Action! ::whips the plot along::

Still don’t own them, quack quack quack

Once a Knight

Chapter 5

By Race Ulfson

The dedication ceremonies for the new Public Transportation System were exactly as boring as I feared. There was no SeeD emergency to liven it up. I stood around at the reception afterwards, drinking too much warm champagne and trying not to have my picture taken.

Hay was somehow very integral to the whole system and he was seriously networking. He played the host, plying us with refreshments. When he could spare the time from basking and preening.

Rinoa saved me yet again by clutching my arm suddenly. “Squall? Can you take me home? I don’t feel well…”

Hay materialized by her side. “What’s wrong, Darling? Too much sun?”

“Probably,” Rinoa said, but her eyes looked funny to me. She sagged in my arms.

“Help me with her,” Hay ordered, taking most of Rinoa’s weight away from me.

I nodded. I wasn’t feeling too good myself. We made it away from the crowds and were heading for the VIP parking when the ground suddenly tilted. “I need Esuna,” I said, and collapsed.

My first thought, when I woke up, was that I hoped I hadn’t embarrassed Squall and Hay. Champagne doesn’t usually hit me that hard, although I don’t usually drink so much, either. I don’t really like champagne; it’s not sweet enough. Hay loves it. I think he thinks it’s more high class than beer or wine.

So I drank a lot of toasts with Hay and to Hay from other people. I was so nervous, I was afraid Hay would announce our engagement and I wasn’t sure how Daddy would take it. I should have known Hay wouldn’t do that to me. He’d have to share the limelight.

Anyway, I thought, it must have been nerves and the sun and all that champagne that made me feel so odd at the reception. I remembered that, you see, but I had no idea how I came to be lying down so I assumed I must have been very drunk and that’s why I was worried about Squall and Hay.

I made myself open my eyes, to see if anyone was nearby I could beg for a cup of tea. I wasn’t in my room at all! The place was more like a janitor’s office, with ducts and pipes and ugly wires. And I was on the dirty floor in my new dress!

I sat up and looked around. I saw Squall right away, trapped in some sort of horrible tank, floating in green liquid. He had some sort of breathing mask on, thank Hyne, but the tank was so small he could barely move.

Even so, I could tell he was trying to tell me something. I got to my feet and struggled over to hunt for the controls to the thing. I wished Selphie were there. She’s much better at mechanical things than I am.

“Step away from the tank, Rinoa.”

“Hay! Thank Hyne you’re here. Squall’s in…” I pointed to the tank as I turned to Hay. He was pointing a gun at me. I hate that. “Hay? What are you doing?”

“Adapting, Darling. The most adaptable creature is the most successful.” He smiled at me. “I intend to be very successful.”

I hoped Squall didn’t think I was part of this or that I’d lured him here and tricked him. I put on my best dealing with little kids voice. “Why is Squall in the tank, Hay?”

“It was supposed to be you. I had a little agreement with Odine to supply a sorceress for a moderate fee. But then your Knight showed up, and I was forced to change my plan.”

Squall was pounding on the glass, trying to break free. Poor dear, he couldn’t get much force behind the blows. He finally quit, which surprised me. Stubbornness always was one of his virtues.

“You were going to sell me? To Odine?!” I put my hands on my hips. “Don’t you think my father would have noticed?!” I know I should have been more devastated and betrayed, but I was too offended and angry.

Hay just shrugged. “Odine provided the chamber. It detaches for shipping, very neat.”

I was trying to watch Squall out of the corner of my eye, not an easy thing to do when you’re talking to a crazy person. Squall had gotten his hands over his head and was doing something to the tubes coming down from the ceiling of the tank. He was trying to pull the breather mask off, pulling tubes out of his throat like pulling yarn out of a kitten’s mouth.

I shuddered. I hoped Hay would think it was fear or something, although I don’t shake when I’m scared. Much. Squall was going to drown, there was no way he could get that breather back in. Think Rinoa, think! But I couldn’t. So I just kept talking, hoping Squall had an idea and trying to give him time to make it work.

“But you changed your mind?” I hated that I sounded so hopeful. Bastard. I almost married him!

“Everyone knows it’s a bad sign when a Sorceress and her Knight get together. I decided I would tragically be forced to kill you both, to save Deling City.” Hay gestured with the gun as he talked. Irvine once told me that was the mark of an amateur. Professionals are rock steady. I wondered if I could wrestle the gun away from him. “Not as much money, but you can’t buy publicity like that. It should guarantee me the election, anyway.”

The tank frosted up around Squall suddenly.  I gulped, hoping he hadn’t made himself into a Popsicle.

Hay continued, “I didn’t realize who your Knight was, at first. Then it clicked. He’s the son of the richest, most powerful man in the world! I can name my price!”

The tank suddenly flared red and the liquid roiled. Tiny cracks ran through the glass. I prayed Squall hadn’t poached himself. When the thumping started again, I knew he was all right.

The flashes caught Hay’s attention, too. He turned with a frown to Squall and the tank, and I rushed him, trying to grab the gun. We struggled for what seemed like forever, before Hay threw me off and into the wall. I leaned against the rough concrete, trying to get my breath and balance back.

The pounding seemed weaker. How long had Squall gone without air?

“I regret,” Hay said, “your father won’t be able to meet my price.” Then he shot me.

Rinoa, I thought, as I slid down the wall, are you going to be a victim your entire life?

“Angelo strike,” I whispered through the blood.

The glass had cracked as planned but I still couldn’t get enough force to shatter it. The slush from the first Blizzarga protected me from the full heat of the Firaga but it was still slowly cooking me, and I was starting to get blurry from lack of air.

Then Angelo crashed into the side of the tank, and we both fell into the room in a rush of glass and hot viscous green slime. I landed on my hands and knees, coughing up green crap and sucking in air.

“Imbecile!” Odine shrieked, suddenly appearing behind Hay. “It waz ze Sorceress who went in ze containment tube!”

“She has no powers!” Hay sneered. He pointed the gun at me.

Rinoa had some. “Angelo rush,” she wheezed. The elderly dog gave it his all, crashing into Hay and sending his shot wild.

I summoned Shiva. Odine had a Firaga waiting and it hit us both. Shiva faded, too injured to be any help. I got to my feet; glad to see Angelo dragging himself over to Rinoa. I turned my back on the sparkles of the healing spell he was casting on his mistress. I turned to Odine, first.

Odine’s eyes widened. “No, Fool! Do not shoot him!”

I paused and looked at Hayward Brock, who was wild eyed with fear and pain from the broken bones Angelo had left him. I spread my hands, giving him a target.

He took his best shot.

The multicolored rush of Renzokuken took over from there. I was left standing in the red remains of Odine and Hayward. Feathers snowed gently around me, as Rinoa tried again and again to resurrect her oldest friend. I went to her side, and when the feather storm became a blizzard, I pulled her away from Angelo’s body. Since there was nothing I could say, I stayed silent, and held her against my chest as she wept.

I was still holding her later, after we made love. I watched her sleep and thought about love and dreams. About devotion and duty. About Sorceresses and Knights.

I found it was easy to forgive Laguna for leaving Raine  - and me – in his desperate search for Ellone.

I thought about Seifer, and all he’d given up for his Sorceress and his dream.

I knew what I had to do.

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