PART 3 DANCING WITH THE DAMNED
Authors Note ** indicates the beginning and end of flashbacks
Garden is not like other military organizations. Some stress skill, others tactics, and we emphasize these things as well. There is one thing that separates a SeeD from all the rest though. We live by one single code. No matter the hurt, no matter the obstacle, a SeeD does not stop until they have achieved their objective.
From the cover page to the Balamb Garden student application.
“Isaaru?!” Lulu exclaimed.
“Yeah. I don’t know how or why. I do know what I remember from the Farplane. There’s something else behind him. Vast and….. it’s hard to explain.”
“Squall explained some of this to us.” Yuna said. “I just don’t understand….. Isaaru and I have had our differences, but he was a good man. Why would he become this?”
“It has to do with the nature of Sorcery.” said Squall entering the room, Rikku in tow. His eyes appeared puffy, as though he had been crying.
“What do you mean?”
“Bahamut…” Squall paused and then continued “explained it to me once. Sorcery corrupts a male. It would corrupt females as well, but for the presence of a Knight. It’s why Sorceresses throughout the ages have been accompanied by them. Knights protect their spirit, shield them from the destructive influences.”
“And Isaaru, not having a knight, would be…”
“Corrupted.” Finished Squall “He is not the man you once knew. That I can promise you.”
“I can second that.” said Tidus, touching his ribs. He was still somewhat weak and still bed-ridden, but the Al Bhed healer had assured he would make a full recovery.
“Well, it being Isaaru explains the Yevon thing you overheard Squall.” Said Rikku.
Yuna sighed “Isaaru is… was a good man, but he was absolutely devoted to Yevon. We fought once because he was ordered to subdue me by the temples. He was a Summoner, like me. Willing to give his life for the people of Spira.”
“That would make sense. If the people are turning back to Yevon, who knows what will happen?” Frowned Lulu.
“I should have stayed in Besaid. People may not have turned back to Yevon if I had remained High Summoner.”
Squall laid his hand on her shoulder and looked in her eyes. “And what do you think would have happened to you if you had stayed Yuna?”
“I… don’t know what you mean.”
“Who do you think sent you that sphere? It was this Isaaru. If that ploy didn’t work he probably would have just killed you. The only reason he didn’t kill you first was he didn’t want to risk making you a martyr. But make no mistake, he would have done it. You’d be dead and where would that put us? You made the right choice Yuna. Don’t waste your time with regrets.”
“So, what do we do now?” asked Wakka.
Squall sighed “We still need to find more GF’S. I have my suspicions about what is causing the people to turn back to Yevon, but I need to see to be sure. We have a couple days till we get back to Home. In the meantime, we think and we wait.”
Lulu nodded “Come, let’s leave Tidus and Yuna alone for a bit.”
“Why?” asked Wakka.
Lulu harrumphed and grabbed a hold of Wakka’s ear, dragging him out. Kimahri,
Squall and Rikku followed behind.
Tidus laughed. “Those two will never change.”
“They’re married now you know.”
“Yes. Lulu is often angry these days. I’ve never seen her more happy in my life.”
Tidus smiled.. “That’s Lulu alright.”
Yuna blinked shyly, and returned his smile. It was so hard to believe she was actually in his presence again. How she had missed that smile. “I… still find it difficult to believe that you’re actually here.”
Tidus gazed into her eyes. “You know, I’ve always had one regret. When I was fading, and jumped from the airship, you told me you loved me. I.. should have told you I loved you too. It was just too painful to say.”
Yuna said nothing but leaned across the bed to kiss him on the lips. The two were lost in each other for a time until Yuna settled her weight on Tidus’ chest. “Oww!”
Yuna giggled “I’m sorry. This can wait until your injuries heal a little more. Can I help you with anything?”
“Well, I could use some food.”
She laughed “Now I KNOW you’re really here. I’ll be right back.” She was leaving the room, when she turned to look back at him, almost afraid he would disappear if he left her sight.
He chuckled “I’m not going anywhere unless I happen to die of hunger.”
Yuna smiled and nodded, setting about her errand.
Squall had risen before the sun. He had always had difficulty waking up, but the discipline of a lifetime is hard to shrug off. Training with his gun blade at this early hour was what he had done every day since he was thirteen years old. He wasn’t about to break the habit now. He didn’t have a training partner currently, so he could only work on his form and technique.
“Hey, Squall. What’s that weapon? Never seen anything like that before.”
He turned to see Tidus and frowned slightly in disapproval. The healers hadn‘t given him permission to be up and about yet. “ It’s a gun blade. Should you be out of bed?”
“Probably not. I’m not much of a bed person though. I’m not going to get my strength back that way. Care for a sparring partner?”
“No, I’d rather not explain to Yuna that you re-injured yourself.”
Tidus grinned. “Hah. You’re no fun. Can I at least see your gun blade?”
“Ah, come on. Just a peek?”
Squall sighed, and extended the weapon to Tidus. He couldn‘t help but think he had come forward in time to save Zell‘s great-great, however many greats, grandson. . “Fine. Be careful with it. It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Tidus accepted the blade from Squall and tried a few experimental swings with it. “Hey. What’s this trigger for?”
The gun blade discharged as Tidus depressed the trigger. A loud noise followed, and Tidus dropped the weapon as if it were a live snake . Squall turned and rubbed his scar. “I told you it could be dangerous.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Sorry about that. Hey, Squall what’s your story? What’s this SeeD from Balamb Garden?”
“I come from what you could consider this world’s past. SeeD was a mercenary organization that was dedicated to defeating Sorceresses.”
“Sorceresses? What’s that? I’ve heard everyone say a lot about it, but no one has explained it to me yet.”
“Sorcery is a power that’s existed for a long time. It’s always been passed along to females until now. Basically it enhances magic to a much greater degree than a normal person would be capable of. One of the ways you fight them is through the use of what are called GF’s.”
“Yeah. You’re junctioned to one right now. Quetzalcoatl. It’s basically what you would think of as an Aeon. Only they aren’t imprisoned so they are much freer of thought.”
“So that explains the voice I keep hearing in my head. I thought I was going crazy.”
“No, it means she likes you. She wouldn’t talk to you if he didn’t. You’ll get used to it.”
Truly master, the voice of Quetzalcoatl echoed in Squall’s thoughts. This one has an interesting mind. And such vivid dreams as well. Just last night he dreamed of himself and Yuna in…
Squall chuckled. I don’t think I need to know any more Quetzalcoatl.
As you say master.
“So how do I use her?” asked Tidus
“We’ll go over that when you’re stronger. Basically you’ll be able to summon her when you have need. And enhance such things as strength and speed. Right now, you’d better get back to bed. Yuna finds you out and she might skin both of us.”
Tidus chuckled. “You’re probably right. I’ll go back and play the sick invalid.” He went back to his cabin and Squall continued his practice.
Later that day, the group gathered around Tidus’ bed to discuss what they should do. Lulu started “I think returning to Home would be a waste of time. According to what Squall over heard something is happening in the world, and we need to find out what.”
Squall nodded. “Plus we still need to find the location of more GF’s. From what I’ve discussed with Cid, there are no signs of them about that area.”
“What kind of signs should we be looking for?”
“Stories of strange apparitions, places that are reputed to be cursed. Such things are often the result of their presence. Sometimes monsters have them as well. Some we will have to fight. Others will join us freely. Their personalities are as different and varied as a person’s. Their presence in your mind will take some getting used to, as Tidus will tell you.”
Tidus grinned “You can say that again.”
“There is a price to their use though…..”
“GF’s inhabit a space in your mind. A space that also houses your long term memory. Over time, you will find many memories of your childhood and other things will be difficult to recall. You’ll find it best if you keep a journal. Read it often to remind yourself.”
Lulu nodded and looked thoughtful. “If that’s the price for ending this madness, it’s one I’ll gladly pay.”
The rest added their agreement and Squall nodded in approval . They were a lot more like his friends than he had originally given them credit for. “I think we all agree that we need to go check out some other areas. I just don‘t know this world enough to know where. Any suggestions?”
Yuna said. “I believe we should go to Luca. It’s one of the largest cities in Spira. I can’t think of a better place to start.”
The rest agreed and Squall stood, heading for the door. Rikku quickly followed after. “Squall, we going to practice today?”
“No… I’m just not in the mood.”
“Well, how about just hanging out? I won‘t make you blush or get mad. I promise”
Squall smiled wanly. “I want to thank you….. for…..well you know.”
Rikku returned his smile and took his arm “That’s what friends are for.”
Friends huh? I get the feeling you want to be more than that. I’m not ready for that….. am I?
Rikku grabbed his hand and started to pull him along “Come on, let’s get something to eat. I’m hungry.”
Squall groaned, and let his Sorceress pull him along.
Seifer awoke to the droning of the Ragnarok's engines. His sleep was restless this night as he still struggled with some self realizations from the previous days. Discovering that he was still considered a part of this family troubled him in ways he found difficult to define. He should have been happy. Yet the guilt, always the guilt. He made his way to the galley to get something to drink and found Laguna already there, sitting seemingly lost in thought. He turned at Seifer's entrance and nodded.
"Hyne, you were so lost in thought you almost looked like Squall for a minute."
"Seifer, I've got something on my mind, and you're probably the only one who could answer it."
Seifer shrugged in confusion. " Ok. I'll try."
"You heard when Rinoa said that this other Sorceress bonded Squall as her Knight right?"
"What do you think would happen to a knight that was bonded to two sorceresses?"
Seifer's eyes opened wide, and he thought about it for a moment. "I. have no idea."
Laguna sighed. "I was afraid of that."
"Why'd you ask?"
"Before I became president I was part of the anti-Adel resistance. We were reading up on sorceresses trying to find a way to defeat her. I came across a story. It told of a Knight who was torn between two sorceresses. He couldn't decide so he bonded to both. Neither sorceress would relinquish their bond and the Knight's mind was eventually torn apart."
"You’re afraid this might happen to Squall?"
"Who knows? Like I said, it may just be a story."
"Should we tell the others?"
"I don't think so. Rinoa's bond is the only thing that could lead us to Squall. If she knew, Rinoa would sever it. She'd never risk hurting him. And Squall would stuck being bound to the other. We know nothing about her, the circumstances , for all we know she's controlling him like Ultimecia did you."
"That's a comforting thought. If that's the case, Rinoa would be the only one who could bring him back to his senses. It would come down to who's stronger, Rinoa or this other. Either way the conflict wouldn't be good for Squall."
"I know. We may have to kill this other sorceress. We just don't know yet."
Seifer thought for a moment. "I think I agree with you. It's best if we keep it to ourselves. As you said, it may just be a story."
Laguna nodded and the two were silent, each left to their troubling thoughts.
It was noon when the Ragnarok landed. The ruins shimmered before them in the distance as the long walk before them began. They were all silent as they journeyed, each lost to their own thoughts and forebodings. Selphie was the first to break it.
"Seifer, you're the expert on all of this. You're an archaeology student. Do you think we missed anything while we were there?"
"I know we searched the room over and over, but none of us were in the best frame of mind. It's always possible."
The silence continued until they reached the ruin and Odin's door. Quistis nodded to Irvine and Zell and the two set about the process to open the door. Soon the code appeared and Quistis entered it. She stared into the room and saw what she was most afraid of, nothing. "I suppose we search."
For several hours they all combed the room, searching for the tiniest speck or clue. Though they tried many things, all their efforts were in vain. They were all tired and testy.
Zell exclaimed. "Damnit! There's nothing here! We're wasting our time!"
Irvine glared at him "You just gonna give up that easy?"
The two descended into a full fledged quarrel that threatened to turn into violence. Seifer stepped between them and shoved both back violently. "We're here to find Squall damnit! And you two aren't helping!"
Zell and Irvine continued to glare at one another. Both broke eye contact at the same time and turned away muttering. Seifer was starting to understand why Squall got headaches so often.
Laguna rubbed his eyes and said. "I think we're going about this all wrong."
Quistis spoke. "Explain."
"What do we know about this Dimensional Interval?"
"Odine said it's where all the GF's reside when they're not summoned."
"Right. So why don't one of you ask your GF for help? Maybe they can open the portal for us?"
Seifer grinned. "Damn! That just might be worth a try. Selphie?"
"Ok. Let me ask Leviathan."
Selphie closed her eyes for a moment in silent communion with her guardian. She sighed "He says that he doesn't have the power. Only a few GF's do. Bahamut does, but Leviathan won't say anything more about him for some reason. He's going to ask Gilgamesh to come, but he says there's a danger."
"LET ME EXPLAIN MORTAL." The voice of Gilgamesh boomed. His image fully formed in front of them. "I WILL SERVE ONLY THE ONE WHO CAN BEST ME IN SINGLE COMBAT. CHOOSE WELL YOUR CHAMPION."
Zell stood forth "Alright! Let's get it on!"
Seifer placed his hand on Zell's shoulder. "I think this is my fight."
Zell glared at him. "You think I'm going to trust you?!?"
Quistis stared into the martial artist’s eyes "I think he's right. He has to do this, for his sake and our own."
Zell didn't look happy but stepped back. He growled to Seifer "Don't screw this up lapdog!"
Seifer did the last thing that Zell would have ever expected. He smiled. "I won't."
Gilgamesh seemed pleased with the choice. His face was covered by a veil but Seifer could have sworn he felt a smile. "WELL MET, YOUNG ONE. IT HAS BEEN LONG SINCE YOU LAST FACED MY BLADE. WE SHALL SEE WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED."
Seifer said nothing and extended his gun blade in ritual salute. Gilgamesh returned the gesture and they both lunged forward to begin their deadly dance. Gilgamesh was a superb swordsman and used his thrusts and slashes to great effect, driving Seifer ever on the defensive. God, he's good! Seifer sought to rally and struck back with a particularly vicious combination he had always used to great effect. The guardian easily blocked, and drove Seifer back. At that precise moment, Gilgamesh feinted high and swept his leg low, slamming it into Seifer, knocking him to the ground.
"BAH. SKILL YOU HAVE. YOU LACK THE PASSION. THE FIRE. YOU ARE NOT FIT."
Seifer swore to himself. I can't let it end like this, but what can I do? Squall could win, but I can't. What's the difference? Seifer's mind was suddenly swarmed with the memories of the last few days. Quistis' face appeared before him.
** Quistis looked at him cryptically "You know, Squall and yourself were so close in potential with the blade that I never could tell which of you was better. I don't think that has changed."
"Then why does he always win when we spar? And why did he always defeat me during the Sorceress War?" Seifer was Squall's friend but that didn't keep him from rankling a bit about his constant losses to him.
Quistis looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose. the difference is what you fought for."
"What do you mean?"
"Squall found something that was worth fighting for. whether it was Rinoa, his friends, or the world makes no difference. Quite simply, he finally cared for something besides himself. Something worth dying for, but more importantly something worth living for."
Quistis laughed "Seifer, he finally gave a damn about something. Never underestimate the power of caring."
Laguna's face joined Quistis'. "Seifer, you may not know this, but we have all forgiven you. Even Zell, if he would admit it to himself. Sounds like the only person who still has the problem is you. You still feel you have to punish yourself for what happened. When are you going to let go and realize enough is enough?"**
Seifer at that moment looked inside and found what had been missing from him all this time. Something greater than himself. His family needed him and he would be damned if he was going to let them down. At that moment, the guilt didn’t matter and all the old feelings washed away, leaving only determination. And passion. So this is your secret huh Squall?
He stood. "This isn't over. You haven't put me down for the count, and it's not going to happen."
He once again felt Gilgamesh's smile. "PERHAPS MORTAL. WE SHALL SEE."
Gilgamesh stepped forward into a slash that Seifer easily blocked. The two locked into a blur of motion. Neither giving an inch, Seifer felt that it would come down to a contest of stamina. One he was bound to lose. He needed to find a way to end this, and quick. Suddenly, it came to him. A move Squall had used against him once. Seifer had sought to emulate it, but never succeeded. It was a very risky maneuver. Which was why he probably never successfully copied it. He blocked Gilgamesh's latest slash and launched into an attack that would deliberately expose his right side. Gilgamesh eyes flashed with triumph as he drove the point of his sword home. Seifer at the last possible instant turned his body. The sword came so close that it rippled against his trenchcoat, but it was enough. Grabbing Gilgamesh's sword hand, he pivoted and twisted the guardian's arm, locking it in place, and forcing him to drop the blade. He extended his sword and placed it over the neck of the defeated warrior.
Gilgamesh chuckled. "YOU HAVE LEARNED MUCH YOUNG ONE. MY SWORD IS YOURS."
Seifer smiled. "We have a friend. He's in trouble. We need you to open the Interval for us."
"SO IT SHALL BE YOUNG MASTER. I WILL SERVE YOU. CALL UPON MY BLADE WHEN YOU HAVE NEED." Gilgamesh disappeared at that moment and Seifer felt him nestle into his mind. A bright flash and a tunnel of light appeared before them.
The group gazed into the tunnel. Afraid of the unknown but knowing they would do anything to help their leader, their friend. They stepped forward, all except for Zell, whose emotions were mixed to say the least. He was happy that they had found their path to Squall at last, but he rankled that his rival had been the one to open the way. "Coming, chicken wuss?"
Zell bristled and raised his eyes to his, expecting the same mocking glare he had received all his life. He saw instead something completely different. A hope of forgiveness and an offer of friendship. Zell laughed. Why the hell not? "Right behind ya lapdog."
Seifer grinned and the two made their way into the light.
“That was exhilarating!”
Isaaru gazed at the corpse of Bahamut at his feet. It had been a long, difficult battle. The outcome was never in doubt, however the dragon's power was considerable. It had taken time to wear down his defenses. A part of him, the part that remained Isaaru was screaming in rage and sorrow in a dim recess of his mind. The voice diminished by the day however, and would soon be gone forever. The adrenaline supplied by the battle drained off and he was left to face the final outcome of the events of this day. Tidus escaped, by the hands of one he had hoped to never face again. "Lionheart." He gazed once again at the deceased dragon. "You are responsible for this aren't you?"
“Wait. How do I know this Lionheart? I've never seen him before.” He grabbed his head between his hands as his mind was suddenly torn by waves of pain. Two identities clashed in the realm of his mind. A flood of memories of him as he once was. Strong, good, and dedicated to the people of Spira. Washed away by dreams of power and greed. He shook his head to clear it. Such episodes were becoming far less frequent than they used to. However, the events often led him to commune with his lord. He needed the solace and strength that only he could provide. Isaaru retreated to his private chamber and began to pray.
My lord. I beg audience.
A voice, which to Isaaru embodied all that he loved in this world spoke to him. Know that I am well pleased, my servant. The death of the king greatly weakens my enemies.
I live but to please you. Tidus escaped during our conflict. Aided by one you know well. You shared the memories of the conflict with me.
Do you think I am unaware of the events of your world? He brought the Lion here. This I know. Unexpected, but Bahamut is not the only one who can reach through the essence of time and space.
Tidus would have been a valuable servant. You still need eyes to see, a sword to serve do you not?
Yes my lord.
There is one I can send to you. It will be difficult. Long has this one hovered in the Lifestream, neither alive nor dead. I will need your aid.
Isaaru stretched forth his will into the void. There it was met by the mind of his lord. The dark and powerful presence overwhelmed his senses, and he felt a spell emanating from himself. A flash of light temporarily blinded him, and he blinked furiously. His eyesight eventually recovered, and he noted the presence of a figure draped in silver and black.
e is the most feared warrior this world has ever known. You will find he will serve you well.
Isaaru smiled at the newly formed figure in front of him. Eyes of translucent blue raised to meet his own. "Welcome Sephiroth."
The diversion to Luca added seven days to their trip. Tidus was up and about and his strength was rapidly returning. Squall’s life settled into a routine. Mornings were spent training Rikku in her Sorceress powers and the afternoons were spent sparring with Tidus. His skills were rapidly re-emerging and Squall couldn’t help but be impressed. He was still a couple weeks off from regaining his old form but he could tell Tidus was going to become a formidable opponent. He had a natural aptitude for the sword and soaked up techniques as fast as Squall could teach them. This was surprising considering in many other ways, he seemed to be somewhat of a klutz.
Rikku‘s training was not progressing as well. Her skills and control were growing daily, but she seemed to take an inordinate delight in making him uncomfortable. Squall often walked away from their sessions confused. She could be an absolute angel one second and the next a mischievous imp. He had never met someone who kept him as off balance as her. He found it difficult to sort his feelings for her, since she could make him run the entire gamut of emotions in a single session. Regardless, I’ve taken an oath to support and protect her. That’s the only reason you’re doing this. Right? Squall shook his head and decided he would sort it out later. The ship had finally docked at Luca. Cid and the ship headed back to Home while the group stood at the dock trying to figure out their next move.
Wakka and Tidus seemed especially excited. “Woohoo! Blitzball!” Tidus exclaimed.
“I’ve been meaning to ask. What is this blitz ball?” Squall inquired.
“It’s a game that’s played underwater. Pretty much the only entertainment Spira has, ya?”
Squall scratched his scar. He had difficulty imagining how a sport played under water could be entertaining, but he decided to each his own.
Yuna, who was dressed as an Al Bhed so she wouldn’t be recognized, spoke up “So, what are we going to do?”
“It’s probably best if we split up into teams of two and three. That way we can cover more ground. Learn as much as we can. Are there any lodgings in town?”
“Yes. There is an inn in the center of town. We can stay there and use it as a base of operations.” Said Lulu.
Wakka scratched his head. “Umm, one problem with that.”
“And that is?”
“I don’t think any of us have any money.”
Yuna looked shocked for a moment. “He’s right. How could we forget that?”
Squall slapped his forehead and wondered why Spira didn’t have aspirin.
Lulu sighed. “I guess we’re going to have to go out on the road and hunt some fiends. They usually have some gold or valuables we could sell.”
Tidus grinned. “I have a better idea.”
“I can sign a one game contract with a blitz team. Should give us enough money for some supplies and lodgings.”
Yuna chuckled. “I knew you’d find a way to play again.”
Tidus shrugged. “Anyone have any better ideas?”
“Nope, sounds like a plan to me, ya? Maybe I can try to sign up too. The more money the better.”
“To the stadium then!”
The group made its way up to the stadium through the crowds, and Wakka made his way to the ticket booth. He struck up a conversation with one of the vendors. They spoke for a time and Wakka came back with a wide grin on his face.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s the finals of The Memorial Cup. Luca Goers and the Aurochs. Datto and Botta are injured and they’re talking about forfeiting because they’re two players down. Sounds like we got here just in time, ya?”
Tidus laughed. “Perfect! Was hoping I didn’t have to be a Goer. Let’s go to the locker room.”
The Aurochs were despondent. They had practiced and trained so hard to reach this point, and it seemed fate was just laughing at them.
Jassu said. “Just our luck, ya?”
Keepa replied. “Seems like to be an Auroch is to be cursed.”
Datto and Botta were even more despondent than the rest “Sorry, guys. If there were any way we could play we would. And there’s not enough time to find any replacements.”
That moment, the locker room doors opened. The Aurochs couldn’t believe what their eyes were telling them. Wakka stood in the doorway, twirling a blitz ball. “Hear you need some help, ya?”
“Cap’n! You bet we do. But we need another player too.”
Wakka laughed. “Got ya covered. Just don’t ask too many questions. We have a game to win and we don’t have the time.”
Wakka stepped inside the door, and Tidus walked in. “Hi, guys. Miss me?”
The Aurochs overcame their shock momentarily. Jassu stepped forward. “I don’t know how this is possible, ya? But I’m not going to complain.”
Tidus chuckled. “What are we going to do?”
“I can’t hear you!”
Squall and the others took their place in the packed stands. He wasn’t sure if he approved of Rikku’s pick -pocketing money to secure tickets but decided it was for the best. He gazed at the huge, water filled bowl in front of him. He turned to Rikku “Tell me again, how this is played?”
Rikku excitedly began to explain the game. Squall didn’t get all of it but gathered that the goal of the game was to place the ball in the other team’s net. Trumpets suddenly sounded and he gathered the game was about to begin. The two teams swam out to the center. An announcers voice broke over the PA system.
“Looks like the Aurochs managed to find two replacements and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s Wakka ladies and gentlemen!”
“Right you are Bobba, and I believe I recognize the other player too. It was several years ago in the finals of the Yevon Cup. He helped lead the Aurochs to a thrilling victory over these same Goers. I don‘t know how it‘s possible, but who cares? Welcome back Tidus!”
The crowd erupted in joy. Squall gathered that the two were popular. The game began and one of the Goers grabbed the ball. He was swiftly overtaken by Wakka and had the ball taken away. Wakka passed the ball to a streaking Tidus. Tidus swam in front of the net and loosed a thunderous shot. The goalie was unable to stop it and the ball settled in the back of the net. Squall tried to remain reserved, but was caught up in the fever of the crowd. He found he was cheering along with everyone else. He glanced down to see Rikku peering at him strangely. “Squall? Is that you?”
“Hey, I enjoy sports as much as the next guy.”
“Hehe. You’re usually so reserved. It’s just not like you.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me cheering is there?”
Rikku smiled mysteriously, and laid her head against his shoulder “No, nothing at all.”
The rest of the game passed and the Aurochs won 5-2. The group headed towards the locker room to congratulate the victorious twosome. An exhilarated Wakka and Tidus exited the room at that moment with their wages. It was late in the day so they made their way to the hotel and paid for their lodgings. They agreed to meet early the next day.
Squall, Kimahri, and Rikku were waiting in the lobby. Tidus and Yuna hadn’t appeared yet and Lulu and Wakka had gone to get them. Lulu came down shortly. “Has Yuna shown up yet? She wasn’t in her room, and I have no idea where she could be.”
“Umm.. I know where she is.” said Wakka as he joined them.
“Where? And did you find Tidus?”
“I found him.” He chuckled.
“Then where’s Yuna?”
“She was kind of in his room.”
Lulu sputtered, momentarily speechless “They didn’t, they weren’t.”
Wakka grinned. “I’m afraid so.”
Rikku snickered and even Squall and Kimahri had problems hiding smiles. Lulu glared at Wakka “How could you smile?! They aren’t even married yet!”
“Oh, Lu. Don’t be so old fashioned .”
Lulu was preparing to give Wakka a piece of her mind when Tidus and Yuna came down the steps. “Hi guys, sorry we’re late.” Lulu eyes flashed with anger and she was preparing to shout at the both of them. Wakka placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. Lulu’s eyes almost popped out of her head, but she stayed still, suddenly appearing quite embarrassed. She stomped off to collect herself.
Tidus leaned over “What did you say?”
“I reminded her of a night several weeks before our wedding.”
Tidus laughed “Wakka, you dog!”
“Enough of that, ya? She’ll be back in a few minutes.”
True to Wakka’s word, Lulu came back acting as if nothing had happened. Her husband spoke. “So what’s the plan?”
Squall said. “We’re going to separate into teams of two, two, and three…”
Rikku grinned. “Dibs on Squall.”
Squall decided it best not to argue with that. “Lulu and Wakka will be one. Kimahri, Yuna, and Tidus the other. Remember to keep your eyes and ears open. We’ll meet back here at dusk.”
Lulu and Wakka headed off to cover the dock area, Squall and Rikku the merchants, the other three the stadium area. Tidus suddenly chuckled as they made their way. “Rikku’s got it bad huh?”
Yuna smiled “Yes. She does. Has ever since they met.”
Kimahri gave one of his rare smiles “Kimahri thinks he have it bad too. Just doesn’t know it yet.”
The group smiled and nodded their agreement, continuing on their way.
Squall was troubled as they walked down the merchant’s row. Rikku was receiving dirty stares from some people. He sometimes overheard comments like “Dirty Al Bhed”. He didn’t understand the hatred but he was instantly wary. Protecting Rikku was his job. Luckily it was only a few, but enough to make him worried. Rikku for her part looked increasingly uneasy and confused.
“Rikku, I don’t understand. Why do a few of these people hate you so much? Everyone else in your group seems to be respected. Why not you?”
Rikku looked down “The press liked to pretend I didn’t even exist. I was always referred to as that Al Bhed girl. They didn’t even acknowledge that I was one Yuna’s guardians. Some people just hate the Al Bhed.”
“Because we use machina. We don’t believe the same things they do. Plus some people just don’t need a reason to hate, you know?”
Squall sighed and nodded. “Unfortunately I do know.” He glanced to the left suddenly and immediately stopped. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing in the window of that shop. “Rikku, let’s go in there.”
She looked at him in puzzlement but agreed. The shopkeepers eyes were instantly wary as they entered. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, how much do the lamp and the ring in the window cost?”
The shopkeeper stared at Squall for a moment, then started to polish his counter “They are not for sale.”
“I can pay well.”
“I don’t think you understand, sir. I will not sell to a dirty Al Bhed such as her, or one who associates with them. I would like you to leave my shop and now.” He pointed towards the door. Squall looked at him with furious eyes, but he complied and pulled Rikku along. As they stepped out of the shop, he glanced at Rikku’s eyes. They were full of tears.
“I’m sorry, Rikku. I wish there weren’t jerks in the world like that, but unfortunately there are. Don’t worry about them. Just concentrate on those who care about you.”
Rikku snorted as tears ran down her face. “Those who care about me, huh? Do you mean you Squall? You’re only here because of some stupid vow!”
She turned away and began running down the street. Rikku instantly regretted what she had said. She loved being with him. It was as simple as that. It seemed that when she got up every morning all she could think about was scheming for ways to be with her. It hurt to see her desire not returned. It hurt so very much. Squall caught up to her and grabbed her by the hand. Pulling her back into an alley.
“Rikku, why would you say something like that?”
“Because half the time you act like you can’t stand me! The other half you act like I don’t even exist! You’re still pining after this Rinoa! I can’t compete with a memory!”
Squall sighed. “Rikku, it’s not true. I do care about you.”
“Then why don’t you show it sometime!”
He said nothing but pulled her into an embrace. She placed her head against his chest and wept. I don’t show it because you confuse me. Half the time with you I don’t know if I’m coming or going. You sometimes make me so angry. He finally admitted it to himself. And I’m falling for you. He placed his finger under her chin and raised her eyes to meet his own. He gazed into her tear filled eyes for a moment. He brought his lips against hers, and the world was lost to them for a time, Squall’s confusion forgotten.
Sometime later, Squall was still holding a suddenly happy Rikku when something occurred to him. The lamp and the ring. “Rikku, you’re a thief right?”
She chuckled, holding him tightly. “Among other things yeah.”
He looked down at her “What do you say later tonight, you and me try a little burglary?”
At dusk, the group gathered to discuss what they had found. Wakka and Lulu started. “It seems Bevelle is undergoing a large Yevon revival. People around here don’t know what to think of it. Although they did mention that a few are converting back to Yevon. Just not as in great of numbers as there.”
“It’s happening all over Spira. Some places worse than others.”
Yuna sighed sadly. “ Hatred of the Al Bhed seems to be worsening as well.:”
“I know.” said Rikku.
Tidus piped in “There’s also rumors of something mysterious happening on the Mi’hen Highroad Squall. One of your GF’ s possibly. Also the Crusaders are gathering in the Calm Lands. No one seems to know why.”
“The Crusaders?” asked Squall.
“They’re an army who were dedicated to protecting Spira from Sin. They sought to turn him back whenever it threatened towns and villages. The big question is why are people turning back to Yevon in such large numbers?”
“I think I know why.” said Squall. “During the Second Sorceress War Ultimecia was able to control the majority of the population of Galbadia.”
“So this Sorcerer would have so much power to be able to do such a thing?”
“There were a lot of studies conducted afterward. Most people after it was over were confused at what they had done and believed. Galbadia has always been a fiercely patriotic country. Starting with that, she was able to gradually bring people along her path. They started doing things for love of their country and it was easy for her to corrupt it. I suspect that the same thing is having with this Yevon. This sorcerer wouldn’t have to expend much power on this because his followers mind’s are doing half the work themselves.”
Yuna sighed. “So what’s our next destination?”
“This Mi’hen Highroad sounds like a good bet. Rikku and I are going to a job tonight. With any luck we’ll be coming back with two more GF’s.”
“Is that what the lamp and ring are?” Rikku asked.
Squall nodded. “The lamp summons Diablos and the ring Doomtrain. The rest of you get some sleep. We’ll be leaving in the morning.”
Rikku and Squall walked into the hotel Their mission was successful and they had both artifacts. “I’m glad we were able to stick it to that bastard. Are we going to activate them tonight?”
“No, we’ll wait until everyone is here. Diablos may want to fight. He can be cranky when you wake him.”
Rikku sighed. “Squall, about what happened earlier today…”
“It’s okay. Just be patient with me Rikku. I need to take this slowly. I promise that I’m not going anywhere, and it’s not just because of my vow.”
Rikku smiled gratefully. “It’s not just that Squall, I don’t want to be alone tonight. We don‘t have to do anything. I just want you with me.”
Squall nodded and opened his door. Rikku stepped in and hopped on the bed. Squall grabbed a pillow and prepared to settle on the floor. “Squall, you can sleep on the bed too. I don’t bite you know.”
Squall sighed. It was better than sleeping on the floor. He settled on the far right side of the bed, turning on his back. Rikku cuddled up to him and settled her head against his chest. She promptly fell asleep. Almost immediately, a soft snoring emanated from her. Squall smiled and shook his head. Rinoa would want him to go on with his life. She’d be the first person to tell me that. It was just so soon, and he wasn’t sure he wanted something like this. Just not yet. Right?
The next morning the group minus Rikku and Squall were waiting in the lobby. Wakka and Lulu were again dispatched to their respective rooms to fetch them. Lulu came down first. “Rikku isn’t in her room.”
Wakka came down the steps grinning “I know where she is.”
Lulu threw her hands in the air. “Is this contagious or something?!”
Seifer and Zell entered the tunnel, and stopped with the rest of the group, staring. They found themselves in a world of mist. So thick that they couldn’t see any more than twenty feet in distance. Even objects within that radius appeared hazy and indistinct.
Quistis turned to Seifer and said. “Well, any ideas?”
Seifer was a little confused. Why was the commander of SeeD deferring to him? He looked and saw all other faces gazing at him expectedly. How the hell should I know? He turned away brooding and started to scratch his scar. He was startled to hear an unexpected burst of laughter from the group.
Selphie laughed. “You look like Squall!”
Seifer stopped scratching his scar. Great, I’ve spent so much time with him I’ve started to pick up his habits. And who made me the damned leader all of a sudden?! He had always dreamed of being in command of an elite group, struggling and prevailing against impossible odds. It was the reason he wanted to be a SeeD in the first place.
He suddenly understood why Squall always disliked being put in such a position. The lives of all these people, his family depended on him. It was a burden he didn’t want. Be careful what you wish for. He sighed and turned to Rinoa. “Do you sense anything about him from your bond?”
Rinoa rubbed her forehead, as if having a headache. “It’s strange. It’s like I’m experiencing every emotion he ever had. It’s hard to pinpoint anything. It‘s a little overwhelming.”
Laguna said. “That makes sense. Odine said time had no meaning here. I’m guessing that you ARE experiencing his every emotion. All of time must resonate here somehow.”
Seifer nodded thoughtfully, trying to put himself in Squall’s shoes. How would he feel if he were suddenly thrust into a time he didn’t know? All your friends long dead, knowing nobody. “Rinoa, you said you’re experiencing his emotions?” She nodded. “Can you separate one emotion from another?”
“I think so.”
“Concentrate on emotions of loss and sorrow. Try to find the strongest occurrence of it that you can find. I’ll ask Gilgamesh to focus on your thoughts and open a portal to it.”
ALREADY DOING SO MASTER.
Rinoa concentrated and closed her eyes. Presently a portal opened before them. The group apprehensively stepped through and found themselves on a beach. They looked around and saw a lighthouse. Irvine exclaimed. “This is the orphanage!”
Seifer looked around, and his childhood suddenly flooded back to him. There were lots of happy memories here. “Yeah. Everything appears to be in good condition. It looks like it did when we were kids.”
Selphie pointed towards a distant figure. The form of a boy, sitting. He appeared to be weeping. They began to walk towards him and features began to come into focus. Quistis suddenly turned away, eyes filled with tears. “That’s Squall as a boy!”
The group stopped and watched mesmerized. Laguna’s expression was indecipherable as he strode forward to the young Squall. He knelt in front of him “Hi, son. What’s wrong?”
Squall looked up, eyes red. “Matwon told me not to talk to strangers.”
“If I introduce myself, I won’t be a stranger anymore will I?”
“I guess not.”
“The name‘s Laguna. What’s yours?”
“Why are you crying Squall? Maybe I can help?”
“Sis left two weeks ago. I just realized she’s not coming back, is she?”
Ellone turned away, sobs escaping from her rapidly. She fell into Zell’s arms and buried her face against his chest. Laguna blinked back a few tears of his own. Squall continued “I’m all alone. My parents didn’t love me and left me here. Sis was the only one who cared about me.”
Laguna tried desperately to control his emotions. His boy needed him to be strong. “Squall, you’re so wrong. Your parents love you desperately. You have no idea how much they want to be with you, but they can’t right now. Matron loves you, your friends here care about you.”
“But they’re not Sis!” Squall exclaimed and burst into a fresh bout of weeping.
Laguna clutched the child in his arms. This was so damned hard. “Squall, there’s something I want you to do. You must be strong. If you’re strong enough, I promise that one day you’ll see Sis again. One day you’ll also find out how much your parents loved you, but you must be strong. Can you do that for me? Promise that you’ll do that for me.”
Squall sniffled and wiped away his tears. “I promise. I’ll be strong.”
“Squall! Get away from that man! Get into the house right now!” They turned to see Edea running down the steps toward them. Each of the Orphanage Gang stared with love at the mother of their childhood. Squall hurried to her, the instinct to obey her deeply ingrained. He turned to look at Laguna one last time and said words that would forever after break his heart, and fill it with joy.
“I wish you could be my daddy.” He then hurried into the house.
Edea gazed at the group with fury. Her fury rapidly dissipating as she noted how the group was looking at her. What’s this in their faces? Love? “Who are you? I warn you, that if you’re here to harm my children, I can protect them!”
Zell stepped forward smiling “We know you can Matron. We’re not here to harm anyone.”
She looked confused and turned to the weeping Laguna. “What were you doing with Squall? He’s a fragile boy, and easily hurt.”
“I’m his father.”
“What unexpected good news! Of all my children, he needs a father the most. I assume he’ll be going with you?”
“GOD! I wish he could!” Laguna collapsed to a sitting position, his head between his legs. All that could be heard were sounds of weeping. Edea looked at him in bewilderment. Seifer stepped forward to break the silence.
“Matron, It’s very hard to explain, but we’re from the future.”
Edea looked at each of them more closely. “Some of you are my children from the future! Not again.” She sighed.
“Matron?” said Selphie
Edea replied “You must go back. You should not be here.”
Seifer smiled “We know Matron. We’ll leave now.”
Selphie said again. “Matron?”
“We love you.”
Tears shone in her eyes as she smiled at them “I love all of you as well, but you must leave. Knowing too much of the future can be dangerous. Please leave.”
Seifer extended his hand to Laguna, pulling him to his feet. He walked with the group back down the beach, but he was obviously somewhere else. Rinoa held on to his arm as they journeyed. He looked at her with a grateful smile. “I knew there was a reason I wanted you for a daughter-in-law.”
Rinoa blushed and laid her head against Laguna’s shoulder. Seifer sighed and asked Gilgamesh to open the portal again. They stepped through.
Edea watched them all leave with a wistful expression on her face. They all seemed to have turned into fine people. She hurried inside the house, and gave them all a fierce hug. Selphie glanced at her confused. “What was that for Matwon?”
She laughed and hugged little Selphie again. “For showing me this is worth it child.”
That night at the orphanage, a lone boy gazed out into the pouring rain. In later years, he would forget meeting the man he did this day. He would even forget the words, but the promise made would stay with him. “Sis, I’m all alone. But I’ll be strong. I can make it on my own.”
They found themselves in the world of mist again. Seifer turned to Laguna “I’m sorry. If I had known you would have to go through that, I never would have suggested it.”
A voice suddenly came through their midst “It was necessary. Bahamut‘s gamble appears to have worked.” They turned to see a figure of a man before them. He was dressed in a long red robe, with an encompassing, upturned collar, so that it partially hid his face. Dark glasses and a long scar running across his eye set off his appearance.
Quistis was the first to recover. “Who are you?”
“Auron. I have been sent to help you.”
Laguna’s eyes flashed with fury. “Why didn’t you appear earlier? Why did you make me go through that?!”
Auron switched his eyes to meet Laguna’s glare. “Your greatest regret has always been that you had never participated in his early life. All fathers wish to give their child the strength to triumph . The words you spoke to him will stay with him through the years. They will give him the strength to become what he needs to be. You have what you always wanted. A chance to see him as a child and leave something of yourself in him for the years to come.”
Laguna’s anger abated as he realized the truth of these words. Irvine was confused about something though “You said Bahamut’s gamble? Is he still with Squall?”
“No. The King of Dragons is no more. I have been sent to assist you in his stead.”
Zell exploded. “What?! How?!”
“That is for you to discover. Many things will you need to learn.”
Rinoa looked at him. “Are you a GF? And what is this place? I know it’s the Dimensional Interval, but why is it here? I just want to understand.”
Auron gave what was almost a smile, but not quite “Yes, I’m rather new here actually. As far as the what and why? This place has had many names over history. The Promised Land, Dimensional Interval, and will probably have many more. It is here because it needs to be.”
Seifer replied “Not going to tell us any more, are you?” Auron shook his head and Seifer continued “Well, you said you’re here to help. Are you going to take us directly to Squall?”
“No, but I will take you to the future he inhabits. Worry not. Your paths will cross again.”
“Why can’t you just tell us what you need to know?” Seifer asked.
Auron locked gazes with Seifer for a moment, almost as if trying to impart a message. His gaze then took in the whole group. “This is your story. It is not mine to tell.” He then gestured and opened a portal. They went through and found themselves in the ruins of a once great city.
Zell immediately began to search the area. The others followed suit as they sought to find out where they had arrived. Laguna however just stood there. He knew where they were immediately. Zell brushed some dirt off of some sort of a monument. He read the writing it contained. “Says this is a place called Zanarkand.”
Laguna said “The name may have changed. But it’s still the same place.”
“What do you mean?” asked Selphie.
“This was once Esthar.”
Far away, Squall felt the touch of something familiar tingle in his mind. Rikku noted the strange expression on his face. “What’s wrong Squall?”
“I don’t know. It’s almost as if something familiar brushed my mind. I have no idea what it is. I’ll worry about it later.”
Yuna was torn as she replayed the events of earlier in the day. After Squall and Rikku had come downstairs to some good natured teasing, a delegation of Ronso had entered and stood before Kimahri. Kimahri stood stony faced before them. Only someone who knew him as well as she did could see the slight uncertainty in his stance. He was always conscious of the broken horn that marked him as shamed before his own people. It was never easy for him to face another Ronso.
The leader of the delegation bowed deeply before him. Kimahri’s eyes betrayed a hint of surprise. He was always prepared for the contempt, the ridicule but this was something entirely new. He had just been given the deepest show of respect one Ronso can give another.
“Kimahri, you are not easy to find. It has been a long time.”
Kimahri nodded. “Belar Ronso was always a friend in Kimahri’s youth. Until Kimahri lost his honor. Why are you here?”
“Might we go somewhere private and talk?”
“No. These are Kimahri’s friends. Kimahri’s only family. Kimahri will keep no secrets from them.”
Belar smiled. “You have always been loyal and strong of will Kimahri. The very reason we sought to find you.”
Kimahri nodded and Belar continued “As you know, many of the Ronso were killed in the battle with Maester Seymour. We still have not recovered. We are still few in number. Our leader, Kelk Ronso laid down his burden and departed soon after the death of Sin. We have been leaderless since that day.”
“What does this have to with Kimahri?”
“It has always been our custom that the strongest should rule. Not only of body but of will. You have become much respected among us. You have the rare strength of character that can turn a Ronso’s greatest shame into an honor. You have the strength of arms that can defeat two of our greatest warriors. We searched our hearts Kimahri and found that there is no one stronger among us than you. We offer the greatest honor we can. We offer the leadership of the Ronso to you.”
Kimahri’s eyes widened into shock. Never in his wildest dreams or imaginings had he expected such an offer. Belar continued. “Before you decide, know this. Representatives of Yevon have visited. They have hinted strongly that we should follow the teachings again. They made no direct threats, but the tone of their request was such that many are worried. We need a strong leader.”
Kimahri said nothing for a time. “Kimahri must think. An answer you will have in a day’s time. Meet here.” Belar nodded and the delegation made it’s way out of the inn. Kimahri stood silently, no one said a word for a long time. It was Yuna who broke the silence.
“All of you? May I speak to Kimahri alone?” The group nodded and made its way off. “Let’s take a walk, old friend.”
Kimahri and Yuna walked quite a ways before any words were said. Yuna gathered her thoughts and finally spoke “Kimahri, I don’t believe I’m going to say this. I think you should accept.”
He shook his head “Kimahri could never leave you.”
“Kimahri…” she sighed “Do you think I’ve never seen the hurt in your eyes when you face another Ronso? I remember the talks of my youth when you told me of your shame, and how much you wished your people could accept you. That a broken horn wasn‘t the measure of your worth.”
“Kimahri has been by your side for a long time. Sworn to protect you.”
Yuna ran her hand through her hair “Do you remember what you said to me shortly before all of this started?” She then imitated his deep tone “Kimahri think that Yuna always live for others. Perhaps time for Yuna to live for Yuna.” Kimahri smiled and Yuna continued “You’ve lived for me for a long time. Maybe it’s time for Kimahri now. You know deep down that this is what you have always wanted.”
He nodded. “Kimahri will think on your words, need some time alone.” Yuna nodded and let the Ronso continue on his way.
The next morning they all gathered in the lobby again. None of them had seen Kimahri. He had obviously been out all night. The Ronso delegation shortly entered. They did not have long to wait. Kimahri strode in almost immediately after their arrival. He took no notice of the delegation but stood before his friends. Yuna understood immediately from his eyes that he was saying goodbye.
He spoke first to Wakka “Kimahri has always appreciated your strength, your friendship.” They clasped hands and he moved onto Lulu. “You are a sister to Kimahri, as much as any Ronso could ever be.” Lulu gave him a hug and wiped a tear from her eye. Squall was not expecting a goodbye, the Ronso had spoken to him on occasion but never really showed any gesture of friendship. “Kimahri always read Book of Yevon. Dreamed of meeting the Lionheart one day. Know that Kimahri was happy that the legend pales in comparison with the man.” He placed one hand on Squall’s shoulder and held his eyes for a moment.
He turned to Rikku and smiled broadly. “Kimahri once tell Rikku, that she should stay Rikku. That advice has not changed.” Rikku laughed and threw herself into Kimahri’s arms.
“Be good, you big lug.” Kimahri smiled and set her down before turning his attention to Tidus.
“Kimahri did not like you at first. One of few times in life that Kimahri is glad he was wrong. Take my place at Yuna’s side. Not till the end, but always.”
Tidus pumped his fist in front of him “You know I will. Always.” He smiled wistfully. Kimahri turned to the last person in their group. Ronso could not shed tears but it looked as if he could.
“Kimahri have no words.”
Yuna sobbed and hugged him fiercely “Neither do I. This is not goodbye forever you know. You will see me again.”
“Kimahri knows.” He then turned away and without a backwards glance stepped before the delegation, he nodded to them and they strode through the door.
Yuna had finally finished crying when she heard someone behind her. She turned to see Tidus. She hurriedly wiped her face, not wanting him to see her in such a state. Tidus smiled and said. “Relax, it’s not like I’ve never seen you cry before.”
Yuna chuckled. “That’s true. Where have you been?”
“Talking to Squall. I never had this Knight thing explained to me real well. So I asked him about it. Sounds serious.”
Yuna smiled. Somehow no matter the situation, he could always make her feel better. Just by being there. “Yes, it is. The Knight is sworn to protect his Sorceress, no matter the cost.”
Tidus paced around nervously “Yeah. It’s kind of how I feel about you.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Umm, well. I guess I’m trying to say I want to be your Knight.”
“Silly, I’m not a Sorceress.” She smiled.
“What does that matter?” He knelt before her and swore the Knight’s oath “I will always protect you. I will always be by your side. When you call I’ll be there. Where you command I will go. I promise.” Yuna smiled and placed her hand on his cheek.
“Then rise, Sir Tidus. Your lady accepts your oath.” Their lips met to seal their bond. There was no magical power that bound the two, but the strength of the bond was none the less for it.
Squall yawned a little as they passed the first leg of the Mi’hen highroad. It had been an eventful couple of days. First Kimahri’s leaving and then the GF’S. Acquiring the Guardians had proved not very difficult. He had been expecting quite a battle when Diablo’s lamp had been activated. The GF appeared as he normally did. The group had braced themselves for the fight to come, but it had not occurred. Diablos had simply yawned, looked at Lulu and announced. “I like you.” He had then junctioned himself to the surprised black mage without another word. After further reflection, he decided it should not have been a surprise. They were both eternally grumpy and a nice fit.
Doomtrain hadn’t been a problem either. Squall expected that it would be quite some time before they assembled the items needed to complete his initial summoning ceremony. Wakka had simply tried the ring on and announced there was a weird feeling in his head. He chuckled and told the confused Blitzballer what had happened.
The next part proved harder. The junction and summoning process were somewhat complicated and took some time to explain.
Squall began his lecture. “Some of this I learned about in Garden and some from Bahamut. I’m also going to have to take a few educated guesses. A Guardian Force is simply what you know as an Aeon in it’s natural state. Their essences somehow reside both here and in the Dimensional Interval.”
Tidus raised his hand. “What’s the de-mentional whatever?”
“I’m not completely sure myself. I do know it’s a place where time has no meaning. Apparently it’s also the home of these beings. It’s how Bahamut brought me through time to here.”
Yuna frowned. “You said ‘natural state’. What did you mean?”
“Bahamut showed me much of what happened between my time and yours. You know about the great war between Zanarkand and Bevelle right?” All nodded and he continued “During this war, the summoners of Zanarkand experimented with Guardian Forces. They were a little bit too free in nature for these Summoners.”
“What do you mean by free?”
“GF’s don’t always do exactly as they are told. Also their compatibility varies from person to person. As an example, I might give Shiva to Tidus and he could summon her. She probably would not show up as fast for him as she would for me. If you haven’t noticed yet they have a definite and distinct personality.”
Tidus chuckled. “That’s for sure. Some of the things ole Quetzy tells me burn my ears.”
Squall shrugged. “She’s always had some….. interesting things to say.”
Yuna spoke. “The Aeons always came exactly when I told them to. They never spoke to me either. Except for Bahamut.”
“That’s what we’re getting to. During these experiments they tried to find ways to make the Guardians more subservient to their needs. Apparently they found a way to bond a human soul onto them and imprison them in stone. Bahamut told me that several GF’s died as a result of trying to find this process. I don’t know how or why. I’m guessing that these Fayth you told me about were the human soul component of their merging. They controlled who received the Guardian Force and bestowed it as they saw fit. When this Sin died those that were imprisoned were freed. As for Bahamut talking to you, I don’t know how or why that was. I guess he was just a little too strong and independent to be fully imprisoned.”
Lulu said. “What I don’t understand is why these GF’s haven’t been appearing before now.” She pointed to the lamp. “I bet it’s been rubbed thousands of times, if it is as old as you say it is. Why did he never appear until now?”
“Because he’s a free and independent being. He never HAS to come. It’s my guess that GF’s are appearing again now because they are needed. There’s also no more threat of imprisonment for them. That probably has a lot to do with it. Any more questions?”
They shook their heads and he launched into the mechanics of summoning. After many questions and confusing looks he finally got the process ingrained into them. They then sought out some fiends to test out their new power. Luckily the Mi’hen highroad never lacked for them.
Tidus was the first to try. He concentrated and summoned Quetzalcoatl to deal with the fiends before him. He definitely had good compatibility as the thunder bird appeared almost immediately, washing the fiends away in waves of electric fire. He stared at his handiwork. “Whoa! Quetzy! Not bad!” Squall swore he could feel the smug satisfaction of the Guardian from where he stood. Wakka and Lulu tried with similar success and the group moved on till they reached Rin’s Travel Agency at the halfway point.
Tidus and Yuna smiled at each other as they strode towards the entrance. She said “Lots of happy memories here.” He said nothing and simply held her hand.
They entered and found Rin waiting to greet them with a warm smile. “Lady Yuna, it has been too long. I welcome your companions as well. Sir Tidus, you have no idea how glad I am to hear that the reports of your return were correct.” He bowed deeply.
Tidus replied “Yeah, I’m back now, and don’t worry. I’m not an Unsent.”
Rin looked a little confused at that but decided to take the statement at face value “And Rikku, a pleasure it is to see you.” Rikku smiled and gave him a wink. He turned to Squall. “This must be the young man I’ve heard so much about. Tell me are the rumors true? Are you really the Lionheart?”
Squall looked slightly pained at this question, and Rikku answered for him “Yes, Rin he is. Don’t ask how because I don’t understand it completely myself. But this IS the guy.”
Rin had a hard time accepting this, but one thing the daughter of their leader had never been was a liar. “I’m sorry if I don’t show you the honor you deserve. I’m not sure how one should greet a legend in the flesh.”
“How about hello?”
Rin smiled. “Come, let me show you the hospitality of my establishment. Of course there is no charge for such an honored company. But perhaps I might use your names in some sort of endorsement however?”
Yuna laughed “Ever the businessman Rin. Of course you may.” With that Rin roused his staff to show them to their rooms.
An hour later, after getting settled in his room Squall decided he wasn’t ready to sleep yet. He headed outside and saw a nice stretch of grass in which he could sit down and relax. He brought the journal with him that he wrote in every night since coming to this place. The sun had started to set and he sat for a while gazing at the horizon. He silently wished he would never stop appreciating moments of peace and beauty such as this. Earlier in his life, he never had. Rinoa had changed that. One of the many changes she had bestowed upon him. He tried to put thoughts of her out of his mind, but that proved impossible. He glanced at the journal and found that he had been writing about her the night before.
“Whatcha doing Squall?”
He turned to see Rikku behind him. “Just admiring the sunset.”
She sat beside him. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. What are you writing in that thing?”
“You remember how I told you that GF’s can blur your memories? Make it hard to remember. This is my way of dealing with it. I lost the one I normally use when I came here. I started this one shortly after I came. I write about important events, memories, friends….” His voice trailed off.
“You really miss them don’t you.”
“Yeah. I know I’ll never return to where I belong, but I never want to forget them.”
“I can understand that. Maybe someday you can tell me about them. I wish I could meet them from what little you’ve told me.”
Squall thought for a moment. “I’m not good with words Rikku, or telling others about myself. But here’s what I can do.” He handed her his journal. “Read it if you like.”
“Squall!. I can’t do that.”
Squall stood up and smiled at her “It’s ok. I don’t mind.” With that he turned and headed towards the inn. She gazed at him as he entered. She thought to herself Well kiddo, you’re making progress. She grinned and began to read.
Squall entered the inn, and went to his room, rubbing the back of his head. That tingling feeling had appeared again. It was becoming more and more frequent. Damned if I can figure out what it is though.
Maester Krell could not believe his eyes as the dark figure threw back his hood.
“Isaaru? Once protector of Bevelle?”
The Sorcerer smiled “Yes. I reveal myself to you now. The time of concealment is almost past. Tell me of your efforts.” The Maester was about to give his report when he noticed another behind the former Summoner. Draped in silver and black, with blue eyes that seemed to almost glow. Krell could think of only word to describe this man he saw. Dangerous.
“Ah, yes. I would like to introduce you to my new associate. This is Sephiroth.”
“Sephiroth?! He can’t be! That’s only a legend!”
“Perhaps, but nevertheless he is here. What’s wrong Krell? He’s most eager to meet you.”
Sephiroth stepped forward and bowed before the Maester in almost mocking gesture. “An honor to meet you Sephiroth.” Krell said nervously.
Sephiroth said nothing and went to stand behind Isaaru. The Sorcerer raised an eyebrow “Your report?”
“Y-Y-Yes my lord. Bevelle has almost entirely returned to the teachings. Many other cities are returning as well. Particularly the Guado. Luca is not going as well as we hoped.”
“Yes” said Isaaru. “Luca has always been rather secular. Even at the height of Yevon’s power, the teachings did not hold as well as the Maesters would have hoped. All anyone can think of there is that damnable Blitzball.”
“Yes, my lord. Though we have managed to make some progress. Distrust and hatred of the Al Bhed is rising In Luca. There are several other areas that are giving us significantly more problems however.”
“The Crusaders and the Ronso. Overtures to Captain Lucil have been completely ignored. What’s worse is she is gathering her troops in the Calm Lands. We as of yet have not been able to discover why. The Ronso are just being typically hardheaded. I’m afraid they still feel betrayed. I fear they will never convert willingly.”
Isaaru smiled. “Then they will do so unwillingly. Have you increased the numbers of the warrior monks as I have asked you?”
Krell nodded “Yes. They number more now than before Sin was destroyed.”
“Excellent. Begin arranging them into companies. Find suitable officers among them and form an army.”
“To what purpose, my lord? If you don’t mind my asking.” He added fearfully.
“I do mind you’re asking. Do as I say. You have no reason to know as of yet.”
Krell bowed his head deeply. “Yes, my lord. It will take some time to do as you ask.”
“Just see that it is done, and quickly. I will take my leave now.” Isaaru’s eyes bored into the Maester’s. “I will return soon. Make sure that my plans are carried out. I would so hate to have to find a new Maester.”
Krell nodded quickly “Yes, my lord.”
Isaaru turned to Sephiroth after leaving. “I have a task for you.”
“What is it?”
“There is a girl. She has powers like mine. I would like you to capture or kill her. I care not which. Though I would prefer her alive.”
“Consider it done.”
“You must be vigilant. She has a protector. The memories our lord shares with me are extensive. He is remembered as a most formidable opponent.”
Sephiroth laughed heartily. “There has only been one man ever capable of defeating me. I don’t fancy I should meet Cloud here. The name of this ‘formidable opponent’?”
Isaaru frowned. “Squall Leonhart.”
Laguna could not help but gaze, unable to move. His beloved city was dead. He understood that this was the far future, and that civilizations rise and fall according to the dictates of history. That did not stop the hurt. Zell however was fired up and ready to go. “What are we standing around here for? Let’s go find Squall. Then we can go home.”
Quistis shook her head. “Zell, rushing forward right now is not a good idea. We have no idea of what happened here, or what state the world is in right now. We need to learn more before we can go on.”
Zell said nothing but slammed his fist into the ground, head bowed. Seifer laid his hand on his shoulder “She’s right Zell. I want to find Squall as much as you do. For all we know we could walk into the middle of a full scale war. Judging by what I see here, this happened a long time ago though.”
Selphie and Irvine were paying no attention to the exchange. They were riveted upon the small glowing lights that were blinking on and off around them. “They look almost like fireflies.” Selphie extended her hand and gently touched one with her finger. She jumped back as an image appeared before them of three men.
One of them stopped and said. “Braska, we don’t have to do this.”
The image of the man in the ornate robes chuckled and replied “My friend, I am glad for your concern, but I have come to kill grief itself.”
“Fine, I said my peace.”
The other joined in the conversation, one they all recognized as a younger Auron. “Well, I haven’t. Lord Braska, let us go back. There has to be another way!”
The images faded, Irvine exclaimed. “What the hell was that?!?”
Seifer sighed. “Who knows?” He pointed towards a large dome before them. “That looks like a likely place to start.” They all agreed and started towards it. They touched more of the fireflies along the way . More images appeared that only confused them more.
They entered the dome and soon reached the back end. A lift stood before them and they descended walking into a great hall. Selphie touched another of the flies. They were rewarded with another scene of a scantily clad woman standing before seven others. Irvine grinned at the woman in front and Selphie slapped him on the arm. Ellone examined all seven and noticed two familiar figures. An older Auron, and another she had seen through her power of Connect. She pointed to the girl in the peach outfit.
“Rinoa? That one, she’s the one we saw bonding Squall as her Knight.”
Rinoa said nothing but nodded, her eyes boring into the image of the blonde girl in front of her. “You and I are going to have a long talk someday real soon.” she said softly.
The image of the woman in front of the seven spoke. “You cannot abolish sorrow. It is meaningless to try.”
The woman in the white dress who was obviously the group’s leader replied. “My father, I loved him. I will defeat sorrow in his place. I will stand my ground and be strong. I do not know when I will conquer it, but one day I will. And I will do it without…… false hope.” The scene disappeared. The group did not understand what they had seen, but somehow they knew it was significant.
Laguna scratched his head. “Anyone have any idea what we just saw?” Everyone shook their heads “I was afraid of that. I guess we keep looking and see what we can find.” They all separated and began their search.
Sometime later, a cry from Irvine. “Hey, I think I found something!” They all entered the small room that he had been searching.
“What is it?” asked Quistis.
“It’s some sort of journal. Written by a woman named Yunalesca.” They all turned their gaze towards the rather large volume on the desk. Irvine opened the book and scanned it. “Nearly every page is full. This woman was either a compulsive writer or she lived a very long time. There must be two thousand pages here.”
Selphie sat down in the creaky chair. “I’ll do it. I’m the fastest reader out of any of us.” She opened the book and quickly became absorbed.
Seifer said. “The rest of us might as well pan out. Try some more of these images and see if we can make any sense out of them.”
Two days later, Selphie was still reading. Much of the volume was faded and difficult to make out. She assured them she was starting to make some progress in sorting it all out. Seifer and the others continued watching the images. Seifer soon became frustrated. He was getting an incomplete picture at best. He decided to sit down for a time and collect his thoughts. Quistis soon entered, saw him and smiled. He nodded back and she sat down beside him.
“Making any sense out of this?”
“Just that they are on a pilgrimage of some sort. They’re here to get something called the ‘Final Summoning’ to stop some sort of being named ‘Sin’.”
“Yeah, and the ones who were guardians become something called a ‘Fayth’. You think any of this has to do with GF’s?”
“I was thinking that too. Damnit! The last thing I expected coming here was that we would watch movies for two days.”
Quistis chuckled. “I don’t think any of us expected it. How are you bearing up ‘Mr. Leader’?”
Seifer glanced at her crosswise. “You’ve been saving that one up for a long time haven’t you?”
Quistis grinned. “You bet. Seriously though, how are you doing?”
“I don’t get it. You’re the Commander of Balamb Garden, probably the best military academy in the history of the planet. Yet every chance you get, you defer the leadership role to me. Why?”
Quistis smiled wistfully. “There are many reasons. A part of me is still your instructor and wanting to see you reach your full potential. Another reason is that I’m a solid leader. Not a great one. Situations like this call for other than solid. Potentially, your leadership skills are off the chart. What always held you back was your immaturity and lack of discipline. You seem to have gained those qualities over the years.”
Seifer smiled. “You seemed to have gained a little of those yourself.”
“I’m not the insecure instructor you remember. We’ve all changed.”
“Except for Selphie.”
“Yeah, and thank Hyne she probably never will.”
“Quistis, after this is all over, let’s go get drunk. I‘ll even let you take advantage of me.”
“I may even take you up on your offer.”
Seifer had no idea what to say to that.
Seifer wandered around trying to find out more when he saw Irvine. He kept touching a particular pyrefly and the image of the party of seven appeared again. He ogled the woman in the black dress, who as apparently named Lulu. Seifer rolled his eyes. “And I called Squall puberty boy?”
Irvine chuckled. “Ah, let a guy have a little fun. I won’t be able to do this much longer. Decided to take the big plunge and ask Selphie to marry me after this is all over.”
“She hasn’t said yes, yet. How you holding up, Mr. Leader?”
“Why do people keep calling me that?”
“Too hard to resist I guess. Something wrong?”
“Nah, was just thinking.”
“Let me guess. Wanting to return to your life?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“I think everyone is thinking the same thing one way or another. All of us were preparing to leave being active SeeD‘s soon. We were all pretty eager to start new lives.”
“Funny. Most people would kill to be world famous like you guys and all you want to do is be normal.”
Irvine laughed. “Seifer, I think it’s time we all faced it. Ain’t none of us cut out to be normal.”
“Think about it. We threatened to kill everyone in Garden, we blow up a major research facility, you fight a duel with a GF, and we find ourselves traveling who knows how far into the future. All to find a lost friend. You call that normal?”
“I guess not.”
“We all have dreams beyond being a SeeD you know. I just want a patch of land, some horses, and Selphie by my side. Zell wants to be an aircraft designer, hell he even submitted a design to Cid. Cid’s trying to get Esthar to build it right now. Selphie just wants to be a pilot, and Quistis doesn’t want to be the Commander forever. All she really wants to do is go back to teaching. All of us may even do these things for a while, but it might not last.”
“When we met Bahamut, he asked us why we fought. Squall said ’There is no reason. Maybe we were born only to fight.’ He was right. We’re true to our natures. When we’re needed, we take to our weapons. Like it or not, it’s the path we were born to take. Even after this is over there‘s no guarantee something won‘t happen again.”
“So, you’re saying it’s our destiny?”
“Something like that. From what that Auron guy said, I don’t think we’re here to just find Squall. We’re here for some other reason too.”
Seifer grumbled. “I was afraid of that.”
“No use worrying about it now.“ Irvine strode forward and touched the pyrefly again “So which one of these girls you like best Seifer?”
Seifer considered for a moment. “The girl in the peach outfit is pretty cute.”
Irvine grinned. “Don’t let Rinoa hear you say that.”
An hour later, Selphie gathered everyone, ready to share what she learned “So what did you find out?” Seifer asked.
“Bear with me. This is going to take a while. The woman who wrote that journal was named Yunalesca. She died, but lived for a thousand years after. It‘s not terribly clear but, she became something that’s known as an ‘Unsent’. There was an event which I’ll describe later that damaged the fabric of the spirit world. People did not truly die unless they were sent by a person called a Summoner.”
“How did she die? The first time I mean.” asked Rinoa
“She died defeating something called ‘Sin’. There was a great war between this city Zanarkand and another called Bevelle. The war described is nothing like we have ever seen. There was a lot of technological development. A lot higher than our current level. They had even begun to send long range probes to the stars.”
“What kind of weapons?” asked Laguna.
“The people of Zanarkand relied much more on magic than machines, though their technology was pretty high too. They did experiments with GF’s. The end result was that many GF’s became imprisoned within stone. They were enslaved to humans. The ones who used them became known as Summoners.”
Laguna sighed. “There were rumors that Odine was looking into such things. This was probably an extension of his work.”
Selphie nodded, and continued. “Bevelle‘s weapons were more advanced. What’s described is incredible to say the least. There was one that could create large earthquakes, another that could control the weather. Weather patterns changed, large landmasses shifted. People were afraid if it continued that the world would tear itself apart.”
“So, the world may not be as we remember it?”
“From the map she sketched in there I would say that it changed a lot. ” She then continued with her tale. They were all subdued as she finished. The tale they heard was incredible to say the least. Selphie concluded. “Anyway, the last entry was that she was waiting for a summoner named Yuna to come. That’s where it ends.”
Seifer looked thoughtful “Yuna was probably the one leading that party we’ve seen so many times.”
“That would probably be my guess too.”
“You think this ‘Sin’ could still be around?”
“Regardless, I think we’ve learned everything that we’re going to here. Time to move on.” The group nodded. “Selphie, from that map you saw, what’s ahead of us?”
“A place called Mt. Gagazet. People known as the Ronso live at the base of it.”
Laguna explained. “They’re a race of cat-like people. Blue fur and fangs. They used to live in southern Esthar in the mountainous regions. You probably haven’t heard anything about them because they are a very private race. They liked to keep to concealment and prefer it if people never know they existed.”
Quistis said. “I thought I read about them a little in ‘Occult Fan‘. They were said to be only a legend.”
“No, they’re very real. Kiros, Ward, and I ran into them once when we were trying to find a way into Esthar. They helped us on our way, but made us promise we would never tell anyone about them. Rinoa, can you sense anything about Squall? Send your thoughts to him or at least feel where he is?”
“I’ve tried to send my thoughts to him twice now. Something’s blocking me. All I can feel is that he’s somewhere far to the south.”
“That other Sorceress maybe?”
Rinoa stated. “Maybe.” She thought to herself If she hurts him, or keeps Squall from me in any way, I’m going to tear her apart.
They left the dome and made their way towards Mt. Gagazet.
Rikku was surprised by some of what she saw in Squall’s journal. The first thing she noticed were the illustrations. She would never have guessed it, but he was a damned good artist. The drawing of the airship was particularly good. It was a shame that his artistic talents didn’t extend to his writing. She grumbled as she read some of his earliest entries.
June 8th- Arrived in the future. Helped group kill a Marlboro. Swore Knight’s oath to sorceress named Rikku. Saw airship, met girl’s father, came to an understanding.
June 10th Attended Garden Festival. Danced with Rikku.
She was starting to tear her hair out. “Squall, don’t you ever write anything juicy?!”
She quickly scanned ahead and saw more of the same. She was about to throw the journal over a cliff but something told her to thumb through all the empty pages. She was about to give up when more writing suddenly appeared. Ah. He divided it into sections. Maybe these next parts are better. She scanned the top of the page and saw the drawing of a petite girl. The heading underneath read Selphie. She fervently hoped that the next line she read wasn’t ‘Selphie is my friend’ and no more, but there was considerably more writing than that. She settled herself a bit more comfortably and continued.
I first met Selphie the day I took the SeeD exam. She quite literally burst into my life. Almost running me over. She pleaded her way into my giving her a tour of Garden, as it was her first day. Which kind of surprised even me, because I wasn’t what you would call a friendly guy then. We met again later that same day as she delivered a message to our team during the SeeD exam. We both passed the exam and she joined my team during our first mission. She is quite simply the most outgoing and cheerful person you would ever want to meet. Many times her attitude and sunny outlook were all that kept us going through the Ultimecia affair. She definitely has a temper however. Particularly with Irvine and his wandering eyes. She’s either going to marry him, or kill him. Maybe both. She also takes a lot of satisfaction in trying to embarrass me. She says that I’m so cute when I blush. Much like a certain someone I’ve recently met.
Rikku snickered and flipped forward to the point she really wanted to read. “Ah, finally. Rinoa.” she said to herself. Strangely there was no illustration. She shook her head and began to read.
I’m having difficulty with this. How do you reduce to words a person who turns your whole life upside down? Who brings down the emotional walls that have been there for a lifetime? I‘ll give it a try though. Rinoa is simply the love of my life. I’ve never been truly able to forget about her, even after the first time we separated. She once said to me shortly before this happened that some girls have a guy they just can’t forget. Well, guys sometimes have a girl they can‘t forget either. It was strange, but after we agreed to give us another try I had the feeling that this was meant to be. That the first time we were together just wasn’t the time. That we’d never be apart again. Obviously I was wrong. It hurts sometimes. I think I’ll always wish she were here with me. She would be the first to tell me to get on with my life, to move on. I’m going to do so. I would worry about her, but I know she’s now strong enough to make it without me. Maybe that’s why me met. So we could both give each other the strength to carry on. No matter what happens.
The writing ended there suddenly. She guessed that’s where he had left off when she had interrupted him. Rikku sighed a little sadly. His friends sounded like people that she would love to meet. She couldn’t help but be a little jealous of Rinoa though. She wanted to be the one who occupied that place in his heart. She had time to rectify that though. All the time in the world. She closed the book and headed for bed.
The next morning, they met at their customary early time in front of the inn. Squall sipped his coffee while everyone had their customary round of jokes and comments towards each other. He grumbled inwardly when Rikku had included him in her repartee. He didn’t really mind the comments. It was just that the verbal portion of his brain wasn’t in full swing yet, and found he had no response. He decided to just try and get the group on its way. “This area that you talked about that was having strange occurrences is ahead right?”
Wakka answered. “Yeah, it’s on the Mi’hen low road. It’s two days walk from here, or a lot less if you want to jump over that cliff over there.”
Squall walked over to the cliff that Wakka had indicated. He peered over the edge. It was a long way down. He shivered as he suddenly received a mental image of Selphie jumping, while screaming “Woohoo!”.
“What was the shiver for Squall?” Rikku peered at him.
“It’s nothing. We‘ll walk.”
They had been walking for six hours when a realization suddenly hit Squall. He liked being with these people. There was a large amount of good natured bantering back and forth and it seldom turned into the arguing that often accompanied the journeys with his friends. A family they may have been, but it was often a quarrelsome one. Their encounters with fiends often turned into a friendly competition, seeing which one could put a fiend down first. Squall even found himself trading friendly jibes with Tidus a few times. It struck him that this group was close-knit. Every bit as much as he and his friends were, and that he was being included. It was a good feeling.
Squall finished off the last of the fiends. A heavily armored one that Tidus’ sword had trouble penetrating. Luckily the gun blade was made for such a purpose and he sliced it almost in two. Tidus grudgingly admitted “Ok. You win. Even Auron couldn’t have put it down like that.”
Squall shrugged, and occupied himself with cleaning his blade. “Who’s this Auron guy? I’ve heard you mention him a few times.”
Yuna smiled sadly. “Auron was one of my guardians. As well as to my father Braska. He was a powerful warrior, and a good friend. It was his sword you used at Baaj Temple.”
Tidus added. “He helped raise me after my mom died and my mom disappeared. He was kind of our unofficial leader. Always made sure we were in the right place during battle, kept us going when times got rough. He departed after we defeated Sin.” Tidus chuckled. “He could be kind of gruff and abrasive, but we loved him anyway.”
Lulu smiled “Matter of fact, you kind of remind us of him a bit.”
Squall merely shrugged. It sounded like Auron wasn’t a bad guy to be compared with.
Wakka said. “We’ll have to pay our respects when we get to the Farplane, ya?”
“Farplane?” Squall asked. “I thought that’s what you called where people went when they died?”
Tidus said. “It’s hard to explain, but you’re not really seeing their spirit. There’s a bug there called a pyrefly that reacts to your memories and shows you an image of them. It can still be a pretty jarring experience though.”
Squall guessed he’s be able to see his friends again, even if they were but a memory now. They were likely long dead.
Lulu pointed. “We’re here. This is where the low and high roads meet.”
Wakka added. “It’s another day to walk to the end of the low road. Set camp for the night?”
“The end of the low road is where you say all these occurrences are happening right?” asked Squall.
Lulu affirmed. “Yes, we heard it from several people. It should take the better part of another day to reach it.”
Squall agreed and they moved to set up camp. He just stood there while the rest went into a preset routine. Rikku grabbed Squall’s hand “Come on. It’s our job to get the firewood. Me and Auron used to do it, but I guess you’ll have to do.”
“Thanks.” He replied dryly.
“Don’t mention it.” She grinned. “Squall I’ve been meaning to ask. Where’d you learn to draw like that? You’re really good.”
He shrugged.. “I took a few art classes at one time. Nothing special.”
“How come you haven’t drawn a picture of Rinoa?”
“Just haven’t got around to doing it yet.”
“Oh. What does she look like?”
“Well she’s 6’8” tall, hangs around with sailors, and has a tattoo of a……”
“Squall, stop teasing!”
“That’s what you get for calling me ‘sleepy little Squally- poo this morning’.”
“Ok. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll draw a picture of her sometime. Just promise to drop the Squally-poo.”
Rikku pouted. “Ok. I promise.”
They had some difficulty finding suitable wood due to the late rain the night before. They were finally able to manage however and returned to camp. They came just in time as Wakka and Tidus had finished digging the fire pit. The fire was soon started and Lulu and Yuna busily occupied themselves preparing dinner. Dinner was consumed and the night began to turn cold. They huddled around the fire. Rikku was shivering and Squall tossed a blanket around her. She smiled her thanks and stared into the fire. He decided to see if he could find anything more about what they would be facing.
“Wakka, did they say anything more about this low road?”
“Some strange lights was all they said.”
“Any idea what that could mean Squall?” asked Yuna.
“Wish I knew. I guess we find out tomorrow.” Agreement was voiced and the decision reached to go to bed.
The low road was proving frustrating so far. According to Wakka, they were almost to the end and they had seen nothing. Despite this, everyone still kept alert. Squall continued to scan the area and was beginning to feel the presence of something familiar. Something that felt like…
“WELCOME MORTALS. HAVE YOU COME TO TRY YOUR STRENGTH AGAINST MINE.”
The voice translated into the form of a large canine creature with three heads. The group fell back into a fighting formation. Squall stepped forward “Cerberus,” he nodded. “You can join us freely. There is no need to fight.”
Cerberus barked harshly. “INDEED I COULD. BUT SUCH IS AGAINST MY NATURE. I WOULD SEE YOU PROVE YOUR STRENGTH.”
Tidus stepped forward with Squall. “Ah, let’s just take him.”
“YOU HAVE SPIRIT. I STAND READY. SHOW YOUR WORTH.” Squall quickly shouted out some instructions that the group quickly followed. Cerberus unleashed powerful magical attacks, but in the end he could not face their combined strength. He surrendered and joined his will with Yuna’s.
Yuna smiled happily “I can summon again!”
The silver and black clad figure watched from the cliff. His Mako enhanced eyes took in the battle he had just witnessed. It was impressive. Together, they would likely be too much. Sephiroth would have to be patient and wait for his chance. His eyes wandered and settled on Rikku. Isaaru said alive or dead, he cared not which. Sephiroth felt he much preferred dead.
Rikku tried as best she could to be absorbed in reading the journal. The noise of the clashing of swords in front of her made it difficult sometimes. Yuna sat beside her cheering on one of the participants. A loud swearing was heard as Tidus had his sword ripped from his grasp again by an intricate flick of the wrist from his opponent.
Yuna laughed and booed loudly.
Rikku decided she could not let that pass “Yay!” She grinned at Yuna. Her cousin responded by sticking her tongue out in Rikku‘s direction , followed by a wink.
Tidus decided to complain “Hey, Rikku! You’re supposed to be my friend!”
Rikku laughed. “Sorry, bud. He is my Knight you know. If I cheer against him, he might forbid me ice cream or something.”
Squall rolled his eyes and faced Tidus. “Again?”
Tidus grinned. “You bet!”
They launched into another melee and Rikku turned her attention back to her reading. She had just finished the section on Irvine. Cowboy, lone gunman, ladies man, and philosopher? He was either very interesting or needed professional help . She shrugged and turned the page to stare at another drawing. The figure shown carried a gun blade slightly different from Squall’s and was depicted holding it out in front. Almost a challenging pose. Hehe. He’s cute but he ain’t my Squally-poo . She looked at the picture for a moment longer and noted something curious. He had a scar remarkably similar to Squall’s own. She decided to ask him about that soon., turning her attention to the writing.
Seifer and I have had such a strange relationship over the years I don’t even know how to begin how to describe it. We grew up together in the orphanage but for some reason there’s always been a competition of some sort between us. I don’t think that we ever really hated one another, but this constant battling definitely put a damper on friendship for a long time. Looking back, I’m grateful things were this way. I don’t think either of us would ever have been half as good if we weren’t there pushing one another. I’d never tell him this, but no one has ever challenged me like him. After he opposed us during the Second Sorceress War, I did find myself hating him. Several years later, when we met again, I was prepared to finally take revenge. Finally facing him though, I realized that this was not the same Seifer I had always known.
He had lived his dream of being a sorceress’ knight only to find the dream was a nightmare. I’ve imagined often what it would be like to have someone control your mind, and commit atrocities through your body, and being helpless to stop it. I can’t. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it could. I realized that more than anything, he needed a friend. I’m now grateful that I made this decision. He can be arrogant, devious, and downright exasperating but there’s one thing you can say. Once you’re his friend, you stay that way for life. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. Wherever you are Seifer, I wish you well. I hope that you can finally forgive yourself one day.
She looked up at that moment to see Squall’s blade against a grumbling Tidus’ neck. She snickered. “Isn’t that enough for today, you two?”
Tidus surrendered. “Yeah, I think I’ve been humiliated enough.”
Squall stepped back, and Yuna stood to comfort her humbled Knight. Tidus accepted her ministrations gratefully. “I guess it’s time we head for that shop near the Djose Temple and buy some supplies. We should be back in a couple days. Wakka and Lulu should be returning from Mushroom Rock about then too. Hopefully they found some Crusaders and will have some information.”
Squall frowned. “Anywhere else these Crusaders of yours might be?”
Yuna shrugged. “There should have been many in Luca. It used to be one of their strongholds. I was hoping we could find out why they are gathering in the Calm Lands. From rumors it seems all of them have done so.”
“So, if we don’t find any, where do we go from here?”
Tidus and Yuna exchanged glances. She replied. “We head for the Moonflow and after is Guadosalam. We’ll have to be careful. The Guado don’t have much love for us. There is a large Yevon revival taking place there according to rumor. With luck, we should be able to find out something useful. Be good you two.”
The two set off down the road, and Squall suspected that getting supplies was an excuse so they could spend some time alone. He did not begrudge them that. . There would probably be precious little time for such things in the days ahead. He turned his attention to Rikku and sat beside her.
“Can I see it? Want to write something.”
“I can do that.” She fiddled to the appropriate section and wrote while sounding it out. “July 12th- Camped on Djose Highroad near the Moonflow. Sparred with Tidus.”
“How’d you know what I was going to write?”
“Oh, just a lucky guess. You‘ll probably want to write more after you see the Moonflow . It‘s spectacular.”
Squall shrugged “Which part were you reading?”
“Oh, the part about Seifer and Irvine. Irvine sounds like a hard one to figure out.”
“Nah, he’s just deep. Look behind the facade and you’ll find probably one of the smartest people you’d ever want to meet. He just doesn’t like people seeing it. Says it ruins his image.”
Rikku smiled. “I am kind of curious about a couple things with Seifer though.”
“First off, why does he have a scar like yours?”
“That’s a long story. It happened when we were sparring one day.”
Rikku stared at him for a moment. “Umm. The scar isn’t some weird initiation into the ‘I spar with Squall’ club is it? We kinda like Tidus the way he is.”
“No. We weren’t friends then. We both got angry and things got out of hand.”
Rikku shrugged. “Ok. What did you mean by he was a Sorceress’ knight?”
He sighed. “Well, was there anything about a Knight besides me in your legends?”
“Yeah. They mention a Dark Knight.” She stopped and thought for a second. “You mean that was him?”
“His mind was being dominated. He wasn’t in control of his actions.”
“Must have been tough.”
“It was. It took him a long time to come back from it. I did the only thing I really could for him. Became his friend.”
Rikku shook her head, and closed the book “You know, behind all that macho image of yours is a good person. Anyone ever tell you that?”
He blushed and stood. “Come on. We have a couple days. Let’s take advantage of it and continue your training.”
Avoiding the Firaga spell, Squall moved within striking distance of his adversary. He spun to gain power on his slice and was gratified when it immediately hit a magical barrier. “Much better. Your shields are getting stronger. We still have a long way to go. You have to get better at targeting your spells.”
Rikku rubbed the side of her head. “Yeah, but it hurts inside my head when you slam your blade into the shield like that.”
“Rinoa used to say that, too. She learned to deal with it.”
Rikku tried hard to suppress her annoyance. Ever since waking up this morning they had been training hard. Rikku felt she had made a lot of progress, but Squall kept pushing. To make things worse it seemed he always had to inject some comment about what he and Rinoa used to do. She thought that she had been making some progress with him, but apparently she was wrong. Stabs of jealousy hit her every time he said the name.
Rinoa, Rinoa. Rinoa did this. Rinoa did that. I’m getting very tired of hearing about her. Rinoa’s dead, but I can be everything she was to him, and more. Why can’t he realize that! She didn’t like asking , but she did need to know. The pain of blocking Squall‘s blows was getting excruciating. “How did she do that?”
“She learned to go into a trance-like state. She wasn’t completely in control of her actions, but she didn’t notice things like pain and fatigue. It also seemed to enhance her powers.”
“So, how do I go into this state?”
“I wish I knew. She could never really explain it herself. I suspect that every sorceress has their own specialty. Rinoa’s was the trance. Edea specialized in ice magic. We’ll just have to find yours.”
Rikku sighed. “I was afraid you were going to say something like that.”
“Don’t worry. It took a while before Rinoa found…..”
“Would you stop! I’m so tired of hearing about Rinoa!”
“No! It’s time you faced it Squall! I‘m not her! She‘s been dead for a long time and…..” She immediately stopped. She couldn’t believe what she had just said. She lowered her eyes and braced herself for the inevitable explosion . It never came. Nothing but dead silence.
She finally raised her eyes and stared into his utterly impassive face. There was no emotion, nothing at all. She somehow found that scared her more than his rage. “Squall, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say it like that.”
Squall met her gaze for a long moment before he finally spoke. “Maybe, this was all a mistake. Maybe you should find yourself another Knight.” He walked off alone into the trees.
Rikku collapsed to her knees and gave into the tears. “Good job, kiddo. He’s going to hate you now. His last words echoed in her mind. I don’t want another Knight. I want you, and I don’t want to share you with a memory.” Some time passed and the tears finally dried, her thoughts turning to finding a way to make it up to him.
“You seem to be in some distress. May I offer assistance?”
She leaped to her feet and spun, seeing a figure draped in silver and black. His hair was silver, but the most unusual feature were his eyes. They were blue and almost seemed to glow. She quickly gathered herself and responded. “No, thank you. I think I’ll be fine.” She glanced at his amiable smile, but her attention was riveted on the eyes. There was no friendliness in them at all.
The man smiled wider. “Ah. I think you should take my offer. You see, you are in pain. I can take care of that for you.” His smile grew feral and he drew his sword. Rikku glanced him over, and one thing resonated in her mind. This guy was dangerous.
Rikku began preparing her mind for battle, quickly trying to recall everything she had learned. She tried to link her mind with Squall’s but found she could not get her thoughts through. She would have to do this the old fashioned way. “Squall!”
Squall had walked aimlessly for a few moments and now found himself leaning against a tree. His anger had rapidly dissolved into regret. He hadn’t meant that last comment, but the anger he had tried so hard to control had gotten the better of him. Maybe I did overdo it with the Rinoa comments.
Working with Rikku like that had brought back so many memories of her though. Rinoa’s smile, her childlike enthusiasm every time she succeeded. He had found himself comparing the two. Both were fun to be with, and each had the ability to turn his life completely upside down. Something inside of Squall found that he liked that. Rikku was right though. They were two very different people.
I thought I had begun letting her go. Maybe I was wrong. What Rikku said was harsh… But maybe it needed to be said. I should go back and apologize. He sighed and started to walk his way back, when a sudden sharp pain injected itself into his mind. It was almost like the tingling he experienced every now and then, but much more intense. His thoughts were immediately interrupted by the cry of his flighty Sorceress calling his name. It wasn’t her normal yell. It sounded as if she were panicking. He immediately began to sprint.
Rikku thought to herself that Squall was right. She did need to work on her aiming . She had just unleashed a Firaga spell which the silver and black figure deftly dodged. He spun in midair slamming his blade into Rikku’s hastily constructed shield. She swooned with pain and nearly blacked out. She backed off trying to recover, but her opponent would have none of that. Blow after blow hammered into her. The concentration of maintaining her shield consumed her and she found herself unable to mount an offense.
The strain of the unceasing blows finally proved too much and the sword darted its way past her defenses. The last thing she felt was a slash that cut deeply into her stomach. She surrendered to the pain and knew no more.
Sephiroth gazed at his fallen opponent. “All too easy.” He chuckled. “Fear not, girl. Your pain will soon end. Isaaru said he preferred you alive. I find I prefer it this way.” He smiled and raised his sword for the final blow. He started his swing and saw a blur of movement to his side, the sound of his blade clashing with another. A vicious kick erupted in his midsection, knocking him back. Sephiroth rolled into a backwards somersault and instantly regained his feet, sword extended, ready for this new threat. He gazed into the eyes of his furious opponent and smiled.
“I‘ve heard much of you, and have been looking forward to this. Shall we dance?”
He did not reply, but circled his adversary. He extended his blade before him, and watched for any clue he could find as to his opponent’s identity. There was something about this man that was very familiar, but he couldn’t take the time to figure it out. He risked a glance at Rikku and saw that she was still breathing, though there was a good deal of blood. He almost gave himself into his fury. His training immediately shut down instinct. Losing himself in anger wasn‘t going to help. He needed to keep his cool and wits about him. Rikku’s life depended on it.
He studied the stranger as he circled, seeking clues to his style and abilities from his stance and posture. The silver and black figure launched into an attack which Squall blocked. He immediately disengaged and circled, still feeling his opponent out.
The silver haired man smiled maliciously. “Come now, kitten of Balamb. The dance has been rather boring so far. I may have to dispose of you and find a new partner.”
Squall was about to reply but quickly clamped down on his tongue. He’s trying to goad you. Make you angry so you make mistakes. Don’t listen. Watch him, learn his style.
Squall tried a few feints and probes of his own. Squall was a student of fighting styles, even ancient and obscure ones. His opponent used a style he barely recognized, an ancient Wutai technique characterized by quick stabs followed by long sweeps of the blade. Where this guy learned it Squall had no idea, but he did know how to counter it. Breaking the opponent’s balance was the key to defeating this style . His mind quickly synthesized a series of strokes to follow, and he strode in to begin his attack. His opponent deftly blocked each and anticipated Squall’s final lunge by leaning to the side. Squall instantly realized his mistake as he was the one who overbalanced. He rode his momentum forward into a somersault, seeking separation to re-group. A swish of blade followed as Squall rolled, connecting with his thigh and opening a deep cut.
The SeeD finished his roll and instantly came to his feet.
He didn’t look, but turned a portion of his brain to assessing his injury. The cut was deep. The longer the fight went, the more the wound would tighten, and hamper his movements. His eyes quickly aligned on his adversary who was gazing at him with an amused expression. Squall realized that his opponent had switched styles on him in the middle of his attack. A more passive style that did not depend so much on balance. He realized he was engaged in battle with a true master of the blade. For the first time in years he had to face that this was a battle he might not win.
Squall shook his head to banish this thought. Ain’t gonna happen! I’m her Knight damnit and I’m not going to fail her! Switching styles, huh? Two can play that game. Leaping at his opponent, he fell into a series of strokes designed to expose his left side. Taking the bait, the silver and black figure swung a side strike, hoping to end the fight. Squall instantly abandoned his blade style, and switched to a hand to hand technique he had learned from Zell to defend against an armed opponent. Thrusting out his non-sword hand, he struck the inside of the sword arm, instantly stopping the slice. His opponent quickly realized what was happening, and jumped back. Not before a stroke cut into his opponent’s chest.
After leaping back, he looked down at his wound, gazing back at Squall with a smile. “Perhaps you are a worthy opponent after all.”
He strode forward and the battle began in earnest. Each tried different techniques and occasionally scored hits, inflicting minor wounds upon each other. When blades failed they struck out at each other with fists and feet, seeking to hurt anyway they could. Their fight descended into a blinding blur of blades and limbs, the clanging of steel echoing throughout the area. Squall realized he had never faced anyone this good. Not even Seifer. He lost himself wholly in the joy of the fight, striving to defeat a worthy opponent. He blocked his concern for the unconscious Rikku, realizing he needed to be single minded to win. Thrusting aside the latest sweep, he fell into an offensive pattern, seeking to break his opponent’s concentration. His opponent escaped the series with some difficulty and stepped away, seeking space to recover.
Squall met his opponent’s eyes and they stared at each other for a time. Both were battered, bruised, and weary. Numerous wounds on each were beginning to take their toll. They nodded at each other in respect, as if in assent. This next encounter would be the last, and they both knew it. Squall prepared himself to finish this fight. He blocked out the pain, the doubts. He would finish this. He now admitted to himself what he had been and always would be, a SeeD, a Knight, a warrior.
It was going to come down to the one who made the first mistake. He had to be careful and defend at first. His opponent was likely to be aggressive, and Squall knew his chance would come. He’s hurting as much as you. Outlast him, he’ll break. Squall blinked some sweat out of his eyes and that was all the time his opponent needed to attack, descending upon Squall in an instant. He defended with some difficulty. His adversary had marshaled all of his fading strength for one last assault. He matched his blade to each furious assault and the opportunity he had been waiting for finally presented itself. Flicking the blade aside, he stepped inside his opponent’s lead foot and pivoted, scoring with a vicious back elbow to the face. It connected and his adversary staggered back. Squall was ready and spun with his blade, crashing along the silver and black figure’s ribs, crushing bone and flesh.
His opponent staggered back and fell to his knees, unable to raise his blade and defend himself. Squall gave him a salute of respect. He wished he didn’t have to kill, but the terms of this battle were understood when joined, and he couldn’t let this man threaten Rikku anymore. That path was too fraught with risk. He brought his blade on a level plane with his opponent’s neck in a final sweep and the silver haired man scrambled away from Squall‘s blade. The Lionheart met nothing but empty air. His adversary got to his feet and scrambled quickly away from the scene, clutching his ribs.
The SeeD thought it bad form to run from a duel to the death, but he doubted his opponent would return any time soon. Not after the last wound he had inflicted. Squall couldn’t waste any time on pursuit. There was something more important to worry about. He staggered to her, the fatigue and pain washing over him. Cradling her head in his lap, he lifted her shirt and examined the wound. “Rikku, be ok. Please be ok.”
He quickly cast Curaga to sustain her waning strength and switched to cleaning up her wound. It was deep, but not as bad as it could have been. Though it was still difficult to tell if she would be alright or not.
He quickly finished cleaning and binding the wound, and cast Curaga several more times. He stared into her face for a time. He closed his eyes and gathered the strength to say the things he never had the courage to say before.
“Rikku, I’m sorry for what I said. I’ll always be your Knight. Never doubt that. Remember when you asked me why I hadn’t drawn a picture of Rinoa? I lied. It wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Drawing her picture was too much like saying a final goodbye. I didn’t want to do that.”
Squall sighed. “It’s difficult to know how I feel about you sometimes. You turn my life upside down just like she did.” He gave a rueful chuckle. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t if I know love you or not Rikku, but I’d like the chance to find out. I’ll get angry sometimes, you’ll try to embarrass me and make me blush. I guess that will never change. Please be ok. I don’t want to say goodbye to anyone ever again.” He closed his eyes and whispered fiercely. “No more goodbyes!”
Squall opened his eyes and thought he saw a slight upturning of the corners of her mouth. “Rikku?”
She smiled weakly and opened her eyes. “I think I’ll be ok Squall. You can keep talking if you like though.”