talk to him, have a big, long, drawn-out discussion, he could substitute sex instead.
He had been living the dream of teenage boys and half-matured men for three years. He was sick of it. Rin. He lightly grasped her hands, disengaging them from his clothing. Im serious.
So am I. Youve had a long day at work, and you dont need to do any more thinking. Just let me handle it. She leaned in, aiming for that spot on his neck.
He gently pushed her back. Theres nothing to handle. You keep disregarding something important that I keep asking for. You wanted me to open up and talk, and here I am. You ignore it, so I have to wonder if you even care.
Of course I care, Squall. Tears formed in her eyes.
You never did things like this at first, didnt care. Why is it so different now? You went from normal to magic coursing through you, and it takes years to decide to use it?
It takes time, to get used to anything. Rinoa leaned back into the couch cushions.
You know why you cant walk around Garden using magic on everything!
Garden this, Garden that! This is my home now, too. She pouted.
He sighed. Maybe you dont have any higher role here, but Im headmaster. No ones supposed to use magic outside of the training center, except in an emergency. Even me. Just because yours is innate, doesnt make it any different.
She crossed her arms. I think you just dont want me to do anything on my own.
Youve always been free to go and do whatever you wanted. Squall sat down next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. You wanted to live here. You didnt mind not having a job. But I ask one thing of you, and you cant do it? He frowned. I dont know, maybe Im blowing this out of proportion.
maybe? she muttered.
I need a break.
Rinoa whipped her head around. You want to break up?
No. I just want to go somewhere on my own next week, when I take that time off. Youre free to go wherever you want, too. But I need some alone time.
To go party with anyone you can find, Im sure!
Its not that! Jeez, now youre blowing things out of proportion. He took her hand. Not an us-break, a people break. I spent most of my life a loner, and now Ive spent the better part of three years constantly with you. I love you to death, but I guess I cant give up being a loner cold turkey. I need a fix.
She sniffled. But I thought we were going to go somewhere fun.
I dont want you to miss out on fun. You can find Selphie, ring up Zone and Watts, whatever youd like. Ill give you some cash for the fare. I just want some time by myself, thats all. You cant get alone time when you run a school by day and come home to someone at night, no matter how awesome she is.
Rinoa nodded and jumped up. Ill go make a couple of calls. She kissed him on the cheek before walking to the bedroom.
Squall closed his eyes, leaning back. What the hell am I doing?
But he started it! Tim cried.
Thats not in dispute, Squall said. The problem is that you took it upon yourself to finish it. Instead of coming to me, or one of your instructors.
He threw a damn fireball at me.
I understand where youre coming from. I would have kicked the guys ass here to Tuesday, myself. Squall gave a small smile. But youre not just here to learn combat, but to learn discipline and self-control. If you spar and let your emotions get the best of you, serious things can happen. He gestured to the scar on his face. This thing wasnt something cool I earned battling sorceresses through time. A rival at Garden cut my face during a stupid spar. Which also happened to involve a fireball.
Fireballs are par for the course. Not that they arent hot and nasty, but everyone uses them. Boring to fight with, actually. He made a few notes in Tims file. Anyway, I will deal with Jordan later. As for you, you lose town privileges for the next three weekends. If you need supplies for practice or assignments, talk to your instructor or Dr. Kadowaki.
Okay, he said, his voice dejected.
Squall nodded towards the door. You can go now.
The cadet jumped up, walking briskly towards the door.
Oh, and Tim?
He turned back.
If hes got a fire-happy GF junctioned, next time funnel some ice magic into your attack. It will knock him flat.
Tim grinned. Thanks, Headmaster!
As the student ran out the door, he folded up the file, sticking it into the out pile, for his secretary to re-file. Suddenly, said-secretarys voice came in over the intercom on his phone.
Squall, theres a call for you on line one. She paused. He might be pranking, though, he says hes the president of Esthar.
An uncharacteristic chuckle. People still didnt believe that a twenty year old could be a successful headmaster, let alone know most the worlds leaders. Im picking it up, he said.
He lifted up the receiver. I wonder what Laguna wants. He punched the 1 button. Squall Leonhart.
Squall! Long time no see, eh?
Not as long as some times.
True, true! Lagunas nervous laugh came through loud and clear, even over miles of telephone wire. Im glad I caught you in your office.
Why, did you hire someone high-up whose files need pulling? Because I can tell my secretary to give you whatever access you need.
I appreciate it but Im calling for a different reason. Id like you to come to Esthar. Just a couple days, nothing more.
Rinoa and I were trying to figure out where to take our vacation
Another nervous laugh. Actually, Squall, Id rather you come on your own. This is more of a business trip Im asking of you.
Business? Squall groaned. Lets see youre being secretive, youre asking for my help, dont tell me theres another war brewing.
Its a little more personal than that. I would like to talk to you, and so would Ellone.
Ill try my best, but no guarantees.
Squall removed a piece of paper from his pockets. A date and time. He was going to Esthar in three days. Even though he disliked the city. Even though he tried to actively not acknowledge Laguna as his father.
Even though he was sure he was going to hate the news.
Laguna paced around his office. Any time now. Ever since he had made his phone call to Squall, he had been nervous. Hed been good at managing to cover this up, except when Kiros was around.
Voicing any and all doubts.
What makes you so sure hell show up? Youre giving him bad news about his girlfriend, and you know how people are.
I already thought of that, Kiros, my friend. I didnt actually tell him yet that were going to be talking about Rinoa. Besides, Ellone has been collecting evidence to prove that shes not the only one whose abilities have decreased after coming in contact with Rinoa. He nodded. If he doesnt believe that, he wont believe anything.
Why contact him at all? Kiros toyed with one of his braids. If he doesnt like what youre saying, it will only make things much, much harder.
I dont have much of a choice. He sighed. This is really the only way to go about things subtly.
A knock on the door interrupted them.
Ellone stepped inside, Dr. Odine behind her.
I was hoping you were him! Laguna sat down in his chair.
Vat use vould he be to you, if you had nozzing to tell him yet? Dr. Odine held up a small box. Or to give him?
I hope he believes us, whispered Ellone.
Who is it? called Laguna cheerfully.
Headmaster Leonhart of Balamb Garden, sir, he heard an assistant outside say.
Let him in.
Squall walked in, his hair a tad longer than it had been the last time anyone else in the room had seen him. Instead of his old gear of leather and black, he was wearing a gray shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He still carried his gun blade, slung in a holster behind him.
Laguna ran up and gave him a hug. So good to see you!
Whatever. But a small hint of a smile contradicted his words. He gave the room a quick glance. So something is going on, then?
No, said Kiros, we were just all overjoyed with the thought of seeing you.
Squall grimaced. That bad?
Sit down. Ellone gestured to the comfy leather armchair. After he was settled down, she handed him a folder. I have a bunch of clippings that tell a very strange story.
He pulled one out. The Dollet Healer Heals No More -- Famed miracle worker claims his power has left him. Another. Famed Centra Circus Loses Half Its Acts -- Owner says show must go on, but performers say they cant go on. Then the next: Child Piano Prodigy Off-Key -- Long awaited performance a bust his manager/father blames the South Timbre Musicale Companys faulty instrumentation.
Squall looked up into her expectant face. I dont get it.
People everywhere with special abilities are claiming to lose them. I did a search for buzz words like gifted and prodigy in various magazines and newspapers. No one identified as such in the past five years doesnt have an article like one of these written about them. Ellone looked him in the eye. Even if some people out there are fakers, you cant tell me all of these people are frauds that got exposed near the exact. same. time.
He flipped through the clippings. This is a bit odd, besides. That circus came to Balamb a week before this one was written I remember seeing that pianist in concert, and he played amazingly. Never saw the Dollet Healer, but his office is right next door to this stupid little café Rinoa insisted she wanted to eat at, so we did.
Theres one more report, though, thats not in there.
Why not? It must be important. This is a bit bizarre.
She sat down on the chair next to him. Because I thought you needed to hear it first-hand, and I would never go to a newspaper or magazine with this. Ive lost my power, Squall.
Squalls eyes softened. Elle, Im so sorry do you know how, then?
I have an idea, but its not pretty. She swallowed. Do you remember that small dinner party in Galbadia, on Pax Day?
Yeah. He smiled. It was a nice dinner.
That was when. Someone there is responsible.
He jumped up. Well, thats easy, then! We just figure out who all was on the guest list, do a little investigation, and then
I already know. And your investigation would lead you to all those clippings I collected. For you. Havent you noticed the coincidence, yet? You said it yourself.
I did? His voice was wary.
Didnt you think it an odd coincidence that you had been in the presence of all of those people just a brief time before they lost whatever made them special?
You think that I--
No, Squall. She put her hand on his arm. The person who is beside you. Already powerful, but it wasnt enough.
Rinoa? He looked at her, horror in his eyes. Then, he turned and stormed out the door.
Ellone threw a panicked look around the room, but the other three looked as baffled as she felt. Dont. Move, she ordered, as she ran after Squall.
Zat did not go very vell, said Dr. Odine.
Nope, Laguna agreed.
Really? Kiros shrugged. Seemed much, much better than what I expected."
* * *
He heard the footsteps behind him, but kept walking.
They stopped, but she tried one more time. please.
He turned around. Elle, this is a lot to deal with, and I want to be by myself.
I know it is, but we want to help! We dont just automatically think that Rinoa is an enemy. Ellone had caught up to him. Thats why Dr. Odine was there.
That barely registered, he replied candidly. He glanced upwards. You had to have suspected something like this hell, you got into a fight with Rin about something similar to this, before explaining the Esthar trip.
Hes been doing some research involving sorceress powers, ever since we had the fun of that Adel spectacle during the war. I think you should hear what he has to say, before you go off and brood. She offered him a hand. What do you say, lil bro?
Squall grabbed it and nodded. I guess I dont have a choice, do I? I have to help her.
A quirk of a brow. Dont you want to?
He brushed his hair back. Its not that, its that my wants wouldnt even factor in, here.
Plus, he thought to himself as they made their way back to Lagunas office, Ive discovered that once youve saved someones life that many times, youre stuck with them on some level, no matter what.
Its like Karma saying, If you think this is such a great idea, then its your problem now.
Laguna nodded at him as he walked back through the door. Welcome back.
Im not magically okay with this. I just agreed to hear the options. Squall crossed his arms.
Kiros stepped in. Thats why we brought Odine here. Hes been looking into the situation--
I have predicted zis for years! The doctors voice reigned, arrogant and triumphant, his standard fare. Zee nature of zee sorceress power is zat it can only survive while its in pieces! Gazzer up zee pieces, and while you have all zee power zee power is too strong for you!
Squall shook his head. That doesnt make any sense. And why was it in pieces to begin with?
Vell, some places in zis world have a childrens tale. A bedtime story. It is about Hyne zee sorcerer and a man called Vascaroon. In it, zhey say Hyne is zis creator, but he was merely zee precursor to all sorceresses. He had innate power and ultimate control over it. Zhis made all the other people in zee vorld very uncomfortable. Once zhere were enough to overtake him, zhey demanded a share of the power!
So, he gave zhem somezhing, and left. So much fighting, among all, and then zhey discovered it was skin not his true power. Vascaroon did this and he made a big show of destroying zee skin. Vhat he really did vas spread zee powers in zee skin among all of zhem. Because, you see, zee whole skin would not listen to normal people, but diluted it vould.
No one ever discovered vhere Hyne vent. He became legend, and zee people conzentrated on zee sorceresses.
What does that have to do with Rinoa?
Her powers are not diluted. In fact, her powers are strange, because of zee time loop with Edea and Ultimecia, and Rinoa getting hers from Edea, zhere is no way to tell vhat is original.
Squall scratched his head. None of the babbling, okay?
First, zhere was one skin. One set of powers. In zee time loop, Rinoa gets Edea and Adels powers, which eventually go to Ultimecia. But Ultimecia gives her powers to Edea. So, any ozher powers, like Adels, would add in infinitely vith every time loop. And zee skin may be grabbing every bit of power, searching, seeking reunion vith Hyne.
This Hyne fella disappeared a few thousand years ago, though? Laguna asked. I wanna know how.
No one knows. Or, I should say, no one knew. But I, Odine, have figured zhis out! Think of zee Ragnarok!
No offense, doctor, but that ship was built in Esthar. The three of us witnessed stages of its manufacture, Kiros said.
But vhat vas it based on? Centra legends of a large, shiny, metal dragon? Ve all know dragons do not come like zhis. Also At this point, he final grabbed something from the files that hed hauled along with him. here is evidence in the Centra ruins somezhing that looks like an airship. Hyne is not on zhis world!
Squall fell back against the wall, exasperated. Not only was he sitting here, forced to listen to Dr. Odine go on and on, nothing that was being said mattered. At all. Ill come back when you figure out how we can help Rinoa, he said, moving to leave.
Vait, said Dr. Odine. Here. He handed a box to Squall. In zhis box, zhere is a very special bangle. It is the most powerful magic containment device I have ever created. You need to get zhis on Rinoa and bring her back here. I believe two zhings. One - Hynes skin vill not rest until it reunites vith Hyne, so it will search for Hyne, using her body. Two - Zee skin, powers, vill leave Rinoa to become one vith Hyne. She vill be saved when zhis happens.
He looked in the box, at what appeared as a very nondescript gold band. Will she be back to normal with this thing on?
She vill still be herself. I dont know if she remembers zee things done for zee skin, but she remembers her own vants, desires. If she vould refuse to come here vith you, it wont change because of zee bracelet. Yet, ve need to bring her here. Ve will analyze her thoughts see if ve can determine vhere Hyne is, and help her before anything more serious happens here.
A nod. I hate to be keeping this a secret from her, but if shes really changing people, I cant trust her to be aware enough to help stop it. He looked at Ellone. Have I earned my alone time yet?
She smiled and opened her mouth--her expression changed, and she turned to her set of clippings. Hang on. She walked over to him. Here, she said, handing him a pamphlet.
What is this? He turned it over in his hands. Trabia school for the gifted
The people over there didnt feel happy towards Garden after the missile incident. So they opened up a competing school.
Ive heard of it, Squall said.
Well, its attracted a lot of prodigies that arent interested in the ideals of Garden. All mental and artistic studies, instead of anything militaristic. Its a bit remote, and theres very little reason she could have used to get you to visit there. So far, though, the kids seem untouched She trailed off, seeing how pale hed become. What is it?
You can phone Selphie Little reason she could have used phone Selphie to visit there
Ive got to get back to Garden. Now. Squalls voice had a tone of urgency that theyd hardly ever heard before. Theres not a level of power consumption where shed be completely taken over, is there?
Zhat I do not know, Dr. Odine admitted. Better to be careful.
I should go. Im sorry. He looked around the room. Elle, Kiros A pause. Not any different than anyone else. Laguna. As he strode through the door, set to rush back to the airstrip, Dr. Odine called after him.
Dont forget to bring her back to here!
The most important move you can make as a sharpshooter is to detach yourself from your emotions. Think of your primary target as nothing more than one of the bulls-eyes in your practice range. If you have to shoot, aim; dont think.
Squall heard the instructor inside shuffling papers.
Now, for your assignment
The classroom was a chorus of groans.
now, do you want me to double it? No? Okay. I want you to write me two pages on what sorts of problems can arise if you dont detach yourself from your mission. Perfectly synched, the class bell chimed over the Gardens speakers. Thats it for today. I hope to have some interesting reading tomorrow hopefully not as idiotic as last time?
After waiting for the stream of students to finish using the door, Squall entered the classroom. Interesting lesson. They say those who cant, teach, and its kind of ironic here, dont you think?
Most know what happened back in Deling City. Irvine finished sorting through the pile on his desk and looked up. Whats up? I know you dont need to observe me again this term. And what happened to your vacation?
It got cut short. I have something important to ask you.
He blinked. I want answers, but I want them to be the best ones. When I ask you where Selphie is, you say she took Rinoa to visit Edea. Or Timber. Or the beach, anything but
Rinoa wasnt in the apartment when I came back, and I was wondering if you knew where she ended up going.
Oh, Irvine laughed. Of course. Well you can rest easy, my laconic friend, as I know for a fact that she went on a little trip away with my Sefie.
Ill rest easy if you can promise me they didnt set foot in Trabia.
What? His smooth features wrinkled as his brow furrowed. Why, that was exactly where they were meaning to go!
He leaned forward, until his hands rested on the front of the desk for support. shit.
What is it? Are they in danger? Sef just wanted to visit home, and
I will explain, because Im going to need help. That was last bell just now, right?
I want you to find Quistis and Zell. Ill explain this all in my office in an hour, sooner if you all can make it. The longer we wait, Squall said, the worse it may be.
* * *
Squall didnt know why he was so surprised that the three of them had showed up to the meeting. Or believed his testimony regarding Rinoa. Or decided to come along and help him. Even after all this time, the friend concept was still hard to comprehend. But they just believed me even though Rinoa is their friend, too. His contradictory voiced chimed against this thought, though. They want to help her for that very reason.
The Ragnarok touched down just south of the grounds of Trabia Garden. They had about a mile walk east before theyd hit the grounds of Trabia School for the Gifted. While they could have landed closer, they were hoping for an element of surprise and possibly hope beyond hope that the two girls had only spent their time visiting those in the small village beyond the old Garden.
They were all clothed in black and under the influences of haste magic and a very weak float spell. They quickly made the hike and approached the school grounds, a stately looking manor.
So, have the plans changed any? Zell hopped back between each foot, becoming even more manic under his support spells.
We just see if we see either one of them. If we do, we find a way to naturally make ourselves known. Claim that theres an emergency. Bring them out to the rendezvous point, where Squall will be waiting. Quistis looked over at him.
Squall held up Odines box. While youre about, he said, keep your eyes and ears open for news of the students. That none of them are distressed that you can tell
She put a hand on his shoulder. It may be hard to tell. While some of them definitely have powers that are related to the sorceresses, the majority of them are probably just bright, ambitious. More like I was, less like Sis was.
Lets go, Irvine said.
About an hour passed, give or take. Squall couldnt believe the school was so hard to scout out, with or without a high level of stealth. Hed expected a sorry, theyre not here response within a half hour at the least.
He shrugged himself deeper into his old black jacket, trying to ward off the chills that crept up his spine. It wasnt the right time of year for a deep freeze, but Trabia was cold by default. It had to be the mountains.
Suddenly, he saw three figures emerge from the grounds. Rinoa was at the head of the group, with Irvine and Selphie arm-in-arm behind her. She tilted her head to the side, appearing to read his face for something.
It was easy for Squall to stonewall. Hed had lots of practice. Though he nearly showed something when he noticed her eyes had a yellow glow, like a cats.
She blinked, and her eyes appeared normal again. Like donning a mask, her face became the picture of worry. Irvine told me that there was an emergency! Are you okay? With that, she flew to Squalls arms, wrapping her own around his neck.
He swallowed. This is it. He wrapped one arm around her waist, drawing her in even tighter. Everythings going to be okay, he whispered. I promise. Reaching up with his other hand, he clapped Odines band around her upper left arm.
Rinoa looked down with an expression of surprise mingled with horror, watching the armband knit itself together to an impenetrable circle. With her face turned at that angle, Squall could see that more lines of purple and black had woven their way into her hairline and down her neck. Her body began to rock back and forth, lips moving in words that refused to form. Finally, her voice broke through. Knights dont do this, she said in a half-sigh, before she dropped unconscious to the flurry-coated ground.
wha ? Selphie looked up at Irvine, with a hint of suspicion clouding her expression.
Whatever power was in Rinoa decided that it wasnt quite enough, he offered in explanation.
Squall reached out, touching Rinoas face. Ill make everything okay.
Irvine pulled out a PHS. Q, Z, weve got everything taken care of. Lets head out and up. He smiled grimly. They know to meet us at the Ragnarok. Leaning down, he gently lifted Rinoas prostrate form, carrying her body with ease. Come on, Sef.
Selphie flashed him a sympathetic smile, before following behind Irvine. Squall went behind them, completing the line.
Im going to work everything out. I promise.
* * *
Selphie blinked in surprise. They already knew we were coming? Two of Odines assistants had come forward with a stretcher the instant the Ragnarok touched down.
Squalls mouth became a firm line. Where do you think I got the information on what shes done? Where she would next plan to go?
oh. So you didnt even talk to her about this, then?
Considering shed go overemotional and defensive the instant I mentioned anything that might possibly correspond to her sorceress powers? Hardly. Besides, he said softly, I doubt Rin did this on her own. And she hurt Ellone. What am I supposed to say? Was I supposed to wait until after the raided all the special abilities from the kids in that school you visited?
There was silence in the cockpit, until they heard the whoosh of the door opening to the corridor beneath them. Quistis and Zell had gone down to guide the assistants up to where they were needed.
If Rin wasnt in control of herself, none of what I could or should have said would have swayed her. I wouldnt matter. And if Rin would do this on her own I still wouldnt matter. All I can do is try and help her.
Over here, said Quistis as she reentered the cockpit. She loosened the straps that had held Rinoa semi-upright in one of the seats. The two assistants gently lifted her to the stretcher, while Zell held it steady.
They slowly began wheeling Rinoa back towards the door. Quistis followed behind, turning and pausing in the entrance to the cockpit.
Come on, she said. I have a feeling well all want to be in on the plans for fixing whatevers gone horribly wrong.
Squall felt guilty as he walked with the others through Odines lab. Laguna comes here to rescue Ellone from the same man Im simply handing Rinoa to. Its like I cant help but do the exact opposite of what he does.
Velcome, all! The doctor cried cheerfully. Please put zee lady sorceress in zee containment chamber. The two assistants followed his instructions, emerging with the empty stretcher. Now, for now, ve vill seal zee doors. Zhis vay, ve can change zee armband to a lower power, speak vith zee young lady, but have her in a safe place!
Squall shuddered with guilt as he watched the door locked into place with a series of ridiculously complicated passwords.
Thank you for bringing her here. It is zee safest place, for now. Dr. Odine gestured to the door of the lab. Two women emerged, one of them Ellone. I am turning zee switch to wake up Rinoa. Questions vill be asked to double-check my research. Vhile she is vaking, Miss Lorelei is going to explain to us vhat she has studied about Hyne.
The woman smiled and smoothed back her red hair. Youve all heard the legend, I suppose? The most mysterious thing about the story, I thought, was always how Hyne completely disappeared at the end. He or She leaves this skin behind, with only a fraction of his or her power, and is never seen again. Even if Hyne had moved on to some other place in the world, we would see his influence somewhere. The easiest thing to say, then, would be that Hyne didnt exist.
But you think he did, said Quistis.
Yes, and I think the legend of the dragon Ragnarok, which Esthars ship was supposedly based on was in actuality an ancient ship created by Hyne. Or, at the very least, used by Hyne to escape. Also, if Vascaroon broke up the pieces of the skin, that it was to keep it from going back to Hyne, more than because people were fighting over it. You dont have to take my word for it, there will be plenty of time to talk with Esthars historians.
Why would there be plenty of time? Squall pointed to Rinoa. Were not going to be able to contain her forever. Her powers are growing, whether it be from absorption or just something strange. We have to help her as soon as we can.
You misunderstand me, Lorelei said. Im not saying were going to contain her forever, or even a long time. That didnt work with Adel. She called to Rinoa from all the way out by the moon, and her consciousness disrupted radio waves all over the world. But well have to contain her long enough to figure out how to travel to Hyne.
Wait! Zell jumped up, gesturing wildly with his arm. Are you saying that youre going to shoot us off into space, on some wild chase after Hyne, on another planet?
Probably the first time hes made sense in his life. Squall gazed at Rinoa through the observation window. Was it just his imagination, or had she stirred a bit?
Were not sending you anywhere, unless the portion of Hyne in Rinoa can tell her where to go. But weve got the technology, for the most part. Lorelei shot a pointed look towards Ellone.
Wait. What if its millions and millions of miles away? Zell scratched his head. Theres some limit to how fast we could go, aint there?
Yes. Its the speed of light, essentially. But heres something interesting. Weve got an engine that can propel the Ragnarok close to the speed of light. And as you near the speed of light, time starts passing slower and slower. So a place that might take you a hundred years to reach, using the Ragnaroks normal engine velocity, would take you considerably less. But it would still probably require that you be put into some sort of stasis. We already developed that technology when we sealed Adel away, though.
Thats way too easy, said Squall. Theres got to be a catch, and some reason you keep looking at Elle when she isnt much of a scientist. He turned away from the observation window.
Dr. Odine eyed him approvingly. He is not a big fool, like I vould have thought.
Yeah, this sounds a bit fishy, said Irvine. Reminds me of an assignment we were given, to help everyone but ourselves.
Thats not it, said Lorelei. If, and it still is an if, Hyne ends up being somewhere off of the planet, theres two problems. The first is that currently, the only spacecraft we have to upgrade would be the Ragnarok. Wed obviously need your cooperation. The second is a bit more of a problem. It involves the time dilation.
Time will pass slowly when you are at the very high velocity. A journey of years could take days. However, for everyone outside the ship, that is all of us here, the years would pass. If Hyne ended up being relatively close, thats no big. If a year or so passed, you can plan for the absences in advance. But what if you have to travel somewhere thats nearly 100 light years away? Two hundred years would have passed before you made it back home.
Squall smirked knowingly. So its a suicide mission. Youd be dead to everyone, but sentenced to some sort of freaky limbo. To be an out-of-it freak if you did return, or banished to some foreign planet if you didnt. So
Lorelei looked up expectantly.
youre saying those of us who would leave to find Hyne wouldnt come back home, or, at least, to one they knew. He paused, then added, half to himself, Wed have to take Rin then, nothing good can come of returning hundreds of years after shes died
That might be the case, she replied, but it doesnt necessarily have to be. There is an option. We have the plans, and the manpower. We even have a guarantee from a glimpse in our future that this invention will be a success.
His look was a mixture of distrust and disbelief. He was opening his mouth to ask, What the hell could you possibly have plans for?, when Quistis spoke up.
Junction Machine Ellone, isnt it? Thats why Sis is here.
Ellone swallowed. I promised myself that I would never knowingly have a part in this. Ive tried for years, in vain, to get all the information on my powers back from Dr. Odine. I dont even know if I can be of any help anymore in this state She blinked hard. But Ive decided. If you all decide to go some place far away, just to help everyone else on the planet, then I will do all I can to find you a way to get back.
Whats the big deal, anyway? asked Zell. We already know that it falls into dangerous hands, but we also already know that we kicked the ass that those hands belonged to.
Thats right, Ellone. Quistis smiled. For that matter, the very fact that Ultimecia took over Edea, Adel, and Rinoa, as well as completed time compression just shows that the thing had to be created. You said yourself that you couldnt change the past. Isnt that part of the future now actually the past?
Selphie sank down into a chair. You all are hurting my head.
Squall heard a voice, nearly as soundless as a whisper on the wind. Im awake. He immediately turned to the window of the containment chamber, and he saw Rinoa slowly sitting up. Hey, Odine? He nodded towards the observation window.
She is vaking good! The doctor nearly ran over, then opened a panel on the wall. He flipped a few switches, and a projection appeared upon one of the chamber walls. They could all see the starfield in front of them and Rinoas form with the prime view of it. Before ve start, let me varn you I have taken great care that only zee sorceress half is avake. Do not listen to anyzhing except for Hynes location.
Her eyes opened wider, exposing the new golden tint to her irises. She walked, slowly, to the projection on the wall. She lifted her hand to the display, watching as she slowly moved it. The projection, a complex map, moved in response to her own movement.
She turned, her eyes on Squall. What do you want from me?
He looked around. Did anyone else hear that? But their eyes remained transfixed on the body of their friend.
Knight. You are to be my vessel of communication, as others are A pause, as she seemed to try and assess the situation completely. close-minded and foolish.
He took a deep breath. Shes talking to me.
The others turned to him in surprise. Except for Dr. Odine, who was quite nonplussed. I figured she had to pick vone of us! A look of scrutiny. Can you talk back?
Squall made a face; what, was he supposed to just think at her really, really hard?
Yes. I am being suppressed in these walls, and the voices outside are barely more than a murmur.
Okay, he said. We can go back and forth. She says she cant really hear any of you.
Vell be too careful to believe zhat. Dr. Odine shook his head. All right. Tell her zhat ve are sympathetic to her mission. If ve are told vhere she vants to go, vell send her zhere.
How do we know where she wants to go?
Zee map responds to her powers. She finds Hynes location on zee map; ve take zee coordinates and design a flight plan.
Squall took a deep breath. Rin--wait, youre not Rinoa.
You can call me that, if it makes you feel better.
It doesnt matter. We have you here for two reasons. First of all, youve been doing some crazy things in Rinoas body, and we care about her. Next, we know that youre on a mission.
The voice laughed, the sound pounding against the walls of his skull. What could you possibly know of my motives?
We know that youre trying to become whole again. We know that youre a piece of Hyne, and you want to find the rest.
The laughing stopped, and the sorceresss voice changed to a softer tone. Its been a long time. Hyne may not even exist anymore.
He restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Liar. You wouldnt be here, doing any of this, otherwise. You wouldnt have gotten so excited as soon as I mentioned the possibility. If you cooperate
Cooperate? Listen, boy, just because you are a knight, does not mean that you can disrespect someone of my station.
The last time you were able to form a coherent thought, us humans were easily scared by your tricks. Squall sneered and turned away. Now, we can seal you away until the end of time--or we find a way to destroy you. He made a move, to start walking away, when he got the reaction hed been hoping for.
Wait. A moments pause. What do I have to do?
See the map in front of you? We need you to tell us where Hyne is. Next, you have to be willing to lie dormant, under the power of the bangle, while we prepare for and go on this journey. We will help you any way possible once weve landed, on one condition.
The voice was cold, yet desperate. Youve already given plenty. What more do you want?
Just a simple promise to end the manipulation, the violence.
I can give you my word. She walked forward, reaching out towards the map. Galaxies zoomed by quickly as she soared through the image in front of her. Its been a long time since Ive known the mind of Hyne. I cannot promise you what may have been done, or what will be done when weve encountered.
Then they all watched, mesmerized, as she sped through and discarded star systems. Constantly in search of something. Her speed began to slow; she closed her eyes. Without looking, she entered a system with six planets around a yellow star. Hyne is here, Rinoas voice said, as she pointed to the third planet.
Irvine leaned in to speak with Lorelei. So just how far away is that place, darlin? he asked softly.
She was at a panel opposite the chamber, using a program to make calculations from the dimensions on the map. Wow She punched a few more buttons. I think simple distance measurements would seem useless to you. Lets just put it this way. For you to make a round trip as fast as possible, by the time you got back here, about 250 years would have passed.
Ellone hung her head at this. I had hoped
Squall only half heard the conversation going on behind him. He was still staring through the glass, at the woman who had been by his side for over three years. She had pulled the map back so it just appeared as a distant solar system in a starfield. Suddenly, a large meteor hurtled into the system.
Rinoa pointed to the meteor, just like shed pointed to a distant shooting star all those years ago. Then she turned and smiled at him; he saw nothing but the markings on her face and bright yellow eyes.
I think its time to get to work. The sooner we can get over there, the sooner we can help her. He paused. Put her back to sleep, please.
Squall turned his back and walked away.
I know this is hard for you, Quistis said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
whatever? she offered.
He laughed a little. Its going to be hard for all of us. He gazed over at the Ragnarok, looking foreign and imposing on its upright launch-pad. I think Ive asked everyone else this about a thousand times, but are you want to join us? We may not come back.
Weve had a year and a half to drop out of this. Weve all made our arrangements. You seem to forget that about five years ago, we were all risking just like this. This isnt any different.
This is still the extreme solution! He stared at her, bewildered. We could seal Rinoa away. Id rather not, but
She pushed her glasses up and raised an eyebrow. Really, Squall. I thought you were smarter than this. We watched that very plan crumble and fail before our very eyes. It didnt work with Adel, and poor Rinoas got at least triple that energy inside, right now.
It still feels like youre doing this all just for me.
I wish that feeling like that made you happy. She smiled. Friends are good. Anyway, she said, grabbing his arm and starting to pull, if it makes you feel better, look at it this way. When we defeated Ultimecia, we saved the distant future. Now were trying to salvage as much of the immediate future as possible. For all of us.
He allowed himself to be dragged towards mission control.
Heres a hint, Squall. Both you and Rinoa count as part of us. You cant escape.
* * *
Lorelei looked at them. There are six of you who are going as active crew on this mission. Rinoa has already been transferred to the Ragnarok, in her containment chamber. The rest of you will suit up shortly, and strap yourselves in for the launch. The coordinates for the mission have been programmed into the computer. You will all remain awake for stage one of the flight; this is also where all acceleration will take place. Once you have reached top speed, you will all enter your stasis chambers.
If any problems occur, you will be automatically taken out of stasis to deal with them. The probability of these problems is very small. Otherwise, you will come out of stasis once you begin to decelerate. At this time, Rinoa will be awoken, but will remain under the influence of the Odine bangle. She will help you determine where to land the Ragnarok, in order to intercept Hyne. This is phase one of the mission.
Squall cocked his head. Phase one? That means that there are other phases I dont know if I like this.
She continued. I have included among your supplies, some very small pieces of equipment. They are basically a modification of Odines suppression technology, as potent as we believe it is possible to make. They are about a 15th order of magnitude above the level we currently use to contain Rinoa. As soon as Hyne and the sorceress spirit within Rinoa combine, you should use the suppression field.
I included an extra stasis chamber. This is for Rinoas return journey. Place Hynes form into the containment chamber and bring him back. You are making the journey out with a booster that functions solely to get you back off of that other planet again. Its why were using a specialized launch here; the weight for two boosters worth of fuel is prohibitive. Lorelei nodded to Ellone. Ive instructed Ellone on the proper buffer of time. Once you reach the outer limits of our system, you will come back out of stasis again. Ellone will use the Junction Machine, and about two months will have passed for us. Ive determined that this is about how much you will age on this journey, between waking time and stasis. We are hoping to develop an ultimate solution to the sorceress issue while you are away.
Everyone was nodding to themselves, each other, trying to psych themselves up. Squall felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Something here is going to go wrong. Im not sure yet, but this is planned out a bit too well.
What if we dont come back? he heard his voice ask, the question emerging without permission from his brain.
Lorelei turned back from speaking with Ellone. We all understand that this is possible. You may not succeed in every way. But weve tried as hard as we could to make it very likely. Dont worry about us. I know that you all even attempting this helps us staying behind more than we could have hoped. You are still saving us. Her eyes glittered, but her expression was hopeful beyond belief.
He could not bring himself to shatter it any. So he kept the rest of his doubts internalized. Staring out the window at the ship that was to be his home for the next what would seem like 250 years to the outside world, he simply kept his dark thoughts to himself.
What if she breaks free? The containment isnt enough? She gets us all alone in the dark depths of space, takes over, and then comes back for you all? Delighting in the irony of watching me die in the very doom I braved to save the body she inhabits, long ago?
* * *
T minus 30 minutes to lift off. The voice on the loudspeaker carried on the wind, past the small Estharian crowd that had gathered at the launch site. The actual reasons for the space flight had not been publicized. However, Laguna (or rather, Kiros acting on Lagunas political behalf) had used the event to demonstrate that he wanted to return Esthar to its former technological glory.
The banners waved in the breeze beyond the presidential box. Second Wave: Beyond the Space Station. To the Stars, Esthar!
The crew of six walked out, in spacesuits, to cheers from those waiting to see lift off. Zell gave them a half smile and a thumbs-up, while Selphie paused and waved. Irvine, Quistis, and Ellone were all business, proceeding in the straightest route possible to the Ragnarok. This route still took them past the presidential box, and they all shook hands with Laguna before climbing up to board.
Squall had been trailing behind the lot of them, trying to quell his rising doubts. He was never one to follow intuition. He sometimes even doubted things he saw, because of the easily misled nature of human perception. He should have known he should have seen all of this
The tent in the Shumi village was warm and inviting. The furs and skins laid on their bed kept them warm through the night, and they snuggled up close to the fires with them during the day. Rinoa would cook dinner, and Squall, lunch. Their days consisted of sleeping in, exploring the area around them, playing with Moombas, and the requisite amount of sex for teenagers newly free and in love.
Those used to customs of an earlier era would call a pleasure trip such as this a honeymoon.
Squall took a deep breath of the mountain air. He had taken a small walk while Rinoa cut up some vegetables and got a stew going for that evening. It had been three weeks since the Garden celebration ball. The world was saved, his girlfriend had not been shot into space, was not in a coma, got naked for him all the time, and he had been given strict instructions by his boss that he would have the next few months off. And then, if he so desired, could go back to Garden and take over completely again.
So this is that happy thing I kept missing out on. He sat on a large stone and leaned back, smiling to himself.
La-gu-na! A moomba came running up the path. It scurried its way over to Squall and tugged on his pants leg. La-gu-na!
What is it? He leaned down a little, so his face was more on the creatures level.
Hyne! Its paw motioned furiously towards the tent. La-gu-na! Hyne!
Is something wrong with Rin? Is she okay?
The moomba just kept gesturing at the tent.
All right, all right. He got up, dusting off the seat of his pants. Ill hurry back down.
He found Rinoa sitting on a fur by the fire, her hand wrapped with a piece of white linen.
She nodded. It was silly. The knife slipped. The fire made it seem like a yellow glow was flickering in her eyes. Then one of those cute moombas came in and helped me bandage it. I think a little blood must have gotten on its paws, cause I saw it lean down and start to groom itself. Then, suddenly, it squeaked Laguna! and ran out.
Right to me! He seemed a little bit confused, though. Squall sat down next to her.
Hmm? She looked up at him, curious.
Oh, it said something else besides Laguna. But it wasnt your name, or anyone we know. He concentrated. The name sounded so familiar. He knew hed heard it before; he just couldnt remember.
What was it?
At the time, her question had sounded like innocent curiosity. But, in retrospect, it seemed like a calculated response. Suspicion and a bit of fear, candy-coated.
Even then, had she been taken over? Was she already hiding things, because she was no longer herself?
Squall! Mr. Commander! Laguna was waving in his direction.
With a sigh, he headed over to the box. I should really board now.
We just want to say good luck, Kiros said. Ward, who was beside him, nodded.
I said my goodbye to Elle earlier. Laguna stood up, unshed tears in his eyes. I know the two of you have to do this, but
Itll be okay, Squall interrupted.
no. You are not going to avoid this, not again. His voice became firm. I should be able to say goodbye to you as my son. You may want to deny me, but no longer. Jumping around the table, he put an arm around Squall and shook his hand.
A photographer jumped out from the crowd, approaching them.
Laguna nodded assent. Take a picture of me and the commander, my son. Hes about to board.
Your son, sir? The man was astonished, but began to take a multitude of pictures. This is going to make the front page.
He turned to sit back down. Youre an adult now; you were one, just about, when I met you. Im sorry for the past, but if both of us get to have a future, we are going to share parts of it. Deal with it. And good luck.
Squall did not move for a moment; he was torn between disgust and admiration. He completely ignored what I wanted, but it takes balls to bridge emotional gaps. He nodded. Ill look on the bright side, he said, walking towards the ship. I might not come back.
You better damn well come back, Laguna called after him, Elles with you, and I actually like her!
At the door to the Ragnarok, he turned and bowed to the crowd, which went wild with cheers. Just before he was completely inside, the door sealed behind him, he gave his father a precious gift--a genuine smile.
* * *
Ah, Diablos, I feel like I pulled a SeeD training all nighter. Irvine sat up, rubbing the back of his neck.
Squall blinked away the disorientation surrounding him. Anyone awake enough to check if were on route?
Quistis sprang up out of the stasis chamber and punched a few keys on the panel in front of them. Weve reached the outer limits of their solar system, and well start deceleration in about a half hour. She walked over to Rinoa. The containment appears to have held. We shouldnt need to wake her up until were in the orbit of the planet.
Just five more minutes, Irvy, Selphie mumbled from the other side of the room.
Youve technically been asleep for years and years, babe, he replied.
Zell hopped unsteadily to his feet. Man, I am hungry. Im gonna grab me some rations from next door.
Irvine and a very groggy Selphie followed behind him.
Squall turned back to Quistis when he heard her voice talking softly.
Sis, are you doing okay?
Yeah this just feels really weird. Let me have a minute to myself, okay?
Tell me if you start feeling worse, okay? Im gonna grab a bite to eat. Quistis walked out of the room herself, pausing to give Squall a friendly shoulder pat on her way out.
Squall? Ellones voice sounded very small.
Mustering up some energy, he swung himself onto his feet and walked over to her. Yeah, Elle?
She looked up at him, eyes wide. Your friends arent afraid of anything, are they?
Im still not sure myself. Im torn between them either not having figured out that were millions of miles away from home right now, and everyone we know is dead or that after time compression, where if we forgot about each other for half a second, wed go POOF out of existence this is nothing.
She mustered up a small smile. Im regretting my decision to help you all no matter what, but I have to say, at least what were doing now cant make me go poof. She slowly sat up and started to climb out of her chamber.
Squall grabbed her hand, helping her all the way up and out.
Come on, she said, The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go back, I can use the machine, and we can go back home.
* * *
Selphie pushed a few buttons, and the steering column sank down away from her. She slid her chair back, relaxing for a bit. Were in orbit. Ive done all I know how to do!
Now for the hard part, Quistis said, as she got up from her chair. Lets figure out where were supposed to go.
Squall went with her back to the stasis room. He watched Quistis punch the buttons that would wake Rinoa up, then bring up a full topographical map of the planet below them. He looked down into the chamber, watching Rinoas body stir.
One side of her face had become a net of purple and black, similar to Edea and Ultimecias markings, yet larger. Her eyelids fluttered, then opened.
He was astonished to hear the sorceresss voice almost immediately.
It feels like just yesterday that we were doing this, but I can see from the room, and your face, that its time to complete our deal.
He swallowed and nodded. We need you to tell use where to go.
Fifteen degrees north She paused, obviously considering. Forty degrees west, relative to the face that is facing their sun right now.
Squall relayed this information to Quistis, and she rushed out to give Selphie landing directions. As he turned to follow her, the voice interrupted him again.
The bangle is still on me. Youll be down upon them in less than ten minutes. If you want to see me out of this woman and into Hyne, youd do well to release me now.
He realized that they had, indeed, forgotten to decide what to do with their possessed friend after landing on the planet. Completely forgotten that her reunion with Hyne would require her to actually be near Hyne.
The release button on her chamber glowed a bright cherry red as it flashed on and off.
Forgive me, Rin, if Ive simply fallen prey to manipulation.
She gave him the kindness of not emerging until he was on his way down the corridor to the cockpit.
The descent through the atmosphere was smoother than the last time; however, Selphie had always been and would always be a better pilot than Squall. They heard the snow crunch underneath their landing gear. They also saw the astonished face of the crowd of people theyd landed in front of.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded.
Someones opened the cargo exit! Quistis cried.
Squall heard Irvine gasp Rinoa, even as he ran down the hall. He heard the footsteps of his friends following him; up ahead he saw the dark hair and form of the one he loved so much. He tucked his head, willing himself to run faster.
What have I done?
He had almost reached her, as she made her way down the ramp into the snow. His arm flew out, fingertips brushing the ends of her hair, as she burst completely free.
Rinoas feet brushed the frozen ground, and she slid to her knees. Squall barely stopped, managing not to run completely over her. He saw her eyes widen, and her mouth open in surprise and fear. His eyes followed her gaze and landed on a woman with the stereotypical visual characteristics of every sorceress hed ever seen.
Her power crackled through the air, and he realized that the fear of those in front of him did not have anything to do with the alien invasion, but everything to do with that woman. That cold, alien woman.
The silence was broken with one word. The voice was not that of a foreign, magical sorceress, but that of the woman he loved.
Squall found it difficult to drink in the scene before him. A woman with almond shaped eyes, black hair to her shoulders, bent over the form of an unconscious blond man. A man with olive skin and a shaved head holding a revolver, standing guard over them. Just behind him was a creature that could only be described as an overgrown moomba with a flaming tail.
Immediately before the horrifying sorceress was a man with long black hair and an enormous metallic claw, holding his other hand to his throat. The snow around him was stained with his blood. A glance in the other direction showed him a middle aged blond man chomping on a small burning stick, a dark haired man with a goatee, and an enormous dark-skinned man with what appeared to be a rocket launcher and machine gun combination grafted into one of his arms.
What the hell kind of place is this?
The groups glances of horror darted back between Rinoa and the other sorceress. Behind him, he heard his friends finally join him.
Dont worry, Quistis whispered. Sis stayed inside.
The alien sorceress took a few steps towards Rinoa, smiling at Squalls threatening motions with his gunblade, like one would to encourage a small child pretending to be grown up. This is a surprise. Her look towards Rinoa was appraising. You do not look like the Ancient. Tifa was so sure that she was my missing half, and yet
Rinoa began to laugh. All of this, and you dont even remember? You scorned us, you used us, you still use us, and in the end, youre too senile to even understand your mistake.
The other sneered, raising up an arm, casting what appeared to be a Flare spell directly at Rinoa. The spell, however, was directed completely into the Odine bangle, and it disappeared. You tricked us, and you fled. She smiled. And I see that you could not control the people here, either. You tried so hard, and they nearly destroyed you.
I have destroyed many of them, and will destroy the rest, once we have joined! The womans form was behaving strangely, as if it consisted of two layers. One was the form of the brunette woman; the other, a blueish purple form underneath. Its glimpses appeared slimy and nearly reptilian.
Rinoa rose to her feet, brushing the snow from her legs. Not until you remember who and what you are. I want you to know who is subduing you.
Is that the sorceress talking or Rinoa? Quistis asked softly.
Squall swallowed. I wish I knew.
The woman pursed her lips. You have no right to demand, but I will be gracious. It is Jenova who will destroy this world, who will destroy your body, who will destroy all worlds, including yours.
You steal the tongues of ancient races you supposedly subdued; I can
read within your skin that Jenn Ovah is simple calamity from
the skies. You flee mortals from one planet, to drop in the midst of
them on another, and after thousands of years, you face the brink of
Who are you to judge me? How The sorceresss voice began to falter.
There was a legend on our planet about a man who wrestled with god in the dark. That was just a legend; yet there was another legend. About a person who had power beyond belief but would not help the people she lived among. Finally, because of their pleading, she left behind a piece of herself to sate them. She ran like a coward, leaving them with her skin.
Her skin was falseness and deception; the people divided it up, and it was subdued for a long time. But each piece sought after its whole, and the treachery returned. So while you were bullying children on another world, as a faceless--skinless--coward, I began to wrestle with an idol in the dark. Rinoa smiled. Ive been locked up by this disgusting skin of yours and even though my body has been in stasis, Ive been fighting you for over a hundred years.
Squalls eyes widened in horror, and he turned to the others, who looked worse off than he did. And I thought about locking her away forever. Trapping her alone with that thing He felt like he was going to be sick.
Im done, Rinoa whispered. Her voice turned to a growl. And I won. In one fluid motion, she ripped off the Odine bangle. The powdery snow at her feet began to spin around her, a whirlwind of energy was propelling her forward.
No! The other sorceress--Hyne--yelled.
I am your greatest fear now. She raised her arms in front of her, and they could see her energy in the air, warping their vision like heat rising off of black pavement. Come out, you coward.
She began to break in two, the hazy visions that they all had seen coming to fruition. The woman with waist-length dark hair and fair skin, on her hands in knees before them and the glistening blue alien being pulled forth, yanked and stretched like a piece of rubber.
A new voice screamed, coming from the woman before them. No! Oh no papa Cloud She began to shudder and thrash, looking frantically about her. The dark-haired man who had been sitting in his own blood reached forward, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Squall caught a glimpse of her face, distorted by insanity as it was: pale, creamy skin, and deep brown eyes.
Rinoa kicked the being in front of her. Jenova, Hyne, sucker of lives, parasite on the soul of the universe. She bend down over its half-formed ear. Id love to prevent your little reunion from ever occurring, but Im sick of having your rancid castoffs inside of me. She reached up, sliding her fingers along the side of her face, and began to tear
Behind him, Selphie moaned and fell over in a faint, caught by Irvine just in time.
He fell to his knees, finding that he was heaving, despite himself. He tried to avert his eyes, but he saw the flesh-colored layer drop down on top of the quivering monster. Oh god, oh god, Rin
But he heard her voice rising above the din. Quistis now!
He looked up to see her face, her beautiful unmarred face. Smiling in triumph. Smiling like she had the first night at his induction ball, smiling like when she learned SeeD had been dispatched to the Forest Owls, smiling like that first night, as his lips trailed their way downwards from her collarbone
His mind forgot his reverie as he, and everyone around him, was enveloped in an explosion of bright, yellow light.
* * *
Two of the men, sterner and less squeamish than the others, carried the body of Hyne up into the Ragnarok. The containment chamber was to be set as high level as possible. Their names were Rude and Vincent.
The woman that Hyne had possessed was still babbling up a storm. The dark-skinned man, Barret, was trying his best to calm her down. The other woman reluctantly left her position near the unconscious man and walked up to the former sorceress. She touched her hand to a band on her arm, and she began to glow with the light tint of green. A wave of energy passed out of her, and the other woman began to sleep.
She turned to walk back to where she was, when Squall stopped her. Do you know whats wrong with him? The other guy seemed all bloody, but he was fine.
I dont know, she whispered. She had him for t-two m-months A tear rolled down her cheek. She had him up in the mako, and if hes breathing now, its just barely.
He had no idea with up in the mako meant, but he definitely knew what not breathing meant. Quickly clearing his mind, he linked himself back to the power of Quezacotl hed pulled plenty of energy away from other things to transfer Full-Life energy back to this man. Blue waves of light passed over the blond mans body, and his chest began to rise and sink noticeably.
She cried in delight, hugging herself to her friends chest. My materia didnt do a thing I was so afraid. What materia did you just use?
Squall shrugged. Whats a materia? I junctioned myself up with one of my Guardian Forces and His voice trailed off. She looked just as confused as he felt. Okay, then. No brainer. Different worlds, different magics. I think mine worked because I came from the same world as
Im glad you did come, she said. I was afraid we were going to have to kill Tifa. Not that I didnt kind of want to, at this point.
I wanted to seal Rinoa out in space, he confided. And Im in love with her.
None of us got off easy, did we? Cloud wasnt the possessed one, but the one she was obsessed with. The man, Cloud apparently, began to stir. Oh! I better look after him! Thank you Her voiced trailed off.
She gave him a small smile. Im Yuffie. Nice to meetcha.
Squall! Ellone called him from the ramp of the Ragnarok. We have a problem.
Nodding to Yuffie, he made his way back over to the spaceship. Dont tell me were stuck here forever, Elle. Please.
She blinked. I dont know if this is better or worse. Its Hyne. The containment field is steadily rising to remain on par with her power. At the current rate, it will definitely break through the field on the way back to our world. Its also slow enough to where wed have to wait years ourselves just to see if itll even off at a level underneath our limit. We cant bring Hyne back with us.
I hope you dont think Im eavesdropping. The man with the claw and dark hair--Vincent--walked up to them. Your world is very far away, I take it?
Im not going to ask you how you got here, or how youre getting back. Our technology is definitely behind yours. But we do have something to offer you. Let me introduce you to Reeve, Red, and Cid.
* * *
Everyone had gathered inside the Ragnarok, as it was quite cold and blustery outside. On the bridge, Squall, Quistis, and Ellone, were having a meeting of the minds with Vincent, Reeve, Red XIII, and Cid.
Squall was astonished at the levels of wisdom and intelligence demonstrated by the creature they called Red XIII. This being had very little in common with a Moomba aside from fur color.
We were extracting all of the Jenova cells from the people whod been given treatments by this corporation. Wed done this for nearly everyone on the Planet. We know now that Tifa, under Jenovas power, slew and took the Jenova cells from everyone who hadnt. Except Cloud and Vincent, who were used as pawns and bargaining chips, until just now, when she took their cells.
I was last. That was the cause of those pools of blood. Vincent offered.
So we come to the plan of what we intended to do with those cells, Reeve explained. Cid was a famous pilot, and several of us went up into space with him to try and destroy a meteor. It didnt quite work, but thats another story. Anyway, I hired some people and contracted them to help him build a new shuttle. We should be able to wire your containment chamber into it and finish off the blast Jenova into space plan.
She would eventually wake up, Ellone said.
It would be years and years from now, you said so yourself. Plus, we can shoot the thing off in the opposite direction of where you came from. You wont ever see Jenova, Hyne, whatever, again. Its the Ultimate End.
Quistis was nodding. Its better than leaving her here, and a thousand times better than taking her with us.
Squall was deep in thought. Ultimate End Ultimatend Ulti m ecia. He opened his mouth, about to burst out his theory, when he remembered something that Zell had said.
Whats the big deal, anyway? We already know that it falls into dangerous hands, but we also already know that we kicked the ass that those hands belonged to.
Thats right. The worst thing that could come out of this is whatevers already happened. He chuckled to himself.
Whats funny about this, Squall? Quistis raised an eyebrow.
Junction Machine Ellone. Shooting off the Ultimate form of Hyne into space we just caused the last sorceress war.
Liberi Fatali. And I used to think that Edea was crazy, she said. Creating entire schools to fight the sorceress. Training children to be cold-blooded killers. Knowing they would fight her.
Shes in the time loop, just like we are. He glanced up, noticing that his friends from the new planet looked completely bewildered. It would take too long to explain; all Im gonna say is that when our chunk of Hyne tried to wreck our world, it was by trying to break time.
* * *
Launch day was the next morning. Everything had gone according to plan. The body, inside the containment chamber, was laid within the main cockpit of the shuttle. Attached to main power. As long as the shuttle had power, it would be keeping up the containment field.
According to Reeves quick calculations, once the shuttle was propelled in the right direction, there would be enough energy to keep the containment field up for at least a hundred years. I cant control how long it will take for her to break it, but I can guarantee that she will be too far away to reach any of you guys while youre still alive.
But, sir, I still dont understand why were shooting this off when the Jenova chamber was emptied.
I told you Shera, you ignorant slut! That ugly-ass blue thing in the shuttle is Jenova. And we are getting that thing the hell away from us! Cid emerged from the shuttle after his assistant-slash-housekeeper, cursing up a storm, all while smoking a cigarette.
Squall sat on the lawn, Rinoa tucked under his arm. He reached up, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. I still cant believe this is real, he whispered. I dont think itll be real til were waking up in Esthar.
Its too real.
Are you sure youre you? He brought his lips down to hers.
She nodded. Im me but Im not the same. Its okay, though. I couldnt be happier than I am now, sitting here with you.
How is she?
Squall looked over and saw Yuffie wheeling a fragile looking Cloud around in a clunky looking wheelchair.
Horrible, of course. If I put her to sleep any more, the materiall split. Sometimes she acts like its fifteen years ago, sometimes she remembers what she did in Corel, sometimes
Good, Cloud said.
You dont mean that!
I do He looked down. I know she tried to ruin both of our lives, but after Jenova, and Sephiroth it was a million times worse having her in my head. Even if it was Jenova in the end--I trusted her! Shes done nothing but horrible things since we were children
This last bit wasnt her, Cloud. Just like when you beat Aeris at the Temple of the Ancients, that wasnt you.
I still dont want to be around her.
Part of me wonders what exactly she did to them, but the other part of me is content with just knowing what she almost did to us. He held Rinoa tighter.
Suddenly there was a burst of flame and light, and the Neo26 burst forth from the launch-pad, taking the Calamity from the Skies away from this world forever.
Im so glad I already killed you.
All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition
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