"I'm sorry, Alicia," said Seifer. "I failed. They didn't come."
The woman called Alicia watched dispassionately as Seifer bowed on one
knee in a posture of surrender. He was fond of doing such dramatic things,
as though he were an actor always on stage.
"You told me it could not fail, Seifer," she said softly. "You told
me that if Timber were to revolt, the Sorceress would be drawn out of Garden
to participate. And yet this did not happen. Why do you think that is?"
"It has to be Squall," Seifer replied. "I can think of no other person
who would keep her from it."
Alicia tapped one perfectly manicured nail against the armrest of her
thronelike mahogany chair. "Where is this Squall, then?" she asked, still
in a sweet, soft voice.
Seifer shrugged. "I don't know, Alicia," he admitted. "If he were in
Garden, he would have been involved in the battle. But we saw no sign of
"There is no chance that they suspected you? That they refrained from
leaving Garden because they knew you were there?"
Seifer smirked. "If anything, knowing I was there would have made them
more eager to leave. They both know that the others wouldn't stand a chance
against me. No - they could not have been in Garden when the battle occurred."
Alicia settled back on her throne, dark brown eyes studying Seifer carefully.
"Tell me of Squall," she said. "Tell me what hold he has on the Sorceress."
Seifer grimaced. "She loves him," he said. "She's probably made him
her Knight, but I don't think they understand what that is. It's just a
title to them."
"Would this Squall accept the position if she offered it, without knowing
what it entails?" Alicia asked curiously.
"Puberty-boy is completely gaga when it comes to Rinoa, Alicia. He'd
declare himself a purple kitten if she asked it."
Alicia ignored Seifer's sarcasm, her fingernails continuing to make
soft tapping sounds against the arm of her throne as she thought. At last,
she said, "How many soldiers of Galbadia remain loyal to you, Seifer?"
Seifer blinked. It was his turn to think for a moment. Then he said,
"Not that many. Maybe a few hundred."
"Gather them all," Alicia said indifferently, "and hunt down Squall.
Bring him to me alive - but he does not need to be whole if that is too
much for you to do." She raised her hand as Seifer moved to protest. "Do
not tell me you can take him yourself. He is probably with the Sorceress,
if he cares for her as much as you say. The two of them could kill you
without breathing hard. You must overwhelm them quickly - and remember
that Squall must be taken alive. Now, go. Do not fail me again."
Seifer rose to his feet, bowed from the waist, and left, trench coat
flaring as he called for his posse. Once the sound of his boots had receded
into the distance, she waved her next guest into the room. It was Doctor
Odine. He wasn't anywhere near as subservient as Seifer had been, but waited
"Tell me how your work progresses, Doctor Odine," said Alicia.
Odine grinned, a wide happy innocent grin. "Ze experiments zey are a
complete success, Alicia," he said cheerfully. "I haf no doubt zat ve shall
enjoy ze projected results vithout ill effect."
Alicia nodded, but her expression did not change. "I have arranged matters
so that the Sorceress will come here," she said. "You are sure that you
can contain her power?"
Odine nodded. "Zat vill not be a problem," he dismissed. "I haf designed
many tings to contain a Sorceress' power. Zis Rinoa is young, I studied
her ven she vas possessed by Ultimecia. I can contain her power, zere is
"Thank you, Odine," said Alicia. "Let me know if there is anything further
Odine bustled out, leaving Alicia alone with her thoughts. What those
thoughts were, none knew save herself.
* * * * * * * *
Quistis leaned back in her chair, happy that as Headmaster she was able
to choose a large and comfortable one. It was after hours, but she had
remained in her office for this chair and the reading lamp, as she hadn't
gotten around to redecorating her newly appointed quarters.
She turned the page. The title on the spine read, "The Sorceress'
It had been one of Seifer's requested additions to the Library, some
years ago. Since the only people to ever adopt the title were Seifer -
who had been defeated - and Squall, who was SeeD, very few people in Garden
had bothered to read it.
But Quistis was a researcher at heart. She felt instinctively that it
was a bad idea to take a title if you didn't know what it meant, and so
she had begun her study of the role. Squall might forever be Rinoa's, but
Quistis had known him and loved him longer that Rinoa ever had and she
would fight to the death to protect him from harm.
So far, it sounded like being a glorified servant. Demeaning, perhaps,
but harmless. Quistis might envy Rinoa, but she didn't fear her. But then,
she'd only managed to read a few chapters so far. Every time she found
a few moments to settle in with the book -
Speak of the devil, Quistis thought to herself as someone knocked
on the door. She sighed and placed her bookmark before calling, "Come in."
It was Irvine. "You better come to the front gates," he said. "I think
we have trouble." Then he turned on his boot heel and sped off - presumably
to find Selphie or Zell. As the only relatively free member of their group,
he often ended up acting as a priority messenger.
Quistis carefully set the book down so as not to damage it or lose her
place, and did as Irvine had bidden.
* * * * * * * *
The entire group had assembled at the front gates to greet their guests.
It was less a gesture of friendship and more in the interests of security;
the 'guests' in question were a very haggard looking Fujin and Raijin.
"Ya gotta help us, ya know," said Raijin. "Seifer's gone nuts again."
Fujin's single eye glittered with emotion, but she said nothing - only
Quistis eyed them both. It had been only a few weeks ago that the two
were helping Seifer liberate Timber. "Perhaps we should go to my office,"
she said. "We shouldn't let the cadets overhear too much." Unspoken were
the words And you'll have a harder time escaping if this is a trick,
but the group understood.
Quistis' office was large enough to accommodate committee meetings,
so there was room for the whole group and the 'guests' to sit down. Neither
did, however. Raijin was too agitated, and Fujin...well, nobody ever really
understood Fujin. It was possible she remained standing simply because
she was too stiff to bend enough to sit.
"Now," said Quistis, "What is all this about?"
"I told ya, man," said Raijin. "Seifer's lost it. Again. And we don't
have anyone else to rely on but you guys."
"Again," said Selphie, with a smile. "All right, is there another Sorceress
we have to worry about?"
"Hey, we can kick her ass if there is," said Zell. "Remember Ultimecia?
Wham, bam, and she was out!" He threw a few punches at the air to
"No, she's not a sorceress," denied Raijin. "She's....ah, hell. We don't
know what she is, but she isn't that. She'd have fried us if she
were a sorceress." He was clearly upset. "She's twisted Seifer all around,
ya know? He's like her puppy or something."
Fujin scowled and kicked Raijin in the shins. "Hey!" he yelled. "Knock
it off, will ya Fuuj? It's true. He hasn't been the same since he met her."
"I'd say if Seifer's got a girlfriend who isn't a Sorceress, more power
to him," said Irvine. "He'd probably be a lot easier to deal with if he
got laid more often."
Selphie turned an indignant glare on Irvine, who promptly hid his face
under his hat. "Well, some guys need that," said Irvine.
"But this chick...she's got some weird power," pleaded Raijin. "Seifer's
strong, he wouldn't go nuts for a girl on the first date. But this chick,
he was her puppy before the day was out. And he's been all weird since."
Quistis and Selphie shared a look. "Is there something you're not telling
us, Raijin?" asked Selphie sweetly. To everyone's surprise, Raijin managed
to blush fiercely under his dark skin.
"Well...uh..." he stammered. "He was grinnin' the next day, I mean you've
never seen Seifer grin like that. And me, I asked him what was up, ya know?
Everyone was staring at Raijin as he stammered his way into silence.
"And what, Raijin?" asked Quistis, trying to be reassuring.
"And...hesaiditwasthehalfhourorgasms," said Raijin quickly.
The group blinked for a few moments as they mentally inserted the spaces,
then as one burst out laughing.
"And you want to stop that?" asked Irvine incredulously. "Shit,
I'd pay good money for that!"
"You'd what?" demanded Selphie.
"I mean...uh...I'd pay good money to have you learn that?" he tried.
"I'm serious, man!" yelled Raijin. "You know nobody can do that.
And it's seriously screwed Seifer up!"
Quistis was laughing so hard she had to wipe tears out of her eyes,
but she tried to stop long enough to talk. "Raijin, if you want to leave
Seifer there's always a room for you here," she said, "but as for rescuing
Seifer...I don't think we can help you. We're not exactly trained for this
sort of situation."
Raijin grew angry, and Fujin moved to stand next to him. "We're not
leaving him," he snapped. "We're his posse, ya know? We thought maybe you
guys could straighten him out, like you did before. But if ya can't do
it, we'll just have to see how far we get on our own! C'mon, Fuuj!" And
the two stormed out of the office.
"Oh, let them leave," said Quistis into the intercom. "I haven't had
that good a laugh in years."
The group spent that afternoon trying to quit laughing, but Zell's impressions
of Raijin weren't helping matters any. So none of them saw Fujin and Raijin
leave, nor did they think to have the pair tailed.
It was only after the next day's work that Quistis thought to pair Raijin's
comments about Seifer's girlfriend with Squall's warning that Seifer had
probably found a new employer. With a sudden sense of misgiving, she searched
her office...and along her com-line she found a small wiretap. She removed
it, but realized she was probably too late; by now whatever information
the pair had come to obtain they had probably acquired.
Carefully, she set the wiretap on her desk. Tomorrow the group would
be very busy. Squall's warning seemed to be valid.
But tonight, she had a book to read.
* * * * * * *
The Garden was once again in motion, as the commanders of SeeD met in
It sounded more formal than it was; the group of friends had purloined
more junk food and soda from the cafeteria than would be required for a
party. Xu, as a relative newcomer, had initially been worried about this
but decided to shrug it off. After all, if they were going to be here a
while, it made a sort of sense. She just wished they'd thought to get some
snacks that weren't heavy on the sugar. Zell on a sugar high was well-nigh
Selphie was holding the wiretap in her hands. "I can't believe we fell
for this," she said. "I bet the whole story was made up just so we wouldn't
notice Fujin planting this."
Quistis shook her head. "I'm not so sure. Raijin is a terrible liar.
He probably believed what he said, but that doesn't mean Seifer and Fujin
didn't manipulate him to believe it. The question is, why?"
Xu took a deep breath. "I think Squall is right," she said. "Seifer
wouldn't come near Garden again unless he had a reason. And I know it's
hard to take seriously, but if Raijin wasn't lying...well...pleasure can
be addictive. Squall suspected Seifer was working for someone, and all
we have is this story of his new girlfriend."
Irvine shook his head in disbelief. "Look, anything anywhere to do with
sex, I studied. To keep up the reputation, you know. What Raijin said this
girl does is impossible. I mean really, physically, impossible. And Seifer
wouldn't lie about something like that, it'd kill his stud-boy image."
Irvine grimaced. "I can not believe I just said that. Excuse me
while I go wash my mouth out."
"Look, I don't care if Seifer's bonking his own mother," snapped Zell.
"It'd be just like him, anyway. I want to know what information his stooges
Quistis lowered her eyes. "We must entertain the possibility that what
they wanted was Rinoa's whereabouts," she said. "Remember that Seifer asked
after her; that's all we have to go on."
Selphie shrugged. "Then we call them back - or we grab the Ragnarok
and pick them up. No more problem."
Xu shook her head. "We can't bring Rinoa back here yet," she said seriously.
"Since taking the position of Commander, I've had no less than two dozen
SeeDs asking when we're going to take her down. By the sound of it, the
only thing that kept them from making the request before was the possibility
of angering Squall. They think she's enchanted him, just the way Ultimecia
did Seifer. Garden is a powder keg - if we bring Rinoa in here, it could
"We could still pick them up in Ragnarok," said Selphie. "They'd have
the protection of its armaments and speed then."
"And you'd get to go flying," added Quistis. "But the truth of the matter
is that the only places a ship like Ragnarok could refuel are Esthar, FH,
and Garden itself. Garden is most secure but we can't risk leaving Rinoa
around the SeeDs until we've calmed them down. And as for the other two,
there's only one place in each location they could refuel. Seifer could
probably watch both locations and just wait till Ragnarok runs out of power."
"So having those two run around on foot, without even a GF to summon,
is safer?" asked Irvine. "'Scuse me, but that sounds like bull to me. There's
got to be something we can do."
"Selphie and I can't leave Garden," said Quistis. "We have too much
to do here, with the Garden in the state it's in. And we need Irvine's
smooth tongue to convince the SeeDs that Rinoa is not a target. Zell...you're
the only one of us we can spare. We can get someone to take over your kickboxing
classes. You're welcome to as many GFs as you can junction. If you think
three is any better than two if Seifer's up to trouble, you're welcome
"Damn straight I'll go," growled Zell. "Nobody else can, and we've gotta
do something. I'll make sure they're ok, you can count on me!"
Selphie grinned. "I can help this much; I can take you right to 'em
in the Ragnarok. At least, as soon as we know exactly where they are."
Xu frowned. "Squall's reports are the bare minimum required by protocol.
If it were anyone else I'd say he was hiding something, but..." she shrugged.
"Anyway, I know they've left Esthar and are headed for Winhill. But they
could take any course they wanted for that. And I'm going to have to alert
them to the possibility of attack, which means they'll be even harder to
"Won't they have to cross the Horizon Bridge?" asked Quistis. "We could
just wait for them to show up there."
Xu shook her head. "Quistis, between Rinoa's magic and Squall's survival
skills, those two could cross the ocean on a log if they wanted to. If
they know they could be targeted - and I have to tell them, as we have
no idea how long it will take Seifer to act or whether we can get to them
first - then the very first thing they're going to do is either cross that
bridge very very quickly or alter their plans so they don't cross it at
all. The Horizon Bridge is a narrow, easily sealed off route; they won't
want to take the risk of attack while crossing it. It would be worse than
shooting a flare saying 'here we are'. I don't have Squall's trust the
way you guys do, but every SeeD knows what he can do. The only way we'd
find them on the Horizon Bridge is if they're on it right now. Which we
really shouldn't hope for."
"I'll check the Bridge first then," said Selphie. "If you think they
might have reached it by now. Then I'll check south of Esthar City. By
the sound of things we ought to move fast."
Quistis nodded. "Seifer and anyone with him may have had as much as
a full day to act on whatever knowledge they acquired. On the chance they
were after something else, Xu and I will keep looking at the communications
logs. If we find anything, we'll let you know. Irvine, if things get ugly
we may need to be able to bring Rinoa within the walls of Garden safely.
Get busy on those SeeDs, will you?"
"No problem," said Irvine, tipping a finger to his hat. "See you." And
he strode out.
"We'll get going too," said Selphie. Zell jumped up to follow her out,
towards the parking garage.
Quistis and Xu looked at the wreckage of her office. It looked like
a particularly vicious party had taken place there. "Something for the
Disciplinary Committee to hand out as a punishment," commented Quistis.
"I don't like being caged here, but I have to admit being Headmaster has
Xu laughed. "Let's get at those logs," she said. "If there is something
worse that those three could do, I want to know about it."
* * * * * * *
It was possible that the Horizon Bridge was the loneliest place on the
planet. Anywhere outside the cities was lonely, as only the hardiest could
make a home in monster infested territory, but on the Horizon Bridge there
was...nothing. Monsters left it alone as there was nothing for any of its
prey to survive on along the deserted tracks, and the narrow expanse was
too confining for the majority of them. People left it alone because the
trains had stopped running and crossing the entire expanse on foot could
take months or more, and there was only one city anywhere near it. The
only form of life that had adopted the Bridge were the gulls, who used
it as a nesting place and a handy perch from which to watch the waves.
And even they didn't stay longer than they had to.
To Rinoa, it was paradise. There were no enemies to fight, and the chest
high walls that bordered the Bridge easily blocked any breezes at need.
And in the quiet of the waves crashing against the Bridge's supports, there
was Squall's company. Occasionally he would still test her on SeeD protocols,
just to keep her memory fresh, but she had apparently learned enough -
and well enough - to satisfy him. Having no other duties to hide behind,
Squall fell often into silence. Rinoa had begun using the silences to draw
him out of himself. She knew that he was an introvert by nature, but she
also knew that he hated being alone with his thoughts too much. Here on
the Bridge, with no other distractions to draw him out of his thoughts,
she was able to draw him into conversation about a variety of topics. She
was even learning to interpret his silences, learning when he could be
drawn into speaking and when he really did want to think something over.
At the moment, he was willing to talk - so Rinoa decided to try prying
information out of him.
"Squall...will you tell me about your dreams?"
He blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I mean what you dream of, at night."
He looked puzzled. "I don't dream. Where did you get that idea?"
Rinoa smiled. "I'm surprised you don't remember. You've almost brought
the tent down on us more than once, and you talk in your sleep."
"This isn't going to be one of those times when you see how far you
can annoy me, is it?" he said. "Look - I don't remember this happening.
I know I've woken up in the middle of the night before, but I thought that
was because I heard something."
"You did. Your voice, for one," replied Rinoa. "You've woken yourself
up that way quite a few times."
Squall sighed. "All right, if I talk in my sleep - what do I say? And
don't you dare say you're not going to tell me."
Rinoa shrugged. "Not a lot that's made sense to me so far," she said.
"But I think it's a recurring dream. You're sure you don't remember
"Not a bit," replied Squall, but he looked worried. "Since this is probably
why you've been so tired the past few days, why don't you tell me what's
been going on?"
"Um," said Rinoa. How do I tell him what he does in his sleep? I
mean, it's him, shouldn't he know? "Well...you start tossing and turning,"
she said, trying to find words that didn't sound silly. "I've seen you
claw the air around you with your hands...you'll just get worse until you
say something and wake yourself up, or I touch you. For some reason if
I touch you, you just stop everything."
Squall frowned. "Claw? Like I have no weapon?"
"Yes!" smiled Rinoa. "You are remembering?"
He shook his head. "No..." he said, worried. "What do I say? In these
"Well...in Esthar you said "you will not have us forever" or something
like that. I've heard "we grow stronger", too, and "We will fight you."
Squall's frown deepened. "We? I'm fighting something without a weapon
and I'm saying 'we'? I don't like this."
Rinoa blinked. "Yes," she said, thinking it over. "You've always referred
to yourself as 'we'. Never 'I'. I would have mentioned this sooner, but
I just couldn't believe you didn't know this. I mean, they're your
dreams. I thought you just weren't ready to talk about it."
"No, I- duck!" he cried, throwing himself flat on the ground
and dragging Rinoa down with him. Bullets struck the concrete supports
near where they had been walking. Shortly afterward, an airplane buzzed
the Bridge, and soldiers climbed over the walls.
Galbadian soldiers. They had to have been waiting for them, but the
only excuse for not noticing the airplane was mental preoccupation. Squall
swore under his breath; he'd gotten complacent. There were soldiers on
all sides. "Back to back," he snapped curtly. "Go for quantity."
Rinoa stood and did as he bade, her eyes glowing with sorcerous power.
As Squall leaped forward, swinging LionHeart wildly, she summoned a tornado
to whirl some of the soldiers off the Bridge.
Combat training took over, and the movements of the pair were in perfect
harmony as they fought...but gradually they were separated by sheer press
of numbers. Squall couldn't see Rinoa any more, though he could still feel
the wind of her spells and see the flashes of lightning she summoned. As
long as he knew she was still fighting, he wouldn't worry.
Then he saw Seifer, and realized the odds had tipped against them. The
soldiers, numerous as they were, couldn't take him or Rinoa down...but
Seifer was almost a match for Squall just by himself. Seifer plus dozens
of soldiers and probably Fujin and Raijin...this was bad.
Seifer smirked, that I'm-gonna-kick-your-ass look plastered across his
features. "C'mon, puberty boy," he grinned. "Wanna save your girlfriend?
I got her now."
Seifer was after Rinoa! Without thinking twice, Squall charged
into the attack, fighting like a madman. After a time, Seifer was pressed
back...but if anything his grin widened.
"You've improved," he said in a voice dripping with wicked humor. "Pity
it doesn't matter."
At that moment, Squall felt the jabs of half a dozen needles in his
back, and the world went dark. Seifer nodded to the soldiers who had shot
the tranquilizer darts. "Let's get him out of here, before the Sorceress
knows what's going on," he ordered.
The soldiers kept fighting Rinoa until Seifer got the unconscious Squall
aboard a small water-plane under the bridge and took off. Then all of them
who could retreated.
There were many, many charred soldiers, and for a moment Rinoa was wondering
what was going on. Soldiers didn't retreat, they fought. But they had run...she
"Squall?" she called. He had been here just a moment ago, she was sure
she'd heard his gunblade firing...
The only living human on the Horizon Bridge was Rinoa. Search as she
might - and she eventually resorted to throwing every body off the Bridge
to make sure - there was no sign of Squall, or where he might have gone.
She looked up; there was a small plane flying south. Looking down, she
saw a transport craft move out from under the Bridge and follow it to the
Galbadian shore. She was tempted to call the lightning down upon it until
it sank. But what if Squall were on that boat? He could be on either the
boat or the plane, and she had no way of knowing which. Alone, and frightened
for Squall, she began to cry.
Another roar overhead brought her hands up, ready to strike it down.
She lowered her hands when she realized it was the Ragnarok....just those
precious few minutes too late. It quickly made a delicate, makeshift landing
that propped it on the Bridge's side walls. The exit ramp lowered as far
as it could, but when Zell bounded out it was still five feet above the
"What the...?" he said, looking around. "Hell it looks worse down here
than it did up there! What happened? Where's Squall?"
Rinoa tried to do Squall's teaching credit. She managed to hold her
voice steady as she said, "Galbadian soldiers, too many for me to count.
We fought but they separated us...and they took Squall."
"They what?" Zell cried. "We thought they were after you! We
tried to get here to warn you -"
"They weren't after me, Zell," Rinoa said sadly. "I think Squall thought
that too...which made it easier for them to take him. I saw a plane fly
south, and a transport craft head west. I don't know which one Squall would
be on. Zell, we've got to get him back! Why would anyone kidnap Squall?"
Zell's normally cheerful expression soured. "We know who's behind this,
Rin," he said. "Raijin and Fujin planted a bug in Garden a few days ago.
We're sure Seifer's behind this."
Rinoa's eyes started to glow again as she digested that. "I'm going
to kill him," she said in a voice so toneless it screamed her grief. "Squall
wanted us to leave him alone, said he wouldn't do any harm away from Ultimecia!
I'm going to kill him, Zell. I'm going to make Seifer regret the day he
This little speech didn't have a reassuring effect on Zell. If anything,
it made his skin crawl. He managed a, "Yeah, well get in line," but the
sight of the normally sunny and carefree Rinoa promising torture and death
with eyes that glowed with power took all the bluster out of his words.
"C'mon, Rinoa," he said. "We've got to tell Garden what's happened."