The New Flesh

Chapter Seventeen

By Scarlet Fever


The pale General didn't even turn around when she heard Gietzen's dark whispering voice around her. Gietzen's voice was coming from within the shadows, her body elsewhere in the Xystus Manor. Tevedes's eyes were closed, her fingers running over the filigree frame of the larger than life portrait of Ultimecia, of their Queen, Intervigilium Ultimos.

"Valhalla has just left for Esthar."

Tevedes didn't reply, her eyes closed, touching the painting, moving her fingers off the frame, touching the bumpy texture of the painting that Magdalene had painted so many millennia ago. Tevedes was concentrating, just herself and Gietzen left in the Trabian mansion.

"Tevedes...?" Gietzen's voice whispered, liquid in the moving shadows.

"I heard you, Gietzen." Tevedes pressed her forehead to the painting, completing the spell that she'd been concentrating on.

Gietzen made a small noise, materializing into the room, standing in the center of it, dwarfed by the magnitude of the room. She always had looked small and frail, and immortality hadn't changed that. "I guess the barrier is up...?"

"I hope what I've felt won't come to pass..."

"Mmm?" Gietzen stepped up to the landing where Tevedes was standing. The shadowy woman's pale hand reached up, and touched the painting of Ultimecia in a small gesture of affection. "We could really use her help...."

"Nida knows that Rinoa is being held captive by Pallas and Tempest in Deling City. He'll come to her rescue."

"Hopefully he'll fall to them," Gietzen whispered, looking up at the gold, oil eyes in the painting.

"I have felt that he will not, but I hope that this fate changes...."

"Why would it change....?" Gietzen asked.

"Because he brings Squall Leonhart with him. Squall is Nida's weakness, one of the last few that he has...." Tevedes balled her hands into fists, and turned her back to Ultimecia's painting. "All that power wasted in a human body. All of that power that could forever destroy Hyne's chokehold on this miserable world. All that power that could avenge Intervigilium's defeat!"

"Esthar has a magical barrier up as well...." Gietzen pointed out, waving her hands around, as if to touch the magical barrier that Tevedes had just finished completing.

"Valhalla has a grip on mechanical technology that we do not. The inability to use magic isn't as detrimental to her success." Tevedes pulled out a cigar, and began smoking it silently.

"Is it really true that you're sacrificing the rest of us so you can have the full extent of Iudicium's powers?" Gietzen asked quietly.

"You're questioning me?" Tevedes asked, her voice taking on a snarling tone.

"Perhaps I am," Gietzen shot back, her shy voice picking up some timbre with her anger. "You've been very secretive and high-handed, Tevedes. Pray... What are you thinking?"

"We never really vanish, Gietzen." Tevedes turned around to look at the painting of Ultimecia. "You know that."

"I do, but I don't understand your plans, Tevedes."

Tevedes took a step forward, and gently caressed the side of Gietzen's pale face. "All this power... Nida doesn't understand it... He's never been a black mage before, never been evil or liked being evil... He won't be able to handle all of our power at the same time. And, it will destroy him from within. Don't worry about the 'death'. You never have."

"But, you have simply sat back...."

"Biding my time," Tevedes interrupted. "Biding my time, my dear."

"I still do not understand."

"When one of us has that power, the others will be resurrected. It's really quite simple. As long as Iudicium is under the yoke of Nida Nomura, our powers will remain in the sea of black magic that is Her powers. But, when one of us has the White Goddess, harnesses her powers, then...."

"We'll be able to free the others, too..." Gietzen finished, her voice a quiet murmur. "Just like how Ultimecia and Adel were able to separate Xerampelinae's powers."

Tevedes nodded. "It's really a double-edged sword. If we get Iudicium, it would be a disaster anyway, but all their hard work would have been for naught."

"You always were the tactical genius, Tevedes..." Gietzen looked up to Ultimecia's painting, her tattooed face forever frozen in a cold look of bored contempt. "No wonder she loved you so much." Then, Gietzen turned back to the too white woman in front of her. "But... will Nida know this?"

"How could he?" Tevedes asked. "He knows nothing about the workings of the Inaudax, or the true workings of black magic. He won't know... Not until it's too late, and the other Oracles have already come back to their bodies, stronger and angrier than ever."

Quistis sighed, looking through the stack of papers on her desk at Balamb Garden. Xu and Zell were sitting on the other side of her desk, talking amongst themselves, looking at papers. "God, the paperwork really stacks up when you're not here all the time." She blew breath out heavily.

"I still can't get in contact with Nida or Squall," Xu muttered darkly. "And, no sign of Rinoa. I called the head of the Galbadia Customs Agency. They're the ones that control border patrol."

"And?" Zell asked.

"Well, I know that he's still friendly with Garden, so I can trust his word. He asked around about any people entering Galbadia that matched Rinoa's description. There were none, but he's still asking. Because of the storms, they lost phone contact for a while, and are just getting it back."

Zell scratched his head as he thought. "Well, then it's pretty obvious that Tevedes got her, or one of the other Oracles, anyway...." Zell closed his eyes.

"Well, we don't know that for sure. We just have to wait," Xu said. She didn't sound happy about it, though.

"Waiting might just put Rinoa in more danger," Quistis pointed out, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Maybe Nida is already helping her...?"

"I don't know, I don't know...." Xu muttered. There was genuine fright behind her voice. "Where Nida's concerned now.... I really don't know what to think."

Zell kept his eyes closed, trying to find something deep within him. His eyes snapped open when he found it.

Quistis looked up when she felt something strange in the air. "Zell....?" She looked at the small blonde man, cocking her head. He looked almost like he was in a trance.

"What is it....?" Xu asked. She raised a hand to touch Zell's shoulder, and when she did, she yanked her hand back again. Zell's skin was thrumming with magic. Xu then gasped when she felt something in the air... Like... there was someone in the room with them.

Quistis let out a shocked noise, getting up from behind her desk when the air behind Zell changed. There indeed was someone in the room, coming straight out of thin air. It was a woman, wearing a white gown with thin straps. She had black banded tattoos on her muscular biceps, and shimmering orange hair. Her eyes were the icy, cold blue of Zell's, and she had a blank look on her beautiful face. She wasn't a pretty woman, but more statuesque and elegant. She also had black markings, tattoos on her face. The marks of the Viator family. It was Adel. But, it was the real Adel, the original.

"Adel?!" Xu gasped, jumping backwards. She pressed herself against Quistis's desk.

"It is quite alright. I will not harm you," Adel said. Her body was translucent. She was there, and she wasn't. She had been summoned. Summoned by her son. Zell's eyes were now closed, but moving under his lids, like he was in a hypnotic state. "Zell summoned me."

Quistis's cobalt eyes widened. "But...."

"Not in the same manner that he summoned me against the Inaudax. I'm here to give information."

"Information?" Xu croaked. "What sort?"

"Because my magic is so close to the Inaudax, because the Viator family has personal ties to Viator the Messenger, I may be of assistance to you. There is also the matter that I am in Xystus, and this realm has magical energy that I would be able to assist you with..."

"Meaning?" Quistis asked, trying to regain her composure.

"Meaning, daughter of Kronos, that although my son and the son of Xerampelinae were once ruling here, they no longer are part of the Dead Realm. I still am, hence I can feel the trance energy of anyone who has been to Xystus."

"Like... you can always feel Zell, and Seifer... and, Selphie?" Xu asked.

Quistis remained silent. The way that Adel had called her 'Daughter Of Kronos' sent a chill down her spine. She didn't want to be related to that awful woman. But, Zell also had to put up with it, being the child of the worst Tyrant that recent Sorcery had known, and also being connected to the Inaudax through Viator. Seifer also knew it, connected with Xerampelinae, who was actually worse than Adel, because at least the redhead before them, the serene ghost, had redeemable qualities, hadn't always been a monster. Xerampelinae had never been repentant, had been born evil.

"Yes," Adel answered. "And, also I can feel the Inaudax, or what is left of them..." Adel's face darkened. "Although, I can feel the 'dead' ones." Adel emphasized the word dead. "They have not come to Xystus."

"What?" Xu asked. "But, Nida killed them."

"He absorbed them. They are part of him, of Iudicium now." Adel clasped her hands together on her belly. "Your fears about Rinoa Heartilly, daughter of General Caraway, are confounded. She has been taken by the Inaudax. Held as bait for Nida."

"What?" Xu asked. "No...."

"Yes, yes. She is still alive. I cannot know if she is unharmed, but the Inaudax wouldn't kill her, because Nida would know, and wouldn't come."

"Well, can we contact Nida?"

"He would not listen..." Adel said quietly. "He means to kill the Oracles that are guarding Miss Heartilly. But, even though his intentions are pure, in wanting to destroy the Inaudax... There is a subtext."

"In the fact that.... even to a good person, that much power can be intoxicating..." Quistis finished.

"Yes." Adel's face held sadness. She flashed a bitter smile. It was obvious that Zell was her true son, because it mirrored Zell's smile completely. "I should know that fact better than most."

"What should we do?" Quistis asked.

"Prepare for battle."

"What?" Xu asked.

"The Inaudax are tired of playing cat and mouse. Tevedes has set up a magical barrier around the entire continent of Trabia. And, the Oracles are moving as we speak. They are moving in the three points of Deling City, my former city of Esthar, and the plains surrounding this school."

Xu's eyebrows shot up. "What?!"

But, Adel faded away. Zell came back to himself, looking up at Xu and Quistis, both of whom had stricken expressions on their faces.

"Shit..." Xu trailed off.

"We should contact Esthar right away." Quistis picked up the phone on her desk.

"We also can't let Nida walk right into a trap!" Xu exclaimed.

"I think he knows very well that it's a trap...." Zell muttered. His voice sounded tired. "I don't think he cares, though."

"How did you do that?" Xu asked, crouching beside Zell's chair.

"Fuck!" Quistis cursed. "The phone is dead...." Her eyes widened just a little bit.

"Dead?" Xu repeated bleakly. "You don't think....?"

Zell stood up, feeling a little wobbly. "Think that they already made a move?"

They all yelped when the office door opened. Faye, the Junior Headmaster, came into the room, her black hair streaming behind her. "Quistis!!"

"What is it?" The blonde asked, trying to stay calm. But, dread was internally rising in her.

"Look outside!" Faye exclaimed.

Quistis looked to her window. The drapes were pulled. So, she opened them, and instead of the afternoon sun, it was pitch black, like night. Except that there were no stars. It was like a piece of fabric had been thrown into the sky, and was just hanging there. "Oh, God....!"

"What do you think is happening, Headmaster?" Faye asked, kneading her hands together.

"I have no idea...." Quistis whispered.

They all looked out the window, amazed. When Quistis's intercom buzzed, Xu and Zell shared a look. Quistis felt a shiver go down her spine. The intercom buzzed again.

"Aren't you going to get that?" Faye asked.

Quistis slowly went to the intercom, looking at both Zell and Xu, silently asking if she should answer it. Xu nodded slowly. Zell balled his hands into fists, and dark look in his eyes.

"Headmaster Trepe...." Quistis choked out.

"Hopefully you are more prompt in answering calls from your benefactors, Headmaster."

Quistis's heart leapt in her throat. The voice on the other end of the line was smooth, commanding. The voice that spoke for Tevedes when Tevedes didn't speak. "Kronos."

There was a velvety laugh on the other end. "We are waiting outside your lovely school, my child. Are you going to greet us, or will we have to force our way in? I don't think you would like that..." Her beautiful voice held a definite threat.

"I know that Adel told you we were here." This voice was different.

"Viator..." Zell whispered.

"Shame to kill more students because you're too cowardly to come out," Viator mused. "The gate guard wouldn't let us use the intercom, so he's met an unpleasant fate. Do you wish the other poor students here to fall the same way?"

"You bitch..." Quistis hissed.

"So many children.... Innocent..." Viator continued, as if Quistis hadn't spoken at all. "So, are you going to come out and play?" They could hear both Kronos and Viator laughing, and then the connection was severed.

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

Quistis balled her hands into fists. "Okay.... Faye, you get everyone into the sublevels of the school. Junior Class first. Have medic teams on standby, because there will be a fight. It's us that they want, but they might destroy the school, so have lots of medical equipment handy. Don't use the intercoms, because they might be listening."

"Here..." Xu gave Faye a velvet bag after pulling it from Quistis's desk. "There are Phoenix Pinions inside here. Hope you don't have to use them, but they could be very handy."

"What about you guys...?" Faye asked, looking from Quistis, to Xu, and then to Zell.

"We're going to try our best to kill them..." Zell muttered, already heading towards the door.

Squall followed Nida around the house as the Asian man touched windows and doors.

"What are you doing?" Squall asked, confused. Nida was saying something under his breath in a language that Squall couldn't understand. Squall pushed his glasses up on his nose as Nida crouched on the floor, and started saying a stream of words in a rush. "Nida?"

After Nida had finished saying the words, Squall felt a shiver. It made the small hairs on his arms stand on end. Nida touched Squall's hand briefly. His eyes were dark with Iudicium's power. "I'm setting up wards to prevent the Oracles from hurting my father while we're gone."

"What language is that...?" Squall asked.

"Old Trabian... The language of Iudicium, and the Inaudax."

Squall frowned deeply, his eyes troubled. "I didn't know you could speak it..."

"I can't..." Nida admitted darkly. "It just... comes to me." Nida gripped Squall's hands. "I don't want you to come with me. I want you to stay here, where you'll be safe."

"Fuck that!" Squall exclaimed angrily. "If you leave me here, I'll just follow you. I will not stay behind like some fucking damsel in distress, pacing and worrying about you. I want to protect you!"

"I don't need your protection, Squall....." Nida murmured sadly.

"I know." Squall touched the side of Nida's fair face. "I know that. But, I still want to protect you... As best I can, anyway. Every Sorceress needs a Knight."

"That's just a fairy tale...." Nida muttered.

"Still..... I offer myself to you freely, a Knight in your court."

Nida shook his head, brushing his bangs out of his eyes. "Thanks. But, I would still feel better if you didn't come. The Inaudax are too strong..."

"I've survived this long, haven't I?" Squall asked, kissing Nida's lips, a series of small butterfly kisses, over and over again. "I'm very determined."

"You're so fucking stubborn," Nida said.

"I know."

Nida ran a hand through Squall's auburn hair, and went to the living room. "I've set up magical wards all over the house. You'll be safe here while Squall and I go to Deling City to rescue Rinoa."

"I'm sure it's a trap, Nida..." Daisuke said quietly, crossing his arms over his chest.

Squall frowned deeply. "This is so like Rinoa... Fucking stupid bitch..." He muttered over his breath.

"I'm sure that Miss Heartilly didn't mean to get herself into trouble, Squall." Daisuke gave Squall a pointed glance. He'd heard Squall's angry mutterings. "And, these Oracles would have tried to get her, no matter where she was."

"Okay...." Nida hugged his father gently. "We'll be back as soon as we can. Hopefully we'll be with Rinoa...." Nida felt a tear escape his eye as he hugged his father. "I'm so sorry......" Nida whispered. He was sorry for so many things. Sorry for putting his father in danger, sorry for killing his mother. Killing his mother.... More tears escaped his almond-shaped eyes. "I'm so sorry..."

Daisuke held Nida at arms length. "These circumstances are out of your control. Many unfortunate things have happened.... It's not your fault."

Nida just nodded, looking totally himself again. He looked tired and sad. "We'll be back soon..." Nida reached his hand out, and took Squall's in his own. "We'll have to go outside because of the wards." Squall and Nida walked to the door. Daisuke slowly followed. "Stay in the house. The wards can't protect you if you leave."

Daisuke nodded as Nida and Squall went out to the front yard, closing the door behind them. Squall wasn't sure how exactly they were going to go to Galbadia. "Nida....?"

"Come here," Nida murmured quietly. He pulled Squall's slender frame against his body. Squall was still gaunt, but more healthy looking than he'd been only a couple days ago.

Squall put his hand on Nida's hard chest, looking into his lover's eyes. "How....?"

Nida stroked the side of Squall's face. "I still wish you would stay here. If I lost you....."

"Tough shit."

Nida smiled, kissing Squall's lips. Squall's mouth was soft and silken, like the dewed petals of the most delicate of flowers. Squall's lips quivered against Nida's own, and the Asian man took Squall's lower lip into his mouth, savouring this serene touch with his lover, for it could be the last one. Squall breathed against Nida's mouth, tasting the familiar taste of Nida's lips, of Nida's warm saliva. But, he could also taste the power that hummed under Nida's skin, the power that moved throughout his body with the blood that streamed in his veins. Squall felt Nida's arms come around his waist, and he felt frail. Nida was so strong now, and Squall knew that Nida could snap him in half if he wanted to. But, even with all this power in Nida's body, his touch was still gentle and loving.

Squall opened his mouth fully to Nida, and when Nida's tongue touched his own, he couldn't help the small moan that escaped his chest. He felt his knees weaken, and at that moment, just wanted to forget about Rinoa, forget about Iudicium and the Oracles. He just wanted to lay in the wet grass with Nida and make love with him, over and over. Nida's tongue was warm in his mouth, and Squall's tongue ran over it, tasting it. As they kissed, as their tongues slowly moved against each other and their hands moved over each other, Squall felt magic entering his body. Nida's mouth was the only thing keeping him anchored.

Squall opened his eyes, pulling away from Nida slightly. But, Nida's mouth found his again. Squall let Nida ravish his mouth, but kept his eyes open, and raised his hand to look at it. He could see through it, and it was also beginning to vanish. So was Nida. It was like they were made of sand or ash, and wind was scattering them through the sky. Squall held Nida tightly, afraid that he would be thrown to the wind, and never become whole again. Despite this feeling of disappearance, Squall could still feel Nida against him, solid and real. Nida's mouth was gentle, warm, and moist. It was an amazing feeling. Squall's heart felt complete because he was being held and kissed by Nida, but he also felt complete with all his surroundings. Nida's touch was familiar, but the touch of nature wasn't.

Squall let himself be swept away in the feeling. It was like the entire world was touching him. And, not just touching his skin. But, it was touching every molecule of his being. He was at complete oneness with the world, every cell of every living being connected to him. It took Squall's breath away. He felt like he was drowning. But, it wasn't the awful feeling of lungs burning and helplessness. He was floating in a perfect sea of nature, and of Nida's power, of his love. This was also the first time that Squall felt like he was touching the true core of Nida's power. It was everywhere, just like the spirit of Gaea was everywhere. Every other time he'd felt touched by Nida's power, Squall realized that it had only been a fraction of it. The full power was too powerful to even imagine. How was Nida surviving this? It wasn't all black magic, wasn't all evil. Although, Squall could feel the dark evil of the Inaudax, like black riptides. But, their bitter black magic was insignificant compared to the whole spectrum of things. They didn't matter compared to the ageless, gentle power that the earth held. It wasn't magic that the earth, that existence was made of. It was just.... life. And, they held no power over it.

Squall could also feel the heart of Iudicium. It was like a cool light, gentle and impassive, mingling with everything else. Squall let himself be completely sucked under, let all this magic, even the horrible black magic of the Oracles, enter his body. He gave himself over to it completely, and felt Nida do the same. He could still feel himself touching Nida, but it was different from the heavenly kiss that fused their mouths together. Every fibre of Squall was touching ever fibre of Nida, and whatever made up Squall's 'soul' cried because it felt so beautiful.

Squall felt Nida's mouth against his once more, concrete and real. Nida was kissing him with the force that only love can bring, stealing Squall's breath out of his lungs. When Nida pulled his mouth away, Squall gasped for air, his head swimming. He felt the hard earth under his feet, and the wetness of tears on his cheeks. The air was cold, bitter, and it was dark.

"We're here..." Nida whispered. His arms were still around Squall's waist.

Squall could barely concentrate on his surroundings, and caught Nida's gaze. He couldn't find words to explain what he'd felt. His lips were quivering, and a few more tears trickled out of his eyes, and slid down behind his glasses, and down his cheeks.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Nida asked.

Squall's lips quivered more. He'd never felt so whole and insignificant at the same time. "Is it always like that....?" Squall asked, his voice barely a whisper.

"Well... I had you this time... It made it even better." Nida became sombre. The clouds were rolling above them, and the air was chilly. "We have to find Rinoa."

"Where....?" Squall asked.

Nida pulled away, and tilted his head up to the sky. There was a distant roll of thunder that shook the ground, and rattled their bones. Tempest was waiting for them. Squall pulled out his gunblade, looking around.

"This way..." Nida whispered.

Squall started to follow Nida, and then felt someone grab him from behind. Someone strong. Shorter than him... A woman.

"Rinoa!" Nida cried, turning around. He then shook his head, the Iudicium wings materializing from his back, feathers moulting into the cold wind. "No...."

Squall felt his body coming apart again. His body disappearing like ash in the wind. But, it wasn't Rinoa's consciousness that was joining him. Along with the feeling of being whole with the earth, he felt awful, frightened. This was the blackest of magic, the darkest of feelings that filled him. Even though Squall's feelings towards Rinoa were the bitterest they'd ever been, he still knew her essence was good. Rinoa would have felt warm and bright, like Nida had, but this was cold and ugly. "Nida!" Squall screamed. His mouth didn't really form the words, but everything that made him Squall Leonhart screamed it out. He could hear Nida calling his name, and then felt something enter him. It was magical, and felt like the wards that Nida had set up in his house in Dollet.

Nida uttered the small Trabian chant, and flung a ward out before Squall disappeared with this false Rinoa. Nida was having memories of Xerampelinae in Rinoa's body attacking him, the cracking sound of her broken neck. The ward caught Squall before he completely vanished with this Rinoa. She looked just like Rinoa, except her eyes were wrong, her essence was wrong. As Squall vanished, Nida could still feel him. If Squall died, Nida would know it. His almond-shaped eyes narrowed dangerously, and he moved towards the epicentre of the storm. It was easy to tell that it was a fabricated storm, because real storms didn't have a dark core, brewed from magic. Nida internally vowed to destroy the Oracle disguising herself as Rinoa with as much pain and torture as possible if she caused any harm to Squall.

Edea's eyes fluttered open, and she looked over when she felt someone sitting beside her bed. "Cid...?" She asked wearily.

"No... It's Laguna."

She sat up, opening her eyes further. "Oh... Laguna." Edea touched her head. "What happened?"

"Are you in any pain?" Laguna asked, his normally jovial blue eyes looking haunted.

"Not anything that I can't deal with..." Her voice was subdued. "Where's Cid?"

"Dead," Selphie muttered from the corner of the room.

"Selphie!" Laguna exclaimed angrily.

Selphie looked up. Her green eyes looked dead. She and Laguna had always been the two most upbeat people Edea had ever known, and to see them both so subdued and depressing was awful.

"Laguna.... Is it... true....?" Edea asked, her golden brown eyes widening.

He sat back down in the chair beside her bed, shooting Selphie a reproachful look which she shrugged off. "I'm afraid so, dear..." Laguna took her hand in his own. It felt very small and cold, so unlike her strong, stoic powers.

"No....." Edea whispered quietly. She looked over at Laguna. "Did he suffer?"

Laguna shook his head, squeezing Edea's hand. "No. No, he didn't."

Edea put a pale hand to her mouth to repress a sob. "They have taken so much from us...." Her eyes flashed angrily. "So many innocent people suffer because of them."

Seifer knocked on the door, and came in. "I was just coming to check on you... It's good to see you're awake."

Edea tried to smile, but her mouth quivered with sadness. She stretched out her free arm, gesturing for Seifer to come to her bedside. "Seifer.... Come here. You too, Selphie..." Edea looked to the corner where the girl was sitting, morose. "I want those I love close to me."

Seifer took Edea's hand in his own. Selphie, as if surprised by the request, shuffled over with wide eyes. She was wearing navy blue satin pyjamas under a white robe.

"What am I going to do?" Edea asked quietly. "Cid's... always been there. He's been my Knight. But..." She gave a sad smile. "I mean, that title holds nothing. Just a fairy tale. But.... He was there for me... He never abandoned me, never stopped loving me, even when Ultimecia had control of my body."

Laguna looked across the bed to Seifer. Laguna started thinking about Kiros, how he was going to face the rest of his life without his oldest friend, his dearest love and companion. He'd already lost Raine, lost Kiros. Squall was God-knows-where with Nida. What if Laguna lost his child, too? He was already lost in a sea of depression. He didn't know if he could handle anymore.

Seifer was thinking sort of the same things. He was thinking about how much pain he'd caused while under Ultimecia's control, thinking about all the times he'd almost lost Zell. He didn't think he'd be able to live without the small blonde. He didn't want to find out if he could or not.

Selphie sat on the edge of the bed, looking at Edea. She raised her hand, as if to touch her former Matron, but just put it back in her lap again. She didn't really feel part of this anymore.

Edea took her hand out of Seifer's, and reached for Selphie's hand. The small brunette gingerly let Edea hold her hand.

"Why are you so sad, Selphie?" Edea asked.

Selphie actually laughed.

"What's so funny?" Edea asked.

"Just the ridiculousness of the question... Here you are.... in a hospital bed, your husband is dead, and you're asking why I'm sad?" Selphie shook her head. "It doesn't matter if I'm sad."

Edea cocked her head, her eyes welling up with tears. "At least Cid is in a better place...." One of the tears escaped her eye, and fell down her alabaster cheek.

Selphie scooted over a little bit, and squeezed Edea's hand. "He is...."

Edea then hugged Selphie. It was the closest human contact that Selphie had been a part of since she'd woken up. Everyone seemed to treat her like a pariah. They cared about her, but she could still see that they were wary of her. Even Irvine seemed unsure of what to say or do around her. Selphie herself hadn't really helped matters, but it still bothered her. Edea's embrace was warm, and made Selphie remember being a child back at the Orphanage. "I wish I was there...." Selphie whispered.

Edea grew angry, her eyes flashing. "Don't say that!" She gave Selphie a glare, the kind she'd given when she was going to give them a lecture as a child. "Selphie Tilmitt, anyone in Xystus would give anything to be in your position, to have a second chance at life. I would give anything to have Cid back. You have a second chance at life, Selphie! And, you're wasting it!"

"Okay, okay....." Laguna murmured, pressing Edea back up against her pillow. "You need to rest. I mean... you were in an explosion."

Edea furrowed her brow, nodding slowly. "Right."

Selphie pulled her hands away from Edea, and silently sat on the corner of the bed, staring at her hands in her lap. Edea's words stung her like a slap to the face.

"It was obviously the Oracles.... But...."

"No magical trace of them could be found," Edea finished. Her mouth quivered again. "Cid...." She whispered.

"Okay, okay...." Laguna waved his hands. "That's enough excitement for today."

"Should someone get the doctor?" Seifer asked. He'd been very silent, sharing quiet understanding with Edea.

Selphie silently looked around the room, feeling something in the air. It was very faint. The hospital room had no windows, so it couldn't have been a draft. It was almost like it had started snowing. That wasn't out of the question, because it was still winter in Esthar. "I'll go..." Selphie whispered quietly, wrapping her robe around herself.

"I'll come with you," Seifer murmured. He stood, and kissed Edea's pale, cool forehead. "Get some rest...." Seifer followed Selphie out of the room. "Selphie!" He called.

Selphie was walking towards a window, moving down the hall. She stopped dead in her tracks, and felt Seifer stop behind her, his much taller body pressed to her as they stared out the window.

"Oh, God...." Selphie trailed off. "No wonder it felt cold."

The sky was black with clouds, and snow was heavily falling. It had already coated the streets, and there was a strong wind.


The blonde turned when he heard Edea calling his name. She came out into the hall in her hospital gown. She looked small and frail. Laguna came out after her, and took her arm, steadying her weight.

"Edea, you should get back into bed!" Laguna exclaimed.

"This storm...." Edea trailed off. "It is magical."

"But, that's impossible," Laguna pointed out. "We have a magical barrier up."

"Something is going to happen...." Edea whispered.

"Get back in bed!" Laguna cried again. He began to lead Edea back to her room. She complied, looking out the window with worry, then training that fearful gaze on Seifer.

"What's that?" Selphie asked, pointing outside.

Edea pulled away from Laguna, and went to the window. She saw what Selphie was pointing at. There was a silver airship in the sky, one that didn't look Esthar issued.

"What is that?" Laguna asked. "I've never seen an Airship like that before...."

When it started firing its guns down on the snowy city, they all gasped. Seifer pressed his palms to the glass. "Shit! It must be Valhalla."

Selphie nodded slowly. "Valhalla is the one that was called The Ragnarok... She was the mechanic one."

"We have to do something...." Edea whispered. She put her hand to her forehead, almost swooning.

"You're going to go rest.... There isn't any magical energy, because the barrier is still working." Laguna led Edea back to her room. He looked over his shoulder. "Get in contact with the Air Force."

Seifer nodded. "You up to a little fighting?"

Selphie blinked her large eyes. "I don't know....." She then nodded. "I guess I have to be."

"Seifer!!" Irvine called, running up the hall. He stopped and looked at Selphie. "That's Valhalla up there. She's going to destroy the whole city!"

"Laguna is back in with Edea, but he'll be commanding soon. Okay.... Get the Air Force together. We'll also need to set up some sort of shelter for anyone who is injured, and a medic team."

"Elle is already on it," Irvine said.

Seifer nodded, and motioned for Selphie to follow him. "We'll get to Laguna's office."

Irvine reached out and caught Selphie's slender arm. "You're going to fight?"

Selphie pulled herself away from Irvine's grip. "Yeah, I have to. I have to start being thankful that I've been given a second chance...." She could still hear Edea's words in her head like a distant echo. "Let me go so I can get dressed."

Irvine just watched with wide eyes and an open mouth as Selphie followed Seifer's much taller frame, which was disappearing down the hallway.

"Irvine...?" Irvine heard his name being called after a few moments. It was Ellone. "Where's Uncle Laguna? Someone said he was around here?"

Irvine nodded. Laguna came out into the hall, and patted Ellone's shoulder. "Okay... Where's Selphie...?"

"She went with Seifer."

Laguna raised his eyebrows. "Maybe we have her back again..."

Ellone just remained silent. "Oh... Uncle Laguna.... I got some medical teams set up, and a rescue center set up in the sublevels of the Palace."

"Good, good." Laguna ran his hand over the top of Ellone's head. "I should go find Seifer and see if he can contact Xu or Zell. We'll need some pilots here." He sighed. "I have a feeling that they're having problems of their own, though." He turned to them again. "Okay, Elle.... you stay with Edea. She's still injured, and I want her to stay in bed. Irvine, you start going through the city, and trying to find a ground way to stop Valhalla from destroying my city."

Squall wrenched himself out of Rinoa's arms, and turned to face her, his gunblade pointed outwards, his eyes hard behind his spectacles. It was indeed Rinoa that was standing in front of him, but it wasn't at the same time. Everything about this Rinoa looked like the woman he knew. Same hair with caramel highlights, same body, same face. She was wearing black leather clothes that didn't look like anything Rinoa would wear. She was wearing a long trenchcoat and a leather vest over leather pants. She was also armed to the teeth. But, Squall knew it wasn't Rinoa simply by looking in her eyes. These eyes weren't Rinoa Heartilly's eyes. Rinoa's eyes were warm brown, the same brown as Nida's eyes. But, these eyes were lipid pools of pale, dead green. They weren't the glittering pale peridot colour of Seifer's eyes, but a dead, almost stagnant, ugly colour.

"You can't fool me," Squall ground out.

As if made of liquid, this Rinoa transformed into her true form. Pallas. Squall didn't waste any time. He couldn't let Pallas get the upper hand, so he ran towards her, gunblade up, and slashed at her chest. It caused the strap that was holding blades on her body to break, and a clang of metal as the weapons hit the ground. This is when Squall noticed that they were outside of some building. It was the Presidential Residence. They were in some sort of courtyard at the back of the house. The trees were heavy with water. It was going to start raining any second. Squall stabbed Pallas straight through the chest. She screamed out in pain, and sent him flying backwards with a powerful wave of magic.

Squall doubled over himself, and looked up just in time to see Pallas's fist coming down towards his face. Blinding pain shot through his head as she hit him in the eye. Squall crumpled to his knees, but still held his gunblade out. It was dripping with Pallas's blood. She was bleeding all over the place, but still moving freely. A loud clap of thunder filled the sky, and it started to rain heavily. The thunder was so loud that Squall's bones continued to vibrate even after the roll had finished. Squall was seeing double, but he still lashed out with his blade. Pallas grunted, and Squall tried to rise to his feet, but he slipped. The ground was becoming slick and wet in a short period of time.

Pallas suddenly gave Squall a toothy grin. "You think you're so clever, don't you?"

Squall spit out some water that had entered his mouth, and shakily stood. The punch that Pallas has given him made his legs feel like spaghetti. But, he shook his head when he saw Pallas just standing there. She was smiling so silently, standing so surely. As he looked at this silent Oracle, her body took on that liquid tone again, the way it had when she'd changed from her doppelganger of Rinoa to her true form. It made Squall feel ill, because of the motion in the already moving world around him. Squall quickly cast Cura on himself, and things stopped moving. But, Pallas didn't.

She reared onto all fours, and the leather ripped away from her body, and her face changed shape. Her face stretched and scrunched, her limbs becoming shorter. Squall moved towards her, being blinded by water droplets on his glasses. Pallas gave a grunt, then a roar, for she'd changed into a great gold lioness. Her fur wasn't the tawny colour that lions usually were, or the colour that Squall himself had been after Griever had changed him with her blood. Her fur shimmered in the wet surroundings, like Pallas's lioness form had been powdered with gold dust. The lioness gave a low, throaty growl, and started to run towards Squall at full speed, a shining golden bullet heading straight for him. She roared again, her mouth wide.

Squall's eyes widened, and he cast Ultima on the sprinting lion. But, it reflected off the beast, and Pallas just kept running forward. Seeing the lion running towards him like this made Squall think of the agony he'd suffered during his transformation. It made him think of Griever, of what she'd done to him. The rain was also coming down in almost opaque sheets, and it was making it hard for Squall to hold his gunblade up. He also found it hard to see because of the water beading up on his glasses. He ducked out of the way in time, but Pallas's claws still got his arm, and it caused him to drop his gunblade on the wet cobblestone. Pallas spun around, growling, her hackles up.

Squall reached for his gunblade, but before he could clasp his fingers around the handle, he felt the heavy, iron weight of Pallas's lioness body against his back. It knocked the wind out of Squall, and he slammed his chin against the cobblestone. It made him light-headed, and it hurt like Hell. He could feel Pallas's breath against the back of his neck; hot and dangerous. Squall still reached for his gunblade, as far as he could. Because of Pallas jostling him, the blade skittered out of reach. Squall groaned and reached again, trying to worm out from under Pallas's lion body. He felt like his shoulder was separating, the muscles ripping apart, but he still reached.

Pallas growled in Squall's ear, as if she was saying something to him. He reached and reached for his weapon, and tried to cast another spell on Pallas, but it didn't work, and she actually had a reflect spell on, so the powerful Firaga spell came back on Squall, and he screamed in pain. At the same moment that the fire spell hit him, he felt Pallas's powerful jaws sink into the back of his neck.

"No!" Squall screamed. She wasn't biting hard enough to really damage Squall. It was more like a love bite, and his slender body stiffened when he felt something pouring into him. It was like someone was pouring hot water into his body, like Pallas was a spout with scalding water flowing all over the back of his neck. The wet feeling was because of the rain, but the heat was all magic. Squall's eyes widened, and Pallas jerked him around. It caused Squall's glasses to fly off his face into the grass nearby. The power that was pouring into him felt awful. He felt like his bones were melting in his body, felt like his skin was sloughing off in the rain. He started crying, the rain falling on him like scalding hot spittle. There was pain moving all through his body. "Nida...." Squall whispered.

The lioness on his back growled angrily at the mention of Nida's name, and dug her fangs harder into the nape of Squall's neck. He was still trying to reach for his gunblade, but his fingers seemed to shrink, as did his arms and legs. He felt the familiar rise of Griever's blood in his body. Squall cried out, and it turned into a growl, then a roar. Pallas had poured her power into Squall's body, and called forth for Griever. The pain that had come with his first transformation didn't come. His body felt more liquid than it had, like his transformation had been more of Pallas than himself. A loud, low roar escaped from Squall's feline mouth, and he flung Pallas off him.

In his lion form, Squall couldn't use magic, so would have to rely on his strength as a male lion. For a lioness, Pallas was large, even bigger than Squall. She still had her stagnant green eyes, and Squall still had his stormy blue ones, and they started each other down before running towards each other, roaring angrily. The swatted at each other heavily with sharp, curved claws. Squall got Pallas in the throat, and she got him across the muzzle, where he was already scarred because of the mark that Seifer had given him all those years ago. Pallas's body tackled Squall's, and they rolled through ever deepening puddles, their fur becoming wet and matted with dirt.

The golden lioness bit deeply into Squall's neck, and he roared while he swatted his huge, strong paw out. He clawed down the side of her head, drawing blood and pulling out large chunks of fur and flesh. Pallas growled against Squall's mane, and just bit harder. Squall swatted at Pallas again and again, and she jumped off. She scampered backwards, and Squall slowly rose to his legs, shaking his great head and glaring at Pallas. His mane was matted with blood, and he hurt from the substantial bite. Squall's eyes widened when he saw Pallas body move with liquid motions. She was changing. Squall couldn't change. He couldn't change back.

Pallas changed into a form that cracked Squall's heart. He would have accepted any form other than Nida's. But, Pallas couldn't recreate Nida's beautiful brown eyes. In comparison to his olive skin and dark hair, the green eyes were pale and striking. Because Pallas's clothes had been ripped off when she'd changed into a lion, this Nida illusion was nude in front of Squall. He felt his heart distantly curl, but it wasn't from lust. He wouldn't lust over an imitation of Nida. But, it did curl his heart that this fake Nida would kill him, hence causing Squall to fail the real Nida.

Pallas, in Nida's body, went to Squall's gunblade, for it was the closest weapon. She walked towards Squall, the rain falling all over the hard, nicely muscled torso that was the exact double of Nida's. Water slicked his hair, and fell down his body in gentle waves. Squall rose to all fours and made himself ready to pounce. Pallas/Nida raised the gunblade just as Squall leapt up. The blade cut deeply into Squall's side, and his jaw latched onto Pallas's neck. He ripped with his powerful jaws as the blade dug into his organs. Blood poured all over Squall's feline face as he fell to the ground, the blade of his own weapon making a suction noise as it pulled out. Squall collapsed to the ground, making whimpering noises in his animal throat.

Pallas changed back into her original form, Nida's body shed away. She was sputtering and shaking, trying to make noises as her jugular spurted blood all over the place. Squall made a low growl as he felt that scalding magic in the air. Pallas was dying, and the magic was entering his body. He felt what was left of Griever in his blood fuse with Pallas's powers to become one ball of magic deep in his core. The magic floated in the rain-drenched air, and entered Squall's pores. He could feel the power to change, the power to transform that Pallas had possessed. Squall drew from this, and although the power was still filtering into him, he felt like he knew it like the back of his hand. He felt his bones turn liquid, and he turned back into himself easily, without pain.

Pallas was still sputtering on the ground as Squall sat up, the cobblestone wet and cold against his bare buttocks. He stood up, nude and soaked from the rain, and looked at his own hands, amazed that he'd changed so easily. Things were still blurry, so he scrounged for his glasses in the grass. Pallas made a last breathing noise as Squall crouched by the grass, searching for his glasses. He found them, his whole body humming like he was part of an electrical current. Squall shivered as rainwater poured down his crouched back.

As Squall put his glasses on, he felt an awful pain. He looked down, his glasses falling into the grass again. The tip of his gunblade was poking through his abdomen, then sunk in farther and farther. Squall turned around, and saw Pallas glaring down at him, gritting her teeth. Squall felt the hilt of the blade touch his back, and then it was wrenched out. His insides came pouring out of the wound, as did the magic he'd just acquired from the seemingly dead Pallas. But, she wasn't dead. She was taking the power back, taking Griever's power with it. Squall opened his mouth to say something, but only a great flood of crimson gore came out of his mouth. His eyes were wide as he fell backwards onto the cobblestone. Pallas gave him an awful sneer, and disappeared into the air.

Squall stared up at the raining sky, drops of water splattering his face and eyes. He felt cold and alone, and hated himself for not being able to help Nida. He tried to say 'I'm sorry' to the air, but only blood came out. I'm so sorry, Nida..... This was the last thing that Squall's mind said before black, and the image of Lillith's face, hidden behind a cowl, took him over.

Xu panted, leaning against the wall. She'd gotten separated from Quistis and Zell. She was so worried about both of them. Quistis against Kronos, Zell against Viator. It was like some sort of macabre family reunion. She'd been fighting Galbadian guards, but the small few that she hadn't killed had wandered off, as if called by something that Xu herself couldn't here.


The Chinese woman turned around, and saw Faye running towards her. "What's wrong now?"

"Seifer contacted us from Esthar. They're being attacked, and need some added Air support."

"Attacked?" Xu asked. The Garden had put up a magical barrier to prevent the Oracles from just walking in. So, Xu and Faye wouldn't be able to get back into the school without lowering it for a moment.

"By Valhalla, Ma'am."

"Shit," Xu swore. "Can you still radio into the school?"

Faye nodded. "That's how I found out about the call. But, we can't get in without lowering the barrier... And... we won't get troops out without lowering it, either."

"Well, we'll only lower it once, so we can sent a couple ships out. We'll stay out here."

Faye nodded weakly. "Where are the Headmaster and Commander Dincht?"

"Fighting," Xu answered wearily. "God, I wish Nida was here.... Without his powers... He still would have been able to fight an Oracle in air. He's the best pilot this Garden has."

"If we could contact him..." Faye murmured, brushing wet hair out of her eyes.

"How bad is the situation in Esthar?" Xu asked. She was already leading Faye to a secluded area where they could plan without having to worry about being brought into a battle.

"They seem to have it as under control as they can get it, but they'll need air help. They're getting their Airship force together, but Valhalla seems to have attacked that first, so they're depleted."

Xu nodded, pulling out her communicator. "Okay, I'll send some of our Airship, but we need to keep some here because of Viator and Kronos... They seem content in fighting Quistis and Zell, but I doubt that will last." Xu kneaded her bottom lip with her teeth. "This is bad...."

Quistis cast another bout of Shockwave Pulsar on Kronos. Quistis was instantly glad that she'd concentrated on magic while in Garden, because physical blows were doing very little, if only buying her fractions of seconds while Kronos backed away from Quistis's lashing whip. The blonde had gotten separated from Zell and Xu quite a while ago, and she hoped that they were doing okay, but deep down, she was afraid that they were already dead. Quistis felt lucky because Kronos's strong suit didn't seem to be her physical fighting. She was a magic user, and she kept trying to talk to Quistis. The blonde had put an earpiece on, and turned it up so she couldn't hear what Kronos was saying. It was a tactical disadvantage because she couldn't hear approaching attacks out of her vision, but she'd rather be surprised than cajoled by Kronos's commanding voice into doing something awful.

Quistis winced, grabbing her shoulder as a particularly vicious ice lance was cast against her. It lodged into her skin, freezing her painfully. She cracked her whip out, and it caught Kronos across the cheek. Kronos stepped backwards. Even in the muddy ground, becoming drenched with rains, Kronos walked easily in stiletto heels. Quistis couldn't hear it, but she could see that Kronos was saying something. Her mouth was moving in a quick rush of words. Quistis jumped forward and cracked her whip once more, at the same time as she cast a Meteor spell. Kronos fell backwards into the mud, losing that magical hold on gravity she'd possessed. When Kronos stood up once more, she was standing on the slippery mud like she was walking on water. Quistis actually noticed that she wasn't really touching the ground at all.

Quistis prepared herself to cast another Shockwave Pulsar, but she felt something hit her from behind. It made her drop her whip, and she tumbled into the mud. She felt hands picking her up. The heavy thing had been someone hitting her from behind. The hands were strong and bruising. Quistis whipped her head around, seeing Galbadian soldiers around her, their faces hidden behind their uniform masks.

Kronos had a small, clipped smile on her lips. It looked very unnatural, like she didn't know how to smile. Quistis cried out at the hands on her arms. They were strong and hurting her. She stumbled, and fell in the mud again, a few of the guards falling with her, jostled by her weight. The guards weren't saying anything, and their motions were jerky. Quistis looked up at Kronos, and saw that the petite redhead was saying something again, her mouth moving quickly. They were being controlled by her.

One of their heavy hands moved up under the skirt of Quistis's SeeD uniform, and her cobalt eyes widened. "No!" She growled out, and cast Triple on herself. She started casting Holy and Ultima against the guards that were crawling all over themselves to attack her, like a squirming pile of bugs. One of them ripped her underwear off, and she kicked him in the face. Hard. She felt something crack behind that helmet. Probably his nose or jaw. She kept casting spells, but one of the guards cast sleep on her. Quistis's eyes rolled into the back of her head as she tried to stay away. With all the jostling, her earpiece fell out, and the blonde could hear Kronos's stream of words. It was in a language that she couldn't understand. It was harsh and heavy on the consonants. Ancient Trabian.

Quistis tried desperately to stay awake, but she kept going into blackness, the hands on her arms hurting her and cutting off her circulation. She searched within her Junctions for an Esuna spell, but it was hard to concentrate because she kept blacking out. It wasn't the Esuna that finally broke the sleep spell. It was the pain of being forcibly entered. Quistis let out an angry scream and cast Death on the guard that was in the process of violating her. He fell backwards, and Quistis cast Ray Bomb. The guards were still moving, though. Like they were zombies. Quistis tried to cast some status spells against Kronos, but the Oracle was too strong, and wasn't being affected. Quistis rolled her hips away as another guard tried to sexually attack her, and she kicked him as hard as she could in the balls. The air left his body, and he slumped into the mud.

The muck was getting more and more slippery because the rain was falling so hard. "You bitch!" Quistis screamed. "Can't even do your own dirty work?" Her whip was too far away, so she picked up rocks from within the mud and biffed them at Kronos. The redheaded Oracle laughed and dodged them easily. Quistis was having a hard time getting good aim because of the guards reaching for her arms and trying to hold her down. She was aiming for Kronos's head, but when she threw the rock, it arced lower, and it hit the glimmering gold pocket watch that hung around Kronos's throat. The rock had sharp edges, and shattered the glass face.

Kronos made a gasping noise, bringing her hands up to her chest where the watch hung. The guards fell backwards because Kronos's voice wasn't commanding them anymore. Quistis stood up, her legs feeling a bit wobbly because of the hard, painful penetration. But, it could have been a lot worse. Quistis felt warmth running down her inner thigh under her muddy skirt. Semen. Quistis's wet hair started whipping around her. A biting cold wind picked up as Kronos stared down at the broken face of the watch, making small noises. The air was also filled with a loud ticking noise, like Quistis was on the inside of a booming clock.

Quistis's teeth started chattering, and she put her forearm up to her face to shield it from small bits of debris that started flying through the air because of the strong wind. Quistis closed her eyes, and summoned Leviathan. The great serpent appeared, and Kronos scrambled back. Quistis had remembered Rinoa talking about Gietzen's fear of Leviathan because of the great flood that had destroyed them so many years ago. The tsunami flung Kronos back, and she skidded on the ground, finally banging into some rocks. Quistis hadn't realized that they'd gotten so close to the mountains, and so far away from Garden.

"You... bitch..." Kronos hissed, coughing up blood and water. She stood up, her immaculate appearance sullied. Kronos was covered in mud, her clothes were wet and her stockings were torn, and her hair had fallen out of its neat bun. Kronos held her hands out, and the wind became colder. Quistis actually stumbled to her knees, and felt like her blood was freezing in her veins. Kronos assaulted Quistis with the awful cold, and it suddenly stopped. Quistis slowly opened her eyes, for her body was actually freezing, and her eyelids had been frozen shut. Kronos was looking around, not paying any attention to Quistis whatsoever.

"Iudicium?" Kronos cried, her angry voice flowing through the cold wind.

Quistis gasped, slowly moving her limbs. Everything hurt because she was so cold, and she felt like she was trying to break out of a stone mould. The blonde SeeD saw her whip laying nearby, and slowly and silently worked the frozen kinks out of her limbs. Kronos was looking all around, anger and fear on her face.

"Iudicium?!" Kronos yelled again.

Quistis quietly picked up her weapon, and wondered if Kronos was calling for Iudicium because Nida was nearby. Why else would she be? Quistis felt like her head was going to explode because of the loud ticking of the clock. Quistis cast a Thundaga spell against Kronos, aiming it for that glittering watch. The electric spell fried the mechanisms of the watch, and Quistis saw it shatter, gears falling to the ground in a glittering gold rain.

Kronos gave a shrill scream, and tried to catch the gears as they fell. Quistis called up all the power of her blue magic, and cast Shockwave Pulsar once more, combining it with three Holy spells, balled into a single spell. Kronos started screaming. Even as Quistis cast the spells, she dashed forward. Her legs and arms felt heavy because of the cold, but she ignored the pain, ignored the gross pain running up her thighs, the feeling of violation. As Kronos was inundated with the strong magic, Quistis slammed into her. The spells were strong enough that Quistis was in pain as soon as she touched Kronos's body, but the burning light of Holy was a small price to pay. As the spells burned brightly around them, Quistis wrapped her whip around Kronos's throat, and started pulling.

Because of the spells, and Quistis's tackle, Kronos fell to the ground. Quistis landed on top of her ancestor, and kept pulling the whip tighter. Kronos chocked out for breath, and her hands found Quistis's neck, and started squeezing. Kronos's hands were as cold as a Trabian winter, and Quistis cried out, but she just kept pulling the whip tighter. Quistis dug the end of her whip into Kronos's neck. It had a barb on it, and hooked into the muscles of her neck. Quistis then wrenched herself out of Kronos's icy grip, and pulled as hard as she could. The SeeD put one foot on Kronos's chest, where the broken watch had once hung, and pulled with all her might. Quistis's other foot was slipping in the mud, but the blonde refused to give up. She grunted and groaned, feeling her shoulder muscles pulling painfully.

The spells finished, and Quistis cast another wave of Holy, but threw in an Ultima spell as well, so the three spells were balled into a supremely powerful single spell. Quistis slipped as she pulled harder. Kronos was choking, but was working the barb out of her neck. If Quistis didn't asphyxiate the Oracle know, Kronos would get free. Quistis grunted as she landed on her elbow. One of the gears cut her palm, and Quistis lifted her hand up. The gold gear, small and dainty, was embedded in her palm. Quistis felt something magical pass through her. It wasn't just an ordinary pocket watch. It had the same feeling as any of the other items that Quistis had gotten her Blue Magic ability from. Quistis pulled on the whip again, and closed her hand around the gear, feeling the knowledge enter her body.

Kronos was wrestling away from the whip, and cast a strong Blizzaga spell against Quistis. The blonde ignored it, even though it stole her breath away, the cold so extreme that it burned her. Quistis gritted her teeth, and cast the new Blue Magic spell. From the magical knowledge, Quistis only knew that it was called Lifespan, and wouldn't know more until the spell itself was cast. It was a time related spell, and when Quistis cast it, Kronos started screaming angrily, spitting out curses in the ancient Trabian language. Kronos's body seized up, her cobalt eyes wide and angry, staring daggers at Quistis.

Even though Quistis had cast this spell, she wouldn't let go of the whip. Kronos started saying a chant, and Quistis wouldn't let herself listen. Each word was like a punch to her gut, so as this Lifespan spell worked, Quistis summoned Siren.

The summon appeared, her harp in hand, angelic wings moulting in the sky. "Yes, Mistress?"

"Deafen me!!" Quistis cried. "Please. Or, silence her. Anything!!"

Siren just nodded, and started singing. Her voice was beautiful, even more beautiful than Fermata's had been. Quistis felt like she'd entered a wind tunnel. Everything was muted and far away, and it shielded Kronos's voice from her ears. Kronos's body continued to seize up, and she fell to her knees, one fist wrapped around Quistis's whip, which was digging into her neck so tightly that rivets of blood were dropping out from under it.

Quistis watched in amazement as Kronos bared her teeth in a sneer. Her lips seemed to curl back like burnt paper, and the skin on Kronos's face wrinkled and drooped. That elegant copper bun fell loose, and Kronos's hair turned brittle and grey, blowing thinly around her. Her hands looked like ancient skeleton hands around the whip, and the posh suit that had fit Kronos's body so nicely now hung off her emaciated form. She'd turned into a withered old crone right before Quistis's eyes. Kronos screamed something, but it was just noise now. Kronos's withered hands finally got the whip away, and the Oracle, this pathetic thing, clawed at her neck, gasping for air. She was so mummified that she looked like burnt paper.

"She is now silenced..." Siren said, her sweet voice booming off the mountains around them. "Her defences diminished along with her body."

Quistis bared her teeth in a sneer, raising her whip above her head. She called a Holy spell into her weapon, and cracked the whip against Kronos's leathery cheek. The crone wrenched her head back, screaming. Her body broke apart like ashes. Quistis felt the air change, and something enter her like a fist down her throat. Kronos's power. "Oh...." Quistis cried out quietly. The knowledge that Inaudax power was entering her filled Quistis with dread. But, at the same time, the power fused with her body, with the core where she held her Blue Magic knowledge, and it didn't feel dangerous at all. It felt like her own as soon as it touched her body.

Kronos screamed as her body was blown apart in the cold wind, ashes scattered. Quistis looked at the blank spot where Kronos had been for a few solid minutes, then sank to her knees. The cold wind slowly ceased, and Quistis felt herself thawing out. So... she was a Sorceress now.

"Mistress, are you all right?" Siren asked. She'd compressed herself so she was now human size, taller that Quistis, but not by much. The wings that protruded from Siren's head tickled Quistis's face. Quistis knew that Siren hadn't been called back, so couldn't enter her body.

"I..... I"

"You have absorbed Kronos's powers...." Siren said gently.

Quistis just nodded. The rain was still falling powerfully. But, then a loud roll of thunder filled the sky. Quistis and Siren both looked up. The thunder went on for at least two minutes, then the skies opened, the clouds being brushed away. Quistis had to shield her eyes from the bright sun.

Quistis was about to call Siren back into her body, but then said "We have to find Zell...!"

Siren nodded. "Can you not feel the magical energy now that you have powers?"

Quistis looked around, feeling something in the air. But... it didn't feel familiar. "It feels old."

"It is not the energy of an Inaudax. They are archaic as well, but this is ancient... Far older than them. It also feels dormant."

"Iudicium....?" Quistis whispered, remembering Kronos's calls for the White Goddess.

"I do not know," Siren admitted, her beautiful voice holding sadness.

Quistis whipped her head around when she felt a roll of magic, similar to the endless thunder that had just ripped through the sky. It was dark and ugly. "Zell..." She whispered. The blonde called Siren back into her body, and looked down at her hand as she clenched her fist. The gold gear was still embedded in her palm. She pulled it out, and looked at the gear, her whole body feeling like it was on pins and needles from the new magic. She put the gear in her pocket, and ran back towards Garden.

When Nida found Tempest, she was sitting in a chair in the Presidential Residence, like a Queen at her throne. She was flounced in it, legs swung over one of the arms, and she was smiling behind her fan, which she was beating softly.

"I was wondering how long it would take you to get here..." Tempest mused, her voice bored.

Nida had almost instantly found her magical signature, and teleported to the house. He could feel the magical ward he'd stuck to Squall, like a gently humming homing beacon. At least Squall was still alive.

Tempest stood up, and waved the fans. The windows rattled with the strength of the rain pelting against them. She kept one fan in her hand, and threw the other one at Nida. He stood his ground, not moving. The fan grazed his cheek, and he felt the skin parting. The fans were razor-edged. It floated back to Tempest's waiting hand like a boomerang. She laughed. Nida felt a small drop of blood running down his face, but he didn't move his hands to wipe it away.

Tempest moved with speed that Nida could barely follow. She slashed out with her fans, and the rain poured harder. Nida ducked away, and hit her in the face. She growled and flung him backwards. He fell against a dining room table, and Tempest waved her fans in a different manner, doing a small spin in place. Nida felt the power being sucked out of the room. She'd put up a magic barrier. Tempest's strength was in controlling weather, not getting in magical battles. With no magic, Nida's advantages were lowered considerably. But, he was still SeeD, and could still fight. Nida pulled his sickles off his belt, and crossed them in front of his chest, just as Tempest had done with her fans.

Tempest gave a wink and moved with quick speed, snapping her fan shut and slapping Nida across the face. He lashed out with his sickle and got her in the chest. The wind and rain howled outside as Tempest used one of her fans to knock Nida's sickles away. She picked it up, and cut across Nida's chest with it. He'd moved away just in time, so it only grazed him, and cut his shirt. One of the buttons clattered to the parquet floor, and Nida rolled away as Tempest jumped up on the table. Nida did the same, holding the one sickle he still possessed out in front of him.

"You're painfully outmatched here...." Tempest said. Her voice was all ease and teasing.

"I don't rely totally on my magic," Nida replied. His voice was as collected as Tempest's.

"We'll see about that, won't we?" Tempest winked saucily, and lashed out with her razor fans. Nida jumped back, almost falling off the table. He kicked at centrepiece out of the way, and flung it at Tempest with a quick hand. She didn't move out of the way in time, and the heavy porcelain hit her in the face. She snarled and slashed out at him with the sickle she was holding. It cut into Nida's throat, and he stumbled backwards, falling off the table. Tempest had slit his throat. He gasped, holding a hand to his bleeding neck. He flung his second sickle up as Tempest stopped at the edge of the table, smirking down at him. She screamed as the sickle's curved blade dug into her chest. She clawed at it angrily as Nida held his throat. Even with the magical barrier, Nida's powers were healing him.

"Cunt!!" Tempest screamed, pulling the blade out. There was a large wound in her chest, and the white satin of her mandarin collared, short-sleeved shirt was marred with blood. The clothes were delicate and Chinese in design, white satin with pale yellow embroidery on them.

Nida gritted his teeth, and rose to his feet. Tempest now had both his and her own weapons, but Nida wouldn't give up. He wrapped his arms around Tempest's legs, and tackled her. Tempest fell backwards, her head bouncing heavily off the shiny mahogany surface of the antique table. She aimlessly slashed out with the sickle, and it cut down Nida's cheek, and deeply into his lip. He spit blood in her eyes, and she snarled, dropping the sickle. Nida picked it up, and arced it down towards her, but Tempest lashed out with her fans, and deflected the blow. Nida's sickle flew out of his grip, and clattered across the floor.

Nida kicked Tempest in the breadbasket, and rolled to the side so he could get his sickle. But, when he gripped the handle of his weapon, he felt something horrible. Something awful. It was the magical ward that he'd attached to Squall just before the brunette had disappeared with the imitation Rinoa. It was fading, disappearing. That meant that Squall was dying. His eyes widened, and fear caused Nida's heart to lurch.

He turned around when he heart the air being sliced by Tempest's fan. He ducked just in time. The fan cut off a little of his ebony hair. Nida grabbed the fan, and when he unfurled it, Tempest gave a growl, as if he was touching something private and personal. The beacon from the ward was getting weaker and weaker, so Nida lunged at Tempest, and closed the fan. He jabbed it into her chest, and she howled in agony. Nida dug it deeper and deeper, and Tempest roared, for it had gone into her heart. She punched and kicked at Nida, but the injury was substantial enough that the magical barrier fell. Once Nida felt it falling, he summoned up his teleportation abilities, and he, along with the snarling Tempest who was still punching and kicking him, disappeared into the air.

Teleporting with Tempest wasn't the same as the wonderful feeling of being whole with everything that he'd felt with Squall. It felt darker and uglier. Nida searched for the point where Squall was, and materialized in the rain-soaked courtyard.

Tempest staggered backwards, wrenching the fan out of her chest. Now that Nida had full use of his power, he called forth a great wave of black magic. Tempest flung her hands up, as if to prevent a physical blow. Nida's wings flapped out from his back, and the rolling power caused Tempest to cry out, her breath being stolen from her lungs. Tempest used all her power to deflect at least some of the power. Nida briefly looked around, seeing Squall collapsed in the grass, nude and bleeding from a huge wound in his abdomen. His gunblade was laying beside him, and even in the pounding rain, still had streams of blood on its silver blade.

Tempest, in a last ditch effort, flung one of her fans out. It got Nida in the throat, sticking in his neck. "Bulls-eye!" She screamed, laughing triumphantly.

"Not kwite," Nida hissed, his voice no longer his own. Tempest's almond eyes widened as she heard a voice that could have been Ultimecia's coming from Nida's pretty lips. Even with the fan in his neck, Nida flung out a wave of power, and it was like a train heading straight for Tempest. It caused her to spit up a great deal of blood, her body pitching forward, her face smashing on the wet cobblestone. The magic exited Tempest's dying body as she seized on the ground. As the magic entered Nida's body, a great roll of thunder exploded in the sky. It went on and on. Even as it was rumbling, Nida ran over to Squall's body. He was still warm, just barely alive.

Nida collected Squall in his arms as his bones rattled because of the thunder. "Squall.... can you hear me?" Nida whispered, running his hands through Squall's hair. Nida frowned, unable to feel that distant connection that was always there with Squall, the connection between Griever's sorcery and Griever's blood. "Squall....?" Nida asked again.

Squall wasn't responding. The Asian man, filled with Tempest's powers, touched the huge wound on Squall's torso. The intestines that had fallen out started to knit themselves together, and Squall's body started to repair under the weight of Nida's awesome powers. Squall's eyes slowly opened, and he shivered from the rain. He could feel rolling thunder vibrating his bones.

Suddenly, the skies opened, and the ground was washed with bright sun. The clouds were blown away, and the endless blue sky hung above them. Nida felt the powers of Tempest settle completely in his body as the warm sun shone down on them. Squall was shivering because he'd been laying naked in the cold rain. "Squall?" Nida called again.

Squall gasped in air, and sat up, like he'd woken from an awful nightmare. He whipped his head around, his wet auburn hair sticking to his cheeks and brow. He gasped, and relaxed instantly when he found himself staring into Nida's eyes. It was the real Nida with his beautiful doe brown eyes. "Nida....?" Squall whispered. He then touched his abdomen, furrowing his scarred brow when he didn't touch a scar. "Pallas... She got away."

"What happened?" Nida asked, stroking Squall's hair and wet, naked back.

Squall felt power humming under Nida's skin, giving him small shocks. Nida must have absorbed more power. "Did you kill Tempest?"

Nida nodded, gesturing behind him where Tempest's dead body was cooling. "Where is the Oracle that grabbed you?" Nida asked. "Why did she look like Rinoa?"

"It was Pallas..." Squall muttered. "She had the ability to shape-shift."

"What happened to your clothes?" Nida asked, helping Squall to his feet. He noticed ripped fabric around. He saw Squall's glasses in the grass, and handed them to his lover after drying them off on a dry section of his clothes.

"Thanks." Squall put his glasses on. "She changed me into a lion."

"How did you change yourself back?" Nida asked, stroking the sides of Squall's face.

"I killed her, and got her power. But...." Squall touched his stomach again. "She wasn't dead... I don't know how...."

Nida hugged Squall to him. "I felt the ward I put on you getting weaker. I was so afraid..." Nida's eyes flashed black. "You should have stayed in Dollet."

Squall frowned at Nida, shivering. "If I hadn't been here, you would have had to fight both Pallas and Tempest, and they would have killed you." Squall touched Nida's neck. There was a mark where the fan had dug into him.

Nida looked at Squall, then sighed. "You're probably right. We should go find Rinoa."

"I need clothes..." Squall admitted quietly.

Nida looked down to Tempest's body. "You can wear this... It might be a little small." Nida stripped Tempest's body, and Squall put on the white satin outfit. The pants fit him well, but the shirt was tight across his shoulders, and too short. It was more like a belly shirt on him, his navel exposed. Tempest's shoes wouldn't fit him, so Squall had to go barefoot. He picked up his gunblade, and cleaned the blood, his own blood, off its shiny surface.

Nida picked up Tempest's fans, looking at them. He waved them, and nothing happened. "I guess they're like a familiar." Their edges were still razors, and would make a good weapon. There was a loop to hold them on the pants that Squall had taken from Tempest's body, so Nida slipped them in it. "We should find Rinoa..." Nida kissed Squall quickly, having to admit that Squall looked really hot in the form fitting clothes that showed off his belly.

Squall nodded silently, following Nida. Before going back into the Presidential Residence, Squall turned around, looking around him. He wondered where Pallas was, relishing and fearing a second meeting. Even though Squall was sort of glad that Pallas had stolen Griever's cursed blood out of him, he also missed it at the same time.

Fujin scowled at the cables in front of her, worried that she was going to electrocute herself in the heavy freezing rain. Her hands felt like blocks of ice, even within her heavy, fur-lined gloves. She gasped when a loud explosion rang through the city.

"Hurry up, ya know?!" Raijin hissed, his voice broken up by his chattering teeth.

"HURRYING," Fujin muttered to her husband. She connected some cables. "THERE."

"You think this will actually work?" Raijin asked, his voice muffled under his scarf.

"We've got to try something...." Fujin tried to rotate the electric cannon on its pivot, but the freezing rain was causing it to stick on its pivot. She waved her hand. "Okay, stand back."

Raijin did as he was told, and Fujin fired the cannon. It took a few seconds to warm up, and then let out a loud screaming noise, and a strong laser beam shot out of the large cylindrical weapon. It fired towards the silver airship that was shooting down on the city. It hit the size of the shimmering zeppelin. The cannon blast did some damage, but the ship still fired down, destroying buildings. Fujin and Raijin could hear screams coming from within the city.

They were on a balcony of the Presidential Palace, looking both down at the city of Esthar and up at the sky where Valhalla's ship was wreaking havoc on the buildings below. Smoke was rising from the wound on the shimmery hull of the ship, crackling from the mangled electronics.

"Nice aim, ya know?!" Raijin patted Fujin's shoulder.

She just frowned, watching the ship. "This needs a few moments to heat up again... Damn, I wish there were more." This laser cannon was a prototype of the Esthar army. Fujin jiggled with some more cables, and saw Seifer coming up the steps, someone in a heavy parka behind him. Selphie. Seifer patted Raijin's shoulder, then looked at the ship in the sky.

"Selphie..." Raijin whispered, fairly surprised that the small brunette was there.

"Is this cannon working?" Seifer asked.

Fujin shrugged. "SOMEWHAT. It takes a few minutes between each blast, but it took a chunk out of the hull." She pointed with a gloved finger. Fujin then looked to Selphie.

"What are you looking at?" Selphie asked. "I was... I am SeeD too, you know?"

Fujin just blinked her claret eye. "Uh... yeah, I know."

"So, is Edea okay, ya know?!" Raijin asked.

Seifer nodded. "Elle is staying with her right now, under Laguna's orders. Edea.... she's crushed about Cid's death, obviously. Elle will keep her there. Matron wanted to come out, and was getting agitated about the darkness and snow."

"INAUDAX?" Fujin asked.

Selphie nodded. "Tempest can control the weather, but it's not really the same 'magic' as the ohters when she does it..."

Raijin just looked at Selphie silently. It was the most he'd heard her speak since they'd brought her back from Trabia, and out of the clutch of the Inaudax.

"I got in contact with Xu," Seifer said. His green eyes clouded with definite worry. "She said she would send a few Airships to help with what we have left. But..."

Fujin could notice Seifer's distress. "What is it?"

"Xu said that they were being attacked too. I'd also bet that Nida and Squall are in the middle of something..." Seifer sighed sadly. "Xu said that Zell was fighting one of the Inaudax." He put his hands on the railing. "And, I can't use any magic against Valhalla...."

Selphie stood next to Seifer, looking up at the tall blonde from within the furry hood of her parka. She put a hand on his shoulder, but didn't say a word.

"The cannon's ready again," Raijin pointed out, looking at a dial on the back near the trigger button.

Fujin fired the gun again, and the laser shot out through the falling freezing rain, which was becoming a steady stream of hail pellets. It hit the nose of the ship, and the silver zeppelin veered away.

"Good shot, Tex..." Raijin whistled teasingly at Fujin. "Irvine would be proud. Where is he anyway, ya know?!"

"He's down on the ground with the foot soldiers, helping the injured."

"SHIT!" Fujin pointed. "The ship is flying towards the border..." She smacked the cannon again a few times. "HURRY!"

Someone else must have noticed that the damaged ship was going to try and fly away from the city, because the four of them heard an explosion from nearby. They looked over to see someone on the balcony near them, firing a large grenade launcher towards the ship in the sky.

"It's Sir Laguna!" Selphie exclaimed quietly.

Raijin went into the Palace, and went over to the other balcony. "Laguna?"

"I saw the laser cannon from my office, so I came out see if I could help," Laguna said. "I knew it would take a while for it to heat up between shots."

"Thank God you did..." Raijin pointed to Valhalla's zeppelin. "You seemed to hit it..."

"One more hit and it'll go down."

"Fujin, how's it going, ya know?!" Raijin called.

Selphie looked at the dial as Fujin pounded some ice away from the pivot of the cannon. "What am I supposed to be looking at?"

"If the needle is back below 200 output, it's okay."

Selphie wiped some freezing water off the dial. "It's at 215 now... It's dropping too." After a few moments, she said "Okay, it's down to 175."

Fujin smashed her palm against the trigger. The laser fired and hit the ship. A loud explosion filled the sky. At the same moment, a loud hum of thunder cracked through the sky. Everyone looked up. It rattled everything, and Selphie and Fujin could feel the vibrations through the metal of the cannon.

"What is that...?" Selphie whispered.

Seifer shook his head, giving a confused look to Fujin. But, the silver-haired woman could see the dark knowledge in his eyes. He knew it had something to do with the Inaudax. They all gasped as a loud crash echoed in the distance. Valhalla's ship crashed in the horizon.

"Where is that?" Selphie pointed. "The Salt Flats?"

Seifer pulled out his gunblade. "Let's go find out."

"Once you're out of the city, there won't be a magical barrier," Fujin pointed out.

"I can handle it."

"What was that, ya know?!" Raijin exclaimed, coming back to their balcony with Laguna.

"Valhalla crashed..." Seifer muttered, already going back into the Palace.

"Where are you going?" Laguna asked.

"I'm going to the Salt Flats to confront Valhalla."

"We'll take a car!" Laguna exclaimed. "I'll go with you."

"Me, too..." Selphie said quietly, staying close to Seifer.

"ME TOO," Fujin said lowly.

"I'll stay here," Raijin offered.

Laguna patted Raijin's shoulder. "Good. You find Irvine and help him with the ground work."

Raijin nodded. He gently touched the side of Fujin's face and then disappeared down the halls. The others went to the nearest transport pad, and rode down to the first floor.

"We have to be careful," Laguna pointed out. "This could be a trap."

"I'd rather walk right up to her than let her get away," Seifer muttered as they came to a military vehicle. The four of them clambered into it, Laguna behind the wheel.

"You don't have a weapon..." Fujin pointed out, noticing Selphie was unarmed.

"I still have magic," Selphie said quietly. "And, I want to come.... I...." She trailed off. "I... need to."

Fujin just remained silent. Laguna drove quickly through the streets of Esthar, then out to the Plains, revving the vehicle to its full speed. They could see smoke rising from within the Salt Flats. Laguna cried "Hold on" as they went over some bumpy terrain at a high speed. It jostled them. Seifer shivered, feeling the temperature drop dramatically as they got to the barren Salt Flats.

Laguna stopped the car. "I have to stop here.... We can walk the rest of the way." He pulled out his machine gun, and got out of the car, cursing under his breath. "Fuck, it's cold."

Seifer pulled out Hyperion, and pointed to where the plume of smoke was rising from. "It's near."

"Selphie, you stay here," Laguna commanded.

She hung back, but followed the other three as they made their way to the crevice, weapons out. They climbed over rocks and boulders, trying to ignore the cold. The thunder had stopped, and the skies were now surprisingly bright. But, it did little in the Salt Flats, which were always cold, even in the heat of summer. Seifer led the way, ready to summon magic if need be. Seifer looked over his shoulder, and nodded at Laguna and Fujin. Selphie was standing off to the side, on a tall boulder, looking down into the crevice. "She's gone..." Selphie whispered.

"What?" Laguna asked. "I couldn't hear you..."

"She's gone," Selphie repeated, pointing.

Seifer's scarred brow furrowed, and went to the lip of the abyss. Selphie was indeed correct. There was no sign of Valhalla, or her silver zeppelin. The source of the smoke was a roaring blaze, a fire that had been set up, like someone had been camping down there.

"FUCK!" Fujin cried, her voice echoing off the hills.

Seifer shook his head, glaring down at the fire, which went out as if it was a candle wick, and someone had blown it out. "She knew that we would come out here."

"Where did she go?" Laguna asked, looking around. "The ship is gone, too."

"Back to Trabia..." Selphie pointed in the distance. "She'll need to fix the ship, but she'll be back."

"How long....?" Laguna asked.

Seifer shrugged. "I don't know. But, Selphie's right. Valhalla will be back....." Seifer bit his lip. Zell, I hope you're having better luck that we are.

Rinoa paced impatiently in her cell. She'd been alone in the dark for a while now, only pacing, sitting down on the bench/bed, then pacing again. She pressed herself against the bars, the cool metal pressing into her forehead, her cheek, flattening her breasts. She screamed into the dark, yelling obscenities. But, nobody was listening.

Rinoa sighed, her throat sore. Where were the Inaudax. They'd left her alone for so long now. She could feel cold air coming from somewhere, and distant rolls of thunder. Rinoa sighed and went back to her bench, putting her chin on her fists, glaring out into the darkness. She only stood still from a few minutes, then got back up. She pressed herself against the bars again. "Let. Me. Out!!" Rinoa screamed. "Let me out, you cunts!"

Suddenly, Rinoa gasped, stumbling backwards. She fell on her ass, pain shooting up her tailbone from the sharp impact. She felt ugly magic in the air, coming from more than one source. She gasped in terror. Did this mean that Nida had come to rescue her? Although Rinoa knew it was a trap, she was so glad that he'd come to rescue her. Hopefully he'd come. What if that magical wave was because Nida had died. She gripped the bars, standing on her tiptoes, trying to look down the dark hallway. But, she couldn't see anything.

The bars started rattling under Rinoa's hands. She stood back, looking at them. She could hear thunder. It was like a distant machine's hum. On the surface, it must have been quite loud. "What's going on?" She asked aloud. The thunder continued for a few minutes. Rinoa gently put her fingers to the bars once more, feeling them vibrate. "Hello...?" She called down the hallway. But, it was silent.

She sighed heavily after there was an extended silence. She went back to her bench, and curled up in a foetal position. She felt like crying, and actually found that a few tears had escaped her eyes, and splashed onto the hard wood of the bench. Nida must not have come. It must have just been a spell that the Inaudax were doing. Or... Nida was dead. She put her fists to her lips, and felt them quivering against her knuckles.

Rinoa then felt magic in the air, filtering down the hallway. She slowly sat up, dreading that the Inaudax were going to come back, saying they'd killed Nida. She slowly stood, holding her hands to her chest, fear rising in her. She felt like she was going to throw up. If Nida was dead, or Nida wasn't coming, the Inaudax would kill Rinoa. They wouldn't need her anymore. Rinoa saw a shadow moving down the wall, then saw white satin stained with blood. She looked at their face, and really gasped. "Squall?!" She cried out.

Squall looked at her, his eyes shrewd from behind his glasses. He also looked tired. His hair was wet, and he was barefoot. He was wearing a white satin shirt with a mandarin collar and pale yellow embroidery of flowers. The shirt was far too small for him, and it was stretched across his chest, and the hem was up around the middle of his rib cage, so his stomach was showing. He was wearing pants to match, and they fit him a little better, although they were a little short so she could see his ankles and lower calves. The shirt was torn in a couple places, and stained with blood.

"Are you alright?" Squall asked blandly.

Rinoa just stared at him, then saw Nida come into her view, too. "Nida!" She cried. Nida's clothes were ripped and bloodstained, and he had a red mark at his throat. He had darkness in his eyes, and his wings were out, flapped out from his shoulders.

Nida put his hand up to the bars. "Stand back, Rinoa."

Squall crossed his arms over the dainty shirt, and took a step back as well. Rinoa's eyes almost fell out of her skull when the bars melted under Nida's touch. He didn't even look like he was concentrating. Had he gotten that strong?

Rinoa stepped over the ruin of the bars after Nida had finished, and enveloped him in a hug. "Thank you so much for rescuing me!" She exclaimed. She kissed him on the cheek, which caused Squall to make a quiet noise in the back of his throat. "It was a trap, though..."

"That doesn't matter," Nida said quietly, smiling gently at her. The wings folded onto his back and disappeared into thin air. "I'm happy to see you're okay. Squall is too, even though he doesn't show it."

"Thank you..." Rinoa stepped back from Nida. "To both of you." Rinoa suddenly frowned. "Where is Pallas...! She can change form."

"We know," Nida whispered. He stroked her hair. "She escaped." Nida gave Squall a sad, yet relieved look.

"What was that look for?" Rinoa asked.

"Pallas almost killed Squall." Nida frowned deeply. "Tempest is dead."

"Was that what the thunder was about?" Rinoa asked.

Squall nodded. "Yeah. Let's just get the Hell out of this shithole." Squall stepped closer to Nida. "We have to help the others... I bet anything that they're in trouble."

Nida closed his eyes, letting his personal barriers drop. He had to keep barriers up so he could function. Without them, he was sucked into a spiral of magic. "I feel that a barrier is in Trabia.... As well as in Esthar. There is some trace magic at the Salt Flats...." Nida's eyes snapped open. "We have to get to Balamb."

Squall frowned. "Why, what is it?" He cocked his head.

"I can feel powerful sorcery in Balamb, from two sources." Nida wrapped an arm around Squall's waist, then held out his free hand to Rinoa. "Are you able to fight?" He asked. "There isn't time to stop in Dollet and leave you with my father."

Rinoa nodded. "I'm ready." She gingerly took Nida's hand, wondering why he was offering it. "I don't have a weapon, though."

Squall gave her the fans at his belt. "Here. They're razor-edged."

She took them, looking. "But, these are Tempest's!"

"They have no power now..." Nida whispered, closing his eyes. With the added infusion of Tempest's powers, teleporting three people was easy as pie. He felt Squall's body warm against his side, and felt his heart fill with Squall's feelings. He could also feel Rinoa's feelings through the connection of her hand. They were warm and adoring. Their bodies scattered to the wind as they disappeared from Galbadia.

Zell spit up a generous amount of blood as he was slammed to the ground. It was blindingly light all around him. The rain and cold had picked up, but the thunder had come, and all the clouds had been blown away. Zell was holding up against Viator, but he didn't know if he could hold up forever. He had the strong summons in his inventory, but had yet to summon his mother. He wanted to keep that ace up his sleeve. It was almost like fighting himself. Viator used a similar martial-art style, the hybrid with boxing and kickboxing that Zell preferred. Zell was desperately worried about Quistis and Xu, and also about Seifer. Although he didn't know if Seifer was in trouble, he was still worried.

"You fight well," Viator said quietly. "Truly a Viator. You honour the name."

"And you befoul it!" Zell sneered using his limit to beat her. Viator was bleeding as he was. If Zell hadn't gone to Xystus, hadn't taken things from when he'd been possessed by the wrath of his mother, he'd have died instantly. But, he was a fair match for Viator, even though he wasn't technically a Sorcerer.

Viator sent a lashing wave of magic out at Zell, and it knocked him back on his ass. "Fuck this..." Zell muttered. He knew that Viator would soon get the upper hand, so he called deeply for Adel. When Zell's birth mother appeared, Viator gasped, her pale blue eyes wide.

"Adel?!" Viator choked out. Her face suddenly became angry. "You let Intervigilium die!"

Adel frowned. She was in her true form, and looked so much like Viator that they could have been twin sisters. Although, Viator had pointed elf ears and an extremely ugly look in her eyes. "No... I killed myself. I'm glad your Ultimecia is dead."

"You call yourself a Viator?" The original Viator roared. She put her hands up in front of her, curling her hands into claws.

"And, you call yourself one?" Adel hissed. She started growing, changing into her Tyrannical form that ruled Esthar with an iron fist. "You are a pitiful disgrace to the name, a failure in Sorcery. A mere flood destroyed you."

"And, a bumbling cunt destroyed you. That fool Laguna Loire tricked you!" Viator screamed. She wasn't intimidated by Adel's size. She cast a horrible Demi spell against Adel, but the behemoth wasn't affected. Adel swiped out a great hand, and knocked Viator backwards. She cast Dark Flare, and it injured Viator deeply, but she got back up, and hissed through clenched teeth. She cast a Gravija on Zell, and it caused him to lose his connection with Adel's Guardian Force form.

"Mother..." Zell whispered, falling backwards.

"I'm sorry......." Adel whispered, disappearing.

"Nice try!" Viator hissed, spitting blood on the ground. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and advanced towards Zell.

"Zell!!" Quistis screamed, running to the clearing.

Viator's head reared up. "Kronos!!" Viator screamed. "You whore!" Viator's icy eyes narrowed, and she flung a powerful status spell at Quistis. Quistis halted in her tracks, everything turning dark. She was blinded. Quistis tried to use her new magic, but found she was silenced, too. Viator had cast a powerful version of Pain on her. "Zell!!" Quistis screamed.

"Too bad..." Viator snapped her fingers, and the ground began to shake. She arced her hand up, and was about to lower it, but felt something like a bug sting. "What?"

Zell's eyes widened in shock as he saw silver claws rip through Viator's stomach from behind. Viator was lifted off her feet, and Zell saw that they weren't claws, but were weapons. Viator was flung upwards. The claws had been the curved points of Nida's sickles.

Zell shook his head and cast Esuna on Quistis. The blonde sank to her knees, eyes wide when she saw the look on Nida's face. His eyes were onyx and ablaze, and the look on his face was macabre. He looked like he enjoyed ripping his sickles through Viator's abdomen. Nida flung her to the side, the sickles ripping out of her. Zell and Quistis looked to the background, and saw Squall and Rinoa fighting against the last of the Galbadian soldiers. Rinoa was fighting with fans of some sort.

Viator screamed angrily as Nida stood over her, wings out and dripping blood. "Can you feel it?" Nida asked, his voice a hiss. "Kan you feel it? Kan you feel that Tempest has been defeated? Kan you feel that I've grown stronger in this body?" His voice was pure Iudicium, dripping anger and venom from Nida's pretty lips. Nida grabbed her by the throat, and ripped Viator's head clean off with a powerful jerk. Quistis put her hands to her lips and gasped. Zell just watched with wide, silent eyes. Rinoa saw as she was sprinting towards them, the guards defeated. She slid, falling to her knees in the mud, horror filling her eyes at the alien look on Nida's face. Squall stood his ground, not terribly surprised, but still sad.

Viator's magic filled the air, and entered Nida's body. After he'd finished absorbing the magic, he threw Viator's head into the mud. His wings flapped back from his body, feathers falling to the ground. He let out a great breath, and the wings disappeared once more. He was Nida again. He looked at Viator's body, and sank to his knees in the mud. "Oh, God...." He whispered, looking at the horribly decapitated corpse. He dropped his sickles into the mud beside him, covering his face with his hands. "Oh, God.... What have I done?"

Squall knelt beside his lover, putting his hands on Nida's shoulder. The power under Nida's skin was amazing. The mud stained the white of Squall's stolen outfit. He pressed his face into the crook of Nida's neck. "Nida... It's okay... Shhh..."

Nida rotated his torso, and buried his face in the crook of Squall's neck, crying bitterly. Rinoa slowly rose to her feet, trying to avoid looking at Viator's body. She went over to Zell, crouching beside him. "You okay?"

Zell nodded, standing up. "Don't worry about me."

Quistis went over to them, and put her hand on Zell's shoulder. "Thank God you're safe. Where's Xu?"

"I haven't seen her..." Zell admitted. "Why did Viator call you Kronos?"

Nida reared his head up, and looked at Quistis. He rose to his feet, his cheeks still wet with tears. "I thought I felt Kronos... You have become her...." Nida's eyes darkened ever so slightly.

Quistis felt like she was under a microscope, and didn't like the way Nida looked at her. But, the look passed quickly. Nida was himself again. Rinoa looked from Nida to Quistis, back to Nida again.

"What's going on?" Rinoa whispered to Zell.

Zell shook his head. "I don't know...."

Squall took one of Nida's hands in both of his. "I'm just glad you're okay..." Squall whispered to Nida.

The Asian man smiled sadly at Squall, then looked to Rinoa. "We have to get you to Dollet. You can stay with my father."

"What happened with Tempest...?" Quistis asked, feeling relaxed around Nida again. But, before Nida could answer, Quistis's radio crackled.

"Quistis... Quistis, answer. Please."

"Xu?" Quistis cried into the radio. "Are you okay?"

"That's what I was going to ask!"

"We're all fine. Nida, Squall and Rinoa are here. Viator and Kronos are dead. So is Tempest...."

"Where are you?" Xu asked.

"We'll meet you in front of the Garden...." Quistis trailed off, becoming choked up. Hearing Xu's voice both saddened her and made her feel like she was floating on air. Quistis was so glad that Xu was okay, but was devastated because of the rape that the guards had put her through. Quistis was just glad that she'd been mostly asleep so she couldn't remember a lot of it. And, she was also glad that she had killed them. But, what was she going to say to Xu? "Let's go..." Quistis led the way back to Garden. Zell and Rinoa followed behind.

Squall squeezed Nida's hand tightly, and stood as close to him as possible. Squall wanted to say something to Nida, but didn't. Nida was staring ahead, his gaze following Quistis, unblinking and cold onyx....

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