The New Flesh

Chapter Four

By Scarlet Fever

"Ow!" Ellone exclaimed, rubbing the crown of her head. She spun on her heel, slightly disrupting the papers that she'd been looking over. "What was that for?"

Irvine shrugged, spinning on his swivel chair. "Because I demand attention. Besides..." He winked. "Don't you think I'm more interesting than some stupid electronic blueprint?"

"No," Ellone sulked, still rubbing her head as she gave Irvine a cold glare. "Besides, I have to get this done, you idiot. I don't know how exactly Odine set this whole lab up..."

"With midget power?" Irvine offered, still spinning in the chair. "Oooh, dizzy."

Ellone laughed under her breath. "It's almost like Odine didn't want anyone else to continue his work, like Esthar would follow him into his demise..."

"Oooh, such melancholy," Irvine teased, curling his knees up to his chest, the leather of his black pants creaking. "So, do you think Squall's okay?"

"Huh?" Ellone asked, a distracted tone to her voice.

"With Rinoa waking up."

"Oh...." She trailed off, looking into Irvine's periwinkle eyes. "I don't know..." She sighed, deeply concerned for Squall. Even though he wasn't blood relation to her, she still thought of him as her brother. Raine and Laguna may have been Squall's parents, but Ellone felt like they were her parents, too. "I think he's even more concerned that Rinoa seems to be turning to Nida for guidance back into life."

"Really?" Irvine cocked his head, taking off his trademark cowboy hat. "I've never thought of Squall as the jealous type." He shrugged. "I hadn't also thought of him as the butt-fucking type, either."

"Don't be so crass, Irvine."

He laughed. "No matter what I say, I always get a rile out of you."

Ellone put her hands on her hips. "Were you this awful with Selphie, too."

Irvine's eyes darkened momentarily, and his teasing smirk melted off his lips.

"Oh!" Ellone exclaimed. "Irvine, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"No, it's okay. And, yes..." The smirk came back in full-force. "I was this awful with Selphie."

"Thought so..." Ellone muttered, turning back to her blueprints. "I think Esthar is doomed to fall back into the Dark Ages."

Irvine stood, yanking the papers out of Ellone's hands. "Hmmm, let's see."

"Hey!!" Ellone exclaimed. "You..."

"What?" Irvine asked, raising the blueprints over his head, and out of Ellone's reach. "Poopypants?"

Ellone tried to jump at the blueprints, but Irvine kept dangling them just out of her grasp. "You stupid asshole!"

"Yeowch!" He teased. "This kitten has claws."

Ellone balled her hand into a fist, and jabbed it into Irvine's gut.

He made a laughing grunt, and bowed over, but still kept his arm over his head. "Dammit, Elle!"

"Give me those prints, Irvine Kinneas!"

"Make me..." He stuck his tongue at her.

Ellone then laughed, and jumped up at Irvine's arm, using her legs to tangle around his torso. The extra weight caused them both to tumble to the ground. Irvine started teasingly shrieking, but still managed to keep the blueprints away from Ellone's grasping hands.

"You are such an asshole!"

"Sweet talking won't get you anywhere..." Irvine replied, his voice breathless through his laughter.

They both stopped wrestling with each other when they heard someone clearing their throat. They looked towards the door of the Laboratory, and found Edea standing there, her loose hair like a cape around her as she strode at the room.

"Matron!" Ellone exclaimed, standing up. She brushed her clothes down, blushing in slight embarrassment.

Irvine just waved from his sprawled position of the floor. "Hey, Matron? How can we help you?"

"I figure you would want me to leave..." She raised an elegant eyebrow, a teasing glint in her golden brown eyes. "At least I came in before the clothes started coming off."

Ellone's cheeks flushed a deep, deep crimson. "Matron!"

Irvine just laughed. "You're so green, Elle."

She kicked him for good measure. "How can I help you, Matron?" She looked at Edea's face. "Something's wrong...."

"Not... 'wrong'," Edea pointed out. "I don't know... I guess I just need an outlet. I talked to Cid, but..."

"But, he's not in tune with Sorcery?" Ellone asked, sitting down.

Edea nodded distantly. "He understands, but still..." She sat down across from Ellone. "You know, this place is a lot nicer since you've taken it over from Odine. It was always so..."

"Dungeon of Torture?" Irvine offered.

Ellone just gave him a look. "So, Matron, how can I help you?"

Edea folded her hands in front of her, even her smallest motions carrying more grace than the whole city of Esthar combined. "Have you felt any sort of... powers, lately?"

"Powers?" Ellone echoed hollowly. "You mean, Sorcery?"

Edea nodded slowly. "It's just been recently that I've felt it... Since..."

"Since when?" Irvine asked.

"Since Rinoa woke up," Edea murmured.

"You think Rinoa is a Sorceress again?" Ellone asked, her chocolate eyes widening.

"No," Edea said, waving her hands. "I would know that Rinoa was a Sorceress again. It's not that. But, there is a rise in some sort of energy. I was just wondering if you'd also felt something."

"Why don't you try talking to Rinoa?" Irvine asked, cocking his head.

"Because I don't want to upset her," Edea said. "She just woke up from a prolonged coma, and I know that she's not a Sorceress, so I don't want to scare her with something that could just be my irrational fears and hallucinations..."

"Hallucinations?" Ellone asked. "What have you seen, Matron?"

Edea shrugged gracefully, feeling a little foolish. "Oh, just... It's nothing, really."

"Tell us," Irvine demanded.

"Well, Cid and I went to Spira for breakfast, and I was looking out the window, and saw..." She laughed darkly. "God, it sounds so stupid."

"Just spit it out, please?" Ellone asked, confused.

"I thought I saw.... I don't know, someone familiar."

"I think you do know, Matron," Irvine pointed out.

She smiled sadly. "I thought I saw Seifer and Zell."

Ellone and Irvine exchanged looks.

"See..." Edea trailed off. "I told you it was stupid."

"What... what makes you think this?" Ellone asked, going a little pale.

"Just a feeling?" Edea answered, her tone unsure. "You look pale, Ellone."

"Just... thinking." She shared a look with Irvine again. "I mean, it's not as crazy as you think it sounds, Matron. I mean, Ultimecia and Adel came back... What's to say that Seifer and Zell... couldn't?"

"Does that scare you?" Edea asked.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said 'no'. Honestly, I think it would be wonderful to see them again, and I think it would alleviate a lot of Squall's melancholy, but.... Yes, Matron, it does scare me."

"Because of the possibility that that means Adel and Ultimecia are still around?" Irvine asked. He closed his eyes sadly, slightly squinting them, like he was in pain. "That they could come back and do the same things they did before...." He sighed deeply.

"You're thinking about Selphie?" Ellone asked. She tried to hide some sort of distant emotion that could only be chalked in the category of jealousy. She and Irvine had been spending a lot of time together, especially after they'd both been in Trabia, protecting Edea from Ultimecia and Adel. Ellone knew that feelings for Irvine were growing in her, and it almost hurt her whenever he got distant at the mention of Selphie's name. She wasn't resentful of Selphie, at all, but it hurt her to know that Irvine was hurting because of her memory, and also that he still couldn't really move on. And, this just kind of made Ellone feel selfish.

"Don't get so worried," Edea whispered. "I told you it was foolish. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to. I mean... I feel like Seifer and Zell are my children, just as much as I feel it for you and Irvine, Ellone. Or, how I feel it for Quistis and Squall, too. And, I miss them...."

"We all do, Matron..." Ellone whispered, taking Edea's hand. "Look, I'm sure Rinoa will understand if you want to talk to her. Maybe she's feeling something because of Nida's empathy..?"

"Huh?" Irvine cocked his head.

Ellone stretched to full height. "Well, from what I understand, Nida's empathy passed out of his body when he received Iudicium's powers, so it's only logical that maybe Rinoa accepted it. She'll probably also have a few questions, too, besides what shoes are in style now."

Edea nodded. "Well, I have to go to the Palace anyway. Squall and Nida are supposed to be going to Dollet today, and I want to say goodbye."

"I heard Rinoa was going with them..." Irvine trailed off.

Ellone's eyebrows shot up, while Edea just stared at him.

"What?" He shrugged. "Hey, men gossip, too."

"Why is Rinoa going?" Edea asked.

"I assume because they're also going to Galbadia and Timber, and she wants to go home, and see her friends in the Timber Owls."

"Understandable," Edea whispered. "Well, thank you for listening to my ramblings, Ellone, Irvine. Are you heading to the Palace?"

"After I finish this!" Ellone exclaimed, yanking the blueprints away from Irvine.

Edea nodded, giving them both a knowing look, and left Odine's former Lab.

"I'm worried," Irvine trailed off.

"Yeah, me, too...." Ellone echoed. "Edea is usually right. What if Seifer and Zell come back? Does that mean that Adel and Ultimecia come back, too?"

"No, I was talking about you trying to fix the electronics. You'll blow up the whole city."

Ellone smacked Irvine on the back of the head. "Asshole."

"Rinoa better not keep us waiting," Squall glowered, huddling into his black velour scarf. "I'll leave without her."

Nida cleared his throat. "Uh, I'm fucking flying, Squall."

Squall looked up the hallway. There were people, soldiers and officials walking up and down, but none of them were Rinoa. "I won't be able to go down on you while over the Balamb Ocean now..."

Nida snorted, then started laughing quietly. "Well, then maybe we should leave her here..."

"No you shouldn't!!"

They both turned to see Rinoa coming towards them, a suitcase in one hand, Laguna's hand in her other. Laguna smiled and waved at his son. He also had a suitcase in his hand. It matched Rinoa's so it must have been her other one.

"Sorry!" Rinoa exclaimed, putting her suitcase on the floor, then bowing. "I was hurrying, but Laguna commandeered me in the hallway, and blah, blah, blah!" She made a yapping motion with her hand, the sleeve of her white fishnet shirt poking out from under her deep brown coat.

"I don't 'blah, blah, blah'!" Laguna exclaimed, huffing. "I thought I was being rather gentlemanly, in escorting a beautiful lady to her carriage!"

"Well, I'm surprised you even made it at all..." Squall muttered, shooting his father a look.

"Ooh, Squall, you're so Grinchy!" Laguna waved his hands. "I'm going to miss you guys!"

"We'll be back, Laguna!" Nida exclaimed. "We aren't going into the Witness Relocation Program or anything. Where are Quistis and Xu?"

Laguna shrugged. "Muhnuhnuh."

Squall raised an eyebrow. "You mean 'I don't know'?"

Rinoa laughed. "Well, I'm ready to go. Thank you for helping me with my bag, Laguna." During her relationship with Squall, she'd learned to call the President Of Esthar by his first name.

"Oh, you're welcome. But, can I ask you a question?"

Rinoa pulled a puzzled face. "And, that would be?"

"Why did you seem to tense up when we passed the Library?"

"I... I don't know what you're talking about...."

"Hey!" Laguna ran his hands through his hair. "I'm not as dense as some people think..." He shot a look to Squall.

Rinoa waved her hand. "Oh, it's nothing. I just got this funny feeling when I was in there reading. Almost like I wasn't alone...." She shrugged.

"Ooooh!" Laguna made wavy motions with his hand. "Maybe it was the ghost!"

Squall just snorted, while Rinoa furrowed her brow. "Ghost?"

"Oh, now you've done it..." Nida muttered.

"You've been spending too much time with Squall," Laguna stated. "Yeah, a couple of years ago, someone died in the Library."

"How?" Rinoa asked, bringing her fingers to her lips. She remembered the feeling of touching something tangible, yet invisible, but didn't say anything about it.

"Sleeping Pills and Vodka," Laguna answered. "So, now it's supposed to be haunted." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Maybe the guy who died wanted to be near a pretty lady again."

"Oh, Jesus Christ..." Squall muttered under his breath.

"Okay, fine!" Laguna huffed. "I'll shut up now." He smiled at Squall. "Can I at least give my son a hug before he goes away?"

Squall opened his mouth to protest, but before he could, Laguna caught Squall in a bone-crushing bear hug. All he could do was gasp as he was held tightly against his father's chest. Although he couldn't really breathe, Squall did enjoy being hugged by his father. But, something stubborn in him prevented him from vocalizing it. He gingerly hugged Laguna back, but it was limited, since Laguna basically had Squall's arms pinned at his sides.

"I'm going to miss you.." Laguna trailed off, releasing Squall, and cupping the sides of Squall's almost delicate looking face. "Have fun, okay?"

"Jesus, Dad... You're not going to start crying, are you?"

"No....." Laguna trailed off quietly, kissing Squall's forehead. "I love you, Squall."

Squall just sighed as Laguna released him, finally. The President Of Esthar then swept Nida up into the same sort of debilitating hug that he'd gotten Squall into. Nida could only gasp as his breath was squished out of his body. Laguna then pinched one of Nida's cheeks, and gave a quick kiss to one of Rinoa's cheeks, then the other. "You three be good, okay?"

"We will..." They all answered in unison.

Laguna got Squall in another octopus hug, which caused the scarred SeeD to grimace. They just waved as Laguna wandered off.

"So....." Rinoa trailed off, sounding a bit nervous and sheepish. "Where to first?"

Squall just rolled his eyes, and pulled a steel case out of his coat pocket. Nida sighed. "We're going to Deling, first." He looked over as Squall pulled out a cigar.

"You smoke?" Rinoa asked, perplexed as she began to shift her weight, pressing her chin into the electric blue scarf she was wearing.

"A cigar isn't the same thing as smoking..." Squall muttered.

"Just finish it before we get to the Ragnarok, please?" Nida muttered, offering to carry one of Rinoa's suitcases. She smiled and gave Nida the lighter one, to be nice.

"It'll be great to go to Deling. And, you guys are staying in the mansion, right? It's nicer than a Hotel, and a hell of a lot cheaper..."

"...Whatever," Squall muttered.

"I guess that means 'sure'," Nida muttered, rolling his eyes at his lover. Sometimes, he couldn't understand how Squall could be like two totally different people sometimes. Nida noticed that Squall was warm and amusing with him, but with other people, especially with the reappearance of Rinoa, or just anyone in general, he was rather detached and cold. And, it seemed to be getting more and more noticeable. Normally, Nida wouldn't have really said anything to Squall, because it didn't affect their relationship at all, but it was just becoming rude.

Rinoa began to stare off into the distance, her steps slowing and slowing as her mind wandered. She occasionally bumped shoulders with Nida, because she wasn't even concentrating on where she was going. She began thinking of what Laguna said, about that Library being haunted. It was a silly story, but she couldn't stop thinking about the feeling of touching something that was there, and wasn't, at the same time. Was Laguna's stupid story actually right? Was there a ghost in that Library, and had Rinoa touched it? If so, how? She briefly thought of her strange dream with the disappearing numbers and illuminated clock face.

"Rinoa...?" Nida asked, poking her shoulder a couple of times. He noticed that she kept bumping into him, and when he looked at her profile, she was just staring ahead like a zombie.

"Huh....?" She slightly turned her head, and looked at Nida out of the corner of her eye. "Oh, sorry... You were saying something?"

"No," Nida said. "You're in another dimension."

Squall narrowed his eyes, nursing his cigar, a habit he'd picked up during field training for Garden. He would have stopped smoking them if Nida asked, but he never said anything. Besides, he didn't have to smoke them. It was more of a casual appreciation, like with marijuana or alcohol. However, he wasn't thinking about the cigar at that moment. He was thinking about Rinoa, and this... odd feeling he'd been getting ever since she'd woken up. It wasn't 'evil' per se, but it was just different, and so decidedly not Rinoa Heartilly. It was almost like a perfume of aura was hanging around her, and Squall just couldn't quite catch the scent. Every time that he thought he was on the right trail, or the idea was on the tip of his tongue, it would leave him, and Rinoa would just become plain old Rinoa again in his mind.

"Oh, just thinking of what your father said," Rinoa answered quietly, looking over at Squall. "About the ghost...."

Squall snorted, smoke coming out his nostrils. "Oh, for Hyne's sake. Don't let anything my father says hold water, especially when it's something stupid like ghost stories..." Squall made wavy motions with his hand. "Ooooh....." He rolled his stormy eyes, chuckling to himself.

"I don't know..." Rinoa mused sheepishly. "I guess I just like ghost stories. They're fun...." She sighed, deciding not to bring up the apparition in the Library.

"...Whatever," Squall repeated. "Well, we might as well hit the fucking highway..." He muttered, stubbing the rest of the cigar under the heel of his polished black dress combat boot.

"We're flying, though..." Rinoa pointed out, jokingly.

Squall did not look amused.

"Laguna!" Edea called, jogging up to the President's side. "Have you seen Rinoa around anywhere?"

Laguna smiled. "Oh, hello, Edea. Yeah... You just missed her..." He pointed towards the Airstation out the window that they were standing in front of. Laguna then tucked a few locks of grey streaked black hair behind his ears. "They just left for Deling."

"Shit!" Edea swore.

"Whoa!" Laguna blinked a couple times, and big grin on his face. "Edea, that has to be the first time I've heard you swear."

"I really needed to talk to her...."

Laguna's countenance changed, and he was suddenly very serious. "You seem worried. What is it?"

Edea sighed. "Oh, don't worry, Laguna... It's not like that at all. I just wanted to talk to her about..." She smiled, apologetically, at Laguna. "No, never mind."

"Oh!" He exclaimed. "You are so not pulling that on me. You started it!" Laguna was practically jumping on the spot with anticipation. "What is it?"

"You know, you remind me of Squall... When he was four."

Laguna waved a hand. "Now, now, Edea... Your insults bounce off me. If I've survived Kiros this long, you're a dance around the Maypole."

They both stopped talking as a Palace worker of some kind, possibly an intern, gave them a look as she walked past them. Laguna furrowed his brow, because he never remembered seeing her before. He liked to know all the people that worked in the Esthar Palace. Maybe this girl was a new employee that he just hadn't had time to talk with yet. She looked over with ruddy brown eyes that bordered on roan red, and gave a small smile, showing jagged canines, flipping her fiery red hair over one shoulders. It was shoulder length and curly, but the locks running along her hairline were done in plaits that were braided with black ribbon, making it look striped. She was taller than Laguna, but not as tall as Kiros. "Good morning, President Loire, Mrs. Kramer."

"Hello.... Errr...." Laguna trailed off.

"Oh.... I'm Maria... I just started." She gave another small smile, and continued on her way.

Edea frowned, something nagging at her as the 'intern' or whatever she was rounded a corner. However, something deep inside the Sorceress told her that... Maria's presence wasn't too far away.

Laguna just shrugged. "Alright, back on topic. Tell me, woman!"

Edea just shook her head. "Okay, but just don't think I'm crazy, okay?"

"I kind of live in the 'calling people crazy' glass house, Edea."

She smiled despite herself, her deep brown painted mouth turning up. "Well, I just get this feeling.... Kind of like with Nida when he had his empathy, and it started when Rinoa woke up.... I just wanted to ask her about it. And....." She shook her head.

"And? What and?" Laguna asked, leading he and Edea down the hall to his office, where they could have more privacy.

"Well, when Cid and I were eating breakfast at Spira today..."

"Spira? Is their melon soup any good? There was a review in the Esthar Tribune about it, and it said it was to die for. I was also kind of interested in trying the red snapper with the cactus guacamole...." He looked over at Edea. "Oh, sorry for interrupting."

She just smirked. "I didn't think you were interested in that type of food, Laguna. I guess we learn something new every day."

"Well, being the President, I get to try a lot of things, and at half the price. Kiros really digs trying new stuff. Personally, I'd just rather get a burger and vegetate in front of the TV..."

"Anyway, at Spira, I thought that I saw Seifer and Zell...."

That sobered Laguna up in an instant. He slowly sat up fully from the leaned back position in his chair, and looked at Edea, very solemnly. "Seifer and Zell...?" He repeated hollowly.

Edea nodded. "Yeah... See, I know it was just my imagination, but with this feeling that I'm getting on top of it..."

"You think Rinoa has something to do with it?" Laguna asked, resting his chin on his knuckles.

Edea waved her hands. "Oh, I don't think anything bad of Rinoa, Laguna... I just... I guess I'm just being paranoid..."

"Overly cautious." Laguna corrected.

"That's what Cid said."

"He's a smart man..." Laguna trailed off. "Want me to call back the Ragnarok?"

"Oh, no!" Edea exclaimed. "Anyway, Cid and I are going to Deling for the Fermata concert, and Squall and Nida are supposed to be there... I can just meet up with them then."

"Good plan..." Laguna offered. "Look, Edea. If you feel anything odd, or see things again, I want you to tell me. I mean, it may sound crazy to you, but after what happened with Seifer and Zell..." He trailed off.

"Yeah, I know. That's probably why I haven't totally given up on it. And, what with Tevedes Tsepeth now in the picture... I guess I'm just extra worried about any bad press for Sorcery."

"I'll echo that..." Laguna huffed, leaning back in his chair once more. "Nida doesn't seem worried, but I think he should be. Even though nobody's giving Tevedes much of a chance to win the election, I would still worry...." His handsome face darkened. "I've got a feeling that General Tsepeth has quite a few tricks up her sleeve."

"I know...." Edea whispered sadly. "Things could become very ugly, very fast...."

"Do you think she'll be okay?" Schuld asked, looking from the doctor, to the girl again. "She looks kind of brain damaged..."

The doctor pushed Schuld out of the way. "Well, she's not going to recover if you're all in her face. Don't worry, Schuld. Just tell Tevedes that she'll be good to go when needed."

The girl's eyes focused a bit as the doctor and this woman called... Schuld... talked to each other. It wasn't anything about the conversation, because she felt like she was in a never-ending fog. It was something shiny that seemed to twinkle and blind her sensitive eyes. It was the doctor's clothing. Under the starchy white coat, there was... something that looked slick and shiny, and reflected the light as the doctor moved around the room. She had to squint, and turn her head away.

"Hey, she moved!" Schuld exclaimed.

"What's going on?" Pallas asked, coming in the room. "Tevedes wants an update."

"Where is our illustrious leader, anyway?" the doctor asked.

"She went into Deling City with Tempest, Kronos, Valhalla and Gietzen. She'll be back in a couple days."

Schuld snorted, flipping her blood red braids over one shoulder, her black tear tattoo crinkling as she smiled. "Oh, and what will Tevedes do without her illustrious bodyguard?"

Pallas kicked Schuld, and bent at the waist to inspect their patient. "She looks healthier. You're a miracle worker, doc."

"I try..." the doctor answered dully, tucking a lock of blond hair behind her ear. The blonde was an odd colour, and almost had a greenish tinge to it, like it had been exposed to too much water or something.

The girl blinked a few more times, seeming to only see the corset or whatever it was that the doctor wore. Also, this new woman, Pallas, and her beautiful face, also were shining. Her hair glittered like gold.

"She keeps looking away..." Pallas pointed out, standing again, putting her hands on her hips. Her weaponry jingled with her movement. "And, squinting... Are her eyes sensitive or something?"

The doctor dimmed the lights. "Yeah... Don't worry. You can tell the General that all's set to go."

There was a low whistle, which caused the doctor, Pallas and Schuld to turn around slowly, but which caused the girl seated on the hospital style bed to cover her ears and curl into a ball as the noise split through her head.

"I just got a call from Esthar...." the whistling woman said, stepping into the room. "Ahhh, fresh meat."

The girl slowly opened her eyes, and looked into the feral amber eyes of a calm looking woman with a very feline looking face. That wasn't to say she wasn't human looking, but her slightly slanted eyes, animalistic gold eyes, and small mouth made her look like a cat. She also moved with the grace of a feline, something that hit something familiar in the girl, like she knew someone who walked with a cat's prowess. However, a shiver went through the patient's spine when she looked at the garments of the cat-like woman. In her foggy state, the stole that the woman was wearing looked like it was alive, and was going to jump out, animate into a savage creature.

"Oh?" Schuld asked. "Well, fucking spit it out."

"Don't get too excited," the cat woman said. "It's only that Squall Leonhart, Rinoa Heartilly, and the Sorcerer Nida Nomura left the city on the Ragnarok. I was told to tell Tempest.... And, she's not here, is she?"

Pallas shook her head, her metallic hair glittering. "No. She's in Deling. But, I'll relay the message."

The cat woman rolled her cat eyes. The stole made it look like she had a tail, which to the girl cowering on the bed, looked like it was wagging, as if alive. "Fine, do that. I've got more preparing to do."

"Oh!" Schuld called as the fur-clad woman left. "You reek of animals..."

"Isn't that the point?" The woman asked, winking, and flashing a grin that showed prominent canines.

The girl on the bed felt something familiar move over her, but again, her mind was too foggy to remember anything except for being found on the beach by this General Tsepeth. She looked at the remaining women in the room, and noticed that through the bare arms of Pallas and Schuld, that there were rings. Two rings in each arm, piercing the skin, and passing through the arm, between the bones of the forearm. The girl wondered if the cat woman had the same thing. It was hard to tell with the doctor, because her white coat was long-sleeved.

"Whe....?" The girl began to ask, but could only cough. Her voice didn't want to co-operate at all.

"Oh, isn't that cute?" Schuld muttered, patting the patient's head. "She thinks she's people."

"How long until Deling?" Rinoa asked, standing far enough behind Nida and Squall in order not to be in the way of Nida flying the Ragnarok.

"An hour or so....?" Nida estimated.

She nodded. "I'll be in that... conference type room, reading." She held up a book. "Just intercom me if there's anything important."

"Doubtful," Squall muttered, staring straight ahead.

Rinoa gave Squall a dirty look behind his back, and went down the elevator. Squall smiled as soon as Rinoa was gone, and shifted in his seat so that he could lean over to Nida, and move his tongue into Nida's ear. "I though she'd never leave."

"Squall, you're being such an asshole, you know?" Nida stated, his voice perfectly calm, as if they were discussing if they needed milk.

Squall pulled away, giving his lover a blank stare. "What?"

"With Rinoa." Nida put the Ragnarok on auto-pilot so he could look directly into Squall's icy eyes. "Wait, not just Rinoa... With everyone."

Something in Squall's heart constricted briefly. Panic. "You think I'm mean to you?" He asked, his voice keeping an even tone, but inside, deep fear was making Squall feel like his blood was running cold. The thought of Nida thinking ill of him make Squall petrified. I love you more than life, Nida. If you think I'm mean to you, I'll move the world to fix it. Please don't tell me that you're angry with me.

"No, Squall, and that's the whole point...."

Squall relaxed, but cocked his head in confusion. "Then, I don't understand."

"That, you're like two different people, and it's getting more noticeable. Look, I don't have a single complaint about our relationship, because to me, it's Heaven. But...." Nida quickly interjected, noticing that Squall was going to lean in again. "It kind of bothers me that you're distancing yourself so visibly from everyone, and that you're being so mean to Rinoa...."

"So, what?" Squall asked, his voice taking on a surprisingly angry tone. "Are you her best friend now or something?"

Nida just blinked a couple times, his beautiful face blank of all emotions. "Wow...." He trailed off. "You know, I've never seen you jealous before until now... I don't think I like it." A small, mirthful smirk graced his lips. "Although I'm flattered that you're so protective, it's not needed, and frankly, doesn't bring out your most endearing qualities."

Squall looked down at his hands, feeling slightly ashamed. He clenched and unclenched his fists, listening to the leather of his gloves creaking.

Nida looked at Squall as they were both silent. He could see the shame tinting Squall's alabaster cheeks a deep pink, and it made him feel bad for being so blunt. It also made him surprised that Squall was even showing such emotions. Shame wasn't really in Squall's emotional vocabulary. "I'm sorry...." Nida whispered. He reached out, and touched the side of Squall's face, the briefest tint of power exiting his fingers, and spreading over Squall's cheek, like a ghost's touch. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad." He paused. "I.... I'm sorry...." The second apology had started as an 'I love you' in Nida's brain, but changed as soon as it hit his mouth.

Squall nuzzled into the touch, his cheeks burning with the blush in them, but his expression was back to that of his typically composed, cool expression. He leaned into the touch when Nida embraced him, pulling Squall into his lap. Squall shifted his weight in Nida's lap, tucking his head under Nida's chin. He began to feel power rise over his skin, and he smiled distantly. With his eyes closed, Squall tilted his head up, trying to search out Nida's lips with his own. When their mouths touched, it was like an electrical current sparked, like a small bolt spell had been cast between them. Squall opened his mouth to Nida, and instead of his mouth being filled with Nida's warm, wet tongue, it was filled with burning, hot power, that felt like the breath of a demon, like gaseous fire, and yet, cool and loving, the way only a lover's touch can be.

It was like the breath of Sorcery was pushed down Squall's throat, filling his lungs, but also followed Squall's oesophagus, pushing into his stomach, even into his blood, like it was a quick-acting medicine or poison. It took the space in Squall's lungs away from his own air, completely filling his body with this wave of hot power that seemed like a living creature. But, Squall wasn't afraid. In Nida's arms, he felt nothing but safe. The feeling of being possessed by an invisible incarnation of power, Nida's power, Iudicium's power, was fulfilling, making Squall feel fairly complete. He wanted to vocalize all of this, but just couldn't. He wanted to scream into Nida's mouth that this was the only time he ever felt like he belonged, like he was complete, that he wasn't missing something, that he loved Nida, that his heart wanted to pop out of his chest, wanted to explode, burst into a million pieces, every time Nida was around, every time Nida touched him. Squall wanted to yell all these things for the entire world to hear, but just couldn't. All that came out was the smallest of moans, that in Squall's heart, was filled with everything he ever wanted to say to Nida. But, he knew that Nida wouldn't know how he felt, and even though Squall wanted to tell him, the thought of opening up again just petrified him. He didn't want to have his heart ripped out of his chest again. Squall knew that Nida would never deliberately hurt him, but Ellone and Rinoa had never wanted to deliberately hurt him.

Nida pulled away from Squall slightly when he felt Squall's lithe body shivering in his arms. "What is it?" Nida asked, perplexed. It wasn't cold in the cockpit, rather, Nida found it quite warm, and getting hotter because of his own building lust. He could see a million hidden emotions in Squall's eyes, like the top layer was calm, frozen over, but things were lurking underneath. Squall's eyes were like the ocean beneath them: A million secrets that would probably never see the light of day.

"Nothing..." Squall whispered, tucking his head under Nida's chin once more, wanting to kick himself for not being able to open up to his lover. He wondered if he ever would be able to...

Rinoa flipped the page in her book, sighing. She would occasionally look out the window, seeing the clouds passing past at a quick speed. She smiled as she watched some birds flying along with the Ragnarok. She actually felt very peaceful. True, she was alone, practically alienated out of the cockpit by Squall, but Rinoa didn't really mind. She knew that Squall and Nida were only a quick elevator ride away, but this way, she got to enjoy watching the world pass by again, and got to just enjoy being in her own head again. She also felt better because the Library thoughts, and Laguna's silly ghost story, were fare away in Esthar, and Rinoa just didn't want to bother herself with it. As they got closer and closer to Deling, she was thinking more about seeing things that she'd been missing, if things had changed at all, seeing Angelo and her house. Apparently, Angelo was being taken care of by her neighbour, who knew about Rinoa being in a coma. Rinoa had also discovered that nobody had known about her 'death', that it had been quickly covered up by Garden, and everyone just thought that she'd gone into a coma, without dying first.

This made Rinoa glad, for she was already having enough problems wrapping her mind around the fact that she'd been dead, but was living and breathing now. And, it would have just been harder to accept if everyone, besides their close acquaintances in Garden, knew about her, because she would have been stared at funny, whispered about, pitied. It was just better this way. Rinoa looked back down at her book, a Satirical look at the model world, wanting to become engrossed in it again. She only got a few paragraphs down page 356 before she felt something tug at her heart. It hurt. She shook her head, touching her chest. She'd removed her coat, and was wearing a white fishnet shirt under a black quilted vest that zippered up the front. Rinoa could feel her heart pounding against her chest. She pushed her ring pendant out of the way, and touched her breast, where under the mammary, her heart was beating painfully. Distantly, she traced the scalloped lace of her white bra with her fingertips, still feeling where her heart was beating. It went away.

She shrugged, and zipped her vest up again, so that it covered her bra, which was highly visible through the fishnet of the shirt. As Rinoa turned the page, tucking her streaked hair behind her ears, and scratching her leg through the midi-length black knit skirt she wore. Then, her heart started beating again, almost like it was beating to a specified beat. She held her palm tightly against her chest, and closed the book, Glamorama, and looked out the window, her eyes blurring from the pain. She reached up from her cross-legged position on the floor, and hiked her body up by using the chair for leverage.

"What's happening...?" She whispered, the room blurring for a moment. She looked out the window again, wondering if she was just getting motion sickness. When she tried to look at the calm, fluffy clouds zipping by the Ragnarok, she gasped, falling to her knees in utter shock. The clouds weren't calm anymore, nor were they floating in a jolly blue sky. It looked like a horrible storm, but like one she'd never seen. It almost looked like a Hurricane, with swirling winds and flying debris. But, it wasn't debris...

Rinoa squinted, leaning against the tall window, her whole body pressed against it, her hands splayed on the glass. She watched the sky swirl around them. However, it didn't seem to be affecting the ship at all. Rinoa had been on enough airships, and had been on them in storms, so she knew what turbulence felt like. And, for such a vicious looking storm, there was no turbulence. It was almost like it wasn't a real storm. Rinoa blinked her cocoa eyes a few times, wondering if her mind was finally beginning to disagree with being conscious, but she was still staring into the maw of the awful storm. It almost looked like lights, swirling around. There were green and purple, red and orange streaks flashing all around them. Rinoa looked closer, shaking her head in disbelief, and gasped, falling backwards from the window onto her ass. The swirls looked like they were human, taking the shape of human bodies. She looked again, but the hallucination wasn't going away. There were also shapes of monsters and animals. She wanted to look away, horrified and terrified.


She yelped, clutching at her chest, at her pounding heart, the fabric of her quilted, form-fitting vest bunching in her trembling fist.


She panted, screaming in terror. Where were the voices coming from? It was like a million cries were becoming one. She dared to look out to the storm again, and saw the shapes seeming to reach for her, like they were reaching through the walls of the Ragnarok. They started to become more tangible, like it was humans, screeching and screaming as they floated in the stream of the storm. They seemed to be wailing in anguish, swirling around the eye of their Hurricane, which seemed to be the Ragnarok herself. Rinoa tried to stand, but the stacked heel leather boots she was wearing didn't want to support her, and the floor felt like ice under her soles. She grabbed hold of the swivel chairs around her, and lurched towards the door, wanting to be on the bridge with Squall and Nida.


She moaned, covering her ears with her hands, the backs of her pearl earrings digging into the flesh behind her ears. She looked to the storm again, and their mouths all seemed to be opening in silent screams, the only tangible word being Rinoa's name. She was almost at the door when one of the streaky forms reached out for her, as if reaching into the ship. Rinoa's heart hammered painfully in her chest, and she wanted to die, throw up all the contents of her body. She saw the translucent hand reaching for her, with its spindly fingers, and odd marking on the palm. Some sort of awful burn, a brand of some sort, that seemed to still be smoking. It was two letters. IX.


She screamed, slamming her eyes shut, pain shooting up her arm from the thumping of her heart.


She shivered. The voices seemed to combine into one.

"Rinoa! Are you there? Come up to the bridge!"

She looked around wildly, and realized it was Nida calling her through the intercom. Could the other voices have been him, too, and she was just imagining things? But, out the window, the unnatural storm still brewed, a terrible tempest all around them. She dashed for the elevator, and collapsed on it as it went up to the cockpit.

"Wasn't it on the radar?" Rinoa heard Squall ask. She slowly stood, lurching forward, leaning her shaking body on the back of Nida's chair.

Squall looked over as he heard Rinoa shuffle into the cockpit. "What the hell happened to you?"

She looked out at the storm around them. "What is it?" She clutched at her heart again, panting as sweat beaded on her face. She could only slide to the floor, her heart racing in agony and terror.

"It just showed up!" Nida exclaimed. "And, the odd thing is that it's not affecting the ship."

"It.... reach...ed ...for me!!" Rinoa burst out, her voice high, shrill.

Squall just looked at her, at the fact that her face was drenched in sweat, that she was clenching at her chest, that he could practically hear her heart racing.

Nida closed his eyes. "It's magical...." He bowed his head, folding his hands under his chin, like he was praying. It was the motion in which he used to cast Junctioned spells. He let all the air out of his lungs, and searched his mind for that gossamer connection he shared with Iudicium. He emptied himself of all thought, as if offering all the space in his body to the Goddess of Judgement. Help me.... Nida mentally whispered. His lips also moved with the motion, but the words only echoed in his mind. He felt Iudicium stir within him, and could see a white light within his own head, like Iudicium was passing one of her snowy hands over his gaze.

Rinoa looked up as she felt something in the air. A rise in power. It lessened the pain in her chest, and she gasped, scuttling back from the chair as she saw wings sprout from Nida's back. It was the same as when she'd had Edea's powers before, when Rinoa herself had been a Sorceress, when she'd had her Angel Wing ability. She just watched as the great black wings sprouted from Nida's shoulder blades. She shifted her gaze to Squall, who was watching the storm outside, his eyes dark with thought and confusion, his mouth drawn into a tight line.

Nida tilted his head back, his eyes sliding open. Squall looked over, and saw the glittering onyx of Nida's stare, which was fixed on the ceiling, and nothing at all. Nida's lips also parted, and he let his breath out, before his eyes shut again. The wings also disappeared, as quickly as they'd come.

Both Squall and Rinoa watched as the storm flocculated outside the Ragnarok, then dissipate into nothingness, the blue sky returning once more. Squall slumped over, a very small smile gracing his beautiful face. He turned to Nida, touching the side of the Asian man's face, which was cool with a thing sheen of sweat. "Nida....?" He whispered.

Rinoa touched her chest. It still sort of hurt, but her heart rate was normal again. She pulled herself off the floor, and touched Nida's shoulder. "Nida?"

He slowly opened his eyes, looking into Squall's eyes, then Rinoa's. "Hey...."

"Are you okay?" Both Squall and Rinoa asked in unison.

He nodded, rubbing his face. "Yeah.... Dammit." He sighed. "It's still really hard to control Iudicium's powers.... It takes too much out of me... I guess I'll have to train with Edea more."

"You stopped the storm though!" Rinoa exclaimed, rubbing her chest again.

"What was it?" Squall asked, looking out to the sky again.

"I...." Nida trailed off. "I don't know...."

Rinoa shook her head. "It reached for me." She used the sleeve of her fishnet shirt to wipe some of the sweat off her face. Squall silently offered her a handkerchief, which she took with a small, grateful smile. "When I was down in the other part of the ship... It looked like people...." She sighed.

"It wasn't natural," Nida agreed.

Squall gently pulled Nida to his feet, then sat his lover down in another chair. "I'll fly the rest of the way, okay?"

Nida just nodded distantly, knowing that it was better that Squall pilot the ship. "Who would cast spells like that?"

Rinoa shook her head. "I don't know...."

"What did you mean?" Squall asked, looking over his shoulder at his former girlfriend, who was playing with the zipper on her vest nervously. "When you said it looked like people?"

"Well, it was at first, all streaky colours..." Rinoa stood next to Nida's seat, then slumped to the ground, her chest still sort of sore. "It felt like I was going to have a heart attack...." She touched her chest again. "Then, the streaks kind of looked like people, and my heart just kept beating and beating, faster and faster. And, it was like one of the people reached through the ship...." She reached her own hand out as she said this, mimicking the motion. "There was a mark on the palm..." She sighed. "God, this is so stupid. First, I'm seeing ghosts in Esthar, and now creatures in the sky."

"In Esthar?" Nida asked distantly, placing his fingertips to his temples.

She waved her hand. "Oh, in the Library...."

"That's just you buying into my father's stupid stories," Squall pointed out, looking out to the horizon. "I see Deling City."

"Good..." Rinoa whispered. "Good."

Squall kept his gaze ahead, but narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Rinoa was seeing things, sensing things? Did she have something to do with this magical storm? Things had felt tense as soon as she'd awoken. Squall huffed his air out his nose, saying nothing as Rinoa quietly asked Nida if he was okay.

Return to Archive | next | previous