By Tenshi no Korin
Echoes of an ancient time
Live inside your mind.
Why don't you set them free?
Let your visions breathe.
Jewels in a turquoise sea
spark your memory.
You will awaken now.
Let your heart be strong.
You will finally understand
The power you hold in your hands.
"I am the messenger," Irvine read aloud, frowning at the chalk scribbles on the base of the statue, The words were written just beneath an elegantly carved script in a language he couldn't decipher if his life depended on it. He assumed the chalk words were a translation, scrawled in some archeologist's hand. Any other legible bits had been washed away by running water, leaving only the puzzling ancient glyphs behind. Irvine took a step back to look up at the statue, a slender, sexless figure with a perfect marble face. It stared determinedly over the ruined city, time and fathoms of ocean not enough to erase whatever vital missive was sealed into its stone lips. Irvine shivered in his duster, not wanting to think about the weight of water above them, and looked around at the other two, wondering when they would be able to get a move on.
Not that Squall was the holdup, of course. He sat between the feet of the statue, one leg crossed over the other to hold up his gunblade as he fussed with a pin near the hilt. It was nothing that wouldn't wait until they were back on the Ragnarock, but Squall wasn't the type to twiddle his thumbs while waiting. The real reason they had stopped was at that moment curled in a small ball with his back against a crumbling column. He was only barely inside the circle of light cast by the glowing green crystal. His face was on his knees and his hands over his head, body rocking back and forth, just a little.
"Don't bug him," Squall said, as Irvine took an instinctive step towards Zell, fingers outstretched to touch his shoulder.
Irvine scowled. Squall had only agreed to stop when it was clear Zell could go no further. He had been fine at the end of the battle before the combat adrenaline cut off. But halfway up the stairs he had pulled up short, staring blankly around him as though lost, not responding to Irvine's worried questions. Squall had all but prodded him into walking, and when they stopped he had sank down quietly where he was, and not moved since.
Squall lifted his gunblade, sighted down the top of it, and made a grunt of dissatisfaction before laying it back over his lap and tweaking with something else. "You won't help him. He'll get over it in a little while."
"...Your sense of human compassion is astounding."
Squall arched an eyebrow. "Tell me, does Galbadia Garden do any G.F. training at all?"
Irvine folded his arms, trying not to stare as Zell began to shudder violently. "We all take standard para-magic theory classes, and some principles of junctioning courses, but-"
"Never seen anybody plug a raw G.F. in their head?"
Irvine looked indignant. "I got Siren without having a nervous breakdown." Much, he added to himself. She'd scared the hell out of him before Zell had gently suggested it might be a good idea to unhook his guardian forces before going to sleep. Gives you wacky dreams if you leave 'em in, Zell had said.
Squall snorted, standing. "Siren is about as docile as a kitten. All you had to do is look pretty at her and she purred right into your hand. You're the sort she likes." He brought Lionheart down once, twice, and flecks of purple behemoth blood spattered from the tip of the blade. He sighed, then sat back down and began dismantling his gunblade to clean the bits of monster ichor out of the chambers. "I mean a raw force, something that's never been junctioned before."
"Are you trying to tell me that whatever he drew from that... thing is what's doing this? Is that normal? Irvine's words were laced with more than a bit of indignant disbelief. He may not have carried one in his head for the last ten years, but his GF theory classes had been some of his best. He didn't recall anything about massive psychological trauma following a new junction.
Squall shrugged. "Guardian forces don't feel time, right? I mean, they exist in all times, all the time. It's why they're so picky about who they let call them. They don't just know who you are, but who you've been and who you're going to be. And if they don't like it, good luck getting them to come for you."
"I know that," Irvine retorted. "So if it's messing with him he should just-"
"How old do you think these ruins are?" Squall finished wiping the bullet groove along the top of his blade, and tucked the scrap of polishing cloth he was using back into his jacket pocket. "If that force has been here since this place, it's probably older than Centra civilization. Maybe older than Hyne."
Irvine wished Squall wouldn't say that name quite so flippantly here. This wasn't a classroom, and the statue's unwavering stare was starting to make him edgy. "So if the force he pulled has been sentient for that long, then-" Irvine looked back at Zell, shivering on the ancient cobblestones. "He's got damn near all of time in his head."
"Probably." Squall rummaged in his pocket, and something rattled in a small vial. "Here." He pressed his palm to the lid and twisted it like it was a bottle of child-proof painkillers, and shook a hefty sized white pill into his hand. "Give him this, it should stabilize the GF long enough for him to cope with it properly. Don't drop it, we have to get them from Esthar, and they're damn expensive."
"What is it?" Irvine picked up the tablet between his thumb and forefinger, and peered at it suspiciously. The Balamb SeeDs popped pills like any East Delling junkies, and he'd learned to ask before complacently swallowing whatever he was handed. Not that he didn't trust them, it was just that their idea of what was safe inside them vastly differed from Irvine's.
"Luv Luv G's," Squall replied, and his eyebrows lowered at Irvine's astonished stare. "Look, Para-stabilizing mental junction emphasis compatibility chemical is just really fucking too long to say, don't you think?"
"I think you're all a bunch of druggies, that's what I think," Irvine muttered, but it was under his breath and the sound of his boots on damp stone covered it up. Either that, or Squall was just ignoring him. "Zell? Zell, can you hear me? Hey, Squall wants you to take this, can you do that?" Irvine's tone said that the pill was entirely Squall's idea, and if Irvine'd had his way he would have yanked that thing clean out of Zell's head and let it fall screaming to the bottom of the pit where they found it. Zell had not moved, facedown in his knees, and Irvine touched the top of his head. "Zell?"
Zell looked at him, and Irvine had to bite his tongue to stop the terrified yelp before it made it out of his mouth.
Zell's eyes were blank between his parted eyelids, blue iris and pupil lost in a silvery pale iridescence that was glowing faintly, casting strange shadows over Zell's face. If Irvine looked closely, which he didn't want to, as it made his stomach churn, he could see faint wisps of color moving across the surface of Zell's eyes, like bits of smoke or the scrolling text on the statue's pedestal. Irvine reminded himself that these guys had dealt with G.F.s more than he had; he should trust them to know what they were doing. But it was damn hard when it was instinct to take Zell by the shoulders and scream for that hell bent demon force to let him go.
"Irvine?" Zell asked, as though from far away. Irvine didn't know what was worse, Zell not talking or talking in a mostly normal tone when he looked like that.
"Yeah." Irvine coughed, and his voice went back down an octave where it belonged. "Yeah. It's me. Here. You should take this."
From behind him Irvine heard Squall make a vague noise of bemusement, probably due to Irvine's sudden adamant endorsement of para-magic drugs. Irvine'd have his revenge back for that next time Squall needed a bone or two set before curing.
"Where is it?" Zell held out his hand blindly, and Irvine realized that of course he wouldn't be able to see.
"Wait." Irvine reached for his hip flask, wishing it had something stronger in it than water, and pressed the tablet to Zell's mouth. Zell started, but let Irvine slip the drug in his mouth, bringing up both hands to guide the flask to his lips. Irvine was glad for the help, since he was shaking harder than Zell.
"Thanks." Zell heaved a breath, his voice steadying. "'B okay, gimme a sec." Zell closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the broken column, and Irvine recognized relaxation breathing when he saw it. He took a few steps back, and sat awkwardly down beside Squall when the statue's pedestal poked him in the knees.
"You've seen this happen before, right?" Irvine asked, hopefully. For a second, he could say there was a flicker of worry in Squall's grey eyes.
"No," he admitted, but then added, "I've read about it, though. He should be okay. I mean, it let him draw it."
"Why didn't you try for it?" Irvine asked, not wanting to remember the moment of his own failed draw during the battle, the screaming mockery of the force when he tried to coax it into his own head. "If you're so confident about it."
"I did." Squall said, very softly, to the grip of his gunblade. "I failed. But it let Zell have it."
Irvine wasn't sure exactly what to say to that, so he scuffed his boot toes in dirt that was older than time, and waited for Squall to finish flossing his weapon or whatever he was doing with it now. The quiet was most acutely uncomfortable.
Zell made a noise of discomfort, breaking the silence. "Ow." He began to get to his feet, using bits of fallen architecture to haul himself up. Irvine stood with intention to assist, but only reached out his hands with a vague sort of helplessness, watching.
"Man, I don't ever want to go through that again." Zell blinked, and his eyes were their usual pale summer blue. Irvine breathed for what felt like the first time since they'd first come down into the dig. "Right!" Zell grinned, wan in the eerie light. "Let's get going, huh? Sorry to slow you down."
Squall shrugged, shouldering his gunblade. "No problem. You ready, Irvine?"
Irvine was wondering what else these guys had been through, to act as though Zell had just stopped to take a pee, not battle for dominance with some alien force inside his skull. Squall was already halfway up the steps, radiating nonchalant impatience. Eager to go, but because he was in a hurry, not because this place gave him the willies. Irvine shook his head. Squall had been such a crybaby as a kid, who knew he'd grow up into an iceberg?
"Hang on a sec," Zell had paused to relace his sneakers, one foot resting on the statue's pedestal. He tilted his head, frowning at the words. "Ixos thanos hic tsoltas valens timnet."
Irvine stared. "What?"
Zell didn't appear to have heard him, continuing without hesitation, tongue moving easily around the complicated syllables. "Chros non regnes hox vocses. I am the messenger with destiny in my wings. Time can not still my words."
Irvine looked quickly to Squall, hoping wildly for confirmation that really really ancient obscure languages were par for the course at Balamb Garden, too. But Squall and the statue were sharing a long glance between them. They looked rather remarkably alike, somewhere across the eyes.
It was an odd sensation, Irvine thought, to have every single tiny little hair on his arms stand straight up, as if spiders had been walking down his spine. What was it his old roomie used call it?
Somebody just walked over my grave.
"Zell." Irvine said, very carefully. "What did you just say?"
"Hmmm?" Zell lifted his head, his fingers finishing the last double-loop on his laces. "I wasn't saying anything, why?"
"But the... " Irvine pointed at the statue's inscription, as Zell dusted off his shorts. "You just read that."
Zell looked at the words, looked at Irvine. He raised his eyebrows in a way that made Irvine feel exceedingly stupid. "Right. I think we better get you outta here, Irvine. You don't look so good."
"Hearing things," Squall muttered, but he was looking at Zell from under his lowered lashes, grey eyes curious and mildly calculating.
"C'mon," Zell gave Irvine a swat across the ass, to get him up the stairs. "Get a move on, cowboy, or the girls'll come looking for us." He vaulted up the steps between them, taking three at a time, half-humming a pop song under his breath. As if nothing at all had happened.
"Thanks for your support, Squall," Irvine said, feeling a bit violent around the edges and surreal in the middle, "You heard- - "
"I can only deal with so much at one time," Squall returned, very evenly. "And this one isn't remotely on my list. If you want it, that's fine with me."
Irvine looked back at the statue and the vast city sprawled below them. "On second thought," he said, turning his back on the ruin, "maybe I don't want to know either."
Squall followed him up the steps to where Zell was waiting, bouncing impatiently by the door to the world they knew.
The statue did not watch them go, holding his message silent between his unbeating wings.
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