Chapter 11 Leviathan Redux
Irvine didn't seem to notice when they entered the room. All of his attention was on Selphie, so badly hurt by the bomb. Kadowaki was watching him carefully as she explained the situation to him.
"No, we can't use magic to heal her," she said. "Not yet. She's too weak. Magic draws on your own life force to heal your wounds. In battle, you can use it to heal yourself of a wound you just took and it'll work just fine - your life force has barely been touched at that point. But Selphie's just barely hanging on - if I use magic or potions on her, the shock will kill her. She's got to climb out of the danger zone on her own. I'm sorry."
"What about the power of the Guardian Forces?" pleaded Irvine, his eyes never leaving Selphie's form. "We could use Treatment, or Revive..."
"The powers of the Guardian Forces are just as dangerous as ordinary magic or potions," said Kadowaki patiently.
Zell's eyes widened. He hadn't thought about it, but, Could you Recover her, Leviathan? he asked.
Your medic is right, came Leviathan's watery voice. With the condition your friend is in, our power might well kill her. There was a thoughtful pause. How much would you give to have her well, Zell?
Whaddaya mean? asked Zell. She's Garden Master, the Garden would give anything to have her up and about. So would I, and so would Irvine, and all her friends...
Leviathan chuckled, a bubbling sound. We could heal her, Zell. But we would want something in return - for it would require more of our power than we have ever offered to anyone.
Just you tell me what it is so I can ask, snapped Zell, and we'll see what happens then.
If we heal your friend, you must free us, said Leviathan. We have passed from junction to junction for untold centuries. We wish to be free. If we give this of ourselves, for this woman, you must release us. Not into your precious Garden data banks - but into the ocean.
Holy shit, thought Zell, momentarily stunned. You don't ask for small favors, do you. Hang on...
When he focused on the real world again, Irvine was watching him with an almost crazed look in his eyes. "If that was Griever you were talking to, I don't wanna know about it," he said.
"Um, no," said Zell awkwardly. "Actually, it was Leviathan. I asked her if she would use Recover on Selphie."
"You can't," said Irvine dully. "Kadowaki said it would kill her..."
"Um, maybe not," Zell replied carefully. "See...Leviathan says there's a way, but-"
"If there's a way then you do it, Zell," said Irvine flatly. "You want that in writing? Signed in blood maybe?" Irvine gripped the bed rails so hard his knuckles turned white, trying to keep a grip on his self-control as his voice cracked with emotion. "I'll take full responsibility, Zell, if it'll make you feel better. I don't care what it is, what it costs. She could die if we don't do anything. Whatever it is Leviathan can do, make her do it. Or get out of my face and never let me see you again."
Zell blew out a long breath. He knew Irvine was just barely hanging on, and it felt like taking advantage to let his friend accept responsibility. No one had ever released a Guardian Force before; there was bound to be some sort of response to it. "No, Irvine, I'll take the knocks for it. Just...just calm down, okay?" Your call, water snake. What do I have to do?
Touch her, skin to skin, came Leviathan's water-smooth voice. Whatever happens do not break contact until we say.
That didn't sound promising, and reflexively Zell gulped. Good thing Seifer wasn't around to see his attack of nerves. He nodded to the Guardian Force, and laid his hand against the unburned side of Selphie's face. Her cheek was warm, fevered, against his fingertips. Irvine looked at him curiously; Recover didn't usually require physical contact. Zell was just about to reassure him that it was okay when -
Leviathan moved within him. The cold, slick coils of the water snake uncurled from the corners of his mind where she usually stayed quiescent, and wound out of his head and down his arm, squeezing and coiling. He shuddered; the coils felt so real, so cold, so slick, but when he looked at his arm nothing was there - though his skin started to look a little blue. His hand against Selphie's cheek started to glow with a blue-tinted light as cold power poured from his head and down his arms into her body.
He could feel what the difference was. Leviathan wasn't using magic to let Selphie's own life force heal her. Leviathan was using its own life force to fuel the spell. No wonder it had asked for such a high payment.
From the point of contact the blue light spread over Selphie's body, Irvine watching intently as it washed away her wounds. Zell was concentrating on not breaking contact, even though his arm and hand were starting to lose feeling from Leviathan's power. The light covered Selphie's entire body for a few minutes, then slowly faded.
You may withdraw your hand, came the whisper of Leviathan's voice, as quiet as Griever had been after he touched Irvine. She will still need to rest for a few days - we have healed her body but her mind must still recover from the shock of her wounding. We have kept our promise.
I'll say, said Zell, his face breaking into a grin as he saw Irvine gently peel away bandages to reveal healed skin beneath. "Leviathan says she'll need to sleep for a while Irvine," he said, "but she'll be fine."
There was unashamed joy and relief in Irvine's eyes as he looked down at his Selphie - even her hair was its usual auburn glory again. Kadowaki moved to remove the breathing tube, and looked over at Zell.
"You can't do that for all the patients in here, can you," she said - statement more than question.
"Fraid not," said Zell. "Leviathan wanted a life for a life - for this I gotta let her go."
One eyebrow raised. "I wonder what the Commander will say?" she asked.
Irvine waved one hand at them. "I don't give a flying rat's ass whether Xu has a hissy fit or throws a party," he said. "Selphie's gonna be all right. If Xu can't handle that then they can damn well find a new Garden Administrator, if they can't appreciate the damn fine one they've already got."
"I told you I'd take the knocks for this and I will," said Zell, "but for now I've got a promise to keep. Wanna come?"
Irvine cast a last look at Selphie over his shoulder, affirming to himself that yes, she would be all right. Then he nodded. "Yeah," he said. "You'll probably need a witness in front of Xu anyway."
Zell turned to Kadowaki. "We're still over the ocean, right?" he asked.
"Oh yes, for at least another few hours. Garden isn't exactly the fastest form of transport around. Go on, Irvine. I'll watch over Selphie for a little while. I'll need to see how much sleep she'll need anyway."
The two men nodded in unison, and headed for the door.
* * * * * * *
The view of the ocean from the 2F deck was breathtaking, as always. The ocean breezes whipped up little waves below the floating Garden, and the sun shone brilliantly. Zell looked down at all that water below the Garden's anti-gravity ring, just the tiniest bit queasy. It was way too easy to remember the day Galbadia Garden attacked, and he'd run himself ragged looking for a rope to rescue Rinoa with. What now? he asked of Leviathan.
Hold out your hands over the balcony, came Leviathan's voice, somewhat stronger than it had been.
When he did so, Leviathan moved within him. Not just down his arm, as she had done for Selphie, but all throughout his body. Despite the warmth of the sun on his face and arms, he felt like he'd been standing in a meat locker, or dunked in a half-frozen pool. Leviathan seemed to fill his entire body, the chill and the power growing and growing until he felt as though the Guardian Force would break his body apart like a hot-dog dipped in liquid nitrogen. It was almost like drowning. Just as he was sure something would have to give or he'd scream, all of it exploded down through his arms and out of his body - and a long blue streak shot out from his fists into the waters some fifty yards out from Garden's walls. He sagged against the balcony, gasping for breath as the water serpent leaped dolphin-like from the waves.
Hyne, it was beautiful. Huge, powerful...beautiful. The water serpent reared up and stared at the two SeeDs with eyes the color of purest sapphire, fathomless blue against its sea blue scales. It was easily a hundred feet long, though it was hard to tell - its tail was invisible in the water. Irvine's jaw was open as he stared in awe; Zell was too exhausted to do more than just stare.
"Thank you, holder of Griever," came the watery, feminine, threefold voice, booming now that it was spoken with vocal chords instead of telepathy. "We bid you luck." And without further comment the great blue serpent arched and threw itself back into the water, disappearing almost instantly.
"I had that in my head all this time?" was the first thing Zell could think of to say.
Irvine nodded. "They're so much more powerful looking when they're real, aren't they?" He turned to Zell, who still hadn't managed to get upright. "You okay, man?" he asked.
Zell coughed. "Yeah," he said. "I just hope Xu doesn't order me to go get Leviathan back, 'cause I'm afraid the answer to that one would be 'hell no'. Once is enough." He took a deep breath and forced himself to stand up straight. "You go hang with Selphie," he said. "I think I'm gonna take a little nap." He wobbled a bit, unsteady on his feet.
"I'll give you a hand," said Irvine, offering his arm for support. "That didn't look like fun."
"It wasn't," said Zell, as they wobbled their way to the dormitory.
* * * * * * *
Away from Garden, Seifer seethed.
Just who did Quistis think she was, to order him? Who did she think he was, to need her advice? He knew what needed doing as well as any other SeeD with eyes. At the moment the only thing keeping him from wreaking havoc on the interior of the Ragnarok was Fujin's steady gaze. It wouldn't do for his posse to display more control than he could himself.
They got back into Esthar the same way they had before; parking the Ragnarok some distance from the city and hiking in. They wouldn't bother with a hotel room now - with the Ragnarok, they had all the privacy they would need. Fujin stayed behind, to continue working on assembling the pieces the other two turned up. Currently, that involved removing the blood from the check they'd recovered, and testing it for the presence of the drug they'd found with it.
Two people were high on Seifer's suspect list - General Torben and Soares Detmer. It only remained to find out who did what, and whether they were working together. He sent a quick message to Fujin to forward a picture of the dead man to Garden to see whether Zell would recognize him. It was a long shot to expect Zell to remember a guy's face, especially when said face was not looking its best, but since Zell had been on the receiving end of a large number of bullets...he just might remember the face of the guy who'd done the firing.
That was Seifer's theory as to who the corpse was - a disposable hit man. He knew if he wanted a President dead, he wouldn't do the shooting himself. Too many things could go wrong with that; the shot could miss, a bodyguard could take it, he could be seen and possibly captured even if he succeeded. No, the smart thing to do would be to hire someone else to do the shooting. If they fail, you make sure they don't have any way to point the finger at you. And if they succeed, you can silence them and no one's the wiser.
But if you didn't want a trail, why such a fancy-ass gun to do the shooting? Why bomb Selphie, mug Kiros and Ward?
The sheer number of contradictions indicated a conspiracy. Too many egos involved to make a clean operation. Seifer grinned; the only ego in charge of the investigation was his own - a sure sign that eventually the pieces would come together.
"Hey, what's on the agenda?" came Raijin's voice.
Seifer eyed his friend critically. Raijin had spent most of the flight catching up on his sleep, but he was still looking a little frayed. It would do no good to involve him in anything dangerous or overly delicate; his body wasn't up for the first, and his brain cells weren't awake enough to handle the second. But people Raijin could handle in his sleep. He was the only member of the posse to ever have made friends outside the posse.
"Go wherever you have to, do whatever you have to do," said Seifer. "But I want to know everything you can dig up on this party-boy Detmer. Where he goes, who he fucks, what he snorts when he thinks nobody's looking. Everything, Raijin. I'm gonna stake out the General and see if I can't dig up the dirt on him."
Raijin nodded and grinned. "Piece of cake, ya know?" he said, and jogged off.
Seifer shook his head. Sometimes, Raijin's eternal good cheer could really bring out the homicidal maniac in a guy. Not as quickly as Zell's hyperactivity, but sometimes close.
Fujin already had as many files from the military compound as they had been able to acquire. It would do no good to go back there. That left the media. Seifer pulled off his trademark trench coat and stuffed it into a sturdy looking rucksack. Hyperion got placed in a special back sheath that hid it from casual view - especially when he pulled the rucksack over his shoulder, further obscuring the lines of his back. The idea was to look harmless - or at least as harmless as Seifer ever managed to look.
He took a few seconds to adjust the habitual set of his features so that he now looked sharp-eyed, energetic, optimistic and eager. The perfect guy to take along on a shoot, completely inconspicuous in a newsroom's ground zero. Then he headed for the part of town that housed the media; newspapers, television... reporters.
* * * * * * *
Raijin was not having the best of luck today.
He was very good at getting people to admit the sort of things they'd ordinarily never admit to, like which hand they masturbated with, or who it was they were seeing in the out-of-the-way corners of the Training Center. That was his job in the posse, and in the Disciplinary Committee. Nobody ever took a look at him and said 'ooo he's a threat, better watch my mouth'. They looked at him and saw an open face, a welcoming grin, and a willing ear. He'd then pass that information along to Seifer and Fujin, and they'd either do something about it or put it with other pieces of information to make a larger picture. That, Raijin never bothered with. His job was to be the good cop, the one everyone trusts.
And so it was today. In the bars and the pool halls and the casinos, Raijin ambled along amiably and picked up snippets of conversation, angling towards the more interesting ones and inserting himself so smoothly that often it was several minutes before the participants realized they didn't know who he was.
The trouble was, all the news was of Detmer being gone. The drug crowd were disappointed; apparently he was well known to carry a particular joy-pill that went well with everything, and he often handed them out to his 'friends'. The gamblers were upset because he also often was free with 'loans' in exchange for small favors; Raijin sympathized and picked up details as to exactly what sort of favors and when. And the barkeeps groused because he was a generous tipper - unusual in a Galbadian.
Most upset were Detmer's 'special friends' - a small group of women and men that he would be especially nice to in exchange for rather vanilla sexual favors. Raijin's grin widened when he got the details; Detmer liked to think he was a radical bad boy, but in all cases he was rather more cautious than was normal. His drugs were all non-addictive, his gambling stuck to the slots, and his sex - while bisexual - didn't involve any kinks. Raijin smiled, and tried not to mention any of the Garden cadet antics he knew about. But Seifer wanted to know everything, so Raijin made the appropriate sympathetic noises and pried everything he could out of everyone he met.
He just hoped Seifer wouldn't blow it too hard when he heard that Detmer had definitely flown the coop.
* * * * * * *
At least, part of one.
When they'd been here before, the closest they'd come to tying Torben into the assassination was the unusual changes in the Airstation duty roster engineered by his men.
Here, abandoned by the media as being 'fluff', was the footage that proved the duty roster had been changed the day that their dead 'friend' had come to town. He was just one face among many, of course. Unless you just happened to notice that he had come to town with Soares Detmer. The guards on duty were under Torben's command. The footage had been shot to show the crowd of tourists coming to Esthar for one of its better music festivals - sometimes, you just had to accept that there were gods who didn't always want to rain on the parade.
Try writing that off as a coincidence. Torben's men on duty the day these two showed up. Of course, there wasn't proof that the now-dead companion was the assassin, or that Detmer had had anything more to do with it than just being friends with the wrong guy. But it was, undoubtedly, a piece of the puzzle.
With this, all that remained to proving Torben was involved was evidence that he knew, approved, and possibly requested that roster change. If he could get hold of the customs logs for that day, that would be a bonus. That damn gun had to have shown up in someone's possession.
Seifer checked his watch. Shit. He'd been in these archives all day. No point in heading over to Customs today, they'd be shut down to casual inquiry.
Better to head back, and see if the others had had any luck in turning up their own puzzle pieces.
* * * * * * *
There were, indeed, other pieces now in hand.
Fujin's tests indicated that the dead man had not used the euphoric they'd uncovered, which meant it came with someone else. That 'someone else' could really only be Detmer, because when she cleaned the blood off the check it was from Detmer. The payee's name was one they didn't know, but when Fujin ran it through the database of Galbadian citizens, the face-picture matched the man whose body they'd taken it from.
He was, indeed, a hit man. Wanted in Galbadia for quite a few such offenses, though he had a clean record in Esthar; apparently nobody had yet linked him to the assassination.
So now Detmer was tied in, with proof. It was quite a sizable check - much larger than any 'loan' Detmer gave to his friends, even his 'special' friends.
What remained was proving the dead man had done the shooting, that either he or Detmer had had the gun, and that Torben had arranged for them to slip into the country. To that end Seifer and Raijin gave Fujin a hand in sorting through the files they'd lifted from the military base.
No luck. Not a written communication anywhere that indicated his involvement. Which probably explained why he'd been so free with letting them into the headquarters - no evidence to find. There was, however, still hope. Security cameras were everywhere, it was just a matter of finding the right camera. The truly interesting thing about Estharian security was that it was a matter of public record if it was outside - so that was what they checked first, searching the entire city the day of the assassination, and the day the two Galbadians came to town. That turned up a few very interesting shots. One of the dead man entering the area where Laguna had made his last speech - making him present at the assassination. One of him meeting up with Detmer afterwards outside his room, and both of them going in. And one shortly after that of only Detmer coming out.
With this on film, it was only a matter of time before all hell broke loose looking for Detmer, so it wasn't really a surprise to find he'd fled Esthar. He'd be suspect number one once the body was found, even without the pill and the check that the posse had picked up. At the very least he'd be wanted for that murder.
Sloppy Galbadian thinking, that. Murder was much more common in Deling City than it was here. Had Detmer killed his man outside the city it would've caused less comment.
Seifer stood up and stretched. "If Chicken-Wuss remembers this guy's face, that's most of our job taken care of. And for Hyne's sake tell 'em to keep a lookout for Detmer; send them his pic so they know what to look for." He looked at his watch - they'd worked well into the middle of the night. "I'm for bed. Tomorrow..." he had to pause to focus his thoughts, as lack of sleep was starting to set in. "Tomorrow...we see where the gun was."
* * * * * * *
The next day the trio headed for the customs office, to see what sort of goodies the two Galbadians had brought with them. The officials weren't inclined to be cooperative at first, but when the posse showed their SeeD identification and mission parameters, the staff suddenly became very willing to help.
Yes, the gun had come with the two Galbadians. In the possession of Soares Detmer, listed as a personal possession. His official reason for visiting Esthar was to take advantage of the hunting possibilities provided by the Lunar Cry.
Checking further, it was noted that the gun did not leave the country in Detmer's possession. Seifer scowled. Where could it have gone, to end up at Caraway's?
"PACKAGE?" inquired Fujin, and Seifer grinned. Yes, that was possible.
"Do you guys check outgoing mail parcels?" he asked, and received the answer he needed; no, they didn't check mail. Just luggage. They were more worried about things coming into Esthar than things coming out of it.
Well, they now had enough to definitely involve Detmer; the gun was his, used in the assassination. A check from him to the dead guy, and a drug which was probably his found at the scene. Which just left Torben's part to tie up, and then the posse could go home.
The question was how to do that. No written records remained...Seifer grinned, and the posse shared a look. Their suspicions were confirmed when he turned to Raijin and asked, "Where do the soldiers hang out?"
* * * * * * *
The Desperado was an established soldier's bar, on the other side of town from the recruiting office. The reason for the distance was obvious when you got inside; this was where soldiers went when off duty and when they wanted nothing more than to not have to listen to another goddamned order for the next four hours. Esthar was in general a very quiet place, with few fights - the Desperado was filled with people trained to do nothing but, who wanted a chance to exercise their skills somewhere their superior officer couldn't press charges. The furniture was in general badly damaged and much mended; some chairs had been fixed so many times their makeup was more epoxy glue than actual wood. The only rule here was 'no weapons'. A murder, or any other form of death, would bring far too much attention down on the bar. There was a sizable weapons-check room by the door, manned at all times, and metal detectors in the doorway.
Seifer and his posse strolled into the place like they owned it, completely ignoring the frantic beeping of the metal detector. A very tall and heavily muscled man clamped a hand on Seifer's shoulder, and rumbled, "You're gonna have to check your weapons, mate."
Seifer turned slowly, his face a mask of congeniality - a clue to his posse that they didn't miss. "We're here looking for a few people," he said calmly, his tone indicating that hiding them would mean Trouble. "If you want to get them for us, we'll wait right here. Otherwise," and here he moved blindingly fast, pinning the bouncer's arm halfway up his back in a painful grip, "don't ever lay a fucking finger on my coat again," he finished in a menacing whisper to the bouncer's ear, "or I'll tear the arm off that the finger's attached to."
He stepped back, letting the man go but not looking away. The bouncer had seen action enough in his time, as a soldier and then here, to know when he was outmatched. Seifer wasn't even breathing hard, and the whole attack and release had gone so quickly that no one had seen.
Raijin tapped the bouncer on the shoulder and showed him the images of the soldiers they wanted - taken from the security cameras. "These guys, ya know?" he said cheerfully, though there was a hint in his face that Seifer wouldn't be the only one to get annoyed if he failed to deliver.
The bouncer scanned the photos. "Yeah, I know," he rumbled. "Hang on. You guys bring weapons in here and it'll be a damn bloodbath, and we don't want this place closed down." Slowly he moved into the crowd of patrons.
Raijin asked, "Why not just check our weapons, Seifer? It's not like these guys would be hard to beat."
Fujin scowled at him. "TRUST," she said flatly, and Seifer nodded to her.
"Exactly, Fuuj," he said. "We'd have to trust that they didn't smuggle in some homemade weapon, while we'd definitely be without ours. I'm not in the mood for stupid risks today."
In a few moments the bouncer returned, the two soldiers in tow. They didn't look happy to be pulled from their drinking.
"We'll take it from here," Seifer said to the bouncer, as Fujin and Raijin each took a soldier by the shoulder, one hand clamping down in the universal 'you're not going anywhere' grip. Before the befuddled soldiers could protest, they were steered outside, and the bouncer slammed the door closed behind them.
"Hey now, wha's goin' on?" said one, just beginning to be upset.
"This is the time when you find out how good your memory is," said Seifer. "Either that, or how many punches it takes before you give up that cat's piss this place calls beer. All the same to me." He smirked, with his old trademark smirk, the one that said it really wasn't all the same to him, actually - he'd much prefer to beat them bloody and only some very intelligent answers were going to stop him.
Even through the beer, the soldiers were aware that the evening had permanently lost any modicum of fun. An hour and a half later, the two were hustled on board the Ragnarok and locked in one of its many rooms to nurse their bruises, while recordings of their version of recent events were safely locked away with the rest of the evidence. Later, when they were provably sober, they'd get a version that could be used in a court. Juries had mixed reactions to the confessions of drunks.
Seifer wasn't going to risk these two witnesses meeting up with 'accidental' deaths. No, they were going to go right back to Garden, where the locks were a lot tougher and so were the guards. The posse's mission was finished - proof now tied General Torben and Soares Detmer to Laguna's assassination. All that was left was Irvine's half; tying up the Galbadian loose ends.
"Fire up the engines, Fuuj," he said. "We're going home."