Echoes of the Past by Pierson




Part 2 of the Tortured Souls Trilogy.

 

Prologue: 1000 Years Ago (Correspondence)

 

 

Lord Zaon.

Please find enclosed the device and documents we uncovered in the ruins of the Zanarkand Library yesterday.

Early studies showed it to be a machina storage device. Further studies revealed that it was several hundred thousand years old. This makes it well Pre-Zanarkand in nature. When we uncovered it's secret, we found that it contained dense text in a language used neither by us nor by any race currently existing in Spira. Other scholars have suggested this is a variation of the written language of the backwards people of Bevelle. This had been discounted after captured prisoners could not decipher it, even under threat of death. However, when we finally managed to decode it, we found that it appeared to be a simple child's tale based around several characters from legend. It is not plans for weaponry, nor building schematics. It has been graded importance 3-E, and we are requesting permission to remove staff from studying it to look at more worthwhile projects.

Your Servant.

Cmndr Shiel.

 

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Cmndr Shiel.

Permission granted, don't waste your time any longer with that device. Look at the machina we received from the Al Bhed sympathisers, indications suggest a high probability of useful data being recoverable. Specifically, look at the sections marked; 'weaponry.' We must find something to destroy this creature that terrorises us all!

Lord Zaon.

 

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Lord Zaon.

Understood my Lord.

However, one quick note. As well as recovering the device containing the document, troops also recovered what appeared to be a perfectly formed Opal. Some have suggested this could be the gemstone mentioned in the document. I have disciplined those responsible for such wild ideas spreading. However, many who hold the stone have commented that they felt some kind of ghostly 'presence' around them when they did so, and others have said that the location is cursed. I will be taking private custody of the gemstone. This could mean there is an element of truth to the tale. Since in the story a large flying machina weapon in mentioned, I request permission to examine this in greater detail.

Your Servant.

Cmndr Shiel

 

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Cmndr Shiel.

Very well, but do not take up too much manpower with this. We need a weapon, not fairy-tale monsters.

Lord Zaon.

 

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Lord Zaon.

My Lord, I believe I have found something of great interest!

There appears to be a creature trapped inside the gemstone! It is faint, but I know it is there. I am coming back immediately to the command post with the gemstone to show you. We think it could be one of the mystical Guardians spoken of. If it proves to be so, it could help us to destroy the thing that kills us. I am returning to you forthwith.

Your Servant.

Cmndr Shiel.

 

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Lord Zaon held the Opal up to the light and rotated it slowly, the reflections did not change. This gem was perfect. He could hear something else as well... He turned to Commander Shiel. 'You were right. This is one of them. There is no other explanation.'

The young woman beamed. 'Sir! I thought you would want to see this,' she gushed.

'You thought right. I can hear it's cries, whatever it is, it wants to be free,' he said. Then he paused. This would be perfect as a test specimen, he thought to himself. He turned to Shiel. 'Here, catch!' He threw the gemstone to her.

'Sir?' she asked warily.

'Take it to the colony at Macalania.' Then he turned to the ruins of his once great city, Zanarkand. Damn you Yevon, for creating that beast. I will defeat it! I must!  He looked back at the young woman in front of him, holding the blue stone.

'Put it in the Fayth Project.

   

 

Chapter 1: Cold Voices

   

Tysh ed it's cold here.

 

Rikku had been doing her best to avoid visibly shivering, but without much success. It has to be like -20 degrees here! She thought to herself as she traipsed after the other guardians. To be honest with herself, she wasn't ideally suited to the cold, having grown up in a desert, and her clothes were not helping her out. Why didn't I buy a coat in Guadosalam? She angrily scolded herself. Just then, she heard a voice up ahead that broke into her thoughts. From right in front of her in fact. 'The likes of her are not permitted here!' shouted the angry Monk, right in her face. So, they had arrived, and she had been too cold to notice. From behind her she heard the voice of Auron, calm and authorative as always.

'She is a guardian,' he said slowly.

ĎAn Al Bhed, a guardian? Preposterous!í said the Monk.

Hey! She thought. She approached the mad Monk. 'I want to protect Yuna, and that is all that is important to me,' she said, amid much shivering and teeth chattering.

'And that is all one needs to be a guardian,' Auron said, then pushed past the Monk into the temple.

 

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And so more come...

So, what do you want little humans? The same thing as always I suppose... You want my power, that's all you ever want. Tell me, why should I help you?

 

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Rikku stood before the fading sphere, but not seeing it. No! Not Seymour! I trusted him! she shouted in her mind. She looked across at Wakka, and for a second those thoughts were driven from her head. She thought she might have smiled at the blitzer, watching what he believed in be shattered to dust. But she couldn't, Yuna was in danger, she was a Guardian, that was all she needed to know. But it was from a person she had thought she could rely upon for some reason. She thought back to everything, their meeting in the Farplane Gates, where he had offered her his help, the Thunder Plain, where he had saved her. Had it all been a dream? Although it took Tidus a few minutes to convince Wakka of the fact, eventually Wakka surrendered to logic. 'If Seymour's bad news, then we've gotta stop him, right?' the boy argued.

'I suppose, but there's gotta be another explanation!' Wakka shouted as a last resort.

Rikku walked over to the two arguing men and decided to put aside her personal feelings for the moment. 'Erm, guys?'

They both looked at her. 'Yeah? What?' Wakka snapped.

'Nothing, except for the fact that Yuna is currently alone in a room with a man who possibly killed his father, and we're standing here arguing,' she said. He glared daggers at her, and then ran off to the trials without saying a word. For her part, Rikku regretted say it, it only made it more likely it was true.

 

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Why should I help? You come to me with your summoners and your prayers and you expect me to help you. Not like I have a choice either. It's this or stay here, and getting out, no matter for how short a time, is preferable to this. You want me to give you my powers, because you don't have any of your own left. Pathetic. Humanity wasn't always this dependant on outside forces, at least back then they could choose whether to call us, instead of making us come at the slightest sign of trouble.

 

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They ran towards the Chamber of the Fayth. Wakka slower than the rest. He didn't seem to believe that a Maester, one of the pillars of his faith, could be evil. Lulu turned to him. 'If he truly is at fault, he must pay.'

Wakka looked even more downcast. 'This can't be happening,' he moaned quietly.

Rikku ignored him and ran on. She wasn't going to let Yuna down, and after her, ahem, 'performance' in the Thunder Plains, she was going to prove she could hack it. She followed Auron and Khimari, and pushed through the doors, and stopped. This room was a work of art. Non-believer or no, she had to say she had never seen anything like it. Icicles hung off the walls and ceiling in perfectly ordered rows (although she wouldn't want to be under them, she saw. They were razor-sharp), the room was decorated in murals depicting what appeared to be a battle, a woman in blue fighting against a creature even Auron wouldn't have wanted to mess with. She guessed this was the Aeon itself. Al Bhed spies who had infiltrated the temples had reported pictures on the walls leading to the Chamber depicting the Aeon itself, usually in some heroic pose. She managed to turn away from the scene, and noticed she had missed most of the conversation, and Yuna was with them. She turned to Lulu. 'What did I miss?' She whispered.

The Black Mage smiled at her. 'They shouted at each other for a while, then Yuna came out of the chamber and said she would fight Seymour with us,' she replied quietly.

'Thanks!' the young Al Bhed whispered back. She turned to watch Seymour, and heard his grim proclamation;

'Well, if you're offering your lives, I'll just have to take them.' The Maester said, and raised his hands to...

'STOP!' Rikku shouted at the Maester. To her surprise, he did, and his eyes went wide.

'Rikku?' he asked.

'Why are you doing this?' she asked him, eyes wide and pleading, the others looked at her in amazement, but she carried on, heedless of their gazes. 'I thought you were a good person, was it all lies?'

'Rikku, I can explain,' he said softly, and held out his hand. 'Let me explain.'

For a second Rikku felt the urge to run to him and grasp it, but then she remembered Jyscal's last sphere and drew back. For a second she swore she could see true sadness in his eyes, then he looked back at the others and they became hard again. 'Well, if you are offering your lives, I'll just have to take them,' he said, and attacked. But Rikku knew that during this fight, no serious harm would come to her. Seymour wouldn't let it.

 

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Interesting, hasn't been a fight in her since the execution of those spies last century... I sense great darkness from that one. You aren't real. You're dead. You two don't seem to want to admit to yourselves what you're feeling. I met you, summoner. You're a Ronso with a broken horn, good luck to you when you go home with that. You're an Al Bhed...

 

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Rikku watched as the other two Guado carried Seymour away. As he passed her, he suddenly lunged and grasped her arm. The other stared in alarm, but she waved them off and knelt down beside him. 'What is it?' she asked gently. He whispered in her ear, and her eyes went wide as his aides carried him off. Auron also heard what Seymour said, and he blinked, but he did not comment.

Rikku didn't hear what Tromell said next, her head was still spinning from the blow Anima had dealt her in a lapsed moment of concentration. She had seen Seymour wince from it. He still cared. She knew it. She didn't like Phoenix Downs, and especially didn't like having them used on her. She looked across at the rest of the group. Wakka and Lulu were devastated by Seymour's actions, that much she could see. Khimari was watching Yuna for any sign of fatigue, ready to catch her if she so much as stumbled. The summoner in question looked like she was in a dream, not focussing on anything. Auron looked disinterested as always, unsympathetic git that he was. No-one seemed to be bothered about Seymour and Rikku's short exchange before the battle.

Tidus however, was another story. 'Can't we just explain?' shouted the young blonde guardian.

Auron and Wakka looked up at him in disbelief. 'We attacked a Maester. We're finished,' said Wakka.

Auron was not much help either. 'Seymour can say whatever he wants, the only witnesses to this are us and him, it's our word against his. No-one would believe us, not under these circumstances,' he said.

Tidus did not want to give up however. 'But we have evidence! The wounds! The other Guado! Yuna, you're a summoner, people like you, they'll listen to you!'

But Auron discounted these by ticking them off on his fingers as he went, the excuses Seymour could use. 'He defended himself against an unprovoked attack, the other Guado will soon dissolve into pyreflies, Yuna will have no credibility when people find out she helped kill a Maester of Yevon.' He paused, then looked over at Rikku. 'Plus we're travelling with an Al Bhed. That will not help our chances.'

She lowered her head. That was not what she wanted to hear. She looked around at the room again, ignoring the argument. She looked again at the murals, those figuresÖ

She heard a noise, almost a voice, but whispered. Guado! She thought. She span around, looking for the source of the disturbance, but seeing nothing, she kept looking around, expecting to see Yevon Monks hiding in the rafters, or Guado, but there was nothing. She put it down to nerves, and started to turn back to the others. As she turned, her gaze swept over the entrance to the Chamber of the Fayth. Then everything went red.

 

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Simple, blame the Al Bhed girl you fools. Tell them she did it. Tell them you had no idea she was an assassin. Typical summoners troupe, unwilling to sacrifice one to save the others. You all have that problem, even Zaon and Yunalesca...

Wait a minute. Did you hear that? You, girl, you heard me didn't you? No? Don't try and fool me, I know you did. Answer me! I know you heard, you're looking for me, but you won't see me, not even with eyes as good as those. I said answer me!

...Alright then, try this;

ANSWER ME!

 

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The others heard a scream, and turned to see Rikku clutch at her head and collapse onto the floor.

Yuna ran over to her and turned her over onto her side. 'Rikku what's wrong?!' she shouted.

Rikku continued to scream, the pain she could feel.

Yuna extended her staff and tried some cure spells. They succeeded in turning the screaming into a quiet whimper. She tried to stand the young girl up.

Auron lost his look of disinterest and wandered over to the young girl, concerned for a fellow Guardian. He grasped her chin softly and turned her head to him. 'Rikku, look at me,' he said quietly.

Rikku slowly opened her eyes, and Yuna gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Where once there had been two black spirals on emerald-green eyes, there were now two harsh red spirals on a background of pure black. They backed off. Fast.

 

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Well well well, interesting. You're not who you say you are, and your friends don't know it

Why are you still here?

You're on a pilgrimage aren't you? Inconvenient. Come back here when you're done girl, and we'll talk some more.

 

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Rikku turned her head slowly, and looked up at the pale Yuna. What happened? She tried to say, but all that came out was; 'Wha...?'

Yuna stood over her, not a little panicked

'We don't know!' she nearly cried. 'You just fell over and started screaming!'

Rikku got to her feet, slowly, and promptly staggered into the form of Khimari, who put his arm out to steady her. She looked around at everyone's staring faces and she closed her eyes. 'I'm OK, I'm OK,' she said, over and over, until she convinced herself it was true. 'I'm OK guys, really.'

Tidus looked sceptical. 'Are you sure, you looked like you were in a lot of pain,' he said.

'Really!' She quipped, cheerier than she felt. She was still shivering though, and not just because of the temperature. 'Lets go, it's really cold in here,' she said.

Auron moved off towards the Cloister, seemingly bored once more now that the event had passed and no-one was in any immediate danger. They had almost made it to the foyer when the floor collapsed under Tidus' feet, and they had to spend half an hour solving the trial.

Rikku looked back at the closing door of the Chamber. What was that? Who was that? Then she made a decision. I'll be back, after all this is over. She walked off to stand near her summoner, as they argued with Tromell, then fought their way out into Macalania's freezing night.

 

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You heard me. I know you did. You'll be back. I know it. You have to, or you'll never stop wondering...

Within her Fayth, the trapped and fossilised soul of Quistis Trepe smiled the cold, calculating smile that only the truly insane are capable of.

 

   

Chapter 2: Broken Prison

 

 

Rikku stood before the gates of Macalania Temple. She had put this return journey off for far too long. She thought back over the events of the past few months.

Yevon is dead, the Yevon government has fallen, Yuna is in charge, the Al Bhed are nice people among Spirans again. What else? Oh yeah, a strange urge in my head told me to come back here.

She looked up at the towering spiral of the Temple of Yevon, built to house an object the size of a hut in Besaid. Tysh but those Yevonites believed in grandeur. She thought to herself as she walked up to the entrance. The monk who had barred her entry the last time she was here was long gone, probably disillusioned or dead. Many had been unable to take the strain when the only thing that they believed in had been crushed by truth. People stopped and stared as she walked by, Yuna was loved by all for bringing the Eternal Calm, and her Guardians had instantly developed an aura of mystery that most took years to achieve, unbeatable fighters who had taken down all that would threaten their summoner. Their disappearance from public life had only increased the mystery. Khimari had returned to Gagazet, honoured by the Ronso once more. Lulu and Wakka had returned to Besaid, happy with a quiet life of peace, after years of seeing conflict and death. On her part, Rikku had no such wish to simply vanish. After years of persecution she was going to enjoy every last minute of fame she could get. Her train of thought however, was broken when she nearly walked into a large door.

She was here.

 

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Fools.

All of them were fools. They thought that to merely kill that overgrown summoner would let them rest. Fools. I'm still here, and you didn't count on that did you? Fools...

What the...?

Oh, it's you again! Excellent. Come into my chamber, girl. Let me see your eyes again. All I need is a glimpse, and then I'll know...

 

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As she walked into the once-grand-now-disused antechamber of the temple, she noticed that the wall carvings had not really changed though, as if some force was keeping them clean. She knew this wasn't possible, the Fayth of Shiva should have been long dead/dormant/whatever. Good. Rikku thought to herself. That thing always gave me the creeps. She could have sworn on occasion she had caught the icy Aeon actually looking at her, as if weighing her up. It freaked the ramm out of her.

She walked up into the centre of the room, remembering their first visit. Seymour's actions, their hasty escape.

And the pain. Don't forget the pain. She didn't know what had caused it, but she was determined to find out. She looked around the chamber, hoping to find something, anything that would explain what she had felt that day. It had been like burning and having her head inflated at the same time. She needed to know what had caused it. At least, that was her excuse when she had been asked.

 

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Turn around you silly girl! Look into the chamber! I don't have all day... well, actually I do have all day, but that isn't the point. Just look at the passageway, come on!

Let... me... see... your... EYES!

 

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She heard it again. A whisper, like a breeze blowing in from an open door somewhere. She started to turn towards the source of the noise. Then she remembered what had happened the last time, she stopped swinging around, just in time to avoid looking at the Chamber's doorway. She waited. Nothing happened. Rikku isnít going to be had that easily this time! She thought to herself.

 

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Clever girl, you've obviously learned that lesson.

But lets see how you handle this...

 

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Rikku was congratulating herself for her foresight and intelligence, so when she heard the whistle she didn't think about the risks when she turned around and a very large snowball flew into her face and sent her to the floor.

Hey! She thought, and tried to say. '...!...' was all that came out. Rikku got to her feet and wiped the now-rapidly-melting snow out of her face. She decided to assert herself against this invisible enemy. 'Show yourself!' she shouted to the empty room. No reply came. 'Fine!' she pouted. 'I'll just stay here then!' She sat down on the floor at the centre of the room, crossed her legs, and waited.

 

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For Hyne's sake girl, show a little more curiosity will you?

 

Fine then, we'll see who decays first...

 

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10 minutes later, Rikku was bored. All this way, she thought she'd have found something, and she had found exactly squat. There was nothing here, the place was deserted, even the Chamber of the Fayth...

Hell-oo... thought Rikku. Now how did I forget that...? She stood up and began to make her way towards the spiritual heart of the Yevon temple.

 

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About bloody time... Come inside...

 

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Rikku gasped upon seeing the Chamber. If the antechamber had been beautifully decorated, then this was just... amazing... She looked around at the place where the Fayth resided, and was astounded by the sheer level of detail in the carved walls and pillars that adorned the Fayth. The entire structure was faceted and curved to resemble the inside of some sort of perfect gemstone.

The Fayth... This was what she had come to see. She remembered the one in Besaid, after Yevon had collapsed and the old taboos forgotten. The Aeon formerly known to Yuna and the others as Valefor had been a simple piece of rock after the defeat of Sin. She looked around at Shiva's. It should have been the same...

But it wasn't. This Fayth was still alive with colour. She was surprised she hadn't noticed it on the way in. She had never seen anything like it. She approached the piece of still-living rock and reached out to touch it. It was still warm to the touch. Still more confusingly, it was still coloured, and had not turned to stone like the others. She smiled, she didn't know why, but she knew that this would provide answers. She reached into her pack and withdrew a small chisel and mallet. Drawing back her hand, she prepared to chip a piece of the strange substance off.

Then it happened.

 

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You are one of them! I knew it! Maybe this will work this time... Well, only one way to find out.

You're mine.

 

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Rikku screamed and fell to her knees as the pain took hold of her. It was no less agonising then she had remembered, if anything it was even more intense than the last time. She fell to the floor, clutching her head as what felt like many sharp ice-picks dug into her brain, prying and wriggling around. She screamed for someone to help her, in a place no-one came within 20 miles of anymore. Then she heard a voice through the pain.

Hello again.

'Who..?' she managed to say before a particularly painful surge of... something... ran through her body.

I'll ask the questions girl.

'Please... stop,' Rikku managed to whimper. Even breathing was getting hard.

Later. First you are going to help me.

Anything. Rikku thought. Anything to stop the pain. '...' Rikku said.

The voice seemed to notice this. What? Oh, the pain. Sorry, I may have gotten carried away.

Mercifully, the pain lessened. Now she merely wished she was unconscious, instead of wishing she was dead. Rikku curled into a foetal position and closed her eyes against everything. 'How?' she whispered.

You are going to get me out of here, the voice said.

'Anything... Just make it stop,' she begged.

Excellent. You see little girl. I want to be free. I need to get out of here, and to do that I need a life.

'Who..?'

Yours. Now stay still, because this is going to hurt. A lot.

Another jolt of pure pain shot through Rikku's body. Her arms arched out by her sides and she screamed. This time, it did not stop. All she could feel was the pain, and underneath it, anger and denial, all rolled into one ball; small, yet hotter than a star. As everything went black, Rikku's last conscious thought was; I'm going to die. Then, with a small sigh;

Not again...

 

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She had been waiting for this moment for over 200,000 years.

...Now stay still, because this is going to hurt. A lot.

Focussing for entire concentration on the young girl in front of her, she channelled all of her rage, all of her pain and suffering from the last 200 millennia, and projected it directly into the girls head. She had put up with her memories for her lifetime, and had grown used to them. The young one's mind, however, was unprepared for the psychic blast of hate and anger, and her vitality was obliterated, her life-force thrown out of her body so fast the girl probably hadn't even realised she was being killed. Now came the tricky part. She had seen the girl's reaction to her command when she had last been here, seen her eyes when her fellow journeyers had shied away from her, and knew what the girl was, even if no-one else did, not even the girl herself.. This would make it all the more easy.

 

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What the...? What happened? Why is it so cold here? Who's that? Rikku looked down at the figure lying on the floor, and came face to face with her own still figure.

Oh no...

 

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Concentrating, she turned her attention to the girl's essence, watched it as it waited next to her corpse, waiting to be 'sent', as the monks had called it once within her range of hearing. So much the better, she wouldn't have to keep it from fleeing. She closed her (metaphorical) eyes, and felt the energy flow around her, through her. When she was sure she could control it, she sent it back out into the room, allowing it to saturate the chamber that she had spent the last several centuries turning into one giant crystal. She manipulated it, watched it slowly take a shape that had been her home once for 19 years, a long time ago. She gave it form, gave it substance, and gave it everything she had to ensure that this time the process would work. When it was complete, she (metaphorically) stood back and admired her handiwork. She had created her vessel, now all she needed to do was inhabit it.

Focussing with all the strength she had left, she recalled the last lesson her late teacher had taught her. She concentrated on the figure in front of her Fayth, thinking with all her being to be in that figure. A body cannot live without a mind, and an empty body desires one all the more. Running on fumes now, she felt her consciousness move. She did not open her eyes, for terror of losing concentration, of failing again, but she knew she was leaving her prison. After 200,000 years of imprisonment, after seeing oceans boil, moons fall and mountains collapse, she would finally be free. With her last thoughts before she left the Fayth completely, she directed the remaining essence to return to the girls lifeless corpse. She would awaken broken, soul and spirit shattered beyond repair or hope of entering whatever passed for an afterlife in this new world, but she would be alive, her body and sanity intact, and she should be grateful that she was doing even that for one who was already dead. Anyway, she felt she owed it to her slightly. Enough. She thought. Time to wake up. So she did.

After more than 200,000 years of waiting within a living hell, Quistis Trepe opened her eyes, and looked out on the world.

 

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Rikku opened her eyes slowly, aches running down her whole length. She tried to get up, and was rewarded by pain shooting down her entire body. Then she remembered what had happened. Cred. She thought. She tried to roll over, and was moderately successful, as the rapid motion made her black out for only a few seconds. She regained her vision to possibly the last, but also the most welcome, thing she could have hoped to see, a pair of feet. She could have laughed out loud, if she wasn't trying to avoid movement greater than moving her fingertips. Nevertheless, she moved her head to get a look at the stranger. What she saw almost made her faint again. The murals from the antechamber. You, it can't be you, you should have faded away...

 

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Quistis looked around her. This was the first time she had seen her own chamber from the outside. She smiled slowly. She started to giggle, then burst out laughing. She had done it. She heard a choked sob from behind her, and saw the young girl attempt to get to her feet, and fail miserably. She could see that she was hurt, but ignored it. She would recover in time, in her experience, what didn't kill humans, only left them slightly bruised. Then she remembered what the girl was, and the... disadvantages... that carried. Sorry kid. Needs must and all that.

The young girl looked up at her, and Quistis saw recognition in her eyes, then shock.

She smiled down at the little human.

'...'

Quistis frowned. 'What?' she asked.

'Help...' the girl whispered.

Quistis heard the voice, but chose to ignore her pleas for help. 'Sorry, didn't quite catch that,' she replied matter-of-factly.

'Help... me,' she begged.

Quistis almost stooped to help, but then remembered where she was, and what she was talking to. In her mind, the fact that she was like that, knowingly or not, made her already beyond salvation. She looked down at the sobbing figure, then turned on her heels and walked away.

 

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Rikku watched the blue-skinned, familiar-looking woman walk away, taking with her Rikku's slim shard of hope. Her last tatter of self-control dissolved, and she began to weep. After this became too painful, she merely lay her head down on the cool stone floor, and waited to die.

 

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Quistis walked out into Macalania's freezing night.

Now this is a country! She thought gleefully to herself. She looked around at her surroundings for the first time in millennia. She searched out with her mind, trying to make contact with others of her kind. She found nothing; the once vibrant network through which her kind had communicated was gathering the psychic equivalent of dust. If any of them were left, they didn't want to be found. Perfect. After being betrayed by her own kind, she had no wish to meet with them again. She started to walk off towards the walkway, not caring where she was headed, only that she was finally free, and this time she was going to enjoy every Hyne-damned minute of life that came her way. Entering the glacier-passageway, all thoughts in her mind of the small figure she had left broken and crying in the temple Chamber were swept from her mind, as she set out to explore this new world she found herself in.

 

   

Chapter 3: Shattered Mind

 

 

Quistis sat on the ground near the sphere-pool. She didn't know what it was, of course, but what she did know was it was calm and isolated, and that was what she needed right now. She stared at her own reflection in the pool, questioning herself. After 200,000 years of being angry, she was going to have to start dealing with the consequences. Her first act on this new world had been to kill (sort-of) an innocent bystander. She was not dealing with it well. She needed advice.

'Why did you do that?' she asked her reflection.

'We needed her. Besides, she was one of them, she doesn't matter,' she replied to herself.

Well, why not? It had occurred to her, while trapped in her prison, that she needed someone to talk to. Who better than herself? Things had... progressed... from there. She had held conversations with herself, argued with 'it' over the could-have-beens, what she might have done differently. They had created entire worlds together, where things had worked out, and correcting one-anotherís mistakes. She had drawn an invisible line between them, creating two separate entitles. Eventually they had disagreed. As the decades, centuries and millennia rolled on, they had developed very differing viewpoints. One of them blamed herself for everything that had happened, the other blamed everyone else. The Dove and the Hawk. Quistis Trepe and Shiva. Quistis; the woman she had been, and Shiva, the product of her insanity; confrontational, unforgiving, and evil. The part of her that hated what had been done to her, that blamed her friends, which despised her fellow Guardians, and would do anything and everything to make them pay. Quistis did not want to think that Shiva was a part of her anymore.

'But she was just a kid!' Quistis shouted at her reflection. It was easier to do it this way. At least now she could see who she was arguing with, even though she knew exactly what her 'partner' looked like.

'So? She was one of them! They put us in that prison, they kept us trapped there! They deserve everything they get!' Shiva shouted at her, through her own mouth.

'No!' Quistis shouted back at herself. 'We put ourselves there! We chose that path for ourselves!'

'We were betrayed! That overgrown dragon put us in that hell to save his own skin!'

'He did what needed to be done!' Quistis shouted back.

'He did what needed to be done for them! He didn't consider helping you, only preserving his precious 'race'. He was no better than the others! Even Diablos...' Shiva began.

'Don't you EVER say his name like that!' Quistis screamed at her reflection. She reached downwards and raked the water with her fingers, breaking up her reflection. She leaned back, away from the pool, and closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to remember. After a while she looked back into the water.

'Hello?' she asked softly. No answer. Quistis leaned back and sighed to herself. She knew she was probably insane, on the edge of her conscious mind, but she ignored it. All she knew was that she was free now, and the first thing she had done was kill the one who had unwillingly helped her to break out of her prison. She sat and thought for a while. After about ten minutes of staring into space, she got up, turned around, and headed back to the temple, to see if there was still time to make good.

 

   

Chapter 4: Sorrowful Meeting

 

 

'Any news?' Cid asked Yuna tiredly.

The ex-summoner shook her head. 'None,' she said quietly.

Cid cursed and turned back to the balcony.

Five years. Yuna thought. Five years since Yevon fell. Five years since the Al Bhed were accepted into society. Five years since I lost him. Five years since the government was set up. Five years of peace and security.

Four years and seven months since Rikku disappeared.

Yuna sighed to herself. After so much pain, after so many deaths and sacrifices, Spira was finally free. That did not mean that everything was going fine however. After Sin had been defeated, the remaining Yevon supporters who refused to accept the fact that their god was a false one, and had accused Yuna of making the whole thing up. The Neo-Yevon Coalition, rising from the ashes of the old religion like some kind of grotesque phoenix, had started in Bevelle (but of course) and hadn't spread much farther. The remaining 'faithful' had managed to convince themselves that Yuna and her Guardians had killed Yevon (which was the truth) for their own sinister agenda (which was not). What Yuna's agenda actually was was something they never got around to disclosing.

Some people, she thought to herself, will never change. The NYC had recruited enough members to make sure visiting Bevelle would be risky at best, and suicidal at worst. Yuna had no wish to go back there at any rate, where the Maesters in the name of a false religion had justified experiments, atrocities and downright murder. No love was lost between her and the fanatic splinter group since they had openly announced their hatred for Yuna, calling her a heretic and 'Traitor to Yevon', and ordered all true believers to kill her on sight. After Khimari had sent away several would-be assassins with mere looks, no-one had bothered them much.

After Sin, the old group had gone their separate ways. Lulu and Wakka had returned to Besaid, finally admitted their feelings to each other, and married late last year. Lulu was now four months pregnant. Khimari had returned to Gagazet a hero, honoured and respected by those who had previously shunned him. Yuna had stayed at Luca, helping the new government to organise relocation and rebuilding of the various cities. Cid had remained with the Al Bhed, helping the various people of Spira get reacquainted with machina, and rebuild Home, mostly by shouting at people and going around with a permanent scowl on his face. He was making rapid progress. Rikku had went off to exploring the globe, taking advantage of her status as an 'Eternal Guardian', as the sphere-reporters had dubbed them, one of the heroes who had finally liberated Spira from pain. She had helped her father and Spiran volunteers to excavate old machina from the various ocean floors. She had already uncovered another airship, which, Cid said, they still couldn't get into, and a strange underground complex full of houses, untouched by the ages, near Besaid. After a couple of months she had headed to Macalania, 'to check up on something,' she had said vaguely at the time.

She had never been seen again.

Yuna watched Cid look out over Luca from the balcony of the building. In the back of her mind Yuna was still getting used to all the changes. We would never have dared build so high before. Now we have ten-story buildings being built right next to the water! Sometimes she wanted to pinch herself, but she knew she wasn't dreaming. Yuna heard Cid sigh sadly. Although he would never admit it, he was losing hope of ever finding his daughter. After she had vanished, the Al Bhed had sent search parties around the globe; using ancient machina they hardly knew how to use to locate the teenager. After six months had turned up nothing, everyone had begun to lose hope. After 3 years, no-one entertained any illusions about what had probably happened. 'Some guy in Bevelle is offering us information on Rikku's whereabouts,' Yuna told the old Al Bhed warrior.

Cid just grunted. 'How much?' he asked.

'50,000 Gil,' she said.

Cid snorted. After it became common knowledge that the government was looking for her, people all over the world had sprung up claiming to know where she was. For a price of course. After several wasted efforts and several hundred thousand worth of Gil had been spent, Cid had made it clear that there would be no more handouts. On that day the search parties were withdrawn, the machina deactivated, and life returned to normal. Minus the spiky young blonde whose perky attitude had helped to keep them going during their pilgrimage.

'Maybe this time it will be...' Yuna started.

'No,' Cid said quietly. 'I won't go through that again. If she's alive, then she'll find us.' The rumours had started soon after the offers had been refused. Old men swore they had seen the young girl near the Omega Dungeon, others saw her wandering the Sanubia Sands. One man had said he had seen her ghost wandering the Calm Lands, searching for a summoner to lay her soul to rest. It had taken all of Cid's self-control to stop himself from turning the 'mystic' into a bloody mess on the carpet. Cid said that he had not given up hope, that Rikku was alive.

Have you convinced yourself yet, Uncle? Yuna wondered. She said something she had been holding back for years, but had to ask. 'Maybe she finally went to the Farplane?'

'No,' he said simply, 'she wouldn't do that without saying goodbye.'

Yuna didn't go down this road any further. Trying to bring the man's mind off the morbid subject of his missing daughter, Yuna decided to change the tack of the conversation; 'Have you got that airship open yet?' she asked him.

Cid looked glad to be distracted. 'Nope,' he replied. 'We can't even scratch the thing, all we can do is stare in through the window.'

Yuna smiled. She had seen the ship up close on one of her visits to 'The Lab' in Luca, as it was known. The airship seemed to be built along the lines of some great red dragon. The thing even had arms, although she couldn't see what use those could be.

Cid went on talking: 'At least we know what powers this one. It's got some bloody huge engines at the back. Unlike that great floating rotating-circle-powered one we flew on when we fought Sin. Nobody knows what the hell that thing is. Although we did find what looks like ports for more weaponry. Someone must've torn them out and left the holes behind. That thing was designed to blow things up, and then someone removed most of it. I wonder why?'

Yuna grinned openly. Not knowing what something did was almost guaranteed to grate on the man's nerves. 'I'm sure you'll figure it out someday,' she said soothingly.

'Yeah, when the world dissolves most likely,' Cid muttered.

Yuna suddenly realised something. 'Uncle, don't you have to be at that meeting?' she asked him.

Cid looked up at her. 'Cred! I completely forgot about that! I better tell them I'm going to be late!'

Yuna was going to ask how, seeing as the meeting was taking place in Zanarkand, several hundred miles away, but Cid started to walk off. As he left, Yuna saw him withdraw a shortish rectangular piece of metal from his pocket, poke it several times in different places, then hold it up to his ear and mouth and start speaking into it. No-one knew how the Al Bhed managed to communicate with each other across thousands of miles, but Yuna would have betted that those metal boxes had something to do with it.

Five years. Yuna thought to herself. Five years since the last battle. Five years since the last town was destroyed. Five years since Guado practically shut down the Farplane to outsiders. Five years since Spira woke up, and realised everything they knew was a lie...

Yuna walked of towards the door to the street, unaware that she was being watched.

 

   

Chapter 5: High Observer

 

 

Rikku watched Yuna walk out of the room, and considered just jumping down from the rafters and shouting at her. Hey cousin! Did you miss me? Rikku looked down at the 'hand' she was using to grip the beam, and shuddered. No. Not yet.

Rikku jumped off the beam with both feet, still gripping the beam with her right hand, and used her momentum to swing herself around and up to the ceiling. She went out the levered-open window and looked out across the town. She saw Yuna and Cid walk out into the crowd. She saw children in the streets buying balloons off the balloon-sellers. She watched the sun begin to set over the Blitzball stadium, the water-sphere refracting the light into a sea of colour that splashed down onto the city like a liquid rainbow. It was beautiful.

But it wasn't her place.

Not anymore.

Nor was Bevelle, nor Besaid, or Kilika, or Gagazet, Zanarkand.

Or Home.

Rikku walked along the rooftops, occasionally leaping across gaps in the buildings, heading for the Tower, towards a rendezvous point agreed by both of them. As Rikku walked, she started to think. Always a bad idea for her recently. She thought about the events that had led her here, that had made her what she was now. About what had happened in the last 4 years and seven months. Rikku snarled and kicked the nearest object, which happened to be a chimney, sending it tumbling to the streets below, where it frightened some old man out of his wits. Rikku continued walking towards the Tower. She had heard of it's construction from Maechen, who had not recognised the cloaked figure asking him about the spire being built in Luca. He had said that it was going to be a memorial library. She still remembered his exact words.

It will be a library. So long have we lived under Sin's eternal gaze, building out homes squat and shallow in the mud, losing our history as Sin destroys all in its path. The Tower will be a bastion of knowledge from all corners of Spira.

Arrogant old man. She had remembered Quistis (or had it been Shiva?) saying later. They aren't building that thing for some kind of 'noble purpose', they're building it because they can. That had sounded like Shiva. Rikku vaguely remembered replying to it:

And what's wrong with that? she had asked indignantly.

If they actually looked at the history they have, they would remember one simple phrase.

Which is...?

Pride comes before a fall.

Rikku did not see it like that however. She saw it as the final confirmation that the people of Spira had nothing to fear anymore. They could build as high as they wanted now, anywhere they wanted. Quistis agreed with her. Shiva did not, as usual. Rikku could have strangled that woman, if she could have found a way to do it without hurting Quisty. Which of course she couldn't.

Rikku suddenly stopped dead. Her feet told her that she had reached the side of the building. She looked up, and was presented with the sleek majesty of the so-called Tower of Knowledge. Maechen had been right. All the knowledge of Spira, books, ledgers, scrolls, even some thin square-ish Al Bhed storage 'wafers', the ones with the weird sliding bit at the top, and black shiny floppy disk inside, had been brought here, so that the full wisdom and learning of Spira was available to any who wished it. At least in theory. Apparently, eventually all Spiran cities would have one, just not as grand as this. This was the first, and was special. The first building completed since Sin was destroyed to be more than a few metres tall. It was reckoned to be about ninety-nine times the height of a normal house, studded with balconies, and she had to climb the damn thing.

Walking up to the surface, Rikku could see that they builders had still had some trouble getting everything lined up. Cracks and gaps showed in the surface where the sun had dried it out. All the better for her. Drawing back her fist, Rikku splayed her hand out as far as they could go, and punched forward, her claws easily puncturing the rocky surface with a chink sound. She then kicked out at the wall, lodging her foot into the stone, then she punched forwards with her other hand, and moved her other foot up into position, beginning the long climb up the side of the tower.

 

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Chink. Chink.

'What was that?' the first Librarian asked, dropping her books on the floor with a thunk.

'Nothing, go back to work,' her partner replied.

'I'm serious, there was a noise. Like someone hitting the walls with a pickaxe,' she shot back.

Chink. Chink. Chink.

'It's just your imagin... Wait a minute...' He stopped, puzzled.

'You see!?' she said triumphantly. They both listened to the noise.

'It's getting higher, like somethingís climbing the walls...'

 

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Rikku's claws shot forward, but this time, instead of hitting rock, they flailed over empty air. About time! How much higher could they have built this thing? She asked herself. She pulled herself up over the ledge and sat down, looking over the city now extending below her. Avoiding the damn balconies had been hardest, requiring her to not punch so forcefully, making her grip on the Tower tenuous at best, and downright terrifying at worst. She looked out over the town (City! She reminded herself) of Luca. No matter what standards of a person had, they could hardly fail to be captured by the scene below them. Thousands of people, walking around like ants. She could see all the way to the Highroad, and she imagined she could see, off in the fog, the soft glow of the Moonflow. Rikku caught her breath, and stood back up. No matter what abilities she now held, she still got tired.

Looking out over the cityscape arrayed below her from the top of this ninety-nine-story spire, Rikku took a deep breath. No matter how many times she did this, the fall still terrified her. She looked down slowly. This high up, she saw everything as ants.  She put her arms straight out against her sides, as Shiva had taught her to do. She looked once more at the horizon. The sun was almost set now. Hopefully no-one would notice her falling figure.

Taking a deep breath, Rikku jumped of the edge of the Tower.

 

   

Chapter 6: Snapshot Memories

 

 

An object of Rikku's mass falling from the ninety-ninth story of the Tower of Knowledge will impact the ground level of Luca travelling at about one-hundred-ninety-two kilometres per hour, in twenty-two seconds. She has this amount of time to save herself.

 

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The first second. She fell past the tallest of the Tower's balconies, a man sitting on a chair there registered her falling past him, but she was gone before he had turned his head. Rikku's eyes are closed.

She remembered the second time she woke from death, staring into the eyes of a woman she did not know, lying on the ground in Macalania Temple, her head lying on the woman's lap, the woman crying, saying over and over how sorry she was. She remembered coughing, the woman looking at her with a start. She had probably assumed Rikku was dead. She remembered being carried (flown?) out of the temple gently, and being set down somewhere quiet. The woman had comforted her, and at the first sound of her voice Rikku had sprung away from her. Hers was the voice that had spoken to her, so cold and emotionless, as she had drained Rikku of her life and left her to die. Somehow though, the voice she used now sounded... different... softer somehow. She had apologised for everything it seemed.

A snapshot memory, wrapped in a single second.

 

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The second second. Twice as many balconies flew past.

She remembered attacking the woman, but she had easily blocked everything Rikku tried, punches, kicks, slices, everything deflected away effortlessly by the blue woman who looked so sad as she did it. Eventually Rikku had grown tired of trying to get past the woman's seemingly impenetrable defences. She had collapsed onto the ground and started to weep. She had felt the woman, whose name she still did not know, sit down next to her and try to put her hand around her shoulders. At that instant, Rikku had recoiled away from her. She radiated cold.

The woman had looked away from her sadly, and Rikku had felt the urge to try and comfort her. Before her hand touched the woman's shoulder though, she had spoken to her for the first time.

I wouldn't do that if I were you, she had said.

Why not? Rikku had asked, as she had lain her hand on the stranger's shoulder. She found out. She yelped and covered her frozen hand with her clothes.

That is why.

 

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The third second. Her speed is now nine times that of the first second, she falls past balconies nine times as fast. 

Rikku remembers talking with the woman, sitting next to her, dipping her feet in the sphere-pool where they were. She had asked the name of the woman.

Quistis Trepe. Or Shiva. It depends.

On what? she had replied, confused.

On who I am, the woman with two names had replied.

And who are you now?

Quistis.

Ten minutes of explanation had left Rikku feeling pity for the woman. She now knew that this was not the person who had left her to die in the Chamber of the Fayth. She had asked what Shiva was like normally.

Pray you never find out.

 

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Four seconds. Rikku looks down, which is now back in towards the Tower, to check that she is not drifting too close to the sides of the Tower. She shifts her profile, changing the flow of air over her body, and she drifts away from the Tower, out towards the open.

Rikku remembered thinking, as Quistis told her story, that it was remarkably similar to her own. An evil force, a group of friends sworn to defeat it, good triumphing over evil. The parallels were amazing. Then Quistis had told Rikku the next part of the story, her own. Dying, being reborn as something more than human but less than alive, finding her love, only to have it ripped away from her at the hands of 'destiny', an ages-long imprisonment, and Shiva's plan to break them out. Rikku knew that part well; she had died again so that they could escape.

 

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Five seconds, six seconds, seven seconds. Rikku has fallen below the Librarian's accommodation section, into the 'old storage' division, where obscure and useless knowledge was kept until needed. Her speed is approaching one-hundred-fifty kilometres per minutes, at which point she will stop accelerating, airflow and mass ratios forbidding her to travel faster than a measurement defined by the laws of physics. She thinks quickly now, drawn out of her memories. How long left until she needs to pull up?

Twelve seconds, thirteen, still no-one on the ground has noticed her fall.

 

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Fourteen seconds.

She remembered telling her story to Quistis, the pilgrimage, the destruction of her Home, the defeat of Sin. She also told her something that only her closest friends and family knew about.

Her first death.

She tells her of the Moonflow. She tells Quistis of the underwater-machina she drove, supposedly the most secure there was. She told her of fighting her future friends, Wakka and Tidus. She tells Quistis of her defeat, and the destruction of the machina. She tells her of the machina sinking, taking Rikku with it, slowly collapsing in on itself as it sank, denying her a way out, denying escape to Rikku, but not to the oxygen which she needed to breath. She tells her of drowning, of suffocating in blackness, of her looking out through the porthole, at the surface of the water, only metres away, but which might as well have been hundreds of miles.

She tells her of awakening underwater, gasping for breath, tearing away metal and plastic, swimming to the surface, finally gasping in air that she no longer needed, that could not save her now, and collapsing on the beach, a metal spike left in her heart as a painful reminder. She tells Quistis that there is a name for people like her.

We are the Unsent.

 

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Fifteen seconds. The witching hour. Metaphorically.

Rikku closes her eyes tighter, commanding muscles to move that she had not had only one year ago. She feels gnarled muscle on her back move around in unnatural movements, moving out of the way, for others to emerge. She feels the skin on her back turn away, as the coiled up collection of cartilage, leathery skin, and bone snap open, allowed to uncoil as a path is made from her spine to her back. She does not unfold her new limbs yet though. There is no margin for error here.

She remembers laughing, Quistis asking her; What is it?

I must be the only person who will have to have four dates on their tombstone. She remembered Quistis had laughed at this.

At least you have more than one date. They never put a 'Date of Death' on the memorial for me, everyone thought it was an engraver's error.

Rikku chuckled at this. She thought about this for a time, and sobered up instantly. She looked across at Quistis/Shiva.

I like your eyes, Quistis had said, how did you get them like that?

All Al Bhed have something similar, it's inherited, and the green comes from my Father's side. Quistis had looked puzzled. What? Rikku had asked.

Look in the pool, she said.

Rikku did, and gasped. Where she had once had black spirals on an electric-green background, she now had two harsh red ones on a background of pure black. What the hell!?

A result of dying perhaps?

This didn't happen the first time! she had shouted.

Don't complain if thatís all that went wrong. Trust me, there are worse defects. They make you look incredibly dangerous.

Rikku smiled. What now? she asked.

Quistis had looked back. For who? Me or you?

You, of course.

I don't know. Everything I know is gone. Even the other Guardians. I'm alone. You?

I'll just go Home I guess. Quistis had instantly adopted a guarded expression. What?

There's probably something you should know first.

 

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Seventeen seconds.

The bone and skin locked into their positions. Human skeletons were not tested to these limits. To extend the surfaces to the airflow would rip her spine out of her body.

Why? Rikku had asked quickly.

I brought you back from the dead, after my body had been recreated, Quistis had replied.

I know. So?

I had absorbed your spirit, to restore this body. But I used up too much of it, you couldn't function. I had to replace your missing spirit somehow. I had plenty 'going spare' from previous Yevon executions in the temple, they were never... what did you call it? Sent?

Rikku had grabbed Quistis by the shoulders, ignoring the freezing/burning sensation this caused. What did you do to me!? she asked, panicked now.

I had to try and recreate your spirit exactly for you to be normal. Well, at least as normal as a dead person could be... I didnít know your genetic makeup though...

My what?

A forgotten science in this age, I assume. Good, it caused us no end of misery. You see, every individual has a unique 'genetic code'. Call them... instructions... for building you. They tell you what you are. Hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, etcetera...

GET TO THE POINT!

I didn't know yours! So I had to replace the broken parts of your code with someone elseís.

Whose? Rikku had whispered.

Guardians know certain things about other Guardians...

You mean you replaced my 'code'-thingy with one of theirs? Rikku had said, horrified. WHOSE?!

The only person's I ever cared for enough to bother learning.

 

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Eighteen seconds.

Death on the ground is now four seconds away. Rikku slowly extends her new limbs slowly, testing the air, like a diver trying to open a door against the water. Bone locks into grooves, provides a flat-ish surface for the air to flow across.

She remembers collapsing onto her knees, looking across at Quistis. No, she had whispered.

I am sorry.

NO!

There was no other way. Do not be afraid, I am very good at this. I altered my own code when creating this body with some of the same instructions that you now have.  There will be many advantages to being part-Guardian Force.

 

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Nineteen seconds.

She begins to pull up out of the dive, newly learned mental commands flowing through her nerves towards the muscle in her back that commands her new wings. Wind bites into her face. Multiple gee-forces attempt to tear her apart. Blood is boiling in her brain. She soars over the streets, missing the ground by several hundred metres, about what she had hoped for.

She remembers pushing Quistis away from her. Leave me alone.

Would you rather be dead? Quistis had asked.

Yes.

There will be many advantages. Strength, speed, intelligence will rise dramatically... Rikku put her hands over her ears, trying to block out the sound of the woman's voice. ÖFlight, also, she had said to her.

What?

You will grow wings. We both will.

...When?

Give it time.

 

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The twenty-second second.

Rikku turned back in towards the Tower. She needs the thermal currants it provides in order to gain more height. They lift her high above the street again, she glides over the city of Luca, looking down on people who are unaware of the life that had just flashed before them all. Her life. Banking to the north, she heads towards the agreed rendezvous point.

She remembers the last snippet of conversation she had held with Quistis, before nearly collapsing in exhaustion.

What now?

I thought you were going to this place you called 'Home'.

I can't. Not like this.

Then... come with me.

...!...

I can teach you about yourself. I can show you what it is to be like one of us.

What if I don't want you to?

Then we go our separate ways, and never see each other again.

...Fine. I'll go with you. Where are you going?

To find out what happened to the world when I was gone.

Hey! Wait up!

Sorry. I keep forgetting you're only human.

Not for much longer, according to you... Why?

Sorry? I didn't catch that last bit.

Why are you trying to help me?

Because I wish someone had done the same for me.

 

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Rikku left the outskirts of the city. At least in this, Quistis had been right. The feeling of soaring above your fellow man was a wonderful experience. She felt like she could stay up for hours, and she could, flying requiring no more effort then tensing her wings and occasionally angling to catch a warm-air thermal.

She angled her head to look back at Luca. The sun went down, and the many lights and torches in the homes f the populace were lit.  Hundreds of light-motes being activated/lit all at once have the impression that a switch marked 'fireflies' had been pressed somewhere, illuminating all of Luca in an instant. She flew on. Whether Quistis had found what she was looking for in Zanarkand she didn't know, but for a while, as she flew along above the ocean's depths, black wings extended to catch the airflow, she was free.

 

   

Chapter 7: Loyal Servant

 

 

We have a problem.

What! What?

Trepe is free.

...What? I thought that was a legend.

It is not. Trepe. Is. Free.

...Oh.

Exactly.

Who let that happen?

We believe that you did.

...Damn.

Exactly.

Er... Would apologising help?

No. Steps must be taken. She must not be allowed to discover our plans.

No, no, of course not.

Deal with her. The last Blue Mage must not be a problem.

No, of course not... One thing...

What?

Exactly how am I supposed to deal with her? According to that story you sent me, she did manage to defeat your last attempt to invade.

That was not our fault. The one we sent to lead the invasion force was young and stupid, he allowed himself to be outwitted.

Erm, what happened to him?

Since he did not emerge from the Fayth with Trepe, we believe him to be dead.

But if she can defeat one of you, what chance do I stand?

You will think of something, We are sure.

But...

No buts, human. Find her quickly. She has just emerged from her prison, she is still disorientated, we predict a small window of opportunity where she will be sufficiently confused and angry to be easily taken care of.

Oh good, so instead of trying to kill some kind of ancient ice-goddess, I'll be trying to kill some kind of ancient angry ice-goddess. Yes, much easier, thanks.

Don't even think of trying to disobey us. We trust you read what happened to the unfortunate man who last failed us?

Yeah, yeah, smashed into pieces, I read it. Several times in fact.

Go, now. You should be able to find her easily enough. She has no-one to guide her this time. She has no friends in this time. If anything... untoward... should happen, you will inform us. Immediately. Do I make myself clear?

Perfectly.

No screw-ups.

None.

Good. Go.

I will. How do I contact you when she is dead?

You won't. We will know.

With these last words the connection closed, and Tyler opened his eyes to find himself back in his room. He hated doing this. When he had agreed to watch the Fayth in Macalania, he had not expected to be dragged into all this. Murder, demons, gods, and monsters, creatures from so far back in time that the continents weren't even in the same places anymore.

The ex-Temple Monk turned back to his screen. Know Thine Enemy, Bevelle said, and so he had. He had spent the last three years infiltrating the heathen Al Bhed's hierarchy, and now it was paying off. He had used most of his savings to purchase this strange machina. It was able to send and receive messages from far away, and could display the information on this glass-like 'screen' in front of him. The seller had told him it had access to something called an 'interconnected Al Bhed network' and he would be able to keep up with news that happened across the world, even before it had been written in the papers. That was how they had contacted him.

He had received a message from Bevelle itself, telling him to go to Luca. Once there, he had been directed to a quiet spot in the docks. The next few minutes had been the worst of his life. He had been approached by a strange figure in a black cloak.

Who are you? He had asked the stranger. The reply had been innocuous enough, but the voice delivering it had scared him witless. It seemed to reach deep into his heart and examine his soul, and, worse, found it lacking.

'Your new employers.'

After a short conversation that had seemed to last hours, the strange man (fiend?) had walked off again, leaving Tyler with his new instructions. He would now be working for the head of the Neo-Yevon Coalition, sending his reports directly into Bevelle temple by way of only one courier, who could be completely trusted. He was not to accept orders from anyone but Bevelle, if anyone tried to stop him, use this, and had handed him a strange machina weapon he had not seen before.

You will go to Macalania. Use the money given to you to establish a small ring of spies there. Report any strange activity to us. Especially regarding the Fayth that resides within the temple. Let no-one enter the temple, and make sure no-one leaves.

He had found this obtuse to say the least. There was nothing in Macalania except the temple and lots of icicles. He had gone though, and bribed several old men who needed the money to keep an eye on things, and report to him whenever he visited. After one of them had reported back that a woman had been seen leaving the temple, carrying a small blonde girl, he had went into the temple himself, only to find the old Fayth torn open, seemingly from the inside. He had then sent his own report to Bevelle, telling them off this. He had received a letter telling him to go to Luca, set himself up as one of the heathen Al Bhed's machina-using friends. He had done all this, buying the strangely named 'Personal Computer', and awaited instructions. The letter he had received, by way of the PC, had confused him even more. It appeared to be some sort of child's tale, about a woman, a demon from another world, and a great war, which had ended with the woman sacrificing her freedom to destroy the demon. He had read it once and then forgotten about it. The sentence at the end, however, had worried him.

It is all true. Expect an unusual visitor.

It was this visitor he had just seen off. The method of communication had been... interesting... to say the least.

Telepathy. Why did I get myself into this? he asked himself despairingly. All he had wanted to do when he signed on to the Monks had been to uphold Yevon's laws and guard the Fayth of the temple he had been ascribed to. After that damn traitor Yuna and her friends had attacked Maester Seymour, under his watch, his career had near enough ended there. He had wanted only to serve, and Bevelle had scorned him. Well, no longer. Now, Yevon had leadership worthy of it's men. Now they could expose Yuna and reveal to the world all her lies about the 'evil' Yevon.

I'm doing the right thing. I will do what they say, this is a good thing. I'm fighting evil, not good. No-one who killed Yevon could ever be anything except a tyrant. Yes, thatís it. I'll do it all. Bevelle will know, they'll know how well I served.

With these last words, Tyler reached across to his flask and took a long drink of water. Alcohol was bad for the soul, and he needed to concentrate. Tapping on the arranged rows of letters and numbers on the horizontal plate attached to the 'screen', he sent out inquiries asking for all the information he could find on sightings of ghosts, demons, wraiths, and the Lost Guardian, Rikku.

 

   

Chapter 8: Rooftop Meeting

 

 

Quistis stood on the edge of the ruined stadium, looking down on Zanarkand from several hundred meters. The wind carried thermal currents up here, and made her sweat from the heat. She folded her wings around herself to protect her from the (in contrast to herself) high temperature.

This, Shiva thought to herself, was definitely one of our better ideas. The wings kept her cool in hot places, and in Spira, everywhere was hot. Rikku seemed quite taken with her wings as well. When Shiva had changed her genetic makeup, it had probably been one of her kinder (or at least more merciful) moments.

ĎIf you have anyÖí Quistis mused.

Don't fool yourself girl. Shiva said.

'And why not?' she asked her alter ego.

Because it is a curse. She knows it, why else won't she go home?

'She says she isn't ready yet.'

Thatís a pathetic excuse and you know it. She just doesn't want to be seen. She'll have to live like that for the rest of her life, never knowing peace, never knowing a place she can call 'home', or people she could call 'family'.

ĎWhy wonít you go away?í she asked Shiva pleadingly.

Because Iím you. Iím that little bit of your mind that tells you to murder and kill, and will love it when you do.

ĎIím not like that!í Quistis screamed to the air.

You could be.

I wonít let you do those things!í she shouted to herself.

You day youíll have to.

ĎIíll kill you!í

YOU CANíT!! Shiva said gleefully.

Quistis composed herself. 'You're a mean, sadistic, murderous bitch, and one day I'm going to find a way to destroy you,' she said.

One; you know I am, and two; you can try. Here she comes.

'Where?'

We're using the same damn pair of eyes aren't we? Shiva said testily.

Quistis looked in front of her. As usual, while she had been talking, Shiva had been looking around for Rikku's form. Whatever her more psychotic faults, she made a good partner/alter-ego/schizophrenic manifestation.

Quistis looked out towards the west, and saw a very small shape approaching her rapidly. She smiled slightly. Rikku had taken to flying like a duck to water, and reveled in flying as far as she could. One day she was going to be seen, and then all hell would be raised. Rikku flew in fast and low, flaring up at the last minute. She slid for several seconds on the slippery rooftop, and was on the verge of sliding over the other edge of the stadium roof when she slid to a halt, not even one meter away from Quistis.

Rikku beamed. 'Impressed?' she asked.

Quistis looked at Rikku. Death and the new guardian-genes had changed the girl so much that she was only barely recognizable as the old Rikku. Wrapped up in her brown robe and hood, she could pass for human as long as she hid her hands and feet. However, once you looked at her minus the robe, things got weird. Her entire body was cris-crossed with over-lapping scars, a memento of her first death under the Moonflow, crushed and shredded by metal from her imploding submarine, and the new Guardian genes had turned these scars into black ruler-lines across her torso. This was less pronounced on her face, but she had one thin black line going all the way down from her right temple, down past her eye, and all the way down to her foot, which was painfully visible. Her arms had mutated, so that where her fingers had been, there were now three thick and sharp claws, one roughly where her middle and index finger had been, another where the little and forth one had been, and an opposable one where her thumb had been. She could grasp with them, but she could no longer operate complex machinery. Her feet were much the same, changing a couple of inches from the ankles into two more claws that were flat on the bottom, and just as sharp. Her palms and ankles were wrapped in brown bandages, as shoes and gloves no longer fitted around them, and the claws had no feeling in them, being made of solid bone that was harder than diamond. Her skin had hardened; able to turn away a copper knife, and her usual healthy complexion had lightened somewhat, as if she needed to spend more time in the sun. 

It was her face that had changed the most though. Her hair had remained much the same as always, although were once it had been perfectly blonde, it was now streaked with lines of black and white throughout. Her eyes were the things that grabbed your attention and refused to let go. The red spirals on a black background were striking, to say the least. The wings were topped with claws, and they looked more-or-less exactly like Bahamut's ones.

'You want to work on your landings a bit more. More control and less barreling-in-at-top-speed-and-hope,' she replied.

Rikku crossed her arms and arched one eyebrow. 'You seem to be forgetting Kilika.' she said.

Quistis winced. When they had both been flying in to the water-town , barely six months after their wings had grown, Quistis had mis-calculated her landing, flaring too soon and had stalled straight into the ocean.

'I learned my lesson. Evidently you didn't. Wait until you fall into the ocean and ruin your flight profile.' She had been grounded for days, waiting for her wings to dry off in the sun, fortunately something Kilika had plenty of.

Rikku looked over Quistis at her wings.  'Why did I get these while you got those?' she asked enviously.

Quistis smiled at her softly. It was a constant source of irritation to Rikku that she had grown wings that were so much like dragon wings, right down to the three-pronged claws on the top, while Quistis had grown what appeared to be blue-purple translucent filmy ones, almost butterfly-like.

'Because I'm a Guardian, and I can...' Quistis began, only to be cut off my Rikku.

'...Alter your appearance, yeah, you told me. But I'm one as well, so why can't I?' she asked.

'You're only half-guardian, if that. I only changed your body enough to let you live, not to give you superhuman powers.' Rikku narrowed her eyes at Quistis.

'Meanie,' she said, sticking her tongue out at her. She looked over Zanarkand. I seem to spend all my time on top of tall buildings now. She thought to herself. She stopped smiling, and looked across at Quistis. 'Is this it?' She asked. Quistis' back was to her, and Rikku couldn't see her face when she answered, or the look of intense sadness that flashed across it.

'Yes,' Quistis replied.

'Are you sure this was a good idea?' Rikku asked.

'I have to know what happened,' Quistis said. She had found the wreckage near the center of the city, it was near unrecognizable, but she had seen the remains of the anti-gravity-wheel, and she knew where she was. 'They must have de-activated it for a city of this size and sophistication to grow up around it. I wonder why? They must have known they were giving up their maneuverability when they landed.'

'I'm sorry,' Rikku said gently.

'You have nothing to be sorry for. I just wish I knew what had happened to them all...' Quistis slammed her hand into the ground, nearly putting a hole in the ceiling they were standing on. 'I need to KNOW!' she shouted at the sky.

Five years. Five years since Sin had been killed, Four-and-a-bit since both Quistis had been freed and Rikku had died for a second time. After she had agree to go with Quistis, Rikku had spent most of that time searching for this 'Garden' Quistis spoke of with such longing, and which Shiva spoke of with such hatred. Rikku wondered how the woman (women) put up with it. Having one outlook on life was sometimes hard enough, being a schizo and having two would have been straining the limits of sanity if Quistis hadn't broken them already, although you couldn't tell unless you got real close. Rikku tried to avoid that.

She looked across at Quistis. 'What about records?' she asked. Quistis had told her that Garden had a library, and libraries meant records and books, right?

Quistis shook her head. 'Dust,' she said. 'I didn't really expect them to last two-hundred-thousand years.'

Rikku tried to think of something else. 'Wafers?' She asked as a thought.

Quistis looked up at her. 'What are those?' she asked curiously.

'The Al Bhed use them sometimes, we don't know how to make them. They've got this weird sliding bit at the top, and... What?' she asked.

Quistis had suddenly jerked her head upwards. 'And a black shiny floppy disk inside?' she said quickly.

'Yes, you know them?' Rikku asked.

Quistis shut her eyes. Finally. The woman thought. Over four years. Hyne, if you exist in this time, thank you. 'Where are they kept?' she asked the young girl. Rikku suddenly looked downcast. 'What?' Quistis asked warily.

'They keep them all in the airships,' Rikku replied.

Quistis sighed. On second thought, I take that last comment back; you're a mean bitch. Why did everything she needed have to be under armed guard? She looked across at Rikku, a look of confidence on her face that she didn't feel in her heart.

'Then we go and get them. The Garden has machines..,' Quistis began, only to be put off.

'Has what?' Rikku asked, puzzled by this familiar-sounding word.

'Machina,' Quistis clarified. 'Machines that can access the stuff on those disks.'

'Great!' Said Rikku happily. 'Maybe we can find out what happened to your friends!'

'Maybe,' she allowed grudgingly. The something else occurred to her. 'Where are these airships kept?' she asked slowly.

Rikku did not notice her tone. 'They're kept in The Lab at Luca!' she said. Then she realised what she had just said. 'Oh...'

'Exactly. Are you prepared to risk it?' She asked.

Rikku looked at Quistis, and the older Guardian had to strain to hear her. 'Yes.' she whispered.

'What about your friends? Your family?' Quistis asked gently. 'Are you ready for that yet? What will happen when Rikku turns up after four years looking like you do now?'

Rikku did not answer for a few minutes, then; 'No...' she said quietly. Nothing was said for several minutes.

Quistis could hear the re-construction personnel below, beginning the gigantic task of rebuilding the once-great city. She could see the monsters (Fiends! She chided herself) roaming the slopes of Mt Gagazet to the south, she felt the wind blow through the stands of the old ruined stadium right below them, and still all was silence.

After what seemed like an eternity, Rikku turned back to Quistis, a hard resolve in her eyes that, even changed as they were, Quistis could still recognise.  'Lets go,' she said. She made to jump over the edge of the building. Just before she approached the edge, she turned her head back towards her new friend. 'Rikku is dead,' she whispered sadly. She jumped off into the sky.

Quistis walked up to the edge just in time to see Rikku pull out of her dive and glide off towards Luca. She thought about what Rikku had told her about her friends, and frowned. Quistis knew what it was like to be changing into something other than human, something some others were afraid of, even hated. But unlike Rikku, Quistis had lived in a society that saw monsters (Is that what we were? Quistis thought to herself) like her as part of everyday live, as helpers, friends or teachers, not merely as horrors to be killed at the earliest opportunity. As Quistis followed Rikku off the edge, and began her fall, a thought occurred to her. As she pulled out of her own dive, catching the thermals and heading south, she thought about their similar situation.

Unsent Al Bhed half-demon bitch, Shiva said from within her mind.

'Shut up,' Quistis told herself, 'it's not like we gave her a choice.'

A woman from another era, whose world was now merely memories and ruins, and a twice-dead girl who could never return home. It was sad but true, and she knew why Rikku had agree to go with her that day by the sphere-pool over four years ago. Not out of pity, or to learn what she was becoming. It was simply a matter of belonging somewhere. Sad but true;

Each of them had no one but the other.

 

   

Chapter 9: Guard Duty

 

 

'Why the hell they gotta keep this place so hot, ya' know?' Barnardo asked to his partner.

'Damned if I know,' Francisco replied.

Barnardo grumbled to himself. Guarding the airships was a high-prestige job, but as boring as the Al Bhed could make it. Technically they didn't even need to be here, the machina guards could take down intruders faster than the two guards could turn their heads. The Neo-Yevon Coalition had tried five times so far to destroy or steal these things, calling them 'the tools of our oppressors.' So far, Al Bhed 5 - NYC 0. But someone high up had decided that these airships were now hot property, and decided that the guards should have some human representation. Although they didn't say that of course, like the Al Bhed weren't human or something. That would be just plain insulting, and dangerous. So here they were, guarding something unstealable.

'I mean, it's not like you could just pawn them off ya' know?' he said.

'Will you stop saying 'ya' know' after everything?' she replied testily. She was sure he did it just to annoy her.

'Sorry, family trait,' he replied apologetically. She wasn't looking at him anymore though. 'Watcha looking at?'

'Quiet!' she snapped.

'Sorry,' he whispered.

'Did you hear that?' she asked.

'No,' he said simply. She sighed.

'Yevon help us if anyone attacks while you're on guard duty.'

'It's not my fault if you've got better... what was that?' he said suddenly.

'You hear it too,' she said.

He did. They both readied their weapons, fully alert now. No-one had told them of any night-time repairs, so anyone besides them was not supposed to be here. They both started to walk off towards the airship walkway, whoever was there; they were not getting past him.

'Where's Marcellus?' she asked quickly.

'He should report in in a few minutes.' he whispered back.

'No he won't.' Francisco whirled around to look for the source of the voice, and saw...

Barnardo turned to look at his partner, who was on the floor and screaming, clutching her head. He started over to help her, and was so horrified that he failed to see the claw reach around his neck into it touched him lightly on the throat.

'Don't try and answer, just nod. Understand?'

Nod.

'There are two ways this could go. There is the easy way. That is very easy. Understand?'

Nod.

'You won't even feel the hard way. You want to try the easy way?'

Nod nod nod.

'Good. You go help your friend and just keep looking away from the ship. Understand?'

Nod. The claw relaxed, and Barnardo ran towards his partner, now whimpering on the floor. He felt the stranger pass, and did not look up. Then he felt another stranger pass, and a blast of cold air made his shiver. He could feel the cold stranger's gaze on his, and concentrated with all his heart on Francisco. He felt the stranger stop behind him, and lay a hand on his shoulder. He felt this shoulder freeze up in seconds. Barnardo whimpered, but did not reach towards the person to remove the hand. He looked around for his machina weapon and saw it lying on the ground about a metre away from him. If he could reach for it, he might be able to...

'Pick it up. Please.'

All thoughts of resistance stopped at that instant. The voice was so cold and menacing that his very muscles screamed at his brain to listen to it! He shut his eyes tightly. After a few seconds, he felt the pressure and pain on his shoulder relax, and the strange woman walked off towards the airship. He did not look round, but picked up Francisco and head for the infirmary.

 

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'Was that absolutely necessary?' Rikku asked Shiva.

'No, but it was fun,' replied the blue Guardian.

Rikku shivered. It was not the first time she had had to deal with Quistis' dark side, but she never liked doing it. This half of the woman's personality suited her appearance. Shiva was cold, and she seemed to revel in causing pain. Rikku stayed quiet as the two women walked to the ramp into the ship.

Shiva turned to her. 'Go. Find the files, they'll keep them somewhere secure.' She walked off.

Rikku remembered something and turned back to Shiva. 'What did you do with the third guard?' She shouted to the Guardian as she walked off, dreading the answer.

Shiva smiled at her. 'Don't worry; your precious conscience can stay quiet. He's alive. He'll limp for a while, but he's alive.' She walked around the corner, leaving Rikku to explore the depths of the airship, looking for the records of a two-hundred-thousand year-old floating military academy. Without a map.

Cred.

 

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In his room in the Luca government centre, Cid was woken by the ringing of his Personal Hailing System, and reached across the bed for his overalls, searching in his pocket to answer it. 'Yes!?' he shouted snappily down the 'phone', as the younger Al Bhed had dubbed them. I have had three hours sleep, if this isn't important, I swear... The response stopped this train of thought dead.

'Sir, this is Barnardo at the Airship Hanger. We have a situation.'

 

   

Chapter 10: Intruder Alert

 

 

Whose idea was it to build the airship hanger in Luca?

Cid walked down the stairway towards the ramp, talking on his phone as he went. He was so engrossed in his conversation with the security chief that he failed to notice Yuna walk right into him. 'Sorry kid,' he said, and helped up the dazed ex-summoner.

'S'OK' she said sleepily. 'What're you doing up so late?'

'I could say the same for you,' he said.

'Couldn't sleep, went for a walk,' she said.

'Someone's trying to break into the Airship Hanger and has incapacitated three guards. According to the one guy still able to stand, they shot the girl with some kind of mind weapon, she's still at the hospital. We don't know what happened to the third,' he said quickly. 'I'm heading down there with a backup force now.'

'Let me come!' Yuna said instantly.

Cid shook his head. 'No, it's too dangerous, whoever they were, they overpowered three guards without even letting them see their faces.'

But Yuna was adamant. 'I've fought more battles than most of them! I may not be able to summon anymore, but I can still heal people!' Cid looked at her for a few seconds, and then seemed to make up his mind.

'OK then. But stay out of the way understand?' It still amazed Yuna how her uncle could treat her like a five year-old, and get away with it as well.

She sighed. 'Yes uncle,' she said tiredly.

'Come on then, the others will meet us there.' A thought occurred to him and he spoke back into his phone. 'And will someone switch the alarms on in areas surrounding the hanger? We don't want them to know we're coming' He said.

 

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So, they did the airship open, they just didn't tell anyone.

Rikku looked up at the ceiling. She could have sworn she could hear something... She decided it must be nothing. She went back to searching through the mess in front of her. When she had uncovered this airship (or 'The Dragon' as the others had called it), they had left a lot of the stuff inside, simply because they had no idea what was vital to the running of the ship, and what would cause the ship to stop working if removed. She whispered to herself as she searched. 'Come on, be still here... AHA!' she shouted triumphantly. She got her hands around an old black leather case. She tore it out of the rest of the detritus with a heave, and fell backwards clutching it. Whatever it was, it was heavy, and at least as tall as her.

'Well done.' Rikku turned around, and saw Shiva approaching her from the doorway. 'You found it. How did you get around without the map?' she asked.

'Badly,' Rikku replied. 'Why does every damned room have to look the same?'

'Because when they built the Ragnarok, the engineers used up all their creativity making it work. Interior design was a distant second. Give me that.' She took the bag from Rikku' claws almost effortlessly.

'Hey..,' she began to say, then decided against it.

Quistis (Shiva! she reminded herself) walked out of the room, Rikku following. She had found this place by climbing up a small shaft, into what appeared to be the ruined cockpit, and had seen a handle sticking out of the rubble. She ran to catch up with the older woman. 'So how come this is still here when the records back at this 'Garden' in Zanarkand were ruined?' she asked.

Shiva didn't even break stride while she answered. 'The Ragnarok is a spaceship, and therefore airtight. No air, no decomposition. You people must have been the first ones to open it up in thousands of years.'

'...K... Why're... we...walking so... fast?' She panted. Half-Guardian or no, they were moving very quickly.

'Because the alarm has been raised.' She looked at Rikku's expression. 'Not in here. Probably in the accompanying areas though. They don't want us to know they're coming. Didn't you hear?' She looked at Rikku's expression again. 'Girl, you had better learn to trust your instincts now, they're obviously more intelligent than you...' Rikku scowled at her, but she carried on heedless. '...So if you want to avoid a reunion with your old friends, I suggest we hurry.'

'Can't we... just... fly out?' Rikku asked eventually.

'If you can fly through a solid steel ceiling, be my guest. The only way out is the way we came in; the back door. The front will be guarded.'

Finally they reached the entrance. About time. How big was that ship? Rikku thought to herself. She turned back to the ramp in time to see Shiva kick a man in battle gear right in the chest and send him flying down the ramp.

Shiva turned to her and narrowed her eyes. 'I told you you should have moved faster.'

 

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Cid watched the soldier poke his gun and head around the doorway leading into the hanger, then hold up his hand and gesture towards himself. All clear. The other soldiers all walked into the hanger, covering every side of the room in an instant.

Yuna looked on, whoever had trained these guys, she wished they would have trained the Yevon guards as well.

Cid looked at her. 'Good aren't they?' he said.

Yuna looked back. 'Who are they?' she asked.

'Special Attack Squad.' he replied. 'We trained them for special types of mission; recon, search-and-destroy, kidnapping, basically anything that normal soldiers couldn't handle. Nice eh?'

Yuna had to agree. Looking at them in their all-black bodysuits, gas-masks, and short, squat weaponry, she would not have wanted to send even the best Crusaders up against these guys. She watched them as they moved around the room, never in groups smaller than two, one covering the other, eyes scanning the darkness for threats.

Someone coughed. The two closest to the corner whirled around, guns trained on the source of the noise. Yuna watched as the nearest SAS soldier walked in a half-crouch up to the corner where the cough had emanated. She saw him put his hand up and visibly relax. Then he turned and shouted to Cid and Yuna. 'Sir! You might want to take a look at this!'

Cid walked over, and was confronted by what looked like a perfect ice-sculpture of a man. 'Marcellus!' Cid shouted.

Yuna looked across at him. 'The third guard?' she asked.

Cid didn't look away from the Marcellus-Popsicle. 'Yeah, but what did this to him?' he asked incredulously. One soldier began hauling away at the frozen guard, taking him to the near infirmary. Then another one of the soldiers shouted at Cid from near the red dragon-airship.

'Sir! The ramp is open!'

Cid shouted something in Al Bhed to the guard and he nodded back.

Yuna looked at him again. 'Is that significant?'

'Very. Whoever they were, they knew the passcodes to get in. No-one knows the passcode to get in except me and the technicians. It's not me in there, so whoever is doing it, they got the passcode off a member of staff, which means informants,' he explained.

'What did security cameras see?' Yuna asked. Cid smiled, she was becoming quite the technophile. Also, he hadn't asked that yet.

'Good idea, let me check.' He reached into his pocket and spoke rapid Al Bhed into his phone for a few seconds, then listened for the reply. He didn't seem to like what he heard, as he scowled and jammed the phone back into his pocket. 'They say two people in long hooded robes went into the dragon-ship about a half-hour ago. They didn't look at the cameras, so they didn't get the faces.' Cid said to Yuna.

She nodded. Whatever those small rectangular things were, she wanted one. Then another thought occurred to her. 'Did they see the twp people leave the ship?'

Cid looked at her in silence for a few seconds, then brought out his phone again and asked a single question. Then he turned back to Yuna. 'No. They're still in there.' Cid turned to shout a warning to the two guards near the airship ramp, just in time to see one of them get kicked in the chest and fly ten metres backwards onto the hanger floor. His partner immediately shouted something in Al Bhed and started firing her weapon up into the airship.

 

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Rikku and Shiva sheltered on either side of the rampway doors as bullets ricocheted around them. Rikku covered her ears with her claws, near-deafened by the sound of many sharp moving pointy things ripping through the air at super-sonic speeds around her. Shiva merely crossed her arms and looked bored with the whole thing. She looked across at Rikku and put her hand next to her ear semaphore style, telling her to listen.

Rikku closed her eyes, it was easier that way. Quistis had taught her the basics of this, but she still hadn't got it down quite right. She concentrated, and immediately heard the voice of Shiva in her head.

Are they completely crazy? Or just imbeciles? She asked Rikku mockingly. She had to concentrate to reply. Quistis had told her, when they had been searching for Garden, about the great telepathic 'network' that let all Guardians communicate over the entire world. Rikku couldn't do it while doing anything else, but she was learning. Quistis/Shiva could do it without even thinking about it of course. Rikku focussed on Shiva and tried to reply.

I think they may just be upset. You did kick that man in the chest, she sent back.

His fault, he looked up the ramp, I didn't make him. A few bruised ribs, he'll be fine in a couple of days.

Those are SAS! They'll recognise me!

Why? And, more importantly; who? Rikku explained on for two minutes about who they were. Interesting. Who trained them?

I did!

 

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'Stop stop stop!' Cid screamed at the men. It took a while but eventually the sound of gunfire stopped. 'Are you people crazy?! You want to destroy the thing? That guy OK?' he asked the medic who was looking over the downed trooper.

'Few bruised ribs. He'll be fine in a while.'

Yuna rolled her eyes. All the healing magic in the world couldn't heal bones or internal injuries. That had to be done the slow way.

'Get him out of here.' Cid ordered.

'Er, sir?' the female SAS commando asked slowly.

Cid whirled around to look at her. 'What?' he asked empty air. He looked around for the soldier who had spoke to him, and saw them all hiding behind the hanger equipment. Yuna waved at him from behind one of the soldiers who was covering the entrance.

'You think you might want to take cover, sir?' she said gently.

Cid realised his mistake instantly.

 

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'Hold on, there's one. Don't worry, I've got him...' Shiva raised her arm.

Rikku looked at the intended target just in time to realise who she was looking at. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought desperately at Shiva; NO!

The thought arrived in Shiva's mind with such force that her aim wavered, and the stream of icicles that would have went right into Cid's chest flew off towards the ceiling, where they shattered. Shiva glared daggers at her.

'That's my father!' Rikku whispered through her teeth. Shiva only looked slightly apologetic however.

 

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Cid saw the icicles heading straight for him, although they only registered on his mind as sharp pointy objects travelling towards him at high speed. The next thing he felt was the female soldier's arm pulling him away and downwards into cover.

'Sorry about that sir,' she whispered apologetically.

'Who are you?' Cid asked quietly.

'Alexia sir, technically in command here.'

Cid raised his left eyebrow at her. 'Technically?' He said questioningly.

Alexia pointed to the prone trooper being carried off towards the medical post. 'Well, since Commander Ivan seems to be currently incapacitated,' she said. 'And since I'm the second-in-command, I'm the ranking officer here. Permission to use non-lethal artillery?' she asked. This last bit caught Cid off-guard.

'What? No! Why?' he shouted.

'Whoever they are, we can't get at them from this angle sir. We'll have to flush them out.'

 

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Shiva cocked her ear in the direction of the ramp.

'I did not like the sound of that.'

 

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It took about five minutes to convince the other Al Bhed that, yes, it was necessary to fire off high-velocity gas-bombs into their airship. Amid much screaming and gnashing of teeth by the technicians, shouting about irreparable damage, the cannon was sent for from the Luca armoury. Alexia got off her radio from the other guys.

'Guys!' All the soldiers looked at her. She made several quick hand movements. As if on cue (which it was) Alexia grabbed Cid's hand, the other soldier grabbed Yuna's, and the entire team moved off, putting as much space between themselves and the ramp as possible. As a precaution, Alexia handed Cid a gas-mask, and threw one to Yuna.

 

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Rikku watched the soldiers scatter away from their position.

'And I do not like the looks of that.'

 

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Yuan turned her head as the huge double doors opened wider. So far there had not been much to do. Apart from the initial kick from the intruder, and the rain of sharp things, nothing much had happened. She looked at the soldier above her. He seemed to be icy-cool, he hadn't even broke a sweat. They must get these guys to train the others. Maybe they could finally clear out Bevelle from the control of the NYC. She heard footsteps, and turned in time to see the most complicated piece of equipment she had ever seen be carried into the room by a white-haired man with no gas-mask. She heard Cid ask Alexia what the hell it was. 'Artillery,' the SAS leader replied.

Cid looked incredulous. 'But that guy is carrying it! Artillery is big, needs wheels, and has gun-barrels thicker than your arm!'

'Not this one. We've been working on it for a while. Sergeant Zion says they've been making good progress.'

The trooper, presumably Sergeant Zion, waved at them solemnly and brought the massive gun to bear on the ramp.

 

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Shiva turned to Rikku, who was staring at the thick mass of barrels and stocks that just had to be a very powerful hand-cannon.

'And I sure as hell do not like the looks of that!'

'Run?' Rikku suggested.

'Yes, I think so.' They both took off deeper into the airship.

 

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Yuna covered her ears as the trooper fired the cannon right into the rampway of the airship, angled so that it wouldn't bounce right back out again. They waited for a few seconds. Yuna had a special fear of Al Bhed artillery, ever since the battle against Sin at Mi'ihen. Yuna waited for the huge explosions that always followed artillery blasts. All that came after a few seconds however, was a hiss. She looked up the trooper in front her questioningly.

'Gas,' he replied. 'We want them alive. Not in chunks.'

Alexia turned to the others. 'IR goggles down, gas-masks on, and check your targets, these things are a bit fuzzy when it comes to telling between shapes. Authentication word is 'Thunder', reply is 'Flash'.' She turned to a puzzled Yuna. 'Standard tactic, you shout the authentication word to the guy in front of you, and if they say anything other than the correct reply, they aren't one of your people. Saves people from accidental friendly fire.'

'Who thought that up?' Yuna asked. She could have sworn that the soldier looked sad for a second, but then it was replaced by the normal emotionless mask.

Alexia lowered her gas-mask, and began to approach the ramp into the airship. 'An old friend. She's dead now.'

 

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Shiva stopped running. Rikku turned to her to ask why, but Shiva beat her to it.

'No explosion,' she said wonderingly.

Then Rikku remembered something, and mentally kicked herself.

'Gas!' she said.

Shiva looked at her. 'Clarify,' she said coldly.

'They can't come in, we can't get out, so they knock us out with gas-shells. Tysh! How did I forget that?' She looked across at Shiva, who was smiling to herself. 'What?' she asked cautiously.

'I have an idea. How well-preserved was this ship?'

'As well as you could expect of something that's lain at the bottom of an ocean for two-hundred-thousand years,' she replied.

Shiva grinned wider. 'Show me where that room was you found with the windows, I have an idea where it is, but they appear to have re-designed the interior layout in the two hundred millennia I was gone.'

Rikku started to walk off in the direction she knew the place to be. Shiva put her hand on her shoulder to stop her. Well, she waved her hand in the general vicinity of Rikku's shoulder, but it was enough. She turned back around, to see Shiva smiling that nasty smile again.

'Parting shots?' she asked. Rikku sighed.

'Why not...'

 

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Yuna and Cid watched the SAS soldiers move up next to the ramp, covering all angles so that there was no chance of being surprised. That said, they still couldn't see a damn thing, the smoke and gas obscuring the interior of the airship. Yuna sighed, for her first para-military operation, everything so far had been fairly dull, interspaced with occasional seconds of terror. No-one had told her that this was usually how these things went.

One of the troopers approached the ramp and stared into it for a while. He could swear... he raised his hand, and all the others covering him raised their weapons and clicked off the safeties.

'Tell me what you see,' Alexia commanded.

'Two figures standing at the top of the ramp. They're not moving,' he said. ' I can't...'

'Can't what?' she asked.

'Something's wrong, these damn goggles are malfunctioning.'

Alexia looked sceptical. 'Are you sure? Nothing should be able to interfere with these except a strong gravity field, and... HIT THE DECK!' She screamed at everyone, before grabbing Cid and Yuna and pulling them down, right before everything went to hell.

 

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Rikku concentrated on the figure standing in front of the ramp. Splaying out her claws, she closed her eyes and remembered what Quistis had taught her.

You're a half-Guardian of Gravity. Maybe Time as well, but right now that's not important. Look at the space in front of you. You can shape it, bend it to your will.

She focussed on the air that her claw was centred around. She felt it tense, as if space was creasing in on itself.

Think of it like a slingshot. Only faster and will the ability to punch through several feet of steel.

She felt the area of space grow more focussed, and begin to vibrate. She knew that the more it vibrated, the faster it would travel when it left her hand. Draw it back. Donít lose control of it, or it'll rebound in your face, and you'll get the worst and possibly last headache of your life.

Rikku opened her eyes again and saw the man straight in front of her. She whispered to herself as she drew her hand back. 'Draw back the fist, and the projectile..,'

ÖAnd throw it into the punch!

Rikku threw her hand forward, and the gravity 'bolt' rocketed right to where the man was standing. It would have impacted him low in the chest, if...

'...HIT THE DECK!' Someone screamed from outside.

 ...he hadn't threw himself out of the way at the last minute.

Rikku saw the entire squad dive for cover, and recognised the voice of the person who had screamed the warning. Alexia! She smiled. Unfortunately, Shiva could also see her expression.

'What are you so happy about?' she asked suspiciously.

'Nothing. Are you going to do this or not?' Rikku asked, annoyed that the older woman had picked that up. Shiva hissed, and held out her arms. Rikku did the same. Firing these gravity bolts was like playing the drums; everything was easy once you got into the rhythm.

 

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Acting seemingly as one single entity, the entire SAS squad dived for cover as blue glowing shards of ice and what looked like small areas where the air had been folded flew through the air towards them in some kind of malevolent and spiky rain. Yuna, Cid and Alexia all dived behind the same group of crates, Ivan and the heavy-weapons-guy Zion behind a different one. Whatever those things were, they obviously weren't armour piercing, else the crates would not have provided much protection. Cid had to hold Alexia down with both arms. 'Let... me... go!' she said as she struggled with the older Al Bhed.

'Kid, you are far to young to die, take it from me; wait until old age approaches, then you'll have both means and motive.'

Alexia laughed and stopped struggling against him, then turned to face him. 'Those... people... are attacking my unit! I can't just sit here!' she said.

'Sure you can,' he said cheerfully. 'They are.' And sure enough the entire squad had taken shelter behind various containers, crates, and barrels. Yuna tapped him on the arm. 'What?' he asked.

'They stopped,' she said simply.

Cid poked his head up, and saw other squad members doing the same. He turned to Alexia. 'Soldier?' he said formally.

She went to attention. 'Sir!' she replied, also formally..

'Go and arrest those people,' he said.

Alexia smiled. 'It will be my pleasure.' She drew her weapon and moved up to the ramp, motioning for her teammates to follow. Then the lights came on, but they were lights attached to the airship.

 

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Rikku sat in the seat next to Shiva, who was flipping switches on the board in front of her. Whatever the Ice Guardian was doing, Rikku didn't know, although she had a good clue. 'What are you doing?' she asked. The reply chilled her.

'Powering up the engines.' Shiva replied.

 

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'Er, sir? I gotta baaaaad feeling about this.' One trooper said.

Alexia nodded. 'Ok, back up to the hanger door people.' Then she shouted to Cid; 'Any idea what they're doing in that thing?' Cid shook his head. 'OK, grab Lady Yuna and head out, we'll take it from here.'

Cid nodded and took Yuna's hand, heading toward the exit and the other SAS members. When they reached the door, they heard a low rumbling coming from the arms and belly of the ship.

Alexia frowned and moved back towards the airship to see what was happening.

 

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'Now what?' Rikku asked.

'Weaponry.' Shiva stated simply.

 

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Cid looked at the engines, and saw the tiny dot of light in the centre, much like the first pinprick of light which signifies a train approaching from the other end of a tunnel, and about as deadly. 'Alexia, get away from there!' he shouted. The young soldier looked startled and began to run back towards the hanger exit. The fact that she tripped and fell on the way saved her life.

 

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Rikku saw a large crosshair appear on the viewscreen right in front of her, and she turned to Shiva.

'I sure as hell hope you're not going to what I think you're going to do,' she said. Shiva smiled, and placed the crosshairs on the bulkhead hanger wall right in front of them. 'You are! Oh no, you are completely craz...' Then she was hit by a burst of acceleration so intense that she was thrown back into her seat. At the same time Shiva pressed the red button under her left hand and the wall exploded in a shower of liquid steel.

 

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Yuna and Cid covered their ears and shut their eyes as the engines of the millennia-old airship roared to life. At the same time the large cannon on the underside of the ship discharged itself right into the opposite wall. Metal shards scythed throughout the entire hanger, passing directly over where Alexia had been standing only seconds before. The soldier put her hands over her head and began to crawl away from the twin suns of the engines. Cid could not help but laugh as the airship brought itís massive hands from itís undercarriage and used them to haul the entire ship along the hanger floor. So that's what they're for! he thought to himself. When it got to the wall, it engaged it's main thrusters and blasted it's way through the hanger bulkhead, reducing the floor to a pool of liquid metal and ruining equipment in a huge electric shockwave that damaged sensitive machina for miles around. When Cid opened his eyes all he saw was the hole in the wall, the shiny reflective surface of what had been the floor, the figure of the airship, already a mere speck on the horizon, and a very shell-shocked Alexia, lying on the floor of the hanger, eyes tightly shut. He leaned back against the hanger doorframe and closed his eyes. He grabbed a rifle on the way down as he lost consciousness. If anyone woke him up now, they had better have a damn good reason.