By Scarlet Fever
Rinoa jumped as the house creaked again. It had been a long time since she'd last lived in her father's house, so she had to get used to the natural noises the house made as it settled. She was sitting in her father's study. He was at some sort of meeting. After the Edea and Ultimecia situations, General Caraway had been restored to his rank. Rinoa found that things weren't as bad as she remembered. The subject of Timber's independence was still sore with Rinoa and her father, but when he'd invaded Timber with Galbadian forces, it hadn't really been his decision. Ultimecia's reign had taught Rinoa that people didn't always have choices. Rinoa herself hadn't had a choice when she'd released the seal on Adel's tomb, Edea hadn't had a choice when she took over the Galbadian army, when she killed President Deling. Seifer hadn't had a choice when Ultimecia had mind raped him, made him do terrible things to Squall, Zell and the others. And, Rinoa's father hadn't had a choice in his actions.
Now, she was reading a book, almost praying that her father would get home soon. She knew it was silly to be afraid, but she was. The house was big and empty, and Deling was a large city. Who knew what predators were lurking in the night.
The Asian girl gasped when there was a loud buzz from the intercom. It was the doorbell. Her coffee eyes went as wide as saucers. Who would be knocking? She slowly got up, reaching for the Shooting Star, which was laying on a cushion beside her on the couch. She didn't know why she'd kept the feathered projectile weapon so close to her, but now that the buzzer was echoing through the grand Caraway mansion, Rinoa was glad she'd kept it at hand. Angelo stood as she did, her puppy eyes narrowing at the possible threat.
"I'm sure it's okay, Angelo..." Rinoa whispered, patting the Border Collie on the head. Angelo whimpered, but lowered her body back down to the ground again, waiting for instructions from her Mistress.
Rinoa gripped her weapon in one hand, and slowly made her way down the hallway. As she did, she passed a portrait of her mother, Julia Heartilly. She was smiling distantly, the way most people do in paintings. Briefly, the picture seemed to flicker. There wasn't much light in the hallway apart from some scented candles that Rinoa had lit earlier, so the shadows seemed to be playing tricks on Rinoa's eyes. She looked at the painting of Julia again. Her deep brown eyes seemed to flicker to an icy, marine blue, then to a harsh yellow, slitted reptilian pupils staring harshly at Rinoa. The black gown her mother had been wearing bled to a deep, wet looking alizarin red. Blood.
Rinoa gasped, her fingers tightening around the Shooting Star. It looked like a mixture between paint and blood, dripping thickly out of the frame, making small splattering noises as the concoction fell into the carpet, and onto the floor. The sweet smile that had been on Julia's lips died, tracing into a harsh smirk, a sneering curl of lips. Julia's painting became an image that was familiar to Rinoa, but she couldn't place it. The only noise she could hear was the soft dripping of the paint. At least, Rinoa hoped it was paint, and her laboured breathing.
"Angelo...?" She whispered.
Rinoa looked up the hallway. The doorway leading to the study had been swallowed by shadow. She gasped loudly, almost screaming when the buzzer rang again.
"Angelo?? Come here, girl!" Rinoa called. Her voice was cracked and shaky, her voice sounding small and faraway.
"Angel...." Rinoa's voice was swallowed by a wind that rattled the outside of the house, and seemed to pass even through the interior. It sounded like a hollow whisper moving through the hall. It didn't really sound like a word to Rinoa, but she couldn't be sure. As the wind moved over her flesh, chilling her bare arms, it snuffed out the candles in the hall, engulfing Rinoa in total darkness.
She screamed when the candles went out. She felt goosebumps springing up all over her arms and back. She wished that Squall were there to help her. Rinoa shook her head, her eyes wide in the darkness. No, Squall wasn't there to protect her. She almost felt the sting of his slap, echoing across her cheek. She knew that Squall didn't really hate her, but the slap was a reminder that it was over, a slap to reality.
"Daddy?" She called. She wanted her father to come home from his business, and tell her that she was being foolish. She would have loved to hear a lecture from her father at that moment. In the dark, she heard the buzzer again. Someone wanted to come in. Who was it? Maybe it was help. Maybe it was her father, and he had forgotten his key. She crept along the hall, pressing her back to the wall. When she reached the door, she touched the knob, but didn't open the door.
The knob felt cool under her palm, and she could still hear the wind rattling the house. It was shaking the windows in their panes. Suddenly, the wind stopped, and Rinoa was surrounded by total darkness. She kept her hand on the doorknob, her panted, frightened breath the only sound. When the buzzer cut through the house again, Rinoa screamed again, a hoarse noise that sounded more like a hitched gasp. With her hand tightly wrapped around her weapon, she slowly opened the door. She didn't know why she was.
When she opened the door, Rinoa had to squint her eyes. Brightness assaulted her, like there was a sun directly on her doorstep. She felt drawn to the warm light, and stepped through the threshold of her door. Out of the warm light that was chasing away her goosebumps, a figure materialized. Rinoa blinked, shielding her eyes.
"I've come for what's mine...."
Rinoa's mouth hung slack in shock. She saw black, black wings, so dark out of the bright, white light. A second figure materialized, so big that it darkened the sun, and cast a shadow that was blacker than the darkness in the hallway. A hollow, horrible laugh shivered down Rinoa's spine, and harsh, red eyes glowed, boring into her soul. As Rinoa's eyes met those all red irises, bleeding down onto her with glowing crimson hatred, a scream tore through her throat that ripped her apart from the inside.
Rinoa woke with a start, gasping and screaming. When her eyes focused to her surroundings, her pants became shallow in her throat. Her head whipped to the side when she heard a low whining. A cool tongue ran over the back of their hand, and her eyes met the warm irises of Angelo.
"Hey, girl..." She whispered, her fist clutching a blanket to her chest. She gently patted Angelo's head. As she looked around the room, Rinoa's heart slowed to normal, relief washing over her. She was in her house in Deling, in her father's study, laying on the couch, her familiar flannel blanket around her body, cocooning her from the monsters under the bed, her monsters in her dreams, in her mind.
She sighed, staring up at the ceiling. What a horrible dream. She felt disturbed by the painting, the transformation of her mother's angelic face. Frowning, Rinoa stood. Angelo slowly followed her, as if she felt Rinoa's uneasiness. The Asian girl went out in the hallway, and stood directly facing the memory of her mother, her face frozen in oil strokes, happy and beautiful. Rinoa narrowed her eyes, concentrating on the picture. She conjured up the image of the painting from her nightmare, trying to peg where she'd seen it before.
"What does it mean...?" She mused, staring at her mother's painting. "Oh, Mom... I wish you were here...." She sighed, pressing her palms to the wall on either side of the painting, still in its gilded gold frame.
The yellow eyes shot through Rinoa like burning lasers, rays of sun.
"Ultimecia....?" Rinoa asked quietly. Those eyes were unforgettable. Had the painting turned into Ultimecia? Rinoa felt a wash of realization. A painting from Ultimecia's castle.
Rinoa shook her head, a silly smile turning up the corners of her lips. She felt like a total idiot. "Rinoa, you have an overactive imagination...." She closed her eyes. If her imagination was so crazy, why did she feel chills pass over her flesh?
"What do you mean?" Seifer asked, staring at Squall blankly. "You know what Lillith was talking about?"
Squall nodded, his eyes dark with thought. "It was what Zell said. 'You're name isn't Ultimecia. It's Seifer Almasy.' It made me think."
"About...?" Zell trailed off.
"What is truly yours and nobody else's?" Squall's eyes brightened. "Your name!"
"So, someone with no name?" Seifer asked.
Zell grinned, his canines flashing. "The Tomb of the Nameless King!" He got off the bed. "That has to be it! It's a tomb, a resting place for the dead, so it makes sense!"
Squall nodded. "Even if I'm wrong, it's worth a shot, right?" He asked, looking at Seifer.
Seifer nodded distantly, staring off into space. "What's going to happen when I talk with Lillith?"
"What do you mean?" Zell asked. "Hopefully, she'll tell you more about Xerampelinae..."
"But, what then? What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I mean, it will be nice to know more about my past, but I still have to deal with the fact that I'm a Sorcerer. Is finding out about Lillith and my mother really going to help me?"
Both Squall and Zell were silent for a few moments. Zell looked sadly at his lover, knowing that he was greatly conflicted. "Seifer..."
"Odine will always be able to help you control your powers, and Matron can help, too. But, I think that you'll know how not to use your power. You'll know what corruption Adel, Xerampelinae and Ultimecia went through, and you can avoid it."
"Should we go to the Tomb of the Nameless King now?" Zell looked at Squall, then Seifer again.
Squall looked at his watch, sighing and lowering his body to the mattress. He calculated the time difference in his mind. "It's about three in the morning in Galbadia. Maybe we should wait until it's daytime there. The Tomb of the Nameless King is still running over with monsters."
Seifer nodded. "We should probably talk to Odine, too. Maybe he knows something about the tomb, as well."
"Maybe he also knows about Adel's past, and what she was like when she was Adel Viator." Zell sat beside Squall on the mattress.
"Maybe he knows what Viator means..." Squall mused. "I assume it's an old Trabia word, too."
"We should also ask him about the Ultimecia and Intervigilium connection," Seifer pointed out.
"Do you want to go now?"
Seifer nodded. "The sooner the better. I'm sure Odine will talk non stop, and in endless circles, so I'm sure that it will be day in Galbadia by the time he's done."
Squall and Zell nodded, and got up. They flanked Seifer as they walked to the doctor's Laboratory. They decided not to use the teleporters, and thought the walk would be good exercise. Zell cocked his head and looked at Squall. "Are you okay?"
Squall frowned, looking at Zell from across Seifer. "What do you mean?"
"You've been out of it lately..." Zell trailed off as they walked through the Esthar Shopping Mall.
"I agree," Seifer mused. He looked down at his former rival. "What's bothering you?"
Squall sighed deeply, purposely avoiding Seifer and Zell's icy gazes. "It's... It's nothing."
"Fucking Hell it's nothing!" Zell exclaimed. "And, don't say it's Rinoa, because that would be a lie."
Squall sighed again. "Maybe later."
"Are you sure?" Seifer asked. The tone of his voice caused Squall to look at him. He shook his head sadly.
"Yeah, I'm sure..." Squall bit his lip. "I need to talk to both of you, but it doesn't really seem like the right time."
Zell's eyes narrowed. He caught the way that Squall had been looking at Seifer. There was a deep meaning there. He also caught it when Squall met his own eyes. It sort of debunked his theory that Squall wanted Seifer's dick in his ass when the scarred brunette looked at him that way, too. What did it mean? Was it true that Squall was going gay? Is that what he wanted to tell them? Zell sighed. He then caught Squall's gaze, and held it as they walked. He tried to look for hints of what was bothering Squall, but all he felt was some sort of distant warmth. It wasn't even in the same stratosphere as when his eyes met Seifer's, but it was nice all the same. He felt attractive when Squall looked at him that way. Zell smiled distantly, and looped his arm with Seifer's. He didn't care if people saw him showing affection with another man. He wanted to touch Seifer. He also maybe wanted to display affection in front of Squall. Maybe it was like he was staking his territory.
Squall crossed his arms over his chest, looking at anything but Seifer and Zell. He knew that Zell had caught some sort of wind of his feelings in that one stare, and he felt embarrassed. He knew that he had to get over the embarrassment, because he had to talk to Seifer and Zell. It seemed only fair. Fair to himself. He was so confused, and he needed answers for himself, and if he talked to Seifer and Zell, maybe some of those feelings would be resolved. He also knew it would help, because he was feeling these feelings towards Seifer and Zell. He sort of felt it for other men, as well as a few of the lovelier women in Esthar, but with Seifer and Zell, it seemed a lot stronger. What did it mean?
They stopped in front of Odine's Laboratory. Squall and Zell both noticed Seifer take in a big breath. Without another word, they all walked up to the door.
"Odine doesn't want visitors..." The bored Sentry began to say, but he noticed that it was Squall Leonhart, the son of President Loire, and he was with Zell Dincht, a high ranked SeeD, and Seifer Almasy, the former Sorceress's Knight, and now a Sorcerer himself. He remembered Odine say that Almasy was allowed in whenever he wanted. That lustful look was in the scientist's eye when he had said it. The lust that was only reserved for new subjects. "You can go right in."
Squall nodded. "Thank you."
"Sir!" He exclaimed.
Squall shook his head. He hated it when people were so formal with him. He looked back, giving Seifer an encouraging look.
"Mizter Leonhart, what do I owe zis honour to?" Odine asked, his small hands clasped before his multi-coloured robe. "Oh, hello, Mizter Almazy, Mizter Dincht."
Seifer nodded hesitantly. "We want to ask you some questions."
Odine held out a hand, ushering them to a sitting area. "Ask away."
"Does the word Viator mean anything to you?"
Odine hesitated, his face scrunched up. "I do not...."
"You're lying," Zell muttered. "I can see recognition in your eyes."
Odine stammered. "Well, it iz an old Trabian word...." He sighed. "Zis iz a trick question." He frowned. "You already know that it's Adel's former name."
Squall nodded. "We saw a grave in Trabia."
Odine was genuinely confused this time. "But, Sorceress Adel was never dead... At least not in Trabia."
"True. We heard from Lillith." Seifer crossed his arms.
"You have?!" Odine squawked, practically falling out of his chair. "You saw her?!"
"No..." Seifer muttered, frowning as Odine's screech cut through his eardrums. "She talked to us through her familiar animal, Hyperion."
Odine's chair scratched against the floor. "Hyperion?!"
"You know it?" Zell asked.
"Xerampelinae had a familiar Tomara named Hyperion." He sighed, looking at Seifer. "If I am not miztaken, you named your weapon Hyperion, as well."
Seifer nodded. "Yes."
"Vhat did Lillith say?"
"That Adel's memory was buried in that grave..." Seifer trailed off. "That, Adel Viator's memory was laid to rest there, the woman she had been, before she became what we all knew her as..." Seifer narrowed his eyes. He didn't want to say anything to Odine about Lillith and The Tomb of the Nameless King. He was afraid that the magic hungry scientist would do something before he could talk to his sister. Seifer looked at both Squall and Zell, silently relaying his doubts. They both nodded. He wasn't really sure how they knew what he wanted. Another point to his powers?
Odine nodded distantly. "I see."
"We also found out something about Ultimecia, and her connection to the ancient Dollet Empire."
Odine's strange eyebrows shot up on his marionette face. "You did?!" He laughed. "Well, you're a wealth of information, are you not, Mizter Almazy?"
"Ultimecia was known as Intervigilium, the Queen of the Ancient Trabia Kingdom of Ignus. She was the leader of the Sorcery tribe, the Inaudax, who worshipped the ancient god, Iudicium."
Odine nodded slowly. "I know a little about ze legend of Iudicium. A female god, vith bat wings, holding a scale of time, of life und death."
"The Phoenix Pinion and the Hourglass?" Zell asked, looking at his lover.
"How did you know?" Odine asked.
"There were some graves that had the image carved in them..." Squall muttered. "What all do you know about Intervigilium?"
"It zeems zhat you know more zhan I do, gentlemen." Odine steepled his fingers. "Mizter Almazy, I must ask if I can examine you."
Seifer sighed deeply. "Fine."
Odine clapped his hands. "Excellent!" He looked at Squall and Zell. "I must ask you to leave. I must have privazy."
Zell narrowed his eyes. "I don't know...."
"I'll be fine..." Seifer waved a hand, patting Zell's leg. "I can take care of myself."
"I vill not hurt him!" Odine exclaimed, almost outraged. "Pleaze, wait outzide!" He stood, ushering Squall and Zell out with surprising strength.
"Alright, alright!" Squall exclaimed. "We'll wait here... Jesus!" He crossed his arms as Odine went back in his Laboratory. He noticed that Zell looked nervous. "Seifer will be fine. He'll snap Odine in two if the old man tries anything funny. And, Odine knows that he'll have to answer to me and Laguna if he hurts him."
Zell smiled distantly. "Thanks, Squall." He squeezed his friend's shoulder affectionately. "Listen, can you please tell me what's going on?"
Squall smiled distantly. "I'm not sure if I really know what's going on..." He looked at Zell from under hooded lids. "I guess I'm just thinking about my life.... My sexual life."
Zell narrowed his eyes. "Sexual life? What, what you said to Quistis about going gay?" His eyes narrowed further. "Squall..." He began darkly.
Squall noticed the darkness in Zell's voice. "You think I'm trying to take Seifer away from you..."
Zell balked. "Well... I don't know what you mean..."
"You aren't very good at hiding your jealousy," Squall muttered. "And, you couldn't be farther from the truth. I don't want to steal Seifer away from you."
Zell breathed out. "Good."
"I have to talk to you guys, but I think it's easier if we talk when we're all together." He nodded at the small blonde. He and Zell remained silent for a couple of minutes. "Zell?"
Zell looked up from his feet. "Yeah?"
"Do these new words, like Ignus, and Intervigilium and whatnot, mean anything to you?"
Zell paused. "Yeah. I mean, I feel like I should know them. But, I don't know from where..."
"I have the same feeling." Squall put his hands on his hips. "Ignus, Ignus...."
Zell sighed, leaning back against a wall. "I'm sure if we know it, we'll realize it."
Squall nodded. "Thanks..." He reached out, squeezing Zell's hand.
The blonde looked down at their briefly joined hands. He then looked up at Squall, and felt the same sort of distant warmness that he'd felt when they had been walking to Odine's Laboratory. He squeezed Squall's hand back before they released their grip on each other's fingers. In that one grip of fingers to fingers, warm palm against Zell's gloved one, Zell seemed to feel all Squall's indecisiveness, and why he seemed to be so out of it.
"We'll talk later..." Zell whispered.
"Hello, Squall, Zell..."
They both looked up when they heard their names. Edea stood before them, her hands folded in front of the bodice of her flowing black dress. It had long crepe sleeves which flowed over her pale hands. The bodice was tied tight, a corset around her curvaceous body. The flowing skirt was made of the same crepe as the sleeves. There was a gentle breeze that ruffled the fabric, and made a black, silken curtain of her hair. It made her look ethereal.
"Matron?" Zell asked. He hugged her when she reached them.
Squall did the same. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you guys." She smiled. "Is Seifer with Odine?"
Zell nodded. "Why were you looking for us?" His eyes became cloudy. "Is everything okay?"
She smiled. "I hope it is. I was worried about Seifer. Has he found anything out?"
"Oh, Matron," Squall mused. "We have found out a lot of things. We're actually going to go see Lillith as soon as Seifer's done with Odine." Squall looked at his watch. "It should be daytime in Galbadia."
Zell shook his head. "Knowing Odine, he'll be with Seifer for an eternity." His eyes darkened. "I hope he doesn't try anything funny."
Edea smiled. "Don't worry, Zell. Odine may be a little...eccentric... But, he's essentially harmless." She ran her hand down his arm. "Seifer will be fine."
As if on cue, Seifer came out of Odine's Laboratory. His face looked surprised when his eyes met the golden brown irises of his former Mistress. "Edea...?"
"I wanted to see if you were doing okay?" Her eyes were filled with concern. "How are your powers?"
Seifer shrugged. "Honestly, I was so used to being Junctioned with GF that I don't really notice. It's more like a small tingling. But, we've been busy, so I really haven't dwelled on it."
"What did Odine say?" Squall asked.
"He just took a sample of my blood and gave me a few control pointers," Seifer muttered, looking at his friend. "No big deal."
"When do you want to go to Galbadia?" Zell asked.
"What's in Galbadia?" Edea wondered as they walked to the teleporter.
"Lillith," Seifer answered as they all sat down.
"She spoke to us in a graveyard in Trabia, through her familiar. The raven Hyperion."
Edea nodded. "Yes, I knew of the bird."
Seifer rubbed his face with his palms. "We found out that Ultimecia existed on our planet during the time of the Dollet Empire."
"What?!" Edea's elegant brow was furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Seifer, Zell and Squall relayed all they had found out about Ultimecia, as well as Adel and the Inaudax to their Matron. After they were done, Edea let her breath out slowly. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
Seifer shrugged. "What's the worst that can happen?"
Edea frowned, but did not respond. She knew that something bad could happen, but nothing at all could occur at the same time. She folded her hands tightly in her lap.
"Do you want to come with us, Matron?"
Edea's head snapped up with surprise. She looked at Seifer like he has suggested sacrificing children. "You want me to come with you?!"
"Yes..." Seifer furrowed his brow. "You mean a lot to me, Matron. And, you're a Sorceress, and you've dealt with Lillith before."
"So, when are you leaving for the Tomb of the Nameless King?" She asked. Her voice was lilted with nervousness, but internally, she agreed to go, wanting to watch over the three of them, who were like her own children.
"As soon as possible."
Quistis sighed, cocooning herself further into Xu's arms. They were laying together, after falling asleep in each other's arms for the night after tiring themselves out with sex. Ever since Quistis had that awful dream about Adel and Xerampelinae in Esthar, she clung to Xu, feeling sort of stupid for feeling so afraid.
Who was Xerampelinae? After the dream, Quistis had looked it up on her computer, and it had come back from the Ultimecia mission that she'd been on with Squall and the others all those years ago. It seemed like a lifetime ago. She'd still been a child back then. Sometimes, she still felt like she was a child. The afternoon sun was filtering through the blinds. Quistis knew she should get up, but she'd gone to bed at five, and it was a Saturday, so she wasn't terribly worried about work.
Xerampelinae. The name of a painting in in Ultimecia's castle. What did it mean, and why were Seifer, Zell and Squall so interested in it? She rolled over slightly, her face pressed to Xu's chest, the lacy fabric of her girlfriend's bra tickling her cheek. Quistis closed her eyes, just wanting to rest for a few moments. She felt herself drifting off to sleep.
In her ears, she heard a distant crackling noise, like someone was crumpling paper against a microphone. It was static. Like a television or radio. Maybe a radio, because Quistis could only see black. Suddenly, an image flashed over her gaze. It was two shadowy figures, standing on a platform. It was in Esthar once more. The bluish glow and the technological background confirmed this. One of the people, a man, held a long sword, and the other one was crying. A third figure was crumpled at the taller one's feet, the one without the sword. It was hard to tell what was going on, because interference made the image blurry, like Quistis was watching it on a bad channel. Suddenly, the taller one ran himself into the sword. The picture in Quistis's mind went black. The only thing that cut through the darkness was a hollow scream. It wasn't a scream of fright, or even physical pain. It was an emotional wail of the utmost agony.
Quistis's eyes fluttered open. She was still laying in Xu's embrace. Her girlfriend was breathing regularly, totally lost in her own world of dreams. Quistis hoped that Xu's dreams weren't as horrible as her own. She shook her head. Why were all her awful dreams about Esthar? She suddenly got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. Groggily, Quistis reached for the phone on the bedside table. She dialled a number.
"Hello, this is Quistis Trepe, Headmaster for Balamb Garden. Could I speak to Squall Leonhart, please?"
There was a brief pause on the other end. "Mr. Leonhart has left the city."
Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Where did he go?"
"I'm not sure, Ms. Trepe. He left with Seifer Almasy, Zell Dincht, and Edea Kramer."
"Edea?!" Quistis asked, totally surprised. The blonde lowered her voice as she felt Xu move in her sleep. "Can I please speak to President Loire?"
Another pause. "Yes, please hold."
Quistis waited, sighing slightly when Xu's arms encircled her once more. With her free hand, the blonde traced the back of Xu's hand.
"Who are you calling?" Xu asked sleepily.
Xu nodded slightly, but didn't say anything.
"Laguna? It's Quistis..."
"Oh, hello!!" Laguna greeted cheerfully. "What's going on?"
"I was actually calling for Squall, but he left Esthar...?"
"Yeah..." Laguna paused. "He went to Galbadia with Seifer, Zell and Edea. They left about half an hour ago."
"Why did they go to Galbadia?"
"Looking for information about Seifer's past..." Laguna trailed off. "Why, is there something wrong?" His voice was laced with worry.
"No... Nothing's wrong...." Quistis muttered. "At least, I hope nothing's wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"It's just that I know they're looking up something about something called Xerampelinae. And, I know that Xerampelinae was a painting in Ultimecia's castle. I guess the whole thing doesn't sit well with me...." Quistis explained, not wanting to add that she had a couple of dreams that freaked her out.
"Well, I can give you Squall's cell number. I don't know if he took it with him, or if it's on, but you can try..." Laguna gave her the number. "I know a bit about what's going on, but I don't want to break confidence..."
"Oh, I'm not asking you to," Quistis said, laughing gently into the phone. "How are things in Esthar?"
"Good, good. So, I hear that you and Xu are quite the hot little number now."
Quistis groaned. "Man, Squall has a big mouth." She frowned. "How's sex with Kiros?" Quistis asked, knowing Laguna would drop it.
"Ahhh, you know me too well, Quistis. Nice change of subject. I hope that things are okay..." Laguna's voice sounded a little unsure.
"I'm fine... Really. I guess I feel a little silly for being so worried."
"Worried's good." There was a pause. "I should go. You and Xu should come to Esthar soon. I'd love to see you again."
"Me, too. I'll talk to you soon."
"Later," Laguna replied breezily before hanging up the phone.
"What's going on?" Xu asked. "What's wrong?"
"What do you mean?" Quistis asked, looking into Xu's eyes.
"I know you. You wouldn't have tried to call Squall unless something was bothering you."
Quistis took a deep breath. "I had another dream. About something horrible in Esthar."
Xu pulled Quistis's body closer to her own. "They're just dreams."
"I know.." Quistis trailed off, her voice muffled as Xu kissed her. She sighed happily, her dream forgotten as Xu's lips massaged her own. When Xu's hand moved over her the thin fabric of her camisole, and over the curve of her breast, Quistis really forgot about her dream. Xu's hand then moved up under the satin of her shirt, caressing her hardening nipples, which caused the blonde to forget where Esthar was. She forgot everything else entirely when Xu's bra came unclasped under her fingers, and bare breasts pressed against her collarbone. Her own clothes were removed, and naked skin was tightly pressed to heated skin as mouths fused together. She could always call Squall later. He was a big boy. He could handle himself.
Squall's gaze moved from Seifer, to Zell, to Edea, and back through their faces again. "I've suddenly got an uneasy feeling."
"I'm sure we'll be fine..." Edea mused. "Besides, Seifer and myself have Sorcery abilities. We'll be able to handle ourselves."
"But, what if this is a trap?" Zell asked hollowly. They were standing at the entrance to the Tomb of the Nameless King. The waterfall was calming, but Zell still felt on edge. He gripped Seifer's hand tightly, feeling a little childish.
"I don't care right now..." Seifer muttered. He turned to face Squall and Zell. "I don't want to drag either of you into this. If you'd rather not come, I won't hold it against you."
"I'm not leaving you!" Zell said, like Seifer was insane. "I'm coming!"
"Me, too," Squall answered, but his voice was much duller than Zell's.
"I'm glad..." Seifer whispered. His lips grazed Zell's temple.
Edea noticed the heated discussion that was happening between the three men, so she purposely went over to look at some plants, falling out of earshot. She knew that Lillith wouldn't hurt them. She couldn't hurt them. It wasn't in the nature of her duties to death to harm people. She merely harvested souls. It would go against the weave of Life and Death for her to interfere with it.
Squall looked at Seifer, somewhat sadly. "Well, I guess this is the end of the road, huh?"
Seifer nodded. "After Lillith, there isn't really much else to find." He placed a hand on Squall's shoulder. "I'm glad you've been here to help."
Squall looked at Seifer for a brief moment, but to Seifer, Zell and Squall, it felt like an eternity. Squall felt like he was silently relaying all his feelings, even the ones he didn't know how to vocalize, didn't know even how to feel. He then brought his body close to Seifer's and Zell's, which were joined by the blondes' hands. Squall wrapped one arm around Seifer's back, and the other around Zell's, pressing all of them close.
"I'm glad you included me..." He whispered. It seemed to hold so much more meaning for him. Squall wondered if Seifer and Zell caught on to the meaning in his voice.
Zell stroked the auburn-haired man's back, not saying anything. He pressed his face to Seifer's chest, which caused his tattooed cheek to rub against Squall's warm face. Seifer bowed his head, pressing his forehead to Squall's. Zell's head fit perfectly in the crook of his neck, as it always had. They stood like that for a while, just holding each other. Each one was on nerve about finding Lillith. What if they were wrong? What if this wasn't the place to find Lillith?
Their embrace was interrupted by a loud cawing. They broke apart to see Hyperion perched on a crumbling pillar near where Edea had been admiring the foliage.
"Hyperion..." Zell whispered.
The bird rose to the air, but hovered, looking at them. It turned, and went into the maze of the tomb.
"Should we follow it?" Squall asked.
Seifer nodded, and the four of them followed the black, black raven into the tunnels. They were glad that the bird was ahead of them, because the surroundings looked the same around every turn. They were led deep into the maze.
"I remember this part..." Zell whispered. "This is where you released that chain, Squall..." Zell's voice echoed softly.
Squall nodded. "Yeah...."
The bird stopped when they reached the dead end. It perched itself on Seifer's shoulder. "Cross the stream..." It purred in his ear.
Seifer gasped, surprised by Lillith's voice passing through the beak of the raven. "Are you sure?"
"Pass over the water..." The bird mused. Its weight then lifted off his shoulder, and flew over the stream.
"Should we...?" Zell whispered.
Edea nodded. "Yes. Remember, when dealing with Sorceresses, appearances aren't always what they seem."
Seifer nodded, knowing that all too well. An unpleasant memory of a corpse pushing into his body entered Seifer's mind. He pushed it away, not wanting to give such horrible moments the time of day. Seifer stepped to the water, closing his eyes. When he thought that his legs and feet would be wet, he frowned. He was still dry. He opened his eyes, and found himself standing on some grass. It crunched under his feet, for it was dead.
"What...?" Zell whispered behind him.
"The realm of the Dead..." Edea mused. "We crossed into the Dead Realm."
"But, how?" Squall asked, looking around. They were in a graveyard that stretched for miles and miles in all directions.. In the distance, they could see the shadow of a building. A big one that looked like an old castle or manor.
"The river must have been Styx. The river between Life and Death."
Seifer looked around. The graves were endless. None of them had any markings on them. Just grave upon grave.
"Well, well, well..."
They all turned. A cloaked figure was leaning against one of the tombstones, shaped like an old cross. Her shoulder rested in the crook. "I'm impressed."
"Lillith..." Seifer whispered, taking a step forward. He felt a chill pass over his body, but realized there was no wind. There was utter silence.
She pushed the hood off her head, revealing her face to them. It looked similar to Seifer's but there were differences. The biggest difference was that she was missing her eye, scarring covering that side of her face. It wasn't horrible, but cut across her flesh. The eye was milky with blindness. She was still lovely, though. Her remaining eye was a rich hazel, and it had the same flecks of green that mingled in Seifer's blue eyes. Her hair was brown, but had a coppery sheen. Her nose was the same as Seifer's, but her chin and brow were different. Xerampelinae's features. She was exceedingly tall, as tall as Seifer, or a little larger. Her one hazel eye, which seemed to also glitter gold, held over Zell, Squall and Edea. She also had a large scythe in her hand. It was taller than she was, and the blade would have been longer than her arms stretched out. The Reaper's Scythe.
She laughed quietly, but it seemed to carry through the entire world. "Welcome to the Realm of the Dead."
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