The New Flesh

Chapter Nineteen

By Scarlet Fever

Edea knocked on the study door, poking her head in. "I hope I'm not disturbing anything?" She looked to Laguna, then to Nida's father.

Laguna smiled brightly, which made Edea glad. It was nice to see Laguna trying to keep his spirits, more for everyone around him than for himself. Edea stepped into the room, wringing her hands together. "No, you're not disturbing anything. What is it...?" Laguna trailed off when he saw the disturbed look in Edea's golden brown eyes. "Has something happened?"

Edea looked from Laguna to Daisuke, back to Laguna again. "I don't know." She sat in a wingback chair of plum velvet. Rather, she sat on the edge of the seat, as if the chair was going to collapse out from under her at any moment. "I have this feeling..." She touched her chest. "Have you heard from Nida?"

"I heard from the Airstation crew," Laguna answered. "They said that they sent a few people to the Salt Flats to deal with the crash there. The Ragnarok was tangled with Valhalla's ship. They also found Valhalla's body, and they said that Nida had returned to the city."

Edea just nodded, but didn't look relieved, not at all. "So, he would have Valhalla's power..." She became even more worried, looking over to Daisuke.

"I see what you're feeling," Nida's father answered in response to her gaze. "You think that what Nida is doing is suicidal... Taking on all that power..."

"It's very dangerous indeed..." She sighed. She opened her mouth to continue, but there was another knock at the study door. Quistis came into the room, looking pale and a bit worried. "Matron, here you are."

"What is it?" Edea looked up, seeing the worried look in Quistis's cobalt eyes.

The blonde looked to Laguna and Daisuke. "I have this really bad feeling. This power that I got from Kronos started going crazy. But, because I'm not used to it, I don't know what it means..." She then crouched beside the velvet chair Edea was perched in. "Have you felt anything?"

"I have," Edea answered sadly. "I have." She cocked her head, long mahogany hair spilling over the shoulder of her black peasant blouse. "Is the feeling very strong?"

Quistis shook her head. "No, not really. More distant. But, there is a difference... It's like it's trying to be active."

Edea patted the blonde's hand. "It's quite possible that Tevedes and what's remaining of the Oracles are starting to move in Trabia."

"Should we warn Nida?" Quistis asked.

"I do not think my son needs warning anymore," Daisuke muttered. "He would feel anything far more acutely than either of you."

"This is true." Edea frowned deeply. "Something is going on. Maybe we should consult Nida to see what is happening?"

"Good idea." Laguna pulled a communication device out of the pocket of his grey slacks. He punched in to connect to the Esthar Airstation. "This is President Loire. Do you know where Nida Nomura went after he came back from the Salt Flats?" Laguna asked. "I mean, where in the city is he?"

"He's not in the city, Sir." The voice on the other end sounded small and vaguely frightened. "After he came back from the Salt Flats, he got into a small craft. Squall and Rinoa Heartilly went with him."

"What?!" Laguna's eyebrows shot up. "Where did he go?"

"I'm not sure, Sir. They flew north, though. Perhaps Trabia."

"Thanks..." Laguna severed the connection. "Shit."

"What?" Quistis asked, rising to full height. "Laguna, what happened?"

He began to answer, but Edea suddenly gasped. She put a hand to her chest, feeling like she'd just been submerged in ice cold water, so cold that it painfully burned. It filled her lungs, rushed in her ears, and stabbed behind her eyes. There was a burning in her lungs because of the lack of oxygen, and her mouth went dry.

Quistis tapped her chest. "I feel something very faint. Something very bad."

Edea's fingers clawed at the armrests of the chair, her golden brown eyes rolling into the back of her head. She knew this feeling all too well, and had hoped that she'd never feel it again. But, here it was, bringing back all those awful memories that Edea tried to keep down. But, it was like trying to plug a plumbing explosion with your finger. It wouldn't last for long.

"Matron, what's wrong?" Quistis demanded, worry rising in her. She could only feel a distant numbness. It looked like Edea was drowning. Edea was making small gasping noises like she couldn't breathe. Quistis looked over at Laguna, completely at a loss. "What's wrong with her?"

"Edea!" Laguna demanded, shaking the woman's shoulders. "Snap out of it!"

Edea let out a low moan of pain and defeat, bowing her head.

"Matron, are you okay?"

The Sorceress slowly raised her head, panting as if she'd just run a marathon. She distantly saw Laguna, Quistis and Daisuke Nomura looking at her with curiosity and concern. But, it was as if she was looking at their faces through a window of frosted glass. Even their voices sounded muffled and distant. She still felt like she was underwater, but at least she could breathe. However, it was like she was breathing in this 'water' that surrounded her. The water was power, palpable and heavy in the air, potent even this far away from Trabia.

"Is she in a trance?" Someone asked. It sounded like Nida's father.

"Edea, please say something..." Laguna pleaded, his voice soothing, even though it was muted. His hand encircled hers, and made Edea feel grounded.

Her lips shook as she tried to answer him, and her voice came out as a rush of air. "Ultimecia...."

Rinoa was shaking so much from sobs that she could hardly stand, and her vision was obscured by tears. She was in agony from her shattered elbow, but it was nothing compared to the agony in her heart, the agony that stung everything in her. Nida was... gone. And, the most horrible outcome that could have been constructed was as plain as day in front of them. Not only was Nida gone, but Ultimecia stood in his place, and she was radiating power and dominance. Rinoa shivered, her skin crawling, like it was trying to escape her skeleton and get as far away from Ultimecia and Tevedes as it could. "Nida!" She cried again. Ultimecia's power was mingling in the air with Tevedes's, and all this black energy just seemed to suck Rinoa's voice away, so although she made the sounds, and could feel Nida's name in her throat, the sound didn't register to her ears. Rinoa's legs felt like jelly, and she slumped to the ground again. She looked around her, and saw Squall slumped a few feet away. He was against the wall, and there was blood dripping down his neck from somewhere on his head, under his auburn hair, which was mussed.

"Squall...." Rinoa wheezed, crawling closer to him, her elbow screaming red hot pain with every motion she made. "Squall..." Rinoa gritted her teeth, and wrapped her good arm around him, glad for his presence. She wondered if Squall had been knocked out, but his eyes were open, staring glassily at Ultimecia and Tevedes, who were still embracing. His left hand was to his mouth, and when Rinoa was this close to him, she could see that his mouth was moving, as if he was saying something. But, he was saying it under his breath, and Rinoa couldn't hear it. This is when she noticed that her ears were ringing. "Squall," she repeated. "Squall! We have to do something." She saw that as he was speaking, his lips were pressed against the silver ring. She shook his shoulders, yelping in pain because of her elbow. "Squall! God dammit! We have to get out of here!"

Squall finally looked at Rinoa, as if he'd never seen her before. Rinoa became extremely worried at the expression on his face. Squall's eyes were bloodshot and wet from tears, which was wholly natural because Rinoa herself was still crying, sniffling because of her now runny nose. But, there was a completely vacant look in his stormy eyes, behind all the tears. She put her hand in his hair, touching around for the source of the trickle of blood that was vanishing under the collar of his shirt. What if he'd gotten a really serious head injury? She found the spot on the back of his head. When she touched it, he winced, which seemed like a good sign. At least he was responding to pain.

"Squall, we have to do something. Tevedes and Ultimecia aren't going to make out forever..." Rinoa looked over at the two women. "And, then they're going to remember that we're here, and we're going to be in so much shit." Rinoa knew that they would eventually die at Tevedes and Ultimecia's hands, but that wasn't what scared Rinoa. Death would be a blessing. But, she knew that both women would torture them for a while out of amusement. "If they get their hands on us...." She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, which was now smeared with Squall's blood. "Oh, come on Squall! Snap out of it!!"

"Nida....?" Squall whispered, looking at Rinoa. Or rather, looking through Rinoa.

"No, Squall... It's me, Rinoa." She took his hand, and started to rise to her feet, pulling him up too. She whined through clenched teeth as her elbow shot numbing pain up her arm. "Come on!"

When Squall had risen to his feet, he looked over at Tevedes and Ultimecia, who had now broken their passionate kiss. He wrenched his hand out of Rinoa's grip. "Nida!" He cried, placing his palms to the magical barrier, which was still up.

"I still kan't believe it...." Tevedes mused, stroking Ultimecia's hair. It wasn't up in her elaborate headdress style, and it was all around her shoulder and back like a silver waterfall. "It's been 4000 years since my hands have touched you."

"It's been too long," Ultimecia's smooth voice answered, her fingers tracing the line of Tevedes's cleavage. "And, the power of the Orackles are at my fingertips, all except Kronos."

"That Trepe girl has it...."

Ultimecia's dark lips turned up in a wrathful smile. "Not a koncern." Ultimecia's gold eyes then turned to Squall and Rinoa, who were still trapped behind the barrier. She saw Squall's hands pressed to the glass, and he was saying something. The barrier prevented sound from reaching them, but Ultimecia could read Squall's lips. He had a look of extreme agony on his face, and he had said 'Nida'. The pain in his face wasn't from any physical injury. It was purely emotional, the worst kind of pain. He repeated 'Nida' again and again. Rinoa had slumped to the ground again, tears running down her face as she held her arm against her stomach, grimacing in pain. Her elbow was bent at a funny angle.

Tevedes's pale gaze followed Ultimecia, and the horror was evident on Rinoa's face as they both stared at her. "What shall we do with them?" Tevedes asked, stepping behind Ultimecia, her lips pressing against Ultimecia's silver hair.

"What do you suggest, my love?" Ultimecia raised a hand, the hand that had the silver ring on it that Squall had given Nida. Squall fell forward as the barrier vanished.

Tevedes stepped forward, smoothing her white blonde hair with her hands. "Without Nida here to help you, I suppose you two are fucked, aren't you?"

Rinoa glared hatefully at Tevedes. Squall rose to his knees as Tevedes stepped forward. She had her arms casually crossed over her chest. "Fuck you," Rinoa hissed.

Tevedes's eyes flashed angrily for the briefest of seconds, but then her calmness returned to her. "I suppose this means that you've volunteered to go first, Miss Heartilly."

Rinoa bit her lip, her whole body shaking with a mixture of emotions. She was shaking with hateful anger, directed at Tevedes and Ultimecia. She was also shaking out of pain. She couldn't feel her arm at all anymore. And, she was shaking out of fear. This emotion was the largest and strongest. Facing Ultimecia the first time had been horrible and awful, and Rinoa didn't want to have to go through it again. Why wouldn't she just die?

Tevedes stepped forward again, Ultimecia behind her. Tevedes raised her hands, and Rinoa felt the air grow electric. Tevedes was gathering power for a magical spell. Rinoa closed her eyes, scuttling over to Squall, draping her arms around him, ignoring the pain in her elbow. Squall's body was shaking against hers. He wasn't making any noise, but she felt warm splatters against her arm. Squall was crying.

"Wait, my love...." Ultimecia cooed into Tevedes's ear, but loud enough so Rinoa and Squall could hear her. Ultimecia's spindly hands snaked over Tevedes's shoulders, her chin resting on the tall General's shoulder. "If you kast that spell, it will be over all too kwickly." Ultimecia's hand started kneading Tevedes's shoulders. They both stared at Squall and Rinoa, who were slumped pathetically on the floor. "I have a much better idea."

"I love it when you plot..." Tevedes sighed, almost girlishly. "How I've missed it." Tevedes continued to glare at Squall and Rinoa, who had raised their gazes to the two women.

Rinoa briefly looked to Squall, and she saw that he still looked vacant, but at least he was glaring down both women. Rinoa did the same. Since they were going to die, they might as well accept it bravely, not looking down. Rinoa tilted her chin up defiantly. She would face death, unafraid. At least if they went to Xystus, Nida would be there. Rinoa's parents would be there. Squall would be with Nida again, Squall would get to see his mother again.

Squall looked up at Tevedes and Ultimecia, feeling Rinoa against him. Rinoa was bravely glaring at both women. Squall did the same, but he was far less defiant. All he could feel was a dull ache, it burned his heart and coated his tongue. It stung his eyes, and numbed his nerves. The silver ring on his left ring finger felt like it weighed a tonne. It was the only thing he could really feel. And, through his teary eyes, he could see the matching ring glittering on Ultimecia's hand, which was draped on Tevedes's shoulder. Nida was gone forever. Even if Squall died, he was sure that Nida wouldn't be in the next life. He was probably trapped forever within Ultimecia's body, just part of Iudicium's power, a spec of sand in her gold hourglass. The new flesh of Ultimecia's body would be Nida's tomb, forever.

Ultimecia leaned in, and whispered something in Tevedes's ear that Rinoa couldn't hear. It caused a big grin to spread over Tevedes's pale, angular face. This caused cold dread to slither down Rinoa's throat, like she'd just swallowed a wriggling fish. Tevedes raised her hands again, and the air once more slowly became filled with black magic. Rinoa squeezed Squall tightly against herself, refusing to close her eyes as Tevedes's fingers began to glow gold. It was like her hands were encased in sheer gloves of glittering, moving gold. Rinoa felt her hair move around her, and felt Squall's hair being rustled against her cheek. The room filled with some sort of wind, and it was ice cold. Rinoa could see Tevedes's jacket moving, and Ultimecia's hair fanning around her.

Ultimecia's gold eyes were boring into Rinoa and especially into Squall. She didn't stop looking at them, except for a moment when, from behind Tevedes with her hands still on the pale woman's shoulders, she looked up at the side of Tevedes's face, and the harshest of smiles graced her garnet lips. The sulphuric gaze returned to Rinoa and Squall, and as Tevedes raised her glowing hands, she gasped. Ultimecia's hands were digging into her shoulders, and Rinoa could see the fabric of the wool coat ripping under Ultimecia's nails. Blood appeared on the skin under the rips, so very red against the snow of Tevedes's skin. The smile on Tevedes's lips faltered a little, but then grew. Rinoa wouldn't be surprised if this bloodletting was arousing to them both.

Then, the gold disappeared from Tevedes's hands, and she looked over her shoulder at Ultimecia, who was smiling a wrath-filled grin. Tevedes let out a small noise that sounded like shock. Ultimecia just continued to smile, and Rinoa let out a scream as she was assaulted by an invisible wall of black magic. It felt like she was being assaulted by Leviathan's Tsunami, but there was no water, and she couldn't see any of this magic that was hitting her like a truck. It was so black and evil that it stole her breath. She clung to Squall, like she was going to be ripped away from him at any moment. Rinoa's eyes widened when she saw Tevedes scream angrily, falling to her knees.

"Intervigilium!" Tevedes yelled, which just caused Ultimecia to laugh harshly. "You're such a fool," Ultimecia said. "You should have known better than to trust me."

Rinoa looked to Squall, and he had a look of confusion on his face, although he still looked vacant and dismal. Was Ultimecia betraying Tevedes? Betraying her favourite and most loyal Oracle? Another wave of magic filled the room, but this time, it was coming from Tevedes. It felt like power transfer. It felt like when Nida had taken power from the other Oracles. Ultimecia killed Tevedes? Ultimecia's hair was blowing all around her, and before their eyes, Tevedes was vanishing. It was like her body was made of glitter, or tiny bits of stardust, filtering up into the magic-filled air. Even after Tevedes had completely vanished, they could still see small specs of glittering light floating in the air.

They had almost forgotten that Ultimecia was there until she stepped towards them, her silver hair and harsh tattoos looking so strange against Nida's clothes. Rinoa gasped when Ultimecia raised her hand, and she couldn't help slamming her eyes shut. After a few silent moments of complete silence, and no pain besides the extreme discomfort of her broken elbow, Rinoa slowly opened her almond-shaped eyes. She found herself staring into Ultimecia's upturned palm. Rinoa slowly raised her gaze, her hair which had fallen out of her bun long ago hanging in her eyes. Ultimecia was staring down at her, sulphur eyes burning like suns in her eye sockets. She continued to stare down at Rinoa, hand outstretched, saying nothing. Rinoa then realized that Ultimecia was offering her hand to help Rinoa to her feet. Rinoa was utterly at a loss, and after a good five minutes, she slowly raised her hand, and Ultimecia's gripped around it.

Rinoa was surprised at the strength in Ultimecia's grip as she was hoisted to her feet. Then, Ultimecia gripped Rinoa's destroyed elbow, which caused the raven-haired girl to scream. When Rinoa's scream filled the room, Squall jerked his head up. He felt numb to the core, and had barely even flinched when Ultimecia had approached them. He was still on his knees, unable to find the strength to move. Ultimecia had absorbed Tevedes's power. This meant she was stronger than ever. This also meant that all the Oracles of the Inaudax were dead, but Ultimecia was a far worse fate than all twelve of them had been. All he could think about was that Ultimecia was all that was left of Nida. Squall would never hear Nida's voice again, never see his face, never feel his breath, never taste him again.

Rinoa's screams filtered away when she realized that she couldn't feel the pain in her elbow anymore. She was afraid to look down at it, wondering if Ultimecia had just ripped her arm off, and that's why she couldn't feel anymore. But, when she looked down, all she saw was Ultimecia's hand on her elbow, the silver ring that matched Squall's cool against Rinoa's skin, which had risen with goosebumps. Rinoa took her eyes away from her elbow, and stared into Ultimecia's face. Although Ultimecia was so formidable an enemy, she actually wasn't that tall. She was taller than Rinoa, but only about Squall's height, or a little shorter. Standing this close to her, Rinoa could see actually how delicate and pretty Ultimecia's face was under the harshness of the tattoos. Rinoa just stood there, completely shocked that she was standing so close to Ultimecia, and was still alive, and healed to boot.

Ultimecia let Rinoa's now healed arm drop, and went over to Squall. Instead of standing there with her hand outstretched like she had with Rinoa, Ultimecia lowered to her knees in front of Squall, touching the back of his head. Squall jerked away, and Ultimecia stood up again. She offered her hand, the same as she'd done with Rinoa. Squall, whose eyes looked utterly dead, refused it.

"Squall, please." The voice that came out of Ultimecia's mouth sounded like her, but not at the same time. The harshness of her accent had vanished. It was still her voice, but she wasn't speaking with the accent of Trabia. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Rinoa put her hand to her mouth, eyebrows so high on her forehead that they could have been touching her hairline. The voice, although Ultimecia's, spoke with the same lilt as Nida. "Squall," Ultimecia repeated, gold eyes flaring. The flare had occurred because the room suddenly shook. Rinoa yelped, looking around. "An earthquake..?" She asked aloud. That's when Rinoa saw the discarded katana on the floor. Ultimecia saw it too, but she made no move towards it, and also made no move to stop Rinoa when she dove for it.

Rinoa gasped again, holding the sword out in front of her towards Ultimecia, when everything started shaking. Rinoa screamed when a chunk of wall fell near her.

"The Manor is collapsing," Ultimecia said. "The foundation is crumbling because the Inaudax power is gone." She didn't let Squall decide to take her hand or not, and yanked him to his feet. She held her palm out, and Rinoa felt like she was being pulled by invisible strings towards Ultimecia. When Ultimecia's arm came around her back, Rinoa felt something warm moving through her. Magic. It was the same feeling she'd got when Nida had teleported her and Squall out of Deling City. Rinoa's eyes widened as everything vanished around them, the Manor collapsing at an alarming rate. Rinoa stared at Ultimecia's profile as everything disappeared. There was no question that it was Ultimecia's face, but the energy around her was Nida.

Squall must have felt it too, because his shoulders started shaking against Rinoa's, and his arms wrapped around Ultimecia's slender waist, his head buried in her chest. Rinoa kept her eyes open, and found that they were instantly set in a room. A room with occupants. Ultimecia dropped her arm from around Rinoa, which caused the raven-haired woman to collapse on the floor. She felt drained, and sore, and confused and frightened. She looked up at Ultimecia, who still had an arm around Squall. Squall was crying bitterly into her chest, and her golden eyes were sweeping the room. Rinoa followed Ultimecia's gaze, wondering what was happening. She found herself in a study in the Esthar Palace, with Laguna, Edea, Quistis and Mr. Nomura staring at them all in utter shock.

Edea rose to her feet instantly, her golden brown eyes sparkling angrily. "I knew it was you!" She stalked across the room to where Squall was clinging to the Sorceress. "I felt it!" She suddenly stopped, and a sound of complete surprised passed Edea's lips. "What...?"

"What have you done to Squall?" Laguna demanded. Quistis rushed forward to help Rinoa. The blonde could feel something very strange going on. She could see Ultimecia as plain as day, but it didn't feel like Ultimecia.

"How dare you show your face here!" Laguna moved to lunge at Ultimecia and get Squall away from her, but Edea held up her arm. "No..." She murmured.

"Where is Nida...?" Daisuke asked quietly. That was the question on everyone's minds, including Rinoa.

"I am Nida," Ultimecia answered quietly.

"You liar!" Quistis exclaimed. But, she then looked to Edea, and saw the look of shock and bewilderment on her face, which had gone very pale. Although Quistis was now a Sorceress, her power wasn't honed like Edea's. Could Matron sense something?

"It's not a lie," Squall whispered. He stepped back from Ultimecia, and everyone just gawked, although Laguna was still glaring hatefully. "I can feel it."

Rinoa stood, not needing Quistis's help. She looked down at the sword in her hands. "What happened...?" Rinoa demanded. She pointed the sword towards Ultimecia, or was it towards Nida?

Squall moved so he was standing between Ultimecia and the point of the sword. He glared at her. "Don't you dare, Rinoa."

Ultimecia laughed quietly, and it was Nida's laugh filtered through Ultimecia's voice. "I don't need your protection, Squall."

Laguna put a hand to his forehead. "What is going on?"

"Everyone sit," Ultimecia commanded. There were rolls of power washing from her body, filling the study. Everyone fixed her with uneasy glares, except for Squall. As soon as Ultimecia had touched the back of his head, he'd known it was Nida. He hadn't wanted to believe it, he couldn't believe it, and that's why he'd jerked away, and refused Ultimecia's hand. But, when that arm had wrapped around him, Squall had known instantly.

Nida sat in a chair, moving it so it faced everyone. He felt strange in Ultimecia's body, the breasts and lack of penis so alien to him. "It's true that it's me." His gaze moved to his father, who was leaning against one of the walls, hand clutched tightly around a scotch glass with club soda in it. "I know that it must be hard to believe, but if you don't believe me, believe Squall."

As Nida spoke, his voice not his own, but rather Ultimecia's coming out of him, the door slammed open, and Seifer and Zell came into the room. Zell's eyes went as wide as saucers, and Seifer's narrowed dangerously.

"I thought I felt you here," Seifer hissed. He stalked forward, and the room became filled with the archaic feel of the powers that Seifer had retained from Xystus. He pulled out Hyperion, which caused Squall to yank Pallas's katana out of Rinoa's grip. He pointed it at Seifer, his own eyes narrowed.

"What are you doing, Squall?!" Zell demanded.

"Just try it, Seifer." Squall's voice held a threat that he was very serious. "If you hurt Nida, I will hurt you."

Zell cocked his head. "Huh?"

"It's me...." Nida said quietly. Ultimecia's voice was beginning to sound more like his own. "It's Nida."

Seifer stared into Squall's eyes, and then slowly lowered his gunblade. Zell pulled him away gently, and sat the taller blonde into one of the chairs. Zell sat on the floor, since there were now no free seats. "What the fuck is going on?"

Seifer clenched his jaw angrily. The feeling of Ultimecia was only distant now, like it was fading away. Nida's power was resurfacing. But, staring into Ultimecia's face still brought up anger and hate in him. He reached down, and put his hand on Zell's shoulder, trying to quell his anger. Zell must have felt the tenseness of Seifer's grip, because he covered Seifer's hand with his own.

"The Oracles of the Inaudax are dead," Nida said, his voice sounding more like his own with every word. He still looked very much like Ultimecia, however. "Once they were all gone, the Manor lost its magical foundation, and collapsed. You'd only find rubble there now."

"I'm sorry if I don't believe you," Laguna said, his voice strained. "But, I'm going to send a crew there to see for myself."

"Be my guest," Nida answered. Squall stood by the chair that Nida was sitting in, staring at all the people in the room, his sword still out. Rinoa was crouched near the chair, staring at him like she wanted to touch him and see if it was really Nida in Ultimecia's body. But, she hung back.

"What happened, Nida?" Edea asked. She was as sure that this was Nida as Squall was.

"Well, after I killed Valhalla and absorbed her powers, I came back to the Airstation." Nida's voice was the calmest it had been in a very long while. He was finally at one with all this power, so immense and large. "I knew that I had to go after Tevedes, now or never." Nida crossed his legs, feeling strange without the feeling of his genitals there. He had to fight the urge to cross his arms over his chest, because he didn't want to feel Ultimecia's breasts there. His voice was now all his own. "So, Squall and Rinoa wanted to come with me." He told them all about what happened with Pallas, and Squall or Rinoa interjected things about their fight with Gietzen. When it got to the part about Tevedes, everyone in the room became silent.

"After Tevedes had cast her spell, and both of them imploded on each other, I knew that I would have to trick her. Her magic was much stronger than I'd expected. So, I called into the power that Iudicium had reserved. She takes all power that she touches, and retains it. I changed myself into Ultimecia..." He gestured to himself, seeing that Seifer was still glaring at him.

"But... I felt her," Rinoa murmured. "It was her power."

"I know," Nida answered. He could see the looks on everyone's faces. They all found it strange to listen to his voice coming out of Ultimecia's lips. "Because I had Pallas and Gietzen's power to call on too, I could mimic Ultimecia perfectly. Tevedes believed it, and it lowered her guard. After I'd lowered the magical barrier that I'd put up ahead of time to protect Squall and Rinoa, Tevedes was going to kill them. You would have seen me whisper something to her." He turned his gold gaze to Rinoa and Squall. "She was going to perform a nasty spell on you, probably similar to what she'd used against me, and you wouldn't have been able to survive it. It would have killed you instantly. So, as she charged it, I suggested a different spell to her. It was very old, and one that Ultimecia had been fond of.

"It would have turned your body to ashes. The gold that you saw on her hands was the spell charging. It was a spell that was very similar to the Guardian Force Phoenix, except that it had no healing properties. Ultimecia had borne the spell from a Phoenix Pinion that she'd found during her days as an Importer to Trabia. I know all this because Iudicium retained all this knowledge from Ultimecia. Ultimecia had learned how to separate the healing properties of the Phoenix from the fire spell of it. The fire spell of a Phoenix is different from a regular fire spell in that it turns the victim to ashes. But, the healing properties would let them rise from the ashes. I suggested this spell to Tevedes, because I also knew that it was a very physically intensive spell, and it would lower her defences considerably. So, I let her start it, and when she had lowered her defences, I killed her."

"You have Tevedes's power?" Edea asked.

"I do...." Nida's gaze turned to Quistis. "All of the Oracles are in my blood except for one."

Quistis felt like she was being burned in that gaze. Although it was Nida's voice, and Ultimecia was moving with Nida's motions, it was still Ultimecia that she was looking at, and being stared at by.

"So, after Tevedes dissipated, the Manor started to collapse, and I brought Squall and Rinoa here."

"Why do you look like Ultimecia?" Zell asked.

"Because my transformation hasn't worn off yet." Nida folded his hands on Ultimecia's belly, the flatness feeling strange. He was used to his own stomach with his rigid abdominal muscles. "It's a spell of sorts, so I just have to wait until it wears off..." He trailed off. "I honestly don't know what will happen to me." He looked at his hands. "I might end up looking like this forever."

Edea slowly cocked her head. "Dark magic comes with a price."

"Yes," Nida echoed. "It could be my punishment to look like Ultimecia until I die." His eyes narrowed. Ultimecia's face looked so harsh with the tattoos and pale hair. "I would like to avoid seeing anyone in the Palace. It would just cause too many problems."

Laguna nodded slowly. "Yeah, that would probably be best."

Nida looked around the room, and saw the uneasy glances that people were sharing. Seifer was looking furious, and his father was the only one who was staring at him, unflinching. "You have no reason to believe me, I know. Especially when I look like this."

"I believe you," Edea said with conviction. "I can feel it. And, I know that Squall can feel it too. It's just very hard to look at Ultimecia's face."

"I understand. Maybe I should just go to my room until the spell wears off."

"If it wears off," Seifer muttered darkly.

"You wanted to... see me?" Ellone asked, stepping into Selphie's room, unsure of what was going on. Her face fell when she saw that Irvine was there, too. "Oh. I can come back later."

"No, I want you both here." Selphie was sitting on the edge of her bed, touching the pocked scars where the piercings in her arms that Xiphias had given her had been. "I need to talk to you both."

Ellone sat down, giving a sad yet frigid look to Irvine. "What is it?"

"I've noticed that since I've come... back, that you two have been acting really cold around each other, and I know that it's my fault."

Ellone opened her mouth to protest, wanting to say that it wasn't Selphie's fault that Irvine was being such a prick, but Selphie held her hands up, her face looking so serious that Ellone closed her mouth again immediately.

"It's because of me. Irvine and I probably would have been married by now if things had been different. But, things are how they are." She gave a pointed look to Irvine. "When you die, time doesn't stop. It's not like I woke up and didn't think time had passed. I missed you very much, but time did pass, and I knew you moved on with your life." She frowned. "But, then I come back, and you throw everything away like nothing had happened. Have you learned nothing, Irvine?"

"What do you mean?" He asked.

"How do you think it makes me feel that you throw Elle away like garbage because I'm back?"

"I didn't!" He exclaimed.

"I beg to differ..." Ellone muttered caustically.

"It's obvious that you two had feelings for each other before I got here, and for you to throw that away like it meant nothing..." Selphie looked sadly at Irvine. "That really disappoints me."

"So, what are you saying?" Irvine asked.

"I'm not sure." Selphie sighed. "I just don't want anyone to be sad."

Ellone leaned forward in her chair. "That sounds more like the Selphie we all know." She moved her hand to pat Selphie's own, but her hand went right through Selphie's body, landing on the bed. "What...?"

Selphie's eyes widened, and she reached out for Ellone's hand, but it went right through it. She tried again, and this time she could feel Ellone's skin. "What's happening?"

"I can see through you!" Irvine exclaimed. "It's like you're fading...!" His periwinkle eyes were wide.

Ellone cocked her head. "At a time like this, we would have gotten Dr. Odine...." She smiled sadly. "I guess that's me now."

"Are you in pain?" Irvine asked, his voice shaking.

Selphie shook her head, looking at her hands. She could see Ellone's worried face through her palm. "No, it doesn't hurt at all." She cocked her head, able to hear a whisper in her ear. It sounded like Lillith's voice. "Lillith?"

"Lillith?" Irvine echoed, frightened.

Ellone put her fingertips to her mouth. "You can hear her....? What's happening?"

"I'll go get help!" Irvine jumped up immediately as Selphie looked at her translucent hands in wonder. He stormed out into the hallway, running up the hall. He saw a soldier, and nearly bowled him over. "Where is Edea Kramer?"

"In the study in the South Wing."

Irvine nodded, and ran down the hall. That wasn't too far away. His lungs burned, and the only thing he could think of was that he hoped Selphie wasn't completely gone by the time he got back. As he approached the study, he saw that the door was open. When he saw who came out, he slid to a stop, and almost fell back on his ass. He was looking up at Ultimecia.

"No!" Irvine yelled. "Oh my God!" He started to run backwards, but was caught. He saw that Squall was the one who stopped him. "Squall, oh God... It's Ultimecia."

"Shut up!" Squall hissed. "You're going to draw attention."


"It's Nida!" Squall hissed, releasing the taller man. "He disguised himself as Ultimecia."

"Irvine, it's me," Nida answered.

Irvine just shook his head, remembering Selphie. "Where's Edea?!"

"I'm here," Edea said, having heard the commotion in the hall. "What is it?"

"Selphie...!" He ground out. "She's vanishing."

A look passed over Nida's features, masked in Ultimecia's face. "I'll go ahead of you." He disappeared into thin air.

"What the fuck is going on?!" Irvine wailed to Edea.

"It's a long story, dear. Now... Tell me about Selphie."

"She wanted to talk to both me and Ellone...." Irvine saw Seifer and Zell come out in the hall. "You guys! Maybe you'll know what's happening to Selphie! Ultimecia.... I mean Nida... I mean Ultimecia..." He sighed. "Nida went ahead, but do you know what's happening? Why would she just start vanishing?"

Seifer furrowed his scarred brow, already starting to jog up the hall. "Shit...."

"You know?!" Irvine asked. Zell had to run to keep up with Seifer and Irvine's longer legs.

"Because she was so closely attached to the Inaudax, and now that they're gone..." Zell trailed off.

"Gone?" Irvine asked. "Is that why Nida looks like Ultimecia?"

"We'll explain later," Seifer answered curtly.

When they arrived at Selphie's room, Ellone had a horrified expression on her face, and she was backed up against the wall. Nida, in Ultimecia's body, was crouching beside Selphie, hands touching around Selphie's disappearing frame.

"Selphie!" Irvine rushed to her side, but his hand passed right through her arm.

"Nida, what's happening to me?" Selphie murmured. She smiled when she saw Seifer. "I heard Lillith's voice. What's happening?" She didn't sound scared.

Seifer crouched beside Nida, still not wanting to look at his face, which was so hateful to Seifer. "Well, did Nida explain anything to you?"

"Just that he thought it was because all the Inaudax power was gone."

Seifer nodded, trying to put his hand on her leg, but it just passed through her, onto the bed. He kept it there, as if he was actually touching her. "You must have been brought back unnaturally by their power. You don't remember anything about that, do you?"

She shook her head, getting fainter and fainter.

"And, now that they're gone, what was holding you here is gone too."

"Are you scared?" Zell asked.

Selphie smiled brightly, looking so much like the Selphie of old that it broke Zell's heart. She shared a sad look with Seifer. "I'm not scared at all. It's like going home."

"Selphie...." Irvine whispered. "You can't leave now."

"You can't stop me, Irvine..." She held up her nearly see-through hand, and smiled at him through it. "I guess my little planned speech doesn't matter anymore." She was still vanishing, slowly but surely.

Nida kissed Selphie's presence with some light healing power. "Just to ease the transition," he said. His eyes were strangely kind, considering it was Ultimecia's harsh gold glare that he was looking at her with.

"I wish I'd had more time to say goodbye to everyone..." She looked around the room. "Don't be sad." As Selphie completely vanished, only leaving a warmth hanging in the air where she was sitting, her voice echoed "because I'm not."

They all stood in complete silence, staring at the spot where Selphie had been.

"I can't believe it..." Zell finally said. "So quickly...."

"I can't believe I didn't realize it," Nida said sadly, rising to full height. He made an annoyed face as some of Ultimecia's long silver hair got in the way. He flipped it over his shoulder. "I should have seen it after I'd gotten Xiphias's power." He looked to all of them. "I'm sorry."

Squall ran a hand down Nida's arm, shuddering slightly. He loved Nida, and could feel Nida under his fingertips, but he was also touching Ultimecia's body. Ultimecia's arm was small and slender, not like Nida's strong and masculine arms. "You had more to deal with. It's not your fault. It's their fault."

"She was happy," Seifer whispered.

"I think I should get out of sight," Nida pointed out. "At least until I change back." He left the room, Squall at his heels.

Irvine sat on the bed where Selphie had been sitting. "I have to deal with this all over again." His voice sounded so sad, cracked and miserable.

"She seemed at peace though," Zell pointed out.

Seifer just silently patted Irvine on the shoulder, and left the room. Zell went with him, and Edea sat beside Irvine on the bed. Laguna, Rinoa and Quistis came into the room.

"Where's Selphie?" Quistis asked.

"Gone," Edea answered. "She died."

"Died?" Laguna echoed, bewildered.

"She was attached to the Inaudax, and now that they're gone..." Ellone murmured, shuddering when she thought of Nida's voice coming from Ultimecia's lips. "She's gone too."

"What...?" Rinoa looked sadly to Irvine. "Oh... God..."

"Where did Nida go?" Laguna asked.

"He left until he changes back. His appearance is too shocking." Edea patted Irvine's hand, and stood up. "I'll explain more outside..." She gave Rinoa, Quistis and Laguna a meaningful gaze towards Irvine, and ushered them out of the room.

After a painful, prolonged silence, Ellone slowly walked across the room, as if she was on eggshells. "Irvine...?"

"She's gone." Irvine's voice was dull. "Again." He looked to Ellone. "Could you leave me alone for a while...?"

Ellone pursed her lips. "Okay." She got up and silently left Irvine to his solitary misery.

Nida stood nude in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom. He was still in Ultimecia's body, but his eyes had gone back to brown. He was looking at the breasts and down of pubic hair where his dick should have been. It seemed almost like a wonderful joke, to have Ultimecia naked in front of him, able to do anything to her body that he wanted. He traced the lines of tattoos on her chest and legs, poking at her breasts, which were perky and high on her chest. He'd been doing this for a better part of an hour, just staring at Ultimecia's body, poking at it and wondering if he would indeed be stuck in this body.

"Still poking your tits?" Squall asked, coming into the bathroom. He'd been trying to rest, but couldn't. Squall was a lot more relieved now that Nida's eyes were brown once more. It was a little easier to look at him without that sulphur yellow glare.

"Ultimecia had a pretty good body..." Nida examined it further, then smiled. "The tattoos look like they're starting to fade."

Squall examined Nida's back. "Your skin also looks darker. More of your own shade than hers." Indeed Nida's skin was darkening from the pale snow tone of Ultimecia's skin, back to his own olive tones. "I'll just be glad when you're out of her body forever."

"What if I'm not though?" Nida asked. "What if I only change back partially. I could wind up a fucking freak or something, or a Hermaphrodite." He frowned, Ultimecia's darkly painted lips turning down dramatically. "I guess it would be the price I would pay."

Squall sighed, and gently put his hand on Nida's shoulder, but it was an unsure touch.

"It disgusts you to touch me like this, doesn't it?" Nida looked at Squall's reflection in the mirror. "Don't worry. I don't blame you."

"I love you...." Squall whispered.

"I know...." Nida ran his hands through Ultimecia's long hair. "But, you don't love Ultimecia. I'm surprised you're taking it as well as you are."

"Because I know it's you."

Nida turned around. "You look exhausted. Try to get some rest."

"I can't sleep...." Squall sighed. "I mean... It's finally over. They're all finally dead." He suddenly looked concerned. "What are you going to do about all that power? I mean, you almost fell apart before, but you seem a lot calmer now."

"I am calmer," Nida answered, perching himself on the edge of the bathtub, the porcelain cold on his bare ass. "I feel at one with the power now. I'm not warring with it, and it's become whole."

"Even without Kronos's power?" Squall asked distantly.

Nida shrugged, folding his hands in his lap, feeling the softness of female thighs under them. But, there was hardening under them, like his muscles were slowly developing, hardening, turning male. He felt Squall touch his shoulder, and then disappear into the bedroom. Nida sat in silence for a while, hearing Squall moving around, the rustling of bed sheets, then silence. He let this silence wash over him for a long time, psychically touching the power within him. He felt at ease because Iudicium was silent in him. It was as if now that the Oracles were gone, she didn't need to be awake anymore. But, there was still something. Something that felt off and wrong. Even though the Xystus Manor had collapsed, and everything seemed to be back to normal, there was this inkling of doubt in the pit of Nida's stomach. Maybe it was just residual worry.

He sat in the dark bathroom, letting this worry slowly seep out of him. He crossed his arms over his chest, and halted, realizing that Ultimecia's breasts felt a lot smaller under his arms than they had earlier. He got up off the tub, and felt his scrotum resting between his thighs. By the time he flipped on the lights, the fleshy feeling of tits on his chest was gone. He was staring back at himself, although his ebony hair was tinted with silver. He turned around in front of the mirror, examining his body, so thankful that it had returned to him. He touched his hair again, but it was still streaked with silver. It wasn't completely streaky, but it looked more like someone had spread silver, shimmering dust over his black tresses. He wouldn't be surprised if he had gone a bit grey, after the stress that all this had put his body through.

Nida turned off the bathroom light, still touching his hair. He went into the bedroom, seeing that Squall's clothes were strewn on the floor. He was stretched out on the large bed, laying on his back. In the dusky light that came from the moon outside, Nida could see Squall's lashes fluttering. He was awake. Squall heard Nida step through the room, and didn't want to turn around and see him. The sight of his Nida, trapped in that awful woman's body wrenched his stomach, churned it painfully. He hated the feeling that looking at Nida gave him. Knowing that it was Nida filled Squall with so much love and relief, but seeing Ultimecia filled him with contempt and disgust, and he felt horrible for being so disgusted with Nida.

"You're not sleeping," Nida said quietly. Squall felt the bed dip slightly under Nida's weight. It was nice to hear his voice, because then Squall could pretend that he didn't look like Ultimecia.

"I couldn't," Squall answered. When Nida's hand came to rest on Squall's stomach, he closed his eyes. Nida's hand felt warm, and Squall had to bite back 'don't touch me'. And, this broke his heart. He felt Nida press against his side, and felt the brush of erect nipple. Squall's eyes snapped open because there was no fleshy breast against him. It was muscular, lean hardness. Squall sat up, and saw Nida's familiar, beautiful face staring back at him. "Nida....?"

"I guess the spell wore off...." Nida smiled gently, and he looked completely like himself for the first time in a while. Before, there had always been Iudicium's darkness under the surface. Now, it was completely Nida. Just like he'd been the first time they'd kissed, just like the first time they'd ever had sex. In the moonlight, Nida's hair still shimmered with silver streaks. "Except for my hair, but I could have gone a little grey from stress."

Squall reached his hand out, and touched Nida's collarbone, then touched his shoulders, feeling the muscles underneath. He grazed his fingers down Nida's stomach, bouncing over the rigid lines of Nida's abdominal muscles. He then touched down into Nida's pubic hair, and felt male genitals there. Under Squall's hand, it felt warm, and Nida's cock twitched at the caress. Squall then touched Nida's hip, feeling the male curve of it, rather than the dramatic female curve of Ultimecia. He could feel the hardness of muscle under the smooth skin of Nida's thighs, could feel the familiar curve of his calf muscles. Squall then turned his attentions to Nida's face. He cupped the sides of it, and looked into Nida's eyes, so glad that he looked like himself again.

"You're relieved," Nida whispered, wrapping his fingers around Squall's wrists.

"Of course I am," Squall answered, whispering as well. He let his fingertips graze the high line of Nida's cheekbones, and let his thumbs caress the gentle curve of Nida's lower lip. "Aren't you?"

Nida smiled, the tip of one of Squall's thumbs dipping into his mouth. Nida closed his lips around it. When Squall felt the heat and wetness inside Nida's mouth, his stomach curled with desire and relief. It all washed over him in waves or euphoria. In that hot, velvet wetness, Squall could also feel Nida's power. It wasn't as encompassing or oppressive as it had been, but it was still there. It felt far gentler now, closer to what Edea's power felt like, but on a much grander scale. Nida licked the tip of Squall's thumb, his almond-shaped eyes becoming hooded with lust. When Squall pulled his thumb out of Nida's mouth, the raven-haired man spoke. "I noticed that you wanted to touch me when I looked like Ultimecia, but you held back. Did seeing me as her disgust you?" Nida asked the question very blandly.

Squall nodded dully in the dark. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Nida asked, pushing the blankets off Squall's body. Squall wasn't completely nude, and still wearing a pair of black boxer-briefs. "Did you think I would hold it against you that the sight of Ultimecia disgusted you?"

Squall sighed as Nida's hand rested on his belly, tracing the lines of his navel. "Do you think it made me happy to be so repelled by you? I...." Squall sat up and ran his hand through his hair, Nida's hand still on his stomach. He looked over at his lover. "Of course I was disgusted. But... disgusted with the way you looked, and disgusted by myself too. I love you... I didn't want to feel the way I did whenever I looked at you."

Nida cocked his head. "You think that I enjoyed looking in the mirror and seeing her face, her body? It felt horrible and wrong for me, too. But, I did what was necessary."

"I know," Squall whispered. "Did it hurt to change back?" Squall touched Nida's chest, where Ultimecia's breasts would have been.

"No. I'm just glad to have my body back. Having tits is weird."

"I'm sure women would say the same thing about dicks."

Nida smirked, and leaned forward to lightly kiss Squall's mouth. "I want to thank you for coming to Trabia with me.... But, also for standing by me. I mean, sometimes it felt like you were the only thing keeping me connected to myself. Rinoa too."

Squall's expression darkened for a moment when Nida mentioned Rinoa, and he was glad it was dark in the room so the shadows could hide it. He felt a bit ashamed and stupid for getting jealous at the sheer mention of Rinoa's name. Here he was, with Nida in his bed, Nida back in his arms, Nida wearing the ring Squall had given him. Why was he still afraid that Rinoa could drive a wedge between them? These mental concerns sifted out of his head when Squall felt Nida's breath on the side of his neck. Nida's lips pressed against his skin, moving to the nape of his neck, kissing his hair and throat, his shoulders and his cheeks, his ears and chin. Squall closed his eyes blissfully when Nida's arms wrapped around him, crushing him. Nida was still very strong from all the magic in his blood, and Squall felt very safe cocooned in this strength. He wrapped his arms around Nida's waist, burying his face in Nida's hair.

Nida's lips stopped their meandering over Squall's face and neck, and captured the brunette's lips, which felt soft and pliant against his own. It felt like home when Squall's tongue pushed past his lips, tangling with his own tongue. Nida held Squall tighter against himself as he lowered their bodies to a lying down position. Squall panted gently into Nida's mouth when he felt his lover's weight pressing him down into the mattress. When Nida held Squall as tightly as he could, the scarred man let out a gasp. Although he liked being held this closely by Nida, his breath was being crushed out of him.

"Sorry..." Nida breathlessly apologized, his mouth moving down the line of Squall's jaw. Nida's hands moved firmly down Squall's sides until they came to the waistband of Squall's underwear. Nida hooked his fingers under the elastic band, and started dragging the underwear down, his mouth now at Squall's collarbone. Nida continued to push the underwear down, even after Squall's genitals had been exposed. Even from just the kissing and gentle touching, Squall's cock had started to grow hard. Nida kept pushing his hands downwards until the underwear was removed. As he did this, his mouth trailed wetly down Squall's chest, resting just above where Squall's pubic hair began. Nida tossed the garment to the floor, and licked down further until his tongue was pressed against the root of Squall's penis. When Nida's tongue, wet and nimble, moved up his shaft, Squall's cock grew to full hardness. When Nida's tongue ran over the head, Squall jerked his body, a stifled gasp escaping his lips as he arched his hips upwards. Nida continued to lick over the head of Squall's dick, but his tongue never stayed more than a moment or two.

"You fucking tease..." Squall hissed, his cheeks flushed with desire, as Nida looked up at him mischievously.

Nida flicked his tongue out again, moving just the tip down the underside of Squall's cock. He then licked over Squall's scrotum with a big, lavish stroke, one that wrenched a full-fledged groan from Squall's chest. Nida then moved his tongue up the lines of Squall's groin. When the panting brunette tried to arch his hips again towards Nida's mouth, Nida sat up. He bit his lip teasingly, still tasting Squall's precum on them. He parted Squall's legs, running a finger up the inner line of his left thigh, until he touched between Squall's buttocks, feeling the tight, puckered rectum.

Squall turned his head into the pillow, a desperate and low moan pouring from his lips as Nida's finger massaged him, but maddeningly without entering him. It wasn't only the gentle, familiar and loving ministrations that caused an almost painful, debilitating wave of pleasure to pass through Squall's body when Nida did this. It was the power under Nida's fingertips. Although it seemed much more dormant, it was still strong, and it pushed a tingling wave of invisible black magic up Squall's spine. It seemed to silently rattle his vertebrae, and it set every nerve in his spinal column blissfully on edge. It seemed that when Nida touched him, he didn't only feel it between his legs, but all over his body. It was like Nida was caressing him with a million invisible fingers, each stroking him with infinite care and expertise. When Nida took his finger away, Squall felt so alone and cold, his skin yearning for Nida's touch again.

Nida looked down at Squall, whose erection was slowly weeping, and whose chest was quickly rising and falling, whose cheeks were flushed, whose bangs had fallen into his beautiful stormy eyes. When Nida put his hands firmly on Squall's hips, the brunette moaned, his hands reaching up and wrapping around Nida's wrists, holding them tightly. Nida then slowly rolled Squall over, and when he covered Squall's back with his own body, Squall reared his head up and searched for Nida's mouth in the pale moonlight filtering from behind the sheer curtains. When they kissed, Nida could feel Squall's lips trembling, and could also feel the shiver of Squall's muscles under his skin. Nida straddled Squall's ass, and ran his hands down Squall's smooth and pale back as his mouth explored the nape of Squall's neck. Nida knew that his lover had a spot on the back of his neck that was extremely sensitive, and it always caused Squall to make the most wonderful noises. When Nida found it, just below Squall's hairline, Squall's back went rigid, and he panted heavily, a moan that was closer to a desperate whine filling the room. As Nida suckled on this spot, he rocked his hips into Squall's back, just above where the crack of his ass started, letting Squall feel his erection.

Squall bit down on his lip hard when Nida moved his mouth away from that painfully sensitive spot. He then felt Nida's tongue moving down his back, tracing the lines of his spine. Squall's hands clutched the pillow, and he actually bit into it when Nida's body slid off his own. He felt very cold and exposed. He then felt Nida straddle his calves, and felt Nida's tongue on the small of his back. He then felt Nida's finger gently touching the opening to his body again. But, thankfully this time the finger slipped in, cool and slick with lubrication. Nida's finger slid in all the way to the knuckle, brushing Squall's prostate. The brunette moaned, and Nida began gently thrusting into Squall's rectum with his index finger, pulling it out, and pushing it in again, relaxing the strong muscle. He retracted his finger once more, and coated two fingers with the tube of lubrication he'd taken from the bedside table. He inserted the two fingers back into Squall's body, which was hot all around him, and Squall made a gentle sighing noise. Nida slowly fucked Squall with his fingers, feeling the strong sphincter muscles working around them, clamping onto his digits, fluttering with the strange and secret workings of the human body, hidden under silken flesh. When Nida used the pads of his fingertips to massage slow circles over Squall's prostate, the scarred brunette squirmed under him, his body almost serpentine in movement. Nida pulled out his fingers again, and coated three with lubrication. When he pushed the three fingers into Squall's body, he slowly scissored them apart, stretching out the ring of muscle. Squall was panting heavily, grinding his hips under Nida.

As Nida's fingers worked within him, Squall moved his hand down to his own erection, stimulating himself. He masturbated slowly, afraid that he would come too soon if he did it quicker. Nida's fingers were wiggling within him, and it made Squall feel like he'd swallowed a swarm of winged insects. He could feel Nida's power moving through him, just like it had when Nida had externally been touching him. But internally, it was on a completely different level. It worked up through his intestines, up through his body, until Squall was sure that he could feel Nida's fingers stroking in his lungs, in the back of his throat, all over every inch of him, especially across his heart. When Nida's fingers pulled out, and one of Nida's hands gripped Squall's hip, raising his pelvis off the bed, Squall looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with Nida, who was covering his erection with lubrication. Nida raised his eyes, and looked into Squall's. They looked at each other for a long moment, and the gaze wasn't broken even when Squall felt the head of Nida's erection pressing against him, then in him. Squall's lips parted, and his breath slowly came out, but he didn't stop looking into Nida's eyes. Nida's cock slid deeper and deeper into him, until Nida's body was flush against his back, until Nida's forehead was pressed against Squall's temple. And they didn't break the gaze even when Nida started to retract himself from within Squall's body.

But, Nida didn't pull out all the way. He pulled out enough that only the tip of his head was still sheathed within Squall, and then he pushed himself back in with one forceful thrust, keeping his eyes locked with Squall's. Nida loved the look that passed over Squall's eyes. That slight wince of discomfort, signalling that he felt it, and that look of raw desire that looked so male and challenging. Even though Squall was in the position of the submissive, his eyes still showed that challenge of dominance, as if saying 'come on, fuck me. Now.' Nida began to rhythmically thrust into Squall's lower intestine, and Squall's eyes involuntarily slid shut in rapture, breaking his gaze with Nida. In the darkness under his own eyelids, Squall felt Nida's chest press tightly against his back, and felt Nida's breath in his ear. Squall rocked his hips backwards, meeting Nida's thrusts. He took his hand off his own cock, and held himself up on all fours so that Nida could fuck him more solidly. One of Nida's hands moved to Squall's erection, and started to jerk him off with force, his fist strong and tight, pleasure teetering on the line of discomfort. Nida's other hand moved into Squall's hair, stroking it with gentleness. His finger also stroked the back of Squall's neck, down his throat and over his shoulders, dipping down over the hardened nubs of Squall's nipples.

Squall rolled his head back on Nida's shoulder, breathing in the scent of Nida's hair. It smelled like things exotic and archaic. The exotic part was Nida. It smelled like his shampoo, some sort of rare flower that smelled like Heaven. The archaic was the smell of power and magic. Squall didn't know what it smelled like, but it was intoxicating. As Nida fucked him, Squall felt like power was being pounded into him. Even if Nida had more control over his powers, it would still leak out when he felt things deeply, or when he lost control of his emotions. It made Squall's limbs tingle and shiver, and he started to feel wonderfully numb, yet aware of every molecule of his body at the same time. When Nida whispered Squall's name, merely a gentle breeze over the curl of Squall's ear, this is when he fell into orgasm. The manual stimulation and Nida inside him was wonderful and beautiful, and the best feeling in the world, but it didn't compare to the beauty of hearing his name on Nida's lips, whispered at such an intimate moment. The orgasm seemed to be brought on by all this put together, but also relief washing over him. After all that had happened, after all the Inaudax had put them all through, Nida was still here, still whispering Squall's name as they made love.

Nida felt Squall come all around him, making small noises between panting and groaning. Nida whispered Squall's name again and again, releasing all the pleasure and tautness of his muscles as he came into Squall's body, his semen exploding deep within the brunette's rectum. But, it wasn't just a release of sperm and seminal fluid. It was a release of tension and power. Since this had all began, Nida's body had been in constant tension, power pulling him in all different directions. And now, he was free, it was over. The room flooded with black magic, although it felt far less malicious than it had in the past. It was like filling the room with warm water, an invisible bath to melt away stress.

They panted and moaned together, coming down from their sexual high. Squall slowly lowered his body to the mattress when his arms and legs began to shake. Nida lowered with him so that he wouldn't have to pull out of the warmth of Squall's body just yet. They lay like this for a while; Squall splayed on the mattress under Nida's warm weight, their hearts racing in their chests. Squall's hand found Nida's in the dark, and brought it to his mouth. He kissed Nida's palm and fingers, and then pressed the hand to his cheek, closing his eyes and feeling happily weary.

After a while, Nida felt Squall's breathing regulate, his back rising and falling rhythmically. Nida rolled off of Squall, pulling out. Squall made a small noise, but didn't wake. Nida covered them both with the blanket, and draped his arms around Squall's body, pressing his cheek to Squall's warm back, between his shoulder blades. He smiled, kissing Squall's skin gently. Nida was about to fall asleep when that feeling of uneasiness returned to him. It started growing, causing Nida to frown, and his weary happiness, borne of afterglow, to vanish. It was like someone had flipped on a switch within his body, opening something. He felt Iudicium stir in him, and his heart plummeted.

Nida slowly sat up, not wanting to wake Squall, when he heard Iudicium's voice whispering. It was like she was in the room, whispering into his ear, for he could even feel her cool breath. But, she was in his head, speaking to him, telling him something that caused black power to rise in him. He could feel the scars on his back where her wings protruded start to itch. He felt his fingers tingle with her power, running through is veins with renewed force. He got out of bed, giving Squall a lingering kiss on his temple. Squall sighed in his sleep, but didn't rouse. Nida slowly got dressed, and pulled a sheet of paper and a pen out from the desk in the room, and started writing. He had to revise the letter multiple times, because heaviness filled his heart, and he couldn't verbalize what he was feeling. All he knew was Iudicium's voice in his head, telling him words that made him feel like lead. At last, Nida finished a short letter to Squall. By the time he'd put it in the envelope, and left it where Squall would see it immediately, the sun was beginning to rise over the building tops of Esthar. He gave one last look to his sleeping lover, and left the room.

Quistis woke for some reason. Maybe she'd had a dream that woke her. But, it must not have been a horrible nightmare because she couldn't remember it. Xu was sleeping peacefully beside her. Quistis tried to roll over and fall back asleep, but something was keeping her awake. She sat up, touching her chest, where it felt like some animal was trying to gnaw through her breast. But, it wasn't an animal, at least not a tangible one. It was Kronos's power, fluttering within Quistis for some reason. She actually let out a small gasp when a stabbing sensation filled her. She saw a silhouette standing against the window where there had been nobody only a moment before. The sun was beginning to rise, and the figure was backlit. When they turned around, Quistis saw that it was Nida.

"Nida....?" Quistis whispered, seeing Nida's familiar face. "You're back!" She smiled happily, glad to see his beautiful face, and not the pale harshness and plum tattoos of Ultimecia. She then frowned, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. She looked over to Xu, but the other woman was still sleeping soundly. "What is it? Is something wrong?"

Nida blinked at Quistis, and she reached for her glasses on the nightstand. When she put them on, Quistis noticed that Nida's eyes were black, and he had a very dark and determined look on his face.

"God... Something happened, didn't it?" Quistis made a move to the door, but Nida held up his hand, stopping her. She felt the wash of dark, dark magic over her body. Kronos's power within her rose to this sensation. "Nida....?"

The hand that Nida put up fell backwards a little. "This is for your own good," Nida said darkly, one of his large, curved sickles appearing in his hand, as if summoned from thin air. Quistis's eyes widened with shock, disbelief and confusion. But, none of this got the chance to register, because Nida's sickle cut through her belly, spilling her intestines out over the front of her body. She let out a strangled gasp of pain. Why wasn't Xu waking up? Had Nida put a spell on her?

"Ni... Nida....?" Quistis panted, falling to her knees. Her vision went grey, and she looked up at Nida, dark and terrible. She saw those huge black wings spread out from his back, and she felt Kronos's power leaving her body. She gasped and panted in pain, putting her hand to her belly, but wrenching it away when she felt horrible gore and spilling organs under her fingertips. "Why?" She demanded, but her voice only came out as a gurgle. She was able to taste blood on her tongue.

"It's for the best," Nida answered. He turned and left the room. Quistis pitched forward, landing in a pool of her own blood on the rug. She felt something warm moving over her, and then she felt nothing.

Squall woke up, feeling warmth filtering through the window from the sunlight. How wonderful... Feeling the sun on his skin, knowing that everything was okay, and would finally get back to normal. Squall reached his hand across the bed as he yawned, searching and yearning to feel Nida's skin under his fingertips. But, he only touched rumpled sheets. Squall slowly sat up, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He looked around the room, wondering if Nida was in the bathroom. But, the bathroom was empty, and the room was completely silent. "Nida?" Squall asked aloud. His gaze then caught an ivory envelope with his name written on it in Nida's familiar, neat script.

Squall bit his lip, wondering if this was some sort of surprise for him. With his scarred brow furrowed, he picked up the envelope, and opened it. Inside was a letter that caused Squall's heart to plummet and shatter with each word he read:


I've left the Palace. I'll be long gone by the time you read this. After you fell asleep last night, I started to get this feeling in me, and then Iudicium started to speak to me. She told me things that I didn't want to hear, but things that I could not ignore. I hate to have left without saying goodbye to anyone, especially you, but I had to.

Tevedes didn't die. She gave me most of her power, but she still held a little bit of it. She's weak and near death, and has so little power that anyone who takes it would make a poor Sorcerer or Sorceress. But, she is alive still, and that's more than enough for her to be a threat. I have taken it to my own hands to finally end this. I'm not going to tell you where I've gone, because I don't want you to try and find me. Although, I know you Squall, and I know that you'll ignore this. But, you won't find me, so please don't torture yourself by trying to find me. I don't want you to suffer. I know that me leaving like this will hurt you, but I would rather hurt you this way than keep you in danger because of this magic. I have completed it, so now nobody will be affected by the Inaudax, except for myself, but I have thought of a remedy for that...

I will tell you this: I have felt that Tevedes is hiding out around Balamb continent. I have felt it. You are the best SeeD that Garden has ever seen, so you should be able to find her easily. It seems so long ago that we passed the SeeD exams together, when you didn't know my name, and could never remember my face. Don't worry... I never blamed you for that, despite what you may think. After last night, after being with you so completely, it broke my heart to leave, but I have to, and I will ask again that you don't come looking for me. I love you so much that it hurts me, but I never want to see you again. If I never see you again, it means you're safe. I hope you know that I always will love only you, and you never had a reason to be jealous of Rinoa. Tell her I'm sorry, and that I love her too, and will always be grateful. Tell Xu that I'm sorry, too. But, I did what I had to. And..... keep an eye on my father for me.



Squall shook his head in disbelief after he'd read the letter. He reread it a couple times. "No, no..." He muttered. "This has to be a joke." He then felt that the envelope was still heavy. He looked inside, and tilted the envelope down, the silver ring he'd given Nida falling out. When the cold metal landed in his palm, tears sprung to Squall's eyes. "Why....?" He asked aloud. He curled his fingers around the ring, trying not to cry. He was in such disbelief. It had to be a joke.

Suddenly, he heard commotion outside his room. He got out of bed, and put on a black satin robe with gold dragons embroidered on it, and went out into the hall. There were people running into a room down the hall. Quistis's. He kept the letter and the ring clutched in his hand.

"Squall!" Rinoa exclaimed. She was wearing a navy blue cashmere sweater with a scoop neck, and worn-in jeans. Her feet were bare, and her hair was slightly messy. "Where's Nida?!"

Squall just stared blankly at Rinoa.

"Squall...?" She cocked her head at him, and saw that he was clutching a letter. "What's that?"

He didn't answer. He looked like he was in shock.

"Quistis was attacked."

This brought Squall out of it. "What?"

"Xu just woke up and found Quistis lying on the floor in a huge pool of her own blood. But, the strange thing is that there isn't a wound on her body."

Squall furrowed his brow, thinking about Nida's letter. Tell Xu that I'm sorry, too. But, I did what I had to. "Where's Edea?!" Squall demanded suddenly.

"She's in the room with Xu," Rinoa said. When Squall went in the room, she was right at his heels, bewilderment on her pretty face. "Where's Nida?"

"Matron, does Quistis still have her powers?" Squall demanded as he came in the room. Edea and Laguna were sitting on either side of her, trying to comfort her. There was a very large bloodstain on the floor.

"Quistis is barely alive," Edea pointed out. "What do her powers matter?" She sounded angry and tired.

"Tell me!" He demanded angrily, eyes flashing.

"Squall!" Laguna exclaimed. "Don't yell at Edea...."

"No, she did not have her powers."

Squall sunk to the floor in shock. He looked down at the bloodstain, his lips parted as he panted heavily.

"What's going on?" Rinoa demanded, crouching besides Squall. "Where is Nida?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Laguna said darkly.

"Gone..." Squall answered dully, staring straight ahead. "Gone...."

"Gone?" Edea echoed.

"He did this to her?!" Xu gasped. "Why??!"

Squall held up his fist. "He wrote me a letter..." Tears started to move down Squall's cheeks.

Rinoa pried it out of his hands, and saw something fall out of Squall's hand. It was the silver rind he'd given Nida. It rolled across the rug, and stopped in the middle of the bloodstain, twinkling in the sunlight.

Rinoa read the letter out loud, her eyes filling with tears and her voice becoming choked when she got to the part about her. "Oh my God," she whispered after she'd finished. Squall just slumped further down, silently crying.

"He tried to kill Quistis to get her power out....!" Xu exclaimed, anger rising in her voice. "How could he have done this!?"

"But, there was no wound on her body," Rinoa pointed out, her voice small and sad. "He must have healed her.

Edea nodded. "He is partly driven by Iudicium now, which means a penchant for brutality, but I believe he was trying to save her life. If Tevedes is still alive like he said, Quistis was in danger. Tevedes would have come for her to get Kronos's power out."

"Tevedes is smart," Laguna added. "She would know it would be suicide to go right after Nida or Edea to get power, so she would go for Quistis, who had Kronos's power, but didn't know how to wield it yet."

"Where would he have gone?" Rinoa wondered.

Laguna stood. "I'm going to go talk to Elle, and see if she can put out a magical search around Balamb."

"I have to go see Quistis!" Xu exclaimed hastily, also rising to her feet.

"I'll go with you," Edea said, looping her arm through Xu's. She stopped beside Squall. "I'm sorry dear." She stroked his hair and left with Xu.

"You're not going to listen to him, are you?" Rinoa demanded, her voice heated. "You're going to look for him, right?!"

Squall blinked, staring at the ring in the middle of the stain of scarlet gore on the rug. "He doesn't want me to look for him..."

"So what?!" Rinoa ground out. "I'm going to look for him, no matter what he says. I'll find him, or die trying." She stormed out of the room, calling after Laguna.

Squall stared at the ring on the floor, feeling so dead inside that he might as well have been dead on the outside. He remembered when Nida left before, but that had been out of anger. This time was much worse. It hurt more to know that Nida was somewhere in the world, loving him, but not being with him. Squall picked up the ring once more, putting it on his finger along with his own. As he stared at them, he realized that it would have been better if Nida had left while hating him, rather than loving him completely.

Two days later, Squall, Rinoa, Zell and Seifer were sitting in the living room of Ma Dincht's house. Zell was talking lowly to his adoptive mother, and the other three were sitting in morose silence. Ellone had found trace magical energy in Balamb Town. She looked about as terrible as Squall did. Selphie's leaving, and Irvine's depression had been very hard on Elle. She had circles under her eyes from lack of sleep, and she looked exhausted and weary. Squall knew he looked the same. He hadn't slept at all, and had been spending all his time combing the world for any sight of Nida. Rinoa also looked sad, her eyes lipid and dull, not like her usually bright gaze.

The four of them were in Balamb to search for Tevedes, but it was like she'd known that they were coming, and had dropped out of sight. Seifer put his arm around Squall's shoulder, and leaned in so he could whisper in Squall's ear. "You have to put it together, Squall. If we find Tevedes, we have to kill her. Nida said she was weak, but I still wouldn't let my guard down."

Squall just nodded. Everything sounded muted and far away. Rinoa started saying something, speaking to Saffron Dincht, probably. Squall felt Seifer's lips against his cheek, just below where the lenses of his glasses were, giving him a friendly, comforting embrace. Squall looped his fingers with Seifer's and leaned into his old rival's body. It was nice to be held, but it just wasn't the same as Nida's arms around him, or Nida's lips against the side of his face.

"Maybe the fact that he said Tevedes was in Balamb means he's around here, too?" Seifer offered.

Squall had thought of this. "But... where?" Squall was snapped out of his trance-like sadness when Rinoa gasped very loudly. She stood, and upended her tea cup.

"What is it?" Zell asked, looking at Rinoa with mild alarm.

"I think I might know where Nida is!" She went over to Mrs. Dincht. "What's Balamb Town's library like?"

Saffron raised an eyebrow, unsure of the question. "I don't know what you mean, dear...?"

"I mean historically. Is there a lot of stuff about the time of Hyne and before?"

"I don't know... Perhaps?"

"Dollet would have a better one," Seifer pointed out. "What are you thinking about?"

Rinoa put her hands to her mouth, her eyes lighting up again. "Well, I started to think about all the information that we read about when first learning about all this stuff. And.... Remember that there was a temple of Iudicium somewhere?" Rinoa collected her jacket in her arms. "It would take too long for us to go to Dollet. We should go to the Balamb Town library, and maybe they'll have some stuff. If not, they can maybe get some of the stuff without us wasting time."

"Good plan." Zell smiled at his mother. "We'll go there now." He looked to Seifer and Squall. "You guys want to come?"

Squall just stared blankly ahead, and Seifer shook his head. "Someone should stay here in case Esthar contacts us with anything...." He gave a look to Squall, and then shared a worried look with his lover. "And, Squall's kind of out of it anyway."

Zell nodded, giving Seifer a quick kiss before leaving with Rinoa.

"Are you hungry?" Seifer asked, his chin resting on Squall's shoulder.

Squall shook his head, looking into Seifer's peridot eyes. "I think I'm going to go for a walk."

"I'll come with you," Seifer offered.

Squall shook his head as he rose to his feet. "No. Remember, someone has to stay in case my dad contacts us. And..." He sighed heavily, his fingers moving over the two rings on his left ring finger. He'd done this so many times over the past two days that he was surprised the rings weren't worn away. "I kind of want to be alone."

Seifer nodded, squeezing Squall's hand before the brunette left. Squall walked through town, passing cafes and the car rental stand. He left the limits of Balamb Town itself, and started to walk towards where the Garden stood. Quistis was still in Esthar, slowly recovering from what had happened to her. There was no physical damage to her, although she was a little shaken up. Quistis didn't blame Nida at all, especially after Xu had read the letter to her. She blamed the whole situation, Ultimecia and the Oracles, as well as Iudicium. Squall stopped on the path, looking at the shadowy shape of Balamb Garden, thinking about the days of old. Thinking about the days when Nida piloted the Garden with the carefree joy of being a SeeD. Now, the Garden was stationary, and those days seemed a million miles away. Squall put his hands in the pockets of his olive green army coat, and found a metal case. It had one last cigar in it, forgotten for months, since the last time he'd worn this coat. He put the cigar between his lips, lighting it. The wind from the ocean was warm as he smoked his cigar. As the bitter smoke filled his lungs, Squall felt something tug at him, like they were pulling at the front of his pants. He looked towards the mountains that rose behind Garden.

Squall threw the cigar on the ground, and stamped it out. He walked slowly towards the mountains, walking around the perimeter of the forest. He wasn't really in the mood to deal with a T-Rexaur. When he finally reached the base of the mountains, the feeling was stronger. He pulled out his gunblade, not sure of what the feeling was. Could it be Tevedes trying to lure him? He found a few beaten down paths in the crevices of the rock. He followed one, going through the mountains, his footsteps echoing all around him. He walked for what seemed like hours, the wind much cooler here than it had been near the beach. He could hear running water somewhere, and stopped when he came out on the other side of the path. The mountains dropped dramatically into the ocean, but there was a steep path downwards, and that's where the feeling was coming from. Squall peered down, and saw what looked like some sort of architecture. What was it? Squall held his gunblade out in front of him, the sound of water falling and the ocean all around him, muffling his footsteps. He had to sidestep down the slope, because it was so steep, and he didn't want to fall into the ocean. There were jagged rocks below.

When Squall got to the bottom of the slope, he was met with the mouth of a large cavern. He could hear the sound of running water coming from inside. Outside the hollow, there were what looked like crumbled pillars, fluted and carved. Squall crouched beside a broken one, looking at it. It looked ancient, and would have been beautiful and fine at one point. It was still lovely, even though it was crumbled and had ivy and moss growing on it. The feeling that was wafting out of the cave was purely magical. Squall checked his Junctions, and was satisfied with what magic he had with him. If this was where Tevedes was hiding out, Squall would end her. He wanted to pay her back in spades for making Nida leave.

Squall walked through the cavern's mouth, and noticed that more of the ornate, lovely carving was in this path. It was worn away, and had probably been quite something back whenever it had been carved. He couldn't hear much over his own breath and the sound of running water. He saw light filtering in at the end of the cave. He stepped through, and found himself in an open area. The sound of running water had been small waterfalls, one on either side of him, and one behind a large chair where a stone statue sat. The light was filtering in from a ceiling of foliage. Ivy, Wisteria and Virginia Creeper were growing rampantly over the beautiful columns, and rising over the spines of the ceiling. There must have once been glass in the ceiling, but it was gone now, and the light came in with beautiful shadows from the plants winding around the ceiling. The waterfalls looked like they had once been part of beautiful sculpture, but time had crumbled them. There were still the legs of one of the statues. There was a C-shaped moat around the chair, and a path led up to it. The throne looked like it was made of marble, and it also had ivy crawling up over it. The whole place was serene and wonderful, a perfect place for worship.

Squall ended up dropping his gunblade on the crumbled marble floor with a clatter when he looked at the statue, eyes wide as saucers behind the lenses of his glasses. It didn't really fit in with the crumbled surroundings. It looked pristine and new. The chair had a low back to house someone sitting in it who had large wings. The wings of Iudicium. This must have been her temple, so many millennia ago. The statue was sitting, staring blankly with its stone, unseeing eyes, straight ahead. The wings were furled up dramatically and imposingly. The hands were curled over the armrests. Squall took a few stumbling steps forward, and collapsed at the feet of the statue, reaching his fingers out to touch the impressive statue. It was cold against Squall's fingertips, and he wrenched his hand back with a startled gasp, looking up at Nida's face, frozen in white marble.

Rinoa maniacally flipped through a mouldy old book, sneezing at the dust she was unearthing. She and Zell were in a private room of the Balamb Library, the librarian in the room with them. They were looking through ancient books that weren't allowed to be viewed by the general public because of their fragile pages.

"Be careful!" The librarian exclaimed nervously, seeing how Rinoa was handling the book.

"I knew it, I knew it!" Rinoa chanted, finding what she was looking for. The book was about 5000 years old, and had a hand-drawn map of what Balamb had looked like all those years ago. She pointed out a spot on the map that was near the ocean, in the mountains. "See?"

Zell looked over Rinoa's shoulder. He couldn't read the language. "Can you even understand any of that?"

Rinoa smiled. "God, right now I'm so glad that my father made me learn the ancient tongues. This is a language called Troilistia. It's a dialect of Ancient Centran, and was the basis of Kronos Tempus."

Zell raised an eyebrow. "Kronos Tempus is the one that all the Inaudax spoke, right?"

Rinoa nodded. "Troilistia is a monarchy language. Townspeople didn't speak it. They just spoke Ancient Centran. The Troilistia language was the official language of Iudicium's court." Rinoa pointed at the dot on the map again. "This is the Temple Of Judgement, where Iudicium was worshipped. There was a stone statue of her there that people would bring offerings to. Usually just flowers and stuff. Iudicium didn't require blood sacrifice."

"I'm impressed with your knowledge, Ms. Heartilly," the librarian said. "The statue was destroyed by followers of Hyne 4000 years ago."

"Does the Temple still exist?" Zell asked.

"Maybe not. It was close to the ocean, so it could have fallen into the sea."

"There would be ruins," Rinoa pointed out. "Since Iudicium is leading Nida..."

"Shit, let's get back to my house," Zell muttered excitedly. He thanked the librarian, and he and Rinoa ran out into the street. "You think Nida went there, don't you?"

"And, Tevedes would probably know about it, too. She would be able to feel that Nida is no longer in Esthar, since Laguna lowered the barrier after Nida said they'd all been killed."

"Squall will be happy," Zell panted as they arrived at his house. They tumbled in, and Seifer gave them a confused look.

"Find anything?" The tall blonde asked.

"Where's Squall?" Rinoa asked. "We have great news."

"He's not here. He went for a walk." Seifer cocked his head, then his pale eyes widened. "Can you guys feel that?"

"Feel what?" Rinoa asked, but she saw that Zell must have felt something too.

"Shit..." Zell whispered just as Seifer exclaimed "Squall!"

Squall tried to use a soft on the statue, but it didn't do anything. He also tried to cast Esuna, but nothing happened. Squall touched the cold face of the statue. "Nida...." He whispered. "Can you hear me?" Squall was shocked at what he was seeing, but he also wondered how Nida had done this to himself, and why he had done it. Squall touched Nida's hands, which were casually curled over the arms of the throne. Nida felt so cold. And, in Squall's heart, there was no question that this was Nida. Squall sunk to his knees, pressing his cheek against the cold, still knuckles. "Nida...."

He sat in complete silence for a long time, touching the icy statue. He felt like crying, but he'd cried all his tears. After a long time, Squall heard the noise of shuffling, and slowly raised his head. The shuffling had been footsteps. He rose to his feet immediately when he saw Tevedes limp into the temple. She looked ragged, her hair messy and dirty. Her white skin was covered in grime, and she didn't even resemble herself. Squall quickly rose to his feet, realizing that his gunblade was still where he had dropped it. But, Tevedes, although looking weak and broken, was still quick. She cast a powerful Firaga spell against Squall, which sent him stumbling backwards against Nida's stone, unmoving body. Squall tried to rise to his feet, but Tevedes cast a spell on him that felt like invisible bonds around him. Squall fell to the side, unable to move.

"I knew if I followed you, you would lead me right to him." Tevedes's voice sounded cracked, but still harsh and cruel. Tevedes limped towards the statue, and touched it. Squall cast Esuna on himself, and the invisible bonds fell away. When Tevedes touched the statue, Squall saw the marble fingers twitch on the armrest. Tevedes kept her hands on either side of Nida's stone face, and the statue started moving. Squall tackled Tevedes, and because she was weak, she tumbled to the side, and both she and Squall fell into the C-shaped moat. The water was cold, and Squall started punching her, and cast a few spells against her. She grunted and knocked Squall out of the way. Squall stood, and saw that Nida was standing in front of where he'd been sitting, stone no more.

Nida put his hand out, and hit Tevedes square in the chest with a powerful spell. She fell backwards, skidding a few feet. Squall went over to Nida, relief on his face.

"Nida, are you okay?" Squall asked.

"How dare you?" Nida asked lowly, his eyes black and fathomless. It was like Nida was staring right through him. "You went against my wished, Skwall."

"But...." Squall murmured. He touched Nida's wrists.

Tevedes rose to her feet, laughing and wiping a dribble of blood away from her pale mouth. "What a stupid kunt you are. Bekause you kame here, it put Iudicium's powers at my fingertips once more." She laughed malevolently at Squall.

Squall shook his head, feeling so stupid and foolish. "Nida...?" He trailed off in pain when Nida's hand shot out, and pushed him out of the way with such force that Squall flew across the chamber, and hit the stone wall. Hard. His head bounced off the jagged stone, and his vision went blurry. His glasses fell off his face, and landed in the water around him. What have I done? Squall internally whispered, his head pounding painfully.

Nida glared at Tevedes, knowing that he could destroy her, but something was wrong. He felt like he was trying to hold Iudicium's powers, but it was slipping through his fingers. The Time of Judgement has arrived, Iudicium whispered in Nida's ear from inside his head. I must choose a new Master. You have by far been my favourite.

Nida felt like his core was being ripped out, and he let out a scream as Iudicium separated from him. Nida collapsed under the lack of weight. With all that power gone, he felt very empty and weak. Iudicium was standing in front of him, as solid as himself. Her pale hair was blowing gently around her, as was the sheer fabric of her gown. Her wings were black and huge on her white, white back. The gold hourglass was in her skeletal hand, and her black eyes were burning. Tevedes laughed. "She's judged you, Nomura!" Her voice was utterly victorious.

Everything was blurry and moving, and Squall knew he had a concussion, but he could still see what was going on. Nida was collapsed on the ground, Iudicium standing before him. Squall could hear Tevedes's taunt, and his heart lurched. Were they going to die? Squall found his glasses, and put them on his face. The lenses were beaded with water, and made it hard to see. He crawled out of the water, moving towards Nida. Iudicium looked over her shoulder, and down at Nida. "Time to choose a new Master." Her voice sounded surprisingly gentle when she said this, maybe like it had sounded when she'd been a Queen.

Tevedes opened her arms, laughing. The room filled with magic, and Squall curled his hands as he crawled forward. He collapsed beside Nida, feeling like he was going to throw up because the room was spinning. "Nida..." He whispered.

"Squall...?" Nida looked up blankly. He looked over to Tevedes, who was using the last ounce of strength she had to call Iudicium into her body. The white Goddess walked towards Tevedes, and it was like she stepped into the Oracle's body. When she vanished, a wave of power that was like a nuclear blast wave shot through the crumbling temple.

"No!" Squall screamed as Tevedes laughed.

"Finally! Finally!!!" Tevedes screamed. "After all you've done to stop us, we've gotten what we've wanted!" Squall and Nida watched in horror as Iudicium's black wings formed on Tevedes's back. "My God... This power is immense!" She put her hands to her pale mouth. "Intervigilium.... I kan feel you."

"No...." Squall panted, feeling like he was inside a washing machine. "This is my fault..."

Nida closed his eyes and smiled, then started quietly laughing.

"I'll wipe that smile off your face," Tevedes hissed, stepping forward. She stood over Squall and Nida, terrible and powerful. "Why are you laughing?"

Nida gripped Squall's arms, and rose to a sitting position. "Because she hasn't judged yet."

Tevedes narrowed her colourless eyes, then realized what Nida was saying. "No."

"She fucked you over, Tevedes." Nida smiled harshly as the wings on Tevedes's back began to solidify, and turn to white marble. Tevedes parted her lips in absolute shock as her body began to petrify. "And, without Inaudax power to call her again, you'll be trapped for eternity in her Judgement for you."

Tevedes glared down hatefully at them, and that was the expression her face was frozen in. Squall's arms shook around Nida's slumped frame as they stared up at the statue of Tevedes. Nida pulled away from Squall, and stood up, looking at her. "All the power is together, and trapped. Iudicium... thank you..." He touched the stone wings on Tevedes's back.

"Nida...." Squall had to use the throne to help himself to his feet. He cast Curaga on himself, and his muddled feelings vanished. "I'm so fucking sorry.... This is all my fault."

Nida went over to Squall, seeing that he was still having trouble holding himself up. He wrapped his arm around Squall's waist. "It's okay. I wish you hadn't, though."

"Squall!!" A voice echoed into the Temple. It sounded like it was coming from outside.

"In here!" Nida answered.

Seifer, Zell and Rinoa came running into the temple, gasping at what they saw. "What happened?" Seifer asked.

"How did you find the place?" Nida asked.

Rinoa's eyes were wide as she stared at the statue of Tevedes. "Is she... dead?"

"As good as dead," Nida answered.

"Rinoa remembered that Iudicium was a Queen from here, and found the location of the temple in a book in the library."

"What happened to Tevedes?" Seifer asked, touching the statue.

Nida explained everything. Squall interjected a few things, but still felt light-headed. After he'd finished, Rinoa asked "how did you know to come here?"

"The night I wrote that letter to Squall, Iudicium spoke to me, and said that Tevedes was back, and going to search for me. She was weak, but I didn't want to risk it. I didn't know what Iudicium was going to do, so I had to lock away the power for good. I wrote the letter to Squall, then went to get Kronos's powers away from Quistis." He suddenly gasped. "Is she okay?"

Zell nodded. "Yeah."

"I didn't want to hurt her...." Nida whispered sadly. "But... Iudicium was in charge. So, after I got Kronos's powers, I came here. I knew where it was because of Iudicium, and I froze myself in stone. I didn't want anyone to come here, because I was afraid that Tevedes could find out where I was..." He looked at the statue. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Squall..." Nida touched the back of his lover's head. "But, I was angry with you. I didn't know that Iudicium had decided to trap Tevedes with her greed for the power, and was afraid that Tevedes would have gained full control of the power."

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

"Do you have any powers in you now?" Zell asked, examining the statue.

Nida shook his head. "Iudicium took it all." He suddenly felt sad. "Back to boring old Nida, I guess."

"I'm so glad you're okay!" Rinoa rushed over to Nida, and hugged him tightly, giving him a sound kiss on the lips, which caused Squall to grunt.

"What about Tevedes?" Seifer asked. "Can she break this spell?"

"I don't think so. Iudicium cast the spell on herself, so only she can probably break it. She didn't want Tevedes to gain her powers. Iudicium's abilities may be terrible, but she is fair, and didn't want a repeat of when Ultimecia had gained them."

"I think we should keep a close eye on her," Seifer muttered. He couldn't feel any magic in the air whatsoever. This filled him with hope. "But, I don't feel any magic."

"Me neither." Zell smiled. "Could it really be over?"

"I hope so!" Rinoa exclaimed. "I'm sure that Edea will probably want to do a few studies on this place though." She shot a hateful look to the statue.

"We should contact Laguna," Seifer said. "He can get some guards around her to make sure nobody gets in, and we should keep on top of it in case this is all some sort of trick." He looked to Squall and Nida, who both looked like they were about to pass out. "Rinoa, you and Zell take Squall and Nida back to Ma's. I'll stay here and keep an eye on her."

"I'll stay with you," Zell murmured.

Rinoa nodded. "Come on. You guys look like Hell."

Nida nodded, and he and Squall began to follow Rinoa out of the temple. But, before he left, Nida turned around and looked at the huge stone wings that had sprouted from Tevedes's back. Even though he knew it was the right thing that Iudicium had frozen herself with Tevedes forever, a part of him missed her powers.

"Nida...?" Squall murmured, seeing Nida staring back at the statue, almost longingly.

"I guess this means I have to go back to being boring old Nida Nomura, the SeeD that everyone forgets."

"I don't think anyone will forget you anymore," Squall murmured. "And, I'm sorry that I ever did."

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