By Scarlet Fever
"Adel's grave?" Ellone asked hollowly. She bent at the waist to get a closer look at the name. A chill passed down her back, and it wasn't because of the cool Trabia air. "Do you think it's a coincidence...?" Ellone wanted to reach out and touch the tombstone, to make sure that it was real, but the bird made her hold back.
The raven was just sitting there, not moving. It was staring at them with its one eye, its expression as blank as if it were dead.
"It's the same raven that I saw..." Squall whispered. "When Zell was attacked."
Seifer nodded. "I saw him in a vision of Lillith. Perched on her shoulder...."
Zell shook his head. "Do you think he's real?"
The raven cocked his head, a jerky bird motion. It then cawed at them, fluffing its feathers a bit. The noise caused all four of them to jump.
"Maybe Odine will know if this is the real Adel..." Squall trailed off. He then looked at Ellone. "Can you remember if this was Adel's last name?"
Ellone paused, closing her eyes in thought. She tried to think of the things she'd seen when she'd been fusing Ultimecia and Adel for Time Compression. Adel's frightened icy eyes as she heard a foreign voice in her mind, its broken glass accent cutting through more than just Adel's mind. Ellone could see the pollution that followed Ultimecia's visits, could see Adel's transformation from the mild-mannered woman she'd once been, the loving mother, to the horrible creature that the world knew her as. Ellone saw the frightened look in the eyes of her small children when they beheld what their mother had transformed into. Large eyes, icy and full of fright, just as Adel's own had been.
She sighed deeply. "No... I can't see...."
"You wish to know if this is the grave of the tyrant, Adel?"
Squall narrowed his eyes, looking at Ellone. "What did you say?"
The brunette shook her head, her dark eyes wide. "I didn't say anything." She wrapped her arms around her slender torso, her flesh shivering. "Come on, guys," She gave Seifer and Zell accusing looks. "It's not funny."
Seifer scowled at her. "I didn't do anything! It was a woman's voice!"
Zell's eyes were wide as he looked at Ellone. It caused a deeper shiver to pass over her body, and she wasn't exactly sure why.
"Well, then, who said it?"
"There is no body in this grave."
All four of them turned. It was the raven that was speaking. It looked sort of bastardized for it to talk, because it didn't have lips to form words. Its beak moved as it spoke, like it was on hinges.
"What the fuck...?" Squall whispered, narrowing his eyes at the bird. He was afraid that he was the only one seeing this.
"Lillith..." Seifer whispered.
"Very good, Seifer... Very good. Adel is not buried here."
"Then... Why is there a headstone?" Zell asked, wanting to poke the animal to make sure it was real.
"This is where the true Adel is buried. Before Xerampelinae poisoned her mind, she was a totally different person. This is where the true Adel Viator is buried. Her husband laid her to rest here, to give a pleasant memory to their small children." The raven cocked its head. "You are looking for me, Seifer."
"Yes," He answered, not believing that he was actually talking to a raven, and that it was talking back. "Why are you talking through a bird."
"I'm talking through Hyperion because I was already away from the Dead world recently. I'm weak away from here." The raven moved on the spot, as if adjusting its weight.
"Hyperion...?" Squall asked distantly.
"Yes, Hyperion is my familiar."
Seifer narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to speak.
"And, yes, I know that that's what you named your gunblade. It's not surprising. Xera had a pet Tomara, and named it Hyperion. I suppose it sort of runs in the Almasy family." The raven spread its wings, then settled back again. "Why do you wish to bring up the past?"
"I have to know..." Seifer whispered.
"Even if the price is your own sanity?" The bird asked, Lillith's voice grave through Hyperion's beak.
"What does that mean?"
"It's not going to be a pleasant walk down memory lane, Seifer. Are you prepared for whatever you'll diskover?"
Squall's eyes became dangerous slits when he heard the all too familiar voice inflection. "You sound like Ultimecia..."
"It's natural. She raised me. Besides, that's the accent for the city of Trabia."
"Ignus?" Zell asked.
"So, you've been going through old history books..." The bird laughed. Lillith's laugh sounded like a distant cackle, suiting the messenger. "If you really must talk to me, you kan do it on the Dead Plane."
"And, that would be where?" Squall asked.
"Oh, if I tell you, it won't be as fun. You have to earn it."
Seifer narrowed his eyes, his face slightly flushing with anger. "Just tell us, Lillith!"
The raven laughed again, but it was much more malicious. "You're in no position to order me, little brother. If you so wish to share kouncil with me, find the man that has been stripped of the one thing that was truly his. I'll greet you there."
"Why all these riddles?" Zell asked.
"The living are not to know the realm of the dead until I come to embrace them into it. But, if you should stumble across it... Well, I'll talk with you. Good luck, brother dear." The raven cawed, animal once more. Hyperion flapped its wings in place, then rose into the sky. The large wingspan carried it quickly away. It flew much faster than any normal bird.
They all stood in silence for a while. Ellone turned to look at the three men. "Okay, I wasn't just imagining things, right?"
"I hope not, because then I was imagining it, too, Sis," Squall muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.
"What now?" Zell whispered, placing an open palm on Seifer's back, his fingers gently tracing small circles.
Seifer shook his head, resting his cheek on the top of Zell's head. "I don't know. I mean..." He trailed off, staring into the blue sky, where Hyperion had long disappeared to. "The man that has been stripped of the one thing that was truly his?!" He sighed deeply. "How the fuck will we find him? There are millions of people in the world..."
Squall thought for a moment, trying to think of an upside. He sighed. "We'll think of something..." His hand joined Zell's on Seifer's back, his fingers looping with the small brunette.
Zell looked over at Squall behind Seifer's back. He and Squall met gazes. Zell didn't really know what to say to his friend, so he looked at him with confused curiosity.
Ellone turned, her shawl flapping around her arms from the cool wind. She saw a small figure running towards them. She was wearing dark pants and a long orange coat that was flapping behind her. Selphie bound down the hill, her arms flailing as she waved, and tried to keep her balance as she descended down the steep slope. There was a second figure behind her, in a familiar cowboy garb.
"I can't believe you didn't stop by the Garden first!" Selphie huffed as she stepped into the crumbling graveyard, slightly out of breath from her trip down the hill. She placed her hands on her hips, more of a teasing gesture than anything else. "Oh, wow..." She looked around.
"I didn't know this was here!" Irvine exclaimed. "And, we come out here all the time."
Selphie frowned. "It's not like we're looking at anything, Irvine..." She made a face. "Except each other's naked, sweaty bodies."
"Okay, okay..." Squall cut the air with his hands, a slightly disgusted look on his pretty face. "Don't talk about that."
Selphie looked at the grave they were all standing in front of as Irvine greeted Ellone.
"Hello, Ellone..." He kissed her gloved hand. "You're more and more lovely every time I see you. You must have guys trying to screw you all the time."
Ellone giggled slightly, her cheeks staining pink.
"Adel Viator," Selphie whispered as she read it. "Irvine, stop hitting on Sis." She did a huge double take when the name registered. "Adel Viator? The Adel?" Selphie's voice was a screech. "As in Sorceress Adel, big ugly butch thing?! That Adel?"
Seifer rolled his eyes. "Yes, that Adel."
"But, she didn't die here..." Irvine muttered, tracing the stone with his hand.
"It's the memory of the original Adel that's buried here." Zell's voice sounded distant, almost wistful. "Not her body."
Selphie nodded, but her face showed anything but agreement. It was total confusion. "How do you know that?"
"A little birdie told us," Squall quipped, his voice dark with amusement.
Seifer groaned. "Cute, Squall."
"What did we miss?" Irvine asked, his brow knitted in the same confusion that was all over Selphie's face.
Seifer waved his hands. "That doesn't matter..." He sighed. "You didn't have to come all the way from the Garden to see us..."
"Yes we did!" Selphie exclaimed. "It's been a while!" She jumped up and down, and caught Squall in a tight hug. Squall gasped. Selphie was a lot stronger than she looked.
"How are you?" Irvine asked quietly to Seifer, kissing his former roommate on the cheek. His periwinkle eyes showed deep, meaningful concern.
"I'm fine..." Seifer muttered, his eyes dark. "How are you?" He cast a look to Selphie, who now had Zell in her octopus grip, chattering about something.
Irvine tipped his hat. "Can't complain."
Squall rolled his eyes. "I'm sure you can't. You're just dying to jump up and down to say I get pussy whenever I want it." Squall did a stupid, mocking dance.
"Well, if it isn't the mad, fat girlfriend beater." Irvine clapped Squall on the back, laughing at his stoic friend.
Squall shook his head slightly. "How long have you been waiting to use that one?"
"Long enough." Irvine winked, nudging Squall in the ribs with his elbow.
Zell had finally disentangled himself from Selphie's grip. "Hey, Irvine..." He noticed the scowl on Squall's face. "What did you say to him?"
"Oh, don't mind the bitchslapper. He always looks like that."
Squall bit his lip to repress a groan. "You're such a slut."
Irvine just laughed.
Selphie shivered. "It's cold out here. Are you guys almost done?"
Squall cocked his head. "How did you know we were out here?"
Selphie smiled brightly. "Quistis called the Garden because Zell called to give the Trabia Faculty the head up that you guys would be around. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to see my dearest friends." She patted Squall's chest and smiled sincerely.
Seifer looked around the graveyard. "An entire city... Just gone...."
Zell wrapped his arms around his lover's waist from behind. "Don't worry. We'll find some answers."
"And, if we don't?" Seifer asked. "I guess I can live without knowing."
Zell pressed his cheek to the spot in Seifer's back between his shoulder blades. "We'll find Lillith. And," He turned the taller blonde around, looking up into Seifer's conflicted aquatic eyes. "Maybe Odine will know something about Adel Viator, before she was just Adel."
Seifer smiled down at Zell. "Thanks, angel."
Zell blushed at the pet name. He hugged Seifer tighter, standing on his tiptoes to kiss his much taller lover.
"Awwww!!" Selphie exclaimed, clapping her hands. She noticed the camera that Zell had been using, resting on one of the tombstones. She quickly grabbed it, and took a picture of Seifer and Zell kissing. "You two are just too cute!" She looked at Squall. "Right, Squall?!"
He just nodded distantly. He was watching the display as much as Selphie was, but not with the same sort of happy enthusiasm. It was more like distant loneliness. He watched as they gently kissed, sharing so much more than lip to lip contact. He wanted that. Squall would probably never admit to anyone that he was lonely, but he was. He wanted human contact. Maybe Rinoa hadn't been right for him, but she'd given him a closeness, a level of companionship that he'd never experienced. He wanted to feel it again. Did he want to experience it with either Seifer or Zell? He wasn't sure.
Seifer pulled away, sighing in frustration. It wasn't a very heavy sigh, but a breath across Zell's moist lips. "I guess we should go back."
Zell nodded. "We'll find Lillith."
Seifer nodded in return, but didn't feel as sure as Zell seemed. As they followed Selphie and Irvine back up the hill, Seifer passed Adel's tombstone, barely running his fingers over the crumbling stone edges. As soon as his fingertips touched it, a chill passed over his flesh, and something curled in his stomach, like a giant worm had burrowed into his body, and curled in its hibernation. It was a tight feeling, like someone was plucking at unseen strings in his body. Where was it coming from? Seifer touched Adel's headstone further, and the feeling throbbed dully, and then, disappeared. He thought it would have gotten stronger.
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Zell whispered, touching Seifer's shoulder. As soon as he touched Seifer, Zell slowly recoiled his hand, like Seifer's skin was on fire. There was some sort of feeling that passed through Zell's body, and he didn't really like it. It was familiar, but not pleasant. He reached out to touch Seifer again as his lover took his hands away from Adel's grave. The feeling was non-existent. Zell wondered what it was.
"I don't know..." Seifer whispered. He laughed quietly. "Must just be my disappointment, mixed with an overactive imagination." He looked at Zell with bland eyes. "Come on. I'm sure Selphie wants to talk our ears off."
Zell nodded, smiling. As he followed Seifer away from the old graveyard, he himself touched Adel's headstone. Something curled in him, but it was a different feeling than he'd experienced when he'd touched Seifer's shoulder. It was almost warm. There was still something sharp, dark and unfriendly about it, but it was strangely comforting, like the blackness that was Adel was a harsh covering over something warmer? The original Adel? Zell didn't know. He felt something in his stomach, like it was alive, almost like a parasite. It was slightly painful, like this unseen, imaginary animal in his chest cavity was sticking its talons into his organs, but that warm underlying feeling was making Zell curious, and he felt a slight longing in his chest. After a few moments, he snatched his hand away, bringing it to his muscular chest and as far away from that headstone as he could.
Zell shook his head, jogging a few steps to catch up with Seifer. He looped his arm with his lover's, the bitter curling feeling replaced with a warm wash of love and affection. He sighed, resting his head against Seifer's broad shoulder, casting a brief glance to Adel's tombstone before leaving the ancient burial ground.
Fujin closed her good eye, her blank eye seeming to burn behind the familiar fabric of her eyepatch. A headache was shooting across her face, behind her eyes. It made her head feel like a bowling ball on her shoulders, and like it was floating away on a distant, hot sea at the same time. She placed pale fingers to her equally pale forehead, vainly trying to press the pain away.
She'd been feeling ill since just before the retirement party at Balamb Garden. Raijin had shown concern about her, and although she appreciated it, she was sort of annoyed because she could take care of herself. Even now, she still felt like she had to prove that she could take care of herself, that she didn't need Raijin to protect her.
She was going over some forms that had piled up when she'd been in Balamb, and the words were starting to go blurry. She slumped back in the chair, hoping it would pass quickly. She felt a little hungry, but the thought of any food put Fujin's stomach in knots, and she felt like she was going to vomit at any moment, even at the thought of her favourite foods. As the wave of discomfort behind her eyes subsided, it moved down to her abdomen, and she felt bile rise to her throat.
"FUCK," she muttered, pushing her chair away from the desk. Her shaking hands disrupted some papers as she tried to use the desk as leverage to pull herself to her feet. Her legs felt a bit wobbly to her, and she found it to be a miracle that she even made it to the bathroom in her office. Fujin slid to her knees in front of the toilet, and wretched up the contents of her stomach. The vomit burned her throat, and made her mouth taste like disgusting, burning acid. When she pulled away from the toilet, flushing it, white stars were mingling with her vision.
"I must have come down with something really nasty...." She muttered, closing her eyes. She pressed her feverish cheek to the cool floor of the bathroom. It felt nice. She would just let her body rest for a couple of minutes. It would pass by then.
She slowly opened her eyes. The small rest hadn't helped. She was still dizzy. But, at least she didn't feel hot anymore.
"I've been looking everywhere!" Raijin kneeled beside his wife, stroking her back. "Are you alright?"
She briefly looked into Raijin's onyx eyes, which were awash with concern. But, she felt another wave of dizziness come over her, and her stomach began to flip flop in her body. She moaned gutturally, crawling to her knees, heaving into the toilet.
Raijin held her silver hair off her face, stroking her back. "You're still sick?" He whispered. "I'm going to call the doctor, ya know?!"
Fujin shook her head when she had emptied her stomach once more. "No, I'll be fine. I just need to rest..." She sighed. "Can I have a drink of water?"
"Of course..." He stood, and Fujin heard the tap running. When he handed her the cup of cold water, she drank it greedily, washing away the puke from her mouth and throat. She tried to stand, but her knees felt like they were made of jelly.
"What's wrong?" Raijin asked weakly. He sat on the ground beside her, stroking her face and back with his big, strong hands. He cupped her pale face with his palms. Her already snowy flesh had taken on a greenish tinge. "Fujin...."
"I don't feel well...." She sighed, her body slumping to the ground once more. "I'm sure it's just some sort of bug."
"You look terrible..." He lay on the ground behind her, cradling her now slightly shivering body against his own.
She immediately felt warmer with Raijin's body heat to rely on. Her stomach still felt a little queasy, but she felt better than she had only moments ago. "I'll be fine in a couple of days..." Fujin knew that her voice sounded weak. "I just need to rest."
"I'd still feel better if you went to a doctor..." Raijin muttered stubbornly, his breath stirring tendrils of Fujin's silver hair.
She sighed deeply. "Fine. If I'm not better in a week, I'll go to the stupid doctor."
Raijin's arms tightened around Fujin, and she knew that he was smiling, yet still concerned about her.
"I love ya, ya know?!" He whispered, running his fingers through her hair.
Normally, she would have complained about him treating her like an invalid, but she was too tired for that, and she really did appreciate the concern that her husband was showing for her. "I know. I love you, too...." She closed her eyes again, the cool surface of the bathroom floor mingling with the warmth of Raijin's body. It lulled her into a calm world that claimed her in sleep.
"What does it mean?" Squall asked, more to himself than to Seifer or Zell. They were all in Seifer and Zell's room. They had gotten back from Trabia an hour earlier after having a long lunch with Selphie and Irvine. They'd invited both to Esthar to hang out when they got some free time.
Squall was pacing at the end of the bed. Seifer and Zell were seated on the mattress. Zell had some of the books from the Palace Library spread in front of him.
"Okay, what can a man lose? What can he lose that's truly his own?" Squall muttered. As he paced, he was tossing a squishy stress ball up and down, catching it in open palms.
"His soul?" Seifer offered.
Zell furrowed his brow as he read some of the old Trabian information.
"A man with no soul? Where would we find him?"
"Wait, wait..." Seifer held up his hands. Squall stopped pacing, and rested his chin on the crown of Zell's head.
"What?" Squall asked. Zell still poured over the pages.
"How in the Hell would the entrance to the realm of the Dead be a person? It must be a place."
"Would it be a church of some sort?" Squall asked distantly.
"Hey!" Zell exclaimed. "I think I found something."
"What, about Lillith?" Seifer asked.
"What...?" Squall whispered, looping his arms over Zell's shoulders, peering at the book in Zell's lap.
"No... About Ultimecia."
"Huh?" Squall frowned. "But, she's from the future. Why would she be in a History book?"
"It says in this legend that when Inandantia was called, Intervigilium saved herself by cleaving time. She was the daughter of a Dollet merchant, leaving the Empire so she could pursue a land without persecution for her following of the God, Iudicium."
"Yeah, so...?" Seifer began to ask, but then, something hit him. "Intervigilium was the Queen of a tribe of Sorcerers and Sorceresses. She cleaved time to save herself."
"Ultimecia was Intervigilium. She was originally from over 4,000 years ago!" Squall breathed. "We thought she was from the future because that's where she sent herself." Squall thought for a moment, his fingers unwittingly running over Zell's chest like insect legs. "So, would she have tried to achieve Time Compression because she wanted the time she sent herself to and the time she existed in to become one?"
Zell raised his eyebrows. "That actually makes a lot of sense."
"Maybe that's why she went after Adel and Xerampelinae in the first place. They were Sorceresses, but they were also descendants of her people, of the Inaudax."
"I wonder if Adel and Xerampelinae were blood relatives, ancient grandchildren?"
Seifer's face darkened. "If that's the case, then I'm related to Ultimecia."
Zell patted Seifer's leg. "You're name isn't Ultimecia. It's Seifer Almasy."
Seifer smiled at his lover. "Thanks, baby..." He leaned across the mattress, kissing Zell's lips, running his tongue over the small martial artist's sharp canines.
Squall became distant again. But, this time, it wasn't because of Seifer and Zell's kissing. Sure, that same empty curl invaded his chest, and part of him wanted to jump on the bed and rip at the two blonde men's clothing, but his mind was distancing itself, going over past information. If the opening to the Dead Realm was a place, and it had to do with someone losing something that was solely theirs...
You're name isn't Ultimecia. It's Seifer Almasy...
Squall gasped in slight realization, pulling away from Zell, which caused the tattooed blonde's mouth to fall off Seifer's.
"What is it?" Seifer asked, his aquatic blue eyes rising to Squall's face, which was a blank mask.
"Know what?" Zell asked, utterly perplexed.
"I know where to find Lillith..."
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