"Are you sure you want to be out here?" Seifer asked, as Selphie took a few warm-up swings with her nunchuku. "Not every day a Headmaster has to come out swinging."
"You kidding?" Selphie grinned. "I practice these things out on Irvine every night!"
"Ew, Mom! Ew ew! Grossness!"
Irvine only rolled his eyes, and Seifer thought that having to worry about both wife and child in this battle was going to be the end of the poor sharpshooter. Of course, if living with them hadn't killed him already, even a sorceress might not seem like much of a challenge.
By the time they passed the smoking shell that had been Fisherman's Horizon, a few pieces of wreckage knocking against the side of the SeeD ships, Seifer could feel every damn cell in his body shaking from the strain. Except for going in for the last-minute orders from Quistis, he never left his place near the bow, searching the line of sea and sky for a dark point that wouldn't move, the first hint that they were getting close. A few smaller boats darted back and forth between the ships, carrying passengers, or sometimes the boats just moved close enough together to swing between, as everyone moved into their final positions.
After a while, Fuujin joined his side, silent and still. It seemed an eternity after the Horizon disappeared behind them, and a hundred times that Seifer mistook the crest of a wave for something more before his eyes finally fixed on a dark, distant point that might have been a wave, might have been nothing - but he blinked, and it didn't move. The ships drew closer and it grew just a little bit larger. Looming, it was only the barest speck on the horizon and he could still feel it looming, the muscles in his shoulders tightening as he brushed his hand against Hyperion's hilt.
"Here we go."
A crackle of static in one ear, as if his words had been the necessary signal. Everyone had been hooked in on the same communications grid, even though no one seemed to know how well it would work, or if Rinoa could interfere once they were too close to her tower. Still, better than nothing, whatever was coming.
"Seifer, you copy?"
He adjusted the receiver set against his throat, tugging a bit at the band. "Loud and clear, Quistis." He couldn't take his eyes off the tower, rising higher as they grew closer, light glistening off the gently curved spire. "We have any measure on how tall that thing is?"
"Esthar's saying about a thousand feet straight up, and they can't look more than a few inches in. Once we're through the doors there's no telling what's on the other side."
"Just the way I like it." He muttered, hearing the static snap on the other end, Quistis checking the rest of the connections to the other teams. He glanced over as Zell stepped up to the bow, staring at the tower as he adjusted his gloves. A nervous habit, but nothing like the twitchy way he had acted as a cadet.
"... don't think I don't see you smirking, Almasy."
"Just admiring the view, Dincht."
Behind them, Fuujin sighed loudly, the more mature substitute for just reaching up and knocking their heads together. Zell grinned, stretching out a few muscles in his back. "Quistis says you don't trust the hire-ons."
"What do you think?"
The fighter smirked. "I think that Galbaldian boy's got enough attitude to be your son. You do a lot more than just wreck the joint while you were there, Seifer?"
"If anyone in this world has been making unexpected relatives, it's Kinneas, not me." The tower seemed closer than he knew it was, and Seifer tried to tell himself the deep, growing chill was just from the sea breeze and the brisk wind. He could see tiny wisps of clouds being cut apart by the point of the spire. If she was up there, it was going to take a hell of a lot to reach her.
"The girl seems fine, though. A little too quiet, but I'm not a good judge of that, and she'll probably keep the boy in line. If he thinks he'll have the chance to worry about more than keeping his own hide intact, once we're inside - well then, I doubt he's much of a threat at all. Our Balamb boys are fine too, I taught both of them myself, they're dependable. Now see, I'm most worried about the other girl..."
Seifer raised an eyebrow. "One of the Trabians?" He hadn't given the rest of them much thought at all, not after picking Tay out as the main threat. "What is it?"
Zell shrugged, though his face was more troubled than the gesture suggested. "I don't know, she just doesn't... I think she's hiding something from us. I just can't figure out what."
It was not what he needed to hear - especially as the boat hit what he knew wasn't just a patch of rough water, the impact bone-jarring and Zell grabbing for his shoulder, hauling him back as he was thrown a little too far over the railing.
Alarms blared, with Quistis yelling something over the radio that he couldn't quite make out, though the tone gave him the gist of her message. The SeeD ships moved smoothly into their attack formation - sometimes they really did know their shit. He drew Hyperion, saw Fuujin standing ready as well.
"What's the count, Quistis?"
"Four. It looks like four GF's sighted, two in the water and two airborne. You just let the rest of them handle it, Almasy, we're going to punch right on through."
He could tell from the edge in Quistis' voice, she didn't think it was going to be that easy. Nothing he could do, he'd known that even before her routine admonition. As if anything he'd done in their battle against the thing that had grabbed Squall had -
//... there it is again, son of a /bitch/!//
All too familiar, the pale lines of the shell and flailing limbs as the kraken reached out to snap the mast of the nearest ship. The White SeeD were swift, swerving to the side and launching a volley of bullets and magic at the creature, not enough to do more than make it angry, but enough to keep the boat moving in the water and those tentacles free from lashing at the sails.
Along with the White SeeD guns there was suddenly a thunderous roar, a flash of yellow-red light that Seifer instantly recognized as a GF being called. Lightning power hadn't been able to hurt the beast, but perhaps fire? He couldn't see which SeeD had called Ifrit, only a profile of the Guardian Force as its massive hooved feet hovered above the water, bringing up clouds of steam where they touched. He quickly tapped the com at his ear as their ship circled around for support.
"Tell the kid to watch out, that's the thing that took down Quetzacoatal."
"Copy." Quistis was completely unruffled, a better leader in a tight spot than he had ever given her credit for. If they survived this, he'd have to go get her a box of... something.
The creature was attacking much as it had against Jayne, but Ifrit was fast enough to dodge its blows, or block them, and flung only smaller fire attacks, refusing to exhaust itself with one massive strike and end up vulnerable to counterattack. It was still just a matter of time before the GF ran out of power, though, if they couldn't even put a crack in the damn thing.
Behind him, Seifer could see more flickers of energy, Leviathan twined in vicious battle with its own pale shadow, flickers of wings rising from a pale back, massive sheets of ice forming across the ocean each time an attack went wide. Pandemona was there too, doing its damndest to shred one of the flying monsters into ribbons by reflecting its own attacks, spiny barbs that shot out from the edges of its wings. GF's fighting GF's, and even if they had more wins than losses it wouldn't be long before whatever survived was making quick work of the ships.
//We need to get through, and that damned thing will stop us well before we can get anywhere!//
Seifer glanced toward Zell, surprised to see him with a hand up to his ear, yelling orders to Quistis. The ship they were on turned, and he saw the other SeeD ship pulling up to the other side, firing on the enormous kraken from both sides. It took Seifer a few moments to realize it was only a distraction, drawing the flailing limbs far enough away from the mouth to give their GF a clear shot, the next time the monster opened its massive beak.
Ifrit seemed to put a little extra power in the fireball that it whipped right down the kraken's gullet. The beast let out a screechy, panicked roar, exploding in a rain of slime and flecks of shell, some of which managed to make it to their boat, Fuujin scowling as a large piece of slimy tentacle plopped down right on her head.
"All you can eat, flown in daily?" She slugged him. Zell turned, a very proud grin on his face, and Seifer groaned.
"Oh, I'm /never/ gonna hear the end of this." Just another thing to hate Rinoa for, and he added it to the list.
Jayne had passed off Quetzacoatal to one of the Balamb boys, her skills as a long-range fighter too valuable to lose for the moment. The enormous bird was high above them now, engaged in a swift and vicious combat with the other GF, flashes of lightning and flickers of plasma energy snaking through the air.
"Second wave, coming in!"
It was only fair that Rinoa give those unjunctioned something to fight as well, and Seifer felt the boat shake and quiver, the sound of wood being crushed as a long, ivory claw slid up over the side of the boat.
He'd always scored fantastically low on monster recognition, with his tactic of attack the same no matter what the question - hammer the fuck out of it until it stopped moving. Still, he doubted these bizarre crablike creatures were in any of the textbooks he'd never bothered to read.
Seifer brought his blade up sideways, not so surprised when the first blow didn't do anything to stop them, their shells made out of the same substance as that damned GF was, but it didn't stop him from shoving forward, knocking the thing back over the railing and down into the water, dropping into a crouch and twisting as a second swung one of those massive claws right where his head had been. The things had maybe twenty small legs, allowing for an amazing maneuverability but one good solid hit with the gunblade shattered all of them, sending the creature screeching to the deck, where it was easily dispatched with a single shot.
So they could be destroyed with only a little difficulty. The only problem remaining was in the numbers, and Seifer soon thought they would be overrun, even with a head exploding here and there as Jayne fired from her position on the other ship.
//We're getting closer to the Tower. We're still going to make it.//
He slashed down at his next attacker, catching badly against the armor plating on the creature, managing to twist the blade away just as a mouth full of razor sharp teeth clamped down in the space his shoulder had been.
A hand reached out, grabbing the back of his uniform and pulling hard - Fuujin's usual tactic, when there wasn't even time for a single word. The sudden blast from Ifrit still managed to singe a bit of his coat, and he understood the reasoning, the creatures shells blazing molten hot only to be hit with a sudden blast of cool foam, Fuujin blasting a chilling wind attack across the entire deck. Two or three of the creatures simply exploded, and the rest were so brittle that even a slight tap from Zell's fists was enough to make them shatter, though the shower of heated guts that spilled across the deck suggested the entire ship would smell like raw fish until approximately the end of time.
"Well, that was-"
Seifer was about to say fun, cut himself off as he saw Fuujin's eyes go wide, the same moment a bone-shattering shriek pierced through the air. He didn't have the chance to even turn fully, saw a blur of movement from the corner of his eye and had the very bitter thought - yet again - that people his age should get an automatic pass from this sort of shit.
The world vanished in a white blur, as a bar of iron struck him straight across the chest, lifting him off the ground. Seifer half-expected to be knocked straight through the cockpit of the ship, surprised instead when the moments passed and his feet still refused to touch ground. Miraculously, he'd managed to keep a grip on his sword.
Seifer blinked, turning his head, finally realizing the iron bar was more like flesh and bone and quite alive. The Guardian Force was staring back, one pupiless eye watching him, a gleaming emerald - a gleaming, /angry/ emerald.
Left hand digging into the GF's wing, sword flush against the span, Seifer quickly let go with his right, swinging away as a very nasty beak attempted to put a few new holes in him. Thankfully, the creature couldn't twist its head enough to get a good enough angle, and before long it was distracted completely, as Quetzacoatal soared up from underneath.
Seifer fervently hoped whoever was controlling it saw him, or that he could somehow dissuade the massive bird from frying him out of the sky along with its opponent. Quetzacoatal plunged and dove, attempting to use its mass to knock the other GF from the sky, and for at least a little while Seifer was forgotten entirely as the two creatures waged war in the skies.
The GF dove, Quetzacoatal following with a violent cry of rage, and before he could blink Seifer found he had been somehow flipped to the back of the wing, a slightly better position. Certainly, a superior viewpoint, as they broke through the clouds in a near vertical fall toward the ocean, very far below. Quetzacoatal followed it all the way down, until the monster pulled up at the very last moment, and they were skimming across the surface of the ocean. Seifer breathed in more foam than air, turned to see the GF still on their tail, but holding back, it couldn't strike with lightning without hurting him. Unable to use its best attacks, there was no way the GF could win.
He had to do something.
The feral GF finally seemed to notice he was still aboard, curved beak lashing out at him only once before realizing it was futile, choosing instead to try another vertical maneuver to toss him off, an ascent this time, rising nearly straight up into the sky, a feat even Quetzacoatal found difficult to duplicate. Impressive, but it wasn't so hard for Seifer to keep his hold on the wing at even this extreme angle - and the new position gave him a wonderfully insane idea.
"You forget, jackass." Seifer growled, digging one hand in for a good hold on the edge of the wing and bringing his sword up with the other, "I do this kind of shit for fun!"
It was mostly allowing gravity to do what it did best, one suicidal second where he had very little of his weight invested on holding on to the GF and most of his energy focused on the sword he swung around in a wide arc, slamming it home on the top of the wing and digging into the joint where it connected to the body. After that, all he had to do was let go of the wing and put all his weight down on the sword.
Hyperion cut straight through the creature's wing. The damned monster didn't even bleed, just twisted and screeched in the sky as it was split nearly in two. Quetzacoatal swooped forward even before the other GF started to fall, delivering a powerful final blow that turned all the sky Seifer could see into a field of electric light.
Fear of falling had never been so high on his list, and even now when it was no dream, there was a long moment without any fear at all. A certain sort of freedom in it, so high above everything that the battle seemed quiet, almost pretty. The tiniest dot of chaos against a field of endless blue, the spire just as small and unimportant.
Of course, he was still plunging to his death, and it would probably be a good idea to do something about it.
If the com wasn't working right - how strong could they be anyway, flimsy bits of plastic - or if Quistis didn't give her the order in time, or if she was too busy - Seifer had only a few breaths to worry about it, and then he felt a sweep of wind from beneath, the well-placed Aero shoving him up, slowing his fall.
//I'll have to buy Fuujin a box of something too.//
He still hit the water awfully damn hard.
Seifer heard something splutter, though it took another moment to realize it was him. He didn't get to do much with the information before the next wave rose up and broke over his head, and he quickly clawed back to the surface, sucking in air and managing not to take in any more seawater. A quick glance to three sides revealed that he was alone, no sign of any ships, and it was only when Seifer turned around that he realized he'd been hearing the roar of waves against rock - the Sorceress' Tower directly behind him.
He didn't bother looking around for the other SeeD ships, either they were still coming or they were cut off and either way they could do nothing for him. He still had his sword, rather amazed he'd hit the water without cutting himself in half, somehow The com was gone, probably drifting to the bottom of the sea, and he was alone. Just the way he liked it.
//Well, maybe without the field of jagged rocks.//
Thankfully the sharp stones that jutted up at the base of the tower seemed a natural result of the spire's formation and not a planned defense. It still took him a very long time to move against the waves, keeping himself from being impaled until he could find a place on the tower's base that was clear of obstacles. He grimaced, even so, expecting to feel any number of sudden, stabbing pains as he allowed the wave to carry him up to the base, thankfully catching the slick, rounded edge and pulling himself up.
Swimming could be tiring in still water, swimming in the ocean for too long was sheer torture, especially when there was a clear destination, and he was exhausted now. Seifer tried to push himself up but his arms trembled and refused to hold his weight. It was about the last place he wanted to take even a momentary rest, but there was little he could do about it except to keep his eyes closed when the taller waves rose up and splashed over his face.
A soft whisper in his mind, and he stopped breathing for a moment. If it was Rinoa, he was doomed, although Seifer was vaguely certain it wasn't. She would likely have many things she wanted to call him, and none of them nearly as kind as knight.
"What!?" The half-drowning and the continued assault of seawater was doing wonders for his mood. Frustrated anger gave Seifer enough of a push to get to his side, looking up just as a face imposed itself, mask like, on the coral and barnacles that wreathed the bottom of the tower. Distorted as it was, he could still tell it belonged to a girl. Sorceress, obviously.
//Assist me, and I will grant you the victory you seek.//
He watched as her phantom slid, rippling like smoke beneath the smooth face of the dark spire, rising to curl right at his side. Her smile was bright, friendly and angry and absolutely full of mayhem - it held a lot of potential, even before she whispered into his thoughts again.
//Come, knight. Let us go hunt a sorceress.//
A flick of her hand, and the wall of the spire seemed to twist and melt, opening into a smooth passage just wide enough for him to fit through. Grunting as he levered himself to his feet, Seifer stepped inside, the wall melding seamlessly together behind him.
Author's Notes -
1. Two more chapters plus epilogue. Almost there, people. ^^ (It's a tad bigger than a 3-parter, ain't it ^^;)
2. Sorry for delay. NaNoWriMo and advent ficcage called.
3. No beta. Hope it doesn't suck. Please forgive errors and inherent author madness.
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