Grazhir :: Crossover :: Convergence :: 06 :: Potestas

06 • Potestas

The door hadn’t been closed for two seconds when Squall asked, “Do you have any idea of what happened back there? And what was that comment about possession?”

Griever said nothing at first, instead getting out his night clothes and stripping down so he could change. Surprising for Squall, but also an excellent distraction for a short time. He decided to follow suit, seeing no particular reason not to. And while it might be a bit awkward doing so, Griever seemed oblivious to the effect he was having, and Squall had been undressing and showering in front of other males for years in the training center locker room.

Once Griever had made himself comfortable on the bed (and, incidentally, had produced several bottles of juice from his miraculous little pouch) he said, “The idea of possession had crossed my mind earlier, even before I got myself paroled, but I dismissed it just as quickly. See, in my personal experience, the only one who could do that was Voldemort, and then only because the two entities he did it to were myself and his snake Nagini. Both of us had pieces of his soul, which is the only reason I came to believe he could do it.

“To control anyone else he had to use a spell. Well, I don’t actually know how possession works. That might be spell-induced, too.” Griever shrugged. “The control spell, though. . . . It would take dedicated effort to control someone so closely, for so long, that they would essentially be acting like the one casting the spell, and people can become highly resistant to it, if they aren’t to begin with. You’d exhaust yourself and lose the spell, you know?

“Anyway, so I dismissed the idea, even though you thought Edea was acting like someone else entirely. And I think the only person in this day and age who could even hope to hold that level of prolonged control would be a very powerful sorceress. So, either there’s a real doozy hiding somewhere on the planet, or Adel is somehow active, or . . . some other explanation.”

Squall processed that as he took sips of his drink. “Okay, I get what you’re saying. And I’m gonna assume for the moment that someone or something has been controlling matron for some time. Let’s further suppose that matron knew she wasn’t strong enough to resist, so she hid in her own mind or was forced to, which would explain why the sorceress didn’t understand about Garden and SeeD, the white SeeDs, or much of anything about Ellone.”

“And the only thing special we know of about Ellone is her ability to send someone’s consciousness into the past,” Griever stated.

Squall frowned. “Someone from the future? Using Ellone to send them into matron?”

“Maybe. But then why would that someone want to find her now?”

They puzzled over that for a while longer and gave it up as impossible with what little information they had, so Squall returned to his other question. “That light, when we defeated the sorceress.”

Griever worried his lower lip between his teeth. “Honestly, I really don’t know. It could have been some sort of instinctive act of desperation, or. . . . She sounded truly concerned for Ellone afterward. Maybe whatever was controlling her left or was forced out?”

Squall finished off his juice and tossed the container into the bin, then did the same with Griever’s. “My brain hurts,” he muttered. “I think I’ll put it in neutral for a while.”

Griever shifted restlessly and said, “So don’t think so much. Do something else.”

He arched a brow, taking that for a hint, and looked over to see Griever eyeing him. After a second or two he moved, fluidly taking position to straddle his friend’s hips. “I’m going to kiss you, then.” Not waiting for a response he lowered his head to do just that, then ask wordlessly for more, which he was given in the form of parted lips.

Squall was becoming lost in how good it felt, their joined and hungry mouths, Griever’s hands roaming the expanse of his back, and his body’s instinctive urges to move, that he felt shock when he was, without warning, rolled to the side and onto his back.

Griever hovered over him and said quite plainly, “I want more, I just don’t know if you do. Yet.”

“I’ve felt this way for at least a year,” he whispered. “How long?”

Griever licked his lips and said, “The past few years. Before that you were too young to even think of that way, though I did love you.” He flirted his brows up briefly. “I don’t really think of myself as being much more than eighteen, you know. It confuses me at times, but it was the only way I could cope being alive for so long. I want more, now that I’m here, now that I’m with you.”

Squall became very aware of the fact that he was painfully aroused, as was Griever, and shifted his hips. He groaned at the friction of his body against his . . . his lover’s, and shifted again, reaching up to pull Griever down into another kiss. They could figure it out together.

*

He entered the infirmary and glanced through the nearby observation window; Rinoa appeared to be sleeping. “Doc, have you been able to figure anything out yet?”

Kadowaki shook her head. “I’m still working on it. Try back later, okay?”

“All right.” He headed off to the bridge in the hopes of tracking Xu down to get reports. Griever joined him at the elevator and they rode up together, then entered the office. Xu and Quistis were talking quietly at the desk, shuffling papers around.

“Xu, status report.”

Xu looked up in surprise and nodded. “I have the details written down for you to look at, but in a nutshell. . . .” She finished up by saying, “And on a brighter note, all of the junior classmen are fine.”

Squall strongly considered going back to Trabia and taking on all those who had survived, not so much with an eye toward bolstering their fighting capability as their defense and support. Well, and to give those people a proper interim home. He wasn’t sure they had that option, though. “I’m sure Zell will be thrilled that the cafeteria is undamaged and the hot dog supply is safe,” he said dryly.

Quistis laughed behind her hand, then sobered and said, “Squall, we’ve received word that Sorceress Edea—that matron is back at the orphanage. She’d like to see us.”

‘I’ll remain here,’ Griever immediately said. ‘I get the feeling this is going to be very personal. And besides, I’ll be able to hear it all anyway.’

Squall furrowed his brow and nodded. “Nida, prepare for departure,” he called up. “The orphanage. And have the core team assemble at the gate.”

“Yes, sir!”

“I think we better be cautious, just in case. I know Galbadia Garden retreated, but. . . . Griever, see what you can do to give Xu and Nida a hand. That leaves three people here I trust, while those of us from the orphanage go speak to matron,” he said, both to give a plausible excuse for his lover to remain behind, and to reinforce the idea that he considered Griever an equal even if he wasn’t a member of Garden.

“Understood.”

“Quistis, let’s go.” The team was waiting so they pressed on into the orphanage, all of them looking pained at the ruins of their shared childhood home. Cid was waiting inside the only part of the building still standing, though even that had gaping holes in the walls to expose the interior to the elements.

“Many thanks for your hard work,” Cid said, then let out a sketchy laugh. “Are you angry with me? I don’t blame you. All I do is talk big, but in times of trouble I run away. I was in a no-win situation. Your defeat would be the end of you. Your victory would mean losing my wife. I just couldn’t bear . . . to face either outcome. I don’t care about myself, but please . . . forgive Edea.” He turned and slowly walked through what used to be a door at the back. “Come.”

Outside was Edea, who stepped forward at their approach. “My children, please forgive me. I raised you as my own, yet still, I. . . .”

“We feel the same way,” Squall said.

Quistis moved to flank him and said, “We fought, knowing very well that you were our matron. That was the only choice we had left.”

“You are SeeDs,” said Edea. “You cannot back out of a battle, I know. You were magnificent. However, it is not over yet. At anytime, I may. . . . I have been possessed all this time, at the mercy of Sorceress Ultimecia.”

‘Ultimecia?’

‘Possessed!? So—’

“Ultimecia is a sorceress from the future, many generations ahead of our time. Her objective is to find Ellone. She is after Ellone’s mysterious power. Ultimecia is a very fearful sorceress, her heart filled with anger and hate. There was no way I was going to let her get a hold of Ellone. The only thing I could do was . . . surrender my soul to Ultimecia and lose control of my mind. That was the only way I could save Ellone. And the end result, well, you know now.”

Squall didn’t know whether to be pleased or upset that he and Griever had been on the right track.

“The sorceress that appeared in Galbadia was in fact Ultimecia, inside my shell. Ultimecia has yet to achieve her goal, and I believe she may use my body again to carry out her plans. I intend to make a stand this time, but, if that doesn’t work . . . I may have to face you in battle once again. I ask for your support, young SeeDs.

“Have you all heard of Sorceress Adel before? She was the ruler of Esthar during the Sorceress War, and no one knows of her whereabouts. The Galbadians must have thought I was the sorceress who received Adel’s powers. However, that was not the case, as I received the powers of a sorceress at the age of five.”

“So what does that mean?” Selphie asked.

“I believe that Sorceress Adel is still alive, and that Ultimecia released my body in order to—to use the body of Adel. Sorceress Adel is the type who will not hesitate to use her powers for her own selfish desires. Should Sorceress Ultimecia from the future bequeath her anger and hatred unto Adel, their power would be unimaginable.”

Squall turned away in thought, gazing out at the ocean. What matron had to say was all very well, and gave them some direction, but. . . . “Matron,” he said distantly, “do you know what’s wrong with Rinoa?”

“Rinoa is the girl in blue? I remember vaguely. . . . What happened to her?”

“She was with us when we fought you,” Quistis explained. “After the battle—her body was cold, she didn’t move. . . .”

“Did Rinoa die!?” asked Cid.

“No,” Squall said and turned back to face them. “She’s in the infirmary right now. Kadowaki hasn’t been able to find any answers yet.”

“Forgive me, Squall, I don’t think I can be of any help,” Edea said.

He nodded and gazed out at the ocean again.

“Squall,” Cid said softly, “I understand how you feel.”

‘Oh really?’

“But you are in a position of leadership. The other students at Garden have a right to know about the outcome of the battle and what’s to come. Remember, it wasn’t just Rinoa that fought, it was everyone.”

‘I think you’re assuming things.’ He arched a brow at Cid and said, “Oh, I understand that. We have no way of knowing if her condition is the result of her fighting alongside us or not. Either way, it would be heartless of us to neglect to see if matron had any ideas.”

Cid retreated into faint confusion at that.

Edea glanced at her husband before saying, “Ultimecia’s goal is to find Ellone. Ellone’s mysterious power . . . sending one’s consciousness back into the past.”

“So Ultimecia wants to use Ellone’s power, right?” Zell said.

“I get it,” Irvine said. “Ultimecia wants to send her consciousness from this period further into the past.”

“What’s she going to do in the past?” Selphie mused.

“Time compression,” stated Edea.

“Time compression?” Quistis echoed.

“It’s time magic,” Edea explained. “Past, present, and the future get compressed.”

Squall ignored the babbled questions of his teammates, and slipped in a question of his own during a lull. “So basically, we need to prevent Ultimecia from getting a hold of Ellone?”

Quistis answered, “Yes, but. . . .”

“Hey, but we’re worried about Rinoa, too, you know?” Zell objected.

Squall turned to him, but clutched at his head as that horrible dizzying sensation swept over him again. ‘Ellone!’

He suffered through Laguna—his father?—taking the part of a sorceress’s knight in a film, an attempt on the man’s part to earn some money. He found it pathetically comical when Laguna was faced with, not the fake ruby dragon the crew had created a costume for, but a real one. Kiros and Ward arrived to watch their friend make a fool of himself, but quickly realized the danger and moved to help defeat the beast.

As the three men were beating a hasty retreat back up the mountain in the face of an onslaught of more dragons, off in the distance was a strange glowing pillar or obelisk of sorts. And then, all there was was endless black.

‘I can’t disconnect,’ a female voice mused.

‘Disconnect?’

‘Is that you, Squall?’

‘Yeah.’

‘It’s just what I call it when I use my special power, connect. Oh, I know, I must be asleep. . . ? That’s why I can’t control it. I’m sorry, Squall. Just let me use your spirit for a little while longer.’

‘But—’ He found himself at the orphanage again, but not in the present. Laguna was there, speaking with matron.

“What happened to Ellone?” Edea asked.

“She was kidnapped by Esthar soldiers,” Laguna replied. “I’ve been traveling, tryin’ all I can to get inside Esthar, but. . . .”

“They were looking for a successor to the Esthar sorceress, Adel?”

“Yeah, yeah! Exactly it!”

“Is she your daughter?”

“No, but she’s just so cute! Oh, I wish I could hear her voice!”

‘So do I at the moment.’

Laguna startled, causing Edea to ask, “Is something the matter?”

“No . . . just the faeries. . . .” Laguna replied as the memory faded into darkness.

‘If I have to be in the past, why can’t I be where I can try to see what happened to Rinoa after the battle? Maybe change what happened.’

‘You can’t change the past. I just learned that,’ Ellone responded sadly. ‘When I was kidnapped, Uncle Laguna went on a journey to find me. But because he did, he wasn’t able to be by Raine’s side when she died. Raine wanted to show Laguna her newborn baby. She kept calling out for Laguna.

‘So no matter what, I wanted Laguna to stay in the village. But it didn’t work. I can no longer make it back to that moment. And also . . . I can only send you inside someone I’ve met before. I’m sorry, Squall. I’m about to disconnect. I’ll try to speak to you again this way.’

‘Sis! Ellone!’ The darkness receded and he realized he was awake again, staring up at the sky. ‘Damn it. Maybe if I could see her again in person? Does it count as meeting if one of the people is unconscious? In a coma?’

“Squall?”

He blinked and realized that Quistis had been trying to get his attention. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said and pulled himself up. ‘I know Ellone is. . . .’ “Matron. . . . The white SeeD ship, the one Ellone’s on—do you know where it might be?”

Her brow wrinkled as she responded, “Those children are—they are very cautious. They would never remain in one place for very long. However, they seem to have a fondness for Centra’s landscape. They may have stationed their ship in one of the inlets.”

“It’s a starting point,” he said with a nod.

“Before you go, please take this letter with you. I had a feeling you might choose to go after her, and this will help assure your welcome.”

“Thank you, matron. We’ll do our best.”

They returned to Garden and Squall spent a while briefing members of Garden about the results of the battle, finishing up with, “Our mission now is to prevent Sorceress Ultimecia from finding Ellone. We will be setting out to gather information and find the white SeeD ship, the last known location of Ellone. Also, Sorceress Edea is currently not a threat, so we’ll be leaving her alone. However, should that change, you will be informed. That is all for now.”

He released the microphone and told Nida, “Prepare for departure. We need to search the Centra coastline for that ship.”

“Yes, sir.”

Squall rode the lift down and smiled at Griever, then asked, “Any word yet from Kadowaki on Rinoa’s condition?”

“She called in briefly to let me know there’s been no change yet,” Xu informed him. “She’s still running tests, but the results have been uninformative so far. I was just about to call down to the cafeteria to get something sent up. Are you hungry?”

*

“Found them, sir!”

He called up, “Have the core team assemble at. . . .”

“It looks like it rides fairly high in the water,” Nida said. “Second floor deck is probably best.”

“Okay, second floor deck, then.” A wise choice as it turned out, as they were easily able to transfer over.

Four white SeeDs awaited them, one of whom said, “We meet again.”

“My name is Squall. We’re SeeDs from Balamb Garden. I’d like to speak to your leader.”

The same white SeeD responded, “I’m in charge. State your business. Depending on what you say, we may ask you to leave immediately.”

‘Can’t say that I necessarily blame them. . . .’ “We’re here to see Ellone. We pose no threat. Edea told us how to track you down.”

“Edea? How—?”

“Edea is no longer under Sorceress Ultimecia’s control, and is now our ally, so there’s no reason for you to hide Ellone’s whereabouts from us. We wish to take Ellone back to protect her from Ultimecia.”

All four white SeeDs took a step back and shook their heads. “Thank you for coming, but we have no reason to believe you. Please leave,” the leader said, then all four of them dispersed, the leader heading toward the back of the ship at a jog.

‘You didn’t even give us a chance to. . . .’ Squall followed the man so he could show him Edea’s letter, but was stopped by a familiar face.

“Wow! Long time no see, sir!” Watts greeted them.

Just then Zone arrived, racing down the steps that led up to what Squall assumed was the bridge. “Whoa! Look who’s here! Squall, how’s it goin’?”

“Can’t believe you’re here! Everybody doin’ good, sir?”

“After you guys left the Galbadian buttheads came after us, and we barely escaped to this boat,” Zone informed them.

“I was sure we were goners, sir! Zone went nuts and was thinking about swimming across the sea to escape!”

“Hey, it was a plan. All you were doing was whining like a big baby. ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die!’ And look who jumped first! You, you numbnuts!”

‘I don’t see how these whackos keep surviving.’

“So how’s Rinoa? Where is she?”

Squall hesitated, waiting to see if they were actually going to let him say anything, then replied, “Rinoa chose to fight with us against Edea, but for some reason she went unconscious after the battle. She’s under Dr Kadowaki’s care at Garden right now. We don’t yet understand what happened.”

He took a step back as Zone charged forward and got in his face, yelling, “You son of a bitch! What did I say!? What did I say, huh!? I told you to take care of her! That nothin’ better happen to her! Scumbag! You pathetic, lyin’ scumbag!”

Watts rushed over and pulled Zone back. “Zone! C’mon! Easy, sir! Easy. She’s not dead. They just dunno what’s wrong with her, that’s all. It’s not like he said they’d given up on her, ain’t that right, sir?”

Squall brushed off the man’s outburst and said, “We came here to get Ellone because there’s a new evil force after her. And if we can get Ellone and Rinoa together, we might be able to figure out what happened, and how to fix it.”

“Really? See, Zone? I told you, sir! Rinoa’s gonna be fine! She promised she would come back. We all have to free Timber together. Don’t worry, sir!”

Zone muttered to himself before saying, “All right. But I’m gonna say it one more time. If something happens to Rinoa, I swear. . . .” He pulled free of Watts and ran back up the stairs.

‘You know, I might feel more inclined to sympathy if he had actually stuck with her,’ Griever said. ‘He acts like she means everything to him, and yet he refused to leave Timber with her.’

While the others were querying Watts on anything of interest he might know, Squall responded, ‘I agree. I know, I understand, not everyone is a fighter, not everyone can handle that, but still. . . . If she means that much to him he should have come with us and not left it in the hands of others. I have to wonder if he’s so angry because he knows that, and he’s angry at himself as much as anyone else.’

He jerked his attention back to the others in time to hear, “She’s not here, sir.”

“Where is she, then?” Irvine asked.

“She left, on another ship. There were some soldiers, I know I’ve seen them before. . . . Esthar! They were Esthar soldiers, sir!”

‘She was taken there before when she was kidnapped.’ “Why would Ellone willingly leave on an Esthar ship?”

Watts shook his head. “I don’t know, sir, but I think she was smiling when she left.”

‘The leader is below deck,’ Griever helpfully informed him.

Squall nodded and fetched out Edea’s letter, then took the stairs down. “Here,” he said and held it out, before the leader could say anything. ‘Sometimes I wonder how many conversations you can track at once.’

The leader finished reading and shot a curious look at him. “This is . . . matron’s writing. She really gave this to you?”

“You guys call her matron, too, huh?”

“Yes, ever since we were little.”

“We were raised by Edea, too, for a while. It was difficult to fight against her, but we did. Fortunately, everything turned out well, and Edea is no longer evil. She’s back to her old self again, the kind matron we remember.”

“Then we owe you and Balamb Garden much. Squall, thank you. Anyway, I’m sorry, but Ellone’s no longer on the ship. Remember we picked her up from your Garden near the FH coast? After that we headed east to get as far away as we could from Edea and Galbadia. Before long, though, we encountered the Galbadian fleet. They had a lot of ships. Obviously, they were searching for us. We should have been more careful.

“We were able to escape their pursuit, luckily, but then our ship broke down and we were stranded. They caught up to us eventually and we had no choice but to prepare for battle. An Esthar ship appeared then, and engaged the Galbadians, and we were caught in the middle of it. Then something strange happened. One of the Esthar ships came up alongside us and some of their soldiers boarded, telling us to get aboard their ship. It sounded like an evacuation order, but of course we refused.

“We didn’t trust them any more than we did the Galbadians. The battle became more intense around us as the Esthar soldiers tried to convince us, but eventually they were forced to leave our ship. Ellone came out then, chasing after them. She paused at the bow, yelled something, and jumped. I don’t understand why she did that. After that Esthar’s fleet withdrew from battle and fled. And we . . . well, it’s a long story. After our ship is fully repaired we plan to go to Esthar.”

“So Ellone’s in Esthar.”

“We have every reason to believe so.”

‘There’s only one person who. . . .’ “Then we’re going to head there now.”

“You should be aware,” the leader said, “that the only way into Esthar we know of is via FH. Esthar is surrounded by high cliffs on all sides, even the inland border between it and Trabia. While we tend to favor the Centra region, we have done our share of sailing the seas. It’s obvious there must be another way, as Esthar can launch ships, but we have not been successful in finding it.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “And the technicians at FH told us that people going to Esthar pass through their city. All right, thank you.”

Back at the bridge he gave Nida the order to depart, destination Fishermans Horizon. Until then, he supposed they could . . . goof off? He wondered if anyone was up for a Triple Triad marathon. It had been a while.

*

“All right. Zell?”

The blond straightened up and said, “Yup! We put together a cart so we could transport Rinoa more easily. It’s ready to go.”

“Fine. Then if everyone is ready, we can leave. Whoever has Float stocked go to the infirmary and get Rinoa. We can use that until the cart is a viable option. Or, you can just carry her up, whatever.”

“On it!” Zell dashed off to the elevator.

“Xu, we may not be back for a while, so you’re in charge. I’d prefer you not leave FH unless there’s a compelling reason to. You might want to see if the technicians here can hook up Garden with a temporary HD connection, actually. You know how they feel here, so the same as before. No unsupervised visits into town, no violence. . . .”

“Don’t worry about a thing, Squall.”

They were just about to set out along the bridge from the FH station when a person stepped into view from behind a pillar—Edea.

“Children, hello. I have decided that I must go to Esthar. I must go see Dr Odine. As you are here, will you be my escort?”

‘Odine?’ “Yes, matron, of course. Why do you need to see him?”

“Sorceress Ultimecia is alive, and could take control of my body at any time. If that were to happen I would once again bring terror. I, too, value my well-being, and wish to protect myself. If it were possible I should like to rid myself of the sorceress power, and Dr Odine may know a way.”

“I understand. Let’s all go together, then,” he said. ‘Let’s just hope we don’t end up having to duke it out along the way. Twice already was two times too many.’

They paused to rest at dusk, not wishing to chance any accidents by stumbling around in the dark, and set up tents for the night. And even though they had encountered nothing threatening thus far, Squall ordered a watch rotation just in case. In the morning they continued on, reaching land by late afternoon.

“Squall,” Irvine said, “how about we scout out the territory so we have a better idea of which way to go in the morning? There’s light enough for the moment.”

“Sounds good. You, Selphie, and”—he noticed Zell step closer to matron—“Quistis take a look around while we set up camp.”

As the tents were going up Griever said, ‘We’ll end up going east tomorrow.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes. From what I could learn while I had the chance, Esthar is surrounded by cliffs, but also highly advanced illusions. The city is almost directly east of here, which makes sense when you think about it.’

‘Illusions? So how do we get past those?’

‘There’s a secret entrance, of course. Sadly, it’s rather difficult to get precise details, so it’s not like I have an image in my mind of exactly what to look for, but I’m pretty sure we can find it. I do know that the entrance isn’t at or below ground level. It’s actually in the air, along the edge of a drop-off, a cliff maybe.’

‘And you didn’t mention this before because it would have looked suspicious for me to deny Irvine’s suggestion.’

‘Naturally.’

Squall grinned at the slightly smug mental tone and shook his head. “Let’s get Rinoa settled.”

Sure enough the scout group was back not long after sunset with word that they had found nothing either to the north or south, so it was agreed they would head east in the morning.

“It looks like we’re in for a long trip,” Edea said quietly from her perch on a camp chair where she was preparing supplies for a meal.

“Everything’ll be all right,” said Zell. “We’ll be by your side all the way!”

“Thank you, Zell. But remember, you must stay alert even in my presence. As long as I can be myself everything will be fine, but if Ultimecia manages to control me again. . . . You all know what to do.”

A frown flashed across Selphie’s face. “That air’s getting heavy. . . . Come on! We’re all together again. We’re gonna find Ellone. We’re gonna help Rinoa. It’s like a picnic! We’re gonna have fun!”

Squall shook his head, mainly because he thought people had weird coping mechanisms, and said, “Whatever. And speaking of helping Rinoa. . . .”

“On it,” Quistis said and ducked into the tent with the cart next to it. Selphie followed to give her a hand.

He heaved an internal sigh of relief that they had returned, both because they were back and because the last thing he wanted to do was ask any of the males to attend to Rinoa’s unconscious form. Rinoa might not be aware of what was happening to her, but he could imagine she’d freak out if she awoke to find that Irvine or Zell were. . . .

The next morning they were on their way again, heading east into what looked to be a huge, dried-up lake. Squall was absently interested to note that matron did not attack physically when engaged, but rather used some sort of energy burst. They wended their way through the area, occasionally having to switch paths as the one they were on dead-ended, all while fending off the monsters that attacked them, one of which was a huge undead creature. They eventually emerged at the edge of a cliff that stretched quite a ways to the north and south.

‘There!’ Griever alerted him. ‘A little bit south. See it? The illusion’s been damaged.’

Squall scanned the air in that direction, then nodded. There was, otherwise inexplicably, the crackle of energy several feet off the ground. As he headed toward it he said, ‘You’ve got a keen eye.’

‘Remind me to tell you about quidditch someday.’ Griever reached the spot before Squall did and reached out a hand. “There’s something here,” he said, then manipulated something unseen. A moment later a ‘hole’ appeared in the sky above.

“Oh! Neato! A hole in the middle of nowhere!” Selphie squealed.

Griever took it upon himself to demonstrate that a ladder existed, even though they couldn’t see it, and climbed up to disappear within. ‘There’s a platform up here down the tunnel. Should be a lift of some kind.’

“All right,” Squall said and climbed up as well. He was joined shortly by the others, judicious use of Float having made it easier for Irvine to carry Rinoa up on his back. Down the tunnel was a large hexagonal platform, formed from smaller, glass-like hexagons. And as soon as they had all stepped aboard it began to move upward. A short time later it jolted to a stop, causing everyone to stagger.

“Is this . . . it?” Quistis asked.

“Squall, what’s the plan?” Zell asked while scratching his head.

“We keep going,” he said, rather redundantly in his opinion. There were times, he thought, that the team seemed to inexplicably lose their heads and rely on him alone to make decisions. Granted, he had been placed into position as their commander, but. . . .

Irvine hoisted Rinoa up onto his back again and they all proceeded though the tunnel before them, and onto another hexagonal lift. Seconds later the darkness in front of them receded to reveal the barren terrain of the lake, then that stripped away to reveal an amazing city like he had never before seen or even imagined.

Predictably, most everyone erupted into shocked clamoring, but they went silent as translucent barriers slid out of the way and railings appeared. The platform jolted as clamps came up to fix onto it, then dropped swiftly toward the city in a smooth arc. The ride was over far too soon, leveling out and gliding them into a tunnel which terminated at a more conventional platform, off which led a tunnel.

“Judging from their technology, they must know we’re here,” Squall warned. “It’s possible we might encounter some hostility, so stay alert.” He growled when Quistis collapsed, followed by Zell, and knew he was about to black out, too. “Not now! Damn it!”

Squall came out of the vision almost 100% sure that Laguna was in Esthar, and that was why Ellone had jumped ship to go with Esthar soldiers. Had her Uncle Laguna been there on that ship, well. . . .

“Back from your adventure, Squall?” Irvine asked.

Edea turned toward the tunnel and said, “There’s something coming.”

As Squall got to his feet a car emerged and stopped, and a man stepped out. “Sorceress Edea?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “We came to see Dr Odine.”

The man seemed confused by that. “Please explain what this is regarding.”

“Yes, of course. We—”

“I want to see Ellone,” Squall stated. “Where is she?”

The man aimed a puzzled look at him and said, “Ellone. . . ? Odine?” Then he threw back his shoulders and gestured at the car. “Please come with us.”

‘He doesn’t seem to be hostile, just confused,’ Griever commented, then entered the car when Squall nodded.

Squall was right behind him, and the others piled in as well, Rinoa being carefully handed in by Irvine. The man drove the car back down the tunnel, to emerge into the city itself, giving them all a far better view, and Irvine was moved to say, “Geez, how far does this go?”

“We’ll be arriving at the presidential palace shortly,” the man informed them.

“I hope Dr Odine is there,” Edea mused.

“Esthar’s president must be a real big shot,” Irvine said speculatively.

At the palace they were led inside to a reception room and greeted by an aide of some sort. Edea immediately began to explain why she, at least, was there. “So that is why I seek the doctor’s help. I wish to be free of Sorceress Ultimecia’s control.”

“Zat vill be easy,” came a male voice, shortly followed by the man Squall recognized from the dreams as Dr Odine. “Ve just exorcise the sorceress. Zere iz nothing Odine cannot do.”

“I leave everything in your hands,” Edea said fatalistically.

“So you want to see Ellone?” the aide asked Squall.

“Yes, where is she? She may be able to help with Rinoa. We need to see her, now!”

Odine squinted at Rinoa’s still form, where she had been placed on a couch. “I vill give ze permission, under one condition. You must let me observe zis girl.”

The aide lost his hesitation and said, “We would need time to prepare before we take you to Ellone. So, you will leave the girl with us until then?”

“Accept the offer, Squall,” Edea said. “I will be here, as well. She will not be alone.”

On seeing that none of the team objected, Squall nodded, but addressed Odine with, “She’s not some experiment for you to tinker with.”

The aide spoke again. “It will take time for us to make the arrangements, so you have an hour or so to enjoy the city, after which you will need to head to the lunar gate. We will bring the girl ourselves. Vehicles are available for hire at the southern end of the city should you prefer that over walking.”

With that in mind they detoured through a shopping district before heading to the rental place, and there got directions. The gate was a fair distance away, so they chose to drive, and once there and inside they were greeted by a woman. “We’ve been expecting you. This way, please.”

She led them into a room, where a man in a lab coat asked, “Are you the ones taking off?”

‘I . . . guess?’ “Yes.”

“Okay, this way.” He led them deeper into the structure, saying, “Distance-wise it’s pretty far, but you’ll be there in no time.”

“Where are we going?” he asked, hoping to get a straight answer.

“Let me give you a quick explanation of the process,” the man said as he drifted to a stop in front of some machinery. “First, each person going will need to enter a capsule inside this pipe. There you’ll undergo the ‘cold sleep’ process. Once the process is complete the capsules will be loaded into the booster, and after that, we launch. You should be there by the time you wake up. Leave the rest to the staff once you arrive. Well, that’s about it in a nutshell. I won’t say there isn’t risk involved.”

“You’d be launching us into space,” he said flatly. “To some kind of facility.”

“Correct. The girl brought from the presidential palace has already undergone ‘cold sleep’ and her capsule loaded. Two more can make the trip.”

Before he could respond Edea spoke, startling him because he had not noticed she was even there; she must have played escort to Rinoa. “In the meantime, something must be done to suppress my powers.”

“Well, we can’t all go on this trip,” Quistis said. “We’ll be your escort, matron, as it’d be too dangerous for you to be alone.”

“Sounds fine,” Squall said, wondering if part of that was simply her feelings about Dr Odine. “You guys have my trust and I know you’ll be careful. Griever and I will be launching with Rinoa.”

“Oh yeah!” enthused Zell. “I’ll do whatever it takes to watch over you, matron. Don’t worry about a thing, Squall!”

“All right,” said the technician. “Then let’s get you loaded up and ready to launch.”

Unbeknownst to him as he shot up through the atmosphere toward space, down below the others were witnessing the Lunatic Pandora floating across the landscape. He came awake all at once, feeling disoriented, and quickly realized he was floating around in a null-gravity area.

A voice sounded through a hidden speaker. “Lock on to rotation ring unit. Lock engaged. Generating artificial gravity.”

A few moments after they had drifted down to the ‘ground’ a door opened at the far end of the room and a man appeared, then approached.

“Here’s the letter of introduction from Esthar’s ambassador,” Squall said as he handed it over.

Another man appeared, dressed somewhat in the same fashion as Kadowaki, and came over to inspect Rinoa. “Wow. What is she . . . seventeen, eighteen. . . ? Is she dead?”

“Don’t be absurd,” Squall snapped.

“I understand the situation,” the first man said. “I am Piet. Let’s get her to the med lab. Please follow me.”

They hoisted Rinoa up between them and walked her along, placing her a short time later on a bed. Piet left briefly as the technician worked on starting up the monitoring system, then returned to say, “I’ve talked to my crew. Come, let’s go to the control room.”

“Amazing,” Griever murmured on arrival, staring with widened eyes out the windows.

Not only was the moon filling half the view, but a large structure was in orbit not far from the station, holding a person—Adel? Whoever it was looked like they had been shrink-wrapped and placed on display within a large ring with enormous wings on each side.

“This is no time to be impressed,” said one of the console operators. “Look at the monitor there.”

‘The hell?’ The monitor in question showed the moon, the view zooming in to a large red swelling mass. “Monsters. . . .”

“The lunar world is a world of monsters,” the operator said. “Didn’t you learn that in school? As you can see, the monsters are gathering at one point. History’s starting to repeat itself. The Lunar Cry is starting.”

‘This is nothing like . . . before. More experiments. . . ? What the hell happened to have this result?’

‘Let’s go find Ellone. There’s nothing we can do about . . . that.’

‘Yeah, okay,’ Griever responded, though he seemed reluctant to tear his eyes away from the display.

After a quick query to Piet they exited and went up a set of stairs to the next level of the facility, and entered the referenced door. Inside was a combined sitting room/bedroom, and Ellone.

“Squall, I’m so happy to see you again.”

“Me, too.”

“You’re familiar somehow.” She was gazing at Griever. “Is this. . . ?”

“What, are you saying you sensed Griever those times?”

Ellone nodded. “Yes, another presence. Not . . . hostile. Anyway, I’m so sorry. I got you involved in so many things . . . so much hardship.”

Squall shook his head, somewhat curious as to why she accepted Griever so easily, then said, “Confusion, maybe, but I don’t know about hardship. I think I understand what you were trying to do. Were we of any help?”

“Of course! You were my eyes. Thanks to you guys I was able to see how much I was loved. I couldn’t change the past, but seeing it was more than enough. Thank you so much.”

“It’s okay. I came here because I need your help. You said you can’t change the past, right?”

“You can find out things about the past that you never knew,” she said. “And from what I’ve learned, you may see some things differently in the present. You’re the one that changes, not the past.”

“You mean like me finding out who my parents are,” he stated. “But, Ellone, we didn’t understand then, we never actively tried to change the past. I want to find out for myself. Take me to Rinoa’s past. I need to see what happened to her, and if I can, try to change things.”

Ellone shook her head. “Squall, I can’t. I don’t know Rinoa. I told you I can only send people I know in the present into people I knew in the past. Whatever is wrong with her. . . .”

“Look, we brought her with us. At least come see her. She’s resting in the med lab. You may be able to do more than you know. After all, Griever was with me every time, and you never met him until just now.”

She looked like she was about to protest, but sighed instead. “All right, Squall. You have a point.”

An alarm went off as they were walking down the stairs, cutting off Squall’s rather vague answer to Ellone’s question about how long he had known Griever. “What’s going on?”

“Red alert!” blared over a speaker as red lights began to flash on and off. “Red alert! All units report to the med lab, stat!”

“Rinoa? Griever, take care of Ellone. Head to the control room. I’ll go check the med lab.”

“Be careful,” Ellone said before she allowed Griever to lead her away.

Squall headed off in the opposite direction, sliding to an abrupt stop when he saw Rinoa walking down the hallway in a trance-like state. She pushed away a man attempting to stop her, slamming him against the wall. Squall was likewise unable to touch her, but managed to land without losing consciousness, and was back on his feet quickly to trail her cautiously into the control room.

“Stay back!” he warned. “Don’t try to touch her. You’ll only be forced away.”

“What’s going on!?” a technician cried as Rinoa drifted over toward one of the unmanned consoles and began manipulating the controls.

“That’s the deactivation device for the seal on Adel’s tomb!” Piet shouted over the alarms.

“Adel’s tomb level one seal deactivated,” issued from a speaker. “Level one seal has been deactivated.”

As Rinoa began to drift out of the room Piet shouted, “Damn it! It’ll take ten to fifteen minutes to get that seal back up! Get—” His eyes widened as his gaze passed over the bank of windows. “Just what we need! It’s starting, the Lunar Cry is starting! Forget the monitors, get on that seal!”

Squall was morbidly fascinated by what was happening on the moon, momentarily forgetting about Rinoa’s bizarre behavior. Monsters all over were converging on a single point, directly in line with the planet.

“We have to stop that girl!” Piet shouted. “If she plans to free Adel, she’ll have to go out there. The level two seal is located on the tomb itself.”

Squall shook himself and ran back out, heading for their arrival point. ‘Keep an eye on Ellone.’

‘I will. Oh, sweet heavens. . . .’

Squall paused to look to the side, seeing the monsters swell at a single point and build up so high that the mass began to break free of the moon’s gravity and stream toward the planet. His arm lashed out without thought to grab a man rushing by and asked, “Have you seen a girl come by here?”

“Yes. She went into that locker room.”

Squall released him and raced off again, arriving in time to see a suited-up Rinoa heading through an airlock. There were other suits available so he hurriedly put one on and followed, hoping to catch her before she made it into space, but was stymied only part way along by the closing of the enormous doors at the end that Rinoa had been fast enough to get through.

He backtracked, swearing under his breath, and switched back to external air on his way to the control room.

“It’s much too dangerous now! We must leave the base at once!” yelled an aide in the hallway to a suited-up figure.

“We have to evacuate, Mr President!” yelled another. “Please hurry to the pod!”

“Forget about me, just go!” cried the president.

“No! Please, sir, we must hurry!”

The two aides latched onto the man’s arms and began dragging him away, but not before he could call out, “Hey, you! Take care of Ellone! Ahhhh!”

‘What the. . . ?’ Squall shook his head in bemusement as he kept going, entering the control room to see everyone there in a panic.

“Damn it! The first seal isn’t—the second seal’s gonna be broken!” Piet shouted in frustration.

Visible through the windows was a suited-up Rinoa arriving at Adel’s tomb and doing something to a panel there. Seconds later billowing clouds of some gaseous matter escaped the tomb to either side, while ‘above’ the tomb they could see the masses of monsters descending toward it.

The station itself began to shake and Piet shouted, “Come on! We have to evacuate, now!” The technicians all got up and raced through a doorway at the back.

“Ellone, go with Piet. We’re—”

Piet grabbed Ellone’s arm and dragged her off. Squall’s eyes remained on the phenomenon above, watching as the monsters engulfed the tomb and sent Rinoa spinning off into space.

‘We must go,’ Griever urged. ‘We’ll die otherwise! I think I have an idea how to retrieve her, but we have to get to a pod!’

Squall allowed himself to be pulled away. Through the door was a small lift, which they rode down. At the bottom he could see briefly, to the right, Piet and Ellone in a pod before it whisked downward. Griever paused long enough to grab a spacesuit from the rack at the opposite side and start to suit up, hopping toward the gantry where another pod had slid down into place.

‘It’s just you and me,’ Griever said as he pushed Squall along ahead of him. ‘I can use real magic, okay? Let’s just get going.’ The pod door slid shut and sealed, and after a jerk they were moving. ‘As soon as we’re clear we can force open the exit and I can try to summon her to us. We just don’t have much time to attempt it.’

The pod jerked to a stop, then was launched, and seconds later a red light started flashing and a voice issued through a speaker. “Proximity alert! Collision imminent! Proximity alert! Collision imminent!”

Squall plastered himself in front of the small window in the door; coming straight at them was not only the Lunar Cry, but parts of the station itself, ripped free by the force of the monsters crashing into them. They were bounced off at an angle as he watched helplessly. A glance over his shoulder revealed Griever to have one hand raised, his expression through the faceplate one of concentration.

‘Praise the fates, because we’re heading in the same direction she went. Switch to suit air and let’s get that door open. I just pray there’s backup oxygen in this thing or it’ll be a really chancy ride down to the surface.’

Squall started muscling the door open as Griever stepped up to help him. Once open all the air was sucked out, and them nearly as well. Rinoa was spinning end over end through space a distance ahead, and beyond her. . . . Beyond her was a large red ship, slowly rotating in place.

‘Excellent! Okay, hold on to me tight. I’m going to use that thing as an anchor. Rinoa should come straight to us, and with any luck, maybe we can board that ship, because I don’t think I can possibly get us back on a course for the planet.’

Squall simply nodded and secured himself, then pulled Griever into a hug from behind. He didn’t understand exactly what his lover was doing, but he could see that they were catching up, though with agonizing slowness, and he wondered just exactly how much of an air reserve the suits held. He pulled them back as Rinoa finally came close, risking his grip on Griever long enough to pull her inside over their heads.

‘Keep holding. We should be there soon. Keep an eye out for anything that looks like it could be an airlock. The suit jets should give us some maneuverability.’

It was an anxious few minutes as he waited, ignoring the sudden pressure he felt on his shoulder; he could only assume it was Rinoa. Then Griever spoke over the short-range suit intercoms. “Okay, we need to push out and drop down so we avoid when the pod collides. Soon as we’re clear we can use the suit jets to find a way in.”

“Understood,” he replied.

“Okay,” Rinoa’s voice sounded faintly.

“Keep hold of each other, and . . . go!”

They were able to get far enough away to avoid the pod bouncing off the ship, and still be able to jet over in a linked line. “There!” Squall said. “That looks like a hatch.”

Inside, finally, and presumably safe for the moment, Rinoa collapsed into a heap while Squall and Griever searched for the airlock door control; as soon as it had closed they could hear a loud hissing noise.

“I think,” Squall said as a red light winked out and came back on green, “that we’ve got air.”

“We do,” Griever said, staring at a console. He reached up to unseat his helmet and pull it off to set aside, then begin stripping off the suit.

Squall followed, then helped Rinoa, who seemed to be rather out of it, but not in the same way as before. “Hey, you okay?”

She looked like she was ready to cry, but nodded. “Thanks so much, both of you. I can’t thank you enough. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die out there, all alone, in the middle of endless space.”

‘You’ll have to explain to me later exactly what you did,’ he told Griever, then said, “We may be alive right now, but we’re still not safe. I dunno about you two, but I was certainly never trained how to fly an airship.”

Griever ran a hand through his hair and sighed, then brightened. “Say, it said Esthar outside on the hull. . . . What are the odds we’ll be able to communicate with them? Esthar does have an airstation.”

Squall nodded. “Right. Then let’s find the bridge.”

“I wonder why it was just orbiting up here?” Griever mused.

He shook his head. “Let’s go,” he said, then made for the door.

On the other side Rinoa shrieked at the sight of a huge purplish monster below the walkway they were on. “That doesn’t look very friendly,” she whispered.

“We ignore it for now,” he said, eyeing the door up ahead. However, that was locked, and the only other option was down the stairs to their right, toward that creature. It was defeated a few minutes later, leaving them with a choice of two doors. Not having any idea which was what, Squall opted right, where they found another of the creatures, though this one was greenish in colour.

After defeating it they realized there were no other exits and so backtracked, only to run into the purplish monster again. ‘What the hell?’ They dispatched it and opted left, this time running into a reddish version. Before it could attack, however, Squall led them at a run through the exit to the west, where a purple was pacing around.

“Geez,” Griever whispered. “They’re everywhere.”

Another fight and Squall took the only new option, west, and trotted up the winding staircase to emerge into a room with several exits. There was a door at the far left and one to the south, plus a lift, which was presently occupied by a greenish version that seemed disinclined to move.

“Purple, green, red. . . . Think that door leads back to the walkway?”

Griever slipped over to it and hit a switch. A small light winked from red to green, and the door opened. A red beast was on the other side, causing Griever to step back very quickly to allow the door to shut. “Oookay.”

Squall opted for the upper left door and they were forced to fight by a yellow that rushed them. Once it was dispatched they paused to look around. Unlike the other parts of the ship they had passed through, this place had viewing windows and a terminal. Investigation revealed that the ship had been abandoned due to the creature infestation. While unable to actually carry out the extermination, the crew had left notes detailing that they must be defeated in colour pairs.

“Okay, we took out two purples in a row, so they won’t come back,” Squall said. “It was yellow in here, but we don’t know where the other one is.”

“We could take out both reds easily enough,” Griever said, “and the greens. That’d leave us the yellow that will regenerate here, plus wherever the other one is hiding.”

“On the bridge, maybe?” Rinoa suggested.

“Or . . . the airlock,” he said. “That red wasn’t there when we first came out, so the airlock might have a surprise now, too. But let’s take out that green first. I expect that lift leads to the bridge, so. . . .”

“Why fight more than we have to, since they don’t seem to move around.”

“Exactly.” They headed back into the lift room and wasted the creature, then tried the lift, which stubbornly refused to function. “Wonderful. Looks like we get to run around for a bit.”

Quite a bit later they had exterminated all of them (the other yellow indeed lurking in the airlock) and returned to the lift, which decided to be cooperative and took them upward. Squall did not relax until a careful perusal of the bridge revealed no creatures lurking, at which point he strapped his gunblade into place and moved toward the apex of the room.

“Wow!” Rinoa said, turning around in slow circles.

He examined the consoles as Griever asked slowly, “Rinoa, do you know what happened to you?” Squall looked back over his shoulder to see her standing there with a faintly frightened expression.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to stay with you guys when we get back,” she said.

Squall moved away from the console and planted a hand on his hip. “What do you mean?”

“I’m. . . . I’m a sorceress now, Squall.”

“But. . . . how?”

“Edea, Squall. I don’t know how, but she was forced to pass on her powers, and they went to me. And then. . . .”

“Ultimecia took control, is that it?” he asked.

“Yeah.” She looked down and toed the floor uncomfortably. “I was forced to release Sorceress Adel. They’ll be angry at me. And I know what Esthar does to sorceresses. That’s why I think. . . .”

“That,” said Griever firmly, “is ridiculous.”

Her head shot up. “Huh?”

“Ultimecia used Edea and abandoned her. She then used you and abandoned you to die! She has Adel now, right? I’m willing to bet that Adel is somewhere back on the planet, and from what we know of her she’s the type to willingly help Ultimecia. You aren’t the sorceress anyone needs to be worried about, Rinoa. And try to remember, Edea was a good, kind person until she was possessed. Just like you. Being a sorceress doesn’t mean you’re predestined to be evil. It does mean you need to be a strong person, and have proper support, someone you can count on to tell you when you’re in danger of misusing your powers and give you a swift kick in the ass.”

Squall was startled into a low laugh. “I’m not even sure anyone else realizes you are one. Worry about it when, but don’t borrow trouble now, okay?”

Rinoa managed to smile faintly and nodded. “Thanks, guys.”

“Good. So let’s see if we can figure this beast out.” He turned back to the consoles and scratched his head. On spotting a label that read communications he flipped the switch below it, then fiddled with what he thought was a volume control.

“This is Esthar Airstation,” issued from a speaker. “Ragnarok, do you read? This is Esthar Airstation. Do you copy?”

“This ship is called Ragnarok?” Squall mused.

“Whoa! Is this really the Ragnarok? You’re in space, right?”

“Yeah, but, I have no idea exactly where or how to fly this thing,” he replied.

“Roger that! We can track you from here. Leave it to us. You should have enough fuel. Enter your location into the atmospheric reentry program and you’ll be okay. Once you enter the atmosphere we can guide you down. You’ll be just fine.”

“How do I enter the data?”

“We’ll take this step by step. Are you in the pilot seat?”

Squall looked around. “There’s too many seats here.”

“It’s the one on the upper right. Sit there.”

He nodded and moved to sit down and examine the console in front of him. In his peripheral vision he noticed Griever taking the co-pilot seat, and Rinoa one in the back. “Okay, I’m here.”

“See the touch panel in front of you? Just enter the following data.”

“Go ahead,” he said, fingers poised and ready.

“WJHEIE/. . . .”

“Entered.”

“2872/HD-IEU.”

“Entered.”

“No errors?”

“It’s fine,” he confirmed.

“Next, I need you to turn off the gravity generator. Doing so will save some fuel. Use the same touch panel to turn it off.”

Squall thought about it for a second and reached down to strap himself in. After the other two had as well, he glanced at the console again and pressed the control with that label. “Done.”

“Congratulations, you’re home free, Ragnarok. And . . . there’s one more thing we need to tell you. From all of us at ground control, we wish you godspeed. Airstation out.”

“I hope you’re right,” Rinoa whispered.

“About?” Griever responded, looking back over his shoulder.

“You mean well, but. . . . Ultimecia is from the future, and she’s trying to achieve time compression. She’s the only one who would be able to exist in such a world. She, and no other. As long as I’m free she’ll be able to use me to accomplish her goal, right? We can’t let that happen, right? And if they’ve figured it out. . . .”

“This is Esthar Airstation,” issued from a speaker. “Ragnarok, please respond.”

“Ragnarok here,” he said.

“We have some questions for you. We’re collecting escape pods and have a good idea of what happened. I hear no one from Lunar Base is on the Ragnarok. How many of you are there?”

“Three.”

There was a pause, then, “Your names?”

‘They know.’ Squall glanced over his shoulder as he said, “Squall. I’m a SeeD from Balamb Garden. The other two are members of my team.”

“Their names?”

Rinoa made a resigned gesture that conveyed, “They already know.”

He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “Griever and Rinoa.”

“Rinoa? The sorceress . . . she’s on the ship!?”

“She is a member of my team and not a threat,” he said firmly.

“The sorceress will be seized on arrival. Be sure to follow the crew’s instructions.”

Squall touched his forehead and sighed. ‘We could always fight them off.’

‘If that’s what she wants. She may cave to fear. I hate to say it, but those fears are understandable. And it’s her life to fight for, or surrender to be sealed.’

Squall frowned at his lover, but nodded. ‘I know. But she’s not very strong, let’s face it. I know what the others would say, but I doubt she’d believe me right now.’

“Squall, do you copy? Is the sorceress listening, too?”

He bit back the urge to call the man a moron. “Yes, of course she is. As I said, she’s a member of my team and not a threat. We didn’t go to the trouble of saving her life so you could seal it away!”

“That’s not our call. She will be seized on arrival. Airstation out.”

Squall glared at the panel before saying, “So how do we play it, Rinoa? Are you willing to fight?”

“I. . . .”

“I know what the others would say. ‘Squall, did you even try to stop her!?’ They won’t give a damn that you’re a sorceress. Matron was one since she was five, and we never knew that until just recently. We loved her, and we still love her, whether she’s one or not. She came here to Esthar to see if Odine could find a way to protect her from Ultimecia. I know, that doesn’t matter now for her, but they sure as hell didn’t try to haul her off the second we arrived.”

Griever cleared his throat and said, “It’s your decision, though. Us forcing you to fight would be just as bad as Esthar forcing you to be sealed. Just don’t think that the rest of the team is going to hate you for what you were made to do under Ultimecia’s control. They’re not like that, as Edea proves. It wasn’t your fault, and they’ll understand that.”

A glance back showed that Rinoa was staring out the window.

Griever continued privately, ‘You know, this could be very romantic if the circumstances were otherwise. I used to think it was so cool, people being in space. They’d landed men on the moon in my time, and sent out probes to see what might be out there where we couldn’t go yet. So many kids dreamed of being astronauts. . . .’

Squall settled back to stare out the window, too. ‘It is beautiful.’ He smirked. ‘I wonder what it’d be like to make love in null-gravity.’

‘Sadly, I don’t think we’re ever going to have the opportunity to find out. We’re about to pass through the upper atmosphere. We’ll be landing soon.’