Chapter Sixteen

By Scarlet Fever

"Well, how exactly are we going to hide her?" Selphie asked, almost jumping out of her chair. Her and Irvine had arrived from Trabia as soon as they could, and after the Esthar army meeting, the heads of their organizations were meeting. Squall, Laguna, Kiros, Ward, Irvine, Selphie, Fujin, Raijin, Quistis, Xu, Nida, Edea, General Caraway and Dr. Odine were meeting together, sitting around a large table.

Selphie looked at Edea. "Matron, aren't they going to be able to feel your power?"

Edea sighed gravely. "Can you please turn that TV off?" She asked quietly. There had been surveillance tapes in Caraway's Mansion, and after repeatedly seeing Zell snap Rinoa's neck like a brittle twig, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Seifer and Zell were in fact the human embodiments of Adel and Ultimecia, the two most terrifying Sorceresses to ever exist.

It had been three days since Rinoa's death, and there was no sight of Seifer and Zell, which was scaring everyone. That was three days for the Sorceresses to lay in wait, for their power to rise, for them to take over Zell and Seifer's bodies more and more completely. They had set up Platoons all over the world, concentrating on the Esthar continent, and around the city's borders.

General Caraway looked at Edea. "Well, I don't think that physical force will protect Mrs. Kramer. As much as I would like it to be able to, I don't think it will help...." He looked at the blackened TV screen sadly. He and Rinoa may not have always gotten along, but she had been his only child, his daughter, his only connection to his beloved Julia. It deeply hurt to know that he would never see her again, not even if it was to argue, except for in the grainy surveillance videos.

Laguna nodded sadly. "Well, what about the Sorceress Memorial?"

Squall looked up when he'd heard his father's voice. He'd been staring at his hands, which were tight balls in his lap. In total, he only had gotten about ten hours sleep since Rinoa had died. All he could think about was Seifer and Zell, and how he'd have to be the one to kill them, how it'd felt to be stuck between them after Zell had snapped Rinoa's neck. It had felt horrible and wonderful at the same time. "Are you suggesting we seal Edea up?"

Edea nodded slowly. "It could work."

Nida frowned. "But, isn't that the obvious place? Wouldn't Seifer and Zell...." Nida trailed off. "Wouldn't Adel and Ultimecia know to look there?"

"Maybe not...." Quistis trailed off. "We could also get the Doctor to work a barrier around it."

Odine nodded stiffly, staring at Quistis a fraction longer than he had to, which caused a shiver to pass down the blonde's spine, and Xu to frown deeply.

"But...." Raijin trailed off. "I mean, it's both Adel and Ultimecia, ya know?! And, Seifer and Zell are also very skilled at hand to hand combat, ya know?!"

Xu nodded in agreement. "Raijin's right.... Which, must be a first."

Raijin cracked a grin and gave her the finger.

Xu smiled back, glad to break the tension. "I'm sure, without doubt, that Adel and Ultimecia would keep their fighting skills, and strengthen them. I mean, look how Zell decapitated Rin....." She looked at General Caraway. "I'm sorry."

"Ah, ah, ah...." Odine piped up. "It vill not be az difficult az you sink, Mizz Xu." Odine steepled his fingers. "Az you know, I am very familiar vith both Adel und Ultimezia. I can help you." Odine looked at Edea. "Are you sure sat you are villing?"

Edea nodded slowly. "I'm sure Cid would not be happy with this, but I'd rather have his small displeasure than have Ultimecia take her powers out of me."

"Okay," Laguna said, smiling. But, Squall and Kiros both noted that it was very tight around the edges. "We'll have more troops set up around the Sorceress Memorial, of course. But, I think we should also have a few of us there. I mean, the Army will help greatly, but we know how to fight Seifer and Zell, and Ultimecia and Adel, better."

Kiros nodded. "A smart plan. Of course, you should stay in Esthar."

Laguna nodded. "I think Squall should stay here, too. I mean, if something does happen to me, Squall will have to take charge of the city."

"I'll take Edea...." General Caraway offered. "I was at her service once before...."

Edea nodded. "Thank you, General. I know this is difficult for you...."

"I'll go, too!" Raijin said.

"Me, too...." Fujin offered.

Both Raijin and Laguna gave her looks. "You'll stay here, ya know?! You've been sick... And, we need you commanding the Esthar troops from here."

"Raijin's right," Laguna muttered. "You're staying. And, I'm President, so you have to listen to me."

Fujin nodded, but frowned, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Ward, you, General Caraway, Raijin, Irvine...."

"Me, too...." Quistis said.

"Fine, and Quistis can go with Edea. Nida, Squall, Selphie, myself, Kiros, and Fujin will stay here." Laguna turned to Xu. "Could you get back to the Gardens and use one of them as a portable base?"

Xu nodded, thinking. "Well, Balamb would be best. Galbadia Garden's flying mechanisms haven't been up to par since after the Neo-Sorceress War." She stood. "I'll go right away. And, since most of the Galbadian Army is still in Deling, I can get them. I can house the students...."

"At Trabia," Selphie offered. "There's plenty of room, and since Trabia isn't as strong for Military combat, it can work as a shelter."

Kiros pursed his lips. "Would Seifer and Zell go after Trabia, though?"

Selphie furrowed her brow. "Why?"

"Because it's on the site where Ignus used to be. I mean, Ignus is where Adel's 'grave' is."

Nida frowned. "Well, that leads to another question.... Where have they been hiding?" He looked at Squall across the table, meeting his stormy blue gaze. "My aviation and navigation teams haven't come up with anything...."

"And, I haven't felt anything magical," Edea mused.

Quistis cursed under her breath. "God, it's Ultimecia. They could be anywhere...."

"Even right under our noses," Kiros muttered darkly.

Laguna looked over at his lover. "Maybe that's the problem. We haven't been looking in obvious places."

Edea stood. "I would love to continue this, but I really think we should move into action. I'm going to discuss this with Cid, though...."

"I'll come too, Matron..." Quistis stood as well. "It may not be safe, even in the Palace."

Raijin stood as well. "I'll come too."

Cid was staying in Esthar, helping Quistis, Xu and Nida with the Garden's stock in what was quickly going to become a War. It was already being dubbed The Third War by the media and the troops.

Dr. Odine stood. "I vill go to my Lab und prepare sings. Have Edea contact me vhen she's ready to leave for ze Zorcerezz Memorial." He shuffled away, oblivious to the evil eye that Xu was giving him.

"God, I hate that little shit..." She muttered, crossing her arms over her breasts. "He was ogling Quistis the entire meeting like he would like to either put his dick or a scalpel in her...."

Laguna laughed. A genuine laugh that made him feel better. "Yeah, he's got that creepy effect on everyone."

"I don't know how sending Edea into a sleep sits with me...." Squall trailed off.

"It's Matron's decision," Selphie said meekly. "I'm not happy about it, either. But, it's not like she'll be there forever. Just until we can get Seifer and Zell back...."

Everyone in the room was quiet. Xu coughed nervously, Laguna, Caraway, Ward and Kiros exchanged sad looks, Fujin bit her lip, looking over at Irvine, who was mirroring her gesture, Squall looked at his hands, and Nida watched as Squall's fists clenched and unclenched.

"What did I say?" Selphie asked.

"Selphie..... We'll probably have to kill them...." Irvine said softly.

"I won't accept that!" Selphie burst out. "They're our friends...." She trailed off when she heard someone shuffling in the hallway. "Is that Odine again?"

"What, the little troll forget something?" Xu muttered, her face dark. It turned into an expression of shock, and she gasped when a soldier in an Esthar uniform came into the room, shuffling on his feet, his face completely grey. He was holding his side, where blood was pouring out in a slow waterfall.

Nida shook his head, trying to grasp what was wrong with the man. Then he realized what looked so off. His doe brown eyes widened as he saw that the soldier was missing an arm. Also, his uniform had been eaten through by something, so bone was visible in most places. It was a miracle that he was walking at all. "Dear God..." Nida trailed off. "This guy shouldn't be alive...."

Laguna shook his head. "I agree, Nida....."

They all looked as the soldier opened his mouth. "Nice try, Laguna. You're still a stupid fool." Then, the soldier collapsed in a bleeding heap in the doorway.

Laguna shivered the sound of Adel's voice coming out of that man's mouth creeping him out.

"Shit!" Fujin exclaimed. "What platoon was he from?"

As if to answer her question, a soldier came running in. He was also bleeding profusely, also missing an arm. But, he was still alive, and his eyes looked wide and scared enough that everyone knew that he was still himself.

"Commander Fujin! President Loire!"

Fujin recognized him. "Corporal Manni!" She rushed over to him, ignoring the taste of bile rising on the back of her tongue. "What happened?"

Manni screamed when he saw the collapsed corpse on the floor. He slumped down, trying to scurry away from the body. "Tommy!"

"I know..." Fujin patted his shoulder. "What happened?"

"I'm the only one left...." He looked at the body that used to be Tommy again, slamming his eyes shut. "Tommy should have been dead... But, he got up...."

"What platoon are you?" Laguna asked, concern rising.

"22nd...." Manni answered shakily. "We were guarding the border near the Kashkabald Desert, and all of the sudden, these creatures started coming at us.... Creatures...." He spit up blood.

"Manni!" Fujin exclaimed.

"Creatures we'd never seen....." He coughed up more blood. "We could tell that they weren't.... natural....." His face was turning whiter and whiter, so that it now resembled bleached paper. "And, a demon..... Carrying an hourglass....."

"Hourglass....?" Squall trailed off. He pondered this, trying to figure out why that sounded familiar.

"I'm sorry...." Manni trailed off. "Tommy... He was possessed....."

"We know, Manni..." Laguna whispered gently. "Thank you...."

He spit up more blood, and died.

"Fuck!" Squall cried. "Iudicium...."

Fujin looked up from Manni's already cooling body. "Iudicium....?"

"The Goddess of Destruction?" Nida asked, confused.

Squall nodded, keeping his gaze locked on Nida's. "I'm surprised you know about it...."

"I also knew about Xerampelinae. I'm a Mythology buff..." He trailed off sadly. "I just never thought that Mythology would be coming to life...." Suddenly, Nida's eyes slammed shut. "Fuck..." He cursed, pain vibrating behind his eyes.

"Nida?!" Xu exclaimed, rushing to his side. "Can you feel something?"

"What's going on?" Irvine asked, looking at everyone in the room, confused.

"Nida... empathic...." Xu trailed off, placing her hands strongly on his shoulders. "Do you feel them, Nida?! Where are they?"

"Empathic?" Selphie whispered.

"They suffered.... Greatly....." Nida whispered.

Squall stood crouching beside Nida, watching with fascination. He'd had no idea that Nida possessed any sort of psychic power. "How are you feeling them?"

He let out a strangled cry, as if he was wrestling within himself. His eyes fluttered open, his long lashes batting against his orbital bones. "I could feel them... All of them dying in the desert..."

"How?" Selphie asked, looking concerned.

"Because they died connected with Sorcery. I'm empathic towards magical energy. And, they all had that surrounding them. Is Iudicium... a Guardian Force?"

Squall blinked. "How did you know that?" He cocked his head. "Never mind. Yes... Adel is supposed to have had Iudicium junctioned. Iudicium was frozen with her in space for seventeen years, and then not used against us during the Neo-Sorceress War because she was too disoriented...."

Laguna furrowed his brow. "Why attack Kashkabald?"

Kiros shrugged. "I have no idea. There's nothing there...."

"What's close to there?" Irvine asked.

"Just the ocean and Centra....." Kiros frowned. "Maybe it was just a warning...."

"I think that Tommy there was a warning...." Xu trailed off, massaging Nida's shoulders. "Feeling okay?"

He nodded distantly, closing his eyes again and slumping in his chair.

"Anyway, I think it best that we get Edea to the Sorceress Memorial... Now."

Ward nodded, already leaving to find the Sorceress. Irvine and Caraway also stood, following the giant man.

"I'll get to Balamb as soon as possible...." Xu stated.

"I'll fly you," Nida offered.

"Out of the question," Squall said simply.

"What?" Nida asked, staring at Squall, his eyes narrowing. "Why not?"

"Because look at you... I'm sure you can barely even stand...."

"I'm fine, Squall," Nida said, defensiveness in his voice.

"You're staying."

"Don't treat me like Rinoa," Nida snapped. He stood, and sighed when he saw the pain in Squall's eyes. "I'm sorry. Look, Xu needs to get to Balamb Garden, and fast. And, I can fly the Ragnarok the best out of anyone here. I'll be back in an hour."

Squall nodded distantly, looking at Nida as if he'd never seen the other man before. Nida had always just kind of melted into the background at the Garden, and Squall at the time hadn't even remembered him graduating into SeeD with them. But, with Nida's powers, and the fact that he'd talked back to Squall, it seemed to give Squall a reason to notice him as not just a face in the crowd, to notice that Nida was as capable a soldier as he himself was. "Fine. Just... Hurry back. We need you here."

"... Thanks...." Nida trailed off, turning away from Squall so that the pretty, auburn-haired SeeD wouldn't see him blushing. "Come on, Xu."

After they'd left, Selphie giggled, looking at Squall.

"What's so funny?" Squall asked, disbelieving that even Selphie could find anything amusing at a time like this.

"I saw that...."

Squall narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

"The way you looked at Nida. You saw something that you'd never seen before...."

"Alright, alright..." Kiros muttered. "Gossiping is fun, but can it wait. So, any thoughts as to why they would hit Kashkabald?"

Squall shrugged. "It must have some sort of significance."

After a few moments of silence, Selphie smirked. "I think Nida has the hots for you...."

"Selphie!" Laguna exclaimed.

Squall blushed. "Shut up....."

She smiled. "He's really cute, right, Squall?"

Squall blushed even further.

"Selphie...." Fujin trailed off.

"What?" She asked defensively, placing her hands on her hips. "Just trying to make the mood less ominous..." She looked over at the two bodies. "Well, maybe getting those guys out of here would help...."

Laguna nodded distantly, hitting his speaker button. "Yeah, have a couple of soldiers come to my office to dispose of two bodies..." The communicator buzzed as soon as Laguna had disconnected. "Yes?"

"It's Quistis. We're heading to the Memorial. We'll contact you once we arrive there, or if something happens..."

"Hopefully the former..." Laguna said. "Okay."

"Now what?" Selphie asked. "Should we go on the offensive?"

"How can we go on the offensive if we don't know where they are?" Kiros asked, patting Laguna's shoulders before sitting down.

"Dammit!" Selphie muttered, flouncing into a chair.

The communicator buzzed again. "What?" Laguna asked, hoping that it wasn't Quistis.

"Dr. Sunde is outside your office. He wants to talk to Fujin."

Laguna looked over to his silver haired Commander. "Alright."

Dr. Sunde came into the office, two soldiers behind him. They all looked at the bodies.

"What happened here?" The Doctor asked, placing his hands on his slender hips.

"Don't worry, Doc. We don't need you to do anything...." Laguna nodded to the Soldiers, who picked up Manni and Tommy's bodies.

Sunde watched as the bodies were carried out. "One of them was Corporal Manni. He was healthy last week...."

"Getting your arm ripped off tends to lessen your health," Kiros muttered.

"Just a tad..." Sunde trailed off, a smirk playing on his full lips. Squall found himself staring at the doctor, for he didn't really look like a doctor. He wasn't in any sort of uniform, and didn't have the strange garb that Dr. Odine favoured. He was dressed in a long black coat with fabric covered frogs closing it over his obviously muscular body. His pants and boots were also black. The coat was undone to past his collarbone, and Squall couldn't tell if the doctor was wearing a shirt, or if it was black as well.

"Fujin, may I speak with you... Privately?" The doctor's pale, pale green eyes suddenly looked concerned. His eyes looked so pale because his lashes were dark around his nice, large eyes. His hair was the colour of milk chocolate, and cut in a way that was similar to Squall's except that it covered his eyes more, and was more of a curtain of hair over his forehead. Before leaving, Sunde smirked at Laguna. "You need a physical soon."

"Again?" Laguna asked.

"Well, if you would stop having such vigorous anal sex..." He winked and left the room, a silent Fujin on his heels.

Laguna's mouth snapped shut, and his face flushed horribly. "Dammit!"

Squall rolled his eyes. "We all know that you sleep with men..." He muttered. "We shouldn't have let Nida go. What if we need to go somewhere?"

"There are plenty of pilots in Esthar..." Laguna muttered. "Nida can take care of himself...."

"I just don't want to send another person to their death... "Squall sighed sadly.

"Don't treat me like Rinoa....?" Nida asked himself. "I can't believe I said such a callous thing!" He smacked the steering wheel of the Ragnarok so hard that hit stung his palm.

"I don't think he'll think less of you for it...." Xu trailed off, looking down on the horizon. They were almost outside Deling City. Xu had contacted General Caraway, and gotten permission to lead the troops. She was to meet them at the Presidential Palace. "You really like him, don't you?"

"I greatly respect Squall..." Nida trailed off, slowing down the Dragon Ship.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it...." Xu gave Nida a look.

"He barely knows I'm alive. Jesus Christ, he didn't even remember that I graduated with him, Selphie and Zell...."

"That was a long time ago, Nida. And, I think you got his attention today," she said with a wry smirk.

"Don't remind me," Nida muttered, his pretty face drawn as he landed the ship outside the capital of Galbadia. "Well, so what if I do like him sexually? One, he probably isn't into men. Two, if he was into men, I doubt he'd want me..."

"Why not?" Xu asked, interrupting.

Nida glared at her. "I'm not the most masculine looking man. Slap some lipstick on me, and I'm a woman...."

Xu snorted. "Okay, so you're not butch. But, you're more masculine looking than Squall. Who cares if you're pretty?"

"Three..." Nida continued. "He doesn't know I'm alive."

Xu shook her head, shrugging into her quiver. "You don't give yourself enough credit...."

"Too bad I don't want to screw you..." Nida muttered. Suddenly, a tightness passed over his head.

Xu noticed. "Nida?" She narrowed her dark eyes. "You can feel them...."

"Close...." Nida trailed off, then gasped when the ship shook. "Fuck..."

"Outside?" Xu asked, already running to the entrance of the ship.

"Wait!" Nida called, grabbing his weaponry. He grabbed what he could before following Xu. When he stepped outside the Ragnarok, he felt his knees buckle. He knew that only he and a Sorceress would be able to sense that energy, but it was making him weak, draining his energy. He slumped against the wall of the ship, and began the task of building mental walls. After training in the Garden against magic, he'd learned to build psychic barriers. After half a minute, he was ready, and joined Xu, who was staring straight into the horrible, razor toothed maw of a creature that was definitely magical in origin.

"What the Hell?" Xu asked, already pulling an arrow out of her quiver.

"Aim for the eyes...." Nida trailed off, watching, almost hypnotized as the creatures skin mutated, and tentacles came out, bubbling and popping out of the flesh. Nida had to cover his nose. It stunk of death and rot.

"Shit...." Xu turned her head away. "It's trying to kill our senses.... And, it's working."

"Just aim for the eyes, dammit!" Nida muttered, throwing one of his sickles at one side of the body. It spun through the air like a Frisbee, cutting through the tentacles like they were butter. He saw it spinning back towards him, and reached out just in time to get the handle. He had many cuts on his hands from learning how to catch them perfectly. He also had taken to wearing gloves most of the time. He'd put on a thick pair of gloves before they'd flown to Galbadia, the kind suitable for handling birds of prey.

Xu pulled back her bow, and let one of the arrows glide. The creature screamed when the arrow embedded into its eye.

"Run!" Nida screamed. "Get to Deling. We need you to get the troops."

"But..." Xu began.

"I'm fine...." Nida threw his sickle again, and it took a chunk out of the creature's head. He threw his second sickle, but the remaining tentacles on the right side of the creature's body slapped it away. Nida then flicked his wrists, sending the machetes that had been in wrist sheaths into his hands. "Xu, go! I'll be fine...."

She nodded with reservation, but began walking quickly backwards, still firing arrows. Unfortunately, the monster had many eyes, so she was running out of arrows. She saw Nida throw one of his large knives, and it went into the monster's chest. Xu stumbled on her feet when it screamed out. It was a deafening noise. It sounded like a million children screaming, like machinery whistling, like Hell was opening its mouth. She stood and ran, stumbling, the sound deafening her, causing her bones to rattle.

Nida collapsed against the outer wall of the Ragnarok. Something was wrong. The machete he'd thrown was pure silver, and had been forged by a Sorcerer, so he wasn't afraid of the knife in the monster's chest being a mortal wound, because he knew it was, but something... smelled off, and felt off. He could feel it humming in his blood. He tried to place the smell. Nida then felt his breath being stolen from him. The heat around him had gone up dramatically, and sweat was beading all over his body. The creature was getting hotter. The smell.....

"Fuck...." Nida scrambled, trying to get to the entrance of the Ragnarok. It smelled like Gasoline, but more chemically. It was some sort of accelerant. And, the creature had been created to self-detonate. Nida scrambled up the stairs, screaming when he felt a tentacle slap him on the back, sprawling him down the stairs and onto the ground like a doll.

"XU!" He screamed. "RUN!!!!"

She turned. "What?"

"It's going to blow up!!" Nida screamed, getting to his feet again. As the creature's body temperature rose, so did it's magical energy, which was causing Nida's vision to go grey. He still stood, running for the ship again. He threw a sickle again, and it flew into more tentacles. Even mostly blind, he could still catch it. He ran up the stairs, his breath coming out ragged, his body screaming for air like he was drowning.

Nice try, Nida....

Nida's doe brown eyes flew open as he heard Seifer's voice echo in his mind. The temperature was making his blood boil now. Nida fell to his knees again, and tried to get up, but stumbled again. He crawled towards the door. If he could only get there in time....

Xu was now at the limit of Deling. The monster was a small blob. She was glad that Nida had landed further away than he could have. She could feel that it had gotten warmer, but it wasn't really that noticeable. She just hoped that Nida would be okay. A high pitched wail filled the air, and Xu's mouth dropped. "Nida!!!!" She screamed.

Nida crouched into a ball, still moving towards the door. He was in the frame when he heard the high pitched scream like a banshee. Like a mixture of a missile coming directly at him and the horrible wails of the magical monster that Ultimecia and Adel, that Seifer and Zell had sent. He felt the heat of the fire before he could see it, and the force of the blast sent him crashing into the back wall of the room he'd been trying to escape to. The back of Nida's head hit the wall, and he lost consciousness.

"Look, Dr. Sunde...." Fujin began, her voice tight and clipped. "I just want to get this over with. We have problems, and I don't want you beating around the bush. Do I have cancer or something?"

Sunde cocked his head, regarding Fujin with his shrewd green eyes. "Cancer? What gave you that notion?" He placed his hands on his hips. "Well, it's not bad news.... Well, it could be."

Fujin led them to an empty room. "What do you mean?" Her single crimson eye was filled with worry and anxiety.

"You're not dying, Fujin, don't worry...." Sunde trailed off. "In fact, quite the opposite."

"What the fuck does that mean?" Fujin asked, exasperated.

He smirked at her. "Why, Fujin... You're pregnant."

"We're almost at the Memorial," Raijin said, looking out the window. They were riding in an all-terrain vehicle they'd borrowed from the Esthar Army. Ward was driving them to the Memorial. Quistis and Raijin were flanking Edea on either side. Irvine was sitting beside Ward, his sniper rifle out in case he had to shoot at anything. General Caraway had gone in a different vehicle with Odine and his assistant. They'd all decided it best if someone kept an eye on the eccentric doctor.

"I hope things are still calm in Esthar..." Edea trailed off, her eyes rimmed red. Telling Cid that she'd offered to seal herself up hadn't been easy. He'd cried, she'd cried, but they both knew it would be for the best, and wouldn't be for forever. Edea had also seen Ellone, who was staying with Cid, being his moral support. Edea wondered if Adel would try and go after Ellone again. She hoped not. Ellone was like her daughter. Squall, Zell, Seifer, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine... They were her children. And, she had to protect them. With that thought, any fear she may have harboured disappeared.

Suddenly, the car's engine went dead, and it rolled to a stop. Fortunately, the Sorceress Memorial was within sight.

"Okay, what happened?" Irvine asked, his grip tightening on his gun.

Ward looked over, giving the cowboy a confused look. All the gauges read normal. There was still gas. Why did it stop?

"Ultimecia....." Edea trailed off.

"Shit," Raijin cursed. "Well, let's run. Ward, you and Irvine take Edea. Irvine can be your sniper. Quistis and I will take point, and watch your backs."

They all nodded, and Ward, Irvine and Edea quickly got away from the vehicle, breaking into a jog towards the Memorial.

Quistis and Raijin looked at each other, walking behind the trio at a slower pace, weapons out. Aside from his club, Raijin also had some throwing weapons. Small throwing shurikens. Quistis got her whip ready, as well as her Blue Magic Limit break.

"I can feel something, ya know?!"

Quistis nodded. "But, I can't see it....." Her cobalt eyes narrowed as the breeze picked up. "Matron, move faster...." Quistis called, looking out to the horizon.

"See anything?" Raijin whispered.

"No...." She sighed. The heat was at it's peak, and she could see the humidity moving against he backdrop of the plains of Esthar.

Raijin noticed, too. "This place is a wasteland..." He trailed off, his voice catching in his throat. The heat seemed to be moving. "Something's here. We can't see it...."

She looked to where Raijin's gaze was trained. She saw the wavy movement, too. "I'll use some Blue Magic...." First, she cast Mighty Guard on both of them, then on Edea. Then, she cast Electrocute out towards where the motion was going. She saw silhouettes light up against the environment. Raijin joined in and cast a Thundaga. Suddenly, the ground moved under his feet. "Shit, ya know?!"

Quistis jumped back from the spot she'd been on. "They're causing it....?" She made it a question. She didn't really want to find out that there was some big, scary monster under their feet.

Raijin held his ground, casting Thundaga again to kill the monsters in the horizon. Their silhouettes seemed to be getting closer, so Raijin didn't want to let up. "I think there's something under there..."

Quistis jumped back again as the ground cracked. "Raijin, move....."

He did as she commanded. "What do you think we should do, Instructor?"

She blinked for a moment when he called her that. "Well, keep casting Thundaga or anything Thunder on those bastards out there."

"What about what's under the ground?"

Quistis hesitated because she herself wasn't sure. Despite the fact that she was only wearing a pair of olive green combat pants, tucked into her black combat boots, and a tank top to match, there was sweat beading on her back. And, it wasn't all from heat. She was scared. She didn't like the unknown. "I...."

As Raijin cast another spell, he looked to the Memorial. "Edea, Ward and Irvine are there...."

Quistis felt relieved. "Good..." She looked as the crack got bigger. "I could just aim a Shockwave Pulsar into there...."

"Wouldn't that blow the earth out from under our feet?"

Quistis opened her mouth to answer, but was answered instead by a screeching noise, like a hissing of a snake, only a million times louder, like it'd been amplified through twenty megaphones. The ground cracked open further, causing both Quistis and Raijin to stumble back, landing on their asses on the hard, dusty ground. A giant, scaly snake rose from the earth, large hoods protruding from its screaming head. A giant Cobra.

"Oh, shit..." Raijin muttered.

"What an understatement," Quistis whispered.

Selphie was continuing to tease Squall about liking Nida, which was causing Squall to blush furiously, and causing him to glare at her angrily. But, she thought it was fun and it was lightening the dark mood in the room. It had been just over an hour since Nida and Xu had left for Galbadia. Quistis hadn't contacted them, which they all were taking as good news.

"What could be in Centra...?" Kiros asked distantly.

"There's not much there," Selphie stated. "Just Matron's Orphanage, Winhill, a couple of Chocobo Forests.....And.... The Centra Ruins...."

Laguna nodded distantly.

Squall snapped his fingers. "That's it!" He exclaimed, but his voice was drowned out by a horrible laughter, which seemed to materialize out of the air.

Laguna stood quickly, the chair he'd been sitting in toppling behind him. All their eyes moved to a darkened corner of the room. A small figure was sitting on the empty table. There were lots of tables in the large room, for it was used at an International Conference room. They also noticed that a taller, more willowy figure was sitting in the chair beside the smaller one's hip.

"Adel...." Laguna whispered, while, at the same time, Squall whispered "Zell."

Zell laughed. "Haven't figured out what to call me yet?"

"Where's Edea?" Seifer asked, his voice cold and commanding, cutting through everyone in the room.

Selphie pulled out her nunchaku. "You'll never get your hands on Matron!"

"Oh, I beg to differ...." Zell swung his legs casually. The light seemed to move for them so they weren't in shadows anymore. "Seems that Squall thought the same thing about dear little Rinoa..." Zell touched his bangs, which were streaked crimson. "At least she made a positive fashion statement when she died... A first for her..." He laughed.

"You'll never have Esthar!" Laguna yelled, showing real anger on his face. He pulled his sub machine gun off the table.

Any mirth on Zell's face totally vanished as he looked at Laguna. "You think you can stop me, Loire?" He moved off the table, but didn't make a move forward. Squall noticed that Seifer placed a hand on Zell's arm, which was encased in a long vinyl trenchcoat, the same crimson as the bloody streaks in his blonde hair.

"Where's Edea? I'll only be diplomatic for so long..." Seifer said.

The fact that Zell seemed to be the aggressor, and that Seifer was calm and almost like a statue was scary to Squall. That meant that there was something really wrong, that Ultimecia was actually in control. It was truly frightening. What was also frightening was the way Zell looked at both Squall and his father. Such open, naked hatred.

"We'll never tell you!" Laguna yelled. "Why are you doing this to your own child, Adel?!"

An ugly sneer passed over Zell's lips, and his sharp canines looked more like vampire fangs. "So heroic, aren't you Laguna....?" He laughed, low and frightening.

Seifer's eyes stopped on Squall, boring into him. "I'm sure your comrades are having a ball with the little gifts we've sent them...." Seifer trailed off as if he was listening to some sweet song that only he could hear. "Too bad Nida's empathic.... He'll suffer so much more."

"Why isn't Quistis here?" Zell asked, almost casually.

"Does it matter?" Selphie asked, growling.

Laguna aimed his machine gun. "Get the fuck out my city."

Zell looked at Seifer, almost as if he was looking for permission. The hand dropped off the slick red vinyl, and Zell laughed.

"Oh, Laguna. Esthar is my city. It always has been...." He trailed off, and moved like a flash, until he was standing directly in front of Laguna, machine gun in his hands. "And, it always will be."

"Get away from him!" Kiros yelled, slicing Zell's arm with his Katal.

Zell looked down at the cut, and his hand reached out quickly, grabbing Kiros by the throat. He then threw the sinewy man against the wall. Kiros slumped, totally unconscious.

Selphie made a move to attack Zell with her weapon, but felt motion, faster than she could see, and then felt Seifer's fist come in contact with her cheek. It sent her flying into a table, which buckled under the force of her weight crashing into it. She slumped, her shoulder dislocated. She was also sure that her jaw was at least dislocated as well, maybe broken.

"You're such a fucking fool, Laguna Loire...." Zell trailed off, crossing his arms over his chest, glaring at Laguna with his cold blue eyes. He then narrowed them, and Laguna screamed, his fingers moving to his temples. He slumped in front of Zell's body, swooning on his knees. Squall saw his father's eyes roll into the back of his head. Then, Zell kneed Laguna under the chin, and it sent the President reeling into the wall, slumped. Kiros groaned, and Selphie was panting, but Laguna made no motion.

"Fuck you, Zell!" Squall screamed, unsheathing his gunblade. He moved fast, and the fact that Zell was admiring his handiwork against Laguna made him slow.

"Adel!" Seifer called as Squall's gunblade cut into the smaller blonde's untattooed cheek.

"Fuck!" Zell roared, recoiling from the blade, but Squall went after Zell again, cutting him jaggedly, connecting to the other cut, and again, and again, making it look like a bleeding tattoo on Zell's cheek, matching the one in black ink on the other side of his face.

Zell splayed his fingers out, sending a powerful wave of magic into Squall. It hit him like a truck, and he flew into a table, the edge hitting his back painfully. "Fucking cunt...." Zell touched the side of his face, his hand coming back with blood.

Seifer quickly breathed in. "Something's wrong..."

"Huh?" Zell looked at Squall angrily, who was slumped against the tipped table, writhing in pain.

"I feel weak......" Seifer's face became angry. "Odine...."

"Do you think he's hiding Edea from us?"

Seifer walked over to Squall, picking him up by the collar. "Where's Edea?"

Squall just stared into Seifer's eyes. "Please.... Seifer....." He moaned in discomfort, and noticed that it kind of sounded like a sex moan.

Seifer dropped Squall again. "Useless... Just like his father..." Seifer looked over, laughing. He spread his hand out, just as Zell had done, and Laguna's body spasmed, then laid still once more. Too still.

"Kome on..." Seifer trailed off. "Let them suffer for a little while."

"But...." Zell trailed off, but Squall noticed that something stopped him. A realization of weakness? As Zell walked past him, Squall screamed. Zell's foot made heavy contact with his ribcage. "I still have a score to settle with you, Leonhart...." Zell laughed. "Whore."

Squall watched as both blondes vanished into thin air, and he slumped against the table. He wondered if Nida was dead. It still hurt to look at Seifer and Zell, and know that it wasn't really them anymore.

Kiros groaned, pain shooting up his body. "Everyone okay?"

Selphie groaned. "I need a doctor... My shoulder is dislocated. My jaw hurts, too. But, if I can talk, it can't be that serious...."

"Squall?" Kiros asked.

"I'll live..." Squall whispered.

"Laguna?" Kiros asked.

No response.


Squall opened his eyes, looking at his father. "Dad?"

Laguna wasn't moving.

"Sir Laguna?" Selphie asked. "Shit... Is he... Dead?"

Squall crawled over to his father's position. "No, he's still breathing...." Squall lightly slapped Laguna's cheeks. "Dad, it's Squall. Can you hear me?"

"Laguna?" Kiros whispered, slumping beside his lover. "What's wrong with him?"

Squall opened one of Laguna's eyes. His pupil took up almost his entire iris. There was barely the trace of blue around the black. "He's comatose...." Squall looked around. "Where did Fujin go with that fucking doctor?"

"Laguna?" Kiros asked, panic rising in his voice. He gasped when the harsh laughter of Ultimecia filled the room like a horrible echo.

Sweet dreams, kursed fools.

Squall bit his lip and felt tears spring to his eyes. Laguna was in a coma? Is this what Ultimecia and Adel, Seifer and Zell, meant by letting them suffer? Squall looked at his unmoving father, and knew that here was much worse to come.

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