Notes: Okay, you guys are probably thinking I'm an idiot. Yes there is a reason Kage is referred to as both a he and a she. It'll be explained later, but if it's really bugging you, just email me and I'll be happy to explain it. ^-^

Uhhh.. are Irvine's eyes green? I keep thinking they are, but when I look at his pics they sometimes look blue... >.<

Warnings: uhh... None. I think.

Slipping Away

Chapter Four

By Sniffles

"Ah, you've returned. So. Is he dead?"

The shadowy figure moved hesitantly into the light so she could see him. "No." He said hesitantly, anticipating her wrath.

"WHAT?" She screeched, her rage swift.

Kage sighed, lowering his eyes. "The knight intercepted me and I was unable to retain solid form long enough to get to Loire."

"You are so weak." The sorceress snapped, slumping in her throne. "So weak." She repeated bitterly.

"I shall try again milady."

"You do that. And do not fail me again." She hissed.

He bowed, then moved back into the shadows. Almost immediately he was gone, becoming one with the darkness.


"He hates me." Laguna sat at the table he'd made into his desk, slumped over, his forehead touching the wood of the table. He was supposed to be doing business, but he couldn't concentrate. All he could see was Squall's cold expression. His ears rang with the sound of Squall's voice. "He really hates me."

"Give him some time Laguna." Kiros said gently, placing his hand on his friend's shoulder.

"He'll still hate me."

"..." Ward moved quietly, Kiros might not have noticed him entering the room if it wasn't for the fact that they were best friends and Kiros just 'knew' when Ward was near.

He looked up, "Yes Ward?"

Ward had learnt long ago to speak with his hands since he couldn't speak with his mouth. The signals he made only Laguna and Kiros understood, but it was enough. He was never far from them. He signed to Kiros, his eyes on Laguna. He was worried about his friend.

"He what?" Kiros frowned. He moved away from Laguna, "I'll be back in a moment Laguna."

Laguna waved his hand to let Kiros know he'd heard, but he didn't move otherwise. He was too heartbroken to even try.

"Almasy," Kiros stopped just outside the door, "What are you still doing here?"

Seifer had a thin cigarette between his lips. He was leaning against the wall. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his pants. He glanced up as Kiros spoke. "We've got problems chief."

Kiros' eyes narrowed at that, "What do you mean?" he glanced up the hall. No one was in sight.

"I think," Seifer paused to suck on the cigarette. The sweet nicotine filled his lungs and he felt a little better. "You and the writer need to get your asses out of this place."

Kiros nearly snorted at this, but he remembered that being a sophisticated, mature adult meant he couldn't make such a childish sound. Instead he raised his eyebrow.

Seifer snarled, "You think I'm nuts." He plucked the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it carelessly on the floor. Moving stiffly he pushed himself away from the wall and walked over to Kiros. He leaned close, smirking when Kiros stood his ground. "This place is full of evil. Can't you smell it? Feel it in the air? You guys need to leave." He moved away, shoving his hands back into his pockets he started walking away.

"Oh and chief?" Seifer didn't look back as he spoke, "If you don't leave, don't come crying to me when she is knocking at your door."

"Hey, Dincht. Have you seen Leonhart?"

Zell looked up and smiled easily at Irvine. He shrugged, "I don't normally pay attention to what Leonhart's doing... why?"

Irvine sighed, running a hand through his hair. "No big thing. Just... uh, if you see him .. no. Nevermind. Thanks Dincht." He waved his hand and walked away, shoulders slumping. /Dammit.. where'd he go? I've looked everywhere. It's like he just disappeared./

The smell was strong, unmistakable. She moved further back into the shadows, gaze locked on the tall, thin form sauntering across the hall. This boy, whoever he was, was a companion of the Lion's. Her lip curled up in a sneer as she followed the boy down the hall. /Foolish to run into a Lion's den without first establishing a proper escape route./ The sneer shifted to a satisfied smirk, /And I think I just found mine./

"Kinneas?" Irvine looked up at the sweet, hesitant voice. His lips tilted in a smooth smile as he noticed the pretty young lady walking towards him.

"Hullo there." He drawled.

"Hi." She said shyly, moving close until they were almost toe to toe. "I.. I've seen you around.. with Leonhart? Are you two friends?"

"Well yeah, why do you ask?" Irvine asked, wondering for a moment if she didn't have a crush on Leonhart.

"Wonderful." Those strange, sea green eyes flickered with an emotion Irvine wasn't sure he liked. "You see, I am known as Kage, and I desperately need your help."

"Something's... wrong." Laguna whispered, raising his head slowly and placing his palms against his desk as if he was trying to steady himself.

Kiros, who was just entering the room, paused and looked around. He too could feel.. something. He just wasn't sure what it was. "Sir?"

"Something's really wrong." Laguna stood slowly, he was visibly trembling.

The air felt thick, it smelt like sulfur. Suffocating. Laguna stumbled around the desk, "We have to find Squall." He said, gasping for air as a strange terror gripped his heart. "We have to find him now!"

"Shit." Seifer stopped walking, glancing back at the Garden. He dug his heel into the ground and stamped his foot with a curse. "What the hell..." Rolling his eyes skyward, he wondered if he wasn't a little insane as he turned and started walking back towards the Garden.

"Don't know what the hell is wrong with me." He grumbled as he walked, "Seifer Almasy, world class fucking hero. Gonna' save the day and get his sorry ass royally kicked."

/You better not be dead when I get there Leonhart./ Seifer shoved his hands into his pockets. There was a strange thickness in the air around the Garden. Seifer knew he was one of only a few people who could see it. He knew with a certainty he was the only one seeing it who knew what it was. Someone inside the Garden was practicing black magic. And from the looks of the air, it was one nasty spell.

Kage closed her eyes, breathing a sigh. It was done. She couldn't surpress the smile that tilted her lips. There was only one thing left to do... She moved toward Irvine's slumped form. The cowboy's eyes were open, but his gaze was glazed and unseeing. He was lost somewhere deep within himself. He lay in an unnatural position on the bed where she'd thrown him, he was naked. She'd ripped off all his clothes. It was the only way she could make her magic work.

She crawled onto the bed beside him and placed her hands on his chest. Sparks flew as their skin touched. She made a contended purring sound as she pressed harder against his chest. Slowly his body began to glow, as did hers. She gasped, this time in pain as her soul began to move. Out of her body, into his.

His eyes flickered, changing color as she entered his body. Green depths faded into an odd golden brown. Then Kage was fully inside of him, and the body he'd been occupying moments earlier slumped lifelessly to the bed.

He smiled, trying out the lips of his new body. They moved easily, tilting strangely in a roguish smirk. He pushed his previous body off of himself and sat up. This body was leaner, and stronger. He flexed his hands, clenching them into fists, then opening them again. It felt good.

He moved off the bed and stood, stretching his arms high over his head. Then he lowered his arms and started to dress himself. He began to hum as he dressed, golden eyes twinkling with amusement at some private joke only he was privvy too.

Squall turned, looking back. He felt as if eyes were watching him. He frowned, squinting into the shadows. But there was hardly enough room for anyone to be hidden by the shadows. He turned away and starting walking again, then stopped. Slowly he turned.

Standing by the wall, shadows covering most of his face, Irvine stood. His shoulders slumped, hands hanging limply by his sides. All Squall could see of Irvine's face was a strange, unfamiliar cocky smirk on Irvine's lips. Slowly Irvine raised his head, the smirk growing.

/Seifer.../ Squall shook his head, for a moment Irvine had looked a little like.. Seifer? That smirk... it was an expression Squall was used to seeing on Seifer's face. "Kinneas." He said carefully, watching Irvine warily.

Irvine moved towards Squall, staying near to the wall so that his face was constantly touched by the shadows. "I've been looking for you." It was Irvine's voice, but it was a tone Squall had never heard Irvine use before.

"What do you want?" Squall's hand moved to his side where his gunblade rested patiently in it's sheath.

"I was worried about you. Meeting your father must have been terribly ... stressful for you."

Squall stepped back as Irvine moved closer, "Don't come any closer." He ordered.

Immediately Irvine stopped moving, "I just want to help Squall."

Squall studied Irvine for a long moment, then he shook his head and started to walk away, unwisely turning his back to Irvine. Even if Irvine was acting weird, he had no real reason to distrust him. "Then leave me alon-" His words were cut short as something hard hit him in the back of the head.

"There's no one at Squall's room." Laguna said, looking around anxiously.

"He might be at his friend's quarters." Kiros suggested quietly.

"Kinneas?" Laguna nodded, "Yeah. Let's try there."

Kiros followed Laguna, he was disturbed by the strange... 'thing' that had happened earlier, but the feeling that something wrong was happening, and the tension in the air had eased in the last fifteen minutes as they searched for Squall. He was beginning to wonder if the weird incident hadn't just been a result of fatigue.

The door to Kinneas' room was open. Laguna glanced at Kiros, then knocked lightly as he poked his head into the room. There was a pretty young girl lying on the bed. Laguna gasped, rushing into the room. "Hey! Miss? You all right?" He reached down and lightly shook her shoulder.

Her eyes fluttered open. "Wh-who?" Upon closer inspection Laguna realized she wasn't hurt, just sleeping.

"I'm Laguna Loire, we're.. looking for Kinneas. Is he around?" Laguna asked, feeling a little foolish as he stepped back.

The girl sat up slowly. She held her hands out and looked at them, then ran a hand over her face. She looked around, "Kin.. Kinneas?" She repeated numbly. "Who is that?" She blinked and slid her legs off the bed. "Look, my name is Selphie Tilmett. The last thing I remember I was.. in the library reading when this ... I don't know how to describe but... where am I? How did I get here? Why do I feel so strange?" Now that the girl was recovering from her 'nap' she was full of questions.

Questions Laguna had no idea how to answer.

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