Part IV: Shall I Be The One For You?
Rinoa sighed as she gazed at yet another dead end. They had been following the mountain road for a week now. The constant cold , unceasing snow, and frequent monster encounters were beginning to affect them all. Some more than others. Ellone in particular was having the most difficulty. Unlike the rest of them she had never been hardened by a long and difficult journey, though she did seem to be adjusting. Seifer came to stand beside her and looked at the trail and then the setting sun.
“Getting kind of late in the day. I think we could all use a rest before we double back. That slope was hard enough on the way down” He turned back to look at Zell and Quistis. “Could you see if you could find some kind of shelter? A cave or something? I’m getting sick of this constant wind.”
They nodded and headed off to fulfill their task. Laguna was looking at the map they had traced from Yunalesca’s journal. He turned it around several times and scratched his head,. “You know, I’ve looked at this map from every which way. The world sure has changed. I don’t recognize anything.”
Ellone, who had been rubbing her hands together, her teeth chattering from the cold suddenly smiled, “Dad, are you sure you should be the one who looks at the map?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Kiros and Ward regaled me with stories about how you used to get them lost.”
“We got lost only because I brought the wrong map.”
Selphie grinned, “You mean like the time you ended up on Lunatic Pandora?”
Irvine joined in, “Or the time you traveled in circles around Galbadia when you were supposed to be fighting in Timber?”
Ellone laughed, “Or the time Raine had to come find you after you got lost in your first monster patrol through Winhill?”
Laguna turned away, trying to hide his reddened face, “Ok, Ok. I don’t have a great sense of direction. Maybe it’s better if someone else holds it.”
Seifer looked at Selphie, “You have experience in traveling through the mountains right?”
“Yeah. Trabia is almost nothing but mountains. We were required to take courses in it.”
“Ok. After we find shelter, look at the map and try to find some sense of where we are.”
Rinoa couldn’t help but smile a bit at Laguna’s discomfiture. There was so much more to him than he let on at first. Upon first meeting him, all of them had wondered how such a man could have ever become president of a powerful nation such as Esthar. Recent events such as facing down Cid, and gathering everyone to go after his son gave them all glimpses of the nature he often kept hidden. Instead of a bumbling fool they had found he was a man of integrity, intelligence, and strong will. He had always made time for the people in this group, even at the expense of his job at times. In truth he had become something like a father to all of them. It was too bad his good qualities didn’t extend to navigation, but everyone had their flaws. She was still grateful he was along for the trip, and suspected everyone else was as well. Her thoughts were interrupted by the return of Zell and Quistis.
“Hey, we found something. There’s a cave about a half mile from here.”
Quistis nodded in agreement, “It’s large and even somewhat warm. Shouldn’t be a problem starting a fire in there either. It’ll be nice to have a hot meal for a change.”
Seifer grinned, “You got that right. Lead the way.”
They had just had their first hot meal in a week, for which they were all grateful. Rinoa let the warmth of the fire seep into her bones and felt an odd sense of contentment settle over her. It was just like the old days, all of them being together again, with one notable absence. Rinoa tried very hard not to think about, instead concentrating on the positives. She guessed the others were feeling something similar from the facial expressions she witnessed. Zell was the first to break the silence.
“Rinoa? Have you been able to get anything further from Squall?”
She shook her head, “No, nothing besides his general direction. Some vague idea of his feelings, too. Though I still can’t make any sense of them. I just hope I’ll be able to do better when we get closer.”
Selphie interjected herself, “I’m kind of confused. Shouldn’t you be able to get your thoughts through to Squall wherever you are?”
“No. Distance does blunt the connection somewhat. The other Sorceress may be interfering, too. I just don’t know.”
“Speaking of her, when you and Ellone looked into the future did you get any sense of what kind of person she was?”
Rinoa was silent for a moment, “No, I didn’t. The only sense I got from Squall when he bonded her were that it was something he had to do. Whether it meant he was being forced, I don’t know.”
Irvine stared at her, “You mean, Squall might be being controlled like Seifer was?”
Rinoa only stared straight down and didn’t answer. Laguna said in her place, “I’m afraid that’s a possibility.”
Quistis gaped, “You mean we might end up fighting him. What are we going to do if he is?”
“The same way you guys fought me, without hesitation and with as much force as we can muster. He’s too strong to fight in any other way.” Seifer said sadly.
“Or Rinoa can try to break her bond. I imagine doing so could hurt Squall though.” Quistis glanced at Rinoa sympathetically. “But it may be necessary.”
Rinoa said nothing, but got to her feet and left the cave. Silence reigned for a long time.
Rinoa knelt on the ground, practicing some of the Sorceress exercises Squall and herself had gone over so long ago. She hoped practicing would help alleviate some of the anger running through her. Plus, she might have to fight the other Sorceress . Even with the animosity Rinoa felt towards this other girl, she still hoped it wouldn’t come to a battle, but as much as she hated to admit it, Quistis was right. Things aren’t always the way you wish it. She closed her eyes and washed all other thoughts from her mind, concentrating on her meditation. Something kept intruding though, a memory of the first time they had tried these exercises.
****“What are we doing Squall?”
“Matron gave me some exercises to help you learn how to be a Sorceress.”
“Is that really necessary?”
Squall nodded, “Matron says it is. Without learning some control you can be a danger to yourself and others.”
“I think I’d rather go back to that Sorceress Memorial.”
“We’ve been through that. I’d just go after you again. Let’s stop wasting time and get on with this.”
Ok, but first we have to practice your Knight exercises.”
She grinned, “Cid gave me a list of instructions for you to follow, too. You’re still an apprentice Knight you know.”
He grumbled, “Fine. If it gets us started sooner. What do I have to do?”
She clapped in delight, “Ok. Now put your right foot in.”
“Just do it Squall. I, your Sorceress, command it.”
He rolled his eyes but complied, sticking his right foot out in front of him. Rinoa added, “Now put your left foot out.” He looked at her quizzically but did as she asked. “Now do the hokey pokey and turn yourself about.”
Squall’s face grew red and he demanded, “What does any of this have to do with being a Knight?!”
She giggled, “Nothing, I just wanted to see if you would actually do it.”
Squall hung his head down, hiding his expression. Rinoa prepared herself for his anger. It really didn’t bother her, she had grown used to it by now and took somewhat of a perverse pleasure in it. Anything beat his usual stoic silence. Instead when he raised his head, she was shocked to see an actual smile on his face, the first that she, or maybe anyone had ever seen.
He replied, “Alright. You’ll keep me on my toes at least. We do have to get serious about this, though. We‘re going to face Ultimecia soon, and you need to be ready.”
She nodded, careful not to let any expression show on her face. Though, she was secretly thrilled to have gotten past his guard this much. “What do we need to do?”
Squall took out a notepad from his jacket and read for a short time. “First it says to start off with Firaga spells. Try to control how much power you put into it. Don’t let it all loose.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated, forming the pattern in her mind that summoned the Firaga spell. She gestured and let the spell loose.
“Yeeouch!” She opened her eyes and saw Squall beating flames down that had appeared in front of him. “Don’t cast it at me!”
She stifled a laugh with some difficulty, “Well, you shouldn’t be standing in front of me!”
He glanced around, “Good point.” **
Rinoa shook her head and stopped smiling. Time enough to indulge in the past when this is over. Closing her eyes she began concentrating on keeping an even and constant pulse of light in front of her. Some time passed and she let go, satisfied that she had made a good beginning. She opened her eyes and felt the presence of someone behind her. She turned her head to see Quistis.
Rinoa got to her feet and dusted some snow off, “How long have you been here?”
“About 10 minutes. You were so into it, you didn’t even notice me come up.”
“You can thank Squall for that.” She harrumphed and settled into her best Squall voice, “No distractions, concentrate on your objective.”
Quistis chuckled, “He does tend to be a little single minded at times. Listen, Rinoa, I wanted to apologize for what I said in the cave.”
“Forget about it.”
“No, I can’t forget about it. I’m just overly pessimistic at times. I like to prepare myself for the worst, and having to fight and hurt Squall is the worst I can think of.”
“Maybe, it doesn’t change the fact that you may be right. There are so many possibilities. I don’t know which one might be true.”
“I talked with Irvine a couple days ago. He seems to think that we’re here to do something else besides bring Squall home.”
“All the evidence seems to point to that doesn’t it.”
Quistis nodded, “I think it’s best if we don’t make any assumptions. That we take things as they come. For all we know this other Sorceress could be like you.”
“What if she is like me?” She shook her head and admitted her secret fear, “Squall doesn’t know we’re here. As far as he knows there is no way he can ever get home. He would move on, I know. Because if I couldn’t reach him, he knows I would want him to. What if he….. falls for her?”
“Is that the real reason you bristle whenever anyone mentions her?”
“Rinoa, remember what I just said. Don’t make any assumptions just yet. Start asking yourself too many ‘what ifs’ and you’ll drive yourself crazy. We’ll find Squall. Do whatever else we have to do, and go home. Concentrate on that.”
Rinoa nodded, “Selphie find a way through all this mess yet?”
Quistis suddenly laughed “Yes. She thinks so. We had to talk her out of taking a shortcut by jumping off a cliff though. With a little luck, and if we keep the map away from Laguna we should be out in a couple days.”
Rinoa smiled, “Some things never change.”
The companions were greatly heartened by the last couple of days. The monster encounters had decreased somewhat and the air was getting warmer. It was also a great relief to be moving downhill. Seifer called a halt, and climbed a large rock to see if they were close to their goal. He whooped, “I can see some vast plains . We’re almost out of here!”
Everyone laughed and cheered. Seifer was concentrating on climbing down from the rock and took no note of the cheering suddenly stopping. He hopped down from the last handhold and saw the group and himself surrounded by a large group of blue furred humanoids. He knew they had to be the Ronso. Seifer immediately drew his gun blade and prepared himself for battle. The Ronso for their part made no move, just stared at them stoically. Except for the smallest of them who was staring at Seifer’s weapon. The small Ronso whispered something to the one beside him, and the larger one nodded and spoke.
“Our leader asks where you found such a weapon. He knows of only one who carries a gun blade and you are not him.”
“Oww! Squall that hurts!”
Squall kept dabbing the wet cloth against her wound, despite her protests. “This has to be done. We don’t want it getting infected,” He glanced at it as he wiped away the dried blood “Although it is healing quickly.”
Rikku winced as he swiped the cloth for another pass. “Why is that? I noticed that myself.”
Squall shrugged, “You’re a Sorceress now. You’ll heal a lot faster than normal folks.”
“Well, that’s one fringe benefit I guess.”
“It’s my guess you’ll never even notice it was there in a couple days.”
She glanced at him and sighed, noting the bloodshot eyes and numerous bruises, “When are you going to get some sleep and take care of yourself? You haven’t slept for 36 hours, and don’t think I haven’t noticed you trying to hide that limp!”
“I can’t afford to sleep. That guy might come back. The wound isn’t all that bad anyways.”
She rolled her eyes, “Yeah, sure. You have any idea on who he was?”
He stopped cleaning her wound, and reached behind him for some dry cloth. “Bahamut showed me many things before I came here. One of them was some scenes from the far past, but it can’t be him. It’s impossible.” He applied a large bandage to her wound and wrapped the cloth around her mid-section to keep it in place.
“So is YOUR being here.”
Squall sighed. She was right. “He showed me images of a story you might have heard. I don’t know if it still exists in this time or not. Ever hear the story of Cloud and Sephiroth?”
“Yeah, who hasn‘t? You mean they were real?”
“According to Bahamut, very real. He looked exactly like the Sephiroth I saw. I think it had to be him.”
Rikku chuckled, “Wow, I’m sorry I missed the fight. Must have been something.”
Squall nodded, “He was the best I’ve ever faced. It could’ve gone either way. Enough about that. You hungry?”
“Right. Dumb question.” Squall stood up with some difficulty, and limped over to the fire. He opened the food pack and scanned the contents. “Well, you can have rice or… more rice.”
Rikku narrowed her eyes as she watched him limping around. “Squall, would you forget about me and take care of yourself for a change? That wound is hurting you. You need to take care of it!”
“It‘s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” He ignored the rest of her protests and poured the contents of a rice package into a pot, setting it over the fire.
Rikku rolled her eyes, “Squall, if you insist on cooking, rice usually needs water.”
“Oh, right.” He emptied his canteen into the pot and waited for it to boil. After a time he judged it done and removed the mixture from the fire, scooped it into a bowl and handed it to her.
She dipped her fork in and pulled the rice out as one solid mass. She glanced up at him questioningly. “When you said you couldn’t cook, you weren’t kidding were you?”
“You mean you’re not going to eat it?”
“Nah, there’s plenty of grass around here. I can always graze on that.”
Squall was a little hurt by that last comment and was about to reply, when he heard Tidus and Yuna’s voices coming from nearby. “Yuna, did you have to buy so many clothes?”
“If we’re going to go into Guadosalam, we can’t be recognized. You know how they feel about us.”
They came into sight then, Tidus carrying some packages and obviously laboring under the burden. He immediately dropped it all when he saw Rikku lying down, obviously wounded, and Squall not looking much better.
Yuna was the first to recover. “What the hell happened?”
Rikku sighed, “A guy attacked me when I was alone. He sliced a sword through my gut, and then Squall showed up and drove him off.”
Yuna dropped to her knees beside Rikku and unwrapped her bandage. She gazed at it for a moment. “It seems to be healing nicely.”
“Yeah, Squall cleaned and dressed it. Now if he would only do the same for himself. He hasn’t slept for 36 hours either!”
Yuna turned from Rikku and observed Squall walking away. “Squall, you’re limping. Is your leg wounded?”
“It’s not bad. I’ll be fine.”
Yuna stood and fixed him with a glare. “Sit down, Squall.”
“No buts! Sit down.” He saw no choice but to accede, and sat down upon the ground. “Now, take off your pants.”
Rikku cackled “Yunie, that’s my line!” Squall blushed and unfastened his trousers, pulling them off slowly and noticed Tidus silently laughing behind her. Yuna looked at the ugly gash on his leg. She raised her eyes to meet his, and then looked back at the wound and muttered under her breath. She traced her finger along the length of the wound for a moment and asked Tidus to bring her a wet cloth and some things from the medical kit they had just bought.
She cleaned and doused it with liberal amounts of alcohol. Squall winced and Yuna glared at him, “It wouldn’t be this bad if you’d taken care of this right away. What possessed you to let it go this long?”
“Rikku was hurt worse than me. I needed to take care of her first, and not be caught off guard in case that guy returned.”
She shook her head in disgust. Long ago, she had learned the art of healing in the temples of Yevon. It was part of a Summoner’s training. If there was one thing that drove her absolutely bonkers, it was overly stubborn patients. “Luckily it stopped bleeding. Much longer and it probably would have become infected. As it is, I think you’ll be ok.” She finished her ministrations and indicated he could put his pants back on. “Now, get some sleep.”
Yuna swore in frustration, “In case you haven’t noticed Tidus and myself are here . Lulu and Wakka should be back soon as well. We’ll be able to take care of whatever happens. You’re not going to be any good if you’re worn to a frazzle. Now get to sleep!”
He sighed and decided she was probably right. Tidus tossed him a blanket and he found a place to stretch out, covered himself, and fell asleep immediately. Rikku waited until she was sure he was asleep and spoke to Yuna, “Thanks, Yunie. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
She waved her off, “Thanks are not necessary. What really happened? The long version.”
“Well, Squall and I are were training like we planned. We had a fight, and he stalked off into the forest. After a while some guy came up and attacked me, sliced me up pretty good. Squall showed up before he could finish me, and drove him off. Pretty much like I told you earlier.”
“Some guy. No idea of who he was?”
Rikku bit her lip, “Squall says he recognized him from an image Bahamut showed him of the far past. He said it looked like Sephiroth. Fought like him, too.”
Yuna just gaped at her, disbelieving “Sephiroth? He’s a story, a fable.”
“Hey, hey. Just back in time for story hour, ya?” Rikku glanced to see Wakka and Lulu coming back from their errand.
Rikku shook her head, “I wish it was story hour, but it’s not.”
Lulu ran her eyes over Rikku critically “You’ve been hurt. What happened?”
She repeated everything she had just told Yuna and Tidus. Wakka looked over at the prone form of Squall. “He’s alright, ya?”
Yuna nodded, “He’ll be fine. He has a lot of bruises and a gash on his leg, but he’s more exhausted than anything. He just needs some sleep.”
Wakka grinned, “Good to hear that. But the Lionheart and Sephiroth. I would buy a ticket to that one.”
Lulu slapped him on the arm. “So, is this supposed Sephiroth still alive?”
“Yeah. He escaped before Squall could finish him off. Wounded pretty bad though.”
Lulu shook her head, “This is getting to be insane! First Squall and now Sephiroth. What next?”
Yuna replied “Regardless of whether that was really Sephiroth or not, someone did attack Rikku. We need to be careful, and we need some rest. Rikku, when do you think you’ll be able to travel?”
“Tomorrow, hopefully. Squall said I’ll heal faster than other people would.”
“Good, it’s probably not a good idea to stay in one place for long. Lulu, did you find any Crusaders?”
“No, there’s usually some there paying respect to the fallen of Operation Mi’hen. We saw none. The rumors of them gathering in the Calm Lands must be true.”
“I wish we could know why, but that will have to wait. Let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow we will cross the Moonflow. Then on to Guadosalam.”
Squall awoke the next morning feeling greatly refreshed. His normal morning fog wasn’t even present. He sat up to find Rikku next to him. “Hey. How you feeling?”
“A lot better. How about you?”
She shrugged, “You were right. I do heal pretty fast. It feels a lot better. Good enough to keep traveling anyways. You feel up to it?”
Squall stood up to test his leg and found it very stiff and sore, but serviceable. He could deal with a little pain. “I think I can manage.”
“Squall, there’s something that has been bugging me.”
“When Sephiroth attacked me, I tried to send my thoughts out to you. They couldn’t get through.”
“Yeah. Right before I heard you yell I felt a sharp pain in my head. It was like that tingling I told you about that I’m experiencing every now and then, but much more intense. It was probably your attempt to send your thoughts.”
“So, if mine was intense, what’s the other tingling?”
He replied, “The only thing I can think of is that it’s probably Isaaru. I don’t know if it’s possible but he might be attempting to interfere with our bond. Might be why we can’t communicate that way.”
“Why would he do something like that?”
“Could be many reasons. Keep tabs on our position, even up to attempts to control my mind.”
“That would suck.”
“Don‘t think I would enjoy it. Feel up to learning something?”
“It’s not foolproof. Ultimecia broke through Edea’s shield, but it will help. I hope I remember how to do this.”
“Tell me. What?”
“You’re going to shield both our minds from outside influence.”
Rinoa heard the Ronso’s words about Seifer’s gun blade and felt a wild stab of hope through her. They know Squall! They might be able to tell us where he is! She stepped forward to ask about this possibility when she felt an absence of something that had long been there. She fell to her knees and screamed. She tried to re-establish what had been lost. Her faint and tenuous contact with Squall’s mind had been blocked.
Sephiroth stood at the highest point of Yevon’s tower in Bevelle, gazing out at the armies training in the fields outside the city. He regretted that most were half-trained boys and girls but you made do with what you had. That was one of the first lessons he had learned in SOLDIER. Still, their numbers were large. Quantity was certainly in his favor, and their enthusiasm, even if artificially induced, was certainly impressive as well.
Commanding and training this army brought him back to a cleaner, happier time in his life, when he had commanded the armies of SOLDIER against Wutai. His true identity was not common knowledge. All his current men knew was that he shared a name with a figure of legend. They respected his competence and skill, and as such gave him their loyalty. Part of what he had become was haunted by what he suspected would be a betrayal of what they so freely gave. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts. The choice of what he had become was made long ago, at the foot of Jenova. When he had exchanged his soul for power and accepted the madness.
He turned from the balcony and descended the stairs. Several soldiers met him and he stopped. “Yes?”
The youngest stammered and knelt, “I-Isaaru would like to see you, sir. He’s waiting on the Highbridge.”
Sephiroth nodded, “Take me there.”
The two saluted and led him down a maze of passageways, finally ending at a bridge. A figure waited upon it, and he dismissed the messengers. Isaaru turned to meet his gaze and smiled sarcastically. “Healing well I trust?”
“Yes. Your methods are far from gentle, but effective. Soon I will be ready to once again meet this Lionheart.”
Isaaru gazed at him, “Your impressions?”
“He is a magnificent warrior. Keeps a level head, and is difficult to unsettle. Physically or emotionally. A fit opponent.”
“Yes. So our lord’s memories tell me. And the girl?”
Sephiroth sneered, “Unworthy, I defeated her easily. She had obviously been trained in some uses of the power but panicked. She is either unwilling or unable to reach her full potential.”
“Then the objective of your mission was accomplished.”
“You no longer want her killed?”
“Killing her would have certainly been a bonus. More important was to gauge the extent of her threat. From what you have told me, that threat is minimal. She is the only being alive who could have threatened me.”
“What of this Lionheart? I would join battle with him again.”
Isaaru shook his head, “No, for all his prowess he is still only one man. You are needed more to train and lead this rabble we have assembled.”
Sephiroth bristled a bit at this, but was careful not to show it. “To what purpose? I would know the reason you send my men into battle.”
“Our goal is the same as it was in your time. Cause hatred, fear, and death. Our lord feeds upon such things. He hungers and would strengthen himself.”
“That is not all there is to it. You have something else in mind.”
Isaaru smiled, “This is where it all changed for me.” He gestured to indicate the entire temple. “I was a Summoner. Charged with defeating Sin. My pilgrimage was halted here. I was charged by the temples to kill Yuna. I failed. The Maesters died or disappeared. Everything I had believed my entire life was changed in an instant. Yevon had lost its hold, my faith destroyed. I protected this city in the name of Yevon for a short time, before the people turned from it.”
“Get to the point.”
“Impatient. The reason for the existence of the teachings was Sin. Yuna destroyed that reason. I would make it anew. I will take Yu Yevon’s place and exist inside of my new creation. Our lord is well pleased by my plan. He long fed on the depredations and despair created by the monstrosity.”
“What’s this have to do with my army?”
“I need large numbers of dead, the unsent, I will craft them into unholy armor and join with it.”
“And what of me?”
“You will remain, and rule the world which I will create. What you have always wanted.”
“So my army is to kill as many as possible?”
“Kill or be killed. It makes little difference. Deaths of either side fulfill my purpose.”
“So, I get to rule a shattered and broken world?”
“And remake it in the image you choose. How many can say they have had that opportunity?”
Sephiroth was silent and considered for a time. He was right; he was going to be betraying the loyalty of his army. Part of him struggled with this, but was quickly tossed aside. The chance for redemption had passed long ago, with the murder of a girl with pink ribbons in her hair. There was now only one path to follow, the path to power. “My men still need additional training.”
“Ever the good general. I propose a compromise. Would a training mission satisfy your requirements, to ‘battle-harden’ your troops?” Sephiroth nodded and he continued, “Very well, Luca has largely resisted my attempts of control. I propose your army razes it to the ground as a message to the others of this world. Yevon will be obeyed.”
Neither saw the figure beneath them, whose face had grown ashen as he listened to the conversation. He could not allow this obscenity. Through all his dreams of power, he had always held a deep and abiding love of his world Grand Maester Krell decided he had to get a message to the Crusaders, and hopefully through them the Lady Yuna. They were this world’s only hope.
Two days later, Krell had indeed sent his message. He didn’t know whom to trust, so he had sent a sealed missive with the latest delegation to the Crusaders. He prayed that the message would not be opened and delivered intact. He tried to conceal his nervousness as he entered the meeting Isaaru had called for himself and the other Maesters. He entered the room and sat, relieved to see that the sorcerer had not yet arrived. He tried some simple breathing exercises he had learned as a young warrior monk and calmed his nerves.
“Fellow worshippers of Yevon, I greet you.”
The other Maesters and himself rose to greet him, bowing. Isaaru smiled and returned their greetings “There is a reason why I have called you. I understand there is a need for a Grand Maester.”
Maester Krell looked around, slightly confused “My lord, my counterparts recently elected me as Grand Maester. It is not vacant.”
Isaaru smiled amicably, “Yes, an election that was held without my consent I believe.”
The Maesters looked around nervously and Krell replied, “My lord, we did not believe you would mind. You have shown no inclination towards the position. Had we have known we would have surely have elected you. I will step down if you ask it.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would. The problem is that you can’t step down. It is Yevon’s law and we would not want to change that would we? The position is held for life.” His voice held a strange emphasis on the word life.
Krell bowed deeply and replied “My lord, I….”
He never finished his sentence as Isaaru gestured and Krell felt himself being ripped apart, body and soul. His last thoughts were of the message and a prayer to any deity listening that it be safely delivered. His body faded and the remaining Maesters pointedly turned away from the sight.
Isaaru commanded them all to look at him “It is time to let you into a portion of my plans. We will convert the non-believer, by force if necessary.”
“Lord, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying it is time for Holy War.” The Maesters looked uncomfortable, but simply nodded. They were in far too deep to go back now. Isaaru continued, “I also believe it is time to elect a new Grand Maester. Do choose correctly.” He swept the room with a pointed gaze, and exited the room.
Kimahri was taken aback by the screaming raven-haired girl. He was careful not to reveal his surprise as it would ill suit him as the new leader to show weakness. He turned his eyes from the girl and observed her companions. The tall blonde one had given a hand signal and they formed a circle around her, while the small petite girl went to check on the raven haired one. The hand signal he recognized as one that Squall had taught his former companions. The gun blade and signal suggested strongly that these people were somehow connected with the Lionheart. He would know the truth of this matter.
His gaze swept the group and settled on the blonde, who was staring at him evenly and calmly, He had identified Kimahri correctly as the leader. Kimahri met his gaze. There was no anger, only a calmness and determination to protect his companions. No matter the cost. The girl had stopped screaming and now appeared to be unconscious
Kimahri nodded his approval of this other leader’s fortitude, and inwardly smiled. There was something about this one that put him in mind of a certain someone he had recently met. He stepped forward and lowered his spear, signaling that he would converse peacefully.
“Kimahri would know the truth of this. How did you set foot on Gagazet? Impossible to pass the Ronso without being seen. You came from Zanarkand.”
The man’s eyes betrayed a hint of surprise, but he followed Kimahri’s lead and sheathed his blade. He gave a barely perceptible nod, a sign of respect. The stranger could not have known, but it was the perfect response in Ronso tradition. “Name is Seifer Almasy. Our story will be hard for you to believe.”
Kimahri nodded, recognizing the name. Squall had mentioned it several times “Kimahri thinks you may be surprised at what he believes.” He waved for several Ronso to come forward and approach the sobbing girl who had collapsed while they were conversing. The group pulled tighter around her and readied themselves. Kimahri looked at the blonde “We mean her no harm. She will be taken to a healer. You have my word.”
One of the group, a middle aged man, whispered in the ear of Seifer. Seifer nodded and gestured for the others to allow the Ronso through. The Ronso picked up the girl and Kimahri walked back to Belar Ronso and gave instructions. They were to be afforded all courtesies and hospitality, but not to be given run of the village. The girl was to be given all possible medical care and her friends were to be given access as soon as the healer said it was possible.
Belar answered “Kimahri, are you certain? Other Ronso may take this as a sign of weakness. You are still new and must think of your position.”
The Ronso leader shook his head, “Kimahri think compassion is not weakness. I will return soon and deal with this situation then.” Kimahri left and began to head towards his next meeting, a phalanx of Ronso warriors following. The world was changing and the Ronso needed to realize this. His time among the people of Besaid had left a mark on him that was hard to define. He was different than other Ronso. What other Ronso perceived as weakness, Kimahri often saw as strength. He stopped for a moment and switched his gaze to the sacred mountain. The Ronso had long seen the land in which they lived as the source of their strength. The environment was harsh, unyielding, and unforgiving. His people had mimicked the qualities of their dwelling. One thing Kimahri was certain of, if his people continued to resist change, to stand alone as many wished, they would soon not stand at all.
Kimahri shook off these dark thoughts and continued his trek. The person he was meeting, he had met several times, but had never gotten to know well. He believed her worthy of trust, but needed to make certain. Thoughts of the meeting kept being interrupted by the images of the group he had just met. He suspected these were Squall’s companions he had spoken of so often. He sighed and realized thoughts of these strangers, interesting as they were, would have to wait for later. The possible alliance he hoped to forge was too important to not give his full attention.
Kimahri reached the meeting and gave his counterpart a nod. Captain Lucil returned the gesture correctly and he was well pleased. “Kimahri and Ronso must know. What is the reason for the Crusader’s presence near our lands?”
Captain Lucil bowed in respect, “I assure you. Our intent is not to threaten or make war with the Ronso. We have other reasons.” Kimahri nodded for her to continue. “Some time ago, a revival of Yevon began.”
“Kimahri is aware of this.”
“Yes. Bevelle, Guadosalam and many other places were swept up in this revival to a degree that I can only determine as madness. It is not natural. Soon after, the new Maesters sent me a directive. This directive stated that I was to give up my position and draft the remaining Crusaders into the ranks of the warrior monks. I and most of the Crusaders refused.”
Lucil was thoughtful for a long moment, considering her reply “As were you, we were betrayed by Yevon. The very force we protected the world from was perpetuated and sustained by the teachings. We realized that for the last 800 years, many of us had died to protect a lie. We must do something, or I fear the world will be swept into another thousand years of living in deception. As I stated earlier this revival does not seem natural. I fear there is something else behind this.”
He nodded, “Kimahri knows there is.”
“Could you explain?”
Kimahri inwardly sighed. This would require a long speech and he was unaccustomed to speaking at great length. Still he knew this might be required when he accepted the position of leader. He began by telling her of the arrival of the sphere at Besaid and subsequent events, including the arrival of Squall, up to the point where he left. Lucil’s face grew more incredulous as she listened. Her troops followed suit and there was an insistent buzzing as they heard who this Squall person was. Lucil turned back to them and shouted for quiet.. She understood their excitement but still found it difficult to believe. However, it was well known that Ronso do not lie. They would die first.
Lucil replied incredulously, “You mean the rumors are true? The Lionheart truly walks the earth again?” Kimahri nodded and she considered for a moment. This Squall would be a powerful symbol, one who could draw many to their cause. First things first though. “We have come here for another reason. We ask alliance with your people. Together we will be much stronger than apart.”
“You have Kimahri’s support, but it is not my decision alone. I must meet with my people.”
Lucil smiled, “Of course. I hope the decision is to join with us. One other thing? This Lionheart, do you think he would consent to come? He would be a wonderful addition and greatly strengthen us.”
“Kimahri cannot speak for him. Kimahri will promise to try.” The warrior extended his hand to her, and she glanced at it in surprise before returning his firm grip. Ronso did not usually acknowledge human customs, but she sensed Kimahri was different. This was a successful meeting, and all she could hope for. Though the prospect of sorcery returning again to the world was ominous, she felt the glimmerings of hope stir in her soul. It had been a while.
Kimahri began walking back to the Ronso camp, considering the meeting. It had gone well, and now he had to get his people to accept the alliance. It would be difficult but he believed it would be achieved. As far as getting Squall to come, he agreed. Besides High Summoners and their guardians, the Lionheart was one of the few humans that the Ronso revered. He would be a powerful harbinger of hope to his people as well, and if what he suspected about the strangers was true, he could not hope for better messengers.
Seifer had begun to chafe at the restrictions. His new surroundings were comfortable in a rustic sort of way, but he had never taken well to being held against his will. We’ve come all this way to be taken prisoner by overgrown, warrior smurfs. He kicked a cushion off the chair, he had occupied a short time ago and began pacing. Laguna glanced at him and spoke “Calm down. This isn’t going to help.”
“Tell me again why we should trust these people?”
Laguna sighed, “Because they have a high regard for honor. Ronso do not lie. If he told you Rinoa would be cared for, he meant it.”
“What you’re saying may have been true a long time ago, but how do you know it hasn’t changed?”
“Many things may change in this world. I don’t think Ronso honor would be one of them. You have to trust me.” Seifer snorted and continued his pacing. Quistis knew Seifer didn’t take well to detainment and decided to leave it alone. Though the pessimism she often felt since this began threatened to overwhelm her, she told herself circumstances would change, and things would work out for the best. She hoped. She turned her attention to Laguna.
“Laguna, any idea what happens next?”
“Well, if they follow suit with what happened to me when I met them before, their leader is going to want to talk to Seifer. Probably alone.”
She looked at Seifer worriedly, “Diplomacy isn’t your strong suit. I’d better go with you.”
Laguna shook his head, “You can’t. If he asks to meet with Seifer alone, going with him will undermine his position. It’s a meeting of equals. Taking you with him, will mean he acknowledges himself as lesser than the Ronso. It will be taken as a sign of weakness.”
Seifer sighed, as Quistis had hit on his secret fear about the whole affair. Give him a blade, an enemy to fight, and a group to lead into battle and he felt fine about it. How was he going to handle a situation where his blade was useless? They could try to fight their way out, but there were too many of them. It would be futile. He took in several deep breaths to calm himself. Patience Seifer. Keep calm. You’ll find a way. They’re depending on you. He turned to Laguna “While we’re waiting, you might as well tell me as much as you know about these people.”
Laguna agreed and told him everything he knew. Seifer concentrated and tried to retain what he was told. Their conversation was broken by a Ronso entering. He spoke “Your friend is awake and would see you.”
Rinoa was sitting up on her bed, propped by a pillow. The group entered and she gave them a wan smile. Selphie was the first to come to her and gave her a hug, which Rinoa gratefully accepted.
Selphie broke contact and asked, “We were so worried about you. What happened?”
“I…. I’ve been blocked from Squall. The shock of it caused some pain. I must have passed out from it. I think I‘ve adjusted now.”
“How is that possible?”
“I can think of only one way. The other sorceress who bonded Squall must be responsible.”
Quistis sighed, “So much for not making assumptions.”
Irvine broke in, “Hey, hey. Let’s not jump to conclusions. All this other sorceress may know is that someone was trying to make contact with her Knight’s mind. How would you react if you were with Squall, and someone you didn’t know was trying that, Rinoa?”
Rinoa stated, “I would do the same thing.”
“Now, I know we’re here for another reason besides Squall. Auron wouldn’t have said what he did if we weren’t. Automatically assuming this other sorceress is the enemy is not only dangerous, it’s downright wrong.”
Quistis eyed him, “Is it? Let’s look at the evidence. We read Yunalesca’s journal and this world is being threatened by something called Sin. The group we saw in Zanarkand, of whom this sorceress was a member of, killed the one means of holding it at bay. She blocks Rinoa from Squall’s mind. What more do we need to know?”
Selphie came to Irvine’s defense with a sharp retort. Quistis followed suit and soon a full fledged argument between the three was taking place. Rinoa held her head in her hands and cried, “Stop! Please stop.”
The three immediately ceased and looked vaguely ashamed of themselves. The Ronso healer stepped in the door to see what the commotion was. She surveyed the situation and ordered all of them out, explaining that they were upsetting her patient. Every one shuffled out and Rinoa was left alone with her thoughts.
I just don’t know what to do. Her mind drifted back to when this had started. She had told Laguna that she didn’t need Squall. That she would eventually be fine on her own. She was a fool. She had never realized what her connection with Squall protected her from, even when she hid the fact she was a sorceress from herself. It was there, like a sickness festering at the bottom of the pool of her mind. A darkness that she knew that in time would consume her, make her like Ultimicea. She would fight it of course, but the outcome was inevitable.
There were alternatives. She could take another Knight. None of them fit what she needed though. The only real option was Seifer. Even if he would consent to it, she knew she could never really accept him. The image of him throwing her to Adel still lingered in her nightmares. She could forgive, even forge a platonic friendship with him, but she could never forget. No, the only person possible as her Knight was Squall. It was a matter of survival. Not only did she need him, she wanted him with a fierceness that surprised her.
She nodded, her decision made. No matter what this other Sorceress was, good or bad, she would fight for her Knight. She needed to break through the barrier between her and Squall, to let him know she was here, but she wasn’t strong enough to do it from this distance. She would have to wait until they got closer. The barrier didn’t completely block her senses. She could still get a sense of his general direction. She’d know when she was close enough.
Seifer had been summoned to the leader’s dwelling and went with some trepidation, trying to think of the best way to convince this Ronso to let them go. He hoped he didn’t make some bone headed move that would ruin everything. The Ronso escort beckoned for him to enter and he stepped through the door. Laguna was true to his word, the Ronso was alone, a meeting between equals. He bowed as Laguna had shown him, but the Ronso waved that aside. He gestured for him to sit across from him. Seifer took his seat.
“Kimahri would know if you are truly the leader of this group.”
“It’s not by choice. It was kind of decided without my knowing.” He winced inwardly. Good job Seifer. Laguna told you not to make any admissions of weakness. He sighed and met the gaze of the Ronso, and was surprised to see a glimmer of a smile on his face.
“Kimahri always dream of being leader of Ronso. Now that Kimahri achieve dream, find it pain in ass.”
Seifer couldn’t help but laugh. He thought that he liked this Ronso. “You got that right. Be careful what you wish for, huh?”
Kimahri settled himself, and got down to business, “Kimahri must ask. Know Squall?”
Seifer’s eyes betrayed surprise, but he was careful not to show it on his face “Yes. It’s the reason we’re here. We came from what you would call the past. Squall was taken before our eyes. Since then we’ve been trying to find a way to reach him. Bring him back.”
“Kimahri glad to know he have loyal friends.”
Seifer scratched his scar and thought for a moment, “How do you know him? Has he been here?”
The Ronso shook his head, “Not here. Kimahri meet him somewhere else.”
“Could you explain?”
Kimahri began telling the story of Yuna’s pilgrimage. Seifer stopped him when he reached the end of the fight with Yunalesca. “That explains a few things. I thought you looked a little familiar.” Kimahri looked confused for a moment and Seifer explained, “There were things that looked like fire flies. Touch them and they repeated scenes from the past. One of them included you and your party.”
Kimahri nodded, digesting the new information and continued with his story, telling of the death of Sin, and recent events. He ended with the telling of his leaving the group and taking the position of leader of the Ronso, also explaining the recent meeting with the Crusaders.
Seifer was silent for a time, before stating, “Forgive me if this an insult. I know Squall has bonded this Rikku as her Knight. Rinoa is also a sorceress and is also her Knight. This may raise some contention between them, so I must know. What kind of person is Rikku?”
Seifer was surprised to see a genuine smile upon the Ronso’s face “Rikku is Rikku. Kimahri know of no other way to describe her. She is not evil. That much I can tell you. Kimahri think the time for plain speaking has come. Kimahri asks that you find Squall and bring him here, along with my companions.”
“His is a powerful story. He is much revered. His coming would be a symbol of hope for us all.”
Seifer chuckled inwardly So you became a legend after all, huh Squall?, he remembered Squall’s speech to anyone who treated him with the slightest bit of hero worship and almost laughed out loud. He must be pissed.
“We will be glad to do so. I will talk to my group. I think we’ll all probably want to help you. Any idea of where to begin looking?”
“When last I saw, were heading north along Mi’hen Highroad. Have probably reached Guadosalam by now. Head south through the Thunder Plains and you may meet him. When your companion is fit to travel, we will provide maps.”
Kimahri’s heart leaped inwardly. The Lionheart and the Children of Fate, he suddenly felt the burden of his people’s survival had grown much easier to bear. Kimahri nodded in thanks and Seifer departed. He then turned his attention to contacting the Al Bhed. They would need all the allies they could find.
Squall did his best to ignore the groups chatter. They had just gotten off the Shoopuf and were on the road to Guadosalam. Most of their discussion focused on the clothes that Yuna had bought. Tidus especially disliked his attire of a warrior monk. Squall wasn’t especially happy with his monk outfit either, but decided that Yuna was right when she had decided that they blend in. Best to avoid trouble if possible.
He fell behind the group a bit and decided to concentrate on what had been puzzling him. Rikku had, with some trouble, managed to erect the shield. The effect it had on him was unexpected. There was an absence of something he hadn’t even realized was there. What it could be, he had no idea, but it felt like something precious. He had even considered asking her to drop the shield so he could try to figure it out. The risk of that was too great and he decided against it. At least he could hear Rikku’s thoughts again, though she had been uncharacteristically silent.
He had glanced at her earlier and saw a serious expression on her face that he had rarely seen. It only appeared when something was deeply troubling her. Squall had an idea of what it was, but decided not to intrude. She would tell him when she was ready. Deciding that the mystery of the absence in his mind was unsolvable at this point, he turned his mind to other matters. Like his failure as a Knight. Yes, he had protected and saved her life, but that wasn’t what was troubling him. She should have been able to handle Sephiroth on her own. He saw as part of his job the responsibility to teach her how to protect herself. It was impractical to expect to be in her presence all the time.
“Squall?” Rikku had fallen back with him.
“I should have been able to take Sephiroth by myself, shouldn’t I?”
He hesitated for a moment before answering, “Yes.”
“Why couldn’t I?”
“Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“No, but I think I have to.”
“You haven’t accepted that this is part of you yet. You fail to take it seriously.”
“I-- guess I have to start huh? I might have to face Isaaru soon, right? And it might be just him and me.”
Squall was thoughtfully silent for a moment. He was tempted to sugar-coat it for her, to tell her he would always be by her side. Nothing short of death would stop him, but there were no guarantees. Death was always a possibility, especially with the life he had led. He had never believed in hiding harsh truths from himself or others. Pretending they weren‘t there never made them go away. “Yes.”
Rikku’s face assumed an irritated expression, “Squall, can’t you be a little more comforting? You’re supposed to say you’ll always be my side and all that.”
He decided there was no other way than the plain, unvarnished truth. “Rikku, I want to be, but something could happen. We could get separated, I could get killed. You just never know. You need to be ready to protect yourself.”
“You get killed? Don’t be stupid. You’re invincible you know.” She replied in a slightly teasing manner.
“I wish that were true, Rikku, but it’s not.”
“What’s wrong with you today? I started talking to you hoping you would cheer me up. Instead, I’m even more depressed.”
“I don‘t know… just a feeling. Rikku, I want you to promise me something.” Squall had learned the hard way that these feelings he had almost always came true. He had a sentiment that something significant was going to happen soon.
“What?” She snapped, definitely not liking the course this conversation was taking.
“If something does happen to me, find another Knight.”
“No way! I can’t believe you’d even ask that! Who could I find to replace you?”
Squall didn’t particularly like discussing this either, but felt it necessary. “Rikku, remember when I told you why Sorceresses have Knights in the first place?”
“I protect you from more than physical harm. There is something in the power itself that corrupts. If you go without a Knight for any great length of time, you risk becoming a slave to it. You may destroy everything you love, and not even care.”
“You mean I might end up like Isaaru?”
She heard great sadness in his voice. Rikku remembered the time he had told her about previously traveling through time, and seeing whole generations decimated. It was obvious he believed that what he had seen was the result of such a situation. Though not happy with the asking, she understood why he would. She decided to mollify him by promising, but she didn’t even want to think of taking another Knight. He was the only one for her. No one else would do. It was almost like destiny, the way he dropped into her life. “Squall, I promise I will. It won’t be necessary though. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
He decided that that was enough for depressing topics for the day. He never thought he was good at it, but he tried to cheer her up anyways. “Well, there are worse things.”
“Why Squall! Coming from you that was almost sweet.” She hugged his arm as they walked. Rikku was somewhat surprised that he didn’t try to pull away like he normally would. “I promise that I’ll take our lessons more seriously, too.”
Losing Squall was not a prospect she wished to face. Especially since her feelings for him grew by the day. Like Squall, she wasn’t sure if it was love yet, though she certainly suspected it would be soon. All she knew for certain was that she found him intriguing and would miss him greatly if anything ever happened. His steadiness, bravery and devotion to her were something she could always count on. If it wasn’t love yet, it was certainly progressing in that direction.
Who am I kidding? finally admitting it to herself. I have fallen in love with him, and hard. Nodding inwardly, she made her decision. She would try harder at her lessons, but for a different reason than what he believed. Knights took oaths to protect. Nothing said that Sorceresses couldn’t do the same. Squall dying, or losing him in any way was not an option. She would learn, and quickly. Anyone who threatened or tried to take her Knight away from her would pay, and dearly.
They had been walking for the day and had almost reached Guadosalam. They halted and made camp for the night. Training with Rikku that night had gone surprisingly well. Normally she would make jokes, or do something to make Squall uncomfortable. That evening she had been all business and had absorbed faster than Squall could teach Truthfully, he couldn‘t teach her much more. Like Rinoa, she would have to find her own way eventually. For the first time, he had seen glimmerings of why Bahamut had chosen her to hold this power. The hard part had been done. She had accepted her new responsibility, and begun to truly learn.
Waking up the next morning Yuna decided it was time to don their new clothes. Squall stood and took the opportunity to stretch his legs, and found that his wound was healing. It was certainly less stiff than the day before. He took a good look around at his companions and noticed Lulu helping Yuna dye her hair to a dark, almost black color. She did look rather different and probably would pass any casual inspection. The others were staring at their Yevon religious clothing, the men in monk’s uniforms and the ladies in initiate garb. Rikku had protested vigorously when she saw her outfit, but saw the merits eventually. Dressing as an Al Bhed was certainly not the way to remain anonymous, particularly if everything they had heard of Guadosalam was correct.
Wakka glanced at his bundle distastefully. There was a time he would have gladly died for Yevon. That day had long passed, when he had learned his faith was based on lies and deceit. Nevertheless, he decided to be the first to change. “Won’t have to wear these long, ya?”
Yuna nodded her head, “Just for the next day or two. I think we can take them off after we reach the Thunder Plains.” Yuna saw Rikku’s involuntary shudder. “Cousin, I thought you were over your fear of lightning.”
“Casting it is no problem. Having it fall out of the sky is another matter.”
Squall didn’t understand her terror, but decided to try and comfort her. “Don’t worry about it. Just stay close to me.”
Rikku grinned at him “Don’t I always?”
Stepping into Guadosalam, Squall got his first look at one of the Guado people. As he had suspected from the descriptions given him, these were most likely the Shumi. They had changed over time, but that was hardly surprising. The Shumi had always undergone rapid, unexplainable evolutionary change, such as becoming Moombas or Elders. What truly troubled him was not their physical appearance, but how they were acting. Shumi of his time were not warlike as these people were.
Everywhere he looked there were Guado in warrior monk uniforms. What had happened to change the peaceful people he had once known he did not know. Seeing this though was not a good sign. Judging from his first impressions almost the whole city had devoted itself to Yevon. It was like seeing Galbadia all over again. Looking at everyone else‘s faces he knew that they had come to the same judgment.
Preparations for some sort of celebration seemed to be underway. Straining their ears, the only thing they seemed to hear were conversations about Yevon, and the new Grand Maester. Tidus was the first to speak, turning to Yuna, “I know we planned on staying a night here, but this place is creeping me out. They’ve all turned back to Yevon. What more do we need to know?”
Yuna nodded sympathetically. Tidus had never held much love for these people. Considering that Seymour was once the representative of their race, she was hardly surprised. Seymour was the man who taught her how to hate, but her memories of the Guado were not colored solely by him. Several times in her youth she had met Guado, and they were almost all unfailingly kind. She mentally shook off those thoughts. Whatever these people were wasn’t important, it was what they were now. “We can decide that later. First let us go to the Farplane. We have respects to pay to an old friend.”
And friends, Squall mentally added. Though he was still somewhat confused by how a bug could manifest images of people who had died solely from your memory. He never remembered anything like that from his time. He decided to ask his sparring partner, pulling alongside him. Tidus looked up, distracted from his thoughts “Hey, bud.”
“Any idea on how these ‘flies’ can manifest people’s memories?”
“Yeah. A guy named Maechen explained it to us once. They’re not really flies at all but those little flecks of light that appear whenever a fiend dies. For some reason they gather here, near Guadosalam. That’s why they call this place the Farplane. Although something similar happens in Zanarkand, but it‘s different there. They read your memory and manifest your dead loved ones. Only those who are dead though. Somehow, those little buggers always know the truth.”
“How come Rikku didn’t know that?”
“She probably wasn’t listening when Maechen told us. Anything that has to do with the Farplane she tunes out. She probably won’t go in. Never has before.”
“Says she keeps her memories inside. Whatever that means.” It turned out that Tidus was correct. Upon reaching the arch leading to the Farplane, Rikku halted. Squall looked at her questioningly, while everyone else headed in.
“I’m not going in Squall. Go see your friends.”
“It’s complicated. Just go on in.”
“I’m not leaving you alone.”
She sighed, “I’ll be ok. If anything happens I’ll yell. You won’t be far.”
“I wasn’t worried about that. I’m worried about what else might be wrong. Don’t you have some loved ones you’d like to see?”
“You’re not going to see your friends. You’re going to see your memories. Mine stay right here. Where they should be.” She tapped the side of her head.
“That’s not it.”
Rikku grew exasperated. This excuse had always worked before. “Look, I don’t want to see my mom alright! If I go in, I won’t be able to help but think of her, and she’ll appear. I never want to see her again!”
He had wondered why she had never mentioned her. She often spoke of her father and brother, but never her mother. “What happened?”
Rikku hung her head and spoke in a low voice, “She left when my brother and I were children. Dad and her hadn’t gotten along for some time. She was tired of Yevonites treating her like dirt and wanted to convert to the teachings. My dad refused. One day, she just left with another guy. Several years later, we received word that she had died. My dad was heartbroken when she left. She threw away her heritage and left us to rot. I’ll never forgive her.”
Squall nodded, so that’s how it was. Though his story was not exactly the same, he certainly knew where she was coming from. “I understand.”
“How could you!--” She stopped and remembered his childhood. “I guess you would.” She was silent for a long moment. “I’ll be fine Squall. Go ahead and say goodbye to your friends.”
“I’ve lived with this all my life. It’s not going to go away with a few moment’s conversation.” He looked into her eyes for a long moment and tried to impart what comfort he could. He left her and turned towards the arch. Rikku sat down upon the step and began the long wait. Trying hard to think of anything but what she had just told Squall. She was interrupted in her attempted non-thinking by a faint banging against the shield she had erected around them. The banging was noticeable but hardly anything to worry about. It was still fairly weak.
Probably Isaaru she thought. Great, one depressing train of thought to another. Though she was growing to accept the responsibility of being a Sorceress, fighting him was definitely something she didn’t want to think about. A revelation suddenly hit her. Who says we have to fight?
The Isaaru she remembered was a good man, even if he was blindly devoted to Yevon. From everything she had heard of what he had become, he probably wasn’t interested in peace, but didn’t she owe it to herself and everyone else to try? It was risky communicating with him, but decided she could protect her mind for a few moments at least if needed.
Making her decision, she carefully blocked Squall from sensing her feelings, not wanting to be chewed out for attempting this. She followed the source of the assault and sent a thought along it, Isaaru? She was startled when she received her answer.
No, who is this? Rikku immediately withdrew. Several things were certain, the essence of the thought she had received was definitely not male in nature. It was female, and it sounded very angry. Also, she was definitely a Sorceress. Who it was and why she was assaulting her were a puzzle.
Great, there’s a third, and definitely not friendly. What the hell do I do now?
Entering the Farplane, Yuna was surprised to see that they were alone, except for one person. Usually the Farplane was full of people seeing their departed. She guessed that everyone was in Guadosalam preparing for the celebration. Turning her attention to the one person, she felt surprise and relief. It was Luzzu, a member of the Crusaders. One of the organization they were trying to find. Sensing their presence, he tilted his head and looked at her for a long moment.
“Lady Yuna.” He bowed his head politely.
Yuna smiled ironically, “I guess this is not much of a disguise after all.”
Luzzu chuckled, “Actually it is quite good. If I had not have known you for as long as I have, I suspect I would have never given you a second glance.”
Yuna returned his bow, “Sir Luzzu, we were hoping to meet a Crusader. I’m glad it was you.”
“How may I assist you?”
“Why are the Crusaders gathering in the Calm Lands?” She desperately hoped they had not been taken in by Yevon as well. They needed all the allies they could get. From the number of warrior monks she had seen, it could only be assumed they were drafting an army. If the Crusaders were a part of it, then she feared all hope was lost.
Before answering, he looked at the rest of the group for a moment. His eyes rested on Tidus and then widened in surprise. “Sir Tidus! I thought you were--”
Tidus grinned “Dead? It’s a long story Luzzu. Let’s just say I’m back and leave the how and why for later.”
Luzzu nodded, “As you wish. Though I will expect the full story some day.” Tidus agreed and he continued “We are once again cursed to live in interesting times. Rumors from the Al Bhed of the Lionheart walking the earth. This Yevon revival,” He took a moment to spit on the ground. “That for Yevon.”
Wakka looked at him for a moment,. “I always thought you were devoted to the teachings brudda.”
`“Once upon a time, yes. After Sin was defeated and the lies of the Maesters revealed, I changed my mind. Most of the Crusaders think likewise.”
“But why are you gathering in the Calm Lands? And why aren‘t you with them?” Yuna was relieved beyond words to hear Luzzu say that. She and her group now had additional allies. They weren’t completely alone.
“Orders from Captain Lucil. She assumed command of us after Maester Kinoc’s death. A missive from Bevelle directed her to dissolve and assimilate us into the warrior monks. We didn’t take kindly to that.” Luzzu’s eyes narrowed as someone else walked through the arch into the Farplane.
Yuna saw that it was Squall, minus Rikku, which didn’t really surprise her. She was one of the few who knew the truth of why she didn’t come in here and respected it. She then proceeded to introduce Squall. “Luzzu, I would like you to meet Squall Leonhart. You can speak freely, he’s with us. Squall this is Luzzu, he’s a Crusader.” Squall nodded in acknowledgement and Luzzu continued.
“To answer your second question, I’m doing a little spying. Interesting what is happening in Guadosalam, is it not?”
“Yes. It’s almost as if they are preparing for war. A celebration for a new Grand Maester as well. Though we have not yet heard a name.”
“It’s Isaaru, once protector of Bevelle.”
Yuna sighed, “Well, at least we know where he is now.”
“I sense you know something.”
Yuna nodded and told the whole story from the finding of the sphere to this meeting. At the end Luzzu’s eyes alighted on Squall, disbelieving “Then you are--”
Squall rolled his eyes. “Yes. I’m human like you though. Don’t treat me any differently.”
Luzzu nodded, though he had thousands of questions to ask, he decided to wait for later. “Lady Yuna, I pray I don’t exceed my authority when I ask this. Will you come with me back to the Calm Lands? Your presence would give heart to our people.”
Yuna consented after a moment‘s reflection, “It seems that would be best. We will return with you.” Squall silently agreed with her decision. It seemed that for a while now, they had just been walking along with no purpose. All had GF’s now, except for Rikku, and a Sorceress really didn’t need one. They needed to somehow find a way to Isaaru and put an end to this. Though if Bevelle was anything like Guadosalam, then he would probably prove impossible to get to. Going to the Calm Lands and joining an army didn’t seem like the best idea, but he didn’t currently have a better one. He was afraid that sooner or later, this would come to all out war. If so, they needed all the allies they could get.
Luzzu smiled, “I will wait outside then. I am done paying my respects. I will leave you to attend to yours.”
He turned to leave and Squall walked a little away from the rest of the group and concentrated on Rinoa. He was somewhat surprised when nothing appeared. Thinking he might be doing something wrong, he tried his other friends. Still nothing. In desperation, he thought of Headmaster Cid, and was rewarded with his appearance. He then tried his father and Ellone, but was mystified when they did not show. He sat for several long moments and looked over to the rest, who were as mystified as he was. He walked over to see what was happening.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Wakka shook his head in bewilderment, “We’re all trying to think of Auron, but nothing is happening. I don’t understand what’s wrong. Just a moment ago, I thought of Chappu and he showed up. Why not Auron?”
Suddenly as he said that, the image of Auron appeared. They were all shocked when something impossible happened. The image spoke. “Perhaps you weren’t thinking of me correctly.”
Tidus shook his head in disbelief, “Auron? How can this be? The dead don’t speak here!” He looked in confusion to Yuna, “Do they?”
Yuna vigorously shook her head, “No, they do not. Auron, are you alive?”
The image emitted a soft chuckle, “Alive? In a manner of speaking, yes. Not as you would understand it. It seldom happens, but every once in a while a human is found worthy of becoming a Guardian Force, like those you carry. I was such a one.”
“Then you’re like Diablos?” Lulu asked.
“Yes. Though I am rather new to the game. I have been sent in the stead of Bahamut, because I would be more familiar to you than others.”
Tidus whooped joyfully, “So you’re here to join us then?”
“Not on this day. I will join you when the time comes.”
Tidus had a thought that worried him a bit, “You’re not going make us prove ourselves worthy by fighting us are you?” Fighting Auron wasn’t a pleasing prospect. Besides being his mentor, the man was frightfully good.
Auron chuckled softly, “No. I already know your worth.”
“If you’re not here to join us yet. Why have you come?”
Auron gave one of his half smiles, “Perhaps, to say hello. Perhaps I missed you. Or perhaps to finally see this one.” He pointed to Squall, “Well met Lion of Balamb. I have heard much of you.“ Squall nodded back, a half smile of his own evident. Auron’s attention once again focused on the entire group, “We shall meet again.” With that, he faded away.
The group buzzed excitedly. Squall’s attention was still on what had happened earlier with the images of his friends not appearing. He waited out the excited conversation to ask his questions. Finally he was able to get a word in edgewise. “Can anyone tell me why my friends don’t appear when I think of them?”
“Don’t know. Try it again.” Tidus intoned.
Squall once again focused on Rinoa, willing her to show, still nothing. He tried the others, finally giving up, and focusing on Cid again. His image once again appeared. He grew frustrated and said, “Some of them do appear, but most don’t. What’s going on?”
Lulu looked perplexed, “It could mean many things.”
Wakka looked at her and said, “Maybe they became GF’s like Auron did?”
Scratching the scar on his forehead, he decided that was possible. But all of them? Including his dad and Ellone? Something was very wrong here, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He remembered his prior conversation with Tidus. Another possibility was that they were not dead. That they were somehow here and now. He dismissed that as extremely unlikely. He decided it was best to figure it out on the way. Something would occur to him, or it would somehow be explained. He felt it somehow.
Chafing at the barrier of his imprisonment, the dark figure stretched his senses to the world that he strove to subdue. Thousands of years had passed since his defeat at the hands of those damnable Guardians. It was true that time had no true meaning here, but the illusion of it passing remained, and he felt each moment most keenly. He- Proteus almost laughed at the thought. He had little need for mortal concepts such as gender or names. He often changed his name to amuse himself. Today Proteus, yesterday Hyne, tomorrow perhaps something else.
Years of watching mortals had left their mark on him. He supposed he had been corrupted in some small way, though the core of what he was remained and always would. Many times had he used mortals and other dark powers to cause the death and destruction for which he hungered. Jenova, Ultimicea, Sin, all were means to an end for him. Each attempt had weakened his prison and increased his strength. The strength of those who kept him imprisoned was waning with each passing day, especially with the death of Bahamut, his most despised foe. Long had the King of Dragons thwarted his desires.
He bathed the world with his sight and found something that truly surprised him. There were not two with the power of sorcery in this time, but three. He turned his eyes to the third and was pleased that his sight of this one was not blocked. The Guardians protected the other from his sight, but not this one. They probably did not have the strength for both. He immediately recognized her. The Sorceress who had stood against Ultimicea, along with her Knight, the Lionheart. He watched as she found herself surrounded by a group of those freak Ronso. Unlike the other, this one was battle-tested and could be a threat to his current tool.
He watched as she screamed and fell to her knees. He knew why immediately. The other, this Rikku, had blocked access to her Knight. She was vulnerable. This was most fortunate. This situation could easily be turned to his advantage. He stretched out his will to his tool and enfolded him in his dark embrace.
Isaaru was greatly surprised, but grateful. He writhed in the ecstasy that his lord’s presence always invoked in him. My lord? How unexpected and welcome. What do you wish of me?
Join your mind with mine Isaaru. I wish to show you something. Isaaru joined minds and saw the image of Rinoa screaming and passing out. You should know this one. I shared the memory of her with you.
Yes, my lord. The one who is called ‘Angel’ in the legends, she is accompanied by the Children Of Fate. He thought distastefully, She is here? Now?
She could be a threat.
You see threat. I see an opportunity. Look deeper into her mind. Tell me your impressions.
Isaaru concentrated for a moment. He gently brushed her mind so as not to alert her, getting a sense of her current state and emotions . She has been blocked from her Knight, and now realizes how much she truly needs and desires him. She is confused and afraid.
Yes. We can use this one to eliminate the other. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how. After the deed is done, only the power will remain in her, the rest swept away. She will then be a fit tool.
No, my lord. I understand perfectly. He would have to be subtle. Blunt attempts at control would alert her. He could break through the shields she would erect, but that would take time. Quicker to whisper, to suggest. She woke up as he was watching, and he was gratified that her emotional state would make her more susceptible to his influence. He wouldn’t have to control her mind at all. Just whisper a few suggestions and stir the pot of madness in her mind.
He listened to her thoughts for a moment. She was admitting to herself that she needed and desired her Knight back. She was completely focused on the loss of her Knight and didn’t even notice his will in her mind. It was then he began to whisper You must fight for your Knight. Good or bad, she keeps him from you. It is a matter of survival. He then reached to the darkness in her mind and gently began to stir, to influence. He smiled to himself, this wouldn’t take long at all.
Proteus watched for a moment, pleased with his tool, then turning his mind to other matters. Perhaps this time, he would gain the strength needed to shatter his prison. He yearned for the day when he could once again walk the world clothed in flesh. This time, the Guardians and Ancients would not be there to stop him.
Captain Lucil received the latest diplomatic message from Bevelle with something akin to disgust. She glanced at the seal and was surprised to see that Krell’s signature, and not Isaaru’s was affixed. Her sources had informed her that Krell had been killed at Isaaru’s order. She contemplated not even opening it, they all said the same thing. Something about this one troubled her though. She decided she would read it, but first she had to attend an important meeting. After getting the Ronso to agree to an alliance, Kimahri had struggled with how to get a message to the Al Bhed. She agreed with him that it was a good step, but didn’t know how to get them to come in time.
Both their worries had been for naught. The Al Bhed had sent a representative to them. Their leader, Cid, must have somehow gotten information on what was happening and had been a step ahead of them. The old fox always seemed to know what was going on. She threw the scroll to the side of her desk into a basket, promising herself she would read it later. She thrust it to the back of her mind and headed off to the meeting.
Looking back on the last few days was a little confusing. Seifer had told the rest of the gang everything that Kimahri had told him. That their enemy was not this Rikku, but actually a Sorcerer. He didn’t know how that could be, since holders of the power had always been female. He would stake all he owned though on the fact that Kimahri was not a liar. Besides stories of Ronso honor, he had decided that this Kimahri was someone he could trust. Truly surprising was Rinoa’s reaction. He understood that she was still recovering, but he didn’t expect her to take the news with disinterest. She had withdrawn into her own little world of late, and nothing seemed to get her out of it. Laguna, Selphie, Irvine, everyone had tried to get through to her. She would acknowledge their presence and even talk to some degree, but it was like she wasn’t even there.
There didn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with her, though the healer insisted she stay a few more days to rest. Seifer was of the opinion that doctors and healers everywhere were overly cautious, but generally found that it was best to do what they say. No, what seemed to be wrong was in her mind. It was almost like the loss of Squall had taken the life right out of her. A tap from Zell on the shoulder broke him out of the reverie and he focused on his current surroundings.
Seifer was a bit surprised to have been included, but Kimahri had seen him as an equal. They were meeting with the leader of the Crusaders and a representative of a people called the Al Bhed, whoever they were. It was obvious that this world would soon be at war. He still had little knowledge of the political workings of this time, and decided to keep his mouth shut as much as possible.
They had each been allowed one aide during this meeting, and he had decided on Zell. He still had no idea why he had chosen him, but something told him it was the right decision. He just hoped Zell wouldn’t spout something out like he sometimes did, but decided to trust him.
Captain Lucil entered the room with a man who Seifer guessed was the Al Bhed. His suspicions were deemed correct upon the introductions.
Zell, upon hearing the Al Bhed’s name, said before thinking “Brother? What kind of a name is that?” Seifer winced and Zell mentally kicked himself. He had tried to work on it, but often his mouth spoke before his mind figured out what it was doing. Luckily the Al Bhed didn’t take offense.
He laughed and answered, “My father has a strange sense of humor at times. And you are?”
“Zell. I’m a SeeD.”
Seifer wasn’t prepared for the strange look that Brother gave him. It was a look of shock, and perhaps-- joy? “Our people are descended from you. We recently met another of your kind.”
The riddle of being their ancestors could wait a bit, Seifer decided to answer before Zell could. “Would his name be Squall?”
“Indeed it is. He passed through our lands some time ago.”
Seifer thought to himself He sure seems to be moving around. Damnit Squall, would you stay in one place?
Lucil coughed, “All this is very interesting, but can we get to the reason why we’re here?”
Brother nodded, pulling a letter from his pocket, obviously a prepared statement of some kind. He began to read and after a long dialogue of diplomatic niceties and greetings, he finally got to the heart of the message “We are aware of your plight. We share the same problem it seems. It is obvious that if we do not stand together, we will fall separately. We do desire alliance and pledge whatever support we can. However, logistics is a problem. It will take time to gather the necessary supplies and ships to arrive where you are now. We will try. I pray only that we do not arrive too late.”
Lucil shook her head, “I do not understand. You arrived in a flying craft. Do you not still have the airship that battled Sin? I remember it as very large, fast, and powerful. Could it not transport your people here quickly?”
Brother noted sadly, “The ship you describe no longer works. Much of the machinery used in it’s operation and construction are beyond our current grasp. We are learning but it is a slow process. The small aircraft I arrived in is a prototype. It uses much simpler principles to fly, but we have only a few. Nowhere near enough to transport an army.”
Zell’s interest was piqued as he listened. This airship he was hearing about would be something he would love to get a look at. After SeeD received the Ragnarok, he had taken every course he could in airship construction, engineering and design. As it was cheaper than hiring a staff of outside technicians, Cid had allowed himself and several other SeeD’s to take courses and learn whatever they could. He had always had strong mechanical aptitude, and had proven to be a natural at it. He had even submitted a design to the Headmaster. Cid took one look at the blueprints and immediately fell in love with it. The plans had been submitted to Esthar and construction was currently in the negotiation phase. It was his dream to see his creation built someday, but maybe he could help these people now. He wanted to be there when they found Squall, but this was important too. This time he didn’t repeat his earlier mistake and looked at Seifer first before speaking. Seifer guessed what he had in mind and nodded.
“I think I can help. I know some about airships, and I’m pretty good with machines.”
Brother, Lucil and the rest looked at him. Brother was the first to speak, “Do you truly think you can?”
“I think so. Depends on how advanced this thing of yours really is. I can’t imagine it being much different than what I’ve seen before, though.”
The Ronso nodded, “Kimahri thinks this should be done without delay.”
Agreement was heard all around. Zell swore, “Tch. I wish I brought my tools.”
Brother laughed, “Tools will not be a problem. We will give you anything you need.”
The meeting broke up. Zell and Seifer agreed to meet Brother at his craft in several hours. Enough to explain and say goodbye for a time. Zell seemed somewhat excited, but then again Seifer found it hard to remember a time when he wasn’t. Though he had grown more mature, and controlled his emotions much better than before, the core was still Zell, and probably always would be. He chuckled to himself that he probably wouldn’t have it any other way. The chicken-wuss had definitely been retired.
Arriving at the dwelling where the others were, they quickly explained what had been decided. Everyone was sad, but understood why he must leave. Except Rinoa, she never said a word except a distant, “Goodbye Zell. See you again soon.” Seifer had an inkling of what was wrong, and drew Laguna aside to talk about it.
Laguna scratched his head, “Guess you want to talk about Rinoa, huh?”
“Yeah. I think I have an idea of what’s wrong.”
“Remember the story you told me on the Ragnarok? About the Knight who bonded two Sorceresses?”
“Yep. His mind was torn apart eventually.”
“What if the story got it wrong? Maybe the Sorceresses are the ones affected.”
“That could be. We have to take into account why they have Knights too.”
“When I did the research about Adel. I didn’t find a single occurrence of a Sorceress not having a Knight not going crazy, or turning destructive eventually. I think that Knights do more than protect them physically.”
“You think Knights protect them from the power itself?”
“Why didn’t Ultimicea get better when she bonded me then?”
Laguna sighed, “I think she was too far gone by the time she got to you.”
Seifer nodded. That time was not something he wished to remember, but he forced himself. Too much was at stake to be sensitive about the past. “She was definitely a nut case. We’d better find Squall and soon, or Rinoa could be too far gone for Squall to help.”
Laguna glanced at him in an aside, obviously uncomfortable with bringing this up, “There’s another alternative. At least temporarily.”
Seifer realized what he was saying. That he should bond Rinoa. Besides not wanting to intrude on Squall’s territory, the thought of being a Knight again terrified him beyond anything he thought possible. Ultimicea was anything but gentle, and raped his mind almost every waking moment. The only ease he found were in the soothing dreams she sent him. Those were only sent as a reward for when he had done well. She had treated him like a trained animal. No, much worse. He understood that Rinoa wasn’t like that, but he couldn’t take the chance. He would never go through anything like that again. He couldn’t take it. His thoughts were interrupted by a voice.
“He speaks the path of reason.” He turned to see the figure they had seen in the Interval, pointing to Laguna.
Seifer gazed at him a moment, “Auron right?”
Auron nodded and pointedly fixed Seifer with his gaze, “You must face becoming what you most fear.”
“Would you explain yourself? All you ever do when you show up is say something dramatic and then appear to enjoy being cryptic. Speak plainly for once!”
“As you wish. You must become a Knight again.”
“Forget it! I’m never going to do that again! Even if it is for Rinoa!”
Auron shook his head, frustrated and mystified. He had never said who he was to bond. Why did people always insert their own misconceptions into a simple statement? Best not to worry about it. It would either work itself out…. or not. “Then don’t. All stories must have an ending. I had hoped this one would not be tragic.” He then faded from sight, leaving Seifer to ponder his choice.
Seifer and Laguna entered the dwelling. Seifer requested that he be able to speak to Rinoa alone. Everyone but Laguna looked at him questioningly, but filed out. Seifer gazed into Rinoa’s face for a moment. She was looking back at him, but the eyes seemed devoid of emotion. He decided to get this over with, not knowing how much time there was left till this was no longer her. “Rinoa, we have to talk.”
“What have we to discuss?”
“Rinoa, I want you to bond me as your Knight, at least for now. Me and everyone else are worried about you. For all intents and purposes, Squall isn’t your Knight now. You need one.”
Rinoa’s eyes became awash in an eerie light, “No. Squall is my Knight. I will take no other.”
“This discussion is at an end. I am leaving now to find him. Come, or don’t come. It’s your choice.”
She stood, stopping only to attach her weapon to her wrist, and grabbing her supply bag. She strode out of the tent purposefully. Seifer hurriedly followed and told everyone else to gather their gear immediately and leave. Zell looked questioningly at the departing Rinoa, and turned to Seifer “Want me to stay with you? This doesn’t look good.”
Seifer sighed and rubbed his forehead, the beginnings of a headache evident. “No. Go help the Al Bhed. That’s important too. These people are going to need all the help we can get.”
“What are you guys going to do if she goes nuts or something?”
Seifer didn’t want to answer that question. Quistis looked at Selphie and Irvine, who sadly nodded back to her. Rinoa was a dear friend to them all, but they had all seen the results of such situations before. It went beyond sentiment, love or friendship. The price of a mad and unrestrained Sorceress was too high. Quistis answered for them all, “We’re SeeD’s. We’ll act accordingly.”
A part of Rinoa was screaming inside. When first Squall was blocked from her, she was desperately sad, but still in control. Then what seemed to be a part of herself began whispering suggestions to her. They said what she wanted to hear, and it seemed natural to follow. Now she suspected that those whispers weren’t part of her at all. Though, she had been angry and had wished harm upon others in the past, she was always able to step back and be in control of herself. This time was different. The darkness that had appeared in her mind since Squall was blocked from her had begun to rage uncontrollably. It had happened faster than she ever dreamed possible.
The part that was Rinoa no longer wanted to hurt this other sorceress, this Rikku. Good or evil, she had Squall, and that was intolerable. She had heard the name Isaaru and understood intellectually that he was a threat somehow. He just didn’t seem important. He could wait for later. Thoughts of Rikku dominated her mind. She began to send probing attacks in her direction. They were ineffective now, but as she came closer, they would gain in strength.
Soon after starting, she heard a voice resound in her mind. Isaaru? Rinoa knew that name should bother her a lot more than it did, but she thrust that out of her mind.
She responded angrily, Who is this? She suspected that she knew the answer already. As quickly as the contact had appeared it stopped. She felt the presence of her companions catching up to her and falling in behind her. She decided to tolerate it for now. They might prove useful. The part that was still Rinoa screamed uncontrollably, This isn’t me! This isn’t me!
Rikku stood as the rest exited from the Farplane. Luzzu had come out sometime before and kept her company, so the wait wasn’t all that bad. She wasn’t prepared for the excited talk coming from everyone. Everyone but one that is. She was gratified to hear that Auron had become a GF. Despite their early troubles, Auron had grown on her. She had come to value him as much as the others did, and was sorry she didn’t get a chance to see him again. Turning her attention to Squall, she saw the same expression he had worn when first coming to Spira. It meant he was thinking too much again, not a good sign.
She had come too far with him to allow him to relapse now. It would be attended to later. First, decisions had to be made, and Squall needed to know there was another Sorceress. Before she got a chance, Wakka made a remark that stopped her dead in her tracks, “I still don’t understand why your friends didn’t appear, ya?”
Rikku didn’t pretend to be an expert on the Farplane. Matter of fact, she usually tuned out whatever she heard about it. She did know that if someone didn’t appear, it usually meant they were not dead. She wasn’t stupid, and could put two and two together. Another Sorceress, the fact that she didn’t appear in the Farplane. It could mean only one thing. Rinoa was coming for her Knight.
Rikku knew she should tell him, but didn’t want to risk losing him. Even now, he seemed to be stuck on her. If he found out, he might just run off and chase after her. It wasn’t fair, she had come so far. They were growing closer to each other daily and now to be possibly robbed of her opportunity was maddening. He did deserve to know the truth though. She was still stuck in her indecision when she heard her voice being called.
She pasted a smile on her face, hiding her feelings. “Yes?”
Squall gazed at her for a moment, almost as if sensing she was faking it, “You heard where we’re going right?”
She thought for a moment, struggling to remember if she had heard, “The Calm Lands?”
Yuna nodded, “Yes. Isaaru is the new Grand Maester, meaning he is probably in Bevelle.”
Rikku pursed her lips, “If it’s anything like Guadosalam, he’s probably surrounded by thousands of soldiers.”
Squall agreed, “And probably impossible to get to. We’re going to need help.”
“What are you guys planning?”
Squall and Yuna exchanged glances, a moment of silent communication passing between them. It was the only way. Yuna answered “We go to the Calm Lands and join the Crusaders. We’re going to take Bevelle.”
Seifer watched as Rinoa simply obliterated another group of fiends that had attacked them. He was still unnerved by how the monsters simply turned into flecks of light and dissolved. Unexplainable changes had occurred in the world. He still shuddered when he thought of the first time they had confronted a Behemoth on Gagazet. Watching it stand on two legs had been one of the biggest shocks of his life.
Another was watching Rinoa. Though a Sorceress, she had never used her powers unless there was great need, preferring to trust in her weapon and training as a SeeD. Obviously that had changed, along with other things. None of the group had even needed to draw their weapons as of yet. When confronted, Rinoa simply gestured and destruction followed. It was not a good sign.
Quistis walked over to Rinoa after the last encounter and attempted to engage her in conversation. Rinoa did respond when they attempted to talk to her, but usually in only terse, one word answers. They had all tried to get through to her at one time or another. None had succeeded. Seifer felt that perhaps they were only delaying the inevitable. He hurt at the thought of putting Rinoa down like a rabid dog, but it was becoming apparent they may not have a choice. Squall, wherever you are, I hope you’re close. You’re the only one she’ll listen to at this point.
Quistis fell back to talk to him, as they continued walking. Selphie was studying the map, although Rinoa didn’t seem to need it. She seemed to know exactly where they were going. He gazed at Quistis deciding to ask, even though he already knew the answer. “Any luck getting through?”
Quistis sighed, “No. I don’t know what’s happening, but this isn‘t like her. You don’t think she’s being possessed do you?”
Seifer shook his head, “No. If she were being possessed then I don’t think she would let us near her. If anything, maybe she’s being influenced. Although I think the lack of a Knight has more to do with it than anything.”
Quistis looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean?”
“Laguna and I have a theory. He did a lot of research when he was trying to take down Adel. One of the things he found was that when they don’t have Knights, they almost inevitably go mad.”
She stared at him evenly, “And you didn’t think this important enough to share with the rest of us?”
“It was only a theory. Although I think it’s proving to be true.”
“I still don’t understand. Even if it is true, it shouldn’t happen this fast. She’s stronger than that.”
“I think I can answer that. Like I mentioned before, I don’t think it’s outright possession, at least not yet. Influence is definitely not out of the question. Probably by this Isaaru character. It’s how Ultimicea started with me.”
Seifer forced himself past the reluctance of not speaking of it. “She started by whispering things in my mind. Telling me what I wanted to hear. Suggestions followed that seemed to be natural. Most of the time I didn’t even realize they were coming from her. They seemed to be coming from me. I was wholly hers before I even realized it. It happened faster than I ever thought possible. If she’s anything like I was, there’s a part of her in there right now that is starting to realize what’s happening, but there’s nothing she can do about it. She’s very scared and helpless at this point. Whatever causes the madness in Sorceresses isn‘t helping either.”
Quistis gazed at Rinoa, who was striding far ahead of them. “What can we do to help her?”
Seifer looked at Quistis for a moment, and returned his gaze straight ahead. “Not a damn thing, not without Squall. Our friendship isn’t enough at this point. It‘s a race. We‘ve got to find him before it‘s too late.”
“How can he help?”
“Squall has to reinforce their bond. Show her that she’s loved. Maybe he can break through, and give her the courage to come back to herself. Sounds corny, I know. I don’t have anything better at this point.”
Quistis couldn’t help but smile at his words. Love, friendship, and courage. Sounds familiar. Somehow, she never thought she would hear those words from Seifer in one conversation. Things had definitely changed in the last five years. Some of it had changed for the better. For the first time since this began, she believed that maybe it would turn out alright.
Rikku gazed with distaste and more than a little fear at the land spread out before her. The thunder and lightning never stopped. This place was the foundation of all her nightmares. They had been traveling through this area for two days and were currently taking shelter under one of the towers. She clutched Squall’s arm, as another peal of thunder echoed around them. He put his arm around her, and offered what comfort he could. His presence definitely helped. She would normally be scared silly at this point. At least she wasn’t hanging on to Tidus’ leg like she had last time. Halfway there. Just another two days, she kept telling herself.
She couldn’t help but think of what two more days also meant. Rinoa was drawing nearer and she still hadn’t told Squall. The attacks came intermittently, and were growing stronger, but still nothing to worry about. Speak of the devil she sighed inwardly as she felt a force bang against her shield persistently. She had forgotten to hide it from Squall, and he felt it too. He glanced at her, grabbed her hand and pulled her aside.
“Rikku, what’s happening?”
“It’s an attack. It’s nothing to worry about. It’s not strong.”
“Maybe not yet. Has this happened before?” She nodded and he swore, “When were you planning on telling me?!”
“I… didn’t think it was that important. I didn’t want to worry you.”
He just stared at her for a moment, “Rikku, with something like this, go ahead and worry me. I won‘t mind too terribly much.”
“Well, there’s nothing you can do about it right?”
“Maybe not. But don’t you think I deserve to know when Isaaru’s trying to make a grab for you?”
Rikku sighed inwardly, But it’s not Isaaru. How can I tell him the truth without him leaving? She still struggled inwardly with her indecision. She did need to tell him, but not yet. She wanted to try and communicate with Rinoa first. Maybe she could reason with her. Make her realize that she loved Squall and to leave them alone. Yeah, fat chance of that happening.
“Yeah. I’ll make sure to tell you from now on.”
Squall nodded and smiled softly, “Good. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
She smiled back at him. It was such a rare occurrence that it was always a moment to treasure. “You almost sound like you care.”
Squall blushed slightly, and said in a low voice before heading back to the others, “Because I do.”
Rikku was greatly heartened by his last statement. Maybe there was a chance he would choose her after all. Didn’t he deserve the right to make that choice? She chewed her lip as she considered. Really troubling was the fact that she wasn’t like the Rinoa that Squall had described at all. His descriptions were of a kind person, not the angry bitch she had sensed. She decided against trying to communicate with her. Judging from the attacks, Rinoa wasn’t much interested in talking. I just don’t know what to do.
Yet another flash of lightning appeared and Squall smiled inwardly when Rikku clutched his arm protectively. He sensed she was terrified but was glad his presence helped. Her mouth moved every once in awhile, almost as if she was on the verge of saying something, but thought better of it. They had almost reached the inn that marked the halfway point. Another of Rin’s Travel Agencies he guessed.
He had struggled with the problem of his friends not appearing on the Farplane. He decided the problem was insoluble at this point. If he was meant to know, it would be revealed to him as so many other things had in the past. He instead turned his mind to other matters, like the flighty, little Sorceress holding tightly on to his arm. He didn’t say it, but her presence comforted him too. It made everything that he had lost seem bearable.
He had for a while now, tried to resolve his feelings for her. All he truly knew was that he was extremely protective of her and would die for her if necessary. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but you never knew. What he struggled with was if it was love or not. He remembered the feelings he had for Rinoa, and mentally compared them with what he felt for Rikku. He discovered that what he felt now was different, but no less strong. If he had to make a choice between them, he honestly didn’t know which one he would choose. So, it’s love? Yeah, I guess it is.
The thought frightened him a bit. The specter of losing everything he loved again reared its ugly head. Rinoa had taught him the value of sometimes throwing everything to the wind and taking a chance. He decided that he would take the chance on Rikku, but now wasn’t the time for such things. He would wait until this was over. Then he could make a life for himself here, Rikku hopefully by his side.
Laguna and Ellone were looking at the map with Selphie, “So, we‘ve just entered Macalania Woods?”
“Yep. After we get through here, then we reach a place called the Thunder Plains. I heard the weather was awful there. There’s always a huge storm with constant thunder and lightning. Not my idea of a vacation spot.”
Laguna chuckled, “How long will it take to get through these woods?”
“Three days. As fast as Rinoa’s pushing us, maybe two.”
Ellone looked a bit nervous, and finally asked the question that had been bothering her “We’re not going to have to fight her, are we? She’s getting worse. Half the time she doesn’t even answer when we talk to her.”
Laguna looked at Rinoa sitting alone some distance away. He loved the girl like she was his own daughter. It hurt beyond words to see her this way. If this Isaaru was responsible like Seifer suspected, he swore to make him pay. He had taken down one Sorceress in his life. He would find a way to do it again. “Only as a last resort, Elle. Pray we find Squall soon. I just hope it isn’t already too late.”
Rikku breathed a sigh of relief as they finally passed out of the Thunder Plains into Macalania Woods. Luzzu was relieved right along with her. He was almost as scared of it as she was, and he didn’t have anyone’s hand to hold. Squall had to stifle a laugh as she bounced up and down. I’ll never have to worry about being bored with her around, he thought. His happy thoughts were stopped as Rikku suddenly dropped to her knees. Squall felt a bit of the assault himself, but she had taken the bulk of it. He rushed to her side and helped her up. “Another attack?”
She nodded and stood, her knees wobbling, “They’re getting stronger.”
“It means he’s getting closer.” Squall thought to himself for a moment. Maybe the entire war could be avoided. If Isaaru’s attacks were growing stronger, it meant he was coming. The final showdown could occur right here. It was hard to imagine him being that stupid, but hoped for once in his life something went his way. “Everyone, Isaaru is heading our way . I don’t know why he’s coming but we can end this right now. Let’s get ready.”
Rikku blinked back tears. She had to tell him, she could hide it no longer. “Squall, it’s not Isaaru.” She raised her eyes to meet his, seeing absolute bewilderment reflected back at her.
This was it. The moment she had feared. It could mean losing him. “I can’t be sure, but I think it’s Rinoa.”
“It can’t be. Rinoa would never attack you like this!”
“I- don’t understand either. I only know it’s a female and that she’s a Sorceress.”
“How do you know?!”
“It happened when you were in the Farplane. When I felt the first attack, I thought it was Isaaru and tried to communicate. I wanted to convince him there was no need to fight. I called out and a female answered. I know it was stupid, but I had to try.”
Squall took a deep breath, trying very hard to control himself, “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
Rikku sobbed, tears running uncontrollably down her cheek “Because I didn’t want to lose you. If you knew she was here, you might have run off to be with her. I didn’t want that.”
Squall turned away from her, his mind in absolute chaos. He took deep breaths and tried to make some sense out of his thoughts. After many tries, he finally succeeded. He considered leaving, but the fact of the matter was, a Sorceress was on her way. Whether it was Rinoa or not, she was definitely hostile. As angry as he was at Rikku, he had to put it aside for now. He was her Knight and she needed him by her side. He turned back around. Her eyes were staring fixedly downward.
Yuna, obviously uncomfortable, nevertheless said what was needed, “Squall, what do we do?”
“Rikku, how far away is she? Can you tell?”
Rikku said in a small voice, “Not far. An hour, maybe two.”
Squall swore, not much time. His gaze swept the entire group, “We can’t be sure this is Rinoa. Everyone prepare for battle. Make sure your GF’s are ready.”
He lifted his finger under Rikku’s chin, and raised her eyes to his. He swallowed his anger and smiled at her, “This isn’t the time for guilt. We’ll talk about this later. Right now, you need to be ready. Can we count on you?”
She bit back a sob and smiled hopefully back at him. “I’ll be ready.”
“No matter what happens, I’ll do my best to protect you. Don’t hide anything more from me, alright?”
he nodded and felt a glimmering of hope. No matter what, she would make it through this. She only hoped she still had him when it was over.
Seifer and the rest of the group struggled to keep up with Rinoa. She had begun to move faster, feeling that she was close. Seifer had the sense that for good or ill, this would be over very soon. Rinoa’s focus had changed in the past day. She hardly mentioned Squall at all. Instead she focused on the other Sorceress, Rikku. Seifer found that frightening. It might be too late.
Squall stood on the path, his gun blade drawn, with Rikku standing behind him. Everyone else he had arranged in hiding in the bushes, preparing for an ambush if necessary. He sensed through his bond with Rikku that whoever this was, they would be here within a few moments. He took the time to compose his mind, to clear the confusion. If it was Rinoa, he was Knight to them both. How could he fight the one and protect the other? Both oaths were equal in his mind, and he didn’t know how to resolve it. He found himself fervently hoping it wasn’t her. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to do if it was.
His fears were answered as he heard a familiar voice. A voice he dreaded and loved at the same time, “It’s considered bad form to take another Sorceress’s Knight.” Rinoa walked into view, and for a moment he just drank in the sight of her, amazed at the depths of which he had missed her. He had counted her as lost, and tried to forget the feelings he had for her. They all came rushing back to him at that moment. Other figures burst out from behind her and he was shocked beyond words to see that everyone had accompanied her. Even his dad and Ellone were here.
Rinoa spared him a glance for a moment, and then settled her eyes on Rikku “So, you’ve turned him against me? Relinquish him, girl. He belongs to me.”
Squall stared at her for a moment. This isn’t Rinoa. What the hell?! Is she possessed? He backed up closer to Rikku, prepared to protect her. Rinoa looked at him, “Out of my way Squall. We have something to settle between the two of us.”
Squall shook his head, “Rinoa, there’s something wrong. This isn’t like you. There’s no need to fight.”
Rinoa gestured and he was flung aside like a rag doll. Rikku glared at her and began preparing an attack. “No one treats my Knight that way. No one!”
Pure, raw power crackled in the wind as the Sorceresses faced off. Spells of massive power flew through the air, smashing into the others defenses.
Seifer and his group moved forward to restrain Rinoa. Unfortunately their action was misunderstood. The vanquishers of Sin burst forth from hiding to do battle with the Children of Fate.
Squall shook his head to clear it. The last thing he remembered was Rinoa magically flinging him here. He sat up and observed pandemonium. Everyone he knew, friends both new and old, were facing off against each other. He had to put a stop to this somehow. He swept his gaze over the area and observed Seifer clashing blades with Tidus. Squall sprinted towards them. Seifer ducked the Blitzer’s latest blow, pivoted, and swept his foot out behind him, attempting to crash into his opponent’s leg. Tidus anticipated the maneuver and leaped over it, landed in a wide stance and swept his arm into an overhead slice. Seifer recovered and raised his blade to block the blow in time. Squall crashed into them, knocking both to the ground.
Tidus’ yelled at him, “Squall! What the hell are you doing?! These people are trying to kill us!”
“Stop! Both of you! You’re not enemies!”
Seifer glared at Tidus, “I tried to tell ‘ Mr. Mama Dresses Me Funny’ that! He wouldn’t listen!”
Tidus began a retort, and Squall yelled “ENOUGH! Stand down! Both of you!” He looked at Seifer “What the hell is going on?! Make it quick!” He glanced in the direction of the Rikku-Rinoa conflict. Rikku was weakening. It wouldn’t last much longer.
Seifer swore and told Squall what was going on as fast as he could. Squall listened and thought for a moment. “You two. Break everyone else up. Where’s Ellone?”
Seifer pointed to a bush, “She went over there to hide.”
Squall sprinted to her position, “Ellone! Come out. I need you!” Ellone poked her head from hiding. Squall had to admit to himself that this plan was desperate. It required a great sacrifice, but it was the only way to make sure both lived. It was all he had though. He grabbed her hand and got as close to Rinoa and Rikku as he dared.
“Squall, it’s great-”
“There’s no time for that! I need you!”
“What do you want me to do?”
“When I give the signal, connect me with Rinoa.”
“No buts! Just do it!”
Squall closed his eyes, preparing his mind. I’m sorry Rikku. It’s the only way to protect you both. He reached out and cut his bond with her. Rikku crashed to her knees. The sudden severing sending waves of pain through her. The bond to Rinoa suddenly coursed through his mind again. He finally understood what the absence he had felt was. “Now, Ellone!”
Ellone gestured and Squall found himself on a dreamscape, with Rinoa beside him. She looked around confused for a moment, then settled her gaze on him. “You are only delaying the inevitable. She will fall before me.”
Squall looked at her with hard eyes, “This isn’t you Rinoa. I don’t know what happened, but we‘re going to bring the real you back. Whatever it takes.”
Rinoa laughed, “I find I’m beginning to like myself the way I am. It’s very liberating. So, what happens if you can’t get the ‘real’ me back?”
Squall replied, “Then neither of us leaves here alive.”
Seifer and Tidus had succeeded in breaking up the general melee, quickly explaining what had happened. They milled about, each group avoiding the other as best they could, suspicious glances traded between them. Seifer sighed and turned his attention to the two fallen sorceresses and Knight. Ellone was kneeling, eyes closed, concentrating on something. He stood beside Ellone, “Sis, what’s happening?”
“I’m connecting Squall and Rinoa. He’s trying to reach her. Leave me be for now. This isn’t easy.”
Seifer nodded and saw that Rikku was waking up. He went over to check on her. Her eyes focused and she sat up. She looked at him oddly for a moment, “Seifer, right?”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“Squall drew a picture of you in his journal. The scar gave you away.” Seifer subconsciously traced his finger along the old injury. Rikku would normally have laughed but she felt something was wrong. She searched her mind and found that what she had most feared had happened. The bond with Squall was gone. “He left me. After everything he promised, he’s gone.” She felt she should be crying, instead everything was numb.
Seifer shook his head, “Don’t think of it like that. He did it to protect you both. It was the only way.”
She gazed at the unconscious forms of Rinoa and Squall. “What exactly happened?”
“It’s not easy to explain. What you saw of Rinoa is NOT what she is normally like. We think it was a combination of things. Being blocked from Squall, and probably a helping hand by this Isaaru. Ellone over there has the power to connect people’s minds. Whether past, present, or future. She’s connecting the two of them now. We‘re hoping Squall can help her come back.”
“What happens if he can’t?”
A middle aged man and a blonde woman carrying a whip came to stand beside them. She recognized him from the illustrations as Squall‘s father, Laguna. The woman‘s name came to him after a moment. “Then we kill her. There’s nothing else we can do.”
Quistis shook her head, “It won’t come to that. He‘ll find a way. He always does. ”
Seifer sent out a silent prayer. Squall, you don’t make a habit of failing. Don’t start now!
Isaaru watched from the corner of Rinoa’s mind. He had seen the entire conflict, and the outcome. He cursed Squall for his resourcefulness, but this wasn’t over. It was far from over. He redoubled his efforts. He couldn’t let this Rinoa return to herself. He was stronger than either of the two Sorceresses but he didn’t know if he could take them both, and he didn’t want to find out.
Rinoa laughed even harder at Squall’s pronouncement, “Neither of us leave here alive? I’ve never known you to be a drama queen. Now be a good little Knight and let us out of here. Take your rightful place at my side.”
Squall shook his head, “No. It’s not drama. It’s the truth.”
“So, you would die with me? How sweet, but unnecessary. If you refuse to be my Knight, I’m sure I can find someone else.”
Squall smiled, “I can’t allow that either.”
Rinoa’s eyes flashed, “Remember your oath to me. You promised to protect me from anyone!”
“I am protecting you. From yourself.” Now, Ellone. He thought. Take us to our past.
To when we first met.
The dreamscape rippled and Squall found himself in his own mind, along with Rinoa. He recognized this time as the SeeD inaugural party. Right after he had graduated. The night they met.
What’s the purpose of this?
Just watch Rinoa. You get to see yourself as I see you.
Rinoa watched, almost fascinated as Squall stood against the wall, lost in thought as usual. Several people had come up to him. Two he recognized as Selphie and Zell. He rebuffed them and continued to stand. Alone. Suddenly a shooting star grabbed his attention through the skylight. His gaze drifted to the dance floor, and it seemed he saw a vision of an angel. It wasn’t only her looks, something else intrigued him. She pointed up at the star, almost as if to say, “Was that for us?” She began walking in his direction. Squall almost laughed as he remembered that he had a sudden urge to flee. He had forgotten that.
He sent his thoughts in her direction You ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t taken a chance on that lonely guy in the corner?
He felt her wistful smile, Sometimes. You were the best looking guy there. It intrigued me that someone like you could be standing alone.
Squall felt a ray of hope. It seemed he was talking to Rinoa now, not whatever she had become. They continued to watch as they danced, almost comically bad at first, but soon dancing rather well. Rinoa’s thoughts soon interrupted his reverie, This trip down memory lane is fascinating. Unfortunately it’s also futile. Squall sensed another presence within Rinoa, that was forcing her to say such things. He had reached her though, he was sure of it.
Bear with me. We’re not done yet. He instructed Ellone to take them several other places. The conversation he had held with a comatose Rinoa on the bridge to Esthar, leaping out into space to save her, the Sorceress Memorial, the flower field and an important promise, all these they watched. He felt a wavering in her spirit, a struggle for control. Yes, she’s fighting!
I’m scared. He’s too strong. I was a fool. I listened to him without realizing it. He stirred whatever this darkness is . It’s taking me over. Soon there won’t be anything left of me. I can’t make it back. I can only hold this for a moment.
I guess I’m saying goodbye. I know what you have to do. I love you. I wish you and Rikku happiness.
If he had a body, he would have been shaking with emotion. It wasn’t going to happen. He couldn’t let it end this way. Rinoa, he can beat either one of us alone. He can’t beat both of us!
What are you saying?
You’re not giving up. I won’t let you! Reach your mind out to mine!
Mystified, she did as he asked. She felt something flowing along their bond. It steadily picked up speed and she found herself sharing every memory Squall could remember. Every laugh, every tear, every heartbreak, every smile. Laughing, she realized she was even sharing in his headaches. She was sharing in everything that he was. She had never thought of Squall as passionate, but she found that she was so wrong. The depth and intensity of his feelings startled her. Even more startling, she found that she was among the most intense of his feelings. She reciprocated before she even realized it, sharing her memories with him. They now understood each other as few in history had ever done. In the face of this, the darkness didn’t seem to matter. It had lost its strength.
Squall smiled at her, Do you understand now?
Yes, I don‘t have to fight alone. You’re with me. Together we can fight it.
He nodded and the two combined their wills, letting their new found closeness shine against the darkness. Isaaru retreated, he couldn’t fight them both. He heard parting words from Squall as he left. We’ll meet again. I owe you for Bahamut.
Rikku could do nothing but watch, as the two woke up and flew into each other’s arms. Obviously he had succeeded. Watching, she realized that his heart no longer belonged to her, if it ever did. It was now forever owned by the girl he held in his arms. As if sensing her thoughts, Rinoa looked over to her as she hugged him close. She mouthed the words, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Squall’s friends crowded around them and Rikku stood, walking away. She felt alone. She wasn’t sure if she would feel any other way again.