Demon's Awakening Chapter 3

The Greater Enemy

By Athana Soulfire

Squall literally *felt* the talon's enter his back. Not just that pain sensation that came with any blow- but the pull of something sharp against his flesh as it was sliced apart. The slit was delivered instantaneously- at the exact moment that a sudden wind had ruptured the door of Zell's home inwards. The started cries that had let up around him, and the loud crying Red hadn't been able to coax from Alla all vanished under the terrible screeching noise which had suddenly overcome the room.

They had been attacked.

And he had no idea from where or what!

Squall collided face first with the floor, the impact of the claws having sent him off his feet nearly as quickly as the wound was inflicted. Bleeding from a nose that might have been broken, Squall's hand limply managed to unsheathe Lionheart as he struggled to retain his bearings. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Red clutching Alla to her frame, trying desperately to protect her from whatever had entered their dwelling. Mrs. Dincht was beside her, fists raised with the intention to fight. A Hand clamped down on his shoulder and dragged him upwards.

"Squall? Dude- can you hear me!?" Zell's worried voice swam over his hearing. Squall's blurry vision adjusted on him, and he could see Quistis just behind him- Whip raised in defense. Together, they turned as a whole to face the open door. No attacker lingered in their vision as each person stood- tense and ready to be struck upon. Only the door jarred back and forth violently.

"Oh hell's- did you *HEAR* that!?" Red was saying, voice a tremble as she rocked Alla back and forth. Her eyes darted to the SeeD's in the room and phone- which was left on the floor when Squall had dropped it.

"Is... it still here?" Lyra asked quietly. She'd come up behind Quistis- a pair of daggers in her hands. The instructor looked at the two curved blades in mild shock, not having realized Lyra was capable of fighting- nevermind armed. She turned her attention back to Squall, still staring out the door as if they expected some answer to come walking through it. Besides the shaking door, the only other movement in the room came from two white curtain's, billowing harshly from the wind which ripped around them.

"We don't even know what *it* is..." Zell said quietly. His eyes darted to Squall once as their group huddled closer together- all four of them back to back as an act of instinct. They edged towards Red, Alla and Zell's foster mother- hoping to provide some protection if they were attacked again. Quistis, just about to move and check Squall's bleeding wound and nose, found her eyes suddenly averted to one of the chairs in the room.

It tipped. Completely by itself- the wooden structure overturned and made the group jump with the thump that followed. Her red-orange clothing shinning in the dim light, Quistis moved slightly in it's direction.

"She said... she said the night bent." The former instructor began, referring to her conversation with Fujin beforehand. "And gave enough of an indication that it was very hard to locate- maybe even invisible under certain circumstances." A hand clamped down tighter upon her Save The Queen as she continued. It was very, very possible, that their enemy was directly before them- and they could not see it.

That was when Lyra gave a shout and pointed ahead of them- just near the door and to the left of the kitchen. Squall, gunblade now sturdy in his grip once again, found his defensive posture slacking as the curiosity of the site overcame him. Zell, right at his side, let his own stance drip away as all eyes in the room tried to decipher what they were seeing.

A haze- or... not really a haze... it were as if the room and cream colored wall were a mere painting, and droplets of water had begun to make it's surface run. It was bending... it truly was. Like a liquid that moved atop another liquid- toying with their eyesight and laughing at the same time.

And it *was* laughing. An odd, disturbing chuckle that sounded muffled and far away.

"This..." Squall echoed. "Is the creature?"

"Creatures..." Zell pointed out in a tiny voice, hand numbly moving to indicate another three of the phenomena. The group stiffened as they recognized four within their presence, all stationary, and all pulsing with their own odd life.

"It's... almost pretty..." Lyra said absently, moving her head to the side as she watched them.

"But we know their deadly..." Squall added, blinking a sudden redness from his eyes. Quistis was suddenly staring at him, eyes widened.

"Your... scar-!" She gasped.

Squall raised a hand to his wound- now over a good year old, and brought it down covered in blood. His thin mouth worked numbly for a moment, disbelieving, and then that horrible screeching noise came back- and Alla screamed again.

Zell was flat on his back- dragged forwards with a lighting fast movement from one of those hovering entities. Quistis and Lyra jumped with equal cries of surprise to help there friend- and an intense popping of the air ensued. Squall slashed forwards as something darted for his head. The gunblade came down- swung again with expert skill- and yet he found himself on the floor bleeding anew. He fought to get up- watched Quistis thrown violently against the wall at his left flank- and was beat to the floor again as searing pain ripped across his back.

neck, arm, leg, back, chest...

The blows were to quick to follow, and to fast to evade. Squall's mouth hung in shock as he limped upright and caught an injured Quistis- blood running over her body from a multitude of different wounds. She sagged in his arms, falling to the ground- and then Lyra gave a terrific scream of pain. The sound of flesh being split rang in the air with sickening implications.

"Squall!" Zell managed from his position on the floor, a bloody gash running dangerously close to his neck. A hand was reached out, trying to motion Squall to move. The other had Gripped Lyra and swung her away from another blow. She too was wounded- left arm hanging useless at her side.

By the time Squall's sight adjusted on the thing Zell had tried to warm him of, it was already to late. A blow like rock struck him directly under the jaw and sent he and Quistis hurling backwards. His head spun- the forms of Alla, Red and Ma' Dincht blurring into blackness that he struggled to immerse from. There was a disturbing sound along the right of his jawbone, and Squall rolled to his side to let the blood spill out of his mouth.

"Stay together!" His voice commanded, slurred through a dislocated jaw he forced back into place. The pain shot clear into his head like a thousand daggers- but if he wanted to keep himself and the others alive, he most certainly couldn't be nursing this new development. Squall's right hand pulled quistis with him as he moved from the floor. She grasped his shoulder for support, but soon was able to stand without his brace- teeth grit against her own infliction's as she struggled to keep the extended whip in her hand upright.

Slowly, they came together- beaten. Zell's mother, Alla, and Red lay untouched, still away from them and unsure how to help their injured friends.

In the span of a minute- they were hardly able to stand on their own power. The ground was a slick mess of crimson, and violent wind had forced some of it's initial spray onto the crisp white curtains.

"What to we do...!?" Lyra whispered fearfully. Her back pressed into Zell's as a tremble overcame her. "We couldn't even hit them! We didn't even have a chance to try! We could hardly even SEE the things!" her voice rang high and panicked on the last word- ringing in their ears as a silence enveloped the room.

"The last time we waited for something to happen..." Quistis pointed out in a painfilled voice. "We ended up in this current state..."

"They didn't touch Red, Alla er' Ma..." Zell began softly. He shot a glance back to the three- Mrs Dincht near to running towards the group and her son so she could help them. The only thing that kept her back was a fierce look from Squall that firmly stated- "Don't... it's to dangerous."

"We have to get out of here- into the open. They seem only interested in us at the moment..." Squall said smoothly, eyes darting around them.

"We.. We gotta get to the car and make a run for it..." Lyra added.

"Lead them away from Balamb-" Quistis also put in.

Zell wiped an arm over his brow shakily. "Will... will that work? Suppose they don't follow?"

~Suppose we can understand you..~ Came a quick, growling voice.

No one moved, or even breathed. Yes- One of the unnatural, bending entities had just spoken, and the group was now truly at a loss for *everything*. It voice echoed away- and though they could not see the creatures, they knew they were still present. Squall was the one that stepped away from the group with his gunblade held ready- even if it's use was not likely to be helpful. He swallowed hard, looked back at his shocked and shaking friends, and then spoke.

"Who are you...?"

Silence. Squall wet his lips, grip over his weapon tighter then it had ever been.

"WHO- are you...!?"

~Don't you mean *What* human?~ The bodiless voice continued. ~Your race has never cared for the likes of *who* someone is. It always comes down to the what- and if you happen to be what your pathetic race fears or does not understand, then your death is always somehow justifiable.~

Squall struggled for words as the accusation rang over his hearing. "That's... not true." His eyes flickered over the room, trying to find some trace of the speaker.

~Ah, yet you want to kill me, do you not?~

"You attacked us...!" Squall growled through his teeth, jaw still throbbing.

~And you nearly destroyed our species...~

Stunned silence. Squall's mind raced to comprehend the piece of information he had been given, though that act was simply impossible. What did it mean *They* had nearly destroyed their race? What race? When? What were these creatures speaking of!?

"Is this.... some insane grudge!?" Quistis managed, speaking up from behind him. "We don't know what your talking about! We don't even know who you are!"

More of those awful chuckles echoed in the room. Even the frightened Alla was too scared to utter the slightest whimper.

~We are your shadows, woman. And we will not rest until every one of your kind is dead.~

"What the hell- man!" Zell shouted, jaw agape as he looked over the room.

~Know this, Squall Leonheart." The voice continued. "Your end is short at hand. For now- you live. The reason? Feel free to guess. The blonde youth has been labeled for passage- and soon too shall the last piece be!"

Quistis felt her brows knot together. "... Seifer?"

Squall glanced back at her, noting the possibility, and then turned forwards again- trying his absolute best not to let his weariness and pain show over his features. "And who is this last piece?"

The entity laughed in a cruel manner and sighed. "Oh- You'll know soon enough. Why, she's coming to your aid at this very moment! Afraid and alone- worried that she has lost you to a terrible and frightening screech which so harshly crackled over the end of a petty phone line. Again, dear leonheart- guess! Do Guess!"

But Squall already knew, and as the resounding laughter faded away- he had already bolted out the door regardless of his wounds and the storm which raged outside. Everyone else present jumped to stop him when one of the deadly, night quick creatures struck at his legs- and Squall gave a painful moan after being thrown backwards into the room yet again. Quistis knelt and helped him up as best she could, but she was only able the bring him into a sitting position before her own strength gave out.

~Oh, no no no- my poor human. Not yet. You can't run to her yet. And don't worry, it's very likely you'll have the time for one last good-bye.~

"Leave Rinoa alone ya' bastards!" Zell growled through clenched teeth. He shifted on his feet, looking ready for another fight. He, as well as the others, knew to whom the creatures referred.

~Later, later...~ Came the unusual, echoing reply to Zell's voice. And then every window, and every door in the house slammed shut with a tremendous noise that rattled their very frames. The shutters locked themselves in place- the locks moved into the woodwork of each door with some unseen touch of magic.

~Till' again we meet, SeeD..~

With another slight rustle of air, the entities were gone.

Or all least, for all appearances they *seemed* to have gone.

Ma' Dincht, being closest to one of the shut windows, grasped at the lock on each shutter and jarred in violently. Not only did they not open, but she jumped back in surprise when a slight shock of magic sprinted up her arm . She shook her hand numbly, looking to her boy, and then the other SeeD.

"Oh my..."

"Have those damnable things locked us inside?" Red asked in a quavering voice. Alla was still in her arms- pale eyes darting around nervously, and looking anywhere but to the body that lay sprawled away from the group.

"It may be.." Quistis said, limping over to the door and testing the knob. She too was met with a spurt of magic. Just enough to be painful- but not unbearably so. Long blonde strands falling into her eyes, Quistis turned and watched as Zell moved up to her and prepared to brace his arms against the doors.

"Zell.." Lyra warned. "I don't think the door wants to be opened..."

He looked back at her, one hand grasping a strand of her right pigtail as an act of some absent habit. She bit her bottom lip, indicating the shock that Mrs. Dincht and Quistis had received.

"She's probably right Zell.." Quistis said, concerned. "If we put more force into breaking out- who knows what might happen."

The young martial artist hesitantly backed away from the door, and glared at it a little while before looking over at Squall. Their commander was near on of the windows, looking it over in curiosity while a hand clutched his injured side. After a moment, his head turned in their direction.

"We have to get out of here. Somehow- and quickly. If those... if those things are after Rinoa...." his eyes squeezed tight, flickers of the wounds he had witnessed over Raijin, Fujin and Seifer swimming through his mind.

"Don't, Squall." Quistis said tenderly. "We're going to get out of here- and we'll find her before they do."

"You'd better." Came Red's sad voice from aside them. In the shadows of the room, her body was a pale and unmoving outline that crouched low next to the bench Xu had been placed upon. Her hand lightly flecked blood from her dead Sister's hand, and she turned glassy eyes up at Squall. "This cannot happen to that poor child-!"

As if reminded of the body no one wanted to look at, each head turned to regard the limp heap and Alla's shivering body. Quistis abruptly turned away then, swallowing hard and fixing her gaze back on the front door.

"Maybe a spell?" Lyra offered, looking from person to person."

"Wouldn't that damage the house?" Red questioned softly.

"Not as if I'd care." Mrs. Dincht said, trying to form a smile over her features, The act came out as a stern frown. "Hell if those diving black plasma balls from hell ell' do something like this and not expect me to take a few liberties. I say blow away! Zell hon, how bout' one of those thunder spells you've shown me before?"

"We don't want to risk a fire..." Quistis said, grimacing slightly and folding her arms. "What about ice?"

"I have enough stocked." Came Squall's voice, depressed and pained, but otherwise determined. The statement was enough to let them know he would attempt it, ordering those in the room to it's far corner. The small grouping gathered in the back room, which was the living area they'd preoccupied beforehand. Mrs. Dincht grabbed Zell by the hand and softly scolded him on not looking towards the light that would flare. No one even smiled at Zell's groan or his mother's parental tone. A friends life could be in danger, and this was no time to be trapped indoors.

Squall, mental collection of spells kicking into assortment, let another frightening thought enter his head. The sea was rising. Balamb was coming. But if no one realized they were here...

A flash of blue light enveloped the dark room, bathing those within it and off into the living area with a soft whitish aura. It took some of the dread away from the shadows, and the lurking fear that perhaps those *entities* had not yet vanished seeped away as well. Next came the crisp, clean sound of frozen water, and it's breakage over both the door and wall that would lead out unto the main ave of Balamb Town. Zell turned his head with a shiver, hearing his sturdy seaside house groan under the stress that the drawn magic was causing. Squall, his eyes tightly closed, was trying to keep the spell contained to a minimal area. No doubt that it was eating away at the framework behind each thick wall- and as quiet and soft as the spell was performed, the far off protests of Zell's home were very unnerving as they echoed into the dark night.

"Nothing..." Lyra whispered softly. "It's not helping..."

A crack startled all but Squall as the spell came to a close. The ice shattered. It's normal force was something that would have easily blasted the door clear from it's hinges. And yet- it stood still and wet with ice. The door mocked them to try again, and made Squall very aware that each second he passed standing there was another second lost in his need to have Rinoa at his side. Safe.

"What level of blizzard was it?" Red asked quietly.

"Blizzara. Blizzaga could have killed us as such a close range and target- the magic just isn't meant to be used on such a... practical thing."

Zell scrunched up his nose and gave the door a hard look. "I'm gonna try it..." his fists beat the air, indicating his intention.


"Who knows, right?"

Quistis touched his arm. "Will you take a look at yourself? Wounds like that aren't going to help you! if a blizzaga couldn't open that door- other means that do NOT include this are going to have to be found."

He glared at her through a spike of blonde, only just now realizing how very badly his body hurt, and the throb that was beating over his side and back. Through the fabric of his vest he could feel blood trickle, wondering absently when the wound had been afflicted.

And then again, he didn't care. They had to get out of here!!!

Quistis had just backed away, relieved that she had stopped him, when the slightly shorter SeeD flung himself at the structure full force. Squall whirled around, almost in time to catch him- but Lyra gave a small cry when his hand fell short and Zell gave a tremendous kick to the frame of their cell- the door heaving under his weight and bouncing back with a burst of energy triple what had been administered by Quistis and her light touch. The martial artist gave a half choked cry of pain and hit the structure again, just as hard. Red light spewed like bloody ribbons.

"We-" he growled. "Gotta-!" Squall reached for his collar, trying to stop him. "MOVE!"

Each word resulted in another powerful hit, and another powerful discharge of energy at which Zell took fully in his fight against the magic that withheld them. On his third shout, voice made loud by his efforts to suppress the pain that rattled his body, Zell's right fist imploded some sort of barrier. The sound was all that gave them notice, and the door burst outwards with the shock of his blow- thumping against the side of the house and finally ripping clear away from the supports which held it.

The boy who'd caused it's dismantling stumbled outside, coughing- choking, and then collapsing altogether.

"ZELL!" Lyra gasped, kicking the splintered framework from her path as she tried to reach him.

"That damned idiot!!" Squall hissed, though the vehemence in his voice was fueled much more by concern then anger. He was out the door a second later, ears ringing with the discharge of energy that had occurred just as the barrier which surrounded them was shattered. That was allot of energy. A lower level spell of some sort- but a powerful one none the less. More weak to physical attacks then magical. He found Quistis directly at his side as he skidded to a stop besides Lyra and his unmoving friend. A gloved hand reached out and rolled Zell to his side as Quistis took to shaking him, trying to revive the blonde. Lyra looked absolutely horrified, shouting his name and hovering over Squall's shoulder when Zell made no move to so much as open his tightly shut eyes.

"Electrocution..." Quistis said softly to herself. Her hair was whipping around her head in the winds, having long ago become unpinned. She tried to Raise Zell from the torn, rain slick ground and checked his pulse quickly.

"Stupid, stupid boy!" She was saying as her fingers came back without the reassuring beat behind the skin of his pale neck. "The magic was electrically charged. Ran him through like a wire!" Her hands moved up to his chest and dipped low- just at the juncture of his ribcage. Quistis continued to mutter fearful comments as she pressed down and out on his chest in quick, abrupt motions.

Squall watched, utterly shocked at the prospect that in the span of *seconds* Zell might have died. There was no way in hell he'd be able to deal with this loss. Not now. Not Zell.

"Come on..." he found himself muttering forcefully, trying to will his friend back into life. "Wake up!"

"Zell, please!" Lyra mumbled in a frightened voice.

Quistis wiped angrily as tears that were edging over her eyes, movements becoming more forceful and frantic. She tilted back Zell's slim chin, forced air into his lungs, and continued the contractions to his chest. When she stopped, exhausted, the cry of relief that rose from the three was unanimous. Zell couched, violently- and though blood ebbed over his bottom lip as more overcame him- he was alive.

Squall put a hand over his face, letting out a shuddering breath when he realized what had nearly happened. He helped Quistis pull Zell up- the teenager clearly unable to do so himself. One of his steel gloved hands was wrapped around his chest in pain.

"Zell? Zell? Your okay now!" Lyra chanted worriedly besides them.

"Can you breathe alright? Zell?" Quistis received a shaky nod from him as together she and Squall pulled Zell completely to his feet.

Only to be tackled, however, by a mother in near hysterics.


"I'M driving!!!" Selphie shouted into the dark night.

Irvine caught her before she reached the drivers seat of an older Balamb car that they'd taken from the parking area. Rinoa giggled slightly as she walked up to them, watching Selphie's struggle for freedom.

The small group of three was at the Gardens east exit, basked by warm glowing lights that radiated from the emergency generators and their powerlines- all strung along the walls in a fashion that could almost be considered decorative. Rinoa hoped Nida could get balamb back up and working soon... she pulled her white coat around her shoulders tightly, feeling the chill of the air and small lashes of wind through the fabric. Selphie was dressed warmer then usual as well- having borrowed a heavy jacket of copper coloring from Irvine. It was huge on her tiny body, looking like somewhat of a dress as she tugged back and forth in Irvine's arms, trying to get to the keys. Irvine himself, of course, always had a heavier attire on then any of them.She just wondered how he'd fair during the height of Summer.

She smiled very slightly, with an unconscious hint of past memories.

If Seifer could pull off wearing that trenchcoat of his season in or season out- she supposed Irvine could manage okay. It had to take some getting used to, though...

"What Gives!" The chestnut haired girl whined in annoyance. Irvine chuckled and whirled her around in his arms with a hearty smile.

"Nothing doll! But your a little sugar high, you know? Why not let me take the seat and get us down to Squall and the others. Sit with Rinoa and chat, huh?"

"But I've flown the Raganok ton's of times!"

"Yeah, but up in the clouds their ain't no tree's to run into! Come on Sephy!"


Selphie shoved him into the backseat of the car, Rinoa having conveniently opened the door for her, and hoped into the Driver's seat with an enthusiastic- "WHOOO HOO!!!" Rinoa paced around the back of the car and sat in the front next to Selphie- flashing a smile at the disoriented Irvine.


"Your calling ME a Meany?!" Irvine tipped back his hat as Selphie started up the car and let a loose tangle of his brown hair fall over one eye. "Was it something I said?"

Rinoa smiled again and faced forwards, feeling far more comfortable at that moment then she had a few minutes ago. Irvine and Selphie, after having listened to what she'd frantically told them involving the phone call, the evacuation, and the horrible screech that had over come her hearing, were convinced that the line was severed due to some surge in the power lines. It happened allot- and she could see where, with all the lightning, how her friends could be right. Still though...

So now all three of them were heading off for Balamb, just to check on the others. Rinoa *hadn't* informed her two companions of Xu's death, however. She didn't want to cause them that grief. Not until she was with Squall. By herself, she'd never know how to comfort them with the news. She... hadn't really known Xu. Not even in the time with which she was in the Garden. With Squall at least she wouldn't have to face their loss alone. Rinoa wanted to help- but she didn't know how! What.... could she say?

Irvine gave her a confused look, noting that Rinoa's grin was slowly melting into a depressed frown. He twitched his nose, ready to ask if she were alright, when Selphie shot the car into drive and barreled them down the street which would take them directly onto the grass outside. That was one problem about having a moveable home. Some of their old road to garden connections didn't exist anymore...

The drop and roll of the car, combined with Selphie's traditional holler, told Irvine that they had hit the ground outside and were bustling across it to reach the main street that would lead them to Balamb town. With the way the car rocked and jolted, he hoped they'd get to it shortly. Long grass slapped at the sides of the garden Car windows and made Rinoa jump once or twice in surprise. With everything so dank and muddy, it nearly gave them the impression they were driving through seaweed.

Soon enough, through the blanket of rain and dark, the tires suddenly hit smooth road and subsided into the thankful hum of normality as their shocks were released of the offroad torment. These cars *weren't* meant for that sort of thing at all... Selphie brushed back a tiny stray hair of brown from her brow and eyed Irvine triumphantly- like she'd won some little battle.


Rinoa smiled at her friend, earnestly gripping the wheel as she speed up and tore down the rain slick road. Of course Selphie would be happy. For someone as energetic as her, Selphie had been pinned up far to long in Garden. Rinoa absently wondered what had been the last time she'd even visited Balamb.


~Foolish girl...~

~There are two others with her, Isami.~

~Good. Feasting, then. Keep you eyes keen- follow the car~

And they did. Demonlings that traveled through the shadows of tree's as light would. They moved quickly. One moment at a location a mile from their previous positions. They phased- in and out and back in again. The plasma like traces of the energy they left in each disposition was nearly invisible.

~I wonder how Squall is fairing, hmmm?~

they laughed.

~Shhh!~ A screech ~Keep focused. Follow.. follow... very shortly now! wait for the tree line...~


"I Wonder what the hell happened..." Irvine remarked absently about five minutes into their drive. His voice was soft, lost in thought. Both Rinoa and Selphie had been speaking back and forth over assorted subjects, but Irvine had hung back in the conversation as it involved nothing of his immediate interest. Of course, that wasn't exactly such a good idea. It lead him to thinking about other occurrences of the day that he'd rather not relive.

"... What do you mean?" Rinoa asked him, slinging an arm over the shoulder of her seat to peer at him. She caught on soon enough though, by the look in his eyes, and her fit of chuckles that had begun with a comment Selphie had made instantly vanished.

"Aw irvy, don't, okay?" Selphie said from besides Rinoa. Her eyes flashed at him in the front mirror. "Try to be happy, huh? We're gonna go meet Squall and get in on a little action! That sounds good right?"

he smiled at her, leaning back and tilting his hat farther up over his head. "I know Selphie. But I was thinking, and I didn't even want to be- I mean- but, damn! With Xu and all. You know, finding Raijin like that.... just frickin' suppose that the same damned thing got her!?"

he'd said it as casually as he could manage, not wanting to instantly switch the mood from the nearly bright one it had been to that of a depressed tone. He could have just kept it to himself, he supposed. But it helped. Taking worries like that and voicing them. He wanted it shot down by the two woman in the front of the garden car. It had literally crept up into his head as a portion of his mind reflected on the bloody vegetation and morbid gashes. The *pain* wounds like those must have inflicted. He and Zell, crouching down- looking on. Seifer and Fujin had been beaten and bloody. But the last of their trio was just... mangled couldn't describe it.

"No way!" Selphie immediately replied, giving him that answer that he'd so wanted to hear. He didn't catch the slight frown that pulled at her lips.

But he did see Rinoa's face. The tightlipped perplexity that had suddenly overcome her previous mood. Irvine suddenly regretted having ever voiced the possibility as he saw her like that- and reached a hand to the young woman. "Come on Rinoa- I was just thinking. You know men, being all stupid sometimes... There's no way Xu got-"

and then she whirled in her seat, eyes glassy. Selphie took her gaze from the road a moment to stare, trying to keep her driving focused. The raven haired youth shut her eyes tightly and shrunk away from them both.

"Oh don't know. Neither of you know! I didn't want- I just couldn't..."

The two were so silent that it seemed as if neither was even breathing.

And then Rinoa opened her eyes to hear Selphie scream- and witness the flashing jaws of something horrible open wide directly in front of her window.


The car flipped. It had struck something solid- like and invisible barrier- and was completely lunged into the air with their momentum. Total silence swept the three in an unusual calm as it happened- and it was one of those moments in which you witness the oncoming pain, and at least are able to recognize in that split second that yes; you might just die.

The crash was earshattering. Rinoa heard it all- the rolling of metal against the road and the mixed screams of her friends. It only occurred to her *after* she caught sight of their vehicle being thrashed into the forest tree's and flipping yet again- sideways into open area, that she was not inside the car any longer. Her body hit the slick concrete with unruly force- and she caught three cracks in her right arm before allowing herself to scream with the pain. Her body twisted over the ground, lay still, and she had not yet noticed the claw marks on her leg whose bearer had pulled her from the car just into it's roll. her eyes were much more fixed on the wreck in which irvine and Selphie were withheld.

No... oh no!

Rinoa tried to get up- but her head filled with a sea of pain. Stumbling back to her knees- her body finally collapsed on it's own and refused her plea's for movement. Those hideous jaws were flashing in her mind. Huge as they opened- had they roared?

And then she saw them..

Creatures just larger then Squall, it seemed. Long- graceful, oddly beautiful as they slinked towards the creaking mesh of metal which lay groaning in the middle of the road. There were three- each supporting a fantastic shock of hair. They chittered- scolded, bobbed they're heads up and down, seemingly pleased. Rinoa sputtered protests through numb lips as she watched one of their clawed hands rest on the mangled driver's side door of the garden car. A churning sound of metal ensued, and then the.. demon... reached back and ripped the door clear from it's hinges.


The young brunette was dragged violently from the car. She was bloody- red shimmering on her pale flesh in the dim moon lighting that had cut through the oppressive clouds. Rinoa could hear her startled protests- her pain filled cries and frightened gasps as she struggled to do so much as see. It was obvious that she was having trouble collecting herself- and the creatures easily took advantage of that fact. A tremendous hiss rang over her hearing.

A rip of flesh followed the noise.

Rinoa cried out. Maybe she could draw them away from Selphie? Could she do ANYTHING!? Selphie was over the ground, and ugly rake of claws over her left side. The girl kicked back into the air furiously, trying to defend herself- but those damnable creatures were content to slide in- claw- and jump back with spurts of... laughter?


"NO!" Irvine echoed her thoughts- also now having been extracted from the torn and mangled car. He fell one, twice, got up and took a swing at the nearest demon to cross his line of site. The horrible realization of what was occurring gripped Rinoa like a vice then, because she realized that the things were only *playing*. The fist irvine had sent at the head of the creature wouldn't have missed. It was powerful and well aimed. And then there was a lightning fast flurry of movement Rinoa could only *just* follow- and it was behind him.

Just toying with prey. That was the only reason Selphie and Irvine were still alive. The demons were having fun.

A screech ripped over her hearing then, the exact same which had tortured her thoughts over the phone and her last connection with Squall back at garden. The same creature- it had to be. The disgusting scream tightened her stomach, and Rinoa curled herself into a tight, sobbing heap of flesh.

"Get AWAY!!!" She found the strength to cry out.

~Quiet, woman.~ Something hissed near her ear.

She went dead still.

~Stop.~ The voice commanded, obviously in charge of the other creatures. They, although reluctantly, drew away from the bleeding Selphie and Irvine. Both of them lay shaking over the ground, only able to watch and wonder and wait.


Rinoa turned her painfilled expression to gaze at another of the creatures. This one was clothed- red and golden cloth falling over her bust and lowerbody with an absent grace. Her hair was a swirl of violet that shimmered ever so slightly- and her eyes were blackish pupils of amusement. Full, red lips that contrasted greatly to her gray skin pulled into a smile, and she lifted a hand to Rinoa's pale face.

Rinoa saw her claws- and watched morbidly as a stream of blackish liquid ran from their tips.

"You- You were the one's!" her voice managed. Angry and hatefilled- it cut through her pain. "You did this to him!"

The creature let wings suddenly unfold from her slender back. They flapped wetly, and then hung over her sides like a cape of sorts. Her voice, which had before cut into Rinoa's mind, now cut into the air.

"Oh? Troubled so, little girl? We hadn't thought you cared for that first love any longer..." She smiled- the fangs she had seen before the vehicles crash evident to be the same. "Oh, but don't fret. Now, I didn't kill Seifer, did I? Only *hurt* him...." She leaned down- dagger sharp nose an inch from Rinoa's shivering form. "Just like I plan to *hurt* you..." The demon laughed.

"And These-" she waved her claws, splattering the black flow of corpses. "Are going to be inserted into your wounds!"

"Leave her alone!" Irvine shouted, body struggling to rise from the ground. An impact like stone pummeled his body back to the ground where he gave a violent shudder. There was a gash over his stomach- very deep and very large. Selphie was clutching her her wounds, eyes wide in horror as she watched.

"Wh..why? What... do you want..?" Rinoa said weakly, truly unable to say anything more that would not lead to more forceful tears.

"You, darling. I never gave the blonde youth a chance to see me- or his friends, for that matter. But you- I thought you should see. I wanted you, who is innocent, to witness the slaughter of your two adoring friends. I want you to know who carries their deaths..." and she leaned closer, still.

"I am Isami... remember that name, little one. You'll be hearing it quite a bit now. Quite a bit indeed." Her hand raised and pointed at the other three.

"Continue their pain. Prolong it. A human only deserves the such."

The three chittered happily and began to close in on the helpless SeeD when a voice like thunder plowed over their hearing. Isami growled dangerously, the sound making Rinoa recoil into herself as it's ferocity shook through her body. She might had stayed like that as well, if not for her recognition of the sound.


"I knew Rugath should have ordered his death...." The female hissed, rearing backwards and letting her attention on Rinoa falter.

"Get the HELL away from her!" Squall repeated, voice booming over the forest.

Zell, Quistis and Squall- all three of them jumped from the garden Vehicle that had come tearing up the road a moment before. Their weapons were already in hand- pure venom leaking from the three as they prepared themselves for battle. Each already bore wounds, and each already seemed to know what they were facing. Rinoa watched with intense relief as they spoke certain words under their breath- quickly and low. Junctioning. Their GF's were at hand...

"Hadn't we taught you enough!" Isami chanted in her grating voice, leering at the small group as the other three demons of her party edged back towards her in fits of cackles. She was slightly impressed- as these three humans had in fact managed to escape her restraint spell- and didn't even seemed shocked at the way in which she and her party all now appeared. They had had no way to know what her true form was. And yet there they stood- uncaring and ready to fight. She almost admired that strength.

Well... *almost*

"I don't know what you are..." Squall hissed, gunblade held high. "And frankly? I don't care. You have killed and injured many, and you will be stopped here." His boots sunk into the saturated earth and then thudded firmly onto the road in which they stood. Quistis and Zell were right at his side, Zell being dismissed with a wave of Squall's hand to check on the injured Selphie and Irvine. As the blonde ran to the aid of his friends, Squall took that moment to glare into the eyes of this *Isami* while he still could. Now with a face and body- his enemy would be just as vulnerable to his piercing gaze as any other enemy.

Take a good long look..." Squall growled to himself, Xu's death flashing in his mind, Rinoa's battered form turning his rage into something far beyond even that raw emotion. "You're not getting away with this. Not any of it."

Isami looked passive. "Oh? Is this so?" Her arms spread delicately to either side of her body, and she smiled with a show of disturbing fangs. " I think not."

Squall saw it- her instant vanishing act and the speed of a force just *barely* seen rushing at him faster then lightning. How his mind was even able to work so fast, Squall didn't know- but a third of a second later he had jumped away and summoned Shiva into his power.

"Diamond Dust!" he bellowed, falling back onto his side from the previous maneuver. His excellent compatibility with the shimmering Guardian force paid off- and a discharge of energy at his temples marked her coming.

IF he weren't so utterly enraged, Squall might had been troubled that Isami did not even seem slightly disturbed by this show of power.

The air crackled with ice as the near ghostly woman of winter appeared before them. Like a goddess, her hands moved in time to the swirling lights that began to collect around her form. A few more moments and, as Squall had become very used to knowing in all his experiences with this GF, their enemies would be swallowed by her magical force and it's blistering cold. The blue and white of her body pierced the blackness of the night and radiated forth- daring the storm to touch her flesh. Emotionless eyes prepared to unleash her gathered energy.

And then a single word cut into Squall's mind.


A sheer, raw implosion of power rocked the ground and sent both he and Quistis off their feet. The two skidded over the wet road and stopped- gazing in horror as Isami fluidly began to control Shiva's movements with simple thrusts of her claws. She was blocking the energy created. Forcing it backwards before it even had a chance to erupt into a storm of ice. Lights of unknown origin flashed as the air took on a startling electricity, and Squall bit back his horror when he realized what the gray skinned woman was doing.

Forcing her powers back. She's forcing Shiva's energy upon herself. All of it- to strong and to fast.. great Hyne!

The magical entity who was Shiva was seen to let her eyes narrow in discomfort. That was all the being of light and ice would allow herself of pain before she was ultimately, and completely, destroyed.

Squall screamed a frantic and disbelieving "NO!" As white light engulfed them. Energy sprinted into the earth and dissipated- the shockwave-like forces that had congealed exploding in on themselves. Squall felt tears brink at his eyes as that Junction of himself was unplugged like a spark of his own life- and he fell back to the ground weakly in it's aftermath. Distantly, he heard his own voice commanding Quistis not to summon Ifrit. His head was spinning- Bahumet and Eden both screaming in his mind as they realized what had occurred.

"Fragile, foolish humans...." Came Isami's quick, growling voice. "Idiotic plague of this great planet! How dare you!?"

"No...." Quistis was murmuring to herself, body having sunk to her knee's upon the cold ground. Ifrit was at the edges of her mind, raging with fire that seemed to light her eyes as the guardian force demanded to attack. To be let the fight. Squall watched as she fought to keep him back and safely from Isami's power.

Isami and the other demon's laughed, shrill voices echoing in the air.

"What now, Squall?" She grasped Rinoa's pale neck and dragged her upwards- the girl to weak to do so much as gasp. "It's over for you. Fight- and we'll tear you apart like we did before! Summon your guardians? We shall exterminate them with ease! magic? Perhaps?" She laughed even more, throat rumbling. "What shall you use, commander, when all else besides you meager weapons are no match for my species!?"

"How about Chi."

A pause cut through the laughter.


The voice was entirely unexpected. The deep even tones of it burned through Isami and she dropped Rinoa to spun- only in time to be engulfed by an implosion of fire. Her teeth bared and she snarled- the other demonlings of her party doing similar as they staggered backwards under the flames and concentrated power. The bending of heat subsided, and just as she was allowed a breath her slender body was blown backwards by a last generated force of power that barreled into her and the other demonlings.

Eyes opening in the seconds afterwards, Isami struggled up from her back and furiously glared into the eyes of a tall, blonde man. She, and the others of her group were disoriented, senses flailing. And Isami realized that he was about to take full advantage of that fact.

Squall couldn't believe quite what he was seeing. Seifer Almasy- gunblade ready, tore into the disoriented creatures. Fujin was with him- her Shuriken slicing downwards in fatal, precise movements. Isami was the quicker of them all- stumbling away and trying to *phase* in an attempt to move more quickly. But another- gray hair flying- was caught head on between a furious Hyperion and Fujin's swift movements of attack. It's scream was ear shattering.

"Minest!" Isami shouted- for once a hint of pain in her voice as the other was struck down. The long arms and slender body of the injured demonling flopped useless over the ground as a blade dived deep into it's chest. Seifer's unmerciful tactics in battle proved triumphant as it gave a final hacking scream that left the forest shuddering. Isami's eyes pinned his at that moment, rage boiling behind their slanted pupils. Her mouth twitched, fangs extended. The Demonling's demeanor turned utterly feral in a matter of seconds.

"Sorry if he was a friend of yours..." Seifer growled dangerously. And then- even deeper: "How does it feel, bitch!?

She flung herself at him- wings like razors in the night sky, and body so furious that her natural ability to phase and use speed as her main force of attack were rendered useless. Her unearthly scream of rage was abruptly cut short as Fujin's shuriken churned into her side and peeled out again- returned to the albino's skilled hand instantly after. The attack gave Seifer enough leverage to move from her path, and he staggered backwards as the demon uttered another string of frightening, guttural noises in her anger and pain.

For once- the blood that flew was not their own.

The other two demons that were still alive backed off instantly, burned and bleeding, but they still knew and recognized the true reason for their coming to this world. Their plans couldn't be foiled! not now!

"Isami!" one of them called, frantically. "The girl!"

But by now Squall was on his feet. Everyone was, save for Irvine whose wound was becoming very near to fatal. Selphie was still with him, murmuring urgent plea's into his ear for him to stay awake- that going to sleep could mean he wouldn't wake up again at all.

The cowboy just smiled up at her through his pain. "I ain't going no where, sephy..."

Some of Isami's control had returned. Her fury was still present- but the warning one of her fellow brood had shouted hung with her furious mind. She was the female of their group. SHE was the one that needed to insert Rinoa with the Groth! Her attention wavered from the boy in front of her to the girl behind her- and then Isami realized something.

The blonde youth...

"IDIOT!!!!" She raged at herself. It was him! In her battling her mind had somehow overlooked his features and scarred body. It had somehow not seen the large, ugly gashes over his gauzed chest and arms. Her wounds- she'd inflicted them!

And now Seifer stood directly in front of her, eyes telling Isami that the *only* thing that was keeping him on his feet at this present moment in time was the need for revenge she saw alighting his smoldering eyes. A slight hint of satisfaction hit her then, realizing that the boy truly was in no shape to fight. His use of Chi had left his meager reserves of energy depleted- and the albino knew it. Her single red eye burned with fury as she stood near to Seifer, Shuriken up and ready. Her gaze faltered from Isami to her shaking friend- ready to protect him if need be.

Isami couldn't hurt him- not any further... it was to risky an action, and they needed him ALIVE.

"Insert her! Isami- the GROTH!" Another of her party hollered into the night.

She spun- leaving the blonde and the silver haired woman to stumble back in her sudden flurry of speed. Rinoa's eyes fearfully watched Isami from the ground as her talons dived for the woman's flesh.

~Shallow wounds- speed- SPEED! and then- take them! Open the portal, leave this place! it shall be done!~

The air split with her quickness, and the screaming that followed sent Squall up and charging to Rinoa's side. The brown haired SeeD could not even see in his frantic movements to reach her, and to stop what he *knew* was occurring. He heard Quistis and Zell behind him as they ran blind- weapons raised. A splash of warm blood hit his face and distorted the tears that fell there.

"Get away from her!" He shouted. "Stop! Stop this!" He couldn't even fully comprehend why he somehow believed that those futile pleas might somewhat phase the demon that was slaughtering his beloved. Lionheart raised and fell- Isami screamed as he forced her away. Their was a quick, noiseless impact- and Squall tumbled over the ground a second after with some invisible force that had struck his side. He caught a glimpse of RInoa's body- shuddering, bloody, and limp. The creature was breathing heavily, eyes glazed as she raised her claws one more time.

~It's uselsss- uselesss!!!~

By the falls- they WOULD return!!

The demonlings shrunk away from the onslaught as Isami ordered a sharp retreat. They had let the humans get the best of them. They hadn't stayed focused and let their overconfidence prevail from thought. Seifer and Fujin were the ones that forced them into a tight circle, the ragged blonde drawing back his blade and gathering himself to prepare for another release of his energy. When it came, blasting forwards in an apocalyptic manner of flame, Isami too had already called forth her own forces of magic. Red imploded with the dark blue's and white- and a sharp crackle of electricity billowed through the air as the two energies met and conflicted with equal power. As the energy cleared, the creatures had vanished into the night from which they'd come. The air still seemed to be sparking in it's aftermath.

"RAGE!" Fujin bellowed, Shuriken held high. In the silence that enveloped the forest afterwards, no one dared to speak but the short, fiery woman. "RINOA- INJURED. MAY RETURN- CAUTION."

"Hell man!" Zell gasped as he made his way towards Squall. Their leader was clutching Rinoa's body, willing her to open her eyes again through the young woman's soft mumbles of pain. He swiped strands of black from her face, cradling Rinoa's form- and yet his voice was steady as he Commanded Quistis and Zell to get Irvine and Selphie safely into the Garden car. They were already at the task, not about to loose another of their friends to the dark entities.

"Garden- we'll get back to garden..." he whispered softly to Rinoa, and was just about to fully take her into his arms when the his eyes averted themselves towards the one fallen creature that lay limp over the ground in front of them. It's right arm had begun to convulse very slightly. The black lids of it's eyes were fluttering briefly. Back and forth- open again. A gargle of fluid ran up into it's lungs. Squall's gunblade began to raise as it snarled faintly in his direction.


more blood flew then. Hyperion came slashing through the air and embedded itself into the creatures skull. With the impact, the body rolled away slightly, falling back against a nearby tree and slumping fully.

Squall blinked. As if for the first time, his friends all turned their heads to fully register Seifer and Fujin in their presence.

"Bitchy pieces of crap, ain't they?" Seifer hissed through clenched teeth. "Just won't stay dead..."

The ex- knight was in the exact same condition he'd been left in back at Garden. Still pale, still gored, Almasy folded an arm over his chest and struggled to stand from his position on one knee. Managing a lopsided posture, his green eyes flickered over the group with their normal amused expression. Fujin looked much better then her last condition had yielded her in- but again, her wounds were still evident through the gashes and shredding of her clothing. The two former members of the Disciplinary Committee each exchanged a glance.

Quistis, whip limply splayed in her fingers, swallowed back a spurt of hot blood in her mouth and looked to Squall at a complete loss for words. To many question to ask- and this was not the time. Whether they and the former garden students were enemies or not, everything and every explanation would end up having to wait. All of them were hurt- and not even Seifer was in any condition to take on another confrontation. Even if only of the conversational type. He slouched forwards with a heavy sigh and chuckled morbidly to himself.

In the distance, the roar of engines began to rise upon the dark night.

Nida had activated the garden, and Squall could just make out it's flickering lights begin towards their location.


A shimmering discharge of energy lit the cavernous room of black obsidian. The walls came alive, flowing and shimmering and glowing- pulsing with the light that now radiated forth from the small clear pool of water in it's very center. A few graceful creatures craned their heads to watch- though most of them were now taken with the preparations Rugath had ordered upon them. When Isami returned, he'd said, the humans would be with her. They needed to have a cell nearby, they needed to have a good deal of light in the room (provided by those ever dim fire lamps) and they needed to make sure that directly afterwards no one would interfere with their scientists. Time was of the essence. Always, always time.

Rugath raised his head as the pool's glowing surface began to swell forwards. His right hand began to twitch very slightly- the claws fluidly beating the air in a sudden bout of anxiety. Mane of fire red hair trailing behind him, the demonling began closer to the pool and waited with molten eyes.

The swell in the pool of transport seemed... rather large. The energy his nose was sensing told of greater amounts then what Rugath had grown accustomed to over time. Then again, they had never brought humans through it's depths before. Perhaps this was a mere side-effect of their presence?

And then, the swelling, rippling waters exploded outwards.

Rugath was thrown back, flopping over the floor once- and then a second later using his exceptional agility to bound back upright the instant his foot touched the ground in his fall. Claws and teeth both bared, he felt the shower of water that had burst into the air abruptly tumble down over his back and throughout the rest of the cavern. Startled cries rang up from different area's of their colony- and Rugath shouted a few quick orders to have his guards prevent anyone from entering the room. The last thing he needed was a bunch of disoriented demon's flying up from the lower levels to see what all the fuss was about.

And just what WAS all this fuss about!?

But the instant the tall, black skinned demonling realized what had happened, his eyes grew dark shades of anger. Instantly rearing back on his hind legs- Rugath stalked menacingly towards the group of three who now lay sprawled over the floor.

"WHAT HAPPENED!?" he growled, voice seething. His tail lashed back and forth as the enormity of their failure washed over him. Rage turned to violence- very, very quickly. Rugath grasped the neck of a smaller demonling nearest him and shook the creature furiously in his grasp. "TELL me, Gamda, HOW is it that the Two connected-" And his voice rang terribly high on the next sentence. "ARE NOT WITH YOU!!!!??"

that was how it should have gone. They would arrive- cheering. The humans they needed would have been obtained and thrown to his best magic workers. The scientists would have their say. They would march triumphantly to Vedima's chamber...

But what... was this!? Where was the prize of their efforts!?

They did not have TIME to waste on FAILURE!!!!!

His claws might just have split the neck in his hands then, if he didn't happen to see how badly Gamda was injured. lengthy burns were evident up and down the demonling's pale arms, oozing forth with bright crimson blood. Rugath felt his mouth part as he looked at these wounds, taking in their presence with his burning eyes. The small demon whimpered slightly in his grasp.

"What happened..." he repeated again, still with vehemence, but softer. Gamda was placed back onto the ground with a slight thud, where the demonling curled his tail around his damaged wings. Rugath's eyes snapped up, searching for his sister.

"I-I couldn't block all of the energy" She muttered softly, eyes beginning to look as if she might slip into unconsciousness. Her slender frame quivered as she attempted to walk nearer to him, wings flapping for balance as she stumbled. Rugath instantly dove forwards and caught her decent- taking his sister more gently to the ground.

"What energy." He demanded, voice even lower. "Isami- tell me. What occurred!?"

"IT was my fault, Rugath!" She began to whimper, clawing slightly at his shoulders as he held her. "I was stupid! We were overconfident! Waited to long, to long! I had nearly come to inserting Rinoa- but the blonde youth, he was there! The others I broke- easily! So easily! But- the surprise... I didn't expect, and he- Seifer-" She tossed her head, nearly incoherent now. "Minest was killed! The attack- Chi- other magic, I didn't know! Spun and.. And I flayed. Rinoa was- I managed to insert her with the groth! but- I couldn't take them, not them both! Not through the portal! Burning, it hurt. We backed up- I was about to take us back. Back here. Again- the blonde, the magic- I tried to deflect it! the most of it- but my magic- it mingled- and explosion! Rugath, I am sorry! I am so sorry! sorry- brother? please- I didn't...

He closed a hand over her mouth to stop the rambling that his sister's words had become, taking what he could from her jumbled information and pushing back his disbelief. His rage boiled down. They had failed, but this was not the end of it. Never- it was never the end of it. By the falls- he would find another way...

"Calm, Isami. You are forgiven. Leave this to me."


"Stay here! I'll get one of the Garden attendants to come for you and the others!"

And with a confirming nod from Ma' Dincht Lyra raced up the street outside, figure blurring in the mists that had settled over Balamb's ravaged streets. The rain had finally stopped it's insistent pouring, but the ocean waters were far up on the Hotel now. The pigtailed girl thanked all her lucky stars that Garden had finally come to their rescue.

Ducking from her sprint under the low fallen entrance sign to the town, Lyra smiled and waved to two SeeDs who were making their way towards the trainstation. They were going in and taking out all the populates of balamb in a very efficient manner- a few Squads checking the buildings in the area for anyone still inside their homes. That was what she was seeing- the night full of the Garden's lights and the SeeDs who worked quickly to evacuate the town. Lyra could hear the steady echo of her shoes over the pavement as she reached the landing foyer of Garden's structure. It then turned into a rhythmic drum as her feet found the cool dry interior of it's entrance. Racing still- she thudded up the landing as the intercom, engines and lighting all swam into her hearing. The sudden hustle and bustle Garden's arrival had caused was a welcome addition to that horrible thick silence she'd been left with. When Squall and the others had left for Rinoa...

Teeth pulled anxiously at her pink bottom lip when she thought of them. Had they made it alright? Was everything OK?

And, as if to answer her, Zell suddenly cut into her line of vision just as Lyra fully entered the first spanning white hall of Garden. The Quad entrance...

"ZELL!" She cried out in intense relief. He smiled at her, although numbly, and waved in a wave that revealed pain. Lyra's bouncing form skidded to a stop in front of him, mouth slightly agape.

"You okay? Zell?"

"eh-" He shrugged as best he could manage- but the discomforts he felt were simple after effects of his first encounter with those *creatures*. "Nicks and bumps, huh? There a pain in the ass!" He lifted one red and black shoe, absently trying to stretch a still joint. "Man- Sorry we had to up and leave you like that, but SOMEBODY had ta' stay with Ma', Red an Alla!"

"It's okay, Zell!" she said hastily, and motioned back behind her and out onto the street. "They're still back at the house, I said I'd get an attendant to help them outta there. I don't know where you guys want to put all the people who are evacuating..."

Zell nodded. "They're goin' to the cafeteria! Some to the infirmary, and maybe some to the library too." He waved a hand behind her at Two SeeD who were walking over the street outside, bringing another group of people into the Garden." "Ey' WALKER- get my Ma' would ya'? She and Red er' down the street!"

The SeeD named "Walker" jogged up to them, short black hair falling loosely over his shoulders. "Yeah, No problem Zell. I'll go myself though. My buddy is still green..." He made a slight gesture back at the other SeeD down the walkway. "With.... Xu and all. I just don't want him to freak out."

Zell nodded in understanding, an unusual somber appearance to his features. Lyra watched as his eyes tried to push back the image of his dead friend. No doubt into an area of his mind that the GF found appetizing. As Walker jogged away again, Lyra touched Zell's shoulder.

"What about Rinoa? Did Commander Leonheart find her alright?"

Zell looked to her quickly, eyes falling. "Oh man, yeah, we found her. Lyra- you know we saw them things? the ones that attacked us? They were like demon's! HELLA weird and FAST as hell. Till Seifer showed up an all-"

"Seifer!? Seifer Almasy!?"

"yeah- the damned bastard."

"He's here? Whoa..." Lyra clutched her fists to her sides and made a discontented noise. "Library gal's don't hear nothing! The last time I saw him that Fujin lady gave me a ticket for speeding around on my hoverboard! She's scary as hell..."

Zell's eyes lit up, thankful for a break in the depressed mood. "Really? You like that stuff to!?"

She grinned, blushing ever so slightly. "Yeah!"

The blonde in front of her grinned widely and then held up his right hand. On it was a watch that began to beep insistently, demanding to be noticed. Zell then again raised his eyes to Lyra and made a slight face.

"Squall's calling a meeting- nearly damned forgot! Man- we gotta get moving!" he took her hand in his and began pulling the peach skinned beauty with him as Zell started down the hall. She shook her head suddenly, pigtails swirling.

"No- Zell, I can't! I'm not a Seed!"

"It's not for all the SeeDs, just everyone you met and maybe the doctor!"

"Well then I REALLY shouldn't be there!

He didn't let go of her hand and smiled in a smug fashion. "Come on, Lyra! you helped us! I'm sure Squall wouldn't mind you being there at all, and I'd like it if you came along too!" Again, he was oblivious to the pinker hue her cheeks had become. Zell tugged her along, and- this time- Lyra followed.


Quistis nursed her left arm, it's gauze becoming a rather itchy annoyance that cut through it's slight throb. She heard her own, slightly irregular footsteps echoing in the entrance foyer to the infirmary as the former instructor limped along. The pain in her leg was biting- but she paid it no heed. There were orders to be given and situations to be sorted through. All Quistis really wanted was a chance to sleep- but she'd give that time to the others first. Maybe she was a SeeD again now, but so many, many people still looked upon her as their instructor that sometimes she couldn't help but continue the role. They needed her strength, that's what it always seemed to come down to. And the tall blonde couldn't always understand why she was the one dubbed as that *strong* person of the lot.

IF anything, shouldn't she be flattered?

It was a good feeling, being needed. But Sometimes she just wished that it was her who could have a shoulder to lean upon from time to time. Even Squall, in all his new duties, would cast a look in her direction at points, silently asking for help.

She remembered the way his eyes had locked with hers when Rinoa lay so limp and bloody in his arms. She never seen those icy depths so scared- and she had always looked.

Only then, it was for another emotion.

So much time has passed... all of that struggle- so far away. And it really *was* only a year ago...

Or, just over actually. She was in her 19th year now. With a half-hearted sigh she remembered her last birthday having come to pass. Squall's attempts to fit in with a happy bunch- the way Irvine invited her on a date and Selphie's kick afterwards... how Zell ate half of Rinoa's baking... If it hadn't been for them, she really wouldn't have even remembered.

Her friends...

oh, Xu, I'm sorry I couldn't have helped! I'm so sorry I couldn't find you in time!"

And she couldn't mourn. She couldn't hide in a corner the way her mind and wounds demanded of her. She couldn't cry or shake. She couldn't linger on how badly the loss had wracked her body and left a burning need for revenge settling where the new hole had formed. That was Xu those creatures took. That was her one and only best friend before Squall- before everyone. She'd always been there for her. Teaching Quistis the ropes when there weren't any to hang onto.

But she was Quistis Trepe. The cool, collected, dependable Quistis Trepe. The one who would stand back, survey, and nod in her wise way.

She didn't feel 19. She felt that it was more her 90th year that had just passed those few months ago.

So tired...

Starting her thoughts came a familiar whoosh of air, and Quistis stepped back a moment as the infirmary doors opened. She was spending far more time in this place then the blonde would have ever preferred. Funny, Squall Deciding to meet with everyone here.... but with Irvine in his current state and Dr. kadowaki's insistent checkup's- she could understand his reasoning. Besides, they didn't have time to wait on this despite what health might or might not permit. Hell if she had the slightest clue as to what was going on.

And Rinoa...

The bright infirmary lighting blinded her a moment as Quistis entered the room fully from the dim corridor outside. She was thankful that the pounding rain had stopped, but it's passing left a thick chill to the air that was just enough to be uncomfortable- even within the garden. Her heels clicked over the tile as she entered- and was met with the Doctor's busy smile, flashing at her from the left. Ruth Kadowaki sat behind her steel gray desk, and nodded at her briskly.

"The others aren't here yet, Mrs. Trepe. Excluding Irvine, Selphie, and that troublesome duo that can't follow a doctor's orders." She smiled again. "Always like you to be right one time. Shame I can't say the same thing for your other students!

Quistis nodded. "How Is Irvine?"

"Oh- much, much better! Caught that wound of his just before it truly became a problem... damned demons..." and she hissed that last word out, straightening slightly in her chair. "Rinoa is in emergency- But I figure we should wait for Squall before going to her."

The instructor's mouth fit itself into a tight, perplexed frown. The Doctor shuffled her black hair and squinted at her slightly.

She'll be alright, Quistis. I can handle her wounds in the same fashion I had with Seifer."

"So I'd figured..." Quistis echoed thoughtfully. "She has them as well? Those black corpses? Squall had mentioned them..."

Kadowaki Shook her head in a dismal manner, arms absently folding over her chest as she spoke. "Yes, same method of infliction, same everything. Luckily, I can also use the same method of extraction. Weak cure spells, a little at a time. It didn't take to long with Seifer at all." Quistis nodded, but the look over her features told the doctor that any other information would be appreciated. Kadowaki continued.

" These "blood like", undead corpses really don't seem to harm the individual in any way. More or less- it makes them weary- very tired. The immune system can't keep up it's natural functions, and so the body itself becomes weak. Not a good time to get a cold, lets say.... because with their influence on the body, the germ could literally kill you."

"So, is it a poison of sorts?"

"I suppose, to a certain degree- but Quistis... the really interesting part of these circumstances will be revealed when Squall gets here." She shook her head, one hand absently coming to her right temple in an attempt to coax her headache away. "There is something going on, and it may go far beyond anything we've come to expect."


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