Demon's Awakening Chapter 2

Begin the Game, Kill the Flame

By Athana Soulfire

A thin, violet trail of fabric wafted from the ceiling of a vast, dim room. Slowly, the silken wisp of deep color gracefully descended to the floor below. Turning and gliding- a gleam of purple would shine off it's surface and vanish just as quickly with the effortless fall. Spinning, spinning, spinning. Lighter then a feather as the air around it became a playground for the soft piece of drifting fabric.

Edea blinked once, slowly, and did not even feel the gentle silk settle over her arm. There it rested, the time it hand spent fluttering above her head proving to have been an exhausting task in itself. The little piece of violet lay there, crumpled and still. She blinked again. Parted her lips.

"Cid... How is Rinoa?"

The former headmaster of Balamb Garden drifted his gaze to meet her own. Edea's violet hued pupils stared back at him warmly- genuine concern etched in her voice. He was standing in the chamber of what once had been home to the Gardenmaster NORG. Now, it was an elaborate room of flowing silks that made the large and cold area seem to shrink in size. It's design seemed of a palace- though in truth all that filled the space was those long curtains of purples and grays. Shifting in a ghostly wind no one would ever locate, they hung from the ceilings as tapestry's of incredible length. Just hung and swayed- a beautiful and disturbing darkness which was Edea's atmosphere of choice.

"That's why I'm here." He said softly, moving up towards her. In the center of all this dark decoration was a black chair of obsidian. It had been wooden before- oak in fact... and yet slowly he'd watched, day by day, as the varnished piece became stone.

"Is anything wrong?" She asked. Eyelids fluttered briefly over features that were exotic and otherworldly in their own way. She was no longer marred by grotesque veins along her face, or the black outfit and headdress which had rendered her so unmistakably evil to every eye which would fall upon her gliding form. Thank god that was over and done with- thank god she was safe and home again.

"You know about what happened to Seifer and the others? About Rinoa's unease?" He stooped his short walk in front of her, and took one pale hand in his own. Safe and home again... that she was. But she would never be the same after all that had happened. So fragile and far away- he reached but couldn't seem to connect with the wife he had nearly lost.

"I've heard..." She said listlessly. "And I've felt Rinoa's own fear. Something is wrong, my husband. Something is left unfinished."

Cid knelt quietly beside her. Watched her haunted face regard him tenderly. Something left unfinished... why did her words seem to be riddles? Why did she always spend her every hour in this dark chamber? he wanted to scoop her into his arms then- take her up to the bridge and let her presence reign among the living. Even if for only a little while. Had the bloody sorceress condemned her to this state?

"Don't worry about me..." she said softly, after a few moments had passed. "Your thoughts stray to Ultimicia. Of a sorceress. That time is over now- but where one era ends a new will always begin." Her violet eyes swirled as he nodded slowly.

"Perhaps you'd like to go up?" He nodded at the elevator- far on the otherside of the room. "You sit here, deep in your own troubles Edea- but it might help if you could see Squall, Zell, Quistis- all of the others for a bit. Why only voice your fears to me?"

she smiled- ever so slightly. "They aren't fears, darling. They are unseen premonitions."

And Cid only watched her, feeling a chill rip up his spine as she turned her pale face to gaze at another trail of falling cloth. Spinning, spinning, spinning- questions blurred in his mind and then fell away.

What, in gods name, was an unseen premonition?

And why, if it seemed dangerous, did she just sit there and smile again?

Cid delicately leaned his forehead to her hand, thinking, wondering, assuming that things would turn out all right. He wanted them to. Squall was a capable young leader- his friends were dedicated followers to a cause of destiny that none of them had yet guessed or attempted to guess. To hell with all fate- to unseen premonitions. It... it just had to be alright.... but then- what was the *it* in any case?

"They leave..." Edea spoke, calm, smooth voice echoing in the chamber.

Cid turned his face up to her, surprised. "What? Who, Edea?"

Her perfect face tilted to him, eyes closed- reopened with the grace of a swan. "Squall, Zell and Quistis. They- and a woman I do not know. Xu is missing. And so- they search..."

He blinked, mouth slightly opened, stringy brown hair falling just into his eyes. " How did-"

"Rinoa is frightened for her love, Cid." Edea quietly sighed. "She trembles."

Cid knew the bond between two sorceresses was strong, and so her knowledge of the recent search party ceased to amaze him. In part, anyway. Gathering himself, the former headmaster of Balamb garden ruffled his attire and stood- looking towards the elevator.

"Go, love. Comfort the child. She feels Squall is in Danger upon the open night. She feels they all are."

Cid snapped his head around, gazed at her hard. "And should she feel as such?"

Edea quietly regarded him, and moved very slightly on her chair. In doing so, gray cloth snugly fell into new positions over her body- the loose fabric of her clothing trailed slightly to the floor.

" I sit here, Cid. I try to sort it- and I'll always try to find the answers."

Her statement made no sense to the headmaster- but instead of staying a few moments more, he kissed her cheek and then left- very aware of Edea's stare and royal purple eyes stalking his every movement.


"Man, this is like, spooky- ya know?"

"RAGE!" Fujin bellowed in her usual manner. Her one good eye darted at the bronze colored man who walked steadily ahead of herself and Seifer. Faint, wispy trails of moonlight drifted over their forms as the branches above them swayed listlessly in the wind. Her single eye caught red in the light, and then merged to black as the darkness round the three travelers seemed to steadily press inwards.

"Quit you whining." Seifer snapped irritably at Raijin, who's gaze was shifting from side to side, as if nervous. Fujin glanced at the tall figure aside her, watching emerald green eyes narrow and the travel over the dense forest which surrounded them. His jaw would firm and tense- and then his head turned and watched the brush beside their path.

Something troubled him. It was easily seen to a trained eye such as her own. Seifer didn't show unease as if it were a regular emotion. Raijin, on the other hand...

"No, guys- like really! This place is freakin' me out, ya know?"

"IDIOT! FOREST- ALONE. QUIET!" She swung her hand down in a violent manner.

"But Fuj-!"

"She's right, *Ya KNOW?*" Seifer mocked. Ahead of them, Raijin threw his head back and glared- but any sort of annoyance on his puppy-like features would never last long. The large wooden beads over his chest bounced heavily as the large man tripped on a fallen bramble, and the resounding laughter behind him helped to break the odd tension which lay like a vapor over the forest. Fujin, a twitch of amusement pulling at her lips, allowed herself the relief of a small smile as Raijin re-balanced himself and waved his hands around dramatically.

"You guy's are like, MEAN! Ya-"

KNOW!?" Seifer and Fujin finished off in a cackle. Raijin shrunk away from them with an absent twitch of his broad arms. The armor plate over his right shoulder gleamed white with the action, and then settled into the normal gray and black of nighttime shadows. Fujin watched his back move with each step from some distance behind, and again glanced to Seifer, a smirk lighting his features. She smiled again.

Despite the heavy night, the windy forest, and the typical unease of a place as lonely as this- she found an odd safety creeping over her body. Even with all the three of them had gone through- they were still here, and they were still together. The normality of Raijin's banter, Seifer's loose teasing- it made her feel at home.

And she had never had a home. Though others might, Fujin could never see it as odd that she found it here, with the only two friends she'd ever really had

"-and then it's all up to the wind, Avia"

The odd pleasantness that had fallen around her vanished at an instant. Snapped like one of the twigs under Raijin's heavy boot. Out of nowhere, like the many other times that same fragment of a sentence had shot into her head, an overwhelming desire to know the beginning of the phrase tore wickedly at her stomach.

And, like all the other times, she found herself having forgotten the segment nearly as quickly as she remembered it. Her mind, reaching for the words she had lost, were met with Raijin's fast paced voice. She must have drowned him out in her own thoughts...

"and so she was like, saying about how this was a really nice place an' all- ya know? So I was thinking- like with fishing? We all go down after figuring out what the hells happened and-"

Fujin unconsciously tuned him away from her thoughts yet again as if her mind came equipped with some volume dial. Instead, she became intent on a fact that was... rather unusual in these circumstances. Her red gaze traveled to the white clad figure beside her- still walking straight and quietly towards a destination none of them had yet guessed. Seifer hadn't silenced Raijin's profusion of words for a good three minutes now- far longer then the "alright- I've had enough!" point in which he simply couldn't listen to anymore senseless chit-chat. She studied him quietly, keeping pace, and again noticed that look over his features. Wary- Watchful. Fujin winced slightly as a beam of moonlight struck her eyes from a hole in the canopy above them, and then parted her lips to finally question his unease.

His named, just formed on the tip of her tongue, faded away as Seifer turned his head sharply and locked his gaze with hers. between them, moving like some ungodly apparition, a bending of the night vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Fujin tried to comprehend her own thoughts. She could See Seifer trying to sort the confusion in his own.

A bending ... of the night...

... what?

Raijin screamed. The sound seemed at such a distance through their shock, that both Fujin and Seifer were rendered immobile until their gazes met again. Seifer was first to react, instantly drawing his Gunblade as if the wind were his sheath. The deadly metallic sheen of his weapon danced with intention as he raced forwards- eyes searching the darkness ahead of them for struggle. Fujin was directly at his heels in another instant, teal and white circle of her shuriken swinging in her right hand till a defensive grip was established over the weapon. Both of them stopped where their friend had last stood- and together they also swung around- daring the night to bring forth an enemy.

"Seifer... where-?" Fujin began. Her voice trailed off as a horrible silence griped the forest. Even the wind blew no longer.

E everything was dead still in a manner of seconds.

Fujin watched Seifer extend an arm to a frond of vegetation near him, and when he held it close enough- they could see crimson streaked over his black gloved hand. The glint of his eyes flickered different shades of green as they shot to regard her- and Fujin found her mouth agape- nonbeleiving.

"RAIJIN!" She called- voice loud and etched with worry. Her voice gathered to shout again.

And then an impact swept by her head. She saw nothing- and she heard nothing... but it was there. The noiseless force violently flung her backwards as if she were no more then a child's doll- and in the second that passed between her flight and her assailant- Fujin was engulfed by sheer, raw pain.

Chest, arm, flank, shoulder, head, back, legs, neck...

She stumbled slightly, still on her feet, gazing listless down at a body that, seconds before, had been hers. Surely this ripped and bloody human mass was not her own? One, thin hand came up to her mouth, wiped a slur of blood from her jaw- and she stared, confused, when her hand came back covered in red. Fujin blinked, swayed- and only just registered the cold ground rushing up to meet her fall.

Not even Seifer could have reacted in the three seconds it had taken to mutilate her. He rushed forwards and reached- grabbed her arm- pulled Fujin away from the lightning fast bending of night that zipped in and out of his vision. She limply fell back into him and felt ground underneath her frame- decent far more gentle then her previous situation would have yielded. Her eyes snapped open- and she could see then- Seifer placing her upon the damp forest floor with shock in his eyes- suppressing the effect of it to whirl around as their attacker dived among currents of air. He stood in front of her, nearly over Fujin's crumpled form, and waited with gunblade held high.

Nothing struck.

Through the haze that had run over her crimson eye, and the buzzing that swarmed in her ears, Fujin could faintly make out his slow, even breaths. Seifer was unmoving and tense- ready to face whatever the night was hiding.

A dark entity...

Where was Raijin?

It..and... from the right... Seifer- MOVE!

But she couldn't speak, and she could not warn him when the night come alive appeared yet again. Ripples of blackness snaked through he air- and swiped. Seifer moved with an agility and skill that would have easily brought any other foe to it's knees- and yet at the mercy of something that seemed to dodge existence itself- he was helpless.

Chest, arm, flank, shoulder, head, back, legs, neck... Lightning could not have moved faster. Each wound was inflicted so quickly that the spray of blood which flew from them seemed only one shower of red. The crimson streams splattered across her face mercilessly, and Fujin stared in pure horror as Seifer fell to one knee, struggling to stand again. His weapon braced a shaky return to height as he staggered forwards- and the night slashed deep into human flesh. Seifer cried out, lifted a hand in defense- and then swung around completely. The air split with the sound of his weapon and it's decent into the apparent nothingness. It swung up- fell again, slashed forwards. Quick, forceful blows that did not even faze the entity around him.

Fujin saw him fall again.

Her right arm was struggling frantically to lift her weapon- but the limb hardly moved at all. A numbness had crept along her flesh and beat it of life- leaving her helpless. Still struggling against her fading conscious, Fuijn found her eyes suddenly drawn ahead of her. Seifer was looking through her body- behind her form, and Fujin sharply closed her eye.

The speed of something large and deadly broke the air behind her. The entity was coming back to finish things... and then it would kill again. Her red gaze opened to the world around her, now spotted and fading fast as blood whirled in her head. She clenched her teeth- waiting for the inevitable blow, and found her attention drawn to her downed friend.

He gave her an odd look, and then the dazed, pain filled expression fell slack as a realization seemed to dash across it.

Seifer bolted from the ground- boots digging at the forest floor as he thrust himself forwards with a momentum his body could not have powered on its own. Fujin limply watched his movement, seconds rather long in this terrible scenario, and found the strength to cry out in surprise when he grasped her shoulders and spun fiercely in place.

A horribly sickening sound washed over their hearing. Fujin couldn't do so much as tense when a sharp, lethal point jabbed into the flesh of her back. She waited- stunned, confused, numbed by pain- and wondered to herself in a detached manner why the spear like thing did not continue to push it's way through her flesh. Her head, slipping down at her shoulder, noticed the white clothed arms around her body and froze. It took the last of her energy to crane her pale neck and the blood caked upon it- swerve her vision until two green eyes met her own. She now knew what had occurred, pain and hate and shock forcing tears into her sight. Seifer swallowed back blood, blinked it from his eyes, looked down at the blackish air that had run his body through the stomach. Fujin watched his gaze lift again, noticeably dim- and then the thing withdrew from him with a burst of speed.

Her mind screamed a Curaga as they both collapsed.


Fujin burst upwards, her right hand out as if to strike. Immediately pain seared up her back from a deep gash as the flesh was split open mercilessly. She grit her teeth, gave a low growl of a sound- and took a deep breath. In her mind, she realized the tip of a Curaga spell was at the ready. Drawn from her mental reserves from an act of her nightmare- it rested at her temples and waited to be used. Forcing her trembles to subside, Fujin gently pressed her last cure spell back from where it had been drawn and tried to focus on the room around her. Her gaze was immediately drawn to the bed beside her- empty.


Fujin got up, carefully testing her own strength and trying to flex her muscles as best as they would allow. She ignored their painful protests, looked around in confusion. Where would he have gone? Not for the creature- not without her... And she doubted the doctor had just let him walk out of the infirmary...

She pressed her right palm to an area of her shoulder that had begun to bleed again, and then searched the room frantically for her Shuriken. If he was gone- she shouldn't be here. Something was going on.

The silver haired woman spun in place with her arms raised as a howling wind ripped into the room from the window. It's pane shook furiously, jarring forwards and backwards as it tried to keep the violent night air out of this simple garden room. Fujin found herself holding her breath- watching the pitch black of night outside. She realized almost numbly that she was waiting to be attacked.

Be the hunter, not the hunted. Find your weapon and find Seifer.

Even with the firm command her mind provided, it was a few moment before she began to move. And- despite her unease- her movement was towards the window.

She parted the flapping curtains with both hands, and noted where the flow of air was coming from. a crack in the wooden sill where someone had opened it. The doctor had closed it beforehand- she remembered. Right after she'd drifted off into that damned dream.

Well- he'd probably left right through here. Opened the window and jumped out. Onto the next question...


She again began looking for her weapon. Fujin knew she'd had it after being injured- but it wasn't with her when she'd awoken in the infirmary. They'd never have just kept it near, she supposed. But then locked it somewhere perhaps?

her single red eye gleamed as it caught site of a drawer near the shaking window. It was just to the side of her bunk- long and metallic just as the walls were. She walked to it and crouched down. Her hand felt over the lock and pulled away momentarily. A smirk cracked her thin, emotionless lips.

As if any man made lock could keep *her* out...


At the front gate of Balamb garden, lights flickered momentarily from their embedded positions in the cool colored walls. Footsteps echoed and bounced over them as a three figures made there way over the rain slick ground. There had been a break in the downpours, luckily, but Xu had not yet returned. Just away from the two, back where the open archway led into gardens main hall, a young woman ran towards the center figure of those walking outward.

"I'm going with you!"

Squall turned, watching silently as Rinoa's blue clad form moved nearer to him. A determination was seeping over her body with every step- he could literally feel it gathering as she readied herself for a confrontation. Her loose hair swung in time with her boots- back and forth while her eyes stared dead ahead. He nodded once to Zell and Quistis, motioning them to wait a moment, and turned around with his mouth open.

"Rinoa-" he began.

"I'm going with you." She stated again, stiffening. Her stride had ended directly in front of him. Squall firmed the grip over his gunblade and felt his nose give a little twitch- wondering how to approach this situation. The cold in his eyes was just as determined to fight her fire down and out.

"You need to stay in garden." He said, almost to hastily. "We'll be back shortly. But in the meantime-"

"in the meantime?" Rinoa's eyes narrowed, and she fought to keep the pleading look from her hazel pupils. "What good am I here? you promised you'd stay Squall- I told you about what I was feeling- ... either you don't go or I go with you! Can't you arrange another party? Anything?"

"No one else is available right now, Rinoa.Not with the Garden in such a state of disarray" he said in a smooth manner."I'm sorry that I have to break my promise to you- but Xu is missing, and she could need help." He reached out gently with one hand and placed it over her right cheek. "I'm asking you to understand..."

"Damnit Squall...!" The anger over her eyes flashed- but then she took his hand from her cheek and held it tightly. Squall sighed very quietly as she lifted her eyes to meet his own.

"I'll never break another promise to you again Rinoa." He said with as deep a sincerity as he could manage. He'd known her fears, and the last thing he'd ever wished was to give her any more reason to be afraid. "Please- This is for a friend. One who could be hurt. I Promise you that I will return."

Rinoa gazed through his steely blue eyes, watching the ice in them melt for half a second- just enough to let his love for her show through. With a slight quiver and exhale of breath, she gathered her faith and nodded slowly. Her arms traveled around his back, and she buried her face in the black leather of his clothing.

"You promised..."

"I did.."

She gazed up at him and then lifted a thin, slender hand to brush away a lock of brown from his eyes. Rinoa then swallowed tightly and pursed her lips. "Alright then, Leonheart. But you break it on me, and I'll kill you myself..."

he smiled at her, thin lips drawing up into a characteristic he rarely ever used. It felt odd on his face, and yet did not leave until a voice shook his eyes from her perfect features.

"YO! Squall? ya's ready!?" Zell bounded up to them, grinning ear to ear with the prospect of getting some action. His vest jumped with him- traditional clothing suit for a fighter languidly moving with his frame. Behind him, Squall could see Quistis Trepe standing away from the three. She nodded her head once to Squall, acknowledging that they were ready to leave, and then turned her face away.

"Best of luck Zell. I hope you find Xu alright!" Rinoa said, though the comment was more directed to a worried Quistis. The former instructor glanced behind her, smiled weakly, and then turned away again with a gloved hand pointing towards the forests beyond.

"Let's get going, shall we? I had Nida park us a garden vehicle up front."

Squall nodded and then squeezed Rinoa's hand once. Afterwards, he turned away with Zell at his heels and began towards Quistis. The blonde haired woman was already a good deal ahead of them, one hand motioning a long garden car to a stop- right up where the front foyer ended and the blackness of night prevailed.

"It seems we even have... a driver?"

Quistis smiled very slightly when one of the sleek, black car doors opened. Jumping out was a beautiful girl- her hair in pigtails and a face almost bright enough to pull away the cover of night around them. She was, in a way, like another version of Selphie. Minus the hair, of course...

"Hey, Instructor!" She said cheerily, and nodded once to commander Squall as he came beside them. Afterwards, both noticed her eyes settling on Zell- and the blush that crept into her slender cheeks. Quistis and Squall exchanged a knowing glance.

"Zell? I didn't know you were coming!"

Zell, grinning widely at Squall's side, scratched the back of his head in an absent manner." Squall picked me personally!" he grinned again. "Your from the library, right?"

Her face fell just slightly, as if ashamed to be among SeeDs. "Yeah, My name is Lyra. Never really gave you my name before..." She self-consciously skimmed two hands down her uniform- a simple attire that library staff wore. "So... you ready to go?"

"I wasn't aware we were brining anyone else along. We really don't need a driver..."

Quistis glared at Squall, remembering that Rinoa couldn't warm of *every* aspect of his personality. He caught it, twitched his mouth, and looked to a crestfallen Lyra.

"Well, that's okay. I was really just instructed by Nida to-"

"NAW! Come-on Squall! Let her go, huh?!" it was Zell, smiling brashly at his friend and commander. "We're only going to find Xu for christsake!"

A chilling wind lashed out over the four, and Squall's eyes momentarily averted themselves to where Rinoa had been standing. The space was empty now, and if he squinted- he could catch her back moving away from them- Already far inside the front hall of garden's entrance. He winced when Quistis gave him a small blow to the midsection and cocked her head at the two other teenagers.



Squall blinked. "Whatever..."

Lyra's eyes flashed brightly, and her full pink lips pulled into an ecstatic smile. She turned, looked at Zell, giggled very slightly, and then jumped into the front seat of the Garden car she'd emerged from. The girl waved a thin hand at them and closed the door as the three SeeD members entered themselves.

"Going to Balamb first?" Lyra began happily as Zell sat beside her in the front. Squall and Quistis both sat in the back- quiet and absorbed in their own thoughts. Zell twitched his head to where Squall was sitting for conformation- and the brown haired youth nodded at him briskly before settling his eyes elsewhere.

"Sure are- Let's MOVE out!"

The instructor and Commander who sat listlessly behind them gave equal shouts of surprise as Lyra floored the car and zipped down the muddy trail towards Balamb's ravaged shores.


"This is madness! With time drawing so near? How can you sit there and debate about something which needs no power of mind!? We are DEMONLINGS! We are fast- cunning! A human being is a creature of stupidity and hatred. I say... I say we just run into that damned Garden and take the sorceress right n-!"

Silence swept through the chamber of pure, glistening onyx. The gathered listlessly watched their leader bring his claws slowly out of the throat of the male who had spoken. His eyes, glistening the moist color of blood and molten of silver, regarded the corpse icily when it feel limp to the floor.

Here, among a plain of existence that was far beyond reality, and yet more real then the solid stone under their taloned feet, was a room that was a world. This is where they would meet from the corridors of a cave system that seemed the very definition of endless- and just as foreboding. A race forever doomed to eternal night, living for generations upon and further upon generations- all hating. All angry. All wishing for the planet they had lost so very long ago.

Rugath seemed to be slowly going over these truths within a mind sharper then the tips of his lethal claws. Each thin digit flickered in the air as he displaced the blood over his talons- and then surveyed the reaction of his kill with eyes that were forever watching. His thin lips drew back- but not in a true snarl, and he slowly ran a serpent like tongue over his sword-sharp fangs.

He knew they were all awaiting him to speak.Silent during this entire meeting- surely their leader would begin now. How incredible each pair of eyes looked- so many different colors, swaying in their own mythical light within the vast, dark chamber of black. All that alighted this area was one shimmering pool of blue and silver. a small field of water that constantly rippled in the middle of this room- constantly glowed in it's own strange way. Rugath, standing just above it on a solitary outcropping of onyx, cast his reflection into the clear, endless depths.

"He had said- we are demonlings..." Rugath began, voice giving the impression that he were playing with each word. His crimson hair bristled like the flames of a bonfire as he took a step forwards.

"True... true that is." He continued as one foot savagely kicked the dead body at his feet into the pool. "But I find myself becoming more and more sickened every day- as I realize what overconfidence seems to be brewing within our ranks. Demonling- or human..." his eyes shot out to the hundreds around him. "We live, do we not? Different names for different species- but we both live."

He stopped, slowly crouching to the ground over the pool. A hand elegantly traveled to it's surface and broke the water as he listlessly teased the waves as if it were prey. Red eyes raised again to regard the crowd. Although impossible, it fairly seemed he were staring directly into every single figure that was present in the chamber.

"Yes, we have an advantage over the human beings. We are far more swift. We are far more powerful. And yet- Ultimicia was of human origin, was she not? Sorceress or no- she was of pink flesh..." he paused. "So tell me, for I seem to have forgotten, who was it that had entombed our queen into a sleep which would be eternal? That, in doing so, sentenced our ancestors to a life devoid of life? Where we are forever doomed to this place?" His arms opened and swung around, blackish skin flashing like metal.

"I can understand your hatred of the human race- something which I too, share. With Ultimicia now dead (and we all witnessed it through the waters, comrades..) We can finally use the Pool of Transport yet again- and resurface in the time streams as creatures that will not again be easily forgotten." His hand ran through the water before him yet again. "It allows us to see events in the past and present.It allows us to escape from this prison and stand in the true time. You know this- as I and my sister Isami have been there..."

He watched the eyes- all the hundreds of eyes around him glisten in wonder. Each pair questioned the point of his speaking, for this was something they all did know. A very thin smirk ran over Rugath's dangerous features.

"Our.... dead friend, and I'm sure many of you, are beginning to question how or how not futile our struggle to awaken The queen Vedima has been. And here- this day, I assure you we are closer to our dreams then ever before imagined.Her powers are great, my friends. Her powers are beyond godly. And with her rise, as we all know, shall come the golden age of our existence once again. Our most celebrated scientists now have uncovered a way to Awaken Vedima from her ancient slumber- and it is as simple as the collecting of two... frail human beings- who have been in contact with Ultimicia in such a way that the essence of her powers can be extracted from their palpable bodies. We can use this same essence to unlock Vedima from her slumber. And then, comrades..." His smirk turned purely evil.

"The revenge we have so longed for will finally be attained over all of mankind.

A sweeping sound that rumbled like thunder echoed in the room. Approval. Cheering, cries of praise and joy- laden with the relief of desperation. Rugath let it sound over the vast black chamber- but his breath was not yet gone from the subject.

"And that is why, my friends...." He continued. A quiet was attained so quickly at the softness of his voice that indeed, his speech had fully won their attention. "That is why it is so crucial that nothing go amiss with our plans. The brash mannerisms of the demonling I had slain are exactly what shall hold us back and destroy our goals. Why can't we just *run* into this.. Balamb garden where we have located the humans we need to collect? It seems that some of you have forgotten we are creatures of nature. The artificial walls and technology of human beings are perhaps their most evil development. In it's presence, our powers are greatly reduced. The male I had killed would have run to his death- for in the light of such cold metal, and absence of natural essence- we would no longer have the ability to phase, move quickly- or maybe even walk, for all I damned know. This is a game of chess- not a... oh, what do the humans call it.... football?"

This aroused a spur of laughter from the demonlings gathered, and the walls rung with their deep and high voices alike.

"Our greatest complication lies only in collecting the blonde youth and sorceress who offer us the key to Awakening Vedima. Our pool allows travel from only one species. Ourselves. The humans would be crushed and churned apart by the gravity within it's magical depths that we so easily withstand. This to- is a minor problem. The same mild poison all female demonling's carry within their claws (The, ah, undead Groth, I believe they are called.) Slides easily into the human bloodstream. With it's presence, we can transport them here, and-"

"What about the moon cycle?"

A female voice disrupted his words, and Rugath listened to her question intently, smiling with a flash of fangs. "Ah, yes... I know to what you refer. The cycle of the moon also plays a part in their transport. During the full moon it is safest to carry these two people into our dimension. I believe we all understand this already. This is, however, why time stands of the essence. My sister Isami Has inserted the Groth into one of our *Two connected* already..."

"But hasn't she lost track of it's scent in him? I heard you could not find the human..."

The annoyance Rugath began to feel subsided itself quickly enough. The demonlings did not know every detail of he and his sister's trip to the soft-fleshed realm of humanoid beings- and he needed to be patient with them. Above all- keep their confidence high. He turned in the general direction of the question and spoke again.

""Yes. I would not lie to you. But again, it is of no matter. He is held within the walls of this... *garden*, just as the other is. Despite our obvious lack of ability in the presence of unnatural things such as this structure- I still ask you to worry not. He has been marked for passage, as the woman soon shall be, and they WILL be taken- at whatever the cost.

A hint of venom seeped into his voice for emphasis, and another question arose from his right.

"But why the waiting- why not go for them now?"

"as I had explained-" he was suddenly interrupted by a brief tap on the shoulder. Rugath swung around, questioning glance falling over his sister Isami. She bowed her head and gestured behind them.

"I have news, please brother- stop to hear this..."

He nodded once to her, and Isami began down of the slight incline to await him at the bottom of the outcropping with two other demonlings. A shame to have to wrap things up so quickly, but this would need to be drawn to a close shortly either way. His people understood enough to be relied upon.

And resistance, if there would actually be any, was nothing that couldn't be crushed.


"Then... Rinoa is not with them?"

"no- she is not..." Isami said nervously, shifting her place around Rugath's body as they walked silently away from the gathering area. Around them, light streamed across the walls in thin bands from various candles and assorted magically lit fire lamps. Respectively, other demonlings backed away from the two and gave them room to speak privately.

"We had expected they would be together should Squall Exit the Garden. Two scouts had been keeping fair tabs over them both as close as circumstance would allow- but it seems she did not accompany him as we had previously anticipated."

Rugath listened to her intently, though not seemingly fazed by this news as they approached the downward slope of a tunnel ahead, which would lead deeper into their colony. There he stopped, and shook his head. Isami still had a twitchy air about her. They needed Rinoa- what should they do? her eyes frantically searched his- trying to see his answer before he spoke it.

"Don't fret so." He said finally. "We can still make her come to us. Squall is alone, is he not?"

"He is traveling with three others to find that woman we killed. The lure worked well enough, but-"

"By the falls, woman!" he growled at her irritably. "Do you think our entire plans of the awakening relied on whether or not Rinoa decided to accompany her lover to find a slaughtered friend? What sort of fool do you take me for?!"

Isami shrunk back slightly, and hung her head. "I am only afraid, brother. We have come so far..."

Rugath regretted his outburst then, watching the look that had spread over his sister's gray skinned face and reddish eyes. She was not to most smart of their brood, and very panicky at times. Isami could be annoying, unmanageable, and very troublesome... but she was still his sister. His nose twitched, and he nuzzled her slightly above the shoulder with a graceful movement of his head and neck.

"The instant Rinoa hears her darling commander has run into trouble, she shall come, my sister. And believe me, there will be plenty this night."

Isami returned his gesture and then nodded her head in understanding. "We... shall kill him?"

"No, not as of yet. Never eliminate a player from the game until it has fully expired in it's use. I will assign you three other demonlings, Isami. Go- find Squall and his team. Raise a little hell, and then make sure that Rinoa knows they are in peril. She'll run to him like the good little brat we want her to be. I guarantee you that."


"Brake... BRAKE!" Quistis shouted through clenched teeth.

Lyra and Zell gave a whoop and shout as the Garden vehicle bounced down the home stretch of the grassy, wet plain. In the distance Balamb shore stretched as a line of black- and behind it was a chain of ocean waters that swelled as mountains would against a night sky. Somewhere within the scene was a small seaside town that neither the rather car sick Squall and Quistis could make out- but Lyra found it's shape easily. It was her hometown after all- just as it were Zells- and they could identify it's inanimate shadow from the moving monstrosities of nature that swirled around in the violent winds.

"We're almost there." Lyra announced passively, and switched the high beams on the garden car a notch higher to cut through the blackness around them. A few tree's suddenly popped into view around their location- on and off the road that lead from Balamb Garden to Balamb Town. Quistis felt a slight wind of relief in her lungs when she realized that Lyra would have to stop the car so they could move a fallen tree that the car was approaching- smack dead in the middle of the road like a corpse.

Much to her surprise... or maybe even not, knowing Lyra- their driver sped up and flanked over the grass to their right and at the left of the uprooted vegetation in their path. She felt Squall bump against her shoulder harshly as the car jolted and shook over the ground. He apologized- and she felt her own hands reaching for the seat belt near either side of her waist just as Squall began buckling himself into a safer position.

"This is HELLA cool!" Zell began enthusiastically. His depressed mood had lifted somewhere back when Squall chose him to accompany he and Quistis in their search for Xu. "You drive damned well, you know that? Stupid thing woulda' taken us forever to move!"

"We'll still need to get it off the road on our way back..." Squall commented blandly. "In case anyone else needs to get through."

Quistis smiled very slightly. "I'm afraid most driver's aren't as... feverently devoted as you are, Lyra."

Lyra flashed a smile at her in a swirl of pigtails, and continued on with a conversation concerning triad cards she'd struck up with Zell. Her hands absently swept over the Wheel, turning and maneuvering out of the way of brambles and other fallen obstacles.

"I collect all the rare one's! Especially Level 9 cards and as many SeeDs as I can find! I have Nida's card even, you know? And Xu's!" She grinned happily. "Selphie's and yours too Quistis! Languna still has your card Squall, but the last time he visited Garden I beat him for a couple a' good cards- and he said the next time he visited he'd give me a chance at that one using two different sets of rules. Galbadian and Deling based I think. You know I can't find Edea's anywhere? I Got Siefer's card from Cid awhile back- guess it's worth a lot more now- I mean.. Considering he's like an enemy and stuff? And you know their coming out with a special Edition card for ULTIMICIA!? I couldn't believe it when I heard! that's crazy!

She went on like that, and Zell thumbed through her collection in the meantime when she gave him her pack to look through- asking her about certain methods and holding up his own card with a shout of surprise.

"Hey man, even mine too!?

"Yep! Your mom is a really good player- but I managed it!"

"She's met you even?!"

"heheh- I was dropping off a book you'd ordered!"

They erupted into even more talk, Quistis commenting slyly how she noticed Zell's card was the only one laminated out of the bunch, which Lyra furiously began to blush at when she picked up on the insinuation. It went right over Zell's head, and he smiled- telling her about how he looked forwards to a match sometime. Lyra looked relieved in any case.

Squall watched the three out of the corner of his eyes, wincing every now and then when a pale beam of light from outside might strike his eyes as they rolled along the landscape. He watched Quistis slowly replace a strand of blonde behind one ear, normally cold features melting into one of amusement as she watched the two younger of their party. Her eyes then darted ahead of them, and finally settled on Squall.

"We've arrived." She said softly. Squall knew it, as he felt the car begin to slow down and shift into a lower gear. Zell was quiet now, leaning forwards in his seat. The only thing that kept Lyra from doing the same was the steering wheel in front of her.

"Damn, man...!"

"Ditto." Lyra echoed as the car pulled to a stop.

Swaying dangerously from side to side directly in front of them was the entrance sign to Balamb's seaside town. The carved wood of blue and white was splintered harshly- the pole it was mounted on bent over like a hunched old man. The Garage right aside them was closed and boarded up- a wreck due do the violent winds which had only just begun to subside in the recent hour. And as they all stared forwards, down the cobble road which lead into and through the town itself, similar damage was evident.

"I hope everyone is safely at the train station.." Quistis murmured, though her voice actually sounded relieved. "Xu must still be here- I don't see how she could have gotten her car past this wreck- and she certainly wouldn't have walked." Her slender hand jabbed at the fallen sign.

Squall nodded once and exited the car as everyone began to open the doors and step out. Under his feet, crushed stone jarred forwards and nearly made him trip as they began forwards. Quistis irritably pinned her flailing hair with a hand- looking around herself and then outwards towards the docks. The steady roar of a violent ocean was very distinct even over the thunder that tended to boom overhead in loud and oppressive overtones.

"Lovely.." Quistis murmured to herself.


Their first stop was actually on Zell's accord. He lead a dash towards his house- just up the torn cobble road and at a slight indentation to the long line of buildings that traveled across it. Considering the location of his home- the damage shouldn't have been *to* bad.

He really just hoped his Ma' hadn't been stubborn enough not to pack up a few things and get over to the train station.


Quistis and Squall managed to catch up with Zell and Lyra just as the young blonde managed his first knock on the door. The wind had picked up quite a bit yet again- and brief, violent spurts of rain would drench them one moment, and be gone the next.

"Mrs Dincht?" Lyra called over the wind, and knocked a couple of times before stopping to listen for movement behind the door. "Mrs. Dincht?"

Zell threw a gloved hand at the wooden blockade once more time. "HEY ma! it's me! Zell!" After a few more moments of silence he gave a relieved sigh and turned back to Squall and Quistis. "She ain't answerin'- which is good, cause that means she went up to the train sta-"


Okay- so he was wrong.

"What are you doing out in this weather!?"

He spun around and watched as Lyra jumped a little at the sudden voice. "Mom!?"

"Well yes! Who would it be?" The older woman who had appeared before them gave an amused smile. She was dressed as always- not even fazed by the violent weather around her, and absently smoothed her apron with one hand before ushering the group inside.

"You think just because your SeeDs the weather can't harm you fools!? Oh Quistis- your hair is such a mess! Zell, don't track mud- oh, Hello Lyra! It's a pleasure to see you again! Commander-?"

Squall walked into the room last, head bent against the wind as Zell's foster mother pulled the door shut behind them with a snap and thump.

To the complete surprise of the group, Xu's sister, Red- and her daughter Alla were both temporarily situated in the living room of Ma' Dincht. Shivering, the four entered the dwelling and found Alla's bouncing form running to met them. Quistis instantly sloshed across the damp floor and embraced her- to which Alla gave an innocent giggle and called to her mother. Sure enough, The former instructor watched Red emerge from the living area of Zell's house- just in front of the entry room with it's branch to both the kitchen and Zell's quarters.

"Quisty's here! Quisty's here!" Alla called excitedly.

The Moment Red caught the eye of her friend, they saw confusion at first, then relief. Her brown hair swirled around a drawn oval face as she hurried up to Quistis with an obvious question at the tip of her tongue.

"Did you-?"

"No... We kept an eye out while driving here, but Xu was no where to be seen. Are you absolutely *positive* that she was going to leave Balamb?"

Red nodded.

Mrs. Dincht took Alla from Quistis's arms and preoccupied her with a batch of freshly baked cookies she'd just taken from the oven. Red must have filled her in on Xu's absence, as She took to making sure the little girl was not to greatly upset by the circumstances. As the group settled in, Zell forced his best smile for his worried mother and took two cookies himself- handing one to Lyra with thanks- and even trying to get Squall to loosen up just a little when everyone had made themselves comfortable. The tall sullen boy took no notice though, listening intently from his position by the door to Red's conversation with Quistis.

The two had taken to sitting on a pair of the plain wooden chairs that adorned the living area. Red was trying desperately not to let her increasing worry spill over features that were normally collected and calm, but slowly the effort was beginning to fail.

"Red, She couldn't have just left- the entrance to the town is blocked up with wreckage, and I KNOW Xu is smart enough not to have tried walking back to the garden."

"Maybe she wasn't able to get back to you." Mrs Dincht broke in. "Maybe she's taking up a temporary stay with someone else- like you are with us? The dock Red and Alla live near was completely swallowed up- I had them come here for safty's sake- as that trainstation is all but bursting right now..."

"So then what? She wouldn't have stayed anywhere else with my house right by! and even if she did, she'd have at least TOLD me something. Oh Quistis- the storm is so violent... suppose she was walking over the docks and a wave just... just.."

"Hey hey HEY!!" Lyra blurted out, moving uneasily from side to side next to Quistis. "We'll find her! Didn't she drive a car up here? Where was it parked anyway...?"

"I..." Red began, watching Lyra sit back down and take an troubled bite out of the cookie Zell had given her. "I did notice some vehicles outside, but I don't know if any of them belonged to Xu. With the way the ocean is swallowing everything up- I doubt if any of them are still even in the parking areas. I watched Tree's get dragged off by that surf... uprooted right from the ground!"

Zell punched the ground with one fist, eyes sweeping over the group with a spurt of frustration." Damn man! Where the hell could she be!?"

A silence suddenly swept the grouping as quistis seemed struck with a terrible thought. A gloved hand went to her mouth, eyes widening, and she spun in place where Squall's gaze met her own from his position away from them all. Alla, now sitting next to her mother on the carpeted floor, gave a soft whimper.

"Squall... you don't think that- whatever attacked Sei..." And she bit the words back, more for Alla's sake then the onslaught of fright that had just come ripping at her stomach. She was strong when faced with an enemy. Everyone knew that. But when the image of so many unsettling wounds over Seifer's body suddenly became grotesque infliction's over one of her best friends...

It was one of those things that she never wanted to have to face. Not on the people she cared most for.

Squall's eyes, for all the emotion they lacked, wordlessly proclaimed that notion as unacceptable. He firmly readjusted the strap to his sling-belts, and then turned abruptly from the group while motioning Zell with him. Lyra watched uncertainly as Zell nodded once and then jumped from his place along the thin sofa on which they sat. They were leaving, obviously- and Quistis didn't like the fact that she wasn't coming along.

"Hold it, commander-"

"Stay here, Quistis. With Lyra and Red. We won't be gone long. I and Zell are going to look over the docks. Get in touch with garden if you can and report that we still have a missing friend out here..." Squall pulled open the door, a shower of rain turning his semidry hair into saturated bands of deep brown.

"You watch yourself, Zell!" ma' Dincht warned as her boy trotted up to Squall and uneasily peered past him. He flashed her a smile, eyes glinting, and gave Lyra a thumbs up.

"No prob!"


"Hey Squall..." Zell said, trying to get his friends attention. The black clad form in front of him had begun down the twisted path to balamb's docks as soon as the door to Zell's house had been firmly shut. Squall absently tossed a glare behind his shoulder and continued onwards as Zell caught up- blonde hair messed with the rain and clothing just as slurred.

"Squall!" he said again- softer this time, as he was near enough to be heard. "About what Quistis said... you don't think that maybe-"

"No." Squall answered, boots steadily crushing downed foliage as they rounded the bend that would lead to the docks. The blue and white walls of Balamb's hotel reached like a giant to the sky as they flanked it's east wall. The sound of ocean waves, very close now, vibrated in his head like thunder.

"Squall- man, it just seems like..."

"I doubt she was attacked by whatever took down Seifer and his... posse." Squall stated, moving even quicker. "Having not even left the town? I don't see how it could have happened. Someone would have heard, or seen. I think whatever that beast is, it is nearer to the Garden then this shore."

'Good one, Squall.' The commander thought to himself. 'That's not going to make him feel any better.'

In truth, as much as he found it unlikely, the thought clawed at his mind as a persistent rat would with the bones of a corpse. Hell, but suppose Quistis as right? Suppose there were other victims as well? She'd said that Fujin told her the entire reason Seifer was *in* the Balamb area had been that they were tracking the hideous deaths of many assorted people. All fell slain to the same slices and gashes that had so easily churned up the albino's own flesh. Very suddenly, he found Rinoa's frightened words echoing in his head.

~Please... just please don't go outside tonight...~


Zell's unfinished sentence needed no words, as words could not describe what each saw as the looming form of Balamb's hotel no longer etched over their sight.

Giant masses of water. Endless waves of pulsing ocean that beat like the lifeblood of the sea itself onto a small, drowning shore. The street on which they walked continued downwards- until it was abruptly chopped off by the unmerciful waves. Each surge of water bit into the cobble street and tore- content every time to drag away vast pieces in an attempt to sate it's hunger.

"Great Hyne..." Squall whispered when his eyes managed to settle elsewhere. That other point of focus was the tip of a lightning rod- one which struck up from the pounding waters and jarred back and forth with each wave that crashed against it. There was no dock any longer. There were no houses. There was no port where the SeeD warship that had taken him on his field examination once stood. The ocean had greedily eaten up all of this side of Balamb- and as he looked, in part fascination and part horror, he could easily see where the waves were slowly milking away the foundation of the Balamb Hotel at their left.

"Oh hell..." Zell said from aside him, mouth partially opened and eyes wide despite the pounding rain. "Oh friggin' HELL! Squall- the hotel goes and it's gonna drag out half the resident homes this side of my town!"

Squall turned to his friend, watching as Zell fixed him with a gaze determined to do something- even if he did not know what.Both fists were balled and ready for action- he nearly looked next to screaming with the need to improve this situation- and damned fast. Squall knew, just as surely as the waves had destroyed southern Balamb, that not even the Train station was going to be a safe haven from this storm before long- and no telling when it would weaken.

"Let's get back to the others. I'm going to order an evacuation immediately." He hardly even realized he was running back up the street as he said this, Zell close at his side. "I'll get Balamb garden on the line- Nida's going to have to get it up and flying within ten minutes. We don't have much time."

"Squall- the town.."

He stopped his running to look back at Zell's face, struggling to realize that it was more then likely Balamb would no longer exist after this tempest had run it's course. Spikes of blonde forked in his eyes as he blinked away rain- and Squall didn't need to answer. Zell understood there was truly nothing to be done, and that his home, ultimately, might be destroyed.

That was when, both of them beginning up again, that they caught site of a ragged heap hanging limply from an upper window of the Balamb hotel. A Metal shutter supported the messed clump of black- and it thumped violently against the window and outside wall as the wind beat into it's form. Squall, eyes narrowed, hand instinctively at the hilt of Lionheart- approached the rain slick wall of the hotel. He looked up and squinted into the night sky- hoping against hope that it wasn't a hand which so limply flapped back and forth in each separate gust. Hoping against hope that it wasn't-

Another spurt of deadly wind- and it was not only rain which drenched his face. As Squall put a hand to his cheek and drew it back for Zell to see, the thicker liquid shone red in the light from distant thunder. The two men exchanged glances- Squall fighting every instinct that forbade him to look upwards again.

When he did, another violent wind hurled itself towards them.

And the body of a young woman came crashing down with it's howling voice.


~He sees her, does he?~

~How could he not!? The woman fell nearly atop them!~


~You are ready?~

~I am always ready.~

~Then let us take to our positions.~



The slightly shorter SeeD candidate burst back through the door of his home, breathing heavily. Quistis moved to question him- yet then grasped his stricken expression with her eyes and was still. Zell looked to Alla, and then to his mother with a mouth slightly parted as if he didn't know what to say. Ma' Dincht picked up enough of a clue, however, to scoop up the small girl with Red's consent and carry her off to another part of the house.

"Zell? Zell- What's wrong!?" Lyra began- moving to his side along with Red and Quistis. "What happened?!"

Zell brushed a tangle of blonde from his eyes and shook his head sadly. "Oh man, Quistis- Red..." he looked away from them and backed up a few steps to the door. There he stopped, and moved to hold it open as Squall entered the room from outside. In his arms was a bloody, torn form. The silence after his entrance was agony.

"Oh... oh no..." Red moaned. She stood behind Quistis as Squall stopped- just inside the doorway- and looking for all the world as if he'd rather be dying then holding a dead friend in his arms. He and Quistis locked gazes- the instructor's face somewhere between disbelief and anger. She wouldn't have time to mourn the dead of a close friend, as she knew Red was about to need all the support she could give.

"It's the same..." Squall said softly, uncovering a piece of Xu's arm from her blood slick clothing. Under it was a terrible gash- straight to the bone and looking to continue far up the shoulder and neck of it's victim. "Quistis- you were right."

Zell edged away from the body to help a shaking Red fall slowly to the floor in tears. Squall could see Quistis trying to control her tightly molded features from anguish- but even she could not hold it for to long. The dead weight in his arms was slowly carried to a far bench in Zell's living room- and then placed upon it with care. Afterwards, he accepted the thin jacket which Lyra wore and placed it over Xu's bloody chest and face. The wide lines of gore that had ripped open her body would not be a memory he could soon forget.

Lyra, a loose white top having been revealed with the absence of her jacket, wrung her hands together slightly and looked from person to person. She hadn't known Xu- and she wished she could help somehow. unfortunately, all she saw was another problem running their way.

Alla had escaped from Mrs. Dincht's company, and was emerging from the hall by the door.

"Alla, don't-!" Quistis began in a choked voice, having followed Lyra's gaze. The warning, however, came to late, and Red turned on her knees by Xu's side, looking to her daughter helplessly while trying to wipe thin- clear tears from her eyes.

"Mom?" The little girl questioned softly, unable to understand what everyone was so upset about. Ma' Dincht came running in after her, and then stopped herself when she saw the body. Both hands came up to cover her mouth in surprise. Her eyes darted to Alla in dismay.

Alla, little oval face drawn in confusion- red curly hair falling over her thin shoulders loosely, did the same thing her mother would have done for her if she was sad. That was to run and hug her, of course. But three steps into her stride, despite how fast Zell and Squall had moved to catch her, and she skidded to a halt with a look of pure horror splashed over her innocent features.

Then, she just began to scream.


Nida picked up the telephone harshly, free hand dancing over the control panel in front of him as he did so, trying frantically to get sections A through C of the garden back online. "Frickin' storm" he muttered through clenched teeth- and struck the panel once in frustration. Half the power to Garden just went *poof* under three heavy strikes of lightning. For all the damned love of-"


The tall man, black hair combed neatly back and SeeD uniform as stark as ever, felt his nonstop manipulation of the controls at hand finally come to a pause. He recognized the voice as belonging to Squall Leonheart- but something in it's tone was weary and agonized. He didn't say anything a moment, just standing there with the phone to his ear.

"Nida?" The voice was slightly stronger that time.

"Commander?" He answered into the phone. "This is Nida, what's wrong?"

A disturbing pause bit into the connection, and then: "Xu's dead."

He blinked hard, eyes splintered between a power gauge on the front left of the silver control panel at his helm and a multitude of pulsing trouble lights. Nida gripped the phone more tightly as he took a step forwards- mechanical like movement with his other arm still keeping the Garden on track.

He'd heard what Squall had said. He... he thought he'd heard correctly...

"Nida?" Squall said again.



"Nida, I'm sorry..."

"She's not dead! How could she be dead!?" His movements over the key panel became more and more frantic. Blinking- blinking lights...

"Nida... Nida- I'll explain when we meet again. But for now, we have an emergency on our hands, alright?" Squall's voice had forced out it's sadness and replaced itself with a solid firmth that he tried to coax into the shaking Nida.

"She can't be dead!"

"Nida... Balamb is going to be underwater within the hour. We have to carry out an evacuation. I need Garden Here, and I need Garden here now. Can you do this for me?"

More silence. Nida, his hands flying over the panel- tears edging his cheeks and sliding from them mercilessly, jumped when a sharp click echoed in the distance and power was restored to the downed area's of Garden. Suddenly, he couldn't stand anymore.


"I can. I can!" he rasped helplessly, sinking into a nearby chair. "I... I'll have Garden there. We're coming..." A hand came up, the same which had been running over the controls of the Garden, and viciously wiped at the salt over his face.


That voice hadn't come from over the phone. Nida looked up from his slumped position, and watched as Rinoa entered the room. Her eyes were wide in confusion, brown streaks in her hair shimmering just slightly as she walked towards him under the dull lights. A hand reached out to him slowly, and her lips parted. "What's wrong? What's going on?"

He sat with the phone shaking in his hand, tears still evident and streaming. His mouth opened wordlessly for a sentence, but instead he could only manage to hand Rinoa the phone and hunch himself back over the control panel. He left Rinoa in a state of shock as he began to start up the aft generator of the garden. Below there feet, a rumble began, and it was not the thunder which boomed overhead.

"Are you there?" The phone asked in Rinoa's hand. She gazed down at it, looked back to Nida, and then pressed it to her ear.


A pause. "Rinoa?"

((~Are you ready to cut the line, Isami?~

Hissing. ~My talons are ready- they will blame it on the storm~))

"Squall! What... what's going on? Nida's crying..." She could pick up on the weariness in his voice and searched Nida's gaze for an explanation when he glanced back to her.

"Rinoa- Xu is dead."

((~Time to strike!~

~Yes, now!~

~the door, through the door....~

~Let us begin~))

Rinoa's hand trembled as she gripped the phone, and she didn't know what to say. Again she looked at Nida, who was now frantically trying to repair another power failure in garden. The controls in front of him were full of gleaming lights that reflected in his glassy eyes.


"It's alright. Rinoa- NIda's bringing the Garden to us. Balamb has suffered to much damage, and the ocean is getting higher. We're going to evacuate."

Rinoa nodded to the air, and when next she spoke, her voice trembled very slightly. "How... did she die?"

His voice came to her ears with a quick, sharp anger. "The creature- the thing- the man... whatever that attacked Seifer and the others killed her in the exact same fashion as Raijin was-" And, very suddenly, Rinoa dropped the phone in pain and staggered backwards. Nida had just whirled from his position by the controls and reached out to help her, confused and startled at the same time, when Rinoa grabbed for the phone she had let clatter to the floor and frantically shouted Squall's name into the receiver.

Both of them could hear nothing but static on the other end.

"What happened?!" Nida said, pulling Rinoa to her feet. She accepted his help and then looked into his eyes a moment where a deep fear was beginning to boil.

"I don't know!There was a noise in the background- and then something very loud screeched by- I don't know what that was either..." She had left his grasp and was moving towards the door. Nida intercepted her and stepped in front of Rinoa's path.

"Where are you-?"

"Something's wrong! I have to go!"

He shook his head furiously. "Are you crazy? I'm getting the garden Ready to fly, we'll be there in less then fifteen minutes..."

And then, as if to defy him, the sound of the aft generator Nida had started up beforehand suddenly died- and the entire room went pitch black. In the distance, echoing away, the crackle of a recent thunder strike dissipated in the air. Both figures were still a moment in the ominous silence that followed. No fizz of the lights. No hum of the engines.

The Garden was dead.

"What's your estimated flight time now, Nida?" Rinoa said softly as the two crept up to the front of the bridge. Outside, there was literally more light then any of his previously rampant control panels could give. Only one small red circled blinked. On and off. On and off again. Nida pounded a fist into the panel and growled through his teeth.

"They built this damned garden to withstand a war and it can't take a little goddamned LIGHTNING!?" Another fist collided with the smooth metallic plate, and he irritably nursed the area where his knuckle had split. "Worthless piece of-!"

"Nida... I'm sorry about Xu."

His eyes flashed towards hers, a hand again raised to strike the machinery, and then it wearily dropped back down at his side. Rinoa slowly crossed her arms as if she were cold, and looked to the panel. "How long?"

Nida shook his head. "I don't know. An hour, maybe. And Hyne- they don't HAVE an hour! In or not in trouble, that ocean is going to swallow Balamb whole..."

She shook her head. "Then, once again, I'm going. Try to get Garden running as quickly as you can."

When she turned again to leave, Nida grasped her arm. "If I let you go, Squall with kill me..."

She smiled at him, although weakly. "If you don't let me go- *I* will kill you..."

He grinned back in a halfhearted fashion, and then locked his eyes on the brewing storm outside. Both hands began once again to move over the control panels- and- finding them dead, he knelt down and started to open the circuitry box below it. "Your going to have to take the stairs- the elevator will be out."

"I will."

"And Irvine and Selphie. Bring them too. It's safer to travel in a group. With the power failure they are bound to be on their way here as it is..."

"Don't worry Nida."

"I'm going to be to busy to worry."

And with that, Rinoa left him to his duties and made pace for the stairs. The echoing scream of... *something* that she had heard overwhelm Squall's voice was still ringing in her ears.


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