The New Flesh

Chapter Nine

By Scarlet Fever

It was the darkest part of night in Deling City. The only light in the room was from the moon, which was bright, but would be hidden behind moving clouds, so would dim away, encasing everything in shadows. The occasional firelight from a match would illuminate the surfaces of the office. Tevedes crossed her legs as she brought the match to the end of her cigar, lighting it. She relished the harsh taste of the smoke, puffing thoughtfully on the thick cigar, her eyes looking through the darkness, already accustomed to it. The other girls were out somewhere, probably at dinner or having an orgy of some sort. Tevedes was considering joining them later, but had pressing tasks at hand. She slowly raised her body out of the chair, her flesh glowing in the blue moonlight. She'd abandoned her military coat, and was wearing simple clothing; a black tank top and black pants, her bare feet slapping on the tiled ground. The slave rings which pierced her forearms shone as she stopped, looking at one of the chairs, and the woman who was tied up in it, tightly wound barbed wire holding her to the chair, cutting her skin. The barbs were dripping with blood, and it was tied so tightly that it was embedded in the flesh of the poor woman's wrists.

Tevedes snapped her fingers a few times in front of the woman's face. She'd called an Escort service, and this pale blonde thing had been delivered. The others had wondered why she wanted to stay behind, but Tevedes felt stifled, not really herself. It had been a long time since she'd felt flesh, been able to breathe, to speak, to feel, to desire. It had been generations since Tevedes had been herself, and pretending to be a Galbadian General wasn't helping that matter any. Tonight was about being Tevedes again, about going back to the truth.

She opened her dark brown eyes, and saw Tevedes looking at her. She gasped, pressing herself into the chair.

"Awake at last?" Tevedes asked. She'd been sitting, waiting for the whore to wake up after she'd passed out from the drugs Tevedes had slipped into her wine, drugs that had been custom made by Xiphias.

The girl shrieked at the pain in her wrists, ankles, and around her waist. "Oh my God!" She screamed.

"Shut up..." Tevedes commanded, her voice trailing off as she flicked her smouldering ashes in the girl's face.

The prostitute screamed when the flecks burned her cheeks, and she tried to thrash, but the barbed wire just cut her further. "Oh God, oh God... Oh, Hyne, please help me, Hyne..."

Tevedes sneered, a hissing breath coming out of her mouth. "Hyne?" She repeated, her words dripping acid. "You think Hyne can save you?'

"Please..." The girl, who had said her name was Eden, closed her eyes, tears coursing down her cheeks. "Hyne, help me... Oh, please Hyne... Save me... Hyne...."

"Shut up!" Tevedes repeated, anger seeping into her voice. She flicked more ashes into Eden's face, then ground the burning end into one of Eden's tightly closed eyes. The smell of burning flesh and urine filled the room. Eden had relieved herself in fright, screaming in agony as her eye was burned in her socket. "Look what you fucking did.... Can't even hold your bladder?" Tevedes asked, her voice gentle. She pulled out her matchbook, and lit one of them. She pried open the melted, smoking eye socket, and put the burning match in it. More screams and wails filled the room, and caused Tevedes to laugh. Eden screamed until her voice wouldn't work anymore, and Tevedes leaned against the desk, pulling out a fresh cigar, which she brought to her triumphantly smirking lips.

"Oh, Goddess Hyne... Save me...." Eden whispered, her throat aching from screaming, her in painful agony.

Tevedes laughed. "Goddess Hyne...?" She went over to the stereo, and put in a CD. Fermata's voice came out the speakers, singing mournfully. "Did you know that Hyne was supposed to be a man according to stories? Some say that Gods are man and woman, both and neither. I always thought of it that Hyne had to be a woman..." She talked, her voice taking on a musing quality as she listened to Fermata's song, Trabian Snow. "Parents tell their children that Hyne was a God, because Men are powerful, right?" She sighed as Fermata's voice filled her with calmness. "But, only a woman could be such a lying twat, such a deceiving, lying kunt. A man would never be so two-faced..."

Eden started weeping, thankful that she was about to black out.

Tevedes halted her motions, turning around angrily, Eden's wracking sobs interrupting the song. "Your crying sounds ugly..." Tevedes whispered, walking over to Eden. She snapped Eden's face up, forcing her good eye open. It was moving wildly around in her socket, trying not to look at Tevedes's calm visage. Tevedes wrapped her fingers around Eden's neck, and snapped it like a twig. She smiled, humming along with the music, tightening her fingers around Eden's broken neck, and twisted the prostitute's head off like it was a Dandelion's head. Blood sprayed all over the front of her body, and down the front of Eden's corpse. Tevedes brought the head up to her face, and kissed Eden's lips, which were forever frozen in a scream. "Now you sound prettier..." Tevedes whispered, kissing the mouth again as she listened to Fermata's singing, and the gurgling of blood. She stopped when she heard motion.

In the darkened corner of the room, the other guest she'd hired woke up. A businessman from some Insurance firm. Tevedes couldn't really remember. "Oh... I forgot about you..."

He rubbed his head, the last thing he could remember being the wine that General Tevedes Tsepeth had offered him. "I must have had too much..." He whispered laughingly, standing on shaky legs. He searched for Tevedes in the dark room, hoping they could have some fun, but stopped when he saw the headless body in the chair, blood-soaked and very dead, and Tevedes kissing the lips of her head. "What....?"

Tevedes laughed, tossing the head away like it was a basketball. It rolled on the floor, stopping on the other side of the room, Eden's former face slapping against the wall. "Want to have some fun?"

His eyes widened, and he bolted for the door, but Tevedes was very fast. He couldn't even see her move. She grabbed his neck, and dragged him back to the chair, which was in the center of a wet pool of fresh blood.

"Now..." Tevedes whispered, smiling cruelly, her breath washing over his ear. "I'll let you live if you do what I say..." She let the music wash through her, her own lie making her laugh on the inside."

"Please..." He whispered. "I just want to go home....." He started crying.

"I said I would let you live... But, you have to do something for me..."

"Anything!" He exclaimed, desperate. "Anything!! Anything!!"

Tevedes turned his gaze to the headless corpse, and nudged Eden's legs open with her leg. "Fuck her."

He sputtered. "What???!!"

"Fuck her, and I'll let you go..."

"She's dead!" He wailed.

"I'm well aware of that," Tevedes said simply. She spread Eden's legs out further. The girl hadn't been wearing any underwear, so her vagina yawned at them. "Fuck her. Now." Tevedes was through being nice, and drove his face into her crotch, which was also becoming covered in blood.

He screamed, turning his face away in disgust. When Tevedes pulled him away, he started sobbing.

"You want to live or not?" She asked, smoking her cigar with one hand, holding him with the other. "I haven't got all day..." She smirked, knowing that Mr. Insurance wouldn't be leaving alive. "I want you to fuck her pussy before it goes rotten."

He was sobbing so hard that his whole body was shaking. Tevedes smiled around her cigar, her bloodless lips like razors as he began to undo his belt.

Nida slowly opened his eyes, and everything he saw was red. The sky was above him, painted red. He gasped in pain when something made contact with his ribs. Something hard. A foot or baseball bat or something. When his head cracked to the side, a glancing blow with a foot hitting his temple. Warmth splattered over the side of Nida's face as his head was cracked sideways. The red painting of the world was his blood in his eyes. He must have only been blacked out for a few seconds. He saw something moving towards him at a quick speed, and a foot hit his chin, snapping Nida's head backwards. In those few minutes that he'd been blacked out, they, whoever they were, must have gone to work on his body, because Nida was in great pain in some places, and couldn't feel anything in others. One of his legs was numb, and the other felt like it was on fire. He felt something harder than a foot crack his hip. A baseball bat.

"Passed out after one punch...." One of them said, his voice panting. "Such a great all powerful Sorceress..." He huffed and kicked Nida again. Nida's eyes rolled under his eyelids, which he didn't even realize had closed again.

"Let's just fucking kill him..." Another one said.

"Tevedes wants him alive..." The first one grunted. A baseball bat hit Nida's femur, and he grunted, not being able to help the whimper that escaped his lips.

"Ohhhh... Conscious?" Another voice asked, laughing. "Wakey, wakey sunshine."

Nida cried out in pain when he heard something crack. One of his own bones. He was trying to find his powers, but would black out for miniscule moments, unable to concentrate for long enough.

"Let's get out of the street..." The first voice said. "We can't get caught."

"Let's just fucking kill the Gook!" One of the voices said. "We can just tell Tevedes it was an accident. What does she care? He's just some Nip faggot Sorceress...."

Nida screamed in agony when he felt his arm being pulled on. It must have been broken. He tried to look, but it hurt to move his neck. And, when he opened his eyes, it was still red because of the blood in his eyes. He whimpered, fire shooting up his arm.

"Shhhh, Princess. It's my turn now..." One whispered, grinding their heel into Nida's shoulder, then kicking him hard in the jaw. Nida's head snapped to the side, one of his teeth breaking, falling out of his mouth. It clattered against the pavement, and Nida's eyes watched it, the words "Shhhh, Princess. It's my turn now..." replaying over and over in his head.

Nida's red gaze flashed with something ethereal. He saw naked men standing all around him, laughing at his pain and shame. He felt lips pressing against his, felt unwanted anal penetration. Nida felt himself speaking, but it wasn't his voice, begging for them to stop. He could still hear the clattering of his own tooth as he felt himself being raped over and over again. "No.... Stop...." Nida begged, but it wasn't really his voice coming out of his mouth. He felt the power he'd been trying to connect with wash down his spine in an ugly wave as he realized whose voice it was. "Help me.... Zell.....please..... Zell,"

Nida's eyes snapped open, seeing red for more reasons than the blood. His heart constricted in fear because his powers were so huge in his body, and was so hot with anger. But, that small fear in his chest was nothing compared to the wrath in him, that wasn't all his. Nida couldn't even make out his own thoughts, his own feelings. It was just this huge ball of hatred, of desire for vengeance and justice. It scared him half to death, but the anger, the power, was intoxicating. He felt himself being dragged across the pavement once more, his back being scratched and skinned against the concrete. When a bat hit Nida's knee, the power, the wrath, the bloodlust, shot out all around him, filling the air, filling his body.

It was all happening so fast, yet it felt like a millennium to Nida. The blood in his eyes flowed downwards, like moving sand, flecked with the tiny black dots of pain that were shooting through his head, behind his eyes. It was the black and red sand of Judgement. His whole body shivered with the power that he'd once thought was Iudicium's, and it scared Nida, but not as much as it aroused him, aroused his power. This power was his. This wasn't Iudicium passing Judgement on these racist assholes, on Tevedes's lackeys. It was Nida's Judgement. He was Judging them. He was Iudicium, he was Alexander, he was the hand of God, smiting his enemies. He was filled with the lust of it, and, for the first time, felt akin to Ultimecia, to why she'd wanted this power so badly.

Nida smiled, blood pooling around his gums, his tongue poking the empty spot on the lower half of his jaw where his tooth should have been. Nida kept his eyes open, watching his sands pass down, listening to the screams of those who felt his Hand come down on them. He wasn't even sure what exactly he was doing to them, and didn't really care. The only command he had was for pain, for death, for them to know the pain they'd caused him.

Nida felt smears of blood come over him, like their bodies, the bodies of his attackers, had exploded into a million pieces. Nida wanted to raise his head to look, but was in too much pain, his body too tapped. Within all the pleasure of Judgement was the great fatigue that was running through him. As the blood moved around Nida like a sea, he felt the power that had filled him so completely, as completely as the feeling of having Squall inside him, faded away. It left him shivering, cold and afraid. What have I become...? He whispered to himself, feeling blood and other things move around him like a stream of death.

Nida tried to turn his head when he heard footsteps. But, it didn't sound like one of his attackers. It was the high-pitched clacking of stiletto heels. There had been no women or drag queens in the party that had attacked him. Nida blinked, the flowing red in his eyes becoming blacker and blacker. He saw a shadow, then a woman standing over him. It was dark, and his vision was blurry, but he could make out a small smile on her little mouth. She was wearing furs of dark brown, her shaggy hair falling in her feral, golden brown eyes. She just stood there, bent over him with a smile on her face. She lowered her body so that she was face to face with Nida, something silver and glittering popping out of her coat as she licked across Nida's bloodstained cheek with a hot, hot tongue that felt almost animal, rough like a cat's tongue. Nida blinked a few times, trying to stay conscious, but he wasn't having much success. He saw her necklace catch the light, the profile of a roaring lion.

"Squall....?" He whispered in confusion through cracked lips, his formerly black-flecked gaze completely dark now. As he slipped into unconsciousness this time, he knew it would last.

"Don't you have your own room?" Squall asked, giving Rinoa a harsh look as he flipped through the channels.

Rinoa put her hands on her hips. "You want me to leave badly, don't you?"

Squall just glared at her from under the hair that had foppishly fallen in his eyes. "Wow, you're so fucking smart, Rinoa!" He rolled his eyes sarcastically and changed the channel.

"You're such a stupid bitch, Squall!" Rinoa exclaimed, her voice seething as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Squall raised his eyebrows, surprised by Rinoa's outburst. "What did you just say?"

"I said that you were a stupid bitch!" She spat out. "I'm here because I want to tell you how fucking stupid you are, Squall!"

Squall's anger began to rise, and he stood, his displeasure flashing in his eyes. It took all his willpower to keep his voice calm. "And why, my dear, am I so stupid?"

"You know..." Rinoa mused, putting her finger to her chin thoughtfully. "If I had Nida, I wouldn't treat him as badly as you do."

"This is about Nida?" Squall asked, furrowing his brow. "Well, I don't think it's a big secret that you want him."

Rinoa frowned angrily. "He's my friend, Squall. I care about him!" She laughed. "And, I care about him enough to know that he deserves better than you."

Squall clenched his jaw in anger, but couldn't get a word in as Rinoa continued.

"I am going to laugh when Nida breaks up with you."

"What, and steal him for yourself?" Squall asked, his voice like acid.

"I know that I wouldn't treat him like garbage."

"How do I treat him 'like garbage'?" Squall asked.

"Oh, I don't know..." Rinoa trailed off. "Let's think about this afternoon, shall we? I was upset about Angelo, after I saw her card, and Nida was comforting me, because that's how sweet of a guy he is, and you totally lost it, and basically accused Nida of cheating on you."

"I didn't accuse Nida..." Squall pointed out. "I accused you."

"Maybe you meant it that way," Rinoa countered. "But, it sure as Hell made it out like you don't trust him."

"I trust him." Squall said, his voice sharp.

"You have a fine way of showing it." Rinoa frowned. "You two have been through a lot, right?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Do you love him?" Rinoa asked suddenly.

"That's none of your business!" Squall spat, turning away from her so Rinoa wouldn't see him blush.

"You always had a hard time saying it. Saying 'I love you.' It was like pulling teeth to get you to say it to me."

"Maybe that's because I never loved you..." Squall muttered angrily.

Rinoa flinched like she'd been slapped. "Well, it's nice to know that I mean as little to you as Nida does..." She whispered.

Squall spun on his heel, and grabbed Rinoa's shoulders tightly. "You don't know anything about my relationship with Nida!"

Rinoa narrowed her eyes, her voice turning uncharacteristically oily. "What are you going to do, Squall?" Rinoa asked, leaning forward so that her breath was washing over Squall's mouth, which was drawn in a tight, angry line. "Hit me again?" She laughed. "Do it. But, this time... I'll hit you back." She smiled sweetly. "I doubt Nida would think highly of you striking me again."

Squall released her so quickly that she stumbled backwards, and hit the wall. "You're such a bitch."

"And, I know you better than you would like me to," Rinoa pointed out. "I know that you do love Nida. But, Nida doesn't know you that same way. You love Nida, and you haven't told him."

Squall remained silent, his eyes blazing with anger, but his heart sinking like a stone. He hated that he was such an open book to Rinoa. And, he hated even more that she was right. Squall loved Nida in a way that defied words, and he couldn't tell him.

Rinoa picked a miniscule spec of lint off her shirt. "Do you think that Nida will wait around forever for you? Sure, he may get sex from you, and let's face it... You are good at it."

Squall blushed furiously, staring at his feet, refusing to turn and face Rinoa.

She waved her hands. "But, that's not the point. I think that Nida will eventually want more than just your dick. I don't think you have any intention of telling Nida you love him. Ever."

"What do you know?" Squall whispered.

"I know that you're just a prick. Nida deserves far better than you. Notice that he hasn't come back yet?"

Squall slowly turned to face her. "What are you implying?"

"That Nida hasn't come back yet..." Rinoa repeated. "Maybe this is the straw that broke the camel's back?"

"You don't know anything about us!"

Rinoa sneered, beginning to move towards the door. "It's like talking to a fucking brick wall. Nida might have finally had it. As far as he knows, you're just using him for sex... A relationship where he'll never hear how much he means to you." She shook her head. "You can see it in his eyes, you know? You're... it for him, as far as he feels right now. He loves you."

Squall's motions seemed to stop, even his breathing. He could feel Rinoa's gaze on the back of his neck, and could feel a million butterflies flying around within him, their wings beating furiously. Nida loved him? He laughed bitterly, his voice finally finding him. "What do you know?"

"More than you do, it seems. Nida may love you, but he'll get over you. He has dignity. He won't punish himself in a deadbeat relationship just because he loves you. People get over love."

Squall felt like he was drowning, his lungs emptying of oxygen. Nida loved him? But, was Rinoa right? Because of Squall's reluctance to open himself up again, would he lose Nida's affection? The thought that Nida felt the same feelings that Squall himself did made him light, as like he was filled with helium.

"So, like I said... It's nobody's fault but your own if Nida comes back and says it's over. I hope he does just that..."

"Why don't you shut up and get out?" Squall asked, pointing to the door. "Your opinions don't mat...." Squall trailed off when the phone rang. "Just get out." He muttered, picking it up. "Hello?"

Rinoa frowned deeply, standing her ground. There was more she wanted to say to Squall, especially about his own bad treatment of her, the way he was suspicious of her. She bit the inside of her cheek angrily, refusing to let Squall brush her aside like he always did, even when they had been in a relationship.

"What!?" Squall asked sharply. Rinoa cocked her head, noticing that Squall's body language completely changed. Before, he'd been moving with anger, and now he was beginning to pant, the hand that wasn't holding the phone shaking slightly. Rinoa knew her former boyfriend enough to know that he was scared about something. "What happened?" He nodded a couple times, quick motions. "Okay..." He hung up, his eyes widened, his chest rising and falling with quick pants.

"What happened?" Rinoa asked, her anger momentarily leaving her. Squall didn't usually get scared, so it must have been something big. "Is it Tevedes?!"

Squall shook his head, silently getting his coat. He put his feet into a pair of worn, Tabasco red sneakers, and grabbed his keys. "No...."

"Well, what is it, then?" She asked, her worry really starting to rise.

"The desk called..." Squall whispered, all his anger at Rinoa forgotten. "The hospital called. Nida... He.... They found his room keycard in his wallet, and called here."

Rinoa's breath caught in her throat. "Nida.....?" Her eyes widened. "Is he.... Dead?"

Squall stood, pushing past Rinoa into the hallway. He yanked her out, bruising her arm with his fingers as he locked the door. "No... But, he's close to it...." Squall's breath was becoming laboured. He broke into a jog to get to the elevator, one that Rinoa had to run to keep up with.

"What?!" She brought her hands to her mouth. "Oh, no!"

"Just hurry the fuck up!" Squall chocked out, smashing his palm against the elevator button again and again. "The desk didn't know more than he was in surgery, and the hospital called looking for possible next of kin."

"We should call Mr. Nomura!" Rinoa exclaimed. She grumbled. "My cell phone is in my room!"

"Forget it!" Squall exclaimed. "I'm leaving, and if you go back, I'll leave you behind..." Squall stepped into the elevator, banging on the close door button. He turned his head, pressing his now burning forehead to the elevator wall. He could hear Rinoa moving beside him, fidgeting nervously.

Squall thought of Rinoa's words, that Nida loved him, that Squall maybe had no intention of telling his lover how he felt. And, now that it was possible that Nida might die, would Squall's chance to tell Nida how he felt disappear forever? Squall closed his eyes, wondering what happened. He was glad his face was turned away from Rinoa, because a tear tracked down his cheek, burning him like fire.

"I can't wait to show Tevedes that dress!" Val exclaimed, swinging her bag of purchases as she walked up the hall, a mixture of a skip and a dance.

"She doesn't care about that sort of thing..." Tempest trailed off, running her hand over her newly styled hairdo. Her hair was in a sleek bob that felt good. "Ahh... It's been 4,000 years since my last salon visit. Feels nice."

"It's see-through!" Val pointed out. "Tevedes will like it." She winked, continuing her skip/dance/walk up the hall to Tevedes's office.

Gietzen stopped walking, having remained silent throughout this conversation.

Val noticed, and turned. "What is it?"

"I smell blood..." Gietzen trailed off, tilting her head, sniffing the air. "Fresh blood."

Val's scarred lip broke into a smile. "Oh, really?"

Tempest yawned. "This is boring. I should have just gone with Kronos to work on election stuff."

"And, that isn't boring?" Val asked, rolling her azure eyes. The eye around her throat, a real eye that she'd had lacquered, rolled as well with her motions.

"Shhh...." Gietzen whispered.

Both women listened, because Gietzen usually wasn't the type to command anything. Suddenly, the door to Tevedes's office burst open, and a man fell out, stumbling. He was covered in blood, crying, sobbing hysterically.

"Help me!" He screamed, falling again. He was smearing blood down the hall as he moved, the stumps where his arms used to be oozing blood and other things.

"Get back here!" Tevedes called from the office.

The armless man pushed past Tempest, covering her with blood, and banged into Val's chest.

She looked down as he slid to the floor, the front of her new white catsuit coated with blood. "I just bought this!" Val exclaimed angrily. She reached down, and broke his neck with one hand, turning his head completely around.

Tevedes came out of the office, slightly dappled with blood, but looking surprisingly clean. "Valhalla!" She exclaimed angrily. Tevedes stalked towards the smaller girl. "What are you doing?! He was mine!"

"Well, your little guest was escaping. Look what he did!" She gestured to her bloodstained clothes.

"You really think he was going to escape?" Tevedes hissed, glaring at Val.

Val glared right back. "Well, auntie dear, you shouldn't pull rank with me. You may have been Ultimecia's favourite, but we're all Oracles. You should know by now that I'm not the innocent young girl that my appearance shows, so... Get. Out. Of. My. Face."

Tevedes's colourless eyes glared at Valhalla for a moment more, and then she laughed. "Your anger is arousing."

Val cocked her head, laughing too. "And, don't you forget it!" She poked Tevedes in the chest, then stood on her tiptoes, kissing the pale woman's bloodless lips.

Tempest just groaned to herself. "God... Look at this... I'm a mess." She rolled her eyes and went into the office. As she headed to the washroom to clean up, she called out to the hallway. "Oh, nice Tevedes... This'll be fun to clean up."

Tevedes looked over Val's head to Gietzen. "Clean it up."

"I'm on it..." Gietzen smiled, her mouth half showing from under her hair. She extinguished some of the lights, creating deeper shadows. The shadows seemed to grow off the walls, slithering along the floor, covering the poor bastard's body in darkness, like a blanket. The shadows just continued to pour from the walls, swirling around Gietzen as she watched them with rapt adoration. The darkness grew over the body, layer after layer, until they were opaque. Val and Tevedes went into the office, where the shadows were also moving over the headless corpse, her legs spread, locked in rigor mortis. The body was swallowed by the shadows, and disappeared when the lights came back on, lessening the shadows. Gietzen appeared out of a darkened corner, brushing over the front of her black gown. "Done."

"You were a busy bee..." Val commented, sitting in the chair where the hooker's body had been, any trace of her totally gone.

"I need something to bring me back to my roots." Tevedes sat in her chair, looking at Gietzen and Valhalla. "The election is almost here. It'll all be over soon."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that..."

Val leapt in her seat, surprised. She turned around, seeing Griever standing behind her. "Jesus Christ, don't do that!"

"I thought you were following your precious Squall around..." Tempest muttered, coming out of the bathroom. She rolled her eyes, making her voice painfully sarcastic when she said the words 'precious Squall'.

"I was. Now, I'm done..." Griever sat at the table. "It's far from almost over, especially after what I saw tonight.... I'm surprised you couldn't feel it, even as far away as Deling..."

"Feel what?" Gietzen asked.

"Nida.... He put on quite a show tonight."

Tevedes stiffened. "What do you mean?"

"Oh..." Griever laughed. "I guess that I'll have to be the one to tell you that your little 'hit' on Iudicium was a complete failure."

"They didn't kill him, did they?" Tevedes asked. "I asked them not to kill him."

"They were going to..." Griever pointed out, stroking Angelo's fur, which was draped over her shoulders. "Telling you it was an accident."

Tevedes's eyes flared with anger, but Griever just laughed, a purring sound.

"Don't worry... You won't have to punish them. They're dead."

"Dead?" Val asked. "What happened?"

"Nida Nomura and Iudicium have become one. There is really no discerning between them."

"So.... Iudicium will have to Judge soon..." Gietzen whispered, sitting on the floor near Val's feet, in the shadows of the table.

"What happened?" Tevedes asked, her voice sharp.

Griever closed her eyes, and telepathically showed the other women what she'd observed in Timber, Nida being brutally assaulted, his body arching off the pavement, the bodies of Tevedes's hired henchmen blowing up, Nida smiling, his tooth clattering on the ground, relishing in his powers.

After Griever had finished showing her fellow Inaudax what she'd seen, Gietzen whispered "He feels like Ultimecia."

"Don't insult her like that!" Tevedes exclaimed angrily, kicking Gietzen.

"She's right, though..." Val whispered. "He does feel like her."

"This complicates matters..." Tevedes finally whispered.

"Yes, it does... If he survives..." Griever pointed out. "He was hurt pretty badly."

"We can't let him die until we can get Iudicium out of him!" Tempest exclaimed, showing rare conviction. "We have to get revenge. Not only against Squall and SeeD, but against Iudicium."

Tevedes just nodded, tenting her fingers under her chin. "I hope Mr. Nomura enjoys his power while he can. It won't last."

Squall pressed his palm against the window looking into Nida's room from the hallway. The Asian pilot had been in surgery for a few hours, and now was resting, already looking a little better. Squall figured it was his powers that were rapidly healing him. But, he was still hurt. As soon as they'd gotten to the hospital, Rinoa had called Daisuke, and Squall had been shut out of seeing Nida. The doctors had said 'immediate family only', and not one iota of Squall's SeeD clout, or even him saying that he and Nida were lovers, could change the doctor's minds. They were even hesitant in letting Daisuke in, who had yet to arrive.

"Squall...?" Rinoa asked quietly. "Mr. Nomura just called me. He arrived at the train station, and is on his way. I'm going to go meet him so he won't have to ask where Nida is."

Squall just nodded distantly, barely hearing Rinoa's words.

"I'm..... I'm sorry, Squall. I know I said some... bad things to you. I didn't want this to happen."

"I know you didn't want this to happen," Squall whispered, not looking at Rinoa directly, but looking at her reflection in the viewing window instead. "But, you aren't sorry for what you said earlier."

She just sighed. "I'll bring Nida's father here when he arrives..." She wandered away, sighing again.

Squall pulled his hand away from the window, the heat from his palm leaving a temporary print on the smooth glass. He sat in the hard, plastic chairs across the hall from Nida's room, pressing his fingertips against his forehead. Since that solitary tear he'd shed in the elevator, Squall hadn't cried. He felt too numb to do so. Seeing Nida broke Squall's heart, especially since the last time he'd spoken to Nida that day, they'd argued. Also, Nida's perfect face was bruised and broken, his body equally damaged. There were ugly bruises on Nida's face and what part of the other man's arms that Squall could see. The surgery had been rapid, because the doctors had wanted to set bones and punctured organs right before Nida's power healed them as they were.

When Squall had said that Nida was a Sorcerer to the doctor, it hadn't surprised him.

"Why doesn't it surprise you?" Squall asked.

"Well, because of the situation surrounding how he was found. But, the police will want to talk more about that with you."

Squall's talk with the police had been brief, because he hadn't been present, and Nida was the only one alive who had been there. It appeared that there had been some sort of attack by six men against Nida, and something had happened. The other men had been blown apart, like there were bombs inside of them. Squall mentioned that Nida had Sorcery, and the police nodded.

"Mr. Nomura is SeeD. We police our own."

"We understand that, Commander Leonhart, but we do have Timber's well-being in mind."

"Are you saying that Nida's somehow a suspect?" Squall asked.

"No...." The officer had trailed off. "It's obvious that he was attacked from his injuries, and from the weapons that we found, such as baseball bats. And, from what happened to these attackers, it was a reflex of self-defence. But, we'd still like to talk to Mr. Nomura when he wakes up."

"I'll arrange it..." Squall had trailed off.

Now, sitting across from Nida's room, Squall didn't know what to think. Had Nida's fears about his power, about Iudicium, come to fruition? Had he lost total control of his power, and killed those people without meaning it? Squall didn't think that was the case. Nida was a good man, but in no ways a saint. Squall knew that his lover had a vindictive side, and wouldn't just sit by and let a bunch of guys kick the shit out of him. Squall was hoping to get his hands on some photographs of what exactly had happened.

But, the investigative side of it was a distant thought for Squall. Just looking at Nida's bruised face smashed Rinoa's words all around him. This wouldn't have happened if Squall hadn't gotten angry with Nida, causing him to storm off. Squall hadn't asked the doctor, but wondered if the attackers had touched Nida in any ways besides beating him. Hot jealousy coursed through his body, and it made Squall sigh with defeat. He just closed his eyes, wallowing in the heavy feeling of guilt. It was his jealousy that had caused this mess in the first place. What if Nida hated him for it? Squall blinked a few times, feeling a tear fall out of his closed eye, hitting his inner wrist, splashing, then falling down his forearm, resting in the crook of his elbow. The tears that had failed him earlier seemed to be coming out freely now. They fell from Squall's eyes with silence. He just sat with his elbows resting on his thighs, his fingertips pressing into his forehead, his tears coming out, almost calmly.

He felt someone sit beside him, a hand coming on his shoulder. Squall sighed, wiping his cheeks, sure that it would be Rinoa. He felt kind of embarrassed to be found crying, and looked beside him, but met the eyes of Daisuke Nomura, which were so similar to Nida's that it caused Squall's heart to lurch. "Oh... Mr. Nomura.... I was expecting you to be Rinoa."

"She went to get some food." Daisuke looked across the hallway. "She filled me in on what happened. Nida told me he was afraid his powers would come out in a violent way."

"It was self-defence..." Squall whispered. "Or, so I'm guessing. Nida wouldn't maliciously kill someone, and he didn't break his own bones."

"I know..." Daisuke whispered. "What are you doing in the hallway?"

"They wouldn't let me in to see him..."


"They were even hesitant about letting you go in. How did you get here so fast?"

"I took the express train... It was lucky that Rinoa called when she did."

"I'm so sorry..." Squall whispered.

"For what? You didn't do this. Do they know who did?"

Squall shook his head. "Well, they're dead, so they won't be talking... We just have to wait until Nida wakes up.... I'm sorry..." Squall repeated.

Daisuke took his hand off Squall's shoulder. "Why are you apologizing?"

"Because Nida wouldn't have been in this situation if it weren't for me. I got angry with him, and he took off."

Daisuke couldn't help but laugh quietly. "Oh, Squall... Don't be foolish. Things happen." He stood. "I'll talk to the doctor to see if they'll let you in."

Squall looked up as Daisuke went into Nida's room. He saw the bald man lower his body into the chair beside Nida's bed, then Squall turned his gaze back to the floor, looking at the scuffs on the toe of his shoe. Nida loved him? Why hadn't he said anything? Squall was sure it was because Squall himself was so tight-lipped about his feelings, so Nida wasn't sure if he should say anything. Again, Squall's fault. Maybe Rinoa was right. Maybe Squall did deserve to have Nida leave him.

He must have been in his mental discussion for some time, because he saw feet enter his vision. Squall looked up, and Daisuke was looking down at him calmly.

"The doctor said that Nida is healing very rapidly, and should wake up soon. And, you are allowed to see him. I told the doctor it was in his best legal interest, because going against SeeD in court would prove costly and damaging." He allowed the tiniest smile. "Go on in."

Squall stood. "Thank you......" He trailed off, not knowing what to say.

"I am going to join Miss Heartilly, then talk to the officers that are in charge of the investigation, and see what they plan to do legally."

Squall nodded distantly, already moving past Daisuke towards Nida's room. He hovered in the doorway, watching Nida sleep. His dark hair, and the bruises on his skin looked very garish compared to the white of the sheets and room. He slowly moved to the chair beside Nida's bed, and lowered himself into it, just looking at Nida's still body. Squall reached out to touch the back of Nida's hand, which was bandaged and covered in bruises, but he brought his hand away, and clasped them in his lap. He reached out again, and gently touched the back of Nida's hand. He felt it move under his hand, responding slightly to the touch, and it caused Squall to lean over, embracing Nida's torso.

"I'm so sorry..." Squall whispered, his voice garbled into the pillow. He ended up slightly standing, his body bowed over Nida's. His Griever pendant spilled out from under his shirt, pressing between their chests. Squall sat back down again, resting his head against the pillow, his forehead against Nida's temple. He traced the lines of his Griever pendant, and felt something gnaw at him. It was probably guilt. As he touched the well-worn silver, he thought of the last time Nida had been unconscious like this. He remembered having put his pendant around Nida's throat. He remembered being so angry with Rinoa, blaming here for Nida's condition. Now, Squall had nobody to blame but himself. He lay there, his upper body draped across the bed, beside Nida for what only seemed like moments, but when he adjusted his weight, he knew it had been far longer, because his back was stiff, and it hurt to move.

He stretched his arms over his head, grimacing as he tried to work the kinks out of his back. As Squall ran his hands through his hair, he felt something move through the air. Nida's power. It wasn't very strong, just a hum. Squall stood, leaning over Nida, peering into his face. The power didn't get stronger or weaker, but Nida's eyes squinted. Then, a jolt moved through the matrix of power, and then it totally disappeared.

Nida slowly opened his eyes, everything feeling sore and stiff. His gaze was also foggy. He blinked a few times, and saw a figure standing over him, backlit by a light. Something silver caught the light. It was the Griever pendant. He narrowed his eyes, seeing feral amber eyes and shaggy blonde hair, a small, smirking mouth. When the figure leaned in, Nida recoiled slightly, remembering the ugly, dark feeling that had passed over him on the streets of Timber.


The Griever pendant glared in the light, and Nida heard his name again. He squinted his eyes, the bright lights hurting his eyes. It was Squall calling his name.

"Squall...?" Nida whispered, his mouth feeling strange and sore. The blurriness of his vision vanished, and he wasn't looking at cat's eyes and a cruel mouth, but rather the stormy eyes and sensual mouth of Squall, his Griever pendant hanging out of his shirt.

"Nida..." Squall whispered. "Oh..." He trailed off, breathing out in a pant.

"What....?" Nida moved his head, looking in Squall's eyes, which looked red and slightly puffy, like he'd been crying. "What happened?"

"You were attacked... We think..." Squall whispered, touching the side of Nida's face, brushing some ebony tresses off Nida's face. "Do you remember anything?"

Nida closed his eyes, his mouth hurting badly. His whole body hurt. "Uh uh. I don't remember..." He sighed, Squall's hand stroking the side of his face in uncharacteristic gentleness. "My mouth hurts."

"One of your teeth was knocked out... They found it, though... A dentist will fix you up in the morning..."

Nida tongued the empty space in his bottom row of teeth. "I was... beaten up...?"

"They broke a lot of your bones, and you had to go into surgery to fix some punctured organs, and they set your bones. But, your power healed you."

"My power...?" Nida whispered. He thought of a feeling of pure hatred, pure wrath washing through him, a feeling that he loved. A feeling that had scared him. He blinked a few times, pain shooting across his head.

"Are you okay?" Squall asked. He lowered himself into the chair. "Look, Nida... I'm sorry about earlier."


"Yeah, at the Triple Triad tournament..."

"Oh..." Nida trailed off. He adjusted his weight so he could prop his head up. It made him sore, but he was glad to be looking at Squall instead of the ceiling. "Did you win?"

Squall blinked, surprised by Nida's question. "Yeah. That doesn't matter."

"I'm sorry I missed it..." Nida whispered. "I shouldn't have gotten so angry with you."

Squall couldn't help the laugh of disbelief that spilled from his mouth. "You're apologizing? I'm the one that should be apologizing for acting like such an asshole. If I hadn't gotten so pissed off, we wouldn't have gotten into this mess."

Nida sighed, grimacing in pain. "Please don't apologize to me... Not right now."

"But, I feel like I should," Squall whispered, looking into Nida's eyes. He thought of what Rinoa said, about that she could see Nida's love for Squall in his eyes. All Squall could see now was weariness and confusion, mingled with pain. "Your father is here..."

"He is?" Nida asked. He touched one of his fingers, which was bandaged. "God, I must look like a fucking mess." He shook his head angrily, his own voice sounding fucked up in his own ears, lisping because of his swollen gums and cut lips. "I sound like a hissing faggot." He sighed. "Seems that I'm always unconscious." He flexed his hands. "I don't look too horrible, do I?" Nida asked. He wasn't particularly vain, but wondered what sort of state of injury his face was in.

"I love you."

Nida looked up from his hands, cocking his head in confusion. "Huh?"

"I love you," Squall repeated, his voice a quiet whisper. "I love you, Nida."

"You do?" Nida asked. "Since when?"

"Since... I don't know... I just do, alright?!" Squall exclaimed, slightly defensively. "I just... should have told you sooner."

Nida smiled, then frowned, his mouth hurting. "I love you, too."

"I know..." Squall whispered. "Rinoa chastised me for treating you like garbage when all you do is love me. I guess she was kind of right, but don't tell her I said so."

"I wish I was a bit more with it right now. I've never felt happier, but I'm in total pain." He gave a small smile. "And, you don't treat me like garbage. You know... We're a couple of stupid assholes."

"Yeah, we are." Squall stood from his seat, and kissed Nida gently, pulling away when he felt Nida's mouth frown against him in discomfort. "Sorry."

"Why didn't we just tell each other sooner?" Nida asked.

"Because we're stupid assholes."

Nida laughed, wrapping his arms around Squall, giving him a loose hug, his arms too tired and sore to hold Squall tighter. "I can't believe that they knocked one of my teeth out. They're so dead if I ever find them."

Squall stiffened in Nida's arms, and pulled out of the embrace. He gave Nida a grave look.

"What...?" The Asian man asked, his almond-shaped eyes narrowing. "What happened?"

"You really can't remember?"

Nida shook his head, grimacing when pain moved through his body. "Just tell me, Squall."

"Nida.... Well, do you remember anything? You were apparently attacked..."

"Well, that's obvious..." Nida interrupting, his voice dripping sarcasm.

"The police will want to talk to you, but from what they figured out, you were being attacked by these guys, but when they found you, you were the only one who was alive. The others were..." Squall trailed off. He made an exploding motion with his hands. "Boom."

"Boom?" Nida asked.

"They... exploded. Like there were bombs on the inside of their bodies..."

Nida nodded slowly. "It was me... I .... I murdered them."

"They probably would have killed you. Were they trying to mug you or something?"

Nida narrowed his eyes, trying to think. "I don't really remember..." He kneaded at the sheets with his hands, stopping when Squall's hand reached out and touched his wrists, halting the motion. "But, I remember... power. Iudicium hasn't been talking to me because her power has assimilated within me, so she's... me now." He sighed deeply. "I guess Tevedes was right, after all."

"What do you mean...?" Squall asked. He used one hand to stroke through Nida's hair.

"She said... After the Fermata concert, that I was a hazard, that maybe I didn't set out to kill anyone, but my powers couldn't be controlled."

"This is completely different!" Squall exclaimed. "They would have killed you. You... really don't remember why they attacked you?"

Nida looked at his hands, covered by Squall's, trying to think. He could see his tooth clattering on the pavement, and as he thought about it, he pushed the tip of his tongue into the blank spot where his tooth should have been. He also heard them laughing, calling him a fag Gook. He also heard.... Seifer's voice, and saw Squall.

"Were you the one who found me?" Nida asked distantly.

"No..." The scarred SeeD trailed off. "Why?"

"I remember... Seeing you... Or, I thought it was. You were standing over me, and I could see your necklace. Then, you licked my face, but your tongue was rough... Like a cat." Nida laughed at himself. "God, I must have hit my head. I guess it couldn't have been you... This person had blonde hair and yellow eyes."

"Yellow eyes....?" Squall cocked his head. "Maybe you saw a memory of Ultimecia...?"

"No, not yellow like that. Yellow more like how a cat's eyes are."

Squall paused, squeezing Nida's hands. "Well, cats are carnivores, so maybe what you remember is a stray cat coming up to you on the street because it smelled the blood. And, the pendant was probably me, because I was standing over you."

"Yeah... You're right..." Nida whispered. "But, that still doesn't explain..."

"Explain what?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

Squall nodded. "Anything."

"Was Seifer ever raped?"

Squall dropped his lover's hands, sitting back in the chair. He gave Nida a confused look. "Why would you ask that?"

"Was he? The one thing you've never talked to me about is what happened to Seifer during his slavery by Ultimecia."

"Why would you want to know?"

"Because... I heard his voice. He was calling for Zell... And, there were men around him... Laughing."

Squall breathed out slowly. He remembered things that Seifer had told him in confidence, things that only Zell knew. How could Nida have known? Was it because of Iudicium?

"I take it from your silence that he was raped." Nida paused. "I know that it must bring up ugly memories, Squall, and I'm sorry for mentioning it... It's just... Something that the guys said to me triggered something. Wakey wakey, Sunshine...." Nida whispered, mimicking their voices.

Squall inhaled like he'd been slapped. He remembered a conversation that he'd had with Seifer and Zell... A lifetime ago. Seifer had mentioned what his rapists had said to him. That had been one of the lines.

"The guys who attacked Seifer were hired by Edea, and actually Ultimecia, right?" Nida narrowed his eyes. "I think the ones that attacked me were hired."

"What makes you think that...?" Squall whispered, his voice failing him.

"Was my wallet stolen?"


"And, they didn't rape me."

Squall couldn't help but sigh in relief.

"I heard that," Nida whispered. "You're glad they didn't touch me... That way, anyway."

Squall closed his eyes, bending over, pressing his forehead to Nida's hands, cradling his head in Nida's lap. "You think that Tevedes was maybe behind this?"

Nida shrugged, stroking Squall's hair, liking the feeling of his lover's warm breath on his hands. "I don't know... And, I don't know why I would think of Seifer like that. There's just so much odd stuff going on."

"You could have died...." Squall whispered. "I don't know what I would have done without you." Squall sat up, looking into Nida's dark eyes. "I meant what I said, you know? I love you."

"I know. You wouldn't have said it if you didn't mean it." Nida closed his eyes as Squall kissed him, not caring that his mouth was in pain. "I thought it would feel different after I told you 'I love you', but I don't really feel too differently." His breath washed across Squall's mouth.

"I feel lighter..." Squall whispered. "But, I know what you mean. I think we knew how we felt about each other, and saying it only concreted it."

"It would have been nicer to say it when I wasn't all fucked up in a hospital, though..." Nida muttered scornfully. "I'm always fucked up."

Squall put his head in Nida's lap again, feeling comforted, relieved. He knew that the police, and Daisuke and Rinoa would come in soon, so Squall just relished in the serene quiet he shared with Nida at that moment, feeling alive and happy after their declaration to each other. And, Squall knew that no matter what happened down the road, he would always have the realization that he was in love, he was loved, to fall back on.

Rinoa looked through the viewing window, seeing Nida stroking Squall's hair, a calm, relaxed smile on Squall's lips. She had planned to go into Nida's room, to hug him, glad that he was alright, especially since he'd been so hurt. Nida's face was bruised, and his mouth was a little swollen, but he looked fairly healthy. And, he looked happy. Rinoa hadn't been able to avoid overhearing that they'd said 'I love you' to each other. Maybe her words had rung true to Squall. Despite the fact that Squall was her ex-boyfriend, and Rinoa didn't know exactly how she felt about Nida, she was happy for them.

Nida's father was talking to the police, so Rinoa decided to walk around the hospital. There was a pretty garden around somewhere. But, her memory was failing her on where exactly it was, so she decided to do some roaming. The heels of her black vinyl stiletto boots clicked on the thoroughly cleaned tiles as she walked, her arms crossed over her chest, her black mink, faux fur coat draped over her forearms. She slowly walked down the hall, occasionally looking in the rooms on either end of the hallway at the other patients. She thought of Nida and Squall, thought about how she felt about Nida.... It was a difficult situation. She didn't know if she was getting a crush on him. Rinoa sighed. She didn't know what was going on with her at all.

"Sigh...." She muttered to herself. "Get it together, Rinoa. They're going to have to leave you behind in the psych ward." She smiled distantly as she looked in one room. A mother was laughing, sweat-drenched and red-faced as she held a crying newborn. It hadn't been so long ago that Rinoa had been picturing herself in that situation, holding a new baby, Squall by her side. Now, she couldn't picture it at all, even if Squall and herself had still been a couple. Now that she wasn't in a relationship with the scarred SeeD, she had more of a detached, analytical eye towards his behaviour. Some people just weren't meant to be parents, and Squall Leonhart was one of those people. Not because he was in a same sex relationship, but just because he wouldn't be a good father. And, she also noticed that whenever Rinoa had mentioned how cute Almasy was, Squall would just kind of roll his eyes and go '... Whatever.'

Rinoa looked at the pointed, shiny toes of her boots, indulging in a little escapism fantasy of her having a baby. But, it wasn't Squall that was by her side. It was Nida. She laughed, putting her hand to her mouth when Nida turned into Daisuke. "Oh, my..." She whispered to herself, looking up when she saw a choice of paths enter her gaze. Her heels clicked, echoing on the floor as she gasped. The sterile halls of the Timber Hospital were replaced by stone halls that were cold, a draft of wind coming from somewhere. Rinoa turned around, looking over her shoulder, but the hall that she'd been travelling was now the same stone as the fork in the path.

It was very dark, the shadows flickering, dancing around her because of the torches, their flames dancing because of the draft that was coming from somewhere. Rinoa could also hear the sound of dripping water, and something scurrying around. Probably a rat or two. At least, that's what Rinoa was hoping it was.

"Okay... You're losing it..." Rinoa whispered, keeping her voice quiet so it wouldn't bounce off the walls. She slammed her almond-shaped eyes shut for a few moments, slowly opening one of them, hoping that she'd be looking at the hospital again. But, it didn't happen. "Shit..." She cursed. Rinoa took a few steps forward, looking down the two options she had. One hallway was lit by torches, the other completely black. Rinoa took a few steps toward the lit passage, cringing at the loudness of her heels on the stone ground. She took a couple steps into the hall, but something made her stop. She looked at the shadows, which were moving in an unnatural manner, dancing, reaching out. "Like Diamond Dust..." She whispered, taking a couple steps backwards. Rinoa's eyes looked down the pitch black passage, but she would rather take her chances in the dark than in that other hallway, which just gave off a bad vibe. But, Rinoa hesitated.

Suddenly, a smell filled her nostrils. Something ugly... Death. It was coming from the hallway with the dancing shadows. Blood and... other things. Rinoa put the back of her hand to her nose and mouth, the smell noxious around her, the mixture of a slaughterhouse and an outhouse. Unfortunately, after her journeys with Squall and the others, Rinoa had known about the smell of death, especially a violent death. When a body died, it released its bladder and bowels, hence the outhouse smell. But, she could also smell meat, the metal tang of blood, so it wasn't just a heart attack. Something ugly was at the end of the shadowed hallway. Rinoa braved the dark, and flung herself into it, wanting to be away from that telltale smell of the violently deceased.

It was ebony black, so Rinoa put her hand on the wall, and used it as her guide, feeling blind. But, she felt oddly safe, especially compared to the vile feeling that had crawled across her flesh, even after just taking a few steps into the other passageway. Rinoa walked and walked, running her palm across the surface of the wall with each step, the stones feeling strangely worn under her palm, and slightly moist. Maybe there was some rain or something, or she was underground. Rinoa kept walking, the only sounds being her clattering shoes, which she was cursing because she'd be heard a mile away, and her own breath, which was coming out in small pants as she used her hearing and touch to replace her sight, which failed her in the complete darkness.

Suddenly, Rinoa saw that shapes were forming around her. It was getting gradually lighter. It kept doing so until Rinoa could see again. But, it wasn't light from torches. It was natural light. She came to a staircase which led up into yawning nothingness. It was so long that she couldn't make out what was at the top of it. "One way to find out..." She muttered to herself, and began to climb. She kept herself near to the wall, just in case something popped out at her. The stairwell just kept going, and by the time Rinoa got to the top, she was panting, having to sit down, her legs burning with the lactic acid coursing through her. She panted heavily, wishing she had something to drink to cool her burning lungs and body. Rinoa turned around from her seat at the top of the stairs, facing back down into the darkness.

"Where am I?" Rinoa whispered, standing up, still panting. She was in a grand hallway, the walls papered with expensive, ornate wallpaper that looked very old. The room was bright from many, many candles and oil lamps, all burning. There was a Persian rug of ornate fabric under her feet, and antique couches and chairs. She could faintly smell expensive incense hanging in the air, and hear the ticking of clocks. There were twelve clocks on the wall, each of them ticking, but the hands weren't moving. Rinoa went to the center of the room, the ticking surrounding her. She looked at each clock. They were identical, beautiful and old, and each was stopped on a different hour. Rinoa took a step forward to get a better look at one of the clocks, but tripped on something. She fell, hitting her hip hard on the floor.

"Ow!" She exclaimed, standing. She rubbed her hip, and looked down at the rug. There was a bump in it, like it was covering something. It wasn't too large, so couldn't have been a person. She toed the corner of the rug, flipping it over. When she saw what was under it, she pushed the entire rug away. It was a clock, it's hands frozen. She'd tripped over the hands, which were stopped on the thirteenth hour. Rinoa furrowed her brow, her lip curling up in confusion. The other clocks all had the standard twelve hours, but this clock had a 13 at the top, where the 12 would have normally been. The 12 was still there, but off to the side.

Rinoa noticed a door, and that it was open a crack. She went through it, and found herself in a grand foyer carpeted in lush red. There were halls jutting out in various directions, and Rinoa could see doors in the halls. The whole place had a warm feeling, but also a very, very cold feeling. She wondered whose house this was, and if the owner was around. There was a short staircase, leading up to large double doors, which were closed. Rinoa went up the wide staircase, her heels sinking into the carpet, and pushed on the doors. They swung open, and Rinoa gasped when she looked around. It was a familiar hallway, a fountain of blood gurgling, eels and swordfish splashing around in it, the large painting of Ultimecia staring down coldly at Rinoa, her hands holding the hourglass. It was more lit than when Rinoa had been here last, more torches burning. Rinoa looked to both her sides, but the doors leading to the gallery wings were gone. She was only in this hallway, staring at Ultimecia. There was some sort of copper plate under the painting, an inscription or something. It was tarnished though, so Rinoa couldn't read it. She slowly walked up to it, and used the end of the sleeve of her deeply v-necked, powder blue sweater to clean it.

"Intervigilium Ultimos..." Rinoa read, looking up at the painting of Ultimecia, or rather, Intervigilium Ultimos. Was that Ultimecia's real name? "Intervigilium..." Rinoa repeated, taking a few steps backwards. She stumbled when she tripped on something. She fell again, falling on her ass in an ungraceful heap. She groaned, rubbing her tailbone. She parted her legs, looking at what tripped her. She felt suddenly and stupidly lucky to be alone, because her knee-length black sarong had adjusted itself with her fall, and she was sort of exposing her underwear for the whole world to see. But, looking at the hands of the clock, frozen on the hour thirteen, Rinoa didn't care if everyone could see that she was wearing sheer black panties.

Rinoa quickly stood, dusting herself off. She could hear, just loud enough to be a hint of noise above the fountain, ticking. Clocks. She turned around, and saw something metal glint. She walked towards it, seeing that it was a copper plate, round and tarnished, like the nameplate under Ultimecia's painting had been. Rinoa again used the sleeve of her sweater to wipe away the dirt, the layers of neglect. She saw that the copper plate was a clock face. As she was rubbing it, she hit the hands, which had been stopped at 2:00. Her hand ended up pushing the hour hand upwards, and it moved to the twelve, making the clock read either noon or midnight, and Rinoa gasped when she heard a loud click, like she was inside the clock itself. It shook the room, and Rinoa felt something shiver through her body. Distant power of some sort. Like she'd unlocked something by moving the hands of the clock. And, with slight fear, Rinoa realized that the power was released in her. It came from somewhere deep within.

She moved her hand along the wall, until she came to another clock. This time, Rinoa didn't bother trying to clean the face. She just moved the hands. This clock read 8:00, and she pushed the hour hand to the 12. A click filled the room once again, louder than the first one, and again, Rinoa felt a jolt of power being emancipated within her. She also heard a voice in her head, calling her name. Rinoa.

"Seifer...?" She whispered. Rinoa ran her hand down the wall again, and found another clock. 11:00. She pushed the hands again until they read 12:00, the loud, booming click and release of power following once again. Rinoa didn't even bother questioning what she was doing, feeling her courage and strength rise with each turn of the hands. Rinoa. Rinoa.

She moved to the next clock, but stopped, feeling a tremor move through the air. She turned around as she pushed the 8:00 clock to 12:00. It clicked, and Rinoa's hair actually moved with a kiss of wind from the power that was pushing through her. It actually felt like another power was rising with the own in her body. It felt the same as her first dream, with the disappearing hours on the clock face, and when Seifer had visited her in the kitchen. Was it Seifer and Zell? Was she freeing them by gaining power herself?

"Wha....?" She whispered, seeing shadows moving towards her like a sea of blackness. They were gaining shapes, ugly, horrible shapes. Long claw-like appendages reached out towards her, and when one of the shadow fingers touched her leg, she suddenly felt extreme pain. She looked down at the small amount of flesh that was visible between her sarong and boots. The flesh had withered and greyed, looking mummified. A finger touched her hand, and Rinoa looked at it, and screamed. Her skin was withering up, making her look like a skeleton. She stumbled backwards, looking at the shadows as she pressed her shoulder against the double doors in which she'd entered the room with.

"Help!" Rinoa screamed, trying to push the doors open, but they were stuck. "Help!!!" She screamed again, slamming the doors with her open palms, banging her shoulder against it as the shadows. As the shadows slithered over her feet, Rinoa screamed in angered pain, slamming her shoulder against the doors again. They opened, and she fell through, falling down the small flight of stairs, landing in a heap. She gasped, almost on the verge of tears, holding her elbow, which had repeatedly hit hard surfaces, and was now numb. She blinked, bright lights hurting her eyes. She felt warm breeze kissing her face and blowing her hair.

"Are you all right?!" Someone exclaimed.

Rinoa blinked, feeling herself being helped up. There was a very cute man looking at her with concern, his hazel eyes wide. "Huh...?" She whispered.

"You fell down the stairs! You didn't hurt yourself too badly, did you?"

She looked around, seeing that she was in the Hospital Garden that she had, in fact, been looking for in the first place. "Oh..." She looked up at the man, whose eyes were still concerned behind the lenses of his stylish glasses. "Thanks for helping me..."

He released her hand when he saw that she could stand on her own. "That door sticks sometimes.... You're sure you're okay?"

She looked around, the warm sun beating down on her. "Yeah...." She sighed. "I'm fine." She smiled at the man, who was smiling gently at her. "Thanks for helping me.... I guess I've embarrassed myself pretty badly."

He laughed. "No, that's okay. I don't mean to be forward, but are you Rinoa Heartilly?"

She blinked. "Yeah. And, how'd you know that?"

"Oh, you've been in the paper and stuff, and you were with the Forest Owls. I'm Elias."

"Rinoa..." She laughed. "I guess you already know that." She rubbed her elbow. "Thanks for helping me up."

"No problem... Rinoa." He smiled, and turned away.

She looked around, seeing the bright flowers around her, the painting of Ultimecia, the clocks, and the shadows far away. Just her imagination again. She rubbed her elbow once more, pushing her shirt up to inspect it. It wasn't cut, but she was sure there would be an ugly bruise there.

"I'm sorry, but can I ask you something?" Elias asked, coming back to where Rinoa was standing.

She pulled her sweater arm back down again, and smiled at him. "Sure....?" She cocked her head, kind of confused.

"Can I call you sometime?"

Rinoa blinked, taken aback. "What?" She sputtered.

"I know that it's really forward, because I only helped you up, but you're really pretty, and from your reputation around Timber, you seem like a nice woman. If you want to tell me to fuck off, you can."

"No... That's okay..." Rinoa whispered, thinking about how Nida and Squall were the only men in her life, really. "It's just that I might be going back to Esthar soon."

"Do they have phones in Esthar?" Elias asked jokingly, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes, they do..." She murmured. "Well, I can give you my cell phone number, I guess... If I can remember it..." She tapped her head, laughing. She searched her bag, surprised that she still had it, and found a pen and piece of paper. "I think this is a first for me in my social life." She handed him the phone number.

"Well, I believe in fate, so maybe I'd never see you again, so I thought that I would take a chance." He took it. "I'll hope to be talking to you, Ms. Heartilly. I hope you didn't hurt yourself." He smiled, walking away.

Rinoa was left standing in the spot, confused for so many reasons. The vision had felt so real, the power arising in her feeling concrete. But, it had been just a vision? What had the clocks meant? And, had Seifer and Zell really been calling her voice. And, now... there was this very handsome man who had her phone number, and who seemed interested in her. Rinoa rubbed her head, wondering if she had gotten a brain injury somewhere along the way....

Selphie shivered, only dressed in a bra and underwear as Pallas, Xiphias and Schuld moved around her. She felt embarrassed at her near nudity, but they didn't seem to care. They were laughing among themselves, holding up dresses. Selphie shivered, closing her eyes. Everything was just a blur, and whenever she tried to think of the circumstances that brought her here, her mind just hurt. She tried to ask the Doctor, but she hadn't really gotten an answer.

"Here...." Xiphias whispered, handing Selphie a cup of water. "Drink this." She'd notice the way that Selphie had scrunched her face up in thought. Pallas and Schuld shared amused glances. It was lucky for them that Selphie was an open book. They could tell solely by the look on her face that she was trying to think of what happened to her, and Xiphias wouldn't let that happen. She raised her eyebrows in pleasure when Selphie drank the water, mixed with the concoction that Xiphias had created to cloud Selphie's independent thought.

"So, where am I going...?" Selphie whispered, looking as Schuld held a maroon dress in front of her.

"No....." Schuld whispered, chucking the dress to the side. She then picked up a copper one.

"You're going to Esthar. President Loire is having a Christmas party.... We want you to go. You deserve to go."

"President Loire....?" Selphie whispered. "That name sounds familiar."

"He and his son are the reason you're like this..." Xiphias pointed towards Selphie's crotch. "Didn't you notice the dire state your body was in?"

"I.... did...." Selphie whispered. "What happened to me?" Selphie thought of the soreness that had welcomed her with welcomed her when she'd woken up.

"You were impaled," Xiphias whispered. She hid a smile at Ultimecia's show of anger behind her hand. She straightened her face, shooting a hard look to Schuld, who was trying not to giggle. "By Laguna Loire and his son, Squall. At the command of Nida Nomura. He's a Sorcerer."

"Really....?" Selphie whispered. She touched her stomach. "Why would they do this...?"

"Because they're horrible people. They're only out for destroying us. Our Mistress was a great Sorceress, and they stopped her... Killed her."

"The worst part is that they claimed to be your friends," Pallas pointed out. "They claimed to be your closest friends, but.... Lo... Here you are."

"My friends did this to me? I could have been killed."

"Oh, Lord..." Schuld muttered under her breath, which met with a swift, jabbing elbow from Pallas.

"Hush, Schu," the golden haired bodyguard commanded in a hissing whisper.

"But...." Selphie trailed off, touching the fabric of a red chiffon dress. "Why would I want to go to a party being held by awful people like them?" She then touched her temple.

Xiphias smirked, leaning close to Selphie so she could whisper in the girl's ear. "Because they deserve revenge. We're powerful Sorceresses, and we want to avenge Ultimecia's life. You can get back at them....."

Selphie blinked a few times. "Revenge...?"

Xiphias curled her mouth up at Schuld and Pallas. "Come, girls... Let's let our dear Selphie get changed for the party in peace." Xiphias went to a stereo in the corner of the room. "Here. I'll put on some music." Xiphias put in a CD, and motioned for Schuld and Pallas to follow her.

Selphie watched as the three women left, clutching the red dress to her chest. "Why would friends do this to me....?" She whispered, looking out the window. She could see the cliffs and landscape of the great manor that she was in. Xiphias had called it Xystus. The cliffs broke, falling into the ocean, which was rolling gently. Selphie squinted, and could see the shape of a distant land. Esthar.

She sighed, feeling the music rush through her body. It was a female Opera singer, her voice very sweet, the song in a language that Selphie didn't understand. She looked at the CD case. Some woman named Fermata. She sighed, pulling on the red dress, which had a halter style neck, the neckline dipping towards Selphie's navel, the back falling all the way to where the curve of her ass began. Selphie pulled off the bra she'd been wearing so the straps wouldn't be seen with the backless gown, which fluttered around Selphie is whispery layers of scarlet.

"How could they have done this to me....?" Selphie whispered, looking at herself in the mirror, adjusting the neckline of the dress so it covered her small breasts better. "Especially my own friends....? That's horrible." She ran her fingers through her hair, which wasn't done in her typical flipped fashion. It hung straight around her face, brushing past her shoulders. She saw a hairbrush on a table beside her bed, and began slowly brushing her hair. "And, they've gotten away with it. They said that he was the President of Esthar." She looked down at the rings that went through the bones of her forearms. They hurt, but not as much as the realization that people who claimed to be her friends. She stopped brushing her hair, listening to Fermata's voice.

"How dare they think they could hurt me and get away with it..." She muttered. "I won't let them get away with this..." She stared at herself in the mirror, smoothing her hands down the front of her dress. "No fucking way."

Rinoa pulled some full length ivory gloves over her hands, sighing. It had been almost a week since Nida had been attacked in Timber, and they were back in Esthar, far away from General Tsepeth, far away from whoever wanted Nida hurt. But, she still didn't feel safe. Rinoa hadn't had any more visions, but that didn't stop her from worrying about them. Elias had called her, which had surprised the Asian girl. She hadn't really expected him to. He was a landscape contractor, and he had some work in Esthar, so in the next week or so, he was going to come to the city, and they had plans to attend a stringed quartet concert. He'd told her about this big project he was working on in Trabia, deep in the forest. A grand manor. Rinoa thought that a winter castle sounded hopelessly romantic.

She couldn't stop thinking about the wash of power that she'd felt in her walking daydream in the Hospital. She knew it was a dream, but it felt so real. How could a dream have stayed with her for so long? And, there was also the added aggravation of the Galbadian election, which had happened that afternoon. The votes were being tabulated, so the whole Palace was on edge.


She turned to the door, seeing Nida standing there. He looked at her strapless brown dress, make of silk that gave the impression of liquid chocolate. It set off the ivory gloves and her highlights very nicely. "You look very pretty."

She smiled sadly, putting a string of pearls around her throat. "Thank you." She looked at Nida's vicar style coat, the collar lined with silver fur, a top hat on his head. "A top hat?"

"You don't like?" He asked, mockingly tipping it to her.

"No, no..." She murmured shyly. "I like it very much. I think you're the only person who could pull it off."

He nodded. "You've been quiet... I just wanted to make sure you're okay."

"Well, I figured you'd be worried, too.... What if Tevedes wins?"

Nida shrugged. "We'll deal with it. Besides, she can't do anything constitutionally bad."

Rinoa rolled her hair into a loose twist. "I hope you're right. I just have a bad feeling."

"What, other than the fact that Laguna planned this party?" Nida asked with a wink.

She laughed.

"How's your elbow?" Nida asked.

Rinoa touched it through the glove. "Still bruised. That's why I'm wearing the gloves." She sighed. "I just... I just feel so stupid, you know? Why am I having such dreams....? Is there something wrong with me?"

Nida put an hand on Rinoa's shoulder, and met her eyes in the mirror. "No... I wonder that about myself, you know."

"Thanks, Nida..." She whispered. They stood that way for a few moments, staring at the mirror in silence.

"What's going on in here?" Squall asked, hovering in the doorway. He crossed his arms over his chest, which was slightly exposed. Squall was dressed in a typical black suit with a hip length coat, but wore no shirt under the jacket, so his hairless, milky chest was exposed, his Griever pendant glittering against his pale skin. The coat had gold buttons on it with lions on them. He also wore a choker of pearls that had been coated in gold. His nails glittered with the same gold as the rest of his accessories, save the silver of his Griever ring and pendant. Squall have Rinoa a hard, unpleasant glare.

"Nothing...." Rinoa muttered, rolling her eyes. "Jesus."

"You look nice," Nida commented. Rinoa saw his eyes move away from her in the mirror to train on Squall. "Very femme."

Squall rolled his eyes slightly. "I always do." He walked into the room, giving Nida a gentle kiss on the cheek, his stormy eyes moving to Rinoa as he did, slight triumph in his eyes. "The election results are going to be announced any minute on Galbadian TV."

Both Nida and Rinoa fell silent. "Oh...." Nida trailed off. He moved to the bed, and sat on the edge of it. Squall sat beside him. "You have a TV in here?"

Rinoa nodded, opening the doors to an entertainment centre. She turned it on, and it was already on the Galbadian channel, for she liked the programming on it. "I hope she lost...." Rinoa whispered, sitting beside Nida.

Squall frowned, sitting on Nida's other side, taking his lover's hand into his own.

The announcer came onto the television. "Again, the votes have been tabulated, and by a greatly surprising margin, General Tevedes Tsepeth has defeated Vinzer Deling IV for the Galbadian Presidential Election. It was 75% in favour of the General. She is at her retreat manor in Trabia, and said this through a telephone interview..."

Tevedes's voice came through the speakers, slightly crackly, but very pleased sounding. "This is quite a surprise, although a very pleasant one. I'm hoping to making Galbadia... A better place." She laughed. "I will release a further statement at a later time."

"No....." Rinoa whispered. She looked over at Nida. "This is bad, huh?"

Squall squeezed Nida's hand. "Don't worry... Laguna won't let her hurt you."

Nida opened his mouth, but the report continued, and his words died on his lips.

"Relating to the election, in a very, very surprising move, Archbishop Magdalene, head of the Catholic Church in Galbadia, has made this announcement."

The picture switched to Magdalene. She was at the Airstation, prepared to go somewhere. "After the results of the election have been made public, it is my pleasure to announce that the newly elected President Tevedes and myself have worked out a deal where the Church and State will be run as one, thus letting things run more smoothly."

Rinoa gasped, and the reporters began shouting. "What about the law of a separate Church and State?! What does this mean for the followers of Hyne?"

Magdalene smiled thinly, and it caused Nida, Rinoa and Squall all to shiver. "The followers of Hyne are blasphemers, and will burn in Hell. The Church will work with President Tevedes in order to right the order of things. And, this means severing all diplomatic ties with Esthar. That is all."

"Wait!!" The reporters cried. "You can't just make an announcement like this and expect to leave!" "Where are you going?!"

"I am going to the new President's Manor in Trabia for celebration." She quickly boarded a ship, reporters screaming after her.

"What the fuck is happening?!" Squall exclaimed, squeezing Nida's hand tightly. "The Church dissolving into Tevedes's cause? Oh, this is bad...."

Rinoa chewed her lip. "Something more is going on here...."

"Yeah, that Magdalene and Tevedes must have been in cahoots all along..."

Nida remained silent, just looking at the television, not caring that his hand hurt because Squall was squeezing it so tightly.

"We better go find Dad...." Squall whispered. He looked at Nida, whose expression was one of shock. "We'll do something...."

Nida nodded distantly, standing. "Yeah...." He whispered. "But, what....?"

Viator sipped an espresso, looking out the picture window of the Rococo Cafe. Downtown Esthar was full of people enjoying shopping, garbed in brightly coloured winter coats and scarves, shopping for holiday trinkets. She looked to the Palace, which was lit up like a technological sun. When she'd drained her cup, she motioned for a refill. As the waitress filled her small cup, Viator played with the ends of the small braids of fiery orange hair that framed her face, making her pointed ears more prominent. She knew the party was in full swing by now, and that everything would come to fruition soon. Tevedes had 'won' the election. Actually, it had been Fermata's songs and Kronos's words that had convinced people to vote Tevedes's way. "Life is good..." Viator whispered. She was just waiting for the others, and then the fun would really begin.

"Are you buying?" Schuld whispered, leaning over Viator's shoulder.

"Is everything ready?" Viator asked, watching as Xiphias, Schuld, Fermata and Tempest sat down. "Selphie's at the party?"

Xiphias nodded. "Dear Fermata's songs sowed the seeds of hatred in her, and we told her about everything... Fudging a few details, of course."

"Of course..." Tempest murmured, rolling her eyes. "Magdalene's little announcement has sure gotten everyone's panties in a twist."

Schuld snorted. "If that got them in a tizzy, just you wait." She laughed, flipping her hair over her shoulder. "You have that document from the office of Galbadia?"

Fermata pulled it out of a leather attache case that she'd been carrying. Her speaking voice sounded so bland, so normal compared to the beauty of her singing voice. "Here it is. Tevedes got it moved through as fast as possible. After Selphie makes a little bit of a scene, we'll go in and collect Iudicium." She laughed. "I hope everyone's ready for a battle."

"That should be a statement that you direct at Squall and his merry band, Fermata," Viator pointed out. She made a gesture to the waitress. "Espressos for all my friends."

The waitress nodded, her eyes travelling to Fermata. "Oh, my God! You're Fermata! The Opera singer!!"

Fermata smiled widely. "Yes, yes I am."

"Oh, you're voice is so beautiful!" The waitress gushed. "It's like it's speaking directly to me."

"So I've been told..... So I've been told."

Laguna wrapped one arm around Squall's shoulder. "Don't worry about Tevedes. Esthar is perfectly safe..."

Squall briefly looked at his father, then across the room to Nida, who was talking with Xu, Quistis and Rinoa. Rinoa... Squall inwardly cringed. He thought that after he and Nida had told each other how they really felt, after they'd said I love you, that Squall's jealousy would have vanished. But, that wasn't the case at all. It just seemed to inflame Squall's jealousy. He now had that whole experience of whispering 'I love you' while making love, and it was something that he didn't want to lose. Also, Rinoa seemed a lot more clingy to Nida. Something about visions coming to her about Seifer and Zell. "Nida has had them too", she explained over breakfast the day they'd arrived back in Esthar. "Don't get so bent out of shape, Squall!"

Squall was also disappointed that his vacation was cut short. They'd only been gone a couple weeks, instead of the couple of months that Squall had planned. But, there just seemed to be too much danger to deal with, and now that Tevedes had won the election, Squall was glad to be in the safety of the Esthar Presidential Palace.

"I know..." Squall whispered. "I...I know."

Laguna gave his son's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "I know how you feel. This is a black day for all the world." Laguna brightened his countenance. "Now, stop frowning! Let's go talk with people!" Before Squall could protest, Laguna was leading him towards Irvine and Ellone, who seemed very chummy.

"Hey, Squall! Nasty stuff about Tevedes, huh?" Irvine muttered, putting some cheese into his mouth. "Mmm."

"You're going to eat it all before anyone else gets to taste any," Ellone chastised, sounding a bit like a nagging wife.

It caused Laguna to smile. "You two have been getting closer. It seems that I never get to see my special girl!" Laguna frowned at Irvine. "You monopolize her time."

"Well, you can take her away. She just follows me around anyway."

Ellone gasped playfully, swatting at him with the end of her emerald green shawl, which was tied around her neck like a scarf that evening, contrasting nicely with the emerald green satin of her sweetheart necked gown. The gown's bodice was piped with green satin that was same paler green of the shawl/scarf. Her accessories were rubies, giving her a Christmas feel. She made a classy pair with Irvine, who was wearing a nicely tailored tuxedo with a green tie.

"So, how are things with you and Nida?" Ellone asked of Squall as Laguna and Irvine started talking about some Chocobo Races that had been happening in the city.

"Couldn't be better," Squall answered sincerely. He smiled gently.

"From that smile, I can guess that it's going really well. Usually when people ask about your relationship, you tell them to shut up."

Squall shrugged. "So, you and Irvine, huh?"

Ellone blushed, fingering at her ruby tennis bracelet. "I...err... I don't know what you mean, Squall."

"Oh, come on, Sis. You're dying to tell someone. You don't have the same penchant as I do for not wanting to discuss my personal relations. You're an open book."

Ellone snorted. "That wasn't very nice. But, yeah... I do like him very well, Squall. We bonded over what happened with... Seifer and Zell..." She trailed off, saying their names very quietly. She saw Squall's eyes briefly darken, but he pushed down whatever haunted memories still plagued him, and regarded Ellone with mustered up interest. "Anyway... He was really broken up about Selphie for a while, and I didn't want to rush him. I just figured that I was being a good friend, and... you know how it is." She smiled. "You and Nida were sort of the same way."

"We were?" Squall cocked his head. "It was very whirlwind, it seemed. I guess harrowing circumstances are the only way I can get into a relationship. First Rinoa, then Nida.... Bonding over life-threatening circumstances."

Ellone shrugged, picking up a glass of spiked egg nog. "Want some?"

Squall nodded, taking the silver cup from her.

"Well, I think that when you're in that sort of situation... Like, fighting Time Compression, or fighting possessed friends, you put away pretences that always slow down relationships... you know?"

Squall nodded distantly, looking over at Nida. He was so fucking beautiful. "I think I do."

"So, has your relationship with Rinoa improved at all?"

Squall frowned. "I guess you could say it did... We don't fight all the time anymore."

Ellone just shook her head.

Squall turned, noticing the look that she was giving him. "What?"

"You're very transparent when you want to be. You're jealous because Rinoa and Nida have developed a kinship of sorts. You're afraid that Rinoa will try and steal him away from you."

Squall said nothing, and watched as Rinoa laughed at something that Nida said. She touched his arm, and Squall felt something hot move up to his cheeks.

"She just needs company..." Ellone pointed out, putting a hand on Squall's arm. "Nida cares about you.... right?"

Squall looked into his egg nog, smiling. "Yeah... I know that he loves me... I just... can't help it, Sis."

"He loves you?" Ellone asked quietly, her eyebrows raised in pleasured surprise. "He told you that?"

Squall nodded, but said nothing more on the subject.

She noticed, and changed the subject. "Want to dance?"

"I hate dancing," Squall informed, his voice almost to a whine.

"Come on!" She pulled on his hand. "Just one dance... For your poor old Sis?" She winked.

"Way to guilt trip me, Elle."

"Is that a yes?"

Seifer's footsteps echoed on the cobblestone walkway as he meandered through the Vividarium, not going anywhere in particular. Lillith was walking beside him on one side, Zell on the other.

"Can't you feel it?" Lillith whispered. "It's ugly."

"I know..." Seifer whispered. "And, Rinoa's becoming more aware..."

"That means...." Zell trailed off.

"That means that you'll be leaving," Lillith finished. "Don't tell me you're worried that I'll be lonely without you..." She snorted. "I have Ultimecia to keep me company for all eternity. What more could I ask for?"

"I don't know if I want to go back," Zell muttered. "I mean.... Being dead has its advantages."

"You aren't dead," Lillith pointed out. "You were Ultimecia and Adel when you died. It's complex."

"That's us... Kings of sticky situations," Seifer said quietly. "But... if Rinoa calls us, we won't have powers anymore. What can we do to help?"

Lillith shrugged. "I think you'll still have a little."

Zell shook his head. "Not really. I mean, because of your power, it's tied to the grave. We have to leave it in Xystus."

Seifer stopped walking, and turned to Lillith. "You'll be Queen of Xystus again."

"I think Ultimecia would beg to differ with that."

"You know what I mean," Seifer pointed out. "It'll be like we're dying all over again. You'll take your powers back, and be true Death... I guess what you were always born to be."

Lillith gave her brother a tight-lipped smile. "I know. I guess this means that we won't see each other until you die again...." She cocked her head when distant music wafted around them. A choral version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'.

"Might be sooner than later," Zell admitted. "It's a grave situation."

Seifer groaned. "That was horrible."

"Oh, come on! That was great!" Zell shook his head. "All the passion has left our relationship."

Lillith folded her hands on her belly. "Rinoa will be more tied to the grave than either of you. But, I think you will retain your natural powers, and Zell... As a Viator... they were a powerful magical family. You have some of it in you. Perhaps not as strong as your mother, but it's there. I think you underestimate your powers. The Inaudax have not done so." She frowned. "You are their secret weapon. Tevedes and the oracles know nothing of Rinoa's situation, or about her connection to you."

"If we'd been stronger, they wouldn't have escaped ...."

"It was a small time rift... They've probably been plotting this for 4,000 years. Don't think yourself so highly as to be the whole cause of it."

"God, don't mince words or anything," Zell muttered.

"I figured you'd be the expert on 'mincing' things," Lillith trailed off.

Seifer snorted, laughing.

"Oh, you thought her joke was funny, but not mine?!" Zell demanded.

"Don't get so worked up, Chicken Wuss."

"WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?!" Zell demanded. "God.... I hate you sometimes, Seifer. I really do."

"And, then Byrne tried to start the ship, and he wasn't used to the acceleration speed, so just ended up driving into the ocean." Xu laughed, rolling her eyes. "We really need you back teaching flying. The students just like you more than they like Professor Goth." Xu laughed again, her giggles mingling with the strains of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'.

Nida smiled. "I bet Goth wasn't too pleased."

Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Especially since the airship displaced about half the Balamb Ocean when it went in. There was a huge wave and it completely soaked the whole class, as well as the harbour front."

Rinoa laughed. "I love school stories... It makes me want to go back to school. But, as what? I don't know."

"What did you like doing?" Quistis asked. She grabbed a glass of champagne off a tray that a waiter was carrying around. Xu, Nida and Rinoa also took one.

Rinoa took a sip of her drink. "Hmm, I don't really know. That's a beautiful dress, by the way," she said to Quistis.

"Oh, thank you," the blonde said. She was wearing what was actually a two piece outfit. The corset was separate from the skirt. The corset was medieval style, and was also intricately embroidered with the design of a peacock, complete with the feathers of a male peacock's tail. Her skirt was a royal blue satin that flared out around her, like a princess's gown. There was a few layers of lighter blue chiffon over top, in turquoise, azure and robin's egg blue, which made a whispy noise whenever Quistis moved. Her jewellery was simple platinum, as to not draw away from her dress. Her hair had been braided, then wound around the crown of her head, held back with antique pearl combs.

"I couldn't have agreed more with what Rinoa just said," Xu whispered. She was dressed in a man's suit, tailored for her body, of ivory. She wore a dress shirt under it that was a delicate shade of blush pink. She wore an antique opal pendant, and had small pink flowers woven into her hair.

"I didn't really like math or any of that stuff... But, I always did like History. Maybe I could have been a Historian of some sort."

"Esthar University has a great History program. So does Dollet."

"Right," Nida pointed out, looking across the room briefly, his eyes meeting Squall's gaze, who was dancing with Ellone. He turned back to Rinoa. "I'm sure you would have fit in nicely with all the mouldy old nerds that were in the History department."

Rinoa did a raspberry to Nida. "I guess being in love makes you more catty, eh Nida?"

Xu and Quistis got soft looks on their face. "Awwwwwwww," they both cooed in unison.

"That's so sweet!" Xu exclaimed. "Our little baby boy is all grown up now."

Nida rolled his eyes. "You two are awful."

Quistis laughed, but her face darkened when she looked across the room. Laguna was talking with Edea, Cid and Vinzer Deling IV. "Three guesses as to what they're talking about."

"Quistis..." Rinoa trailed off. "I'm sure Nida doesn't want to talk about Tevedes."

"It's a serious matter," Quistis pointed out.

"What's a serious matter?" Fujin asked, coming towards them. She looked radiant in a gown of white, trimmed with white faux fur. She was also wearing white gloves that were trimmed with fur. She looked like a snow queen, her diamond jewellery glittering like ice. She patted Nida's shoulder. "TEVEDES."

"Don't talk about that now, ya know?!" Raijin chastised. "This is supposed to be a light evening, Fujin."

Nida shook his head. "I appreciate it, guys, but it's something that is important...." He sighed deeply. "I feel like I'm putting the whole city in danger."

"Don't feel that way!" Quistis assured. "It's not your fault that Tevedes is a psycho."

"And, what is with Archbishop Magdalene, ya know?!" Raijin demanded, crossing his arms across his barrel chest. "Tevedes hasn't even been sworn in yet!"

Nida frowned. "I remember seeing her at the Fermata concert with Tevedes. I guess they were plotting this all along."

"Why are you downers talking about this?!" Laguna exclaimed, coming towards them. He wagged his finger at Raijin. "Did you start this?"

"Just don't poke me in the eye this time," Raijin muttered, slapping Laguna's waggling finger away from him.

"Please be serious, Laguna," Xu said gravely. "This is a rather ugly situation."

"Well, like Raijin said... Tevedes hasn't been sworn in yet. I mean... This conglomeration of Church and State can't go through... Tevedes still has to answer to the Galbadian Senate."

"WOW," Fujin murmured. "You can be surprisingly smart when you want to be."

"Yes, yes..." Squall muttered. "Defying both appearance and common knowledge."

"Hey!" Laguna exclaimed. "I oughtta spank you!"

Rinoa snorted, almost choking on some of the champagne that had been in her mouth. "Come on now... This isn't Dollet."

"What exactly are you implying, missie?" Nida asked.

"This is more like it!" Laguna cheered. "Miss Rinoa... Will you do me the honour of dancing with me?"

"Sure...." She trailed off. "Just don't step on my feet this time. My shoes are open toed."

"I wish everyone would stop pussyfooting around me," Nida muttered to Squall when Quistis and Xu had left them to talk with the Ambassador from Timber. "Getting beaten up all the time makes me feel weak enough already."

"I think they're more pussyfooting around themselves," Squall muttered, taking a silver cup of egg nog. He smelled it. "Not enough rum." He looked at Nida's profile. "They don't want to talk about it just as much as you don't."

"I don't understand how she could have won... Do people hate Sorcerers that much?" He sighed, taking off his hat, looking into it like it was highly important.

"No...." Squall unconsciously reached his hand out, running it down Nida's back. " I have a feeling that she didn't win that election fairly. 75% of the votes? Please." He rolled his stormy eyes, his scar crinkling with thought. "I'm going to talk to Laguna about trying to set up an official... task force, or whatever deals with this kind of thing."

"You sound like you're starting to get drunk..."

"Not really," Squall whispered. "Why, want to take advantage of me in my inebriated state?"

Nida smiled distantly. "If only to take my mind off Tevedes."

Squall snorted. "Bastard." He took a sidestep so that the side of his body was pressed to Nida's. "Want to dance or anything?" He rested his chin on Nida's shoulder, looking up at him.

Nida turned his face, his forehead pressing to Squall's. "You must really be concerned about me to offer a dance."

"For you, I'd even sing 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves' on karaoke."

"Loud enough to drown out Laguna singing along?"

Squall laughed quietly, cocking his head so that it was tucked under Nida's chin. "Yes, loud enough to drown out my Dad."

Nida looked across the great hall, his eyes stopping on Ellone and Irvine, who were dancing very closely. "They sure seem to be getting closer..." He made a pointing gesture.

"Mmm, yeah," Squall whispered. "It's good that Irvine's finally over Selphie, I guess. And, I'm glad that Sis is happy."

"Are you worried about Irvine... playing the field, and hurting Elle's feelings?"

"No," Squall murmured, putting down his cup so he could use both his hands to hold one of Nida's. "Irvine should be more worried what I would do to him if I found out he was jerking Ellone around."

"You're so cute," Nida purred teasingly.

"I'd do the same for you, too..." Squall pointed out, squeezing Nida's hand.

Nida's eyes stopped on Laguna and Rinoa dancing, laughing happily. Laguna was a very good dancer when he took the time to stop hamming it up and actually dance. "I'm sure you would..."

"What do you say to ditching the party for a while...?" Squall asked, snaking his tongue into Nida's ear.

"You're opinions are interesting to me, and I'd like to sign up for your newsletter," Nida trailed off, shivering in pleasure.

Squall smiled, biting into Nida's earlobe. "Come on..." He tugged on Nida's hand.

Nida smiled, biting his lip in growing lust. Squall tugged him a few steps, but Nida halted completely, causing Squall to stumble. Nida's eyes fixed on a woman who walked into the hall. He gasped, his eyes going wide. A few others noticed her, and stopped dancing, colliding with each other.

"Oh my God!" Quistis exclaimed.

Squall's hands constricted around Nida's, his whole body lurching. "What....?" He looked at Nida, jaw hanging open in disbelief.

"This is a great party," Ellone whispered, looking around the room as she and Irvine danced.

"You don't sound too serious," Irvine whispered back, looking at her with concern.

Ellone sighed. "I guess the whole party's atmosphere has been tainted because of what happened in the election."

"I think everyone just wants to forget about it right now, Elle... Enjoy this party before things really start to heat up politically tomorrow."

"I know..." Ellone sighed, looking across the room to Squall and Nida, who were standing very closely, talking among themselves. Squall leaned over, and it looked like he was whispering in Nida's ear, and that whatever he was saying or doing was pleasing to Nida, who shivered. "I just feel really bad for Nida. And Squall!" She looked up at Irvine. "It's so terrible."

He laughed.

"What's so funny?" Ellone asked, cocking her head.

"Nothing funny...." Irvine smiled at her, winking. "You're just very sweet. Always caring about everyone else. You're a great woman."

"Really?" She asked quietly, blush coming across her cheeks. "Thanks, Irvine. You're a great woman, too."

He scoffed, but it was in a friendly manner. "You know... I just have to be a downer again for a sec. I want to tell you how grateful I am that you've been here for me... You know, since after Selphie...."

Ellone nodded. "Irvine, you don't have to thank me for anything. I'm glad to help."

"I mean... I'm really glad," Irvine murmured, his voice husky with sincerity. His arms tightened just a little around her trim waist.

Ellone blinked a few times, the realization of his words sinking in. A small smile spread across her face, and used one of the dance steps to sidle up closer to the tall cowboy. She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. "I'm really glad, too." She slightly pulled away from Irvine, hoping that he would kiss her, the noises of the party distant in the background. She could distantly hear people gasping about something, and Quistis exclaiming "Oh my God!", probably something to do with Laguna making a fool of himself. Irvine's lips began to move towards Ellone's, but a sharp clearing of someone's throat caused their moment to break.

"Can I cut in?" A voice asked sweetly. A voice that sounded harsh, angry. But, hauntingly familiar.

Irvine turned to look at the woman who interrupted them, and gasped. His periwinkle eyes went wide as he stared at Selphie. "Selphie?!"

"Oh, you haven't totally forgotten about me yet, I see..." She muttered, crossing her arms over her small breasts. The flawless silver of the ring through each forearm caught the light, and seemed to blind Irvine. He just gaped at her, while Ellone brought her fingers to her lips.

"Selphie....?!" Quistis exclaimed. "But... You're dead!"

"This has to be a mistake..." Irvine panted.

"Mistake?!" She asked sharply, her green eyes hard, like liquid poison. "I guess you didn't kill me thoroughly enough last time."

A tremor went through the room. Quistis buckled against a table, her cobalt eyes like saucers. Squall was totally frozen, unable to breathe. Rinoa and Laguna kept looking at each other in shock, and everyone else just stared in confusion.

"Selphie..." Irvine whispered. "Oh God... You can't be real..."

"I'm very real, Irvine. I'm just lucky that I didn't come back here.... You would have just impaled me again."

"Selphie!" Laguna exclaimed. "What are you talking about...?"

She spun on her heel to face Laguna. "And you....." She just shook her head.

Rinoa frowned at the piercings through Selphie's arms, for they struck her as familiar. She shook her head. Where had she seen them before?

"I'd love to... chat some more," Selphie mused. "But, I did come for a reason." She held up a remote control, and pressed a couple buttons on it. The large projection screen in the hall, that was also used as a large conference theatre during business hours, turned on, and Tevedes was standing at a podium, an unfamiliar building behind her. There was also snow, so everyone knew she was in Trabia. Standing behind the pale General were a group of women. The faces of Val, Gietzen, Magdalene and Pallas were recognizable. Rinoa's eyes widened. Val was where she'd seen that arm piercing before. Why did Selphie have it, too?

"People of Galbadia, and other countries. This is my first message as new ruler of the country, so I'm going to make it a good one. Firstly, I'd like to thank Archbishop Magdalene for uniting the Church with the State. It will move our plans along quite nicely. The first order of business as President has been completed. As of thirty minutes ago, the Galbadian Senate has been dissolved with extreme prejudice."

"Dissolved?!" Deling sputtered.

"What?" Laguna demanded sharply.

Selphie just smiled, remote in her hand, watching the screen with rapture. She wasn't the only one transfixed by Tevedes's speech. The whole room was watching, shocked and devastated.

"Extreme prejudice?" Nida whispered to Squall.

"This is bad.... Very bad."

"The second order of business was to instruct the Galbadian Army, now under my komplete kontrol, to reinvade Timber. Forces have already taken over the country, bringing it back to Galbadian kommand once more. Troops are also moving into Balamb and Winhill as we speak, subduing any sort of resistance to our spread of power."

"This can't be happening!" Quistis hissed to Xu. "She's invading other countries?"

"Komplete? Kontrol?" Nida whispered to Squall. "Guess who she sounds like..."

"I know," Squall muttered, squeezing Nida's hand. He was suddenly very afraid for Nida's safety, as well as his own.

"She didn't mention Dollet..." Nida trailed off.

"Probably because all her troops are being used at taking over three countries."

"The next order of business was to have everyone imprisoned in the D-District Prison in Galbadia executed for treason."

This was met with gasps of shock from the entire room. But, Tevedes continued.

"The largest order of business for our rule is Esthar. Home of the Sorceress. President Laguna Loire and his bastard son, Squall Leonhart..."

Laguna's face flared with uncharacteristic anger when Tevedes said this. Squall just watched in stony silence.

"...have sat on their laurels for too long. They are also protecting a murderer. As I speak, some of my Oracles are entering the Esthar Palace to arrest Nida Nomura, and extradite him to our kourt for a trial. In Timber, he maliciously murdered some individuals, and was also responsible for the deaths at the Fermata koncert." Tevedes irisless eyes glinted with malice. "And, I know that you are all watching this in Esthar. You will not get away with your krimes! We'll finally have our revenge. Starting today, the entire world will come under the power of Tevedes The Cruel."

"We can't let this happen!" Laguna exclaimed angrily, his eyes flashing. "We'll stop that bitch."

"No, you won't...."

Everyone looked to the door. Five women were standing there. One was Fermata, a sweet smile on her face.

Squall gripped Nida's hand tightly. "I won't let them take you."

Selphie smiled and sauntered over with the women.

"We're here to place Nida Nomura under arrest," Viator commanded, looking so much like Adel that a couple of people in the room screamed at her appearance.

Laguna recognized Viator as the Aide that had been working in the Palace. "So, spying all along?"

Viator laughed, her chuckles mirrors of Adel's wrathful laughter. More people gasped, moving away from her. Schuld, Tempest, Xiphias and Fermata all smiled at each other. Selphie held a hand to her head when she heard Viator's laugh, something passing through her.

"Drink this... You've done good," Xiphias cooed, giving Selphie another concoction.

"You're brainwashing her!" Irvine exclaimed angrily. He took a few steps towards them, but Tempest fluttered one of her fans in his direction, yawning with boredom, and he was blown back, toppling against a few partygoers.

"We aren't leaving without Nida," Viator pointed out.

"You can't take him," Squall ground out, his voice low and threatening.

The women just laughed, all except Fermata, who softly hummed, a quiet noise that seemed to fill the air like a whisper.

"What's that...?" Raijin whispered. He blinked his eyes a few times, and seemed to be transported elsewhere. He totally forgot what was going on. All he could really see was fog. Was there something he was supposed to be remembering?

"Oh, shit...." Squall whispered, feeling Fermata's power come over him like a blanket. "Nida.... Don't listen to her..." Squall gripped Nida's hand tighter, but found that he couldn't even really feel it.

Nida slammed his eyes shut, trying not to listen to the sweet sound of Fermata's voice. He couldn't let them take him away. He wouldn't come out of it alive. He squeezed Squall's hand so hard that it hurt his own, desperate not to lose the feeling of Squall's touch. He began to call up his power, but just felt tired, lethargic. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and the serene siren song of Fermata completely filled his mind.

"Time to go visit Xystus," Schuld whispered. She gripped Nida's shoulder, and pushed him towards the other Oracles.

"This was easier than I thought it would be...." Viator said with glee, snapping her fingers. As she did so, Fermata stopped humming, and they disappeared, Nida in tow.

After a couple seconds, Squall blinked, looking around. Everyone in the hall was looking at everyone else, wondering what just happened. "Nida....?" He whispered. The women were gone. So was Selphie. And, so was Nida. "Nida?!"

"Oh, no....." Quistis whispered. "What is this...?"

"Tevedes The Cruel..." Rinoa whispered. She touched her hands to her temples, trivial knowledge working itself to the forefront of her brain. Tevedes The Cruel... The piercings.... "Oh my God!" She whispered, realization hitting her.

"Nida?!" Squall cried. He dashed across the room to his father. "What happened?"

Laguna could only shake his head. "They... took him...." He looked in his son's eyes, which looked petrified, just like Laguna knew his own eyes looked like.

Tevedes's voice came over the screen once more, her pale mouth curling up in cruel fashion before her image disappeared from the screen, the transmission turning to static. Her last words rang through the room like the echoes of a Cathedral chime. "Welcome to Hell."

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