Chapter Nineteen

By Scarlet Fever

Ellone folded her hands in her lap, looking across the room at Edea. "Do you think Squall and the others will be able to stop Adel and Ultimecia, Matron?"

Edea sighed sadly, looking at Ellone. "I don't know... I mean, I hope....." She breathed deeply, as if weighing her words carefully. "But...."

"But, what?" Irvine asked, polishing his gun in the chair he was sprawled in.

"The price of victory may be too high," Edea said, barely a whisper.

"So, what, you think that Squall and the others should let Adel and Ultimecia win?" Irvine asked, cocking a brow and giving Edea a confused look.

"No, that's not what I mean...." Edea looked over to Cid, reaching her hand out for his. "Of course they have to defeat Seifer and Zell, defeat Adel and Ultimecia, but.... Well, just because they win, doesn't mean it will be a happy ending...."

"Why, do you sense something?" Cid asked, squeezing his wife's hand.

She shook her head. "No, nothing, but I don't need to. I know Adel and Ultimecia well enough.... I mean, look what's happened already with Rinoa... That's not the end of it, not by a long shot...."

Ellone sighed breathily. "Poor Squall... It seems that the responsibility to save the world always falls on his shoulders. And, he has to fight Seifer and Zell...."

"He has the others to help him...." Edea mused.

Irvine was only half paying attention to the conversation. He was staring off into space, absently polishing his shotgun. He was thinking about Selphie. Worrying about Selphie. He knew that the brunette SeeD could take care of herself, but he still worried. He and Selphie were happy again. Well, relatively happy. Outside the awful events that were unfolding around them, they were happy. Irvine was more in love with her than he'd ever been, and he knew she felt the same way. A dark sense of foreboding was gnawing him from the inside out. He didn't know if everything was okay, but he knew that something bad could happen. And, with Adel and Ultimecia involved, it was pretty fucking likely that trouble would come. But, it was his duty to stay and watch over Edea, make sure that Ultimecia didn't get the last piece of her power. No matter how much he wanted to rush to Esthar to make sure that Selphie and the others were okay, he would never leave his post of watching over Matron. He just hoped that Selphie wouldn't need him, that nothing terrible was going to happen, that Edea was wrong... That things wouldn't get worse before they got better...

"We have to go help Selphie... Now!" Quistis exclaimed. She was staring straight ahead, her cobalt eyes dead. "If anything happens to her... It's all my fault."

"It's not your fault!" Xu exclaimed, resting a hand on Quistis's shoulder, which was stiff and rigid. "And, I know that Selphie doesn't blame you. Adel and Ultimecia are very powerful Sorceresses. They let you be fooled. They wanted you to be fooled."

Quistis sighed deeply, her chest shallowly rising and falling. "But...."

"But, nothing..." Kiros muttered. "We have to go after them."

"But," Fujin stated quietly, her voice cutting through the room. "Won't Seifer and Zell be able to know that we're coming, and punish Selphie for it?"

"They want us to come," Squall said darkly, crossing his arms over his chest. He stood in his typical fashion, looking around the room. "Let's go...."

"Well, who is staying behind here?" Kiros asked. "We can't very well leave Esthar undefended...."

Squall nodded. "Seifer and Zell want me and Laguna anyway...." He looked over to Kiros. "I assume that you're staying here?"

Kiros nodded. "I want to protect Esthar, and I don't want to leave Laguna open to another attack."

Fujin held up her hands in what seemed like a helpless gesture. "But... How do you even know that Seifer and Zell are at the Centra Ruins?"

"And, a better question, ya know," Raijin muttered. "Is, how will we get into there? They'll know for sure...."

"They're there..." Nida muttered. "I can feel it."

Squall sighed deeply, looking down at his fists, which were tensely balled. "They'll know where we are wherever we are."

"It doesn't matter!" Quistis exclaimed angrily, standing up. Xu's hand slid off her shoulder. "We have to help Selphie...."

Xu nodded sadly. "I'll stay behind. I'll help Botany and Fujin with the troops here."

Fujin nodded. "Right. We'll be able to protect Esthar, but I think that Seifer and Zell will probably only send monsters here. They want Squall to come..." Fujin gave the new President of Esthar a hard look. "You're walking right into a trap...."

Squall sighed, deep and impatient. "I know that! But, in partiality, it's my fault that Selphie is in the situation she's in. They want me."

"Well, what about Irvine....?" Nida whispered. "He's Selphie's boyfriend, isn't he?"

Xu nodded sadly. "Right... And, Edea...."

"No!" Squall exclaimed. "Nobody contacts them..."

"Why?" Raijin whispered.

"Squall is right," Kiros muttered, folding his sinewy arms over his slight chest. "If we contact Irvine or Edea, it will give away their location."

"But, doesn't Irvine have the right to know about Selphie?" Quistis asked sharply.

"Quistis, you know as well as I do that hiding Matron is top priority..." He looked around the room at the conflicted faces around him. "It may sound cold, but it's the truth."

Kiros nodded sadly. "Well, you guys should go. We'll hold down the fort here."

Squall nodded. "Well, the Ragnarok isn't fixed. Nida, can you fly one of the other Esthar ships?"

Nida nodded. "With ease."

"Good," Quistis said quickly. "Come on!"

Zell paced back and forth, narrowing his eyes with evil mirth every time he slowly walked past Selphie, who was shackled to a chair, a frightened look in her jade eyes. But, there was an underlying determination that made Zell's anger rise.

Selphie's eyes watched Zell, who didn't look like the Zell she knew. True that it was Zell, but his movements and facial expressions were totally different, and not like the blonde martial artist at all. She felt cold tremors moving through her body, like icy fingers, like some slimy monster. How could Zell have become this? Selphie knew that they both knew she was scared out of her mind, and that thought was truly terrifying. They knew they were winning.

Selphie's eyes moved to Seifer, who was sitting in a throne-like chair, watching the restrained girl with calm eyes, that reminded Selphie of the eye of a Hurricane. His hands were relaxed on the arms of the chair, his fingers tapping aimlessly. Seifer's familiar blue eyes looked hard and alien, and watched both Zell and Selphie.

"Do you think they'll actually come for you?" Zell asked, his voice coming out as a hissed whisper.

"Zell..." Seifer whispered. "Don't you see that you frighten her?" Seifer smiled, more like a reptilian baring of teeth.

Selphie pursed her lips. Seifer and Zell hadn't gagged her, but she hadn't said a word. It was like there was an invisible hand around her throat, preventing her from speaking. "How could you let them do this to you?" Selphie said, her voice echoing pathetically.

Seifer merely raised an eyebrow, while Zell stood beside the left armrest, an angry smirk on his face, like hearing Selphie's voice had surprised, angered and amused him. "She speaks."

Selphie's eyes turned to Zell. She could feel frightful, angry tears stinging at the corners of her eyes. "You know that you're just a lapdog. Both you and Zell, Adel. You're just her pawn..." Selphie jerked her head to Seifer, whose face was impassive. Zell's became flushed with a scarlet tint, and his eyes seemed to become angry pools of bubbling blood.

"You should learn not to shoot your mouth off, little sister," Zell muttered, his voice scathing.

"Why don't you just kill me then?" Selphie's voice shook as she said it.

"In due time," Seifer whispered. "Where's Edea, Selphie? Where's your precious Matron?"

"I won't tell you!" Selphie grated out. She panted as creeping power ran over her body. It scared the shit out of her. "I won't tell you..." She repeated, but far more weakly, less convincing.

Seifer shrugged, very casually, like he knew something that Selphie didn't. His motions were also foreign to the brunette. He could see Ultimecia's influences, plain as day. "Well, some nuts will be easier to crack that you are."

Selphie swallowed, realizing what her former friend meant. Was Seifer actually her former friend? Was he even Seifer. If the real Seifer was still in there, Selphie wanted to help him.

"I am the real Seifer, my dear. Why is that so hard to komprehend?"

She shook her head vehemently. "You're not the real Seifer! And," she looked at Zell, who had his arms crossed over his chest, glaring at Selphie through the curtain of his bloodstained bangs. "You're not Zell!"

The corners of Zell's mouth twitched, like he was trying to swallow a grimace or frown. "You're a stupid cunt. You always were."

Selphie sighed, looking down at her lap. It was useless to try and reason with them. She knew what Seifer and Zell meant by other nuts. They were luring Quistis, Squall and the others, using Selphie herself as bait. Even though she was more frightened than she'd been in her entire life, she hoped that Quistis and Squall didn't come to help her.

"I hope Quistis doesn't come to help me..." She muttered.

"Quistis?!" Zell asked, like Selphie had said that the sky was brown. "Quistis...? What makes you think we give two shits whether that dyke comes here or not?" He laughed, looking at Selphie like she was centimetres tall.

Selphie's lips quivered. "You want Squall then...?" Selphie narrowed her eyes. "But, there's more than that...." She narrowed her eyes further, until they were slits on her face. "Someone else."

Seifer laughed harshly. "Despite your appearance, you're pretty clever."

Selphie thought for a moment. "Nida.... He's empathic. You want him, too, don't you?"

"Squall interests us more..." Zell muttered.

There was a painful silence that lasted a few minutes, and then, Selphie smiled, her lips razor thin on her face. "So, Zell, Seifer....?" Her smile got thinner. "What's it like to fuck each other now? Seifer, how does it feel to be raped every night by the man you love most? Zell, how does it feel to be falling into Ultimecia's hands, destroying Seifer all over again.... Tell me how it feel...." Selphie stopped talking when the back of Zell's hand came across her cheek with such force that the chair she was bound to toppled over, crushing her fingers under the heavy arms.

Selphie cried out in pain, feeling the now shattered bones in her fingers grinding between the ground and thick wood, the broken shards cutting the inside flesh of her hand. She bit her lip to keep from screaming out. Her jaw also stung, and moving her mouth really hurt. Zell had probably fractured her jaw. She whimpered into the ground.

"Fucking bitch!" Zell ground out, spitting on Selphie in her toppled chair. She closed her eyes as the warm spittle oozed down her cheek. It felt very degrading.

"You're not Zell...." She panted, pain coursing through her body.

Zell shrugged, but as Selphie slowly opened her eyes again, she knew that he was seething, that Adel's anger was barely being contained in his small body. "Well, it won't matter soon. You can protest all you want, but you won't live to see the dawn." He spun on his heel, blatantly turning his back on her.

Seifer smirked. "That whore Leonhart is koming with his merry band."

Zell smiled wickedly. "Well, then I guess we should prepare to greet our guests...."

"Squall, don't you feel like we're walking into a trap, ya know?!" Raijin asked, his hands folded in his lab, an uncharacteristically subdued look on his darkly handsome face.

"I know that we're walking into a trap," the current President whispered. He was sitting in the chair beside Nida, who was piloting the small Esthar ship towards Centra. Quistis, Nida, Squall and Raijin were the ones that were going. Squall wasn't even sure that he wanted anyone else to go, but Squall wasn't a very good pilot, and he knew that Quistis would more than insist. Raijin was basically backup, because they all knew they would need it.

"Do you think Selphie will even be alive....?" Nida asked.

"She better be!" Quistis exclaimed angrily.

Nida sighed. "But....."

"But, nothing!" Quistis stood. "Squall, I will take full responsibility if anything happens to Selphie."

Squall looked at her with confusion in his eyes. "What, do you expect me to discipline you?" Squall's voice rose an octave. "Quistis, for the last time, it wasn't your fault!"

"We can't let them hurt her..." Quistis muttered, turning on her heel. She disappeared through a doorway, walking into the depths of the ship.

"Maybe I should talk to her, ya know?! She's taking this really hard...."

Squall nodded distantly, massaging his temples. He rested his elbows on his knees when he heard Raijin leave. Squall and Nida sat in perfect silence for a while, Squall trying to massage his growing headache away, Nida trying to concentrate on piloting the ship, while also concentrating on trying not to look at Squall, and also trying to ignore the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach that was growing stronger with each kilometre that they flew.

"Nida...?" Squall asked quietly.


"Do you think that Quistis is to blame for what happened to Selphie?"

The Asian man scoffed. "Of course not..." He looked over at Squall, putting the ship on Auto Pilot. "Why would you ask?"

"Do you think that I'm responsible?" Squall's voice sounded very quiet and child-like. A tone of voice that he probably hadn't used in a very long time. It was a definite show of vulnerability.

"No..." Nida whispered. "Adel and Ultimecia are to blame...." Nida trailed off. "They know we're coming...."

"I know that. But, we can't just leave her here..."

Nida sighed deeply, turning fully to face Squall. He kept part of his attention on the ship. He'd gotten very good over the years of half watching a ship flying. "They're just using her as bait, Squall." Nida leaned in slightly so that he could catch Squall's tired gaze. "Seifer and Zell are using Selphie to get us to tell them where Edea is." Nida bit his lip, frowning. "They may be able to get it out of us telepathically."

Squall looked into Nida's eyes. "You think that because Seifer mentally contacted you..."

Nida nodded, spreading his hands out before him. "Squall.... It just feels very helpless right now. I know a SeeD isn't supposed to think that, but I feel it. We're backed into a corner."

"We can't give up. Look at all the harm that Adel and Ultimecia have caused already."

"I'm not saying we should give up. But, we have to realize that we're losing right now. And, I don't know about you, but...." Nida trailed off sadly. He rested his elbow on his knee, propping his chin up. "I don't know how we're going to win."

Squall smiled sadly. "Well, at least I know that someone feels the same way that I do...." The smile on his lips faltered ever so slightly when he thought of what Botany had said to him, thinking that Nida was his boyfriend. He cocked his head and looked at the Asian man beside him, who seemed to be contemplating something internally. Maybe the feeling that he got from Adel and Ultimecia's powers.

There was so much about Nida that Squall didn't know, but he felt like he knew the other man very well. Nida had always been around, kind of in the shadows. Squall knew that he'd forgotten that Nida had graduated with him, Zell and Selphie. He sighed. That was such a lifetime ago. It made Squall wonder what else he'd missed around him because he'd been so introverted.

"Squall...?" Nida asked quietly. "What are you thinking about?"

Squall blinked, surprised by the question. "Huh?"

"I don't mean to pry or anything... I meant, if you were thinking about a way that we could try and get Selphie out of there without, you know, risking our own lives?"

Squall sort of flushed. It was a warm spreading over his cheeks, and he really didn't want to call it a blush. Nida was looking at him expectantly, his eyes glittering with thoughtfulness. Would it have really been so horrible if Botany had been right about Nida and him? It's not like Nida was unattractive. Quite the opposite. His features were very fine, almost feminine. Yet, he had a quality that made him masculine. It could have been something in his cheekbones, something in his jaw line. But, he was more than attractive. He was spectacular looking. Squall wondered why the pilot didn't get more attention from girls. Or, boys, as Botany seemed to think. There was part of Squall that wanted to ask if Nida liked boys, but it was Nida's business, so he wouldn't ask. Squall knew he would be horribly embarrassed and a little miffed if anyone asked him about his own sexuality. Squall wasn't even sure what his sexuality was. Was he actually gay? Well, he had really, really, really liked it when Botany had banged him in that club, but what about what he'd felt for Rinoa? She was the girliest girl that there had been. Maybe he had been just so introverted that he took what was offered to him, because it wasn't like Rinoa had been coy about anything.

"Squall....?" Nida asked, turning to face the horizon again.

Squall blinked a few times, snapped out of his mental contemplations. "Yeah?"

"How do you know Botany?"

Squall balked, feeling his face flush. "Wh.... What?"

"When Botany first came to Esthar, he said that you guys had already met.... I was just curious. Were you doing work with Galbadia in the past few months or something...?"

Squall was silent, his mouth slowly opening and closing. Maybe it would be a good time to breach the sexuality topic. A brief daydream flashed through Squall's mind of his stomach being pressed into the controls of the Esthar ship while Nida fucked him. He shook his head to get rid of it. Totally not the right time. The vision made him blush further.

Nida continued. "I mean, there was a point that I was away from the Garden... I wasn't even there for Headmaster Cid's retirement party...." There was a wistful tone to Nida's voice.

"Where were you...?" Squall choked out, desperately wanting to change the subject.

"I was sent to Winhill to work on driving out some of the monsters. There were a few new breeds of sea creatures coming in. Winhill asked Garden for help, because they want to start a sort of army. Nothing elaborate like Esthar or Galbadia, but just something so they don't have to call for help all the time. Since they're a gateway to the ocean, and Centra, which is a monster haven, they keep getting monsters."

Squall nodded. "Who else was there?"

"Oh, I was the only SeeD. It wasn't a terribly difficult task, so I took a bunch of Junior Classmen. It was more of a learning battle skills thing."

"You taught them?" Squall asked, blinking. He cocked his head, tucking some of his shaggy bangs behind his ear. It seemed that there was much he didn't know about Nida Nomura.

Nida shrugged. "Not really. They just used the skills that they were learning in class. I'm not very good at teaching fighting. They asked me to teach an aviation workshop this spring....." Nida smiled sadly. "Zell was the one who they were going to ask about taking over one of the retiring combat teachers..." Nida trailed off. "I guess that won't happen now, huh?"

Squall sighed deeply. "No, probably not." He looked at Nida, a hard and long gaze. "Even if Zell and Seifer reverted to their normal personalities, I don't think that they can go back to Garden."

"They probably wouldn't be able to go anywhere. People won't be as forgiving, especially after they attacked Laguna..." Nida smiled sadly. "Your father's a very popular man."

Squall grumbled to himself. "Why did he have to make me President instead of Kiros?! I can't do this! Why does everyone ask me to save the world?!" Squall let out a frustrated groan, burying it in his gloved palms.

Nida reached out, tentatively placing a comforting hand on Squall's shoulder. Nida knew his palm was sweating, and his fingers caused the vinyl of Squall's black trenchcoat to creak. Squall looked up from between his fingers, which were splayed over his face. He felt Nida's hand, warm through the fabric of his coat. They just looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Neither knew how long it actually was. Nida's hand remained on Squall's shoulder, and he really had to push the urge to stroke the curve of Squall's shoulder to the pit of his stomach. Despite the fact that Squall looked very skinny, Nida could feel the powerful muscles that would be needed to wield a gunblade under Squall's clothing. His muscles were there, but were just more sinewy and willowy than someone like Raijin. The urge to kiss Squall, to molest him, were never greater for Nida. Being so close to the man that he'd thought about while jerking off for most of his sexual life was making the Asian man a little hot under the collar. And, Squall's eyes looked so blue compared to the dark fabric of his gloves. He was so beautiful....

Squall breathed out slowly. Nida's hand was warm and comforting, and Squall wished that Nida would move his hand, cup Squall's face. Squall wanted to nuzzle into the other man's touch, which felt like home at that moment. He felt at home, peaceful, comforted, like something real and substantial was finally touching him, after he'd been surrounded by dark magic and things that weren't really tangible. Nida's hand felt like an life preserver that Squall could grip onto. Squall wanted Nida to comfort him, to collect him in his arms and just hold him. Squall just wanted to let go, to not have to save the world.

A slight beeping on the control panel caused the moment between them to be snapped. Nida laughed nervously, quietly, his hand coming off of Squall's shoulder, tracing down his vinyl clad arm. It made the scarred man shiver, and he had to turn his head away.

Nida bit his lip, and stared straight ahead. They were still over ocean. He felt like he had to say something, because the silence was choking. "So, you never did answer my question." Nida inwardly cringed. His voice sounded so sexual in his ears, and it almost echoed over the whole cockpit.

"What question was that?" Squall asked, his voice equally husky and quiet.

"How you knew Botany...."

"Oh...." Squall trailed off. He laughed suddenly. "I don't know if I should tell you that...."

"Why?" Nida asked. "What, is it incriminating? Is he your drug dealer or something?"

Squall laughed again, and it sounded much more at ease. "Maybe that would be easier to explain." Squall looked over. He suddenly felt very in tune with Nida, so he decided to jump in head first. "Okay, but it doesn't leave this room, okay?"

Nida nodded slowly. "Fine." He raised an interested eyebrow.

"I met Botany in Deling City. But, I didn't know who he was until we met again in Esthar." Squall took a deep breath. "It was when Zell, Seifer and me were looking into Seifer's past, and the whole Lillith thing, and I went to a club, and kind of..." Squall briefly looked over at Nida, then looked away, embarrassment halting his words. "I...."

"Fucked him?" Nida asked, his voice bland.

Squall's head jerked up. He just blinked at Nida, who was watching him with his calm, doe brown eyes. "Yeah...." Squall bit his lip and looked away, shame tinting his lovely face a deep shade of rose.

Nida looked down at the controls. Squall and Botany had fucked? Nida felt a strange mix of relief and jealousy wash through him. Squall fucked another man, but he'd also, well, fucked another man.

"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything..." Squall trailed off. "It's the first time I've really... admitted to anyone, that I like boys enough to have sex with them."

Nida swallowed deeply at the way that Squall said 'sex'. It sounded very sexy, the way the word was meant to be said.

"Did you always like boys?" Nida asked quietly, trying to keep the now shy nervousness out of his voice. "What about Rinoa?"

"I've been asking myself that. I don't know... I'm not really an expert on feelings. I'm still a very introverted person. I mean, this is the extent of my confessions about myself. I never even really discussed what I always felt with Rinoa...." Squall sighed. "I don't know how I feel."

"Do you care about Botany? Do you want a relationship from him?" Nida asked, making his voice passive. But, inside he was waiting to cringe, waiting for defeat of Squall saying that he was falling for the purple haired Galbadian Commander.

"No..." Squall waved his hand. "It was just a one night stand..." Squall looked over at Nida, and laughed slightly. "Are you creeped out or anything? I mean, I don't know how you feel about gay people or anything, and I've just kind of blurted it out, without thinking... For once." He smiled to himself.

Nida laughed loudly, actually laughing. Squall furrowed his brow in confusion, because the Asian man was almost to the point of giggling.

"Why are you laughing?" Squall asked, almost angrily.

Nida paused, his eyes glittering with unshed tears of laughter. "Oh... Don't worry, I'm not creeped out by gay people. I mean, Xu and Quistis are two of my best friends." Nida laughed again.

Squall narrowed his eyes, thinking of what Botany said. Straight guys don't eye other men the way that Nida was looking at you.. "You're gay, aren't you?"

Nida stopped laughing, and looked out to the ocean, remaining silent. Finally, he said. "Yes."

Squall cracked a smile. "Maybe you could hook up with Botany. He said that you were cute."

Nida smirked. "That's okay. I don't need your handouts..." Nida then frowned. "Well, it's not like I'm doing well on my own...."

Squall sighed, smirking as well. "Botany thought that you were my boyfriend."

Nida coughed, his own saliva going down the wrong way. "Wha....?"

Squall's smirk softened to a smile. "Yeah. He said he wouldn't tell you about fucking me."

Nida laughed, steering the ship slightly, seeing Centra in the distance. His countenance darkened. "We're almost there."

Squall nodded darkly. "Nida... You don't have to come... You can stay in the ship if you want. I know that you're still injured."

"I appreciate your concern, Squall.... Really...." Nida flashed him a brief smile. "But, I want to help, and you need my help."

"I just hope that we all make it out in one piece," Squall muttered, watching the horizon of the rocky Centra continent get closer and closer.

"Quistis, you have to stop blaming yourself, ya know!?" Raijin exclaimed angrily once he'd caught up with the blonde woman. They were standing near one of the water tanks in a boiler hallway of the ship. Raijin was surprised that there was so much stuff in such a compact ship. It wasn't as big as the Ragnarok, which he'd only ridden in a couple of times. It had an older feel to it, but still ran as smooth as butter. "It's going to affect your performance!"

Quistis spun on her heel. "How can I not blame myself!? I let Selphie be taken. Right in front of my fucking eyes, Raijin! I thought that Zell was Xu. I didn't even recognize my own girlfriend! And, you ask how I can't blame myself?!"

Raijin gripped Quistis's shoulders tightly, until she gasped in discomfort. "Get over yourself! You're not responsible for the whole world! If they hadn't fooled you, they would have fooled someone else! And, anyone else wouldn't have caught on to what happened. They would have let Selphie walk off with Seifer and Zell, and then we'd have no idea where she was...."

Quistis sighed deeply. "Raijin...."

"You know I'm right! Don't be such a fool. It doesn't suit you, ya know?"

Quistis shrugged Raijin off, and leaned wearily against the wall. "How are we going to save her? We have to fight two Sorceresses that gave us a Hell of a time last time."

"They aren't at full strength this time...." Raijin began to say.

"But, they're inside Seifer and Zell. Come on, Raijin. Seifer's one of your best friends. And, I know you care about Zell. Can you really say that you're okay with the possibility of killing them?"

"Of course I'm not!" Raijin snapped angrily. "But, if it has to be done, ya know...." He sighed, lowering his voice. "Look, I know Seifer pretty well, better than most people. And, I know Zell pretty good, too, ya know, and I know that they wouldn't want to live with what they've done. And," Raijin looked down at the toes of his boots. "They probably wouldn't be able to live, ya know?!"

"You mean social backlash, don't you?" The blonde whispered.

Raijin nodded. "I mean, look at what Seifer went through when Ultimecia brainwashed him before. This is ten times worse."

Quistis sighed deeply, her whole body echoing it. "An equally pressing question... Are we going to be able to live with the fallout?"

"You mean, being able to live with maybe killing two of our best friends, living with knowing that Rinoa, Ward and General Caraway are dead?"

"I have a feeling that it won't end there," Quistis said sadly. "I mean, Seifer and Zell aren't just going to hand over Selphie..."

"They want to know where Edea is."

Quistis nodded. "We can't tell them."

Raijin nodded firmly. "I know that Selphie wouldn't want you to give up Edea..."

"Do you think that Selphie would be willing to be a Martyr for this? I mean, if we don't tell them where Edea is, they'll more than likely either maim or kill her. But, if we tell them where Edea is, Ultimecia will get her full strength back, and we'll never be able to stop her...."

Raijin's pierced eyebrow cocked. "And, we don't know how strong Ultimecia actually is. She didn't have all her power last time, ya know?!"

Quistis nodded, folding her arms across her stomach. "Even if we win, this won't be a happy ending...."

Kiros sat next to Laguna's bed. He knew that Botany, Xu and Fujin were taking care of the army situation. Kiros actually wished that Fujin would just lay down and rest. He didn't know what was wrong with the silver-haired woman, but he cared about her, and knew that she was ill. He hoped it wasn't anything too serious. Probably stress. There was enough of that going around.

The sinewy man sighed, looking down at Laguna, who looked like he did every morning that Kiros woke up before him. Peaceful. But, Kiros knew that it was a false sleep. What if Laguna never woke up? What would happen to Esthar? Would Squall be able to be President? Kiros didn't feel any sort of bitterness about Laguna's choice to have his son success him, but Kiros did wonder if Squall was up for the job. He knew that Laguna's son was far more organized and serious, but could he handle the stress? Laguna may have seemed carefree and a bit scatterbrained, but he knew how to handle tense situations, knew how to work through tough times, knew how to manage stress.

"Oh, Laguna.... What am I going to do?" Kiros whispered into the dark. The midnight shadows were encasing Esthar, and the ever-present blue glow that hung all over the technological wonder of Esthar was casting its hue on the surfaces of Laguna and Kiros's bedroom. "I never thought I'd miss your nattering and endless talking...." Kiros took one of Laguna's cold, still hands in his own. It felt like he was touching a corpse. If it weren't for the shallow rise and fall of Laguna's chest, he would have looked dead. Kiros also felt dead. He couldn't even really hate Adel at that moment. Everything just seemed so empty, so senseless. Like it was all a dream, like it wasn't really happening to him.

"I hope that Squall and the others can defeat Adel and Ultimecia," Kiros whispered. "But, I honestly don't hold out much hope. And, if that's true...." Kiros dropped Laguna's cold hand, standing up. He went to the window, staring out at the Esthar skyline. "Do any of us have any real hope?" He sighed deeply, pressing his forehead to the cool glass. "Or, is Esthar just destined to be under Adel's control again, and us her slaves?"

Fujin frowned, adjusting the earpiece she was wearing. She had been put in charge of main contact within the palace and city. Xu had frowned at her and said "You're staying here. You still look very ill...." Fujin had argued, but she knew that Xu was right. She knew she looked sick, and she felt sick, too. Most of the ill feeling in the pit of her stomach was emotional stress. She still had periods of nausea, but it was more the mental dread that Fujin was suffering from. Sunde said that she was about three months into the pregnancy. Fujin took Depo-Provera, and the injected birth control drug had halted her period a couple of years ago, so she hadn't noticed skipping a few menstrual cycles. The silver-haired woman still didn't know how she was going to breach the subject with Raijin. Neither had discussed their feelings on having children. She knew that Raijin would be more than surprised, because her contraception was supposed to be working. But, Fujin knew that nothing was a hundred percent effective. Still... A baby?

She'd never thought about being a mother before. Would she be a good one? Fujin's own mother had died when she was very young, so she couldn't even remember anything her own mother had done to raise her. Fujin unconsciously rubbed her stomach. She couldn't feel the baby at all, but she felt like she could. Sunde had said if she wanted an abortion, it was cutting it a little close, but it could be done. She didn't even know if she wanted one, or if she wanted the baby. Fujin knew she had to talk to Raijin. She would talk to him as soon as he got back from Centra with Squall, Quistis and Nida. If he came back from Centra. What if Raijin was killed? Would Fujin be able to take care of a baby by herself? She wasn't worried at all about financially, but just, herself. Could she handle the stress of raising a child without Raijin?


The Cyclopsed woman heard Xu's voice crackle in the earpiece. "Yes?"

"Good, they're working. Okay, I'm stationing at the Great Salt Lake. Has Botany tried to contact you?"

Fujin pressed a few buttons on the command console before her. "I'll try to get a three way patch going...." She pressed a few buttons. "Botany?"


"It sounds kind of staticky," Xu said. "Can you fix that?"

"Hang on...." Fujin pressed a few more buttons. "Better?"

"It's fine here," Botany said.

"Yes, better." There was a pause before Xu spoke again. "Okay, Botany, where are you stationing? I just told Fujin that I was at the Great Salt Lake."

"I'm at the Sorceress Memorial. I thought I would assemble a bulk of troops here. Maybe it can work as a decoy." There was a pause from Botany's end. "I have Odine here, too. So, maybe we can try to prevent an onslaught to Trabia."

"Are any troops watching near the Grandidi Forest?" Xu asked. "That's a good place for hidden monsters to go to Trabia...."

"Yeah, I've got it covered," Botany answered blandly. "Have a little faith in me."

Fujin frowned. "Okay... I'm sending a few of the city troops down towards the border of the Kashkabald Desert. It would be better to maybe have a few less troops in the city, and if we need them, they can always work back inward."

"But, what if Adel and Ultimecia try to get in the city some other way. I know that Adel really wants Esthar." Xu's voice sounded alien and deadpan across the radio.

"Well, it's not like we're unarmed," Fujin stated. "And, Esthar is technologically advanced. There are security mechanisms, and the technology has greatly improved since Adel last reigned here, so we have that advantage. She won't know how everything in Esthar works anymore." Fujin paused. "Botany?"


"Keep an eye on Odine. He's doing something to hamper Adel and Ultimecia's powers. They'll definitely want to go after him."

"Will do."

"Okay," Xu said. "We should start watching. If anything strange happens, contact over these communicators immediately. And, make reports every twenty minutes, just so we know what's going on in each section of the continent."

Fujin nodded. "Fine. I'll be here. Each soldier also has a communicator in his uniform, but they'll be able to only contact whose platoon they're in. So, Xu, Botany, if any of your men or women call up anything, and I mean anything, patch it through immediately. Even something that seems miniscule could be of import."

"Right," Xu and Botany answered in unison.

Fujin sighed, hearing them cut out. She absently ran her hand over her stomach again, hoping for Raijin's safety, and an end to Adel and Ultimecia's attempted resurrections.

"How close should I land?" Nida asked, looking over at Squall. Quistis and Raijin had returned, and both seemed a little more calm, which put Squall at ease, something he was glad for. After his conversation with Nida, he was feeling a bit nervous, and he couldn't really put his finger on the reason why.

"Not too close," Quistis answered. "We don't want any creatures from the Ruins poking around it. Tonberrys have the reputation of messing around with transportation means."

Nida nodded and found an area of flat, bare earth half a kilometre away from the Centra Ruins. Once they landed, Nida frowned. "Okay... Question. Are we all going to just traipse in there in one big group, or should we split up, like one group going in behind sort of thing....?"

"Two and two," Squall muttered. "Two of us will go on ahead to see Seifer and Zell, and the other two should stay behind and watch for Monsters." Squall closed his eyes. "I'll stay behind. I have Diablos Junctioned, and he works well against Tonberrys." Squall frowned, still keeping his eyes closed. "And, it might be a bad idea for me to go waltzing in to see Seifer and Zell, since they probably want to kill me."

"Uh, Squall," Raijin muttered. "They don't have to be in the same room as you to kill you, ya know?!"

"I'll talk to Seifer and Zell," Quistis offered, her voice quavering slightly. "I'm the one who got Selphie in this mess, and I owe it to her..."

Nobody really disagreed with the elegant blonde. For one thing, Quistis was a very stubborn woman, and when she put her mind to something, nobody could change it or talk her out of anything. And, secondly, nobody wanted to agree to see Seifer and Zell. Nobody wanted to say it out loud, but they were all frightened.

Nida swallowed. "I'll go, too."

Squall shook his head slowly. "No. You're helping me."

Nida raised an eyebrow. "I am, am I?" They all got off the ship, and Raijin shielded his eyes against the sun. "Yeah, really, Squall. It would probably be better for me to help you, ya know?!"

"Nida's empathic. It would probably be a bad idea for him to be in the same room as two very magically based Sorceresses. And, he's got Eden Junctioned. His magic is also higher end than yours. Thunder based magic won't do as well here."

Raijin nodded slowly. "So, what? You want me to watch Quistis's back?"

"You have high physical strength...." Quistis stated, beginning to walk towards the Ruins. It felt like a Death March. "If Seifer and Zell try to attack us, you'd be able to handle any physical blows better. And," Quistis narrowed her eyes, feeling chills moving up her arms. "We haven't really seen them use magical powers. Maybe Odine is hampering them enough that they can't tax themselves. And, we know that Ultimecia isn't up to full strength. Maybe having Edea keeping some of her powers is hard on her body."

"Sounds like you've given this some thought..." Nida muttered, falling into step beside Squall. "So, should we stay a few feet behind you?"

Raijin cocked his head. "Probably between six and ten feet..."

"Just keep us in your sight," Quistis said, walking down the slight inclining path that led down to the Centra Ruins.

Squall pulled out his gunblade, hoisting it over his shoulder. He looked around, seeing nothing of interest. When the crumbling stairs loomed over them, Squall had to swallow his fear, which was quickly rising in the back of his throat. He heard the sound of metal on metal, and saw Nida pulling a pair of curved sickles from a hidden sheath at his back, that had been hidden under his high necked black coat that made him look sort of like a priest. He also saw Nida checking sheaths on his wrists, and pull some sheaths out from some pocket in his coat. As they walked up the stairs, Nida and Squall waited for Quistis and Raijin to get a little farther ahead. Nida used the opportunity to buckle the sheaths, which had wicked looking machetes in them, to his biceps, over his coat.

As Squall watched Nida put on a heavy looking pair of gloves, he thought of the last time he'd been at the Centra Ruins. To fight Odin, and to get the Tonberry King summon. He'd been with Zell and Rinoa. And, now, Rinoa was dead, and Zell was this horrible creature that his mother was turning him into. Seemed like a lifetime ago. When Nida was done, they slowly ascended the stairs, which seemed like a dark maw, yawning, waiting to swallow them whole. Squall didn't remember the stairs being so shadowy. Panic slowly rose in him, and Squall's story blue eyes turned to Nida. "Nida....?"

"Quistis?" Nida called.

"Yeah?" Her voice sounded clear.

"Good..." Nida whispered. "Nothing! Just checking!" The Asian man looked at Squall, and they quickly climbed the rest of the stairs. Straight into pitch blackness.

Quistis nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard her name being called.

"Quistis?" Nida called.

"Yeah?" She answered, her voice clear despite the fact that she was shaking like a leaf.

There was a pause, then she heard Nida call out. "Nothing! Just checking!"

Quistis turned to Raijin, a frown darkening her cobalt eyes. "Why would he call to us?"

Raijin shrugged, turning around to see if Squall and Nida were coming up the stairs. "Maybe they ran into some mons..." He blinked. "What's going on?"

Quistis shook her head, finding herself staring into pitch black where the stairs should have been. "What happened to the stairs?"

Raijin narrowed his dark eyes angrily. "Seifer and Zell are trying to separate us, ya know?!"

"Nida?!" Quistis called.

"Quistis?" It was Squall's voice. He sounded so close to them. "What happened?"

"I don't know," the blonde answered hesitantly. "It's like this darkness just kind of swallowed up the stairs. We can't see you..."

"We can't see you, either," Nida muttered. "It's like a wall or something."

"Can you still see the rest of the Ruins?" Squall asked.

Quistis nodded. "Yes. We're beside the statue of the Sorceress and her Knight."

"Keep going," Squall said.

"What?!" Raijin exclaimed. "Have you lost your mind?"

"They want to separate us.... And, we have to help Selphie. I think this barrier is probably temporary..."

Quistis turned around while Squall was speaking. "Uh, Raijin..." She pointed behind them, where some monsters were converging. There were a few Tonberrys, a Forbidden, and a couple of Red Dragons. "Squall, Nida... There are some monsters here that aren't local to the Ruins...."

"Holy shit, a Ruby Dragon?!" Raijin exclaimed.

"Just go!" Nida exclaimed. "We can handle them."

Quistis and Raijin looked at each other. "Guys, be careful," Quistis said gravely. She then assessed the distance between the monsters and the next stairwell. She hopped on the edge of the crumbling statue of the Sorceress, and ran the distance to the stairs, hopping over the swishing tail of a Ruby Dragon, who didn't actually seem that interested in her. Quistis felt movement at her back, and looked over her shoulder. Raijin was also running, watching out for the sharp edges of the Chef Knives that the Tonberrys were carrying. The Tonberrys also didn't seem that interested in fighting. Were they waiting for Squall and Nida?

"Quistis, run faster!" Raijin gasped, as a knife came through the back of his shirt, grazing his skin. It didn't hurt because it was a clean cut. "They're kind of starting to attack...."

She made it to the stairs and took them two at a time. When they got to the top, it was free of creatures. "I think we should move fast. More monsters may decide to materialize."

Raijin nodded. "So, do you think that they were waiting to attack Squall and Nida?"

Quistis frowned, running her hands through her blonde hair, which was falling out of the bun she'd tied it in. "Probably. I know the Tonberrys remember him from when he got the Tonberry King Guardian Force. Maybe that can work to his advantage...." Quistis trailed off as her and Raijin walked deeper into the Ruins. "Is the temperature changing?"

"It's natural. The Ruins are thick stone... It's always been cooler towards the center. It should be warmer when we reach Odin's Chamber, though...." Raijin bit his lip. "I hope that Selphie is okay."

"We better hurry..." Quistis muttered, beginning to climb one of the ladders. "Selphie's waiting for us...."

"Squall....?" Nida trailed off. He and Squall were standing close enough that their arms were pressed together. It was comforting to feel another person's body because of the encroaching darkness. "I think they purposely separated us..."

"Yeah, I know," Squall muttered, holding the Lionheart out in front of him. "The monsters are coming...." Squall looked at a few of the Tonberrys. They seemed to recognize him from his previous time at the Ruins. "Why are you attacking us? We're not here to fight..." Squall said, his voice echoing in the seeming nothingness.

"I'm sorry...." One of the Tonberrys said, and sliced towards Squall. Squall had to use his gunblade to knock the sharp blade away from the turtle-like creature. "Shit..." Squall muttered, looking behind the Tonberry. He gently pushed the unarmed creature out of the way as two Ruby Dragons advanced on Squall and Nida.

"Ready?" Nida asked.

Squall looked over at him, nodding. This would be the first time that he and Nida would fight together, so Squall half kept an eye on the Asian man, watching his movement to get a feel for his speed and agility. Nida cast Protect on Squall, and Shell on himself, and then threw one of his curved blades. Squall noticed that Nida was fast enough to get three moves in before the Ruby Dragon could do anything. Squall used that opportunity to cast Haste on him. Nida's attacks weren't really doing much against the hard scales of the Dragon. Nida did Squall a favour and cast Haste on him as well, and Squall then attacked the monster, causing it to let out a high pitched wail that reverberated through the Ruins and seemed to shake the ground.

"Shit...." Squall muttered. "This is a high level one.... Nida, cast Aura on me...."

Nida closed his eyes, folding his hands, prayer-like, in front of him, readying himself to cast the spell. But, before he could, the Ruby Dragon cast Breath on them. It left both Squall and Nida gasping for breath. Nida collapsed to his knees, and cast Aura on Squall, who was panting heavily. Before Squall could attack the Dragon again, it slashed out with its tail, hitting Squall heavily in the chest, and sending the slender man flying. He groaned in pain, and the Dragon attacked him again, jumping on him with its heavy weight. It sliced down Squall's chest with one of its sharp claws, drawing a fair amount of blood. Squall cried out and drove his gunblade into the monster's eye. It screamed, a high pitched wail, and toppled off the fallen SeeD.

Nida used the opportunity to heal both him and Squall, then cast Meteor. Since Nida was so strong magically, the spell did a hefty amount of damage to the still squealing Dragon. With surprising speed, the Dragon turned around, and hit Nida full force in the face with its tail, sending him toppling into Squall, who grunted in pain.

"This isn't working..." Nida ground out, coughing up some blood.

"Just cast magic on it again... I think it's stronger because Seifer and Zell made it that way...." Squall held his stomach, and some blood oozed out over his fingers. He felt better after the curing round that Nida cast. Then, he began hacking at the monster, trying to dodge its sharp claws. They scratched his arms, and his grip on his gunblade began to falter because the blood on his hands was making his grip slick.

Nida used his high speed to cast Meteor twice, and then send his sickles against the Dragon's face. It wailed again, and both men could tell that it was weakening. Squall then did Lion Heart, and the creature fell down, the ground shaking under its weight.

"Are you alright?" Nida asked, wiping the greenish Dragon blood off his weapons. He looked at Squall's bleeding chest, and cast another Cure.

Squall nodded distantly, looking at Nida. "You have a bruise on your face..." Squall pointed, but his fingers ended up grazing Nida's face, just beside the corner of his lips.

Nida winced, but didn't shrink away from the touch. He and Squall just stared at each other. Which, although it felt nice to both of them, was a bit foolish. Just before falling dead, the Ruby Dragon lashed its tail out, whipping towards them. It caught Squall in the stomach, and ripped open the would that had been healing. Squall almost collapsed, but not before Nida caught him. The Asian man flicked the wrist sheath, and flung a knife towards the Dragon, who then died with a shudder. Nida cast Curaga on Squall, but the wound was so bad that it only moderately helped it.

"Come on," Squall grated out. "We have to find Quistis and Raijin..." Squall wrapped his arms around Nida's waist for support. He looked over his shoulder, and saw a few Tonberrys. "Why didn't you attack us further?"

"The Tonberry King chose you," one of them answered.

"Ultimecia and Adel want us to attack you.... They control the Ruins now," The other one answered. It was strange watching Tonberrys talk, because it was telepathic in nature, and their mouths didn't move.

Squall nodded. He looked at Nida. "Come on..." They began to walk slowly deeper into the Ruins, but saw another Ruby Dragon in their path. And, just behind it, what looked like a very large piece of machinery. The dragon seemed to sense danger, and disappeared into the darkness.

"What is that?" Nida asked, his grip tightening on Squall, who still had to rely on Nida's assistance.

Squall's full lips parted, and he slowly shook his head. Nida could feel the other man shaking in his arms. "Oh, God..." Squall trailed off. "How?"

"What is it?" Nida whispered. He then noticed that the Tonberrys had disappeared.

Squall's hands clawed at Nida's forearms. "It can't be...."

"Squall...?" Nida's gaze kept locked on the mammoth thing, with suddenly jerked to life. It came into a small ray of light in the dark, and Nida gasped. "Oh, no...." They both stared, shocked and frightened, at the Omega Weapon.

"So glad you could come...." Zell cooed, seeing Quistis and Raijin approaching him. "Oh, where's dear Squall and his boytoy?" Zell crossed his arms over his chest. He was waiting just outside Odin's chamber, a self satisfied smirk on his face.

"Where's Selphie?!" Quistis demanded.

Zell smiled, and it looked so familiar that Quistis felt her heart breaking. He made a sweeping motion with his arm, and the door to Odin's Chamber opened. "Selphie's waiting."

"How could you let Adel to this to you?!" Raijin demanded hotly, his voice shaking.

Zell blinked. For a moment, both Raijin and Quistis could see the hurt in Zell's eyes, the trapped, scared fear in his icy irises. It was masked quickly by a calmness that threatened to bubble over into ugly hatred. "You shouldn't anger me... It's not good for dear Selphie...."

"Fuck you!" Quistis exclaimed, seething anger in her voice.

Zell just looked at her blankly. "This way, Quistis." He flashed that hauntingly familiar smile, and it made Quistis feel very dirty.

It was dark when the three of them stepped into what used to be Odin's Chamber. When Raijin and Quistis heard the heavy door close behind them, totally engulfing them in darkness, they both jumped, gasping.

Zell laughed. "So frightened? What, of little ole us?"

There was a second laugh. "Don't tease them, Zell...."

"Seifer..." Raijin whispered.

Then, a light came on. Torches that were lining the wall lit up on their own. Probably from Zell or Seifer's powers. And, when Quistis saw the room, she wished that it has stayed perpetually dark. Seifer was sitting in a very elaborate looking chair made of cherry wood and red velvet. He was smiling casually, his hand resting easily on the armrests. His coat, a black velvet, bled into the fabric, and made his eyes look hard. Beside the chair was a large post, and Selphie was tied to it, a gag in her mouth. Her arms were wrapped behind the large pole, as were her legs. Beside the pole was a sharp spire. Selphie was about six feet in the air, and the stake was just under her. Quistis saw that there was blood dappling the white gag in the brunette's mouth, and a small stream of blood was trickling out of her nose. She also saw that Selphie's jade eyes were wide with terror.

"Now, Quistis...." Seifer said, his voice as intoxicating as wine. "We're going to discuss the whereabouts of Matron..."

"You have no right to call her Matron!" Quistis spat.

"Seifer, please! You can't let Ultimecia do this to you, ya know!?"

Seifer sneered at them, raising a hand when Zell walked next to his chair. He took one of Zell's hands in his own, and kissed it. "I'm not letting her do anything to me, ya know..." Seifer hissed out the last part, and it was Ultimecia's voice coming out of his lips. "I don't feel like playing around, kiddies. Tell me where Edea is, and I'll let dear little Selphie go."

"And, we're supposed to believe that?" Quistis asked, snorting in disbelief. "You aren't the honest type, Ultimecia."

Seifer laughed, and it was harsh, grating, broken glass scraping the air. "You always were the observant one. Okay, time to stop fucking around." Seifer cast his gaze to Selphie. "Well, Selphie is a very stubborn woman, and we tried to get her to tell us where Edea was, but she just won't krack." He smiled thinly. "I have to admire such nobility."

"What did you do to her?" Raijin snarled. "You better not have...."

Zell snorted. "Get real. No, we didn't violate her or anything. Considering, she's in good health. A few broken fingers, bloody nose.... Nothing serious...." Zell smiled brightly. Quistis and Raijin both looked away, because it was too painful to watch that familiar smile.

Quistis looked up at Selphie. Selphie's eyes were watery with frightened tears, but still held that SeeD reserve in them. She was a fighter, even until the end.

"So, where's Edea....?" Seifer asked.

Selphie shook her head, not breaking eye contact with Quistis.

"I won't tell you..." Quistis whispered, keeping her gaze locked on Selphie, using her eyes to apologize to the brunette.

"Fine," Seifer answered simply. Selphie instantly slid down the pole just a little. Seifer closed his hand into a fist, and she stopped. The dangerously sharp end of the stake was almost poking Selphie's crotch. Selphie screamed into her gag, and it came out as muddled and pathetic.

"You bastard!" Raijin snarled. He began to move towards Seifer and Zell, but the smaller, tattooed blonde moved much faster, and caught the much larger Raijin with an uppercut, and it sent the bulky man flying. He hit the ground with a thud and a grunt. When he tried to get up, he found that he couldn't move, restrained by invisible shackles.

Zell just shook his head. "Some people never learn."

Tears worked their way out of the corners of Selphie's eyes, which were as large as saucers. Quistis's heart beat faster and faster in her chest. If she didn't say where Edea was, Seifer and Zell were going to kill Selphie. And, not only kill her, but torture her horribly. Quistis couldn't let Ultimecia get her hands on the last sliver of her power, but she also couldn't let Selphie die like this. She felt wetness on her cheeks, and realized that she was crying.

"Now, Quistis. Tell me. Where is Edea?" Seifer's voice still sounded calm, but there was an air of impatience working its way into it. "Where is she, Quistis?"

Selphie shook her head again, and her jade eyes pleaded with Quistis not to tell anyone where Edea was. "Why don't you just read our minds?" Quistis asked, her tone caustic.

Zell flinched, like the former Instructor had slapped him.

Raijin laughed from his position on the floor. "They can't. Odine is blocking their abilities...." He laughed, and it turned into a hacking, wheezing cough as invisible hands wound around his throat. He tried to gulp for air, and felt his lungs burning. When Raijin thought he was going to pass out, those hands removed themselves, and he coughed for air. When he looked up, he saw rage written all over Zell's face.

"Tell me," Seifer demanded, his voice far less calm.

"No..." Quistis whispered, choking back more tears.

Seifer huffed out his breath, and opened his fist again. Selphie slid down slowly, and the sharp end of the stake tore into the crotch of her pants, and a horrible shriek came from under the gag as it began to push into her rectum.

"Stop!!" Quistis screamed.

A muffled protest came from Selphie. There was blood pouring out from between her legs, and tears were flowing freely down her face, but the resolve was still in her eyes.

"I can't let this happen to you!" Quistis wailed.

"Seifer... How could you...?" Raijin whispered.

Seifer's smile waned slightly, but he left his hand open, and Selphie continued to be impaled on the stake. It went deeper in her body, and her screams were horrible and animalistic from under the cloth buried in her mouth.

"What are you becoming...?" Quistis whispered. "Look at what you're doing, Zell! Seifer, please! Look at what you're doing....!" Quistis broke off with a sob.

Raijin had to look away. The thick wooden stake, that was as tall as Selphie, or taller, was becoming slick with blood and something else that looked like organs munched up. He looked up briefly, and saw that Zell's lower lip was trembling, and tears were filling his eyes.

"What would Ma Dincht think of you now?" Quistis asked.

"Ma....?" Zell whispered. He looked over to Selphie. Seeming to see all that blood was causing Zell's mask of hatred to crumble. "Oh, God....."

Selphie's screams were echoing in the chamber, and Zell's cheeks were becoming stained with tears. "Oh, God..." He whispered again. "Seifer.... Stop...."

Seifer's eyes narrowed, and he closed his fist. Selphie continued to wail, but they sounded weaker, like she was about to lose consciousness. Quistis was glad for it. Selphie must have been in terrible pain. She couldn't let this happen... She had to help Selphie.

"Stop, Seifer..." Zell whispered. He was crying freely now. "Look what we're doing...."

Seifer frowned angrily. "Stupid, kursed brat!" And, with the hand that was controlling Selphie's fate, Seifer backhanded his small lover, and it caused Zell's knees to buckle, and he fell beside Seifer's chair. "You should know better than to defy me, boy...."

"Seifer...." Zell whispered. He kept his eyes glued to the ground, not wanting to look at Selphie impaled, not wanting to look at the accusing eyes of Quistis and Raijin, not wanting to look at Seifer's burning amber eyes. But, just closing his eyes couldn't block out the horrible muffled cries of Selphie.

"Where's Matron?" Seifer asked, totally ignoring Zell.

Quistis shook her head. "Selphie...."

The brunette girl shook her head weakly, then passed out.

"Damn you, Ultimecia....." Quistis stuttered. "Seifer, please!"

Seifer narrowed his eyes dangerously. He waved his hand, and the chains that were binding Selphie to the first pole released, falling to the ground with a deafening clang. With her body unsupported, Selphie's weight began to impale itself, slowly moving down the pole. It was at such a slow pace that nobody could really see her moving at all, but they could hear the awful sound of the stake ripping through her insides.

The sounds that were coming from Selphie's body seemed to affect Seifer deep within. Although a hard smile was still plastered on his face, which almost didn't look like Seifer anymore. But, there was something behind his eyes that was screaming out in agony. The razor thin lips quivered ever so slightly, and he blinked a bit more often, as if trying to fight off tears.

"What have we done...." Zell whispered, his temple pressed into the midnight velvet of Seifer's coat.

"Where's Edea?" Seifer asked again, but his voice was far weaker.

Quistis shook her head. "I can't....." She just kept shaking her head over and over again, pressing her fists into her temples. "No, I won't...."

The quivering look on Seifer's face continued, his eyes becoming sad, frightened, his normal icy colour once again. It passed quickly, and Ultimecia's hard countenance returned. His fist closed once more, and Selphie's eyes fluttered open. The bliss of being unconscious was taken away from her, and she screamed, horribly and fluid sounding. Another wave of Seifer's fingers caused the gag to fall out of her mouth, and she opened wide, screaming with all her might. Blood began to pour out from Selphie's mouth and nose, and the wail was wet and gruesome.

Quistis whimpered in unison, and she could hear Zell panting, trying to hold back his emotions. She pounded her fists against the sides of her face. "Okay!" She screamed. "I'll tell you! I'll tell you where Edea is...."

Squall covered his head with his arms as the Omega Weapon sliced through the crumbling pillars of stone. He could see Nida on the other side of the statue, his eyes closed, like he was concentrating on something.

"Nida?!" Squall cried. "Any ideas?"

"You were the one who dealt with this monster before, remember?" Nida looked over at the Weapon. "Jesus Christ.... I don't think we'll survive another round of Terra Break."

Squall could see that there was some strain on Nida's face, and a trickle of sweat was working its way down the side of his pretty face. Nida must have been casting a Shell-like spell on them. "Nida, why don't you just use that speed that you used against the Ruby Dragon?"

"That was my limit... I can't use it yet...." Nida clamped his eyes shut. "Squall, get over here... You're too far away...."

Squall didn't really need any more cajoling, and worked his way to the other man while the Omega Weapon was in between moves. When Squall was beside Nida, he gasped. Rock came crashing down from the sculpture, and hit Squall in the chest. It wasn't a very large piece, but it hit Squall's injury, and knocked the wind out of him. He gasped in pain, then shivered, feeling something moving over his skin. "Nida... What....?"

Nida's eyes remained closed, and Squall could see the Asian man's eyes moving from under his eyelids. Like he was searching for something. "Shhh...." Nida muttered. He then reached his hand out, grabbing Squall's in his own. Squall gasped again, totally not expecting Nida to touch him. He saw Nida panting gently, moving his head slightly.

"What are you looking for?" Squall asked, his fingers moving slightly in Nida's tight grip.

"Seifer and Zell's powers... They have the ability to teleport. Maybe I can borrow it..."

Squall looked over at the Omega Weapon. "Nida, I think you better hurry... It's probably going to use Megido Flame. And, if it does, we're fucked."

"Shhh," Nida repeated. "Okay!" His hand tightened around Squall's. "I found the magical signature. I just hope I'm strong enough...." He breathed out evenly.

Squall watched Nida carefully, feeling the sensation on his skin, stronger than before. It was like bugs all over his skin, and Squall had to resist the urge to shudder and try to wipe and shake them off. He saw sweat beginning to show up on Nida's forehead, and he could tell that the other man was under great physical and mental strain. Squall covered one of his ears with his free hand when Omega screamed out, and cast Ultima. Squall felt his strength disappearing, and he just wanted to run away and go to sleep.

"Squall, you need to be closer.... It's too hard to teleport this much space...." Nida crawled closer to the auburn-haired SeeD, winding his arms around Squall's body. He felt the warmth of Squall's blood against his own chest, being soaked up by his coat. He felt Squall breathing heavily. "Are you really seriously injured?" Nida whispered.

"I'll be fine if you just get us the Hell out of here..." Squall pressed his cheek against Nida's shoulder, curling up to make his body as compact as he could get it. He made himself a ball in Nida's lap, turning his face so he could watch Omega, which was making its way over to them. The air seemed to get thicker, and Squall knew that Omega was going to cast Megido Flame, and he also knew that he and Nida weren't strong enough to stand against that spell. "Please, Nida..."

"Quiet...." Nida whispered. He pressed his cheek to Squall's, winding his limbs around the other man, trying to make them as small as possible. Inside, he was shaking with the feeling of having Squall so close to him. He also felt like he was going to fall apart at the seams. He didn't know if he could handle this, but he knew that there wasn't a lot of time. He knew about the damage that Megido Flame could do to them.

Squall suddenly felt his breath being knocked out of him, and he gripped Nida tightly, feeling like he was being ripped apart, like he was having a stroke, or a seizure. He tried to breathe in, and clawed at Nida's arms, still glad that he could feel the other man against him. As quickly as the feeling came, it disappeared. Squall breathed, greedily gulping at air, panting into Nida's throat. He waited to be killed by Omega's strongest spell, but it never came. Nida's body was shaking all around him, and he could feel sweat under Nida's priestly coat. Squall sighed in relief, and clung tightly to Nida, so grateful that the Asian man had saved his life. "Nida..." He whispered.


Squall's eyes snapped open, and he looked at his surroundings. Zell rose to his feet beside a chair, his face slack with utter shock, his blue eyes wide. Blue eyes... Was Zell himself again? Squall held Nida's biceps tightly, watching as Zell slowly approached them. He also saw what looked like bleeding into Zell's eyes, but Squall knew that it was Adel taking control of her son once more.

Nida gasped, opening his eyes. He'd teleported himself and Squall from one Hell right into another. He let out a low moan when he saw Selphie. His already shaking body shuddered. He could smell the death around Selphie, even though she was still alive, and screaming in agony, a wail of the most horrible suffering that any human being could experience. He had to turn his head away, burying his face in his hands. Death always smelled like a mixture of a sewer and a slaughterhouse. And, since Selphie's intestines had been punctured, the stench of horrible death was rotting in the air, along with the tangy, heady scent of blood.

Squall looked over at Nida when he heard the defeated moan, and looked to what Nida had seen. A noise that could have resembled a choked scream worked its way out of Squall's chest. Selphie was impaled on a large stake, and from the looks of it, it was already up around her stomach. "Oh, God...." Squall's mouth hung open in utter shock of what he was seeing.

"Squall...." Zell smirked down at him. His eyes then turned to Nida. "Oh, such a clever little boy, aren't you?" He took two quick steps, and was standing directly in front of Nida and Squall. The auburn-haired man rose to his feet, but Nida was far too weak. Zell reached out, touching the side of Nida's face. "That's quite the interesting power that you have, my dear...."

Squall punched Zell in the face. "Don't touch him, you fucking bastard!" He punched Zell again, and he heard cracking. He'd broken Zell's nose. "What have you turned into? Look what you're doing?"

Selphie moaned in defeat, and passed out again.

Seifer raised an arched eyebrow. "Quistis, please don't let Squall and Nida interrupt our little conversation. Where is Edea?"

Quistis looked over at Squall and Nida, her tired sapphire eyes wet with unshed tears. She was still in shock about seeing Squall and Nida teleport. She noticed that Squall was bleeding from a wound, and looked bruised and worn out. Nida wasn't getting up, and looked like he was going to pass out.

"Quistis!" Nida cried. "Don't tell them!"

"Don't you dare!" Squall threatened. "That's an order."

"But..." Quistis trailed off, looking at Selphie.

"Don't," Raijin panted. "Selphie wouldn't want you to."

Zell rubbed his face, and caught some of the blood dribbling out from his nose. "Fucking bitch," he hissed, hitting Squall in the chest, ripping the flesh open further. Squall was sent backwards, toppling over himself and hitting a wall.

"Fucking cunt," Zell cursed, kicking Squall for good measure. "You're such a slut, Leonhart. Nothing but a two bit tramp." Zell looked down at Nida, who was still panting heavily, and whose fingers were curling and uncurling against the ground. "You think you're so fucking clever, don't you?" Zell raised his hand, slapping Nida in a very degrading way.

"Not going to spill your beans?" Seifer asked, opening his hand. Some blood from Selphie's chin dripped into his palm, creating a small pool in the hollow of his hand. Selphie revived again, screaming.

"Stop torturing her!" Quistis screamed.

"You're the one who's torturing her, my dear," Seifer answered, in a voice that was all too close to Ultimecia. "If you'd just told us where dear Matron was, this wouldn't be happening...."

"Damn you, Ultimecia!" Raijin cursed. "You're such a whore. Don't you dare blame Quistis for this!"

"I'd watch my mouth if I were you," Zell muttered, his voice sounding slightly funny through his broken nose. He kicked Raijin like a dog as he passed him. "Damn cunt broke my nose," Zell muttered, and it sounded like a childish whine.

Selphie's body rattled, and a horrible wheeze came out of her throat, and she fell still, thankfully dead.

"NO!!!" Quistis wailed, sinking to her knees.

Raijin struggled against his invisible restraints. "You murderers!"

Seifer shook his head. "You could have prevented this. Well, since you backed out on our deal, I guess our business with each other is done."

Zell smiled, cracking his nose back into place. The sick crack echoed in the room, along with the sound of Selphie's dripping blood.

"Now, since I'm being so diplomatic, I'll let you all go," Seifer said, crossing his arms over his chest. "You have thirty minutes to leave the Centra continent. If your feet are touching Centra land by the time that those thirty minutes are up, you will die. Any living thing touching the land of Centra will die."

"Even you?" Nida asked darkly, finding his strength returning. He stood, wiping the blood from his mouth where Zell had slapped him.

"Of course not us, you stupid faggot," Zell purred. "We'd be immune to our own spells, you know..." He laughed. "Us and only us."

Seifer looked at an hourglass on the table that was the same shape as Ultimecia's pupils. It was an ornate work of art, filled with black sand flecked with gold. His hand reached out, tipping it over. The sand began to slowly trickle.

Quistis was already beginning to back up. "Oh, God..."

Raijin struggled, and found that his invisible chains had disappeared.

Seifer snorted. "I wouldn't waste the last thirty minutes of my life gawking at an hourglass...."

Nida turned around, grabbing Squall's arm. "Come on, we have to get to the ship, now..."

Zell laughed. "Yes, run to your ship."

Quistis narrowed her eyes, knowing that tone in Zell's voice. "They wrecked the ship somehow..."

"Who," Zell placed a hand to his chest innocently. "Me?"

"Come on!" Raijin exclaimed, already breaking into a run. Nida was helping Squall to his feet.

"Shit," Quistis exclaimed, quickly following after Raijin. As she ran, she set her watch to the time left on the hourglass.

"Can you run?" Nida asked Squall.

"I'm fine," Squall answered, running behind Quistis and Raijin. He felt winded, but was running on pure adrenaline.

Raijin climbed most of the way down the first ladder, then jumped to the floor below. "Come on guys, hurry, ya know!?"

Quistis followed suit, looking out for monsters. "Squall, do you have Encounter None on?"

Squall nodded, jumping down from the ladder. It caused pain to shoot up his chest. After Nida had climbed down as well, they could hear Seifer and Zell's laughter wafting after them, chasing them out of the Ruins. They all ran to the elevator, stumbling on fallen debris and rocks. Dread suddenly went through Squall. What if the Omega Weapon was still down there? He looked over at Nida, and saw the same fear mirrored in the Asian man's almond-shaped eyes. After they'd descended on the elevator, Squall turned around when he heard shuffling. The Tonberrys were looking at them. The numbers of the creatures must have been depleted, because there weren't that many around. Luckily, the Omega Weapon was nowhere to be found.

"Shit..." Raijin readied his weapon. "You said you put Encounter None on, right?"

Squall shook his head. "It's okay, they won't attack...."

Quistis looked at her watch as she advanced. "Guys, we only have like twenty five minutes to get off this Continent...."

"But, what about the Tonberrys?" Nida asked. "Won't they die, too?"

"There's danger, isn't there?" The first Tonberry asked in his telepathic manner.

Quistis sighed. "We can't leave them here...." The obvious guilt she felt was coming through in her voice.

"But, we can't carry them all, ya know?!" Raijin exclaimed.

"We can carry a couple..." Nida collected a Tonberry in his arms, careful to avoid the sharp weapon the small creature had.

Squall grimaced in pain, trying to think. "I got it...." He closed his eyes, concentrating.

"What are you doing?" Quistis asked.

"We don't have time for this, ya know?!" Raijin exclaimed.

"Quistis, summon Shiva," Squall commanded. Suddenly, Diablos showed up. The Tonberrys began to scurry in fear, for Diablos was a frightening monster, legendary for killing Tonberrys. The turtle like creature in Nida's arms began to struggle. It accidentally cut Nida's arm with its sharp knife.

"It's okay," Nida soothed. "He's here to help."

"What do you want?" Diablos asked, his voice hissing and booming around them.

"We need you to carry some Tonberrys," Squall stated. "They'll die if they stay here..."

"I am aware of this...." Diablos said.

"And, you should also be aware that I'm your Master of sorts."

Quistis then summoned Shiva, who was far more agreeing. "Do not worry."

"But, if they ruined our ship, where are we going to go?" Nida asked.

"The water," Quistis answered, watching as the Ice Queen picked up a few Tonberrys in her hands. They shivered against the coolness of her gentle touch.

"Water?!" Raijin squealed, as if Quistis was a mad woman. "Water? Are you insane?"

"Water isn't land," Nida answered, seeing that Diablos had picked up the last Tonberry. The great winged Dark Beast had eight of them collected in his arms. Quistis had two pressed to her chest, Raijin had two in his arms, and one on his back, gripping his neck, and Nida had one. Squall was holding his injured chest and looking around for more Tonberrys.

"I have collected all the Tonberrys, Master...." Diablos muttered sarcastically.

"Now's not the time," Shiva muttered in her usual icy tone. She moved ahead of them, following Raijin, who was bounding down the stairs. Diablos flew overhead, looking down for any more Tonberrys. "What about the other creatures...?" Shiva asked, her Germanic lilted voice even and cool.

"We don't have time for everyone!" Quistis exclaimed. Her watch beeped. They had ten minutes to get to the ocean. Once out of the Ruins, they could barely make it out in the distance. Diablos's shadow flew overhead of them, and he went ahead to the water with the Tonberrys in his long arms. Shiva's cool breeze moved around them, blowing in Quistis's long hair, which had long since fallen out of its bun.

When they ran along the barren ground of Centra, Raijin narrowed his eyes. "Are those... Chocobos?"

"What are they doing out here...?" Quistis asked. "The nearest Chocobo Forest is over those Mountains...?" Quistis looked behind her.

Nida halted as they got closer. "They have their Chicobos. They must be out feeding them."

"We can ride them," Quistis said.

"Diablos!" Squall said, calling out to his Guardian Force. "Take those Tonberrys to the water, then get the ones that Quistis and Nida are carrying. Somebody has to take the Chicobos."

Silently, Diablos did as commanded. Shiva followed him, then stopped. "Siren...?"

Nida's ears perked up. "Something's wrong...."

"Selphie had Siren Junctioned," Quistis whispered, looking as Diablos flew back to them.

"Ultimecia is casting Siren against you. But, it sounds like a different song..."

"A song of Sleep," Diablos hissed. "To wear you down."

Quistis handed her Tonberrys off to Diablos. "You two just go to the water...."

"You sure are banking a lot on a play of words," Raijin muttered, keeping his Tonberrys. There were only a few Chicobos, so he didn't need to carry any.

"I don't have to listen to you, woman," Diablos muttered. "Squall is the only woman who controls me."

"Just do it," Shiva stated, her words like a winter wind, as chilly as Trabia in December. She floated towards the water with elegance and grace. "You're such an inconsiderate bastard."

There were two adult Chocobos, and three small Chicobos, who chirped at their approach. The mothers seemed wary. They could tell that both full grown birds were female. Squall stumbled on his feet, feeling like his body was lead. Quistis held a hand to her forehead. She was suddenly so tired.

"It's Siren's song!" Raijin called. He was at the shore. Shiva had entered the water, and it caused it to freeze around her. Raijin was putting the Tonberrys on the makeshift iceberg.

"Don't listen," Shiva instructed. Her yellow ribbons fluttered in the breeze of Diablos's wings. "Don't you feel proud to have such humans as Masters?" She asked, turning to Diablos.

"Not really." Diablos's long arms crossed over his chest. "I think it foolish. What are Tonberrys worth?"

Quistis climbed on the Chocobo, one of the Chicobo babies in her arms. "Come on, girl. We only have a little time left...." She slouched on the Chocobo's back. She squeezed her legs, and the Chocobo dashed forward, as if sensing the urgency in her voice.

One of the Chicobos chirped when Squall picked it up. After bending down to retrieve the baby bird, Squall collapsed, too tired and weak to even stand.

"Squall?" Nida cried. He helped the acting President to his feet. Squall was still holding the Chicobo, who was warking happily, unaware of the danger. Nida almost had to push Squall onto the Chocobo, which was digging at the ground nervously. Nida felt winded as well, Siren's music working its way into his bones. He saw that Squall was having a hard time staying awake, so he climbed on the Chocobo as well, glad that he and Squall were both about the same size. The Chocobo warked lowly in her throat.

"Come on!" Quistis screamed from on the back of her Chocobo. The Chicobo chirped happily along with her. "We only have three minutes!"

"Shit...." Nida muttered. He used one arm to wrap around Squall, who looked like he could fall off the bird any second, and the other arm to hold the third and final Chicobo to his chest, who was shivering. While the other two seemed happy to see people, this one was scared, like it sensed what was happening.

Ooop, I don't feel like waiting anymore.... Seifer's voice echoed around them. Time's up.

Nida used his heels to dig into the Chocobo, and it dashed towards the water.

When Quistis reached the water, the Chocobo stepped in, smelling around the Tonberrys, who watched the bird with fascinated yellow eyes. She turned around, and saw a glowing wave behind Nida and Squall. It was like a translucent, glittering blanket covering the landscape. She saw monsters like Jellyeyes behind the Chocobo that Nida and Squall were riding die when that blanket of magic touched them.

"Faster...." Quistis whispered. "Please... Not another death..." She closed her eyes, praying to whatever Gods or Goddesses could have ever existed.

Shiva noticed her Mistress's distress, and cast Diamond Dust on the wave of Death, hoping to freeze it. It didn't work.

"That's not going to work..." Diablos muttered.

"You'd just sit back and let your Master die?!" Shiva exclaimed angrily.

"You have no faith.... Look....." Diablos sneered at the Ice Queen when Squall and Nida reached the water.

Nida jumped off the Chocobo. Being in the water, now cold from Shiva's presence, lessened the effects of Siren's music. The Asian man looked at Squall, who was slumping on the yellow bird's back. He brought some water in a cup that he made with his palms, and splashed it in Squall's face. The other man jerked, like being wakened, and slowly got off the back of the Chocobo. He didn't relent his grip around the Chicobo's body as he slumped in the shallow sea water. He panted, shivering in the cold water. Squall's eyes watched as the Chicobo in Quistis's arms squirmed away, and made its way to the land.

"No!" Quistis cried. But, it was too late. The baby touched the land, and perished immediately. She sank to her knees in the water, hitting the small, breaking waves with her fists. She wailed, screaming with the same agony that Selphie had screamed with.

The mother Chocobos whined, trying to go to the dead baby. Raijin and Nida held them back. Squall turned his head away, burying his face in the soft down of the baby Chicobo in his arms.

"It seems that Ultimecia is back in full force...." Diablos muttered, his wings wrapping around his body as he regarded Shiva.

She nodded sadly, looking at the openly weeping Quistis, then at Squall, whose shoulders where shaking with silent tears. "Yes, and, it seems that it's at the cost of Seifer Almasy and Zell Dincht's lives."

Squall looked down through blurry vision at the water around him, which was beginning to stain with his own blood. It was creating a dark crimson cloud around him. All he could hear was Quistis's crying, and the muffled heartbeat of the Chicobo in his arms. He shivered as he felt Diablos's energy enter his body once again, and could only watch as a tear fell into the bloodied water, rippling the surface, displacing the claret cloud. His own blood dribbled into the water, just like Selphie's blood had dribbled down the stake that had impaled her. A small sob escaped his lips when the Chicobo chirped sadly. He felt Nida kneel beside him, and when the empathic man's hand touched his shoulder, the dam broke, and he wept bitterly as Nida embraced him, the Chicobo still locked in his arms

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