The New Flesh

Chapter Ten

By Scarlet Fever

Squall tried to breathe out, but couldn't. He just stared at the busy snow that was crackling across the speakers, painting the large screen with grey, black and white dots.

Rinoa shook her head, gathering her long skirt up in her hands so she wouldn't trip on it. "Squall...?" She cocked her head at him.

Squall's lungs released his air with shuddered movement, causing him to double over. He panted, terror running up and down his back like skeletal fingers. He swore he could still hear Fermata's cursed voice running through his ears, sticking to his brain like a barnacle.

"Where would they have gone....?" Laguna asked. He looked around at everyone, worry in his aquatic eyes.

"Trabia, right?" Quistis muttered, running her hands over her feathered corset. "Tevedes's manor is there...."

"Elias...." Rinoa whispered.

"We have to leave, NOW!" Squall finally said, his voice finding him. It held a terrible quaver. "They'll kill him." Squall turned to leave the hall, but Laguna caught his arm.

"You can't just rush off right away.... What are you going to do...? Rush in there and try to claim him from someone who's obviously not what she seems?"

Squall sighed, defeated. The rare time that Laguna was focused, he was very focused. "Nida..."

"Xu and I will get a ship ready," Quistis offered. "Right?"

Xu nodded hastily, tears forming in her eyes. "What do they want with Nida...?"

"Why didn't they just kill him right away if they want him dead?" Laguna asked.

"What about Selphie?!" Irvine exclaimed angrily.

Ellone looked at Rinoa, Quistis and Xu, and just shook her head.

"Okay, people..." Laguna trailed off, addressing the room. "It seems that we have a little bit of a situation on our hands. I'll get my people to get your transportation, and to act as armed escorts, especially since Tevedes has announced that she's invading countries."

"She could not have won this election fairly..." Deling pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I agree," Laguna answered. "I'm hoping that we can all work together to prevent Tevedes from taking over other countries. She didn't mention Dollet in her little list, so maybe she's spread the forces of the Galbadian Army too thin. This could work to our advantage." He turned to Fujin and Raijin. "Get our troops into motion. I'm going to Trabia with Squall."

"Laguna....?" Fujin said quietly. "But..."

"No buts!" He glared at her, a rare thing for him to do. "I've made up my mind."

"If you're going, I am too," Kiros stated, giving Laguna a stubborn glare.

"Come on!" Squall moaned, already running towards the door.

"Wait!" Rinoa cried. She gathered up her skirt, and ran out the door, but went in the opposite direction as the teleporter. "Come with me!"

"No!" Squall yelled, his voice rising with anger. "We have to go help Nida!"

Rinoa spun on her heel, looking at Squall angrily. Quistis, Laguna, Xu and Laguna all looked back and forth between the two former lovers.

"What about Selphie?!" Irvine repeated.

"Maybe it's just a trick...?" Ellone offered.

"I doubt that," Edea pointed out. "There was a very ugly feel in the air... I think it really is her, and she's been resurrected by dark forces."

"Why are you going that way?!" Squall demanded angrily.

"Because you don't know what you're going up against!!" Rinoa screamed. She lowered her voice. "I can't believe that I didn't realize it sooner, but Tevedes is not a Galbadian General."

"Obviously..." Xu muttered angrily. "But, what is she?"

Rinoa turned to Laguna. "You have a lot of exclusive books in your library, right?"

Laguna looked at her, confused. "Uh... why?"

"Because, I know who Tevedes is, and know why nobody caught onto her."

Quistis shook her head as Rinoa began to run down the hallway. Quistis also gathered up her skirts, and ran after Rinoa. "Where are you going?"

"The library!" Rinoa called, rounding a corner. She stopped, and turned. "I also have to call Elias."

"WHAT?!" Squall screamed. "You stupid bitch... Nida could die, and you're worried about your boyfriend?"

"No... I'm worried about your boyfriend. COME HERE!" She yelled.

"She's right," Laguna whispered, pulling Squall along with him. "You don't know what you're heading into. Anything that we can find out about what Tevedes really is will help us. It won't save Nida if we all die in the process too, you know."

"Why do they want him?" Squall asked quietly.

"Because of Iudicium, probably..." He whispered quietly. He saw the terror pass over Squall's eyes, and regretted saying anything. "I'm sorry, Squall."

"We have to go...." Squall whispered. "Nida's still hurt from what happened in Timber... We have to help him."

"Nida can more than take care of himself... I hope those ladies know what they've gotten themselves into."

Father and Son rounded the corner, and saw Rinoa, leading the train of Edea, Irvine, Ellone, Quistis, Xu and Kiros into the Palace Library.

"Okay, what are we doing here?!" Squall demanded, seeing Rinoa rummaging through her brown silk evening bag.

She pulled out a card and her cellular phone. "First, I'm calling Elias. He is a Landscape Architect, and he told me that he recently worked on a Manor in Trabia, which means that it was probably Tevedes's, because who else builds a mansion in Trabia?"

Squall panted, almost hyperventilating. Laguna pushed Squall down into a chair.

"Relax, sweetie..." Laguna whispered.

"Elias? Hi, it's Rinoa...." She paused. "Look, I need to ask a huge favour.... Can you please come to Esthar on the double?"

"I'm already here," he said cheerfully. "I wanted to surprise you."

"That's sweet, but this is an emergency. Do you have the plans for the Trabia Manor that you worked on?"


"Was it commissioned by Tevedes Tsepeth?"


"Have you been watching the news at all?"

"No..." He muttered. "You sound scared."

"Please, just come to the Palace right away, and bring your blueprints, or whatever you have on that Manor. Tevedes kidnapped Nida Nomura, and is invading Timber and Balamb."

"Oh my God!" He exclaimed. "I'm on my way."

She hung up. "Elias is on his way, and he's bringing the drawings of Tevedes's Manor." She then stood up. "I don't know why historians don't know about this, but something just clicked when Tevedes referred to herself as 'The Cruel.' Laguna, do a lot of people have access to these books?"

Laguna shook his head. "Only people who live or work in the Palace. And, they don't really study the history aspect anymore."

Rinoa pulled down a book about the Trabian Empire, and maniacally flipped through the pages. "When she called herself Tevedes The Cruel, it just reminded me of something... And, the way she sounded like Ultimecia..."

"What are you getting at?!" Squall demanded angrily. "This is just wasting time!" He began to rise. "I have to go save Nida..."

"We have to get Selphie back from them!" Irvine wailed. He kept rubbing his hands over his face, Ellone patting his shoulder sadly. "They mutilated her with those damn rings, and that blonde woman was feeing her drugs, I know it! I have to get my Selphie back!"

Despite the severity of the situation, Ellone knew her face looked crestfallen. She and Irvine had been so close to kissing, and now Selphie was back, all the work that Irvine had done to get over her was out the window. And, the fact that she was obviously being used as a pawn just made things worse.

"How can you be sure that's it's the real Selphie?" Ellone asked of Edea.

"I can just feel it...." She murmured.

Squall rose to his feet again. "I'm getting the Ragnarok. I have to help Nida... I wasn't there to help him in Timber... I .... I have to be there... I'll stop Tevedes."

"No you won't!" Rinoa exclaimed angrily, tossing the book down on the table in front of her former boyfriend. "Do you think you can stop an Oracle of the Inaudax by yourself?"

"The Inaudax?!" Quistis gasped, bringing her fingers to her lips. "What are you saying?"

Squall lowered his body into the chair, Quistis and Laguna looking over his shoulders at the musty book in front of him.

"Tevedes Tsepeth is actually Tevedes The Cruel, Ultimecia's favourite Oracle."

Squall looked at the book. "It doesn't say anything about her being a favourite..." He shook his head, a sketchy drawing of a mansion and some fading text looking up at him from the yellowing pages of the book.

"I don't know how I knew that...."

"Maybe it's your connection with Seifer and Zell..." Squall muttered, making a very rude face at Rinoa. A level of dread went through Squall as he looked at the text in front of him.

"What does it say, Squall?" Edea asked, not bothering to try and push Quistis and Laguna out of the way so she could see.

Squall's voice shook as he read. "It says 'In the year 999AH, a businesswoman from Trabia named Ultimecia became a High Oracle of her own religion, one that was a counterpoint to the teachings of Hyne. Ultimecia's religion was based on Time, utilizing her Time Mage abilities. Across the world, she found other followers who shared her hatred of Hyne. Twelve women were chosen, one for each hour of the clock, and brought back to Trabia. Each woman was believed to have some sort of Sorcery in her blood, and was also a lover to Ultimecia. A great manor was built in the Trabia woods outside the city of Ignus, and when the year became 1000 years After Hyne, the Inaudax was born. Their dark magic ran through the world, covering it like a dictatorship. They used immoral torture methods and deadly magic to inflict punishment on people who defied them, especially against the followers of Hyne. Ultimecia was the thirteenth Oracle, the one that defied Time. She used the power of Iudicium to Judge those that were in opposition of her, as well as for her own amusement.' It goes on like this..." Squall whispered, turning a page. "Here's stuff about the other Oracles.... 'The Oracles of the Inaudax matched Ultimecia, originally named Intervigilium Ultimos, in dark power. The twelve women each had their own title, and each represented an hour on the clock. They were Tevedes The Cruel, Fermata Of Song, Valhalla Of Ragnarok, Tempest Of Storms, Kronos Of Lyric, Viator The Messenger, Magdalene The Pure, Gietzen Of Shadows, Schuld The Guilty, Pallas Of Weaponry, Griever The Lionheart and Xiphias Of Alchemy.' Griever..." Squall whispered, touching his pendant. "Griever?"

"They were all working together the whole time..." Xu muttered. "Magdalene had always planned to dissolve the Church's power. Fermata Of Song... That must mean that she was using her voice..."

"She probably used it to subconsciously convince people to vote for Tevedes in the election," Kiros pointed out.

"And, she probably caused that outburst at the concert," Edea added. "They had planned to make Nida look bad all along."

Squall frowned. "So, I guess Val is Valhalla Of Ragnarok... And, the one that looked like Adel must have been Viator."

"So, are they immortal or something?" Xu asked.

"No..." Squall whispered. "Listen... 'In the year 1025 After Hyne, at the peak of their power, the Inaudax were defeated when Iudicium decided to Judge Ultimecia, and summoned Inandantia, the Great Flood, which drowned the palace Xystus. The Inaudax countered this attack from the Goddess of Judgement by summoning a warrior by the name of Vividarium. Vividarium was the old word for Garden in the language Kronos Tempus, which had been named for the Oracle of Lyric, Kronos Trepe'...." Squall trailed off, looking up at Quistis.

"Trepe?!" She exclaimed. "No....."

"Keep reading..." Laguna whispered.

"Okay. 'Vividarium was believed to be in the form of a spring maiden, made of the earth of the Garden of Xystus. It is unknown which Oracle called forth Vividarium. Reports have said it to be Schuld, and other say it was Ultimecia herself. When the other Oracles were killed by Inandantia, Ultimecia used her Time Mage powers, cleaving time. She disappeared into time, making her the only survivor of the Inaudax. It is not known what happened to her'." Squall narrowed his eyes. "They want Iudicium for revenge. Iudicium was the one that destroyed them before...."

"Aren't they supposed to be dead, though?" Kiros asked.

"When Lillith died, and when Seifer and Zell died, it probably sent things out of whack, especially since Ultimecia was trying to cleave time again when she was in Seifer's body. That's why all the monsters were popping up around the city," Quistis explained. "So, when Ultimecia's power, mingled with Lillith's, and went to the afterlife, it probably fucked up the timeline, and the Inaudax used the opportunity to try to get revenge for what happened to them.

"They're going to want revenge against you too, Squall..." Rinoa pointed out gravely. "Maybe that's part of why they took Nida. You killed Ultimecia, their Mistress, twice already."

"We'll just go into Trabia and kill these Innerducks bitches again..." Laguna stated angrily.

"That's the Inaudax," Kiros pointed out.

"Now is not the time for an English lesson!" Squall yelled angrily.

"Well, now we know what we're up against... But, what sort of powers do they have?" Quistis asked.

"It doesn't say..." Squall whispered. He stood again. "I don't care how dangerous it is... Ultimecia was dangerous. Adel and Ultimecia in Seifer and Zell's bodies were dangerous. I don't care!"

Rinoa sighed, looking at Squall across the table. She briefly wondered if Squall had acted this passionately when she'd been in danger. People had told her that Squall had, but she was sure it was pale in comparison to this, especially since Squall had grown since then.

A page came into the room. "President Loire? A man named Elias is here... He says he was asked to come here?"

"Send him in," Laguna commanded.

Elias came in, smiling sadly at Rinoa, who greeted him. "I brought the drawings. What's happened?"

Squall just shoved the book across the table. "Read for yourself."

Elias handed the drawings to Rinoa, and looked at the old book. As he read, Rinoa unrolled the blueprints, flattening them on a table. Quistis, Xu and Edea looked over it. Irvine lowered himself into a chair, whispering Selphie's name to himself over and over again. Ellone could only watch him silently. Squall rolled his chair over to the table.

"Oh, my...." Elias whispered, reading over the text. "This is accurate?"

"Yes," Laguna answered. "Thank you for bringing the blueprints."

"Not a problem... I thought there was something odd about those women, but... I would have never guessed this..." He gestured over the book.

"This place is fucking huge..." Squall muttered. "How are we ever going to find Nida...?"

"Oh!" Elias exclaimed. "I should tell you that there is some sort of tunnel system under the manor... Like... Catacombs or a Labyrinth or something."

"Oh, fantastic," Quistis muttered. "I bet anything that he would be in the Labyrinth."

"Nobody is supposed to know about it," Elias pointed out. "They aren't on the blueprints, but I saw the dirt, and when I was in the house, I saw a secret door."

Rinoa ran her finger over the foyer, remembering the plush red carpeting from her dream. "The entrance to the Labyrinth should be here..." She pointed to a room that looked like a dead end on the blueprints.

"How do you know?" Squall asked, suspicion and malice lacing his voice.

"I had a dream about it..." Rinoa trailed off. She pointed to the blueprints. "This is an art gallery, and this is a room with clocks in it..." She sighed. "Nida would understand."

"What the hell do you know about Nida?!" Squall demanded, his voice wavering. He pressed his palms against his eyes, moaning quietly into his hands. "I'm leaving... NOW!"

"Well, I'll fly the Ragnarok," Quistis offered. "You're in no condition to do so, and you were never really good at it." She turned to Laguna. "Are our weapons still in the armoury?"

Laguna nodded. "Yes. Do you want to change...?" He looked at their formal wear.

"NO TIME FOR THAT!" Squall moaned loudly, standing up so fast that his chair clattered to the floor. "Get the fucking weapons and let's go!" He left the Library, running down the long hall as fast as he could.

Rinoa sighed, watching them all leave. She turned to face Elias. "Thank you for coming so quickly. Can we take these blueprints?" She held them up.

"Of course!" He exclaimed, his eyes shining behind his glasses. "Be careful."

She nodded, kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks again." She nodded, and followed behind everyone else. As she jogged down the hall, her heels clacking, her dress swishing around her, blueprints clutched in her hand, terror moved through her body. Now that she knew what Tevedes really was, she felt somewhat relieved, because they now knew what they were up against, but scared because they now knew what they were up against. As she rounded the corner, Rinoa whispered to herself "Seifer... Zell... I hope you can help me..."

Nida watched the women around him silently. He was sitting in a chair that was surprisingly comfortable, surrounded by the 12 Oracles of the Inaudax. As soon as he'd seen them all together, as soon as he'd been brought into Xystus, something in Iudicium's memory banks surfaced, and he could pick out faint memories of this Manor existing 4,000 years ago, and all the crimes against humanity that had taken place within Xystus's walls. Nida was directly facing Tevedes, who was smoking a cigar, looking at him coldly. The other Oracles looked like they wanted to rip him apart. The scariest thing was Selphie, standing in the corner behind Xiphias's chair. She looked really out of it, and every once and a while, Xiphias would give Selphie a glass of 'water'. Nida knew very well it wasn't water. He'd been sitting in silence for a good twenty minutes. The other Oracles were also silent. Valhalla kept smiling at him in a flirtatious manner, something that unnerved the Asian man because she looked so young.

"We can wait here forever, if need be," Tevedes finally said, smoke slowly escaping from between her pale lips. "We will wait until Iudicium shows herself."

"Why don't you just kill me?" Nida asked, surprised at how calm he was. "I'd have to release my powers before death."

"Iudicium doesn't work that way," another voice said. Nida moved his eyes. It was the one that looked like Quistis. Kronos. "I'm not surprised you don't know this."

Nida's mouth curled into a sarcastic sneer. "Well, I know enough... I'm still alive, aren't I?"

One of the Oracles made a pissed off noise in the back of her throat. Nida wasn't sure which one it was.

"Iudicium will only come out when she's ready to Judge. If we kill you, she'll go to the grave with you," Tevedes murmured, her voice oddly sweet. "We'll wait."

"Well, the longer you wait, the more time you give Squall Leonhart and the others to come here."

Viator laughed, sounding eerily like Adel. "Squall Leonhart? You think we're afraid of that twit?"

"Let him come," Tevedes hissed. "If you don't summon Iudicium, we'll kill your precious Squall, and your friends. We'll also kill your father."

"If I do summon her, you'll kill them anyway," Nida pointed out, looking to Tevedes's right. A feral woman with shaggy, short blonde hair was staring at him like he was a piece of meat. Her cat-like eyes held so much secret knowledge, though. Nida figured she was up to something separate from the whole Iudicium thing. From what he'd gathered from the pale Goddess's memory, the blonde, feline lady was named Griever. This had been confirmed when he'd seen the Griever pendant glittering around her neck. She was also wearing a duplicate of Squall's favourite black leather pants. "And, you'll kill me, too."

"I guess you're not as stupid as you look," Tevedes muttered, blowing smoke in his direction. Although the smell of the thick smoke was harsh, Nida didn't waver. He kept his face a mask of indifferent complacency. Nida felt uneasy about having half of these monstrous ladies directly at his back, but he refused to show them any sort of emotion, and didn't turn to look at them. Magdalene was directly behind him, Viator and Gietzen flanking her. They were seated in a circular room, and Nida was in the center. The gentle ticking of clocks could be heard through all the silence. A clock was above each woman's head, each of whom was seated in a plush armchair of expensive velvet.

Another long stretch of silence passed through the room, where Nida calmly stared at Tevedes, his hands clasped in his lap. However, inside he was petrified. He had no idea what he was actually going against. He knew that these women were the ancient Inaudax, but he didn't know what powers they possessed. He concentrated on cloaking his thoughts, a trait of Iudicium, because Nida didn't know if any of the women were telepathic.

"God, this is so boring! Call Iudicium already!" Valhalla wailed, flounced in her navy blue velvet chair.

"Valhalla..." Tevedes hissed, giving a reproachful glare to the young woman.

Nida couldn't help the smirk that passed over his mouth. He curled his mouth in a wrathfully victorious smirk, one that felt unnatural on his mouth, yet so right at the same time.

Nida heard a sudden motion behind him, someone getting up. He tensed his back, wondering if one of them was going to attack him. He felt hands come to rest on the back of his chair, and heard the creaking of fine leather gloves.

"Tevedes, I sense approaching people. They're coming from Esthar." It was Pallas's voice.

Tevedes nodded, standing up. She flicked her still lit cigar at Nida. The ashes burned his hand, and he grimaced, but didn't give the pale woman the satisfaction of a cry of pain. "They got here faster than I thought they would." She took hold of Nida's arm, and yanked him to his feet. The Asian man bit his inner cheek, the pain of his attack in Timber remaining within his body, flaring up at the rough treatment Tevedes was giving him. He watched, his almond-shaped eyes narrowed, as the other Oracles stood. Most of them avoided him like he disgusted them. Tevedes opened a secret panel as Val stood close to him, too close for Nida's tastes. She began poking him and tugging at his clothes, like she was inspecting him. She obscenely ran her hands along the planes of his body, and he craned away from her, which only made her do it more.

The one with the long, red braids, Schuld, slapped Valhalla's hands away. "Stop that." She shoved Val away from Nida with one muscular arm. Nida noticed that the door Tevedes had opened led into a gaping maw of blackness. A staircase. He saw her go down it, followed by the other Oracles. Kronos and Viator quietly talked to each other, whereas Tempest fanned herself. He heard the sudden howl of wind outside the Manor's stone walls. It sounded strong and angry. Nida was sandwiched towards the end of the line, between the one called Schuld, and Pallas. He could feel a gun in his back. Schuld and Pallas were obviously the muscle of the Inaudax, acting like bodyguards around him. As they walked down the long, long staircase, the way lit by torches which popped into orange flame as they walked past, Nida saw the shadows moving like they were alive. Just like at the Diamond Dust in Deling City. He looked ahead of Schuld to Gietzen, who was watching the walls with rapt fascination. It must have been her powers.

They reached the end of the stairs, and Nida heard quiet footsteps behind him. One of the Oracles was moving away from the line. Griever. He saw her slink away with a feline grace that painfully reminded Nida of Squall. He wished that Squall would stay far away, that Squall wouldn't act like a Sorceress's Knight and try to rescue him. Nida was safer in the company of the Inaudax than Squall and the others would be.

"They're getting closer..." Pallas trailed off.

Tempest just laughed, turning around to face Nida as they all walked in their line, steadily pacing deeper into the black that yawned before them. She waved her fan in Nida's face, and he felt an unnatural breeze wash over his cheeks, a breeze that made him feel like he had frostbite.

"Worried about your little friends?" The Chinese woman taunted, waving the fan harder. In the distance, Nida could hear the wind howl like it was a mythical creature. "You should be."

Tevedes turned around, causing them all to stop. Nida kept his outer facade of calm, but he was scared, and he knew they knew. "Okay, time for the fun to begin. Valhalla, Tempest, Pallas, Kronos... You come with me. Griever has already gone off, so Xiphias... try to find her. Gietzen, you and Magdalene get to the barrier machine, and Schuld, you take Fermata and Viator." Tevedes just looked at Selphie, saying nothing.

"Barrier machine...?" Nida whispered, looking behind him as Pallas poked him in the back. She stayed behind him, guarding him, as Tempest walked beside him, still waving her fans. Tevedes walked a few yards ahead of them, while Val marched ahead of Nida in an exaggerated fashion. She occasionally looked over her shoulder at Nida, smiling at him in a friendly manner that unnerved him. He watched as Gietzen glided into the darkness, running her hands along the walls of the path that she'd chosen. The shadows seemed to follow her like she was finger-painting with them. Xiphias went down a different path, her walk stilted because of the hobble skirt that she wore, which fantailed out at the back, like a mermaid's tail. Nida looked around him, seeing paths jutting out here and there. They must have been in the Labyrinth, rebuilt in the image of its former glory.

Nida heard shuffling behind him. Selphie was following their line like a zombie. Xiphias must have done a number on her. He wondered why Selphie was brought back by the Inaudax... Maybe just because of her familiar face? He had to admit that it was a good plan. Hurtful, but tactical. Tevedes seemed to be a master of plotting. Selphie's familiarity with them would prove to be a weakness, especially for Irvine. And, she would make a good sacrifice, because Fermata's songs, Kronos's words and Xiphias's potions, made her the perfect pawn. She would walk into any danger, and lose her life, pushing along the plan that the Inaudax had, but without any harm to them.

He thought of what Tevedes had meant about a Barrier Machine. What sort of barrier? And, the fact that it seemed that Squall and everyone else would be led into the Labyrinth didn't bode well for their rescue attempt. Oh, Squall.... Stay far away.

Squall shivered, pushing through the cold wind that seemingly picked up out of nowhere. However, he knew better. It was their power. "How could we have been so stupid?!" Squall hissed to himself.

Laguna sighed, pushing a branch out of their way. They had landed the Ragnarok out of sight, and were walking towards the rebuilt Xystus. They all felt uncomfortable in their evening dress, but were more uncomfortable about the fact that Nida was at the mercy of an ancient cult. "I know, Squall.... But, the books in the Esthar Library are one of a kind... And, they're very old and unused. Scholars haven't even used them in a long, long time... Not since before the Sorceress War with Adel."

Squall just shook his head. He knew Laguna was only trying to make him feel better, but it wasn't really working. The wind was really picking up, and the shadows were getting longer.

"This must be Tempest's work," Rinoa whispered, shivering. The wind was cold on her bare shoulders, and her heels would occasionally sink into the ground. Luckily, it was mostly frozen, so she didn't have much of a problem keeping up. Her long skirt was also a nuisance. She noticed that Quistis was also having the same problem. Their final party had been Rinoa herself, Squall, Laguna, Kiros, Quistis, Raijin, Edea, Irvine and Xu. Ellone had stayed behind with Fujin, at Squall's insistence. She had wanted to be there for Irvine, but Irvine didn't even seem to notice the gesture.

"State the fucking obvious, why don't you?" Squall muttered, angrily hacking some branches out of his face with his gunblade.

"Squall, please," Kiros whispered. "There's no need to fight with Rinoa. We all have to stick together."

Squall just slumped his shoulders in silence. "I don't want to think of what they're doing to Nida..."

"He can take care of himself," Xu said. She went up to a cresting hill, looking towards the building. She could see the flickering lights of torches lining the tree-lined path. "It's enormous. I mean... The blueprints were one thing, but looking at it..." She shook her head. "How are we even going to find Nida, especially since there's also a Labyrinth...." She trailed off. "What's that?"

Irvine peered into the darkness. "I don't know..."

Raijin narrowed his good eye. "It looks like people, ya know?!"

Rinoa shivered. "It's them."

"Where?" Laguna asked. He searched the darkness, and then spotted two figures in the night. The shadows seemed to emanate from that spot.

"There's only two of them," Quistis noted, beginning to walk down the hill. "They don't seem to be moving, though."

"Gietzen..." Squall whispered.

"Huh?" Rinoa asked.

"It's Gietzen that's causing the shadows to move. I think it's Magdalene with her."

"Why aren't they moving?" Raijin asked.

"They're waiting for us," Xu gravely said. "This is all a game to them."

Suddenly, the wind grew angry, and whipped through the forest as they stepped closer to Xystus. Gietzen and Magdalene disappeared as they walked down a hill, and the group could hear tree trunks cracking from the force of the gale.

"Where do you think they went?" Laguna whispered to his son as they slowly walked in the direction of the mansion.

"They're leading us," Squall muttered, shivering. The wind was so cold. "They want us to follow them.

"What if we split up?" Irvine asked quietly. "Attack them from two sides...?"

They were all silent. "I don't think that's a good idea," Kiros finally said. Although he thought it would be tactically better to split, he didn't want to, and was sure that everyone agreed with him. This place was too frightening.

Squall looked up at the rising house, so dark looking. The briefest vision of a dreary castle, wings spouting from the spires ran across his memory. Ultimecia's Castle reborn in Tevedes's image.

Rinoa gasped, clasping her arms around her body as a horrible gust of wind passed over them. "If we stay out here much longer, we're all going to get frostbite," she pointed out. Already on her bare shoulders, she could feel the painful pricks of deep chill setting in.

When the party crested the hill that Gietzen and Magdalene had disappeared over, they saw a gaping maw of an entranceway. It led straight into blackness.

"The Labyrinth?" Quistis asked quietly.

Edea, who had been very silent to this point, cast a fire spell, holding the flame in her hand. She stepped forward, peering into the cavern. She took a few more steps in, using her other hand to halt Squall from following her. "Stay here," she commanded lowly. Her eyes looked like burning amber in the orange light of the fire. Looked like Ultimecia's eyes. She didn't go very far in, and came out moments after. "From what I can see, this path breaks off in various directions. I can't feel anything from here on which way they went... But, I'm sure they aren't together."

"What are they doing to Nida?!" Squall asked angrily. He knew that it was a rhetorical question, and didn't expect a reply. He was surprised when he did get an answer.

"They want Iudicium," Rinoa whispered. "Nida mentioned that Iudicium's power had melded into his power, which formerly belonged to Xerampelinae. So, they have to make Nida call out Iudicium. He's still alive, because if he were dead, Iudicium would be called against us."

Squall shivered from the cold, but knew that Rinoa was probably right. But, being alive didn't mean that he was alright. Squall thought of Selphie's impalement, of the stories Seifer had told about the rapes. He was sure that Tevedes didn't get her title 'The Cruel' because she didn't share her dessert. He pushed past Laguna, who was pondering the entrance to the Labyrinth, and flung himself into the darkness.

"Squall!" Laguna cried, chasing after his son. "Get back here! It's too dark to go off alone!" He jogged a few steps, then stopped. "Squall.....?" He whipped his head around, his hands tightening around his machine gun. "Squall?"

"Where did he go?" Quistis asked. She herself cast a small fire spell, and cupped the flames in her free hand. "Squall?!" Quistis gasped as the shadows danced around them, making unnatural shapes. Her own shadow seemed to be reaching out for her. When its long talons touched her bare arm, pain shot through it, and she dropped her whip on the dirty ground.

"Extinguish that flame," Edea commanded, doing so with her own. "Shadows can't exist within complete darkness."

"But, how will we see, ya know?" Raijin asked as Quistis did as Edea commanded.

"And, where did Squall go?" Xu asked.

Rinoa remained silent, looking around the pitch black. It reminded her of that nightmarish daydream she'd lost herself in at the Timber Hospital. She had a feeling that Squall was very nearby, but purposely separated from the rest of them. She thought of the splitting path in her dream; one full of dancing, evil shadows, the appendages of Gietzen, and the other leading to pitch black and the room with all the clocks, as well as the eventual release of her power.....

Rinoa shivered suddenly, the halls of this underground hive as cold as the tormenting night wind outside. She had to find that room. This Labyrinth would be their doom, and Rinoa knew that if she could just get upstairs to the Manor, they would have a better chance of survival. She reached out to touch anyone near her, wanting to feel that they were nearby, but her hand just cut empty air.

"Edea?" Rinoa called, for the Sorceress had been the closest person to her. "Edea?!"


She heard a distant sound, like the sweet chirping of a bird. But, it wasn't that. It was a lark singing. A lark with an enchanting voice, and cold, dark eyes. Rinoa knew it as the strains of Fermata's voice. She clamped her hands over her ears, filtering the sound of Fermata's sweet voice out. She heard her own blood rushing through her body, heard her own heartbeat hammering in her chest, heard her bones rattling with cold and fright. "No, no, no..." She whispered, shaking her head over and over again. She looked around the darkness, but it wasn't really darkness. She was in a shady garden with a gurgling fountain. To Rinoa's relief, it was just water, and not the blood, eels and swordfish of the fountain that plagued her daydreams. She walked around this fountain, which looked in very good condition, her heels clicking on the cobblestone walkway. There was a wind rustling the carefully manicured plants and bushes, but she couldn't hear any sound of life. No birds, no insects.

"Hello....?" Rinoa called, wondering if the sound of Edea's voice, or Laguna's, Kiros's, or even Squall's, would bring her back to the dark paths of the Xystus Labyrinth. She wrapped her arms around her bare upper arms again, feeling cold passing over her. But, it was totally different from the biting chill of the wind of Trabia. It was a still cold, something that felt deeper than wind, like it penetrated beyond flesh and bone. It was the chill of the grave.

"I'm in Xystus...." Rinoa whispered, spinning in a slow circle, looking all around her. There was the dark shadow of a great mansion rising up from the far end of this well-manicured garden. Xystus. The true Xystus. Rinoa was in the Realm of the Dead. "Am I dead....?" She whispered to herself. Rinoa felt like she wasn't alone, like there were people all around her, and yet... She couldn't see them, couldn't hear them. She could only feel them. Like a cold breeze. Had Rinoa been dead this whole time...? Had her visions really been her real existence, and Squall and Nida only been the daydreams? Rinoa felt her eyes filling with tears of confusion. She turned her back on the true Xystus, the deathly Manor, the home of the Afterlife, her brown dress swirling around her in an invisible wind. With the dead air at her back, Rinoa walked into the darkness of Vividarium, trying to find her way back to the Labyrinth, but wondering if she ever could...

Irvine gasped when the torches around him lit up in a spark of flames. He spun on his heel, looking around, his finger itching around the trigger of his shotgun. But, only Edea was with him.

"Where is everyone else?" Irvine asked, his breath coming out quickly.


Both he and Edea heard someone calling. Xu. "Xu?" Edea called back.

Xu rounded the corner, a smear of dust on her suit. "Where is everyone?" Xu asked, looking around. There were paths all around them, but at least the shadows weren't moving.

"We were separated. But, I don't know how we got so far away from everyone.... They're all out of earshot, at least."

"This place is like a beehive or something," Xu muttered. "There are turns everywhere. It wouldn't take long for people to get lost. We know that Squall is alone, but... I just hope that Quistis and the others are still together."

"What do you suggest we do?" Edea asked of the other woman. "I don't have the tactical mind that you do..."

"Well, can you feel anything? I mean... These Inaudax are Sorceresses, too..."

"True, and the fact that they leave an energy trail is their weakness."

"Why did the torches come on...?" Irvine whispered.

"Magic...?" Xu wondered. She looked in all directions. "Should we move, or stay in one place?"

"We have to find Selphie!" Irvine wailed.

"Please...." Edea whispered, giving him a sad glance. "Selphie is one of them now..."

"No....." He whispered, his voice shaking.

"If we stay in one place, won't we be an easy target?" Edea asked.

Xu nodded, pressing her finger to her chin. "Yes, but if we move, we might get more lost."

"I suggest we move. I can follow the trail of power... It could lead us to where Nida is, and then we'll have a better chance of finding Squall and the others."

"Well... which way?" Xu asked, pulling her jacket off so she could better reach her quiver of arrows. She tied the jacket around her waist.

"This way..." Edea whispered, gesturing with a long finger for Irvine and Xu to follow her. They silently followed Edea, trusting her judgement. However, Xu kept her eyes peeled. They could be walking right into a snake pit of Sorcery.

Suddenly, Edea halted, gasping.

"What is it?" Xu asked. But, she didn't need Edea to answer, because she felt what had caused the Sorceress to stop moving. An ugly wave of power moved through the air, and it made Xu want to vomit. Even though her eyes beheld nothing, she swore she could see the wave of dark, angry wrath that was swirling down on them, an invisible tsunami.

Edea stood her ground, holding her arms out to her sides, preventing Xu and Irvine from taking any motion forward. She closed her eyes, her long mahogany hair rising around her with the breeze of her own building power. The wave of power actually felt like white attack magic, Holy on a grand scale.

Xu grunted when the power hit them full force. She couldn't help but stumble backwards. From the feel of the power, she figured it must have been Magdalene. On the Ragnarok while they'd been flying to Trabia, they'd read about each woman's powers, what little information there was. Magdalene was the one who used white magic, the only member of the Inaudax to do so. Each woman could use base cure spells, but Magdalene was a dedicated White Mage, while the others were all Black Mages.

Irvine tried to hold his footing, but was unsuccessful. He tumbled against Xu, and they both fell, being pushed across the ground, and slamming into a wall. Edea put one foot backwards, but stood against the onslaught. She pushed her hands out in front of her, sending her power outwards as well. Edea let out a grunt of exertion as she did this, digging deep within her well of Sorcery against the very powerful energy that was rushing through the hallway. If one Inaudax's power was this strong, how would they survive against all twelve?

Edea gasped, having to take another step backwards. She dug deeper into herself, and felt a spark of something alien. It was the last remnants of Ultimecia's power calling out to Magdalene. There was nothing of Ultimecia herself in Edea any longer.... That had all been assimilated into Edea's own power. But, it was the nature of the magic that yearned towards Magdalene's wave of Holy. Edea didn't try to push away that ghostly feeling, but rather used it. She pushed Ultimecia's last inklings into the mingled sea of power, and actually felt Magdalene's end sputter. Edea knew that the other Sorceress felt that dead pulsar of Ultimecia within Edea's power. Edea used the advantage, and thrust out all that she could, tapping herself. However, she felt her power stutter all around her. She also felt Magdalene's power dying. Something was wrong.

Xu sat up, also feeling the magic ebbing away. "What happened?!"

"It feels like a magic barrier," Irvine muttered, rubbing the crown of his head, which had glanced off the wall. "Like the one that Odine had set up in Esthar when Seifer and Zell were...." He trailed off, not wanting to say it. "You know...."

"A barrier?" Xu whispered. "They would sacrifice their own power to make us helpless...?"

Edea sunk to her knees, spent. The feeling of the Ultimecia-like power coming back into her body frightened her. It frightened her because it was her own power, it was her own feelings that were making it feel like Ultimecia's power. It reminded her of when she'd been under Ultimecia's control. It scared Edea, but she liked it at the same time. It touched that part of her that made her want to study black magic rather than white. "We're already at their mercy. Sorcery has nothing to do with it." Edea stood, turning to face Xu and Irvine, who were still on the ground. "We're trapped in their rat maze, at their mercy, our friends and loved ones lost, just like we are. They don't need magic to destroy us."

Xu shook her head, standing up. "I know what you're saying is true, but I'm not going to give up!" She braced herself against the wall for a moment, gathering her composure. "Quistis is in here somewhere, trapped like we are."

"I won't leave Selphie behind..." Irvine whispered.

Edea and Xu shared a look, but said nothing. "Come on..." Edea commanded lowly. "We have to find that barrier generator. Any advantage that we can gain, we need."

Xu and Irvine nodded, and followed Edea, their weapons out, ready for anything.

Laguna ran his hand along the wall, his other hand tight around his gun. It was pitch black, and everyone was too nervous to cast a fire spell, afraid that the shadows would come back.

"We can't go on like this..." Quistis whispered. "We lost Squall, we lost Rinoa. We lost Edea, Irvine and Xu." She sighed deeply. "We need a light."

"What about the shadows, ya know?!" Raijin whispered, his voice more of a hiss.

"What about the fact that we've lost half our group, that Nida could be dead, and that we can't see?" Kiros asked, his voice sounding maddeningly calm in the darkness.

"Well, we have to do something..." Quistis muttered, feeling ahead of her in the dark. She called into her Junctioned magic for a fire spell, but nothing happened. "Fire...." She whispered.

There was an extended silence.

"What's going on, ya know?!" Raijin asked.

"I can't...." Quistis shook her head, gasping when she felt something brush against her. Someone's arm. She reached out to touch it, and felt the powerful muscles, and knew it was Raijin. "I can't cast a fire spell...."

"What do you mean?" Laguna asked. "You run out of junctioned spells or something? Fire!" He cursed under his breath. "Fire!" He repeated.

"Laguna... It's no good," Kiros whispered.

"Fire!" He commanded again.

"Stop it!" Kiros yelled in the dark. "It's obvious that the magic isn't working..."

"You think there's a barrier up?" Quistis asked. She kept one hand on Raijin's arm, glad for the familiar contact in all the darkness. "But... why?"

"Maybe so we can't cast any magic against them...." Laguna whispered. "Which is really bad news for Squall or Rinoa, or even the others. We at least are still in a group, but Squall's probably alone, and so is Rinoa.... We don't know about Edea, Xu and Irvine."

"Wait..." Raijin whispered. He pressed his back to the wall, shivering as the temperature dropped. "But, don't they want Nida to summon Iudicium? And, if there's a barrier, won't he... not be able to summon her, ya know?!"

Laguna made a thoughtful noise, grasping in the dark, wanting to feel that someone was near him. He touched flesh, and Quistis yelped. "Oh, I'm sorry!" He exclaimed, embarrassed as he pulled his hand away from the mound of her breast. "I just wanted to feel that someone was there."

"It's okay," Quistis said.

"Iudicium isn't like other summons, though..." Kiros pointed out. "She's not Junctioned. So, maybe the barrier won't affect that, but it will affect us trying to rescue Nida."

Laguna grumbled under his breath. "I wish Squall hadn't gone off alone. He's in just as much danger as Nida. The Inaudax will want revenge against him for killing Ultimecia twice."

There was a pregnant silence.

"What?" Laguna asked.

"Well...." Kiros whispered. "Laguna, you're in as much danger as Squall. Remember, you're Adel's most hated person. And, the Inaudax have close ties with Adel. One of her ancestors is an Oracle...." Kiros trailed off. "I'm sorry, Quistis."

"For what?" She asked stiffly. "I didn't know until this evening that Kronos was a Trepe. I'm not like her...."

Suddenly, they heard rustling of cloth. "There you are!" Raijin exclaimed. There was a click, and a spark of flame illuminated the darkness. It was a lighter.

"What about the shadows?!" Quistis hissed, whipping her head around in fear.

"What about the fact that we can't see anything?" Laguna countered. "We don't even know that they'll really hurt us. The shadows could just be a scare tactic. Come on!" His eyes were filled with worry, shining in the limited light. "We have to find Squall. If anything happens to him...." He trailed off, not wanting to think about it.

"He'll be fine," Kiros assured, but in a tone that wasn't very confident.

"You just keep on believing that..."

They all gasped, and Raijin dropped his lighter as they heard a strange voice echoing through the hall. They turned, and saw a tall woman leaning against the wall. Her pale eyes looked at them harshly, but a jovial smile was written on her mouth. She flipped long braids over her shoulder, the colour of running blood. She smiled at them again as the zippo lighter rolled on the floor. It landed in a puddle of fluid, and it burst into flames.

Laguna yelped and jumped back, pressing himself against the far wall. He noticed that there was fluid all around them. Was it all gasoline, or some other sort of accelerant?

The woman took a couple steps towards them, the tribal tattoo across her shoulders and collarbone looking so black compared to her white skin. The double black tear tattoo trickling from her left eye crinkled as she laughed. "You came all this way to save poor Nida, and look at you." She bent at the waist, giving them a mock bow. She then stood, getting into a fighting stance. "Schuld The Guilty, at your service."

Quistis cracked her whip, and took a step towards the much taller Schuld, but had to jump back when a wave of fire encircled Schuld, who just put her hands in the pockets of her warm up pants, the satin stripes running down the legs shining in the firelight.

"Where's my son?!" Laguna demanded angrily, raising his machine gun.

Schuld put a finger to her chin sarcastically. "Son, son....? I don't know who you mean?" She pretended to think, her red braids cascading around her as she cocked her head. "What's your son's name?"

Laguna aimed his gun, his finger pressing against the trigger. "Where. Is. Squall?" His voice was shaking with rare anger.

"Squall?" Schuld gave a fake, disbelieving laugh. "Squall's a man? Well, you learn something new everyday." She walked through the fire, the flames seeming to part for her. "That whore will get what's coming to him."

Laguna growled, the sound low in his throat, and shot his gun, pumping a trio of bullets into Schuld's chest.

She gasped, looking down at her now bloody chest. "Ahhhh. Wow, that hurts..." She poked at the smoking, bleeding holes. The blood poured down over her white midriff shirt.

Quistis's cobalt eyes widened, and she shook with fear as she saw the bullets push their way out of Schuld's chest, clattering to the ground, rolling among the fire. They exploded in the heat, and it caused Raijin to yelp and jump backwards. As he did, he felt heat lapping at his back.

"The fire's spreading," Kiros whispered. He had to take a few steps forward, and bumped into Laguna's back, which was ramrod straight and unnaturally tense.

Laguna lowered his gun, a shiver of terror passing through him. The fire was spreading, and the bullet holes in Schuld's chest were closing up, the blood coagulating. She laughed, and took a step towards them. Laguna fired the gun again, and it caused her to stagger backwards, filled with a dozen bullets. But, they again saw the bullets push out of her arms, chest and stomach, and fall into the fire, exploding.

Schuld wiped the front of her bloodstained shirt. "I think you've guessed that shooting me isn't going to work." She rolled her eyes, the fire reflecting in them.

"What are we going to do?!" Quistis wailed.

Schuld stepped through the fire again, the flames bowing to her. "You know... those bullet wounds hurt." She made a face. "I guess I should tell you that Squall is probably meeting his... certain doom... right about now..." She slowly waved her hands around her hips, letting the flames lick her palms. "Poor little tramp."

Laguna felt tears prick his eyes, from the smoke that was rapidly filling the hallway, from the heat, and from terror for his only child.

"Awwww... No need to cry," Schuld whispered, smiling at them through the thickening smoke. "You'll be just as dead as Squall is." Her laughing smile turned wrathful. "Or, you'll want to be when we get Iudicium out of Nida."

"Nida will never give Iudicium's powers to you!" Quistis yelled angrily, cracking her whip, lashing it across Schuld's cheek.

Schuld batted at the wound as if it were a fly that landed on her. "I think you give him too much credit." She took another step forward, and thrust her hands out. The flames roared around Laguna, Kiros, Quistis and Raijin, causing them to have to shield their eyes from the heat, smoke and brightness. Quistis looked back at Schuld, but saw that the red-braided woman wasn't there.

"Shit....." Raijin stared at the empty spot, then spun on his heel. His dark eye, the eye that had been spared from the battle in Esthar against Seifer and Zell, widened with complete shock and terror.

Quistis shakily breathed out, slowly turning around. Her whole body was trembling in terror. "Kiros..." She whispered.

Laguna spun around, too, raising his gun. But, as he did this, Schuld's fingers curled over Kiros's shoulders from behind. When he felt her touch, Kiros's body went very still.

"Kiros...." Laguna whispered, shaking his head. Laguna held his gun shakily, wanting to shoot Schuld, but the fact that Kiros was in front of her....

"Say goodnight," Schuld whispered, almost affectionately, in Kiros's ear. She ran her hands down his arms, gripping his wrists. Then, with lightning-fast motion, she used Kiros's own katal to slit his throat wide open. The blood gushed out of his neck, spewing over the flames, extinguishing the fire that it touched. It also sprayed all over the front of Laguna's body, Laguna who was too shocked to move or speak.

"Kiros!!" Raijin screamed, taking a few steps forward. But, the flames got as high as his chest, and he had to step back.

All Laguna could do was stare, his eyes wide as Schuld wrapped her arms around Kiros's thin waist. His blood was still pouring out from his severed neck, his eyes permanently fixed in a look of shock, his mouth slightly open in a scream that never reached his lips. His breath came out in small spurts, getting louder and louder, his eyes, wide and unable to blink, seeing red. His vision was veiled with Kiros's blood. "Kiros?" He whispered.

Schuld cocked her head, gripping Kiros's chin, which caused the already torn flesh of his neck to tear further. "He can't hear you. Isn't that right?" She cruelly shook his head, as if he were responding 'no'. "No?" She asked. "Too bad." She let his head drop, and smiled at them through the fire. "So...." she looked at Laguna, Quistis and Raijin as she still held Kiros's bloody body against her chest. "Who wants to go next?"

Squall kept his shoulder pressed to one wall as he moved through the winding paths of the Labyrinth. He'd lost the others long ago, and couldn't even feel the presence of another being. With each step he took, the fear rose in him. He was terrified for Nida. What if something happened to him? At that moment, the others, not even his own father, mattered to him. It was only Nida. Just like it had once been always Rinoa. He also didn't care where she was, if she was dead. Nida was all that mattered. The darkness, the quiet, was all very oppressive, and it made Squall feel tired, made his arms feel heavy, made his gunblade feel like dead weight.

He sighed deeply, whispering Nida's name. "Help me find him..." Squall pleaded. He didn't know who he was pleading to. Anybody. It didn't matter.

Suddenly, the hairs on the back of Squall's neck stood up. Someone was near. Someone unpleasant. It felt dark, evil. It was one of them. Squall halted all motion, and saw a figure round the corner. She came into the limited light, and he gasped. The first thing that he could see was what little light there was catching on something silver hanging from her throat. A Griever pendant. Identical to his own. She was wearing the fur of an animal on her like a hooded cloak. The gaping maw of the dead animal rested on the crown of her head, like it was roaring out her face. It was a lion's fur, the man full all around her, a wispy halo of fur. The front legs came down over her shoulders, the claws cupping, covering her breasts. The rest of the animal hung down her back, moving as she did, dancing with her steps. She was also wearing a pair of black leather pants that was identical to Squall's favourite, trademark pants, with the belts and everything.

"Griever..." Squall whispered, staring at her feral, amber eyes, her small, feline mouth, the way she moved, so similar to himself.

She smiled, and it looked like an animal baring its fangs. Squall raised his gunblade, prepared for her to attack him, but she was far too fast, and hit his hands. Squall grimaced in pain, his gunblade clattering to the ground. Griever caught Squall's wrists in her hands, and pressed them to his chest, stepping very close to him. She used one hand to hold his arms with great, surprising strength, and wrapped her other arm around his waist. She was the same height as Squall, and her feline eyes bored into his own gaze.

"It's been so long, my child..." She whispered, studying every curve of Squall's face, every angle. She pressed her face into his hair, smelling him. Squall shivered in her embrace, locked, unable to move. He felt her tongue, rough like a cat's, moving over his cheek. He could smell the death rising from the lion's fur, and it caused him to gag. Griever's hand, which scratched him with long claw-like nails, moved up his chest, gripping his pendant, which was identical to hers. "Aren't you glad to see your mother?"

"You're not my mother!" Squall spat out, remembering Nida saying that he thought he saw Squall in Timber after he'd been attacked, and felt a rough tongue on his face.

Griever just held Squall tighter against her chest, smiling at Squall in an almost innocent manner. "But, of course you are! I'm Griever the Lionheart... You're borne of my blood. You wear my emblem."

Squall struggled in her embrace, but it was like he'd been securely tied in ropes. He couldn't escape her superhuman strength. "You are not my mother!" Squall yelled, spitting in her face. "What have you done to Nida?!"

"Nida....?" Griever answered, pain and anger in her voice. "You care more about Iudicium than you care about your own flesh?"

"I'm nothing like you! You're an animal..."

Griever's expression was one of stunned shock, like Squall had slapped her. She stuck her tongue out as Squall's spittle ran down her cheek, and caught it with the tip of that small, cat tongue. "You're more like me than you care to admit..." Griever hissed, all friendliness gone from her voice. The words sounded like a low growl in her throat. She brought her hands, still joined with Squall's, up to her lips, and used long canine teeth to tear into her own wrist. The flesh split open in a large, flapping wound, blood spurting over their hands. Griever then forced her torn wrist onto Squall's mouth. He struggled, the blood smearing across his face, into his hair.

"You silly little kitten," Griever whispered, her voice light. As Squall craned his face away from her bleeding wound, Griever bent her head, biting hard into Squall's neck, tearing through the flesh, as she'd done with her own wrist. It caused a large wound, and she pressed her bleeding wrist to it, pushing her blood into Squall's body. "You silly little kitten," she whispered again, laughing in his ear as the blood poured into him.

"Stop!" Squall screamed, struggling as hard as he could. But, he could feel light-headedness coming over him. What was she doing to him?! "Stop!" He cried again, but it came out as a soft mewling. After a few more moments, blood pouring into his body at a staggering pace, she released him. Weakness overcame Squall, and he collapsed onto the floor.

"You're more like me than you want to admit," she said knowingly. With inhuman speed, she crawled up beside him, licking at his wound. She then stood, licking at her wrist. Griever turned on her heel, Squall's blood staining her lion pelt. Her body disappeared into the darkness as Squall sputtered, trying to sit up. He saw his gunblade a few feet away, and tried to reach for it, but he felt heavy.

"Nida..." Squall whispered. He touched the wound on his neck, shivering in fear when he couldn't find it. All that was there now was a wet trail of blood, seeping into his clothes. He finally got to a standing position, but it was only because he was leaning heavily on the wall. Squall tried to pick up his gunblade, but it felt too heavy, and he had to drop it with a clatter.

"What have you done to me?!" Squall screamed, but his voice was hoarse, and didn't carry far. He shuffled against the wall, but got too tired. Suddenly, a sharp pain, more agonizing than anything Squall had ever felt, overcame him. It felt like something was ripping apart his insides. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. The pain became searing, moving through all his organs. Squall slumped to his knees, feeling like he was going to vomit. He opened his mouth to do so, but could only dry heave. He felt like he was on fire, like he was dying. Was that the case? Had Griever killed him by pouring her blood into him?

Squall could only let out a small moan of the utmost suffering as he collapsed totally, the unbearable pain of his body being internally shredded causing small seizures to pass through him. He felt like his skeleton was coming apart, trying to escape. He found his voice, and screamed in pain when he heard popping. His joints were popping. What had Griever done to him?! The already horrible pain became worse when his shoulders popped out of joint, when it felt like his knees and elbows broke. Squall's vision began to black out. Before he passed out completely, he felt like his spine was changing shape. I'm dying.... Squall mentally whispered. I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Nida.... I'm so sorry. I'm sorry.... He cried, and his vision became red. He was crying blood. Nida, please forgive me.

Shhhh.... It's going to be okay.

Squall tried to look around him, but his vision had blacked out again. Someone had spoken to him. Was it Nida? It wasn't one of the Oracles, because the voice was male. "Ni....Nida...." Squall panted, curling up into a ball as his body revolted against him. Squall heard footsteps around him, and tried to open his mouth to say something, but could only scream in agony as his jaw seemed to come apart. His whole body shuddered in fear when his vision returned for a moment through the pain, seeing someone kneel in front of him. He felt warm arms wrap around him, and more pain shot through his body. Even the touch on his skin set it alive with agonizing pain. This finally pushed him into a state of black unconsciousness.

Rinoa hurried through the unnatural garden, the still, cold wind biting her flesh. She could feel something very wrong, somewhere in the distance. She came to the end of the Garden, seeing the tall, imposing wrought iron gates. Rinoa ran to them, but was stopped. She felt like she'd run into a brick wall as she tumbled backwards. She landed hard on her backside.

"Ow...." She muttered weakly, standing. She was no longer in the Garden, but had run into a wall of the Labyrinth. She seemed to be in two worlds at once.

"Hello...?" Rinoa called, turning around. She was at a fork in the path. She remembered her vision, but neither path was lit up. "Hello?" She called again. Which path should she take?

She looked down one, then down the other. When she began to turn around again, she saw movement in the left tunnel. A person. They were standing still, as if waiting for her.

"Hello?" Rinoa repeated, her voice shaking with fear.

"Rinoa!" A familiar voice called. The person, a man, waved to her with one arm.

"Zell?!" Rinoa cried. She lifted her long skirt, which was already dirty at the hem, into her hands, and ran down the long, dark hall towards Zell. As she approached him, she saw the scenery of well-manicured trees whiz by her. She was in the Garden again.

"Zell?" Rinoa asked, stopping in front of him. "Where am I?"

"Come on," he said simply, ushering her to walk ahead of him.

"No!" She said with force. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the fuck is going on here!"

Zell gave her an exasperated look. "We don't have time for this."

"Make time," Rinoa demanded, folding her arms over her breasts. "Now, tell me! Why do I feel like I'm lost between two worlds? Am I dead, and the world with Nida is just a dream, or is this the dream? Or...."

"I can't explain if you keep blabbing!" Zell said, slightly angrily. "You're half between worlds. You have been ever since you were in that coma. You were supposed to die."

"Why didn't I?!" Rinoa demanded, reaching out to touch Zell, clasping his shoulders.

"Because Seifer and me didn't want you to die. We needed you."

"Needed me?" She asked, pulling back. She clenched her hands to her chest, her fingers trembling. "For what?"

"The Inaudax escaped from here."

"I know," Rinoa whispered. "It was probably because of the second Time Kompression."

"Yes," Zell whispered.

"Where's Seifer?" Rinoa asked, looking around.

Zell just shook his head slowly. "Rinoa, please. We need your help. Please walk and talk, okay?"

She nodded, seeing the commanding light in Zell's eyes. "Okay... So, what am I supposed to do?"

"The Inaudax have set up a magical barrier. But, it's more than that."

"What do you mean?"

"Edea, Quistis and the others won't be able to cast magic, because it's a barrier. The Inaudax won't be able to either, but they rely on more than just that."

"What do you mean?"

"They have more powers than just casting spells, Rinoa," Zell pointed out gravely. "This barrier has enhanced some of their powers, too."

"What about Nida?" Rinoa asked quickly. "I thought the Inaudax wanted Iudicium out of him. If they have a barrier up, they can't... Nida's safe!" She breathed, happiness shining in her eyes.

"You really care about him, huh?" Zell asked quietly.

Rinoa blushed furiously. "Now's not the time!"

"Iudicium isn't like regular Guardian Forces," Zell pointed out. "She isn't like magic. Since she melds with her host, she's beyond that. Nida can still summon her, which means he's still in danger."

All Rinoa's hope sunk in her heart. "What can I do?!"

"Well, you have to destroy that barrier. It's holding back more than just magic."

Rinoa stopped walking. "You mean... You, right?"

Zell nodded, his face shadowed in his hooded sweatshirt. "We kept you from dying, put you in that coma, because you're connecting us to this world. We need you to unlock the barrier that the Inaudax set up so we can come back and help you."

"You'd fight with us, with all the power of Xystus!?" Rinoa exclaimed. She bounced on the spot. "That's wonderful!"

Zell frowned. "No, Rinoa.. No. Come on!" He demanded. "Now, there are Oracles that are more dangerous with the barrier up, or ones that aren't affected at all, so we have to break it."

"What do you mean?" Rinoa asked as Zell turned a corner. She reached out, grabbing his hand, not wanting to lose him.

"Schuld cannot be hurt with the barrier up. No weapon can harm her as long as it's up. Fermata's voice and Kronos's words aren't affected. Gietzen will always have power as long as shadows are cast. Griever's power is in her blood. Right now, Schuld has killed Kiros Seagill, and will destroy the others if she's not stopped."

"Kiros!?" Rinoa gasped. "Oh... no...." She cocked her head. "I don't even know what this barrier looks like!"

Zell hurried ahead of her, not answering.

"Wait!" Rinoa cried. He turned a corner, and she followed him. "Wait, I said!" Rinoa cried. But, Zell was gone. She was no longer on a winding path, a maze of bushes and dirt roads. She was back in the Labyrinth. Zell was gone. But, in the distance, she could see some sort of light. Rinoa looked around herself, fear rising. In the distance, she smelled smoke. "Fire....?"

She slowly walked towards the light, and saw that it was illuminating the bottom few stairs of a staircase. "A staircase!" She exclaimed. It was just like the one in her vision. Rinoa took one last look behind her into the darkness, seeing if anyone was behind her. There was nobody. She gathered up her dress again, and walked up the stairs at a quick pace. All she could see was stairs in front of her, like in her visions. After five minutes or so, her calves began to hurt, and she had to slow down. Her legs were burning, and yet, she could only see stairs. Higher and higher she climbed, and when she could finally see light, finally see the end of the stairs, Rinoa ignored the burn in her legs, and vaulted the last stairs. When she reached the top, she put her hands on her knees, gasping and gulping for air. She straightened her back and had to shield her eyes from the bright afternoon sun. Rinoa couldn't help but turn her head away as the sun seemed to burn her face after she'd been in the thick dark.

After her coffee-brown eyes adjusted to the light, she peered around her. Rinoa was standing on a gently sloping hill with emerald green grass. She could see a walkway at the foot of the hill, one of lovingly laid cobblestone. The trees all around her were perfectly manicured, and had bright fruit growing on them, the red of the apples looking like fresh blood, the lemons as bright as the sun. Rinoa slowly walked down the earthy hill, slowly looking around, unsure, wondering if she was alone.

"Zell....?" Rinoa called meekly. But, nobody answered. Although it looked like a bright, cheery afternoon, Rinoa could feel the dead, cold wind, and could hear the total lack of birds or insects. She reached the cobblestone path and slowly followed it. She saw that it curved up ahead, the path obscured by a large shrub that was cut in a circular, manicured fashion. When she turned the corner, she saw a lanai, set out as if there were going to be an afternoon luncheon. There were even plates and silverware, but a total absence of food or life.

"Zell...?" Rinoa called again. She saw that a pair of great wooden doors were open, leading into an opulent sunroom. There were gothic style benches, and plants everywhere, the sun streaming in through greenhouse-like windows. It was much warmer inside. She looked around her, seeing that there wasn't any sign of life here, either, despite the totally vibrant feeling of the conservatory.

Rinoa then saw a pair of French doors, and slowly went to them. For some reason, she couldn't see through the glass in them. It was just black. She tapped it, seeing that it was actually polished onyx. She took a deep breath, and turned the knobs, wincing as they made a squeak that seemed deafening, though probably wasn't as loud as she thought it was. When she pulled the white and onyx doors open, she was met with a huge hall that looked like a ballroom. There was a grand piano in one corner, as well as velvet benches, their cushions looking like nobody had ever sat on them.

"Hello....?" Rinoa called. Her voice echoed through the room. She tilted her head back, looking upwards as her voice dissipated through the air. The ceiling was high and domed. A stained glass window let the sun in, creating a pretty kaleidoscope of colours, which rained down upon Rinoa as she studied the picture. It was a white Goddess with large black wings, holding her gold hourglass. Iudicium, her hair made of different strands of colour, giving it an opal appearance, the black wings moulting around her pale body, a colourful flower field behind her. A flower field like the one at Edea's Centra Orphanage. A flower field like the one that Squall had promised to meet her at all those years ago.

Rinoa gasped when she heard some footsteps behind her, coming from the conservatory. She spun around, tearing her eyes away from the stained glass ceiling. The clacking came from high heels. It couldn't have been Seifer and Zell. It was a woman, unless Seifer and Zell began taking to wearing high heeled shoes. Rinoa's heart lurched when the only sign of life in this place besides Rinoa herself came into the ballroom, casually strolling as if being here was normal.

"Ultimecia!" Rinoa hissed, terror rising in her.

Ultimecia's eyes, which had been trained on a leather-bound book in her hands, raised her gaze, which was as fiery and sulphuric as it had always been. Her lips, which weren't painted, and looked pale compared to the dark tattoos on her face, turned up in a smile, a purely wrathful and gleeful smirk. "Well, well...." She mused. "Who do we have here?"

Rinoa took a few steps back, stumbling as she stepped on the back of her dress. "What are you doing here?!" She demanded, terror causing a tremble in her voice.

"Isn't that a kwestion that I should be asking you, Rinoa Heartilly?" Ultimecia casually put the book into a fold in her indigo velvet shawl. She took a few steps into the ballroom, her heels making deafening noise. When Rinoa backed up again, Ultimecia laughed, her horribly familiar laugh.

Rinoa whipped her head around, looking at all the possible exits. Ultimecia continued to slowly advance on Rinoa, and the Asian girl could feel dark power rising in the air. She began to hastily move to one of the doors, but someone was coming down the hallway. All Rinoa could see was glaring red. "Oh, God....." She panted, backing up. She was feeling cornered as a dark-haired woman came into the room. A dark-haired woman that Rinoa knew all too well, for she'd shared powers with her. Xerampelinae.

Xerampelinae's angular face lit up with mirth when she saw the petrified Rinoa backing away from her. "Oh.... Isn't this a lovely surprise?"

Rinoa could see the emblem of the Almasy family on a pendant between Xerampelinae's breasts. She thought of Xerampelinae in her body, destroying Nida with Rinoa's own hands. The power that had been rising in Ultimecia shook through the room. Rinoa gasped again, whirling her gaze over to Ultimecia, who was no longer staring at her, but at Xerampelinae. The two woman glared at each other hatefully, Rinoa backing away all the while.

She took a few steps backwards, and banged into someone. Rinoa screamed, which caused both Ultimecia and Xerampelinae to turn their attentions back to her. Rinoa turned, and found herself staring into the cleavage of a woman. She craned her neck, and saw a redhead looking down at her with an impassive expression. Her face was hauntingly familiar, her pale eyes void of wrath. Her hair was so vibrant, the colour of a sunset. Rinoa looked at the black bands of leather around the woman's very muscular forearms, and then back up at the woman's face, who smiled at her, showing white, gleaming teeth, her canines pointy.

"Zell...." Rinoa whispered, seeing that this woman looked very much like Zell. She then gasped, and tried to back away, knowing that she was staring at Adel, but the redhead caught Rinoa around the wrist with an iron grip. "Adel!?" Rinoa yelped, trying to struggle away.

"Oh, kome on Adel..." Ultimecia purred, her power travelling like a snake across the room. "Let us have some fun."

"Come with me," Adel commanded lowly, but gently as she pulled Rinoa along, Xerampelinae and Ultimecia turning their attentions to each other, and glaring the other woman down.

"Where are you... taking me...?" Rinoa asked, her wrist hurting from Adel's tight grasp.

"You should be careful," Adel pointed out. She saw the pain in Rinoa's eyes, and released the girl's wrist. "Sorry."

"But.... you're dead....?" Rinoa whimpered. "You're Adel..... You tried to kill us all..."

"I know," Adel said, her voice very measured. "Zell would never have forgiven me if I'd let Ultimecia frighten you to death."

"She would have killed me before that!" Rinoa cried, watching as Adel turned her broad back, and walked up the hallway. This Adel was the perfect balance of masculine strength and power, and feminine charms. Despite Adel's muscular body, she moved with all the sensuality of a mature woman. "Where are you going?!" Rinoa called, seeing Adel disappear into the room at the end of the hall. "Hey!"

Rinoa put her hands on her hips, wondering where she should go next, but she felt ugly power moving from the room behind her, the dark mixture of Ultimecia and Xerampelinae releasing power. Rinoa gathered her dress up again, and bolted down the hall, towards the room that Adel had disappeared into. "Adel, wait!!" Rinoa yelled, tripping over her own feet. She stumbled, and landed in an ungraceful heap. "Dammit!" Rinoa cursed, her legs still hurting from the climb up the stairs, and her heart racing from seeing the dead Sorceresses. She rose to her sore feet. "Adel?" She called again, turning around. The bright hallways were gone, and so was the feeling of Ultimecia and Xerampelinae. "Adel....?" Rinoa whispered, looking into the darkened room behind her. She shook, recognizing it from her visions. It was the room with the chairs, and the clock on the floor that she'd almost broken her neck tripping over in Timber.

"Adel....?" Rinoa whispered again. She sighed when she didn't get an answer. Suddenly, a dark, oily laugh filled the foyer. It sounded like a gentle sigh, and sent shivers up and down Rinoa's spine.

"Calling for Adel?" A voice asked, the same voice that had laughed. It was very gentle and serene sounding, but Rinoa knew that it was one of the Oracles.

Rinoa saw that she was in front of the small staircase which led to the large double doors, so gothic and majestic, that led to the art gallery that she'd been trapped in many times. The Art Gallery with the blood fountain, and the larger than life portrait of Ultimecia. The Art Gallery with the clocks. The Clocks....

"Oh, God!" Rinoa exclaimed, feeling like a light bulb was brightening over her head. All her hope vanished when she saw the Oracle that had spoken. It was the one with the black hair and dress. Gietzen. She looked like she was wrapped in shadows. "Gietzen...."

"At least you do your homework," Gietzen answered. Rinoa was surprised at how gentle this woman's voice was, the total lack of malice. She sounded shy, unsure. But, all that evil that should have gone into her voice was festering in her visible eye, the colour of onyx, burning with seething rage. Rinoa watched as this shy creature took a few steps towards her, the shadows following like a layer of chiffon. Gietzen moved like she was unsure of her body, meek, like she was afraid of her own skin. "Why were you calling for Adel?" Gietzen asked simply, the shadows whirling around her.

Rinoa ignored her body, which was shaking in fear, and took a few steps backwards, until she could feel the first step pressing against the backs of her ankles.

Gietzen smiled, the side of her mouth turning up. Rinoa couldn't see the whole smile because of the curtain of hair that completely covered the left side of Gietzen's face. It looked like a very nice smile, which unnerved Rinoa greatly. She moved backwards, stepping onto the first stair, seeing the shadows slowly slithering along the carpet.

Suddenly, all Gietzen's sweetness was gone, and she looked wholly like an Inaudax Oracle, so evil and hard. "You think I don't know what you're doing? You shouldn't even bother. Kiros and Squall are already destroyed.... It's only a matter of time before you, and everyone else joins them."

Rinoa's heart leapt into her throat. "Squall....?!"

Gietzen laughed, all her shy sweetness back again. "Oh, I guess I was the bearer of bad news."

"I don't believe you!" Rinoa screamed, stepping back again, until she was at the top of the stairs. She backed up again, feeling the ornate knobs of the doors pressing to the small of her back. Indeed they were giant doors. Rinoa wondered if she'd be able to open them in time.

Gietzen frowned, the shadows growing thicker around her. "Believe what you want, you little kunt." All the shyness melted away again.

"Nida will destroy you!" Rinoa screamed, not wanting to turn her back on Gietzen, whose hands were folded demurely on her belly. "I know that he's still alive."

Gietzen's visible eye flared in anger. "Not for long...." And, then the shadows moved like light itself towards Rinoa. Rinoa's eyes widened, and she willed herself to turn her back on Gietzen, and struggle with the heavy doors. She felt the shadows lash against her, and it was like she'd been whipped. Searing pain shot across her back, and Rinoa's legs gave out. She prevented collapsing by holding onto the ornate doorknobs. She pulled herself up again, the pain of the shadows swirling around her. But, her vision blurred with tears of pain as she desperately tried to push the doors open.

Something else happened as the shadows washed over her, and as Gietzen laughed at Rinoa's plight. She could see things. She could see things, visions that weren't anything like her visions of Adel, of Ultimecia and Xerampelinae, of Zell and Seifer, of Xystus. She could see fire, moving over everything. She could see blood. When a vision of Nida, slumped against a wall with one of his sickles embedded in his chest, passed through her brain, Rinoa let out a choked sob. She could see Quistis laying face-up in a pool of blood, her limbs at unnatural angles. She could see Edea, curled up in a ball, golden brown eyes staring into nothing. And, Squall, his body leaking blood as all his bones poked through his flesh. And, the smell. Burning flesh. It was nauseating.

"No...... NO!" Rinoa ground out, using everything she had to push the doors. "These are lies!!!" Rinoa screamed, groaning as her muscles screamed in pain from the exertion, from the pain of the lashing shadows. She finally pushed the doors open, and toppled through them, crawling on the dirty ground to close them again. Rinoa used the last of her strength to shove the doors close, engulfing herself in darkness. It wasn't pitch black. There was light coming from somewhere, but it was very limited.

Rinoa kneeled in front of the door for a moment, crying in pain, crying from the pain in her heart at seeing her friends like that. "No..." She whispered. "No, no, no....." She could still hear the echoing screams in her head of Nida, of Squall, screaming out in pain. "No...." She whimpered. She was still holding the rings of the great doorknobs, which looked more like door knockers, crying into the wood. She opened her eyes, screaming when she looked at the backs of her arms. There were marks on them, as sure as she'd been physically whipped, blood oozing down her arms. Rinoa let go of the knockers, skittering away from the door. Her skin ached, ached as much as her heart. "That can't be true..." Rinoa whispered.

She put her hands to her eyes, trying to rid herself of the vision of Nida slumped against a wall, completely covered in blood, his sickle halfway into his stomach. She looked through her fingers, through her tears, which were blurring her vision, and saw shadows slowly leaking through the crack between the closed doors and the floor.

Rinoa groaned in pain, rising to her feet. She whirled around, seeing the torches lighting the room. She ran over to one, stumbling, painfully twisting her ankle. She ignored it, though. She ignored her ankle, ignored the tender pain on her back, ignored the feeling of blood soaking into her dress. Rinoa took the torch off the wall, then moved to the next torch, and the next. She felt the shadows lashing at her feet, at her sore ankle, and she whimpered, tears pouring down her cheeks. She gathered the torches, the flames hot around her, and she flung them into the blood fountain at the base of Ultimecia's portrait. Rinoa had engulfed herself in complete blackness, where no shadows could find her.

"Clocks..." She whimpered to herself, running her hand along the wall, using her fingers to search for the copper-plated clocks she knew were there. "This must be the barrier generator. This must be what's stopping Zell and Seifer from coming back, what's preventing the Oracles from dying..." Rinoa felt more comforted by the sound of her own voice, so babbled to herself through her tears. She sniffled, her nose beginning to run as she found the first clock. She searched the hands. 7:00. She pushed the hands, and heard a click as they lined up at the top of the face. She quickly moved to the next clock, having to hobble because her ankle was swelling up. 4:00. Rinoa moved the hands again, and heard a click. She also felt power pushing through her. It didn't feel like her own, or anchored in her body. It was passing through her like she was a window. Like she was a gate.

"A gate between two worlds..." Rinoa whispered to herself, crying as she had to hop on her good foot, her other ankle too sore to put any pressure on now. 10:00. She quickly spun the hands, and heard a click. 5:00. Click. 1:00. A wave of power, stronger than before, passed through her. 8:00. Click. Rinoa could feel the air changing, feel magic beginning to work its fingers back into the fray. 9:00. Rinoa started laughing to herself, her pain making her slightly delirious. She hopped to the next clock, running her hands along the wall, searching for it. 3:00. As she turned it, Rinoa heard the gothic double doors creaking. She heard the click, and as she did, the doors blew open, flooding the room with light. Rinoa screamed, seeing the shadows, which could now move freely, pulsing down on her. Their talons lashed at her face, and Rinoa ran, crying, sobbing as her ankle protested. She felt blood move into her mouth from a gash on her face as she found the next clock. 11:00. She moved the hands, seeing Gietzen slowly ascend the small staircase, her black crepe dress billowing around her, her sweet laughing flowing with the shadows. Rinoa felt the tears thicken, her vision become red. She was crying blood now. 6:00. Rinoa felt the magic that she had junctioned begin to call her, felt the power of Leviathan, her Guardian Force, beginning to stir.

The shadows lashed her, and Rinoa couldn't help but stumble. She fell against the blood fountain, jarring her elbow against the stone. It caused a wave of complete numbness to work through her arm. She also was covered in the blood from the fountain, and felt her hand become impaled on the sharp nose of a swordfish. Rinoa screamed, wrenching her hand out. The hand shook, now having a small wound, a mark like Stigmata, in it. Rinoa saw the last two clocks, and raced for them, letting the shadows whip her, ignoring the screaming in her head, the smell of blood and burning flesh that accosted her. "2:00!!" Rinoa screamed, her bloody hand smearing the wall with crimson as she pushed the hands into place.

"Stupid little girl..." Gietzen whispered, all calmness. She thrust her hands out, her hands that were gloved in lace, and the shadows, now as thick as beings themselves, crashed down around Rinoa as she almost reached the last clock.

Rinoa gave a terrible scream, spitting up blood and other things. She briefly thought in her head, a sliver of realization in all her pain, and the visions of the pain of the others, that the only clock she hadn't turned was 12:00. How could she turn a clock that was already at 12?

"Midnight..." She panted. She'd have to spin it all the way around. She saw Nida's doe eyes, staring into blankness, the light gone. She could see fire slowly descending on him She could see it lapping at his clothes. She could hear distant laugher. The laughter of Tevedes. "No...." She whimpered, clawing at the wall, trying to raise herself to it. "Seifer!!" She screamed. "Help me!" Her fingers, now sticky and slick with her own blood, found the clock's hands, but slipped off. "Zell.... please......" she whimpered, pain shooting through everything she had. The gentle laugher of Gietzen cut through all the dark shadows that were crawling all over her, burning her as they moved. Rinoa pulled herself up, turning to face Gietzen. She glowered, clenching her teeth, tasting her own blood in her mouth, looking at Gietzen through red veiled eyes. Rinoa's injured hand reached behind her, and she turned the hands on the clock.

Everything seemed to go in slow motion as Rinoa pushed those hands. Gietzen sent a wave of dark power at Rinoa, but the Asian girl would not be swayed, even if it killed her. "Nida...." Rinoa panted.

"Shut up about him!!" Gietzen screamed, obviously angry that Rinoa wasn't dead yet.

Nida..... I'll die before I let them kill you. I'll die before I let them destroy everything. "I'll die before I let you have Iudicium!" Rinoa screamed, blood pouring out of her mouth as the clock hands clicked into place. A sucking sound filled everything, seemed to shake the foundation of the Manor. Rinoa immediately cast Curaga on herself, but knew that it wasn't going to help, really. It would just stave away Death. Rinoa then called Leviathan against Gietzen. The rumbling of the great serpent sounded miles away. Rinoa panted, bowing her head into her chest, which was scarred with lash marks, wet with blood, and she wept.

Rinoa blinked a few times, feeling Leviathan come into her body again. She must have blacked out for a few minutes. Through her still bloodied vision, she saw that Gietzen was gone, but felt that she wasn't dead. She's only retreated, and would be back. Rinoa tried to stand, but her ankle was too swelled, her flesh was too battered. A great wash of pain passed over her, the memory of Gietzen's shadow visions staying in Rinoa's brain. She could hear a gentle ticking of a clock, and began crying again.

"Kiros!" Laguna screamed again for the hundredth time. Schuld was still holding Kiros's now very dead body against her chest, using it like a shield, even though Laguna's bullets weren't phasing her in the least. She stood among the flames, like she was burning in them, and loving it.

"Laguna!" Quistis screamed, trying to pull the Esthar President along with her. "The fire's getting too big! Come on!!"

"Kiros!" Laguna yelled again.

"Do you guys feel that, ya know?!" Raijin muttered, looking around him.

"If you're talking about the fire, yes I do," Quistis muttered. She was back to back with Raijin, the flames getting hotter and taller. "We're going to burn to death."

"You have a knack for stating the obvious," Schuld said gleefully, her black tear tattoo looking liquid in the blistering heat of the hallway. "Just like Kronos, you are."

"I'm nothing like her!!" Quistis roared. She cracked her whip at Schuld, lancing the redhead's arm. This caused Schuld to gasp, and drop Kiros's body to the floor. It was immediately engulfed in the fire.

"Kir....Kiros..." Laguna panted. He started coughing, his lungs filling with smoke.

"I... I hurt her?" Quistis whispered to herself, sweating profusely in her confining peacock dress.

"I feel something, I said!" Raijin hollered over the loud crackling of the fire.

They felt their magical abilities slowly coming back. Schuld must have felt it to, because she ran through the fire, and tackled Quistis and Raijin to the ground. Their clothes began to be gobbled in the fire, and Schuld's fists made heavy contact with Quistis's face, the blonde SeeD's body pinning Raijin to the gas soaked floor.

Quistis felt her jaw break from Schuld's amazing strength, but she wouldn't give up. Her magic was coming back! Soon, they would be able to hurt Schuld. Quistis kicked up with her high heels, getting Schuld in the soft part of her inner thigh, which caused the Oracle to grunt in pain. Suddenly, Schuld's hand went around Quistis's throat, and she pulled up the blonde with a jerk. Quistis gagged, Schuld's grip choking her.

Suddenly, the air seemed to be filled with a sucking noise, and Raijin groaned. "The barrier must be down!"

"Ca....." Quistis began to say, but her voice was being blocked by Schuld's strong hand.

"Gietzen, you dumb bitch..." Schuld whispered under her breath. Schuld pulled Quistis to her chest as Raijin cast Water, trying to stop the fire. It only caused more smoke to fill the halls, and the fire continued to rage.

Schuld smiled through the smoke at Laguna, who was pointing his machine gun at her, his aquatic eyes full of rage.

"Go ahead...." Schuld taunted. She flung her free hand out as Raijin tried to advance on them, and it connected heavily with his orbital bone. He skidded across the hot ground, groaning in pain. "Shoot me," Schuld commanded. "You'll only kill Quistis here, too. You want two deaths on your conscience? Oh, wait.... Three. Your precious Squall...."

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Laguna roared. He could smell the burning flesh, Kiros's burning flesh, and it caused his eyes to water, not only from disgust at the smell, but from pure agonizing pain. And.... Squall? No, Schuld had to be lying. "Squall....." Laguna whispered, his gun shaking in his hands.

"You should have just let us have Nida. Only one life... Now... so many dead."

"No," Laguna hissed, raising his gun again. "You're lying. Squall is still alive. I know he is!"

Quistis's cobalt eyes widened as Laguna aimed the gun. "Laguna....." The smoke was getting so thick that they could barely see. Quistis screamed as she felt the heat of fire lick over her long skirt. She was on fire. "Oh, God..." Quistis could just see the barest hint of metal gleaming in the smoke. Laguna's gun was still pointed at them.

"Looks like he doesn't care about your life," Schuld whispered into Quistis's ear. She then ran her tongue over the curl, and then into the blonde's ear, which caused Quistis to struggle in her captor's arms. "I'll be sure to give Xu your regards." Schuld cackled cruelly.

"Laguna, please!" Quistis screamed. "Shoot her!"

Laguna made an unintelligible groaning noise. He could barely see Quistis and Schuld through the smoke. What if he killed Quistis? "I can't see!" Laguna cried. "I can't just shoot you!"

Schuld laughed, moving through the fire, dragging Quistis with her, which caused Quistis's dress to become fully on fire. "What a yutz."

"Laguna!" Quistis screamed as Schuld dragged her by her neck. She tried to scream again, but Schuld's hand tightened around her throat. As they passed, Schuld kicked Raijin. Hard.

Laguna felt tears going down his face from the smoke. "Quistis... I'm sorry...." He whispered, and fired the gun. He only fired a spurt of three bullets, afraid more would kill Raijin, too.

Quistis screamed as Schuld's hand tightened again around her neck. She tried gasping for air and clawing at the hand. Pain went through her arm. One of Laguna's bullets had gone into her shoulder. One of them exploded at Quistis's feet, missing a bodily target. Quistis felt movement at her feet. Raijin. He tackled Schuld, knocking her off balance by grabbing her long legs. Quistis fell out of the Oracle's grip, stumbling to the ground, coughing, only bringing more smoke into her body.

Laguna jumped through the fire as quickly as he could, casting Water on himself to douse the flames that had caught his coat. "Quistis!"

"I'm... I'm okay..." Quistis answered through coughs.

"Ultimecia...." Schuld whispered.

Laguna cast Water on Quistis, then picked her up, for she was still coughing for air, and couldn't really stand. Raijin, Quistis and Laguna looked at Schuld, whose pale eyes were wide. She was staring at them with her bugged-out eyes, a hole in her forehead, between her eyebrows, from a bullet. Her body began to convulse, and she fell into the flames.

"The smell of gas is getting stronger!" Raijin yelled.

"We... have to get out.. of here...." Quistis hacked, releasing herself from Laguna's embrace.

"You're... dying... with me...." Schuld wheezed as her body was totally swallowed by fire. The smell of gas got stronger and stronger, like Schuld herself was an accelerant. "YOU'RE DYING WITH ME!" Schuld screamed, her voice sounding inhuman.

"Run!" Laguna screamed, firing his gun as he back peddled. He saw Schuld stand up among the flames, her body a pillar of fire.

"Jesus Christ!" Raijin cried, grabbing Quistis's hand. "We have to run."

Laguna fired a few more times, and then dashed behind Quistis and Raijin. They ran around the first corner they came across, then another and another, getting themselves more lost, but desperately trying to lose Schuld. Laguna briefly looked over his shoulder.

"Fuck!" Laguna cried. "She's coming after us. And quick!"

Faster and faster they ran. They could feel heat around them from Schuld. They rounded a corner, and skidded to a halt when they came face to face with the burning Schuld.

Schuld laughed as the trio tumbled all over themselves to back up. She held her charred arms out at her sides. "You're dying with me!" She cried. "Ultimecia... Forgive me...." She panted, and her body exploded with such force that it send Laguna, Raijin and Quistis flying. The walls collapsed all around them, the rubble falling all over them.

Quistis screamed, covering her head as the destruction continued. It seemed to go on forever. Finally, the rumbling stopped, finally the debris stopped raining down. Quistis gingerly raised her head, brushing small rocks off her. "Laguna? Raijin?"

"Urrrggh..... God...." Raijin murmured, pushing debris off his legs. "I think it broke my leg."

"Laguna?" Quistis called again.

"I'm here...." Laguna answered weakly. He was already standing, a gash on his cheek, which poured blood down the side of his face. "Oh, God...."

"What?" Quistis asked.

"Run.... Run, run, run..." Laguna hissed. He pulled Raijin to his feet, then did the same with Quistis.

"Why....?" Quistis asked, confused. She looked behind Laguna, and saw that Schuld was still moving. "How?!" She screamed.

"Just run!" Laguna commanded again. They ran and ran, wondering if they'd ever be able to stop....

Nida stood like a statue, staring at Tevedes as she looked at him, studied him like he was on display at a butcher shop. He'd felt the power disappear from the air, and knew that they'd gotten their 'barrier generator' started. He was standing in the middle of a room that looked like something out of a harem. There were brightly coloured rugs and cushions littering the floor, and the smell of exotic incense and saffron was in the air. There was also an undercurrent of something else, something carnal. Sex and death. Nida could smell the faint tinge of sexual fluids in the air, a smell he was very familiar with from his daily and nightly romps with Squall. But, there was also the smell of something metallic. Blood. It hung in the air like a dark flag.

Tevedes was watching Nida calmly. He stared back with equal calm, ignoring the other Inaudax. Kronos, Tempest and Valhalla were flounced on velvet cushions of bright patterns, and Pallas was standing behind him, a gun lazily in her hand. She wasn't pointing it at him at that moment, but Nida knew that she was quick enough to shoot him before he moved.

"We've waited a thousand years for Iudicium, Nida. We can wait even longer."

"For what?" Nida asked, a smile lashing across his face, mirroring the razor-sharp grin on Tevedes's face. "To be defeated again?" He grinned, a Cheshire cat. "You're such a petty, loathsome bitch."

Tevedes stiffened, tightening her gloved hands around the riding crop that she was holding at the small of her back. "You talk big."

Nida felt that dark wrath building in him, the same dark wrath that had risen inside him in Timber. He gave Tevedes a sweet smile, totally ignoring the other women. He felt Iudicium's consciousness rise within him, and his lips slashed open into a hateful grin. "What makes you think that this time will be different, Tevedes?"

Nida smiled triumphantly when Tevedes took a step backwards. He knew that his voice had sounded exactly like Ultimecia. True, his timbre and pitch were completely different, but it was his pronunciation, his formation of the words, the way his mouth had moved, that had been pure Intervigilium.

After a pregnant silence, Tempest fluttered her fans. "You think you're so fucking clever..."

Nida just ignored her. He noticed briefly that Selphie had disappeared. She'd probably gone to follow Xiphias, like a good little puppet. However, he kept his gaze on Tevedes.

"While you stall, your friends and your slutty whore of a girlfriend are dying for you. You realize that?"

"I didn't ask them to follow me..." Nida trailed off. Inside, it broke his heart to say that. He was grateful that Squall would come to certain doom for him. He didn't show it externally, but Nida was afraid for Squall, afraid that something had already happened to him. Nida stood, like a statue in front of Tevedes, his face not moving from its mask. But, inside, he was pleading with Iudicium. Please help me. I can't let them have you. PLEASE!

Silence. He couldn't even feel her power in him at all. Was it because of that barrier generator? He felt his anger growing. Iudicium would lend her powers to awful Sorceresses like Ultimecia and Adel, but not to him? I never ask you for anything. I don't use your powers for my own gain. And, you ignore me because of it?! I need you to help me save Squall and the others! Why are you abandoning me?!

"Yuck...." Valhalla muttered. She was sitting on a cushion, and brought her hand up to her face. "I guess we didn't clean up well enough..." She showed the other women her bloodied hand.

Kronos laughed, tracing the pocket watch that hung between her breasts. She blinked a few times, and picked it up, looking at it.

"Oh, God!" Val exclaimed, jumping up from her seated position. "There's blood all over the place here."

Tempest looked down. "Huh....?" She watched the pool of blood begin to form, growing larger from an invisible source.

"Where's it coming from?!" Val screeched. She began tossing pillows and rugs around, looking for the source of the blood. "You!" Val yelled, pointing at Nida.

Tevedes's pale eyes narrowed, and she stepped very close to Nida. "What have you done?" A small smile graced her hard mouth. "Is Iudicium finally going to make an appearance."

Kronos tapped the face of her watch. "Tevedes...."

"Oh, God...." Val looked around, her eyes wide as the blood rushed into the room. It was now ankle deep. "Make it stop, Nida."

"Tevedes...." Kronos repeated.

"What?!" The pale woman demanded sharply, not removing her gaze from Nida.

"The watch started."

Nida smirked when he saw the brief flicker of fright in Tevedes's eyes. "You stupid little bitch," Tevedes seethed, glaring down at Nida.

He looked up at her, for she was taller than him by at least six inches. He took a step back, the blood sloshing all around him. He folding his hands together, prayer fashion, tenting his index fingers in his typical magic calling stance. He pressed his fingers to his lips, staring at Tevedes He could feel Iudicium rising within him. He was glad, but also afraid. He had to keep her below the surface. If she left his body, it would be all over.

"Nida, stop," Kronos commanded.

Her words were like a train slamming into him. He tried to ignore the power of her voice. He kept his fingers pressed to his lips.

"SHIT!" A voice said. Viator.

"What are you doing here?" Tempest demanded, the blood, which was now to the middle of her calf, sloshing around her.

"What's all this?" Fermata demanded.

"Why are you HERE?!" Tevedes roared.

"Schuld ran off....." Viator began to say, but then saw Gietzen materialize in the corner of the room, stepping out of the shadows. "Gietzen, you stupid bitch!"

"You let Rinoa break the barrier!" Valhalla screamed. She tried to take a step forward, but almost fell in the blood.

Nida just laughed at them. The blood began to drip upwards, like it was being pulled by gravity towards the ceiling. As it washed over Nida's body, he grunted. It was hot, burning hot. He could hear the Oracles gasping in pain. When he heard Fermata begin to sing, he concentrated harder. The blood began to pour upwards, its temperature to the boiling point. Nida then slammed his eyes shut, and the blood completely filled the room, moving like a reverse waterfall. The Oracles screamed, the liquid burning them, just like it was burning Nida. He could still feel the hand cannon Pallas called a gun digging into his back, but it was lazily pressed there, because she couldn't see. Nida felt the boiling blood soak through his clothes, and he summoned part of Iudicium's power to jam all their abilities. The blood was unbearably hot, and now he couldn't even hear the screams of the Inaudax. He could just hear it rushing all around him.

Thank you.... Nida whispered to Iudicium as he teleported himself out of the room. As soon as he was free of the flowing blood, he again called on Iudicium's ethereal powers, and coagulated all the blood, trapping the Oracles, trapping Tevedes, Valhalla, Viator, Tempest, Pallas, Gietzen, Fermata and Kronos, in suspended animation. The blood would vanish as soon as Nida set foot off Xystus's grounds, but that was enough time. Once they were back in Esthar, they would be safer. The city had a strong barrier, one that was stronger than the one that had been broken here.

Nida slumped down on the ground, panting and coughing up some of the blood he'd swallowed or breathed in. He looked around. This path didn't look any different than the ones that Tevedes had led him down earlier. He slowly rose to his feet when he smelled smoke. Nida closed his eyes, and used the abilities that had allowed him to teleport to call for his sickles. Even though they had been in his weapons case in Esthar, they appeared in his hands. He slowly walked down the hallway, the smell of smoke and charred flesh getting stronger. Nida prayed to anything that he wouldn't come across the smoking body of someone he knew or loved. He could also feel power. A dying Sorcerer or Sorceress. "Edea...?" he whispered. No. He came across the body of Schuld. She was badly burned, but still recognizable.

"No..." She wheezed. "Anyone but you..." Her voice sounded as brittle as her flesh looked. "Anyone but you."

Nida closed his eyes. Despite Schuld's protests, her power was already leaving her dying body. He felt her power enter him, fill him like a liquid. He also felt Iudicium separate from him. She was separating herself from Nida's core in order to join with Schuld's powers.

"I hate you.... I hate you..." Schuld whispered over and over again. Her words halted when she finally died. Again.

Nida felt his translucent wings sprout from his back, like they'd done so many times. It left him a little afraid, because Iudicium was only hovering in his body now. She wasn't anchored. He felt the last of Schuld's power meld with Iudicium, and the process of the Goddess of Judgement returning to his body began again. But, in a lightning fast move, Nida felt something breeze past him, and grab his hand, scratching him in the process. Then, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. He looked down, confused, and saw one of his own sickles buried in his abdomen. He opened his mouth in shock, but only a garbled noise came out. This shock was enough to jar Iudicium out of his body. "No...." Nida whimpered, feeling emptied of power. Iudicium was separated from him. He blinked, feeling like he was in slow motion, looking up at his assailant.

He was staring at a pair of feral amber eyes, lit up with wonder as she beheld the white skinned Goddess, who was hovering around Nida, her face impassive as usual.

"Iudicium..." Griever whispered. "And, you're all mine...."

Nida slumped to his knees, seeing the glittering Griever pendant between her breasts. Griever was going to take Iudicium. He whimpered in pain touching the sickle which was stuck in his stomach, the handle and sharp point of the curve pointing outwards.

"You're all mine!" Griever exclaimed. She ignored Nida, and stepped before the great Goddess, who was now not in full glory. She was the size of a normal human being, her wings folded around her because of the limited space in the hallway. "My child may have abandoned me, but not you...."

Child? Nida furrowed his brow in confusion and pain. Who was Griever's child? Did she mean Squall? What had she done to him? "No...." Nida panted. He wouldn't let Griever take Iudicium, who was now strengthened even more by Schuld's absorbed powers. Nida began to black out, feeling the blood pouring out of his wound. He closed his hand tightly around his other sickle, and whirled around, slicing through Griever's shoulder, cutting downwards so that her arm and part of her torso were partially severed from her body.

She screamed, growling with all the noise of a lion, and ripped the other sickle out of Nida's body. His blood poured forth, and he felt his intestines spill out of the wound. He was going to die, but he wasn't going to let Griever take Iudicium. She moved to slice at him again, but Nida used her shock, and the last of his strength, and caught her wrist. She struggled away from him, and the blade cut through his right pinkie finger like butter. He groaned in pain, and arced the sickle that was still cutting through her body. He pushed it through her breasts, through her lungs and heart, all the while his blood and viscera seeping out of his body.

Griever opened her mouth, as if to say something, but only blood came out. She spit it in his face, her fangs bared. She touched the Griever pendant between her breasts, and just laughed, but it sounded bastardized. Nida felt her powers rise out of her ruined body, and into his own. But, he didn't know what good it would do, because he knew he was dying. People didn't survive when their intestines fell out of their body. "Squall....." Nida whispered as Griever's power completely filled him. She died laughing at him, blood gurgling out of her mouth like a fountain.

"Squall..." Nida panted again. He tried to hold his insides in his body, but he was blacking out. Iudicium rushed into his body rapidly, causing him to arch violently off the ground beside Griever's corpse. I won't let you die, my child....

Nida whimpered as he felt Iudicium's voice reverberate in his head. He began to thrash violently on the ground as Iudicium penetrated his being. He opened his eyes, and all his breath left his body as Griever's powers, now within him, warred with Iudicium. Nida had taken Griever's power separately, so it hadn't been part of Iudicium's power. All the power of Xerampelinae had been fused with Iudicium, so now it was like he was two Sorceresses in one body. Pain shot through his body, and he looked at his gaping wound, which was sewing itself up, his intestines moving back into place. Iudicium was healing him. Nida felt Griever's power be pushed deep within him, Iudicium covering it, but not absorbing it. It was like Griever went into dormancy, Iudicium filling him with her familiar, overbearing power.

After a few minutes of panting and thrashing around, Nida slowly sat up. The smell of Griever's corpse was strong in his nostrils, and he stood, not wanting to look at her. What if she'd killed Squall? This filled him with anger, with dread. He spit on her corpse, and picked up his sickles, which were dripping with blood; his own and Griever's. He wiped them on his pants, which were sticky from the blood that Iudicium had summoned in the harem chamber, as well as his own blood, which was still fresh.

Nida walked for what seemed like an eternity, feeling Iudicium's new strength fuse in his body. He felt lighter somehow. And, Iudicium's powers felt so much stronger. He could also feel Griever's powers, like a great sleeping cat, like the lion that she'd worn the fur of, deep in his body. It felt different, far different, than Iudicium's powers. It felt very inhuman, more animalistic.

"Squall... where are you?" Nida whispered, wondering if he'd be lost in this Labyrinth forever. He rounded a corner, and felt something unnatural. Another Oracle? He couldn't see anything, though. He felt so tired. He just wanted to rest, but couldn't ignore the feeling he was getting. It wasn't necessarily evil, but it felt very alien, so Nida didn't know what to make of it. He began to walk again, his feet hurting. He must have been walking for an hour. At least.

Nida stopped, furrowing his brow when he saw something on the ground. It was a scrap of fabric. Nida's heart leapt in this throat. It was the same fabric as the suit that Squall had been wearing. He turned the torn piece of cloth over, and saw a button still attached to it. The antique lion buttons. This was from Squall's coat. "Squall?!" Nida called, looking up and down the path. He then saw something glittering a few feet away. He went over to it, crouching down. It was the Griever pendant. He knew it was Squall's, because Griever had died with hers on. "Squall?!" Nida called again. He waited, but nobody responded.

He stood to full height, clutching the pendant in his hand. "Oh, God....." He opened his mouth wide, but no other sound came out. He felt like he was going to scream, to start bawling, but nothing came out. "Squall...." Nida panted, his body convulsing. He felt Griever's power rise to a staggering amount within him.

Suddenly, he saw the shadow of something coming around a corner up the path. Nida peered into the limited light, and gasped. It was a huge lion. "Griever..." Nida panted. The power that he'd absorbed from her flared and fluttered within him. "Oh, god..." He shook his head, not wanting to move. The lion was massive in size, and was obviously male. It had a thick mane of fur around its large head, making it look fearsome. The lion stopped thirty feet or so away from him, watching him with calm eyes. Nida took a few steps backwards. The lion began moving again, growling slightly, his fangs bared.

"Oh.... Oh, god..." Nida backed up again, and ended up slamming into a wall. He panted in fear. The lion started trotting towards him, looking menacing. Nida's new power, the one from Griever, seared him, screaming out for this lion, animalistic as it was. Nida's eyes widened, wondering if this lion meant to eat him alive, if he was Griever's last ditch revenge. He began to call up Iudicium's power, not really wanting to kill such a majestic beast, but willing to do so if he had to.

The lion stopped, as if sensing the rising magic in the air. The great feline lowered himself onto his belly, resting his large, beautiful head on his huge, deadly paws, as if being submissive. Nida knew this sort of behaviour from housecats, and wondered if the lion was showing that he didn't want to hurt Nida.

Confused, Nida looked at the large cat, but something caught his gaze. He still clutched the silver Griever pendant in his hand, along with his sickles. A person coming up from where the lion had been. He brought his sickles into a ready position, wondering if it was one of the Oracles. But, this form was male. All the Oracles were female.

"He won't hurt you...." The voice said. Familiar, ghostly.

Nida's heart lurched in his throat as he looked at this approaching man. The man was wearing a classic three-piece suit of black with thin ivory pinstripes. He was also wearing a fedora. Just like at Diamond Dust. "Seifer....?" Nida whispered. His disbelieving eyes went back to the lion, who had risen again, looking up at him. The lion's head reached up to Nida's waist, and it stepped forward again. And, again, Nida backed away. The lion growled again, more like a purr, sounding frustrated, if that was even possible. Nida took a few more steps back, but tripped over his feet, and fell against the wall. Griever's power burned him from within, like it was reaching out for this lion.

"Oh...." That was all Nida could say as he looked into the lion's eyes. Weren't lions supposed to have amber eyes? This one had blue eyes. Familiar blue eyes. The lion moved closer to Nida, until it was standing directly in front of him, blue eyes boring into Nida's. Then, it's large tongue moved over Nida's face, showing that it was friendly.

Nida dropped his sickles to the ground with a clatter, but kept his grip on the pendant. Seifer stood a few feet behind, as if giving them space. He watched them both, concern in his greenish eyes, his scar crinkling as he furrowed his brow. His scar..... Nida's now empty hand reached up, shaking badly, and he touched the lion's nose, which was soft. He touched the small space on the bridge of the lion's nose, between his blue eyes, his familiar blue eyes, where there wasn't any fur. A scar. Just like Seifer's. Nida's mouth opened in shock, Griever's power yearning to leave his body, to touch this lion. The lion seemed to respond to the fluttering power within Nida, and nuzzled his large head against Nida's chest. When the lion pulled away, sitting beside Nida patiently, Nida's shaking hand went to the scar again.


The lion made a small noise, and bowed his head, pressing it under Nida's chin, like a housecat looking for attention. Nida's hand touched the thick fur of the lion's mane as he looked up at Seifer, who gave Nida a silent, sad look.

Nida panted, in complete shock. He looked down at the pendant in his hand, then at the unnaturally blue gaze of this beautiful lion before him. "Squall.....?" When Nida's hands touched the lion's head, he knew it was true. This lion was Squall.

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