Chapter Twenty-Three

By Scarlet Fever

"Shit!" Irvine exclaimed. "This is so not good."

Ellone's doe brown eyes widened as she looked at the dangers surrounding her and Irvine, in the form of Ruby Dragons. "Irvine....?" She was standing back to back with the tall cowboy, her hands clutching at his arms. "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know!" He exclaimed. He pulled out his shotgun. "Can you fight at all?"

Ellone's breath caught in her throat. "Oh God..."

"Elle, please!!" Irvine exclaimed almost angrily, shooting out a few rounds of pulse ammo. The carcasses of the Dragons fell to the ground, but more just seemed to appear out of the snow dappled trees, swishing their tales, and screeching angrily, piercing the air with the almost painful noise.

"I... I've never fought before..."

"Can you use a gun?" Irvine asked, his voice hitched with fear.

"I don't know!" She gasped as Irvine pulled a .38 out of his pocket. "Here," he commanded lowly. "Spread your legs to help absorb the impact. It's better than just letting ourselves die..."

She nodded, pointing the gun at one of the approaching Ruby Dragons. For such big creatures, they were rather fast, and closing on Irvine and Ellone quickly. She fired the gun, gasping at the recoil. It wasn't as big as the shotgun that Irvine was firing, but it still took her off guard. She had to take a step back, which caused her back to bang against Irvine's, and for him to lose his grip on his gun.

"I'm sorry!" Ellone exclaimed sadly, screaming as a Ruby Dragon swiped out towards her, its claws catching on her shirt, ripping a small hole in it. It swiped again, and she tried to move, but one of the razor claws caught her forearm. She gasped, but it didn't really hurt. She could feel the warm stickiness of blood oozing down her arm, pooling in the crook of her elbow. The claws were so sharp that it made a clean cut. "I'm not going to be much help," she whimpered sadly.

Irvine tried to reach his gun, but could feel the hot breath of a Dragon. It was a strong snort, and caused his cowboy hat to blow off his head. Irvine closed his eyes, expecting his intestines to be spilled, still warm and smoking, at his feet. But, it didn't come. In fact, he couldn't even hear motion. He slowly opened one of his periwinkle eyes, and was looking right into the dark, onyx, unblinking eyes of a Ruby Dragon. Unblinking. Not moving. Glossed over. Frozen over.... Frozen over?

Ellone blinked at the dragons around them. Each was like an ice statue. She could see the fiery red scales underneath the layer of ice. She gingerly reached out to touch its now slick surface. "Frozen...?"

"Huh?" He looked around. "Did you do this, Elle?"

She silently shook her head. "No."

"Are you okay?"

Both turned, seeing Edea standing a few feet away from them, her hands folded in front of her. "You're bleeding, Ellone."

"Matron!" Irvine and Ellone exclaimed in unison.

"What's going on here?" She asked, her long raven hair swinging behind her as she strode towards them, her long black coat flapping behind her like wings. The bodice of her claret velvet dress was the same colour as the scales of the frozen dragons, and her amber eyes glittered with worry and determination. "Why would Ultimecia send Dragons?"

"Does that mean that Seifer and Zell know we're here?" Ellone asked, looking at her bleeding arm.

"It could mean that everywhere else is experiencing these problems..." Edea trailed off. She looked out to the horizon, her eyes taking on a glitter that was reminiscent of her time as Ultimecia's pawn. "And, Esthar is probably taking the brunt of it."

"Edea....?" Irvine asked. "What do you mean?"

"Look at the sky," she pointed out with one of her pale fingers. "Look at the clouds. It's ominous. The feeling in the air is cold. Like them. Can't you taste them?"

"You think Squall and the others are in danger?" Ellone asked sadly, holding her hand to the wound.

"I know they are," Edea whispered sadly, her hair whipping around her. "I know they are."

Ellone sighed sadly, then noticed motion beyond Edea. "Matron... The Dragons are back." She looked down at the ground, and saw a long stick of wood. She picked it up, and tested its weight. "I think I'll use this. I can't use that gun."

Irvine took it back, and aimed his shotgun. "Matron, are you up for a longer fight?"

"Yes," she answered. "We should try to get to Esthar. A group of Ruby Dragons will be nothing compared to what they're going through...." She sighed sadly, spreading her fingers, her palms to the darkening sky. As Edea looked to the ground, concentrating her power, she saw the black blood of the Ruby Dragons running, and could hear the noise of Ellone's new staff weapon hissing in the air as she swung it, as well as smell the gunpowder from Irvine. "I hope Esthar is okay..." She whispered. Her eyes closed as her power moved to her fingertips like a tingling ocean. She could also feel the trapped power of Ultimecia within her body, and it was stirring. It was trying to join the rest of the Time Mage's power. But, Edea swore to herself, swore to her beloved Cid, swore to her children, swore to Seifer and Zell that she wouldn't succumb. She would not let the power take her over. She wouldn't. She couldn't.

Saffron Dincht frowned as she heard a loud explosion. They'd been going on for the past hour. They all sounded relatively far away, but still too close. She could hear soldiers running up and down the halls, talking about bombings and monster outbreaks on other continents. Every soldier was on guard, or out on the field, trying to stop the monsters. She was sitting beside Laguna's bed, trying to make herself useful. The soldier attendants and medical personnel had all been called to the field. Herself and Kiros were with the comatose President, watching him, seeing if he would wake up, hoping that the others would be okay.

"Are you okay?" Kiros asked softly.

Saffron looked up from the quilt she was unfolding. "What do you mean?" she asked blandly.

"I mean about Zell!" Kiros exclaimed with exasperation. "He's fighting Squall right now. If you look out the window, you can see it on one of the screens! This must have to affect you, and yet..."

"And yet, what?"

"You seem very cool, collected..." Kiros pointed out, tracing Laguna's knuckles with one finger.

"What else can I be?" Saffron posed. "If I started getting all emotional, that wouldn't help anybody... Least of all Zell."

Kiros's shoulders slumped. "He's not really Zell anymore." He frowned. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

Saffron sighed, a long pause filling the room. "You're right, though." She looked out the window. She could see the faint image of Zell, her baby, her child, fighting alongside Seifer against Squall Leonhart. Zell... He couldn't be Adel's son. Zell was her son. Even if she hadn't given birth to him, he was still her little boy. And, Seifer... He was like a son to her, too. To see them both suffering like this was Hell. The only light Saffron could see was that at least they were together. That, Seifer had Zell, and Zell had Seifer. "Do you think that they come out of it... That they have moments where they're themselves again?" Saffron asked quietly.

"Probably," Kiros muttered, looking at Laguna's still face. "And, I'm sure it's Hell. Pure torture."

"Really?" Saffron asked sadly. "Yeah, I guess it would be. Having to realize what they've done, especially to poor Selphie and Rinoa Heartilly."

"Maybe they hope for Squall to kill them today? Do you think they'll give up their own lives to end all this?" Kiros asked. However, his voice was bland, like he already knew the answer to the question he'd just posed.

"I know my son, and I know Seifer. And, you know the answer." They shared a sad look. Then, a loud explosion ripped from somewhere in the Presidential Palace. Kiros and Saffron looked at each other before a herd of Soldiers ran past the door.

"Hey!!" Kiros called. "What the fuck is going on?!"

One of the Esthar foot Soldiers came in, his face flushed. "Kiros! Oh, God! Zell..." He looked over at Saffron. "I mean, Adel, sir! Adel called a Guardian Force. One that we've never seen before."

Kiros's eyebrows shot up. "And, does Squall have a GF to counterattack with?!"

"He summoned Shiva, sir!"

"What Guardian Force?" Kiros asked, his voice cracking as he already moved away from the side of Laguna's bed.

"I don't know!!" The Soldier's pale brown eyes went wide. "All I know is it's female form, and it's holding scales." He paused. "Oh! She also has wings."

"Like Angel wings?" Kiros asked, wondering if the Soldier meant Siren, and was just too scared to think straight.

"No. Like bat wings. More like Diablos. I know it's not Siren!!"

"Shit!" Kiros exclaimed. "I don't think I've ever heard of this Guardian Force. But, that doesn't really matter now, does it?! Squall's in deep shit if this is some sort of concoction from Ultimecia and or Adel...." He lunged for the door suddenly. "I have a plan. In Odine's Lab, there's a mechanism that puts a blanketed barrier over the entire city of Esthar. It will nullify the Guardian Force aspect, as well as weaken Adel and Ultimecia, because their strong suit is magic. I just hope it hasn't been destroyed..." Kiros bit on the ends of his fingers. "Dammit... That's too far away from here. Can you get on a radio to contact anyone in that area?!"

The Soldier nodded. "I believe that the party of General Yun Ling, Headmaster Trepe, Raijin and Fujin is near that area."

Kiros nodded. "Okay, I'll get to the main control centre. Follow me. The rest of the Soldiers should just try to get rid of these fucking monsters. Saffron," Kiros looked to her. "Please..." His voice cracked for a moment. "Make sure Laguna's okay..."

She nodded. "Do what you have to."

Kiros smiled sadly and dashed towards the command centre. "I'll try to contact Fujin to get her back here. She's the main woman for this job. I just hope that everything's okay down there. These monsters just won't go away."

"The platoons aren't having too much difficulty with them," the Soldier offered, trying to help.

"But, they just keep coming. Even the very best swimmer will fall to wave after wave," Kiros muttered. He put on an earpiece, and gasped, looking out over Esthar. The fire from monsters breathing all over the electronic surfaces of the city had replaced the calming blue hue with burning red and orange. It was Ignus all over again. The sky was also darkened by the shadows of Shiva and the new Guardian Force battling. Bahamut also seemed to be in the fray, but was apart from the Shiva battle. He was fighting with various other monsters that looked kind of like Weapons.

"What the fuck is that?!" Kiros exclaimed.

"The Guardian Force..." The Soldier whispered.

"I know that!!" Kiros yelled. "It was a rhetorical question. Shit..." He looked at the massive black wings, that seemed more feathery than leathery. Like black feathers, but they kind of looked slicked with oil. When the giant wings flapped, Kiros could get a good glimpse of the Guardian Force's body. The wings dwarfed her curvaceous frame, which was the same size as Shiva's. There were icicles hanging from the fluttery gauze garment that barely covered her nudity. It was a transparent black chiffon that showed off the lines of her feminine body, that eerily looked human, with womanly breasts, and rosy nipples peaked on pale, pale flesh. Her long hair was like a sea, silken snakes moving like their own entity. Each strand of hair was also white, but seemed to glow with other colours, so it looked almost like a kaleidoscope. The white gave way to glinting hints of blue, green and purple, as well as shimmering silver. With another flap of the wings, he saw the face, sternly staring at Shiva with fighting determination. Guardian Force against Guardian Force. Goddess against Goddess. She had the same aristocratic features that Shiva seemed to have, but her eyes were far more piercing. Her eyes were a dark onyx that stood out so much from her snowy countenance. Her lips were also painted a slick black, making her mouth look like some sort of poisonous bug on her face. She wore jewellery made of bleached bone, and when she moved her hands to counter Shiva's attacks, the ticking of bone hitting bone was loud enough to rocket across the entire city of Esthar. What would have been a human skull was hanging from the bone necklace around her throat looked like a mere charm between her collarbones.

In one hand, the new creature held a glittering Hourglass, which would have been as tall as a building. It was made of perfectly polished gold, and held red sands in it, that looked too liquidy to be real sand. It was mixed with blood, a deep, deep claret that made the sloshing noise of an ocean. The sands were running, slowly, dangerously. Somehow the sands defied gravity, because most of it was still in the top, bulbous half of the Hourglass. The other hand held blue fire, which licked around her long, too long fingers. It looked like a large skeleton's hand.

"The Goddess of Judgement," Kiros whispered.

"Huh?" The Soldier asked.

"There were stories of a Goddess of Judgement, long ago. Named..." Kiros trailed off, snapping his fingers. He gasped when the blue, flickering flame being held by the Judging GF hit Shiva in the chest, the fire rolling over her body in liquid waved. "Iudicium!!" He looked at the Soldier. "Adel summoned her..."

There was a loud crash, and the whining sound of feedback. Kiros looked to the podium, and saw Squall crashing into the microphones that had surrounded him. "Shit!" He exclaimed, turning on the frequency. "I just hope they have their radio on..."

Fujin kicked the still corpse of a Behemoth off her body, rolling over on her side. These monsters were just not going away. She saw that the others were having as hard of a time as she was. Raijin was pretty covered in blood, and Xu and Quistis looked kind of weary. But, they couldn't stop. If they did, they would be ripped apart by monsters. Fujin gasped as a loud crash happened from above. It sounded like a massive clap of thunder. She saw Shiva and the new Guardian Force with the Hourglass fighting, each sending out waves of fire and ice at each other. She could also hear the loud feedback from the podium where Squall was fighting. There was also no word from Nida, and nobody could contact him. Things were going badly. Very badly.

She frowned as she heard a crackling in her ear, then jumped as Kiros's voice rang through her head. "Fujin, do you read me?"

"Kiros?!" She exclaimed. She'd forgotten about the earpiece she was wearing. "What's going on?! What is that THING in the sky?"

"Iudicium. A Guardian Force, and the Goddess of Judgement."

"Oh, fantastic," she muttered.

"I need you up here. We've got platoons everywhere, and I really need our best communicator up here."

"But, the monsters...!" Fujin exclaimed. "Their magic is stronger than ever, and they all seem faster and smarter..."

"Get Quistis and Xu in a three way with me. Just get up here!!" He yelled in a commanding voice that he didn't use with her very often.

"Right," she muttered. She caught Raijin's gaze. "Kiros needs me in the communications centre. You'll be okay, right?"

He snorted. "As fine as I'll ever be."

She nodded, passing Xu and Quistis. "Kiros needs a three way conversation with you. He's on channel six."

They nodded, adjusting their earpieces, and moving in a crevice between two buildings, to hide from the seemingly endless wave of monsters. "Kiros?!" Xu exclaimed.

"Good, you're okay. Look, we have to stop that GF battle, and we have to help Squall. He can't hold out forever against two Sorceresses."

"How is he holding up at all?!" Quistis exclaimed.

"Adel seems to be the only one doing anything. Maybe Ultimecia is too weak because she's missing the power within Edea. I'm not sure. Or, they're just waiting. But, we have to make a move."

"How?" Xu asked, sounding sort of helpless.

"How close are you to Odine's Lab?" Kiros asked.

Quistis looked around, blowing some blood drenched hair out of her face. "Fairly close. But, it seems like Kilometers when we're surrounded by monsters on both sides."

"Just get into that Lab!!" Kiros yelled over the din. There was another loud booming from the skies. "There's a device in there that can blanket this city with a magic barrier. If we can use it..."

"Then, the GF battle would stop, and the monsters would also lose their power," Xu finished.

"And, Ultimecia and Adel would lose their advantage," Quistis pointed out. She was already looking for the clearest path to the Lab. "Okay, you can count on us, Kiros."

"I've called Fujin up here to help me, so keep in frequent contact," he said.

"Kiros!" Xu exclaimed, fear creeping into her voice.

"Xu?" Kiros's voice was very questioning, because Xu always sounded sure of herself. "What is it?"

"Nida..." She whispered, and shared a sad look with Quistis. "We can't contact him. Find out what happened. He went into the Esthar Plains on the Ragnarok, and we don't know what happened..."

"Will do," he guaranteed. "Please, hurry..." He severed the connection.

Xu and Quistis looked at each other. "Do you think we can make it without getting ourselves killed?" Quistis asked.

Xu pulled out a couple of items. "I have these Phoenix Pinions... But, I'd hate to use them unless I really had to. But, they're here."

"I think this is a situation that could warrant their use," Quistis whispered, cracking her whip. Blood splattered off its end, and onto the ground at the blonde's feet. "Come on, love. We have to do this... Squall's life is depending on us."

"Raijin!!" Xu called to the burly man, who was fighting off a Malboro.

"I'm busy!!" He exclaimed angrily, jabbing one of the ends of his club into the gaping maw of the creature. It came out the other end, poking out the back of the Malboro's head with a sick crack.

"We need cover to get to the Lab!"

Suddenly, a pair of Blue Dragons seemed to crawl out from nowhere, and surrounded Raijin. "Sorry, ladies," he called, summoning Cactuar. "I can't help you."

Quistis shoulder-rolled out of the path of some flying Cactuar Needles. One of them hit her in the back of the thigh. She grunted, and pulled it out as she followed Xu through the seeming sea of monster corpses. They both fell to their knees as a loud clap of thunder rang out. It rattled their bones and seemed to pierce their eardrums. They looked up to the sky, which was black with angry clouds, and the inky wings of the other summon. Then, a horrible, beautiful wave of fire fell to the streets, right in front of Xu and Quistis. They had to jump back, right into a fray with Blue Dragons, which had seemed to multiply around Raijin.

"Any suggestions, ya know?!" Raijin exclaimed.

"Uh, don't get killed. And, we need something to counter that flame."

Raijin looked over his shoulder. "Would Blizzaga work on it?"

Xu frowned. "It's worth a shot."

"Let's just get rid of these Dragons first," Quistis stated. "And, just hope that Squall can hold out until then."

Rinoa laughed harshly, the wind whipping at her long raven hair, causing her head to cock slightly. The strong wind was too strong for her cracked neck. Nida was on all fours, kneeling in front of her like a pathetic dog. He coughed against the onslaught of magical energy in the air. Suddenly, the sound of a booming electricity entered his ears, nearly deafening him. He could hear electrical crackling, as well as smell something burning. He turned his head, which was a difficult, seeing as though his head seemed like a medicine ball on his shoulders. He saw that Rinoa, or rather, Xerampelinae, must have sent out some sort of electrical attack, because the Ragnarok was smoking in areas, and he could smell the burnt circuits.

"Now we have all the time in the world," Rinoa whispered, almost gently. She smiled, opening her arms, as if to embrace Nida. Instead, a powerful wave of pain rushed through his body, and he could feel some sort of cool wind passing over his skin. There was also a crackle in the air, like there was someone else there, materializing in front of him. He could see a familiar green light gently ebbing on Rinoa's bare arms, and making her black burial dress glow strangely. The black, empire waist dress floated around her torso with the building energy of magic. Nida felt like he was going to vomit into the hem of the velvety skirt. The sleeves, which flared at the elbow, creating creped bells around Rinoa's forearms brushed Nida's cheeks, and he felt like bugs were moving on his face. He scrambled away from Rinoa's body, looking at the red bodice of the dress. The sweetheart neckline seemed to be trademark Rinoa, with her ring glittering between her breasts on its delicate chain. The center of the dress was a crushed crimson velvet, bleeding into the inky fabric of the rest of the dress. She would have looked lovely if it weren't for the vertebrae poking at her neck. But, the red seemed off. She had a deep wine colour painted on her lips, and it seemed like blood. Nida had a sinking suspicion that that's exactly what it was.

"Red..." He whispered. That eventually became all he could see. The red bodice of the dress, the strip of claret fabric carved down the middle of the black dress, and the red, bleeding lips. The Red Clothes. Xerampelinae. This may have been Rinoa Heartilly's body at one time, but no longer. It was Xerampelinae, sent by Adel and Ultimecia to get rid of Nida. They knew contact with such a magical being like Rinoa/Xerampelinae would fatally affect him. And, the fact that she was summoning wasn't a good sign, either. Even with the gross feeling of magic so close to him, Nida could also feel the atmosphere rising with the same power. Something big was going on in Esthar, and he felt very connected to it. He just hoped they were all okay. Squall's name fell from his lips in worry, and that seemed to anger Xerampelinae.

There was a pause on Rinoa's face, and she frowned deeply. "Squall?" she echoed. "He used to be mine, you know. He used to love me. Maybe you poisoned his mind to me, hmmm?"

Nida frowned, coughing. He tried to stand as the summon magic in the air built, thicker and thicker. "He and Rinoa broke up for their own reasons. I know that you're just using her body, Xerampelinae. And, I know that Ultimecia found your power useless to her, so she tossed you away like the garbage you are."

Rinoa growled lowly, and the summon appeared. The feathery wings began to appear, and the wind picked up to a balmy breeze. He could see Siren's harp glittering in the dying sun. Seifer and Zell must have gotten Siren out of Selphie's body, and given it to the zombified Rinoa, controlled by Xerampelinae. Dark clouds were beginning to form, moving towards them from Esthar. Nida knew he had to do something fast, because Siren would probably silence him, and if he didn't have magic against Xerampelinae, he was fucked. So, he quickly called upon the Guardian Force that Squall had given him for protection. Diablos. He just hoped that the Guardian Forces could nullify each other, and he could somehow get the upper hand on Rinoa.

"I see what you're doing," Rinoa cooed. "You're afraid of Siren's silence song, so you cast Diablos to help you. But, I have no intention of using magic against you, Nida Nomura. I don't need to. And, this body would not be effective against you in a magical duel. You're too powerful for that."

Nida furrowed his brow in pain and confusion. He was about to ask what Xerampelinae meant by this comment, but couldn't answer because Rinoa's fist made contact with his mouth. There was a small ring, with a dainty garnet on it on one of her fingers, and the stone cut into his lip. Nida could feel his own blood, hot and sticky, splatter onto his cheek as he fell over onto the dirty ground. As his side hit the ground, Rinoa's foot came into contact with his ribcage, and Nida couldn't help but spit up blood. Xerampelinae's presence in Rinoa was making her much stronger than she had been in her life. When Rinoa moved to kick him again, Nida's arm reached out quickly, and grabbed her ankle. He pulled her leg, and Rinoa went crashing to the ground. Nida tried to get up, but the ground was shaking from Diablos using his Dark Messenger attack against Siren, who was playing an enchanting song on her harp.

Nida slammed his almond shaped eyes shut, not wanting to listen to the music. He remembered the earpiece he was wearing, and changed the channel to a frequency that began giving off dull white noise. It wasn't enough to deafen him, but it was enough to block out the song, and break his concentration for it. He wondered if Rinoa would be affected by it. She seemed only briefly so, but it gave Nida chance to land a punch on her face. It caused her neck to crack, and her head to flop almost all the way back. Nida panted heavily, knowing that he would have to end this fight soon if he wanted to win. Even if he could hold his own in a fistfight with Rinoa, the magic in the air was taking a toll on his body. He got in an uppercut as she was falling forwards, which caused her neck to crack further. A brief twinge of guilt entered Nida's mind, because this was Rinoa's body, and he was doing damage to it. He didn't have any hard feelings towards Rinoa Heartilly, even though he was fucking her former boyfriend.

"You think you're so fucking special, don't you?" Rinoa asked, jumping away from Nida, her head bobbing, and her long skirt flapping in the growing wind. "Even if you destroy Rinoa Heartilly's body, you can't destroy me. You're going to lose, Nida Nomura." And, she opened her palms, and Nida felt like a brick wall was being slammed into him. He stumbled and fell backwards, his tailbone hitting the ground hard. He groaned, trying to get up. He had to find a way to stop Rinoa. She was right. He was going to lose. And, if the Rinoa and Xerampelinae hybrid didn't kill him, his own empathy would.

Squall grunted as the crown of his head hit the ground, one of Zell's punches knocking him over. He didn't know why he was still alive. It's not like he was rolling over and giving up, but Zell was a lot stronger than he was anyway, and with Adel's power behind him, he was super human. The only thing that seemed to be saving Squall's life was that Seifer had yet to do much. Like, he was hanging back, waiting. He was overconfident. Maybe Squall could use that to his advantage. But, he couldn't worry about Ultimecia, controlling Seifer's body, smirking and leaning against a wall. He had to worry about Zell, who was beating the shit out of him. Luckily, the fact that Zell had summoned that female monster helped Squall's cause, because it seemed to deplete Adel's magical energies. And, the fact that Squall had summoned Shiva had helped as well, because the demon was busy with the sultry Ice Goddess.

Squall slashed out with the gunblade, cutting across Zell's chest, leaving a deep, bloody gash. The small blonde gave an angry scream and lashed out at Squall, his fist making such an impact with Squall's shoulder that it went entirely numb, and Squall had to drop his gunblade. He crumpled to his knees, which caused Zell to kick him in the chest. While the small blond was bringing his leg down, Squall ignored the burning pain shooting through all his muscles, punched Zell in the stomach with all the energy he had. Despite Zell's new strength, he could still feel pain. Zell grunted, and Squall thought quickly, casting Slow on Zell, and Haste on himself. He had to do something.

"You think you're so fucking clever, don't you?" Zell grunted, holding his stomach. He opened his palm, and all of the sudden, Squall couldn't breathe. He also couldn't see. He felt like he just fell asleep, because he was totally deprived of his sensed. He felt like he did when he'd been lost in Time Compression after fighting Ultimecia the first time. Images began to flicker around him, and he felt a horrible pull at his mind. Like he was being violated. He saw his last battle with Ultimecia, but he also saw something else. His dreams. Dreams about himself, Seifer and Zell. Together.

"See?" Zell said, his voice distant, yet seeming to come from all directions. "You're not so damn smart."

Squall squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the pain. It was burning, hot and loathsome behind his eyes. He could feel ghostly hands on his body, caressing him, touching him in ways that got his cock hard, and made him feel guilty and embarrassed. This is what you want, isn't it?

"No..." Squall whispered. But, his body was giving away his desire. He'd thought he wouldn't have these dreams of being in between Seifer and Zell anymore, but here they were. Being pulled out his mind, like rape. When their hands moved over his crotch, he moaned, despite himself. Damn his body. Where was his fucking willpower? When the small moan of supplication, of defeat came out from between his full lips, Squall could hear laughter all around him, and then see the angry eyes of Nida. Like Nida was right there. Squall tried to remind himself that this was just a hallucination, that Adel and Ultimecia were just fucking with his mind, but that totally left his mind, and he totally forgot that it wasn't real when Nida was standing in front of him, decked out in full SeeD uniform, looking both angry and hateful.

A wrathful sneer was gracing Nida's full lips, the lips that Squall had kissed, had enjoyed kissing, had wanted to kiss again. "Is this what you really want? You fucking used me, Squall."

"No..." Squall whispered. "This isn't real..." But, even to his own ears, he sounded like he was trying to convince himself. "Nida, I..."

"You want Seifer and Zell. What, was I just a fuck in between? Would you really put the entire world in danger because you want a quick fuck from both sides?"

Squall looked up into Nida's chocolate brown eyes, which were slitted in anger, boiling over. He could still feel the hands on his body. "Nida..."

"Fuck you, Squall. Fuck you."

Squall could hear laughing all around him, like a cold, icy wind from Trabia. Seifer and Zell laughing. Ultimecia and Adel laughing. Squall balled his fists in defeat. Was Nida right? Would Squall put everything in jeopardy just to get a fuck? His body was sure telling him yes. But, the way his heart constricted under Nida's glare, had said differently. If Nida had just been a casual fuck, like Botany had been, Squall wouldn't have felt like a part of him was being raped, violated, trampled on.

"Nida, please wait!!" Squall cried to Nida's disappearing back. He turned around, and he had a harsh look on his pretty face that looked very alien. For a moment, he looked somewhat like Rinoa, his features softening into hers for the briefest of moments. Then, it flickered to a ghostly pale face with burning onyx eyes, kaleidoscope white hair flowing around him like a living creature. It passed quickly. "Nida!" Squall called again. "Ni..." He stopped when sharp pain rocketed across his jaw.

His eyes snapped open when he heard something crack. His jaw. Zell's knee had hit him under his chin, and sent him reeling backwards, reeling out of the mental hallucinations. The pain was horrible, and Squall used a Curaga on himself, but he was too exhausted and beaten up for it to really work to its full potential. There were black dots passing across his vision, as well as the dull ache in his jaw that only intensified when he moved his mouth at all. And, the pain in his chest didn't seem to go away. "Fuck you..." Squall panted, groaning because his jaw hurt so much.

"I just showed you the truth," Zell pointed out. "What would I gain by lying to you? You know that your sexual desires for me and Seifer were true. And, how would you feel if Nida found out about them?"

"He knows..." Squall whispered, groaning again, trying to reach for his gunblade.

"Do you think he knows that you still want us? He really cares about you, you know? And, you're such a callow whore..." Zell laughed as he stepped on Squall's hand, hard, preventing the brunette from getting his weapon.

Squall cried out in pain, then made a hoarse scream of fright when the skies seemed to shake. The whole atmosphere was filled with the flickering blue flame from the Goddess's hand, with her long skeletal fingers. Squall craned his neck, ignoring the pain in his jaw, and looked at the Guardian Force with the Hourglass in her hand. Iudicium. He remembered her from a book that he, Seifer and Zell had looked at, before this whole nightmare had begun. The Goddess of Judgement. She was filling the skies with her fire, and it was beginning to rain down on Esthar. The flame didn't burn the buildings at all, but Squall could hear people screaming, and he was powerless to do anything. Why did people always look to him for help? Look what was happening! He felt a tear trickle out of the corner of one of his eyes. He was failing in his father's place. If only Nida were here. Squall shouldn't have let him go to the Plains alone. What if something had happened to him?

"You're pathetic," Zell muttered, gleefully grinding his foot into Squall's palm. Squall moaned in pain, hearing the bones mashing together under his palm. "You're so pathetic. Everyone's dying because of you. You were supposed to stop us!" Zell mashed his foot harder onto Squall's hand. Seifer joined in the laughter.

"Nida..." Squall whispered. "Where are you? I need your help..."

"You need help, alright," Zell muttered, snapping the bones in Squall's hand.

As Squall screamed, Seifer pushed himself off the wall, stopping beside Squall's quivering body. "Oh, Skwall... So sad. Crying for your boyfriend?" Seifer leaned in, so his lips were brushing Squall's sore jaw. "He wouldn't think so favourably upon you if he kould see you like this, would he?" And, Seifer kissed Squall's mouth. As he did, Squall felt very cold. Something was wrong. Seifer's mouth tasted strange. Tasted wrong. I have to do something.... Squall internally panted. He bit down on Seifer's mouth, which caused the new Sorceress to frown, pulling away. As soon as his mouth was free, Squall spit in Seifer's face. "Fuck you, Ultimecia."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you, you little whore..." Seifer whispered, wiping his face. "Such a whore." Seifer smiled, standing. "Well, your konquests have met their fate, haven't they? Rinoa Heartilly, Botany Gillespie, and Nida Nomura."

Squall shakily tried to sit up. But, Zell's foot on his hand prevented it. Squall used is free hand, and pinched the Achilles tendon as hard as he could. Zell howled and jumped away. Squall then shakily rose to his feet, his SeeD uniform torn and caked with blood. "Nida's still alive. And, you're fucking afraid of him."

"I'm not afraid of a cunt like him!!!" Adel roared, her voice coming plainly out of Zell's mouth. "Esthar will be mine again, and you can't stop me!!!"

Squall suddenly felt woozy, and another booming noise of destruction came from behind him. The battle between Shiva and Iudicium was still going, both Goddesses looking slightly weary. Squall noticed with growing fright that the gravity defying, blood red sands in the gold Hourglass that Iudicium carried were coming to an end. He didn't want to know what happened when the sands ran out.

Adel cackled with glee, sounding sadly like Zell. "The Judgement shall soon pass," he whispered, casting a lustful glance at Seifer.

Seifer, who looked too much like Ultimecia now to even be called Seifer, was smiling as well. Squall frowned, stumbling against the railing of the podium. That's why Seifer had been standing back from the fray. Ultimecia was waiting for Iudicium's Judgement to pass. What else were they plotting?

"Xerampelinae should be done by now..." Zell whispered, giving Squall a horrible wink.

Squall shook his head, blinking. Something was wrong. He felt poisoned. He shook his head again, tasting Seifer's mouth on his own. Oh, God... He cast Esuna on himself, but it didn't seem to work. Squall tried it again, but fell to his knees.

Seifer laughed cruelly. "Esuna won't help you, Skwall. You're going to die, and your father will be next..."

Squall tried to speak, but spit up some blood. And, the growing fear in his heart couldn't be ignored. He knew that the Xerampelinae remark had something to do with Nida. Was Nida really dead? And, would Laguna die, too? All because Squall failed? He sank to his knees, trying to think of a way to counter the poison. Looking back at Iudicium, he saw that the Hourglass was almost empty. Judgement was going to pass, and Squall couldn't do anything to stop it.

Quistis and Xu ran towards the Lab, dodging enemies left and right. It was causing them to get fairly beat up, because animals were lashing out at them. Quistis had a deep gash running up the back of her thigh, which was leaving a dappled trail of blood behind her. But, she didn't stop. She couldn't. She could see the video of Squall losing his battle against Zell and Seifer. She'd also seen Seifer kiss Squall, and then the subsequent way that Squall was stumbling. Something was wrong. And, his hand was also broken, and a nasty bruise was growing on his jaw. Xu and Quistis had to help them. Raijin was helping by holding back some of the monsters. However, they were still coming. They just wouldn't stop.

Suddenly, Quistis stumbled and fell, Xu skidding in her tracks when they heard a horrible scream from Raijin. Both turned around, and saw vicious fluids running down his face. One of the Ruby Dragons that had appeared had clawed at Raijin's face, taking his left eye, and leaving jagged, bloody claw marks down his cheek.

"Raijin!!" Xu screamed, casting Holy on the monsters around the now Cyclopsed man. It destroyed a few of them, but not enough. Quistis closed her eyes, casting Shockwave Pulsar as she rose to her feet again.

"We can't stop!!" Quistis commanded, beginning to move towards the Lab again. She could see it, down the carcass littered road, like a hopeful spec on the horizon.

Xu looked back at Raijin, who was panting and moaning, his eyesocket a bloody hole in his face. "Fuck this," Xu muttered, hearing Quistis's whip cracking behind her. She summoned Eden, and began to follow her lover to the Lab. When the mammoth summon had finished, Xu smiled. The monsters were all dead. But, only moments later, they began to show up again. "Where are they coming from?!" Xu demanded angrily. She pulled out her bow once more. "Quistis, I'm getting low on arrows!"

"GO!!" Raijin demanded. "Don't worry about me, ya know?!" He began casting Thundaga spells. "GO!!!" He screamed again.

"Xu!!!!" Quistis screamed. "Now! We don't have much time. That Hourglass is almost empty. I don't want to know what happens when the sands are gone!"

"Right!" Xu called, shooting an arrow through the head of a Blue Dragon. She followed Quistis to the Lab. Xu only had a handful of arrows left, and Quistis's whip was dripping blood, but they were there. They entered the facility, but found it overrun by monsters.

"FUCK!" Quistis yelled, casting Shockwave Pulsar once more, clearing the room out. She stepped over a few carcasses to the control panels. "I just hope the monsters didn't ruin the wires..."

Xu looked out the door, seeing a hoard of Behemoths coming towards them. "You take care of that... I'll get rid of the Behemoths."

"Watch that Hourglass!" Quistis commanded.

"Right, babe," Xu muttered, casting Death on her arrows. She didn't have that many, so they had to work. One went straight through the head of one Behemoth, and it caused the first body to crash into the second one. Xu kept one eye on the skies, where Shiva was still battling the winged monster, and fought the Behemoths with the other. She cast a few rounds of Flare, then Meteor. Her arrows were gone, and there were still giant creatures coming towards her.

"Quistis!!" Xu cried. "I've run out of arrows."

"Just keep casting magic," Quistis muttered. "We'll be okay... What about that Hourglass?!"

Xu looked up, but one Behemoth saw her momentary distraction, and attacked her, pushing Xu to the ground, and causing a really nasty gash over her throat. Xu's eyes went wide, her hand moving up to her throat, which was heavily seeping blood. She cast Curaga immediately on herself, then saw the bright light of Ray Bomb in front of her. The Behemoth corpse collapsed on top of her, almost crushing Xu's body. She turned around, looking at Quistis. There was endless worry in the sapphire irises.

"Xu... Are you okay?" Quistis whispered, looking at Xu's neck, which had stopped bleeding, but was still red and scratched.

"Get that barrier up!!" Xu commanded. "Don't worry about me now!" She looked to the skies. "Please, Quisty... Hurry."

Quistis looked for a moment, seeing that they didn't have much time at all. It was running so fast. The bloody sand was moving too fast. Too, too fast.

"NOOOOO!!!!" Xu screamed as the sands ran out.

Shiva tried to cast another Ice spell against Iudicium. She'd known who the other Guardian Force had been right away. And, it was a bad thing. Iudicium had been dormant for so long that Shiva, along with the other Guardian Forces in the world, had forgotten about her. Shiva had even heard the horrified gasp from Bahamut, the King of the Summons.

"Iudicium..." Bahamut had whispered. "Shiva, you will be called to fight for Squall."

And, now... Shiva was fighting for Squall, but also for all humanity, as well as her own life. Shiva didn't feel the same way as some Guardian Forces, that thought that humanity was a virus, and it didn't matter if they disappeared. But, Shiva had once been a Queen, many aeons ago, human just like them. And, Squall and his friends were wonderful humans. She wouldn't just let loyal masters die. Another frightening aspect was that she felt the presence of Siren, far off in the distance. As well as Diablos. Something bad was happing, and it probably concerned Captain Nomura. Shiva, being close with Squall, since she was the main Junction that he carried, knew her master's thoughts. And, Nida was very dear to Squall. Her heart didn't want anything to happen.

"Iudicium, you can't agree with your Mistress's wants!" Shiva exclaimed. "Guardian Forces aren't evil!"

"I must do what my Master kommands, and you know that," Iudicium pointed out, raising more blue fire to the sky, her Ignus accented voice cold and commanding. "You know that better than anyone, Ice Queen, or else you wouldn't be fighting me."

"What sort of Judgement are you going to pass? A wave of uncreation? You would cease to exist as well..."

Iudicium laughed harshly, the bone jewellery that she wore clicking together, as if alive. "I pass the Judgement that I see fit," Iudicium pointed out. "And, when the sands are fully turned, you will see what it is, as well as everybody else...."

Shiva gasped as fire rained down on the monsters and Soldiers below them. "Damn you."

Iudicium just laughed, and smiled as Bahamut flew near them. "Ah, your Majesty..."

"Stop this, Iudicium. You always had to prove your strength, no?" Bahamut's echoing voice cut through the stormy skies.

"Your personal feelings for your Masters have made you weak as Summon Monsters. Even you, Bahamut."

"Passing Destructive Judgement doesn't solve a thing, and only makes us as bad as some of the humans think we are," Shiva pointed out.

"I'm not arguing with you...." Iudicium said sadly. "I'm much like you were, like Siren was. I was once human as well. But, Judgement must pass..." Then, the pale Goddess laughed as the sands ran out. They seemed to make a screaming noise, but it could have been the suffering below them.

"The time has come," Bahamut pointed out.

"The Time of Judgement has arrived!!" Iudicium commanded, her voice ringing out. Her black mouth turned up in a smile, and her wings spread out, wider than the Presidential Palace. "Watch and learn, Shiva. Watch and learn..."

Saffron held a cloth to Laguna's forehead, trying to ignore the horrible noises outside. She could see the large, oily, flapping wings of the Goddess of Judgement from out the window. It sounded like a million birds of prey had entered Esthar. And, the really sad thing was watching on the screens as Squall tried to fight off Zell and Seifer. Tears had rolled down Saffron's cheeks when Zell had gleefully smashed the bones in Squall's hand. That was not her son. He could never be so cruel. He would never be so cruel.

The strangest thing seemed to be Laguna's condition. It was like he was coming out of his coma, but not like he was waking up. It was almost like he was entering a new kind of comatose state. She remembered what the doctors had said about Laguna Loire's condition. That it was magically based, and that if Adel was defeated, Laguna would wake up. So, his condition was directly connected to Adel, and to Zell. Laguna's brow was sweaty, and his body seemed to be shivering and convulsing. Like he was having a seizure. Did that mean that Adel was winning, that Ultimecia and Adel would get their way?

Saffron felt pretty useless, for all she could really do was try to stop the seeming rising fever that was beginning to slow burn through the President of Esthar's body. She could hear shouting and running outside the door, but didn't dare to leave the room. She couldn't leave Laguna. She sighed deeply, wetting some more towels. As she turned to look at Laguna, the towels fell from her hands. His body was in a full seizure, shaking and jumping from off the bed. There was also saliva at his mouth, looking like foam. She tried to still his motions, not knowing anything about seizures.

"President Loire?!" She screamed. Then, his body went painfully still, his back arched, off the bed. He collapsed on the bed, not moving at all....

Zell laughed as the Hourglass emptied, but they were clearly Adel's cackles coming out of his mouth.

"The Time of Judgement has arrived!!" Iudicium commanded, her voice ringing out. Her black mouth turned up in a smile, and her wings spread out, wider than the Presidential Palace. "Watch and learn, Shiva. Watch and learn..."

"No..." Squall panted, trying to stand up to his full height. He stumbled, but ended up reaching his gunblade. He had to use his left hand, but his dominant hand was now broken, so he would have to make due. What was Iudicium going to do? Suddenly, the pale Goddess of Judgement whipped around. "And, I Judge thee, Sorceress Adel."

"What?!" Adel bellowed. "You're insane! I control you!"

"You kontrol nothing, Adel! You do not kontrol me, and I Judge thee. You are no longer my Mistress."

Zell opened his mouth to protest, but found that his voice was gone. Seifer's eyes were wide with surprise, the amber irises of Ultimecia glittering with actual confusion.

"And, you are to be Judged by my hand, the Divine Fist. My word is final, and my hand will be the one that you have wronged. My Judgement shall be passed through my now chosen avatar of Skwall Leonhart."

Squall held up his gunblade, and used Adel's confusion. He couldn't slice with his arm, because he was too injured, so he dashed towards Zell, stumbling on his legs, and he ran his gunblade through Zell's body, not stopping for the hesitation in his mind. He couldn't think of it as Zell. Even though the face was familiar, it wasn't Zell.

Adel's crimson eyes widened, and blood pooled from out of Zell's parted lips. Squall's gunblade had gone right through the heart of Zell's body. Zell opened his mouth, and what sounded like a thousand screams came out of his mouth. All the breath was leaving Zell's body, and he slumped on the piercing weapon.

"ADEL!!!" Ultimecia screamed.

Squall watched as Zell died, tears pooling in his eyes. The crimson irises faded away, until he was looking in the teary, icy eyes of Zell, the eyes that he was familiar with, the eyes that he'd looked into a million times in the course of their friendship. He was looking at Zell. He had just murdered Zell. He saw the sadness, the guilt, and the relief in Zell's eyes.

"Th...thank....than...thank you.... Squ... Sq... Squa.... Th..." Zell panted, each syllable causing more blood to pour out of his mouth.

Squall whimpered, pulling his gunblade out of Zell's body. "I'm so sorry..." He whispered, stumbling on his shaky legs. Zell collapsed along with Squall, falling into a pool of blood.

"Seifer..." Zell whispered, looking over to the enraged blond behind him. "Seifer........" He trailed off. "My love..." He blinked a couple of times, and then his eyes ceased seeing. Zell was dead.

"Zell!!!" Seifer wailed, falling to his knees. His eyes were back to their aqua colour as well, and filled with sad tears.

Squall tried to stand, but his legs weren't working. He also felt very sore and stiff. If Quistis and Xu didn't get that magic barrier up soon, Squall knew he was going to die. That barrier was his only chance. He choked back a sob as Seifer touched the tattooed side of Zell's face.

"Zell..." He whispered. "Oh....." The tears fell out of his eyes, landing on Zell's cheeks, like the dead blond had cried them himself. Seifer's shaking hand closed Zell's eyes, and his heart shattered. He knew that Zell was better off dead, that Adel couldn't hurt them.... Adel.... Seifer's whole body shook, and he felt Adel's powers entering his body. He was taking on the powers. And, taking over his mind. The combination of Adel and Ultimecia in his mind were too much, and Seifer felt himself fading away as well. Even though his body was moving, Seifer knew he'd died right along with Zell. He also thought of Lillith as the combined Sorceresses invaded him completely. He just hoped that Lillith could help them now. "Zell...."

"I'm sorry...." Squall whispered. "Zell...I'm...." He had to stop, because his voice was failing.

"The Judgement has passed," Iudicium stated simply. "My new Master awaits me..." And, she vanished into the fiery air of the skies about Esthar.

"Iudicium!!!" Shiva cried.

"Zell..." Squall whimpered. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry... I'm sorry everyone. Zell.... Nida...."

Seifer stood to full height, panting from sheer rage. "Skwall Leonhart, I will not let you live. I WILL NOT LET YOU LIVE!!!!!!" Ultimecia screamed.

"Squall!!" Shiva cried, but it was too late. Ultimecia lunged at Squall, grabbing him by the throat. This caused Squall to drop his bloody gunblade, and caused the tears that had been pooling in his eyes to fall down his cheeks.

"I'm sorry... Zell...." Squall whispered. "Nida...Help me."

"Your fucking kunt lover is DEAD!" Ultimecia screamed. Seifer's classically beautiful face had twisted from the combined anger of Ultimecia and Adel, and made him twisted and ugly. "Xerampelinae, upon my kommand, has entered the body of your former lover, Rinoa Heartilly, and killed Nida. And, it's all your fault, Skwall Leonhart!!!" Ultimecia's hands tightened around Squall's throat as the brunette tried to choke out his whimpered, desperate apologies to Zell, and his cries for Nida.

Squall's stormy eyes bored into the burning sulphur of Ultimecia's glare, where the sands of Judgment that had passed through Iudicium's golden Hourglass were passing now. The sands of Squall's Judgement were passing through the black Hourglasses in Ultimecia's golden eyes. The irises where Time ceased to exist, a Stitch of Time, existing on their own. Squall could feel the tingle of magic in the hand around his throat. Ultimecia was going to cast a spell. Squall knew he was going to die. Maybe, if there was an afterlife, he could atone to Zell, atone to Rinoa, to Selphie, to the people that he'd killed. That died by his hands. He could atone to his father, atone to his mother. Raine. The first person he'd murdered. His existence had killed his mother. He could atone to Nida. Nida, who'd saved Squall so many times, and Squall had done nothing but put Nida in more danger.

It's not your fault, Squall...

The brunette blinked, hearing a voice in his mind. It sort of sounded like Zell, but it could have been Seifer. It could have been Nida. It could have even been Rinoa or Selphie. It could have been Raine. The voice of his mother. A voice he'd never heard before. It sounded like many voices, pinpointed to one singular one. Squall's vision began to haze as his oxygen was deprived. He remembered the feeling of this spell as it mounted its power. Apocalypse. Squall knew he wasn't strong enough to survive it. Once Ultimecia cast her spell, the painfully familiar face of Seifer glaring at him hatefully. And, Squall knew Seifer had every right. Zell had been Seifer's entire life, and Squall had stolen the small blonde's life.

Squall could feel the beginnings of the spell, could feel the wind picking up. He could hear Shiva call him, could hear the leathery flapping of Bahamut's wings, but there was nothing they could do. Ultimecia was holding them back magically. Squall knew he was going to die. I'm so sorry.... He whispered internally, to nobody and everybody. He waited... And, waited. Those mere fractions of seconds that he waited seemed like an eternity, but the last second never came. The last grain of sand never fell.

Nida screamed hoarsely. Or, rather, tried to. It seemed that he'd been screaming for an eternity. His body was in so much pain. He was in the realm of pain where he wished for death. Rinoa, and Xerampelinae, were laughing. As Rinoa moved around him, he could hear the cracking of her broken neck, which was further shattered from Nida's blows to it. But, Nida hadn't lasted long, and Xerampelinae was only torturing him now. She was the child ripping the Dragonfly's wings off. Nida just wanted it to be over. He hurt, and was tired. His body seemed to be falling apart from the inside out. His empathy was struggling in him, overloading to the magic all around him. Diablos and Siren were still fighting, but it was half-hearted. They both seemed more interesting in watching Rinoa and Nida.

Nida looked into Rinoa's eyes, trying to find anything of her original personality. He couldn't really find anything, and was too tired and sore and in agonizing pain to try anything drastic to fight her. Even if he blinked, Nida's body seemed to scream out. And, something seriously wrong was happening in Esthar. Even from this far distance, where Esthar was only dark clouds in the sky, he knew that it was something horrible.

Suddenly, something happened to his body. His whole body felt on fire, like he was burning alive. He moaned, and Rinoa's fist came into contact with his jaw, sending him backwards. He almost fell, but she caught him by the chin, her fingers crushing into his skin, leaving painful bruises in the shape of her fingers. Nida's eyes caught a small flap of his flesh, from his cheek, dangling off the garnet ring that Rinoa wore. She cocked her neck and regarded him. The movement of her neck caused the broken vertebrae to pop out of her skin, and it made Nida want to vomit. If he'd recently eaten anything, he would have. Instead, he spit up blood, which ran down Rinoa's hand, which was still tightly clutching Nida's face.

The burning also turned into what felt like bug legs. Millions and millions of hot insects crawling all over Nida's body, burrowing into his skin. The Asian man actually had to look down to see if he was actually coated in burning bugs. What was happening? He tried to scream, but something stole his voice. Stole it from the inside. The burn was inside him now. He balled his hands into fists, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Something had invaded his body. Something magical. Immediately, Nida's empathy began to war with it, and he could feel his muscles burning and seizing. He tried to fight it, his own instinct of self preservation trying to win, but Nida's body couldn't handle the internal fire, the battle between what had invaded him, and his empathy. The two entities were raping him, breaking his body, and along with Rinoa's hand on his face, and her other hand on his arm, squeezing it until the bones snapped and muscles ripped, caused Nida to disappear into blackness.

Rinoa cocked her head again, which flopped onto her shoulder. Nida's body was not moving at all. She was about to let go, but suddenly, he seized, and gasped for air. Rinoa's eyes widened, and turned back to dark coffee, a similar colour to Nida's own, as she watched him. Xerampelinae lost brief control of the seemingly alive Rinoa as the Asian woman watched Nida. Or, rather, watched his shoulders. The air around him seemed filled with the ghostly images of big, oily wings. Feathery and black, with a massive wingspan. The wings stretched out, flowing from the backs of his shoulders. Nida's Angel Wings. Rinoa's Angel Wing. Rinoa shook, her head bobbing slightly, as she dropped Nida. She remembered her own Angel Wings, the silkscreened ones on her blue duster, the ghostly ones from her Angel Wing. Her Sorcery.

Xerampelinae moaned in Rinoa's head, trying to gain control. Ultimecia must win. Xerampelinae wouldn't cease. If Rinoa died again, the only body Xerampelinae could enter would be Nida Nomura, and she knew that her self, her existence, would die. Ultimecia had purposely kept Xerampelinae's self intact, but Nida Nomura would do no such thing.

In a brief moment of consciousness, Nida reached for a knife that was under his SeeD jacket. And, he plunged it into Rinoa's heart. It was one of his magically coated knives, and it burned his hand. As Nida fell out of Rinoa's grip, the ghostly black wings that protruded from his back disappeared, and only his still body hit the ground.

Xerampelinae screamed in Rinoa's head, and Rinoa covered her ears, sinking to her knees. The screaming was so loud, and her whole head hurt. Rinoa opened her heart shaped mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Only a great whoosh of air. Xerampelinae was leaving her dying body. And, going into Nida's. The Asian pilot's body arched off the ground, and then stilled. Rinoa could have sworn she could hear Nida mentally scream. He was now a Sorcerer, and his empathy would try to devour the new powers.

Rinoa opened her eyes. "Nida....?" She looked through her fingers at him. He was laying very still, but she could see a shallow rise and fall of his chest. Her vision was dim, and her head wouldn't stay put. She whimpered as she touched the protruding bones of her neck. "Oh... Oh, Hyne..." She whispered, remembering Zell breaking her neck. What was she doing here? Everything was turning to night as she slowly crawled towards Nida. When she lay her hands on his chest, she wanted to snatch them away again. It was like he was on fire, and it had burned her. But, for some reason, she couldn't move. She couldn't move because she was dying again.

As Rinoa began to slump, she cradled Nida in her arms, the burning sensation not going away. When she touched his back, she could briefly see those feathery, huge black wings, and she felt like her own white ones returned, flapping out of her back. Tears pooled in Rinoa's eyes. She did this to Nida? Why? What had happened? She died, didn't she?

"I'm sorry, Nida..." Rinoa whispered, her voice coming out cracked and mangled from her ruined neck. She pressed her forehead to Nida's, which was burning up. It was to offer sorrow, but also because her head flopped forward. Her long hair curtained around Nida's face, which was bruised and cut. Rinoa knew this was from her hands. When her tears touched Nida's skin, the skies seemed to open, the dark clouds moving away, revealing the blue. Rinoa opened her eyes, and tried to look up, but her broken neck and dying body prevented it. Just like when Time Compressed last time. Except that it wasn't Squall she was holding in her arms, and there wouldn't be her happy ending with her Knight in Shining Armour. Rinoa looked down at Nida as the image of his face faded from her blackening gaze. Rinoa and Nida shared the same Knight. Two fallen Angels, their wings broken and bleeding. Rinoa's head flopped against Nida's chest as she entered a world of pitch black, the bones in her neck stopping their cracking as her body stilled, ghostly black and white feathers floating into the clear blue sky.

Squall slowly opened one eye, and found that Seifer was still holding him, Ultimecia's Hourglass irises still boring into him, but no magic was coming. Squall tried to gasp when he felt Shiva and Bahamut enter his body, returning to him. He was still choking, still fading near the edge of death, but Ultimecia's magic wouldn't be the killer. Her hand, gloved in Seifer's body, would be. But, it never came.

"What?!" Ultimecia screamed, her hand tightening on Squall's neck. "A Barrier?!"

The shock helped Squall, and he lifted one of his dangling legs, and kicked Seifer in the balls as hard as he could. This caused all the air to leave the scarred blonde's body, and it also caused Squall to drop to the ground in an ungraceful, coughing heap. "Quistis... You did it..." He whispered between his coughs.

"Damn you, Leonhart!!! DAMN YOU, SKWALL!" Ultimecia roared, her voice echoing throughout the city.

Squall swallowed all his fear, all his sadness and regret, and picked up his gunblade, still wet with Zell's blood, and sliced it across Seifer's throat, spilling his crimson life down the front of his body, the hot blood raining down on Squall, coating his hair, clothes and face. Seifer's body fell, his eyes losing their light, back to their original aqua. The last thing that Squall saw in Seifer's eyes was thankful sadness. He fell forward, his hands reaching out as he did. Poetically, his hand fell near Zell's, their fingers almost touching.

Squall panted heavily, coughing as some of Seifer's blood entered his lungs. He just looked at their bodies, bleeding from Squall's hands. His jaw quivered, and shot pain across Squall's head, burning at his temples, but he didn't bother to stop. He dropped the gunblade to the ground with a loud, final clang that was echoed across the city. He stumbled on his legs, only barely realizing that the effects of Seifer's poisonous kiss were gone, up in smoke when the barrier came down. His broken hand reached out shakily, gingerly taking Seifer's fingers in a light grip, pain shooting up his arm. But, Squall didn't care. He put Seifer's hand over Zell's, and pulled his hand back to his body. They were dead. Dead because of him. They were all dead because of him. Seifer, Zell. Rinoa, Selphie. Raine. Nida. Nida.... Nida.

Squall put his broken hand down on the ground, and found it wrist deep in a pool of blood. He snatched it away, pulling it against his chest. He briefly wondered if Ultimecia would possess him next. He deserved it. He was no better than she was. He was a murderer. He'd murdered his mother. He'd murdered Seifer, he'd murdered Zell. He murdered Nida. He may as well have been the one to do it. Nida was dead because of him. They were all dead.

"... Because of me..." Squall whispered, looking up at the sky. The black clouds were rapidly rolling away, the clear blue sky coming towards them from the direction of the Esthar Plains. Squall watched the clear aerial sea, and thought he saw something floating away with the clouds. Ghostly, translucent, but still there. Black and white feathers. One drifted down towards him, catching a breeze, gently rolling and falling down to his seated position, the fallen feather coming down to the site of bleeding, broken Angels. Squall's upturned palm on his broken right hand caught the falling feather, as black as night. Once it touched Squall's hand, he felt the warmth of the sun, touching his body from the epicentre of the feather in his hand, which was flickering, fantastical. It was fading in his human touch, like it was something beyond their existence, and it began to melt into Squall's flesh, like it was joining his body. And, for some reason, as the endless blue sky looked down on the ravaged Esthar, when that oil black feather disappeared in Squall's hand, he felt warm, like someone was touching him, gently coaxing him into calmness, with veiled promises that everything would be okay.

It reminded Squall of the time he'd been lost in Time Compression, and Rinoa's feather had saved him. But, he knew this wasn't Rinoa's feather, as he watched it completely disappear. It didn't come from her. When the black feather vanished into Squall's bloodstained hand, he raised his face to that cerulean sky, and screamed in anguish, his wails echoing across the city that he had tried to protect, the microphones and large monitors broadcasting his grief across an entire nation, his screams following the travelling Angel feathers.

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