Grazhir :: Crossover :: Convergence :: 07 :: Alpha Novus

07 • Alpha Novus

A number of people could be seen waiting as they came in for a landing. Rinoa’s expression was closed off, but she unstrapped herself and got up readily enough. The three of them made their way to the hanger, and Squall’s hand was on the release when he said, “Rinoa?”

“You’re sure they won’t hate me?” she whispered.

“I’m certain.”

“Then I don’t wanna be sealed.”

“Understood. Let’s go make that clear, then. If you want, you can wait on the bridge,” he said, offering her a way out.

“No, it’s okay. I need to be strong.”

Squall pressed the release and watched as the center of the floor dropped down to form a ramp. Hand on the hilt of his gunblade, he led them outside.

“Sorceress Rinoa. Hyne’s descendant,” said an aide at the front of the group.

“Come with us,” said another. “We must seal your power for the sake of the world.”

“You might want to rethink that idea,” Squall said. “She’s not going anywhere with you people.”

“W-what? But she must!”

“Is there something wrong with your hearing?” he inquired. “She doesn’t want to be sealed.”

Several of the soldiers pushed forward. “You will comply.”

“Ah . . . no.”

“Then we’ll make you.”

The aides scattered to either side as the soldiers advanced, and soon they were embroiled in a nasty fight, there being more against them than they could handle. And then, the cavalry arrived. The rest of the team screeched to a halt and boiled out of their car, and came to their aid, not bothering to ask questions. With their help the soldiers were routed and fell back in retreat.

“Heeey, what’s going on? Why’re we fighting?” Selphie asked.

“They want to seal Rinoa, and she’s none too keen on that idea,” Squall said.

“Does this ship fly? Does it move?”

Squall shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Well,” Irvine said, eyeing the regrouping soldiers, “I think now’s a good time to find out, don’t you?”

Another car pulled up, this one disgorging a huge man who looked strangely familiar.

“Everyone inside!” he ordered, and backed up the ramp. He made sure to be last, and staggered slightly as someone palmed the switch at the top, causing the ramp to rise with him still on it. “Lock that down, and let’s see if we can get this thing off the ground.”

Griever flipped a switch and nodded, then immediately exited, leading the way for the others.

Zell stuck close to delay him with, “So glad you’re safe! We had major problems down here! Some big thing called the Lunatic Pandora came out of nowhere. Matron couldn’t achieve what she set out to do because of it, but that’s okay, because she’s not a sorceress anymore. Is that how Rinoa is? And, oh yeah, the Galbadian military is controlling the Lunatic Pandora.

“They excavated it from the ocean where Esthar sank it years ago. Inside it there’s this thing called a ‘Crystal Pillar’. It calls monsters from the moon, and man, boy did it ever! Total panic down here! I guess the Lunatic Pandora caught Adel from the stream of monsters coming down. Dr Odine thinks that may have been Galbadia’s true intent. Meaning—”

“Zell, that’s enough. We need to figure out how to fly this thing before we can catch up.” He staggered when the ship rocked, and hoped it wasn’t Esthar soldiers to blame. He and Zell reached the lift a few seconds later and rode up.

“Whoa!”

“Whoo-hoo! We’re flying!” Selphie caroled.

“Selphie’s just amazing,” Irvine said admiringly.

“You sure you can handle this?” Squall asked her.

“It just kinda took off! I don’t know. It’s pretty easy. I think it’ll be fine, but there’s no guarantee it won’t crash!”

‘That was so incredibly comforting.’ “Selphie, get us away from Esthar for now.”

Zell bounced back up and said, “What do we do from here? I’m not really sure, but—don’t we have to do something about that Lunatic Pandora? After all, the Galbadians are controlling it. Which means Seifer is behind all this, too, right?”

“Seifer is Ultimecia’s puppet,” he said slowly.

“Yeah, and that Ultimecia! We can’t let that sorceress from the future mess up our world! Let’s go kick her ass! We’re SeeDs! We’re here to destroy sorceresses, right!?”

“Zell!” he snapped with a quick glance at Rinoa.

Zell wilted and said sheepishly, “Sorry.”

“Zell’s right, and Squall’s right,” Rinoa said into the silence. “I do remember that. Ultimecia used me to tell Seifer to find that thing, so he is responsible, but he is Ultimecia’s puppet, too. I don’t think he can really be blamed. It’s like . . . a different kind of control.”

“He did say it was his dream to be a sorceress knight,” Squall mused.

Rinoa nodded. “She’s using that. She’s twisting his dream, warping it. He probably doesn’t understand half the time what he’s doing or what he’s helping to bring about.”

Zell scratched his head in confusion. “So is Seifer a good guy or a bad guy? We’re still gonna whoop his butt, right?”

Squall touched his forehead and sighed. “Seifer is an asshole who happens to be in over his head. We will fight him if we have to, make no mistake. So long as he’s under Ultimecia’s control he’s an enemy, okay?”

“So, Squall . . . where we going?” Quistis asked.

“Um. . . . Can we go to the orphanage you guys were talking about in Trabia?” Rinoa asked.

“That place is in shambles,” Quistis said. “There’s nothing really to see there.”

“I want . . . to stay away from places where there are lots of people. I’m a sorceress. If Ultimecia possesses me again. . . .”

“We have to go somewhere until we figure out our next move, and FH is a little too close to Esthar for my comfort,” Squall said. “Selphie, head to the orphanage.”

“Whoo-hoo! On it! This thing flies really fast!”

“Let’s go down to the passenger room,” he said. “There’s not enough room up here for everyone.”

“I’m stickin’ with Selphie,” Irvine said as he slid into the co-pilot seat.

“Whatever.”

*

As they disembarked (Selphie and Irvine had chosen to stay behind to watch the ship) Angelo ran off, disdaining the ruined structure for a field off to the left. Rinoa followed him, which prompted the others to as well.

“This place is beautiful,” Quistis said, crouching down to finger one of the flowers that bloomed there. “It’s the kind of place you take someone you care about.”

Rinoa aimed a sly look at Zell. “Like the girl in the library. . . ?”

“What!? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“All the girls in the Garden know about it. I noticed right away, too.”

“Hey!” Zell looked halfway between pouting and panicking.

“I’m scared. I’m scared Ultimecia will control me again. Scared she’ll make me fight against everyone. If that happens . . . SeeD will come kill me, right? I guess it’s okay if it’s one of you guys. Nobody else.”

Griever shot her a mildly exasperated look, which Rinoa didn’t notice.

“Ultimecia is the enemy. Adel is an enemy. They’re probably an enemy together right now,” Squall said. “You be on your guard. If something happens, we’ll deal with it then. Like I said: worry about it when, and don’t borrow trouble now.”

“I think Zone would be heartbroken if you were sealed,” Griever tossed out casually. ‘And maybe that’ll give her something different to puzzle over?’

Irvine rushed in. “Emergency, folks! We got radio contact from Esthar’s presidential palace. They have a plan to defeat Ultimecia, and they want to hire SeeD to execute it.”

“Might be a trap to get Rinoa back in Esthar,” Squall said thoughtfully.

“Oh, and, the guy we spoke to, his name’s Kiros. Could he be . . . that Kiros?” Irvine added.

“That certainly puts a different spin on it,” Griever commented.

“I think maybe we should talk to this guy before we make any plans to go back to Esthar,” he said, and turned back to the Ragnarok.

Back on the bridge Selphie had deciphered the controls well enough to easily hook them up with the palace and get Kiros back on the line.

“Kiros speaking. Will SeeD be accepting the contract?”

“We have questions—”

“Yes, you would. Let me assure you that we have no intention of attempting to seal Sorceress Rinoa again. In fact, her help is instrumental to the plan to defeat Ultimecia.”

“I see. Out of curiosity, are Ward and Laguna also there?”

There was a short pause, then, “May I ask with whom I’m speaking?”

“Squall Leonhart, SeeD, and commander of Balamb Garden forces.”

There was another pause. “Yes, both are here.”

Squall looked over his shoulder and arched a brow questioningly. When Rinoa nodded he turned back and said, “SeeD will accept the contract. An escort from the airstation would be appreciated.”

“I will meet you personally. Is that acceptable?”

“Yes. We’ll see you there,” he said, then nodded to Selphie.

She cut the connection and said, “All right! More flying! I’ll get us there in no time.”

Back in the passenger room, Rinoa let out a stilted laugh and said, “The funny thing about all of this . . . I have no idea how to use the sorceress powers.”

*

Selphie had also figured out how to trip the locks from outside the ship, so they were able to disembark knowing that it would be somewhat protected from the curious, though Squall doubted that Esthar’s finest would have to expend massive effort to regain control of it. After all, it was from their country.

Kiros was waiting as promised, and with him was the large man from earlier, the one he assumed was Ward. “Squall Leonhart?”

Squall nodded.

“We are Kiros Seagul and Ward Zaback. Please allow us to escort you and your team to the palace. A car is waiting.”

Squall nodded again and motioned to the others. ‘Be on guard, okay?’

‘Damn straight.’

The ride was silent. At the palace Kiros and Ward escorted them to the president’s chambers.

‘Why do I get the sinking feeling those resistance members made my father president of Esthar?’ he thought on seeing the man standing behind the curved table so prominently occupying the center of the room. He could not see the man’s face, as he was facing away, but still. . . . ‘Has to be him.’

Ward ran over to Laguna and just stood there, but his presence seemed to impinge on Laguna’s reverie and cause him to turn his head. “Oh, sure,” he said and turned around. “Hey there!”

Laguna ran around the table and stopped at the front center. “Been wanting to meet you guys! You guys are the ones who were inside my head, right? Ellone told me. It was like there were some kind of waves running through my head, or faeries flying over us. So I’m Laguna, President Laguna Loire of Esthar. Pleased to meet you. If we weren’t in a state of emergency, I’d talk to you some more, but. . . . Well, whatever. What do you want to know?”

Kiros coughed and said, “You’ll never get going if President Laguna keeps talking. So why don’t you guys throw out some questions, and he’ll try to answer them.”

Laguna turned and stared at Kiros, then scratched the back of his head as he faced front again. “Man, you look way too serious.”

Squall stepped forward. “Whatever. Explain the mission to defeat Ultimecia.”

“Ah, straight to the heart of the matter. Just like a workaholic SeeD.”

“Iz it my turn?” came Odine’s voice from behind.

“Yeah. Make it short and easy to understand.”

“I vill talk however I vant!” Odine said with a shake of his fist. “Egh, Sorceress Edea told me everything. Sorceress Ultimecia comes from ze future to possess ze sorceress of present day. Meaning she leaves her body in ze future and sends only her consciousness here. Does zat sound familiar to you?”

“Yes, like what Ellone is capable of.”

“You’re a smart one! My first guess was zat someone in ze future vith an ability like Ellone was sending ze sorceress back here to our time. But no! Zat is not ze answer. So how does ze sorceress come back to this time. . . ? Egh! I kept zis a secret to surprise you. It iz because of me, Odine! I researched Ellone’s power long ago and made a pattern from ze electric current running zrough her brain. Once ze pattern vas determined it vas easy to mechanize.

“It may only be a toy right now, but in ze time of Ultimecia it iz an impressive vorking machine zat imitates Ellone’s power! I named ze machine ‘Junction Machine Ellone’! It iz a vonderful zing to know zat my invention is used in ze future!”

“Junction Machine Ellone,” he repeated. “So Sorceress Ultimecia came to know about Ellone from that machine.”

“And Elle because Ultimecia’s target,” said Laguna. “You can’t blame Odine. It’s useless.”

Odine shook his fist again. “You vant to go outside!? You vant to fisticuffs!? Okay, ve continue ze story. Let’s see. . . .” He began pacing around the room aimlessly as he spoke. “Zere iz only one vay to defeat Ultimecia. You must kill her in ze future. Zere iz nothing ve can do unless ve go to ze future. Zere iz no way to jump to ze future under normal circumstances, but zere iz a way!

“It iz because Sorceress Ultimecia plans to compress time. Vhy? Ve don’t know. In order for Ultimecia to exist in zis time she must take over ze body of a sorceress from ze present. But ze machine must have a limit. Ultimecia probably needs to go back farther in time to achieve time compression, and only Ellone can take her back farther into ze past. So zat must be vhy she iz desperately seeking her.

“Ve must take advantage of Ellone’s power. Zere are two known sorceresses in our time, Sorceress Rinoa and Sorceress Adel. Of ze two, Adel has not yet avakened. Once regeneration iz completed, neither Laguna nor I vill be safe. Sorceress Adel is probably in ze process of avakening inside Lunatic Pandora. Ultimecia vill vant to possess Adel, if Adel vakes up. Zat vill be a horrible event. Adel iz a horrible sorceress. If Adel’s consciousness vins over Ultimecia, Adel vill first destroy this era.

“So ve must use Sorceress Rinoa to inherit Adel’s powers. Zat’s all for the mission briefing. First, go to Lunatic Pandora. Ellone’s probably being held captive inside, so rescue her first. Zen kill Sorceress Adel before ze avakening process iz completed. Now, ve’re left with Rinoa. When Ultimecia arrives, it’s Ellone’s turn.

“Ellone vill send Rinoa back to ze past vith Ultimecia, inside another sorceress she knows in the past. Edea or Adel . . . zat’s up to Ellone. Once Ultimecia iz in ze past, she’ll use ze time compression magic. Ve’ll see some influence here. I don’t know vhat kind of influence, but once Ellone feels it, she’ll cut Rinoa and Ultimecia off from ze past.

“Rinoa vill come back to zis vorld. Ultimecia also goes back to her own vorld. Vhat vould be left is ze time compressed vorld. Past, present, and future vill all get mixed togezer. You vill keep moving zrough ze time compression toward ze future. Once you’re out of ze time compression, zat vill be Ultimecia’s vorld. It’s all up to you after zat.”

‘I think . . . I have a headache,’ Griever complained.

Laguna scratched his head and said, “I don’t really understand the mission, but it seems like the only option. Will you do it?”

Squall planted a hand on one hip and furrowed his brow. “I have other questions I’d like to ask, but now really isn’t the time. Yes, we’ll do the mission.”

“All right!” Laguna crowed. “Let’s go! We’ll get aboard the Ragnarok! Let’s do the final briefing in there, okay? I always wanted to ride that thing. Plus the name sounds so cool!”

‘I think I have a headache, too, and it’s not just from the briefing. Still, I can’t help but kind of like the man.’

On the Ragnarok they gathered in the passenger room and Laguna bounced up to the front and faced them all. “All right! Everyone! From here, we go straight to our final target, Ultimecia! Let’s go over the plan again. First, enter Lunatic Pandora and rescue Ellone. Next, you fight Sorceress Adel. It’ll be a surprise attack. Show no mercy. Now, here comes the tricky part! Adel will need to pass on her powers after being defeated. Rinoa, will you be willing to accept them?”

Rinoa squirmed a bit, but said, “Yes!”

“Great! Next, we wait for Sorceress Ultimecia to possess Rinoa! This’ll be hard on you, Rinoa, but will you do it?”

She squirmed a bit more. “Yes.”

“That’s the spirit! Then, Ellone sends Rinoa and Ultimecia to the past! Ellone brings back Rinoa! Then, head to the future through compressed time! Ultimecia lives far in the future where none of us can technically exist. There’s only one way to make yourself exist in a world like that! As friends, don’t forget one another! As friends, believe in one another! Believe in your friends’ existence! And they’ll also believe in yours. To be friends, to like one another, and to love one another. . . .

“You can’t do these things alone. You need somebody. Right, guys? What place reminds you of your friends? Imagine being in that place with all your friends. Once time compression begins, think of that place and try to get there! That’s all! That place will welcome you. You’ll be able to get there no matter what period you’re in! You need love and friendship for this mission! And the courage to believe it. It’s all about love, friendship, and courage! I’m counting on you guys!”

Squall turned and said, “Selphie, take us to the Lunatic Pandora.”

“On it!” She dashed out, followed by everyone but Squall and Griever, though even he moved back to haunt the door.

Squall looked at Laguna and said, “Love and friendship and all that sounds corny, but everyone seems to be up for it.”

“You think it’ll succeed?”

“We’ll try. You and I . . . have some things to talk about later, after all this is over . . . dad.” As he turned to go Laguna groaned and crouched down to clutch his calf. Squall smiled faintly as he collected Griever at the door and rode up to the bridge.

They were already almost there. Zell punched the air and said, “Here we go! Let’s bust in there!”

“I wonder if we can get through,” Quistis worried out loud.

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Irvine said lazily. “Are the machine guns and main cannon ready?”

“Rrrready! Let’s just fire like crazy and make a big hole. Booom!” Selphie steered right for the structure as Irvine manned the guns, but the projectiles were repelled by some kind of shield. “Gonna ram ‘em!” she shouted happily.

The nose of the Ragnarok broke through, so Irvine began shooting again, switching to the main cannon after only seconds. A gigantic hole was blown in the side, and Selphie released the steering controls to man a different set, causing the ship’s ‘arms’ to reach out and extend claws, which dug them in further. Far enough, actually.

“We’re good!” she called and bounced out of the pilot seat, gesturing for everyone to get going.

Outside they could hear footsteps approaching, and a familiar voice. “Big sound, this way. It’s probably them, you know?”

“Them? Impossible!”

Seconds later they came face-to-face with Raijin and Fujin. “Ahhhh! It is Squall, you know?”

“Shock. Good. Convenient.”

Raijin nodded. “That’s right. Hand over Rinoa, you know!?”

“No! We’ve come for Ellone, and we won’t let you resurrect Adel, either!”

“You’re greedy, you know! Not fair, you know!?”

“Persuasion, useless. Seize.”

“She’s right, you know!? Let’s go!”

They fought, Squall and his team won.

Fujin gasped, “Retreat. Temporary.”

“R-r-right! We’re not through yet, you know!” Raijin said as they both ran off and disappeared.

Farther in they encountered them again, but this time a huge machine was set on them. Once that was dispatched they continued on up the ramp and through the door Fujin and Raijin had retreated through, to see not only them, but also Seifer and Ellone.

“Looks like we got company,” Seifer said, tapping Hyperion on his shoulder. “Show ‘em your hospitality.”

Raijin started to advance, but stopped dead when Fujin yelled, “Raijin, stop!”

Seifer shot her a puzzled look. “What’s up?”

“We’ve had enough, you know. . . .”

Fujin pushed Ellone forward. “Go!”

Ellone darted past Raijin to Squall, who pushed her gently behind him. “Wait outside. Laguna should be here soon.”

She hesitated, clearly uncertain, then fled through the door they had entered by.

“Hey, hey,” Seifer said. “Come on, people.”

“Seifer, we’re quittin’, you know? Don’t know what’s right anymore, you know. . . .”

“Exactly my thoughts. I thought we were a posse.”

“Posse. . . .” Fujin sighed and stepped toward Raijin, then looked at Seifer. “We are. We always will be. Because we’re a posse, we want to help you. Whatever it takes to fulfill your dream, we’re willing to do.”

Squall barely kept the surprise off his face at hearing her speak normally.

“But . . . you’re being manipulated, Seifer. You’ve lost yourself and your dream. You’re just eating out of someone’s hand. We want the old you back! Since we can’t get through to you, all we have now to rely on is Squall! It’s sad . . . sad that we only have Squall to rely on. Seifer! Are you still gonna keep goin’?”

Seifer just smiled. “Raijin, Fujin! It’s been fun!”

Fujin shook her head, tapped Raijin’s arm, and exited with him through the same door.

Squall faced his former sparring partner with a frown. “Are you going to continue with this knight thing?”

“The knight has retired. I guess you could call me a young revolutionary,” Seifer said with a smirk.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, truly not understanding.

“I’ve always gotta be doing something big! I don’t want to stop. I’m gonna keep running! I’ve come this far . . . I’m gonna make it to the end, to the goal! There’s no way I’m sharing it with you!”

Seifer was shortly laid out on the ground, a victim of his own hubris.

Rinoa took a step toward him, then stopped. “Seifer. . . .” She shook her head and turned away. “There’s another door over there.”

Seifer jumped up as everyone turned to look and rushed Rinoa, manhandling her through the door. They could hear him shout back, “Not yet! It’s not over yet, Squall!”

“Damn it! Why the hell won’t he stay down!” he snarled and followed.

By the time they caught up Seifer had reached Adel’s tomb, despite Rinoa’s resistance. “Seifer!”

“Rinoa and Adel! The sorceresses as one! Watch closely, Squall!” Seifer taunted, then shoved Rinoa at the tomb. Adel broke free of the remains of her confinement and pulled Rinoa to her, a mad smile on her face, then lashed out at the team with a casting of Meteor just after Seifer skipped out of the way.

“Careful now,” Squall cautioned as he made use of a megalixer. ‘This was not exactly what I had in mind when it came to defeating Adel. And . . . are we even sure that’s a woman!?’ He quickly made a decision and cast Regen on Rinoa in case she got hurt, then turned his attention back to Adel.

Griever, Quistis, and Selphie quickly began Shelling everyone as Irvine lined up for a shot and Zell bounced into range to smack Adel around. He felt almost helpless in a way, his usual role in battle abandoned for fear that he would hit Rinoa as well, and wouldn’t that just screw up the plan?

‘You can’t always be the hero,’ Griever teased as he began tossing around Protect. ‘And I’m wondering if that’s really a female myself. Looks like she overdosed on steroids.’

Squall snorted as he sliced Adel wickedly, wishing he could really cut loose. They were nailed with Ultima shortly after, but no one was knocked out, and Squall began to notice a pattern in how the sorceress fought. He wondered if it was because she was only just awakened and wasn’t thinking clearly enough yet, then cast another Regen on Rinoa.

Eventually, they defeated Adel, a sign of passage being that same phenomenon that had happened to matron, and a freed Rinoa began to accept her powers. Laguna and Ellone raced in just as Rinoa’s expression and stance changed to something insidiously ugly.

“Ellone, now’s your chance!” Laguna urged.

Ellone nodded and bowed her head, bringing her hands up to clasp before her almost as though in prayer. A moment later she began to glow, and after a short time Rinoa collapsed.

Laguna patted her on the shoulder and said, “Okay, Ellone. Just get Rinoa back.”

She nodded again, but waited, the seconds ticking by ominously, then suddenly began to glow again. Ellone relaxed and lowered her arms, and Laguna turned to her and ruffled her hair affectionately.

Rinoa stirred, and then hauled herself up to her feet. “I . . . was inside Adel. The young Adel.”

“Ultimecia’s inside Adel, exactly as she wanted,” Laguna said. “Okay, this is the showdown folks! Time compression is starting. Love, friendship, and courage! Show ‘em what you got!” He grabbed Ellone’s hand and ran off with her just as everything went strange.

Adel’s tomb and the surrounding space began to warp and twist out of shape around them. Without warning they sank, as though everything had turned to liquid, and they were shortly freefalling through a blue sky raining with wobbling drops of what looked like places or memories, pieces of time itself.

“Where are we supposed to go!?” Quistis asked.

A second later they plunged into an ocean; schools of fish darted around them and upward welling rock formations as long blades of plantlife swayed back and forth in the current.

“To Edea’s house!”

“I’ll . . . probably disappear,” Rinoa said fretfully.

“Just stay with us,” Squall said. “We won’t let you disappear.”

They dropped out of the ocean and into a sunset sky. As they fell in the inexplicably reversed world, thousands upon thousands of birds appeared and began to fly in circles, forming a vortex to suck them in, like being inside of a twister. Eventually those disappeared, and all that remained was black and dark grey and flashes of white, forming a curving, twisting tunnel they continued to fall through. And then, it was all blinding white.

As their vision was restored, Squall realized that he had just drifted down to stand upon a quite normal floor in a room draped with white gauze. The presidential residence in Deling, he thought. Ahead was a door, which they used, only to find themselves back where they started, but for one difference. A chair was present, and in it a figure, a figure which stood and blurred into two. They turned and stepped around the chair, then attacked.

“Sorceresses?”

As they killed one, another drifted down from above to take her place, and the scenery changed as well, shifting them to Timber. The pattern continued, taking them to places all over the world, until they defeated the tenth in Winhill. Then, abruptly, they were standing on a platform of hard-packed dark dirt, facing an eleventh sorceress, this one resembling nothing so much as a huge larval form. When she had been defeated they found themselves at the orphanage, but not the one they had most recently seen. This one was of the past, the buildings still unravaged and vines still creeping up the walls.

‘I have no idea.’ Squall looked around, noticing that the field was blooming with flowers, but otherwise looked normal. ‘The beach? At least we all arrived in the same place.’ He shrugged and headed for the main building, knowing the others would follow, and stepped inside. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary he took the door to the side and then again to the left, exiting out into the tiny courtyard above the beach.

As they gathered there the quality of light changed, becoming darker and ominous. Two dead white SeeDs phased into view on the ground, and chains leading up to the sky appeared, anchored to various points of the land.

“Future SeeDs. . . . We’re fighting across generations,” he said, then followed the chains upward with his eyes to see a huge floating castle of grey stone, backed by a full moon. The sky was even darker, with oddly moving clouds, and thunder and lightning crashed and flashed intermittently.

“Ultimecia’s reign. . . . We have to end it now.” Not seeing a way up so close, Squall took the path down to the beach area, nearly stumbling over more bodies of white SeeDs. The landscape had changed, availing them only one way to continue, up a massive chain anchored to the tip of the promontory they stood on.

At the top, after a nerve-wracking journey, they paused to collect themselves.

“Whoa!” Zell said. “So this is her castle?”

“Finally,” Selphie said. “We’re here.”

Irvine wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I’ve never seen anything so creepy. You think what’s-her-name really lives here?”

“We’ve come this far,” Rinoa said. “She’s gotta be here.”

“What are we going to do, Squall?” Quistis asked.

“We go inside,” he said as he began to walk up the steps toward he massive double doors. As soon as he got within a certain distance they cracked open to admit them, something like blue-white fog billowing out and cascading down the steps.

Ultimecia, it seemed, had prepared a little surprise for them. Once through the doors a peculiar sensation passed through them, and Squall was angered to realize that his access to any and all abilities given them by the Guardian Forces had been cut off.

He ignored the mutterings and exclaimations of the others to have a good look around, and noticed a creature up a set of stairs. “Let’s see what happens if we take care of that beast up there. If our powers are sealed away, perhaps Ultimecia has given those seals into the keeping of her . . . servants?”

They ascended the staircase and engaged the beast, which responded by saying, “Face my wrath for seeking thy sealed power!”

‘Nice call,’ Griever said. ‘Something tells me this place is going to be a nightmare.’

They dispatched the monster, realizing as it died that they could once again use magic. “Okay,” Squall said, “we obviously need to find the other seal guardians. There’s no way we can face Ultimecia crippled like we are now.” He headed through the door that had been blocked, emerging on a balcony. Directly ahead was a massive chandelier that spanned the distance between them and another balcony with a door across the room; below the room had several doors, a hatch, and a staircase.

“Griever, Quistis, with me. We’re gonna try to cross that thing,” he said. Halfway across the chandelier shuddered and dropped rapidly to crash against the floor and spill them out, then slowly rose back up. ‘Figures.’

‘There’s a lever down here, too.’ Griever stood up and went to it, then pushed. Something overhead clicked, the sound echoing in the cavernous space.

Squall nodded and got up, then craned his neck to see the others. “Try again!”

The four above made it across easily, then stopped before entering the door.

“Go ahead! We’re going to check out this hatch!”

And so it went, with both groups moving through the castle and defeating various guardians of the seals. Their abilities came back one by one, and eventually they all met up at the start of a long walkway on top of a wall. At the end was a building, what had to be where they would find the sorceress. Squall stopped outside the door leading in and said, “Are we ready?” Various forms of agreement sounded, so Squall opened the door and led them in.

There, up ahead, was Ultimecia, sitting on a throne. “SeeD . . . SeeD. . . . SeeD, SeeD, SeeD! Kurse all SeeDs. Swarming like lokusts akross generations. You disgust me. The world was on the brink of that ever-elusive ‘time kompression’. Insolent fools! Your vain krusade ends here, SeeDs. The price for your meddling is death beyond death. I shall send you to a dimension beyond your imagining. There, I will reign, and you will be my slaves for eternity.” She laughed maniacally. “Whom shall I exterminate first!?”

Surprisingly, she was not all that difficult to fight. But things were never so easy. Ultimecia laughed as she looked straight at Squall and said, “The most powerful GF. . . . You shall . . . suffer!” Her hand reached out, twisting in a hooking gesture before pulling back, and a strange light flew from Squall’s ring.

And then she said something that made Squall want to laugh himself senseless. “The GF’s true power. . . . To show you. . . ! Griever! Make them bleed!”

“Since when am I a bloody GF!?” his lover sputtered indignantly, which made Squall want to laugh that much more.

Ultimecia seemed quite, well, offended by Squall’s badly concealed mirth as her concept of Griever formed before them, a huge bearded beast with wings and horns; it didn’t even look like a lion. It attacked moments later, and Squall hastily got a hold of himself.

Another fierce battle ensued, and then Ultimecia said in frustration, “I shall junction myself . . . unto Griever!”

“Not in this lifetime, you psychotic hag!” his lover shouted, which seemed to throw her off stride again.

They fought again, this time against the combined might, and brought it low. Ultimecia vanished with a tortured cry and all light bled away, leaving them in endless darkness.

‘Is that. . . ?’

A form swooped up, Ultimecia again, this time utterly hideous in shape and anger. “I am Ultimecia. Time shall compress. All existence denied!”

She spoke as they battled her, interspersing her words between the attacks that flew back and forth. “Reflect on your . . . childhood. Your sensations . . . your words . . . your emotions. Time . . . it shall not wait. No matter . . . how hard you hold on . . . it escapes you. And. . . .”

And then she was gone, along with the darkness, leaving nothing but endless, blinding white.

“Is it over?” Irvine asked. “Let’s go! Let’s go back to our time!”

“We need to think where we have to go!” Selphie yelled.

“Careful, guys!” Zell added. “Don’t pick the wrong time!”

“But where?” It was Rinoa. “The flower field! Yes! Let’s go there!”

Quistis yelled, “Whatever you do, don’t fall into a time warp!”

‘Yeah, because it’s so frickin’ easy to recognize one when we’re essentially blind!?’

‘Squall, where are you?’

‘I’m—what. . . ?’ He was utterly confused when a dark-haired child ran by saying, “I’m gonna find Sis!”

His vision returned to normal to reveal the orphanage. “Squall!” shouted a familiar voice, and he turned to see matron of old.

“Excuse me,” she said to him. “Have you seen a little boy?”

“You don’t have to worry. They boy won’t go anywhere.”

She sighed. “I think so, too. Poor thing. . . .”

Edea turned suddenly, just as Squall saw Ultimecia appear, hunched over and moving with difficulty. “You’re . . . alive!?”

“A sorceress?”

“Yes, we had defeated her,” he replied, moving to stand between her and Ultimecia. “Matron, stand back.”

“It’s okay,” she said quietly. “There’s no more need to fight. That sorceress is just looking for someone to pass her powers on to. In order to die in peace, a sorceress must be free of all her powers. I know . . . for I am one, too. I shall accept her powers, for I don’t want one of the children to become one.”

Ultimecia drew closer and lifted her head. “I . . . can’t . . . disappear yet.” But despite her words and the determination on her face, Ultimecia seemed to realize she had no other choice and released her powers to Edea. She died then, fading away into nothing.

“Matron!!”

Edea straightened up from the having received the powers and turned to him, a look of inquiry on her face. “You called me matron? Who . . . are you?”

“A SeeD. A SeeD from Balamb Garden.” Her evident confusion prompted him to elaborate. “Both SeeD and Garden were your ideas. Garden trains SeeDs, to defeat the sorceress.”

“What are you saying? You’re”—she glanced down the walkway—“that boy . . . from the future?”

“Matron. . . .”

“Please return,” she said firmly. “You do not belong here.”

The child ran back and turned a woeful expression on Edea. “I can’t find Sis. Am I . . . all alone? Who’s he?”

“Nobody,” she told the child. “You don’t need to know. The only Squall permitted here is you.” Edea turned to him and asked, “Do you know where to go back to? Do you know how? Will you be all right by yourself?”

Squall saluted her and thought, ‘I’ll be all right, matron. Because I’m not alone.’

Everything faded to black again, and he heard, ‘No, you’re not! Now come on, think, Squall! Concentrate! It was just after we defeated Adel. How can you talk to your father if you can’t see getting there? Think of where we want to meet, when we want to meet!’

‘Where? Tell me where?’

Someone reached out and took his hand in theirs. ‘Let’s go to the Ragnarok, okay?’

‘What about the others?’ He closed his hand tightly around Griever’s.

‘They’re headed for the flower field. But wouldn’t it be nice to talk to your father without everyone getting in the way? And besides, you have a contract to negotiate after the fact and collect on.’

‘The Ragnarok, then,’ he said with a soundless laugh.

It was a bit of a shock to emerge from time compression onto the Ragnarok, and then realize they weren’t anywhere in Esthar; instead the Kashkabald Desert, not all that far from the orphanage.

‘So much for that. I guess we’re going there anyway.’

‘Yeah, unless you want to figure out how to fly this ship yourself.’

‘I’d like to, actually, but I guess we should go find the others and let them know we’re okay.’

They were hailed as they passed the broken outer wall of the orphanage. Selphie came running down the walkway. “You made it! We were really worried when you guys didn’t show up in the field.”

“We rather overshot the mark,” Griever said with false sheepishness, then added slyly, “You’ll be happy to know that the Ragnarok isn’t far away.”

“All right! We can fly that to get back to Garden!” She slipped between them, turning, then linked arms with them and started walking back to the building up ahead. “We’ve been catching up matron and the headmaster while we waited.”

‘I don’t . . . think I’m going to say anything about that episode here in the past.’ “So they’re all right, too.”

“Yep! Come on!”

‘At least now you’ve a good idea why Cid chose you to be commander.’

They crossed over the threshold and then through the ruined wall at the back. Everyone was waiting, and there was a not unexpected period of happy shouts and exclaimations, and then Cid said, “You did exceptionally well. I think this calls for a celebration, don’t you all?”

“And I gotta update my diary, too,” Selphie burbled. “Then everyone at Garden can read about what happened!”

“Headmaster, matron, we have an airship nearby. You will come with us, right?”

Back on the ship. . . . “This is Ragnarok, calling Esthar presidential palace. Do you copy?”

“Esthar presidential palace,” issued an unfamiliar voice from a speaker.

Squall furrowed his brow. “Squall Leonhart speaking. I’m trying to contact President Loire, or Kiros Seagul.”

“Hold on.” After a short pause the voice said, “They are not in Esthar at present. I’m not authorized to release their location.”

‘Damn it.’ “Do you know when they’ll return?”

“Negative, Ragnarok.”

“Ah, okay. Thank you. Ragnarok out.”

Selphie flipped a switch and gazed up at him. “Where could he be?”

“We all went to a place that had meaning for us,” Griever said. “Maybe Esthar wasn’t that place for him?”

“Selphie, let’s drop by Winhill.”

“All right!” She turned to the console, murmuring, “And I can add the coordinates to the auto-pilot system after we get there.”

Squall just shook his head and retreated down the lift, disdaining the passenger room to head through the door to the walkway and take a seat at the top of the stairs.

“You think he’s visiting Raine’s grave?” Griever asked, sitting down as well.

“Makes sense.”

“Planning to invite them to Cid’s grand celebration?”

“Yeah. Or we can at least drop him off at the airstation. I wonder if he’ll want Ragnarok back?”

Griever chortled. “You can argue that when you negotiate. Maybe you can get a smaller ship out of him, if not this one. There is a saying, you know. Finders keepers. Now that this is all over, do you want to remain at Garden?”

“I don’t know. There’s something to be said for Rinoa’s outlook on life, after all. It’s been the only life I’ve had, but . . . it’s not really a life you can have with me. All I had wanted to do was pass the exam and become a SeeD, and now that doesn’t seem so important anymore.”

His lover nodded and leaned against him briefly. “Take a holiday. We can spend time in Esthar and you can come to a decision.”

They found Laguna on a gently rolling plain outside of Winhill; Ellone, Kiros, and Ward were with him.

“I wanted to invite all of you to the celebration Headmaster Cid is planning,” Squall said quietly.

Laguna hunched slightly and scratched the back of his head. “We can do that. Never been in a Garden. Are they nice?”

He touched his forehead briefly. “Yes. Afterward, I was hoping that . . . we could have that talk. We thought maybe we could take you back to Esthar, and stay a while.”

“All of you?”

Squall shook his head. “I have no idea what the others have in mind for the immediate future, and this is kinda personal. The only person I’d want with me is Griever.”

“Ah, okay.” Laguna cast a quick look over his shoulder, at Raine’s grave. “Well, shall we go?”

*

They snuck out of Garden quite late, the six of them, well after the end of the celebration. Squall had taken the time to speak privately with the headmaster to inform him of his plans, and while Cid was not exactly happy, neither was he unhappy, and promised he would simply tell the others that Squall was taking a well deserved break, but not where.

The Ragnarok easily returned to Esthar thanks to the auto-pilot system and landed at the airstation, from which they took a car to the palace. Squall and Griever were led to a small suite and promised that someone familiar would come to collect them the next day.

That turned out to be lunch, and afterward, Kiros and Ward took their leave, while Ellone stole Griever, leaving Squall and Laguna alone.

“So,” said Laguna. “You had some questions, right?”

“Yeah. I’ll start simple. I know from one of the dreams that the resistance against Adel helped you to rescue Ellone and talked about you being their leader, but . . . how exactly did you end up president of Esthar?”

Laguna brightened and said, “You wanna hear it? Really? Okay. I only set out to rescue Ellone. Esthar was ruled by Adel then, with the ingenious yet inhumane Odine. After we escaped from the Lunatic Pandora Research Facility . . . well, you know that part. But both Adel and Odine were interested in Ellone, and I couldn’t just leave it at rescuing her. They might have kept trying.

“Odine was obsessed with his research, most of it done under Adel’s orders, but he was making other stuff, too. One of the things he’d created was a device to seal magic, and I thought, maybe we could use that to defeat Adel? I owed a big favor to the resistance who helped me to rescue Ellone, so I talked about it with Kiros and Ward. I ended up sending Ellone back to Raine in Winhill so we could concentrate on the other stuff.

“First, we had to stop the Crystal Pillar from calling monsters from the moon and destroying everything like what happened in Centra. Second, freeing Esthar from Adel’s hands. We planned and planned. Based on my brilliant ideas, of course.” Laguna grinned proudly.

“Anyway, we snuck back into the Lunatic Pandora Research Facility. Following Odine’s instructions—he really wasn’t all that interested in it anymore—we operated the panels and moved the Crystal Pillar. We set the course and the stop point in the ocean, and . . . goodbye!”

“So that’s how it came to be sunk,” he stated softly, remembering what Zell had said aboard the Ragnarok.

“Yeah! That part was easy. But . . . we were found out. So we gathered for a final battle to lure Adel, and Adel appeared as we expected, at the Sorceress Memorial. She demanded to know what was going on, and I told her we’d hunted down the culprit who moved the Crystal Pillar, that they were inside, holding Ellone hostage. I knew she’d go in right away if I mentioned Ellone.

“Inside, in the sealing device, we’d put a hologram of Ellone. Adel realized what it was, but . . . it was too late. I pushed her! I pushed her right into the device and she got sealed! Adel was careless, arrogant. She might have been a sorceress, but after all, she was human. We succeeded, but then . . . we couldn’t keep such a dangerous sorceress around as a trophy!

“We had to do something, so . . . we decided to send her far, far away. Someplace very far, into outer space. We used the Ragnarok and two other ships like it to carry Adel’s tomb into space and put it into orbit. The real work began after that. A fierce debate ensued about who should govern the country now that Adel was gone. I wasn’t playing close attention while they made me up to be the hero of this revolution, and I ended being president.”

Squall shook his head slowly in bemusement.

“Odine was still making a lot of noise about wanting to do research on Ellone, though. It was a mistake to send Ellone alone back to Raine? I don’t know. Raine died, and Elle was sent to the orphanage. If only I had gone back to Winhill with Elle . . . I would have been able to see Raine one last time. Raine was dead, Ellone was missing. . . . My job kept me busy. I was left here thinking about this and that and before I knew it all this time had passed.

“I found out later from Elle that the Kramers took her out of the orphanage to protect her from Odine. They prepared a big ship to accommodate her. Gracious of them, huh? After a while the ship turned into another orphanage and Elle looked after all the kids. She said her life on the ship was a happy one, but who knows. . . ? She was there for ten years. It was pure luck that we found them during the attack by Galbadia. I was out in space at that time, but she came back to Esthar and followed to the station. Little Elle was all grown up. . . . Then she told me everything. Well, that’s about it.”

“Not all of it,” Squall disagreed. “So . . . you didn’t know about me?”

Laguna shook his head violently. “I swear, had I known. . . ! I didn’t know until Ellone joined me on the station. And by then. . . .”

He sighed and gazed off out one of the windows. “You must have left to find Ellone before Raine knew. . . ?”

“Yeah. I’m . . . sorry, Squall. I don’t know what else to say. I was so focused on finding Ellone that I never even considered that Raine . . . that Raine and I. . . .”

Squall shook his head. “I can’t blame you. I can’t be angry. And Sis gave me chances to see parts of your life. I was so alone. Sis had been taken away, everyone else left, and I ended up alone at Garden. Seifer was there with me, but I don’t really count him. Well, I had Griever.”

“Your friend. He was at Garden?”

‘Can I. . . ?’

‘I think if you couch it as a unique ability like Ellone’s. . . .’

Squall looked back at his father and said, “No. Here.” He tapped his temple. “He’s able to talk to me, in my head, kind of like Ellone can do if she’s connected to someone’s consciousness to send them into the past. Griever’s been with me since Sis disappeared. At first I made up a story for myself as to what or who he was. That’s why I bought this ring, actually. And I named them Griever. I understood by then, but. . . . Still, it was kind of how I thought of him. A fierce protector, a brave lion. And my dearest friend.”

Laguna scratched his head. “Can he send people back, too?”

“No, no. Just talk to me. Well, we talk to each other. He’s part of the reason why I’ve been considering. . . .”

“Leaving Garden?” Laguna said with a tilt of his head.

“Yeah. He’s not a SeeD for one thing. Doesn’t want to be one, either. He joined in our fight because I needed him, you know? I had just been made commander and I was having a really hard time dealing with the responsibility. If I remained at Garden, well . . . he can’t be there with me.”

Laguna suddenly seemed to experience an epiphany. “Oh. . . . He’s . . . special, to you?”

Squall eyed his father carefully, looking for any signs of dismay or disgust. “He is. Very special.”

“Okay,” Laguna said simply. “I’d love to get to know him better, then! You should take a break from Garden! Stay here for a while!”

“We were kinda hoping you’d let us do that. We talked about it on the way to Winhill. Of course, Griever also joked about me negotiating the terms of that contract to defeat Ultimecia, and the fee.”

Laguna threw back his head and laughed.

fin