Rinoa could sense it. Each time she intervened - to take Squall's place,
or to free him - it lasted just a little bit longer. She no longer waited
for Squall to suffer before she tried to free him again - she hadn't liked
that approach in the first place. Now, as soon as the world placed him
back in chains, she blasted them free of their moorings. Sometimes, this
meant that she would be placed in chains instead of Squall.
On those occasions, her magic would not free her. The chains were breakable
only if she were not in them. In them, she was as helpless as Squall had
been. But when this happened, Squall would be nearby, fully clothed and
fully armed, and extremely pissed off. Lionheart would make short work
of the chains, and things would be as before. So far, the longest she'd
been in the chains herself at a single time was about thirty seconds -
and that had only been on the first time it occurred.
That was when she had learned Alicia's power. In this strange non-reality,
Alicia reacted to both of them equally. When Rinoa had tried to focus on
Squall, she had felt the touch of Alicia's power pulling her attention
very forcefully to the invasive presences on every side. But touch was
not Rinoa's nightmare, so it didn't affect her as badly, even though a
few of the presences were very uncomfortable. Then Lionheart had sliced
through the chains, and the spell was broken.
Once Rinoa was in the 'observer' position again, she added this new
knowledge to the old rumors that had circulated about Alicia in Deling
City. The conclusions she came to were not reassuring, but she would pass
them on to Xu and Quistis nonetheless.
The sequences seemed to be moving forward in time. Squall was only aware
of her when she freed him, and when he was bound would only respond rarely
and at the beginning of the sequence. Slowly more bruises appeared on his
body. Slowly more people were added, slowly the things they did to him
were rougher and more cruel, slowly his reaction to Odine's injections
grew more severe. Even using her power to constantly break the chains shortly
after they came back, this kept happening. Rinoa suspected that what she
was doing was forcing the scene forward rather than changing it, from Squall's
point of view. She wondered what he saw when she took his place.
Well, if the only way to get him back was to force the scenes forward
in time, Rinoa was willing to do that. But the process was slow. Eventually
she realized that her first approach had been the most effective; to break
the chains only when it looked like Squall was close to madness. She could
force the scene forward from that point and it would not replay. And when
she took his place, it seemed to give him energy. But whether she took
his place or not did not seem to be a choice she had any control over.
She would do this as long as it took.
* * * * * * *
"We've GOT 'em!" cried Zell as he burst onto the bridge, where a recuperating
Quistis and Xu were comparing notes. "Rinoa's found a way to talk with
Squall, and she's working on bringing him back. She said to tell you the
book was a big help."
"Glad to hear it," said Quistis with a smile. "Got who?"
"Didn't I say?" asked Zell, and at their shaking heads he said, "Oh.
Anyway...Rinoa said she saw this Alicia girl while she was doing whatever
she's been doing to reach Squall...didn't really understand that part,"
he hesitated. "Anyway...she recognized the girl. She said Alicia is the
eldest daughter of a wealthy Galbadian family. Which probably explains
why Odine would work for her, 'cause she can pay him. Anyway, Rinoa says
Alicia's been a problem for years. Spoiled rotten, you know. When the Delings
were in power, all Alicia would talk about was how her family was more
worthy, yada yada, and now that Galbadia's in chaos Rinoa thinks Alicia's
trying to build a power base."
Xu blinked, puzzled. "Then why turn these people loose in Centra?" she
"Word will get around," said Quistis grimly. "Most of the Estharian
troops have fought her people by now, and casualties are sometimes heavy.
Anything that can do this kind of damage to Estharian troops would scare
the Galbadian generals very badly." She shook her head. "Laguna's going
to have trouble if we can't stop this. Esthar's had peace for years because
everyone accepted it as the strongest nation."
"What else did Rinoa tell you?" asked Xu.
Zell paused, running down a mental checklist. "Oh yeah - she thinks
Alicia may have a power like Ellone's. Except that instead of being connected
to the past, Alicia's is connected to the present."
"Is that useful?" asked Xu. "Anyone can see the present."
But Quistis was thinking hard. "Actually, it's the strongest power anyone
could get," she said at last. "Think about it. Ellone knows what you're
thinking when you go into the past - so Alicia could know what you're thinking
now. When Ellone sends you into the past, all you know is that past
world. Alicia might be able to do the same thing with the present - make
you focus on one thing, to the exclusion of everything else."
"Good guess, Quisty," said Zell. "Rinoa said when she ... did whatever
it is she does to talk to Squall, Alicia used her power. Rinoa said Alicia
can intensify a moment or lock you into it. She thinks that's what Alicia
did to Squall - locked him into a moment of pain, so that's all he knows.
She's working on breaking him out of it, but it'll take time. She has to
find out exactly where the lock is, to break it. Or rather, exactly
Xu frowned. "While it's good to know what happened to Squall, I think
this means we have trouble. How can we find someone who can read our minds,
sense our thoughts? How do we sneak up on her?"
"Well, Rinoa forwarded a photograph," said Zell, and handed it over.
"But as to anything else, heh. You're the Headmaster and the Commander.
I'm just a lowly SeeD." And in his voice, they could hear a clear
thank the Hyne!
Quistis tapped a pencil down on the table, thinking. "I think we owe
Fujin and Raijin an apology," she said. "Assuming Rinoa is completely correct
in her estimations of Alicia...she really could do to Seifer what
Raijin claimed she did. Although I must admit it's difficult to consider
Seifer as a candidate for sexual slavery," she finished with a smile.
Zell grimaced. "You mean we really do have to save him?" he said
sourly. "Man, that just killed my day, you know that? Saving Seifer!"
"I suspect it's just temporary brainwashing," said Quistis. "But it
depends on how long Seifer stays away from her. I'd recommend we send a
'capture' order out to the squads if the trio turn up again. Let them know
to use water, and water-based magic."
"I for one hope we don't find them," grumbled Zell.
"You should hope we do," retorted Quistis. "Otherwise, they're probably
after Squall and Rinoa. If Alicia is really building a power base to take
control of Galbadia, she'd want to take Rinoa's Sorceress powers if she
could - or at the very least prevent Rinoa from choosing sides. And what
has she done so far? She's taken Rinoa's Knight out of action, forcing
Rinoa to stay in one place. And without her Knight, Rinoa risks falling
into misuse of her powers. If she does that, her influence as Sorceress
is finished; everyone in the world would be trying to kill her. And," Quistis
finished, "if Rinoa became the world's enemy, then Alicia could kill her,
inherit her power, and become the heroine of Galbadia in one fell
"That's a lot of ifs, Quistis," said Xu doubtfully. "We can't be sure
that's what she's planning."
Quistis retorted, "It fits all the data we have. Alicia's been a very
careful player - we didn't even know her name until recently. She doesn't
have to turn Rinoa evil, nor does she have to take Rinoa's
powers for her grab to succeed. All she really has to do is keep
Rinoa from getting involved - something which otherwise would have been
very likely, given that Galbadia is Rinoa's home country. And at that,
she has succeeded. Rinoa is in Esthar, and doesn't dare leave. Alicia can
build her power here, and show up in Deling City in force. She doesn't
know her GF-material kills. She could personally have the powers of every
known GF, and only the Sorceress would be strong enough to defeat her."
"And then we wait a few months, and she's dead of her own experiments,"
said Zell. "Why are we worrying?"
Quistis leveled a look of contempt at Zell. "It doesn't matter
how long she's in power, Zell," she said. "To take power she'd have to
completely overthrow the existing government, which is teetering on the
edge of collapse as it is. When she goes, the power vacuum could foment
civil war, or even a continent-wide war if Dollet and the other cities
on that continent try for a land grab."
"And if Alicia finds out her GF-stuff kills?" asked Xu.
"Odine would want to head back to his labs in Esthar, since it would
be impossible to do research here, so far from civilization," considered
Quistis. "Alicia would go with him - she would be depending on Odine for
her life at that point. But we won't know if or when she might find that
"So, what's the plan, then?" asked Zell. "We still don't know where
her base is."
"Keep looking," was all Quistis could say. "We have got to find
it. And alert Esthar to the possibility of Odine and Alicia visiting."
* * * * *
Laguna had entered Odine's lab without any problems, even though it
was late at night. He didn't often pull rank on anyone, he'd found that
most of Esthar knew him on sight. They seemed to enjoy embarrassing him
by doing silly things like saluting or bowing. Deep in his heart, Laguna
felt that the Presidency was just a job that had to be done, and if he
were left alone to do a decent job of it, that was enough.
The guards at the Lab's entrance had saluted smartly as he passed, which
was better than being stopped. But then, the guards weren't Odine's idea.
They were Kiros', to make sure just anybody didn't make off with Odine's
He'd told them that the lab was officially closed to everyone, Odine
included, pending an investigation. He'd get around to starting an official
one when he got back. Right now, the sight of his son's cold, still face
was driving Laguna in the direction of Wanting Answers Now.
Pity Odine had never gotten the hang of basic organizational skills.
There were stacks of papers everywhere, on every available flat surface.
The only clear spots were near burners. With a sigh, Laguna chose a stack
at random and started sifting through it.
"Hey man, you trying to get yourself killed?" called a familiar voice.
Laguna jerked his head up from Odine's papers with a start, realizing by
the shift of light in the room that he'd been at this for hours. Kiros
was standing in the doorway, dressed in his old combat gear, katal at his
side. Reflexively, he caught his old machine gun as his friend tossed it
to him. He noted that Ward was there too, similarly garbed with his harpoon
at the ready.
"Where'd you get the idea I'd need this?" asked Laguna, puzzled. "We're
in the middle of the capital."
"One of your son's friends got me up hours before dawn with a damn fine
line of reasoning," said Kiros. "Namely, that the lady that did the fun
stuff to Squall is just one fact away from coming here, and if she does
come here it won't be alone. The President of Esthar would make a good
hostage, don't you think?"
"There's guards outside the door," shrugged Laguna.
"Man, you are way too trusting," said Kiros. "Those guards are
there for show, and you know it. Come on - guard duty on a lab that's usually
empty, in the middle of the capital city? Irvine gave me a good rundown
on the people with this Alicia - if she shows up here, trust me you're
gonna be glad I brought your gun."
"Like I've had lots of time to go to the range in the last fifteen years,"
said Laguna absently, but slung the strap of the machine gun over his shoulder
to free his hands up. "Well, as long as you two are here, you might as
well give me a hand. Rinoa said Odine was responsible for the stuff that's
killing Squall - I'm looking for any information he might have left behind
on what it is, how he developed it, what we can do about it - anything."
Both of his friends heard the urgency in his voice.
Ward set his harpoon down within easy grabbing reach, and joined Kiros
in picking up a stack of papers.