Squall grunted as his shoulder was smashed painfully against the side of the Ragnarok. Wincing, he shook his dark brown bangs out of his eyes and looked for a safer place to stand.
Irvine was holding on to the emergency exit as if it were an emergency lifeline needed at that exact moment (which it was), Zell had used the cords tying down one of their supply crates to tie himself down to the wall while hugging the crate to his chest, and Quistis was standing as prime as ever with her whip coiled around a pipe above, effectively securing her in place.
Selphie was flying the Ragnarok and she had decided to pull some stunts as well as her typical flying manoeuvres.
There was a snap on the next 360 spin that had Zell and the crate sliding across the floor one way, and then careening into the opposite wall with a loud crunch and a moan from the short blonde.
Quistis clung to her whip and swung back and forth, her composure steady despite the turbulence, as Squall dug his nails uselessly into the wall and then fell to his knees, wincing anew.
As the ship plateaued Quistis was able to find safer ground in a corner and help Zell get out of being trapped behind the crate. She watched Irvine and Squall nurse wounds from the risky flight. Excited squeals could be heard echoing down the hallways as Selphie cheered herself on, which brought a chorus of groans from the juniors in the next room over. They at least had chairs.
The landing was surprisingly smooth, but the dizziness of the flight had the SeeDs tumbling out as if they were drunk. Zell had turned green in complexion and was rushed off to the nearest medical centre to receive attention and the rest of them were swallowing pills and taking cure magic to settle their stomachs.
“We’re here!” Selphie yelled gleefully, happily carting out one of the crates.
Behind her was the mysterious Trianon, also holding a bag and seeming unfazed by the entire ordeal. Her eyes were sedate and her expression was muted, giving away nothing. Quistis appraised her carefully before turning her attention to Squall who was limping.
When they had all moved into the hotel prepared for them, Quistis was able to relax. Her bedroom was shared with her, Selphie, and Trianon, and across from them was Irvine, Squall and Zell. The three women set upon their beds and quickly adopted all the treasures in the hotel bathroom, laughing excitedly and cooing over everything new and pretty. While they were changing, Quistis was admiring the view over the central city of the Qun’sho Nation. She was in the process of slipping off her skirt when the lights abruptly flickered and died. Selphie squeaked in surprise and there was a light exhalation from Trianon’s disappointment.
“Oh nooo I lost my pyjama bottoms!” Selphie wailed, looking around in the darkness.
Quistis shuffled over slowly but banged her knee on the side of the bed frame. She gritted her teeth against the pain and then looked around as well, it was futile though. As her eyes were adjusting to the darkness there was a pop and a hissing noise and the room flooded with dim light.
Trianon was standing with a flame hovering in her hand just like old faerie tales often depicted. She was dressed in a light shift that fell mid thigh and she presented a picture of ethereal beauty. Selphie’s mouth turned into a little ‘o’ and Quistis herself was amazed.
The door burst open, making all three squeal, and Squall Leonhart together with Irvine Kinneas stood dumbstruck in the entrance. Quistis was quick in yanking her skirt up but Selphie was stuck in the middle of the room with a tank top and white panties with a yellow duckie on the front. There was an awkward silence before Trianon spoke softly.
“You don’t have to stay there,” she advised calmly.
“Irvine…” Squall hissed in horror, “This is not our room. You said this was our room!”
“I…I…I-I-I-I-I” Irvine stuttered, wide eyed.
Trianon crossed the carpet in two long strides of her pale legs and gently pushed Irvine out while Squall dragged the Cowboy into the room opposite to receive a shriek from a half naked Zell. Snickering quietly Quistis finished getting dressed while a stunned Selphie numbly moved to do the same. Trianon didn’t seem to be bothered at all; she simply sat cross-legged on her bed holding the flame up for the other two.
“You have great control over your magic,” Quistis commented as she sat down and dug under her covers.
Trianon smiled, revealing a row of pearly teeth, “I have had a lot of practice with magic.”
“You must have, when we cast fire it explodes at our target, it never just sits in our hand and burns,” Selphie said, her voice a little shaken still,
“You okay Selphie?” Quistis asked, concerned now and her attention pulled away from the other instructor.
Selphie nodded and bit her lip, “I don’t care that Irvine saw, I mean…he has before…but Squall? I’m so embarrassed!”
Quistis smiled gently, “Don’t worry Seffie, it’ll be okay.”
Selphie nodded but she looked crushed. Quistis was almost confused by it, because Selphie was usually so laid-back. The lights flashed back on, startling them all, and Trianon extinguished her flame and immediately turned off her bed lamp. Selphie followed suit, leaving Quistis to figure things out for herself. She didn’t spend too much time on it though because the awareness of their mission at hand had the instructor thinking about what tomorrow would hold in store.
Zell was staring at Squall incredulously as Irvine re-enacted their introduction to the girl’s room.
“It was terrible. Quistis didn’t even have skirt on but she was quick, I’ll give her that,” Irvine sighed.
“No pants. Duckie underwear.” Irvine looked contrite.
“And the blue-haired one?”
“Zell, we are not your source for bathroom ‘material’,” Squall growled.
The innocent look fled Zell’s face and he grinned roguishly making Irvine throw a pillow at him. Squall lay down and sighed, the image of a scandalized Selphie in his mind. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be forgetting this night for a long time.
By noon the SeeDs were getting dressed into their heavy dresses and brightly coloured tunics. Selphie, brightened by the new day, was twirling around and around, watching her skirts flare out all around her. Quistis was braiding her hair on top of her head, and coiling black satin ribbons inside it, her eyes narrowed in concentration. Her sapphire blues were locked on the mirror but every few seconds they would slide over to Trianon, sitting on her bed. The elegant woman was gently combing her hair but instead of a dress to wear she was clothed from neck to toe to fingertip in a black leather suit. Apparently she wasn’t dancing.
“Whoooa,” Selphie stopped spinning but she swayed in a small circle, her eyes wide and nearly crossed in the middle, “Whatcha up to Trianon?”
“I’m getting ready,” The woman said shortly, pulling on gauntlets over the tough black hide.
“But…for what?” Selphie inquired, creeping closer.
Trianon looked up, her eyes a whirl of colour, “I’m a body guard for the youngest daughter.”
“Oh.” Selphie said, blinking.
Trianon finished soon after, her completed suit having tall knee-high boots and two utility belts looped around her waist. Standing up she bid them a curt farewell and disappeared out the door.
“She…doesn’t talk much,” Selphie looked wounded at Quistis.
“Guess not,” Quistis replied, jamming another pin into her hair and then smiling in satisfaction, “But neither does Squall, so let’s go.”
Selphie nodded and picked up her skirts delicately. It was odd seeing her in such a formal dress and toddling about as she usually did. They trickled out the door to see Squall leaning against the wall and Irvine looking around aimlessly. Both looked up as the girls came out and both swallowed in unison. Quistis hid her smile and simply took Irvine’s arm in her own, casting him a fond look that he grinned nervously over. They were all a bit jittery about the dance but Squall and Quistis didn’t show it and Selphie was walking in front of them so her face couldn’t be seen.
Their destination was the Royal House, a mansion only lightly guarded (the perimeters of the city did well enough to ward foes away) and situated on a massive field enclosed in a decorative wall. They took cars to the estate and stepped out looking like medieval queens and kings. Inside the classy halls they were brought on a brief tour and then let inside the main ballroom.
The ballroom took their breath away. Golden streamers lined the walls, flooding downwards and bursting into fans of thick crimson, five feet across. Vases full of roses exploded in the corners and tables covered in food lined the walls. Tables dotted one half of the floor and they sported plate after plate of exotic foods, bright contrasts to the pristine white tablecloths that draped down to the floor in a series of points with flashy coloured serviettes spotting them.
The floor was polished to brilliance and it reflected the chandeliers high above, with each light dazzling both ceiling and tiles. Men is expensive suits carried trays of glasses and appetizers and dancers flitted amongst the crowd, luring people in to dance as the band in the corner picked up their instruments and began to play.
Irvine raised his palm and looked at Quistis with vibrant indigo eyes. Holding her breath Quistis stepped out on to the dance floor and placed her palm against Irvine’s. It was hard to be perfect, yet she had to pull it off, not just for herself, but also for everyone around her. Flawlessly, they glided over the tiles and soon both grew accustomed to the swirling skirts around them and both were able to breathe easier.
Selphie had no such worries. Her charismatic character had her twirling into the room, grabbing Squall’s hand and then playing princess for the night. Her cheeks flushed with excitement and her eyes dancing, the small brunette had Squall has her puppet. He didn’t seem to mind, though he never seemed to mind anything. Squall was gazing around stoically as ever, looking everywhere but Selphie, and his cheeks were faintly pink. Since the dance so long ago with Rinoa he had made sure he would never stumble again, but Selphie…the last time he had seen her…
“Are you hot?” Selphie asked as they turned around and around.
“No,” Squall’s eyes snapped to hers as soon as her voice broke his thoughts.
“Oh, you’re turning pink…wait…red now,” Selphie announced with interest.
Squall ignored her comment, something she was used to by now, and instead spun her in a circle and pulled her back in. He could see Quistis and Irvine, laughing and smiling together as they danced, he admired Quistis. She was driven and cold like him but she could put it aside, he couldn’t let loose like that. Selphie was always loose, rarely did she tighten up to a serious outlook, he couldn’t be like her either. Sometimes he wanted to, though.
Rinoa. Somehow her name always came up every time he tried to hide in his thoughts. She must have gotten tired of him, tired of him not responding, not doing anything she wanted, being a brick wall and drowning in paper work. He was tired of her now, tired of thinking about her. She was gone, her bright smiles and sunny eyes wouldn’t be seen again. He couldn’t think of what to do about that. He had secretly liked it, liked having someone so alive be close to him.
The song ended, again breaking him away from himself. Selphie and he walked over to a table with refreshments; he hadn’t even noticed he was holding her hand. He couldn’t let go now, it seemed proper to have her near and she hadn’t realized that her little glove-enveloped fingers were clasped in his. They drank punch together, licking their lips and then heading out again but keeping their eyes on the royal family.
The mother and father of the House, essentially the Lord and Lady, were standing strictly, watching their daughter dance with the youngest son of the neighbouring house. Trianon was with them looking not unlike a hawk. The daughter was in thick sparkling skirts and she was smiling, which surprised Squall since the marriage had been arranged. Squall watched the girl, she wasn’t anything special, but her eyes were so alight with happiness. It was beautiful. He felt Selphie shift in his arms and when he looked at her his eyes widened at the sight of the same emotion expressed in her emerald orbs. She was so happy. So bright and shining.
Why did he feel so drawn to her in that moment?
Seifer sighed, and dragged his feet over the steps of Balamb’s entrance. His head was spinning and he felt hot all over. Walking was a trial and he swayed back and forth like he was drunk. How long had he let the poison stay in this time? He had been sighted and Xu and Cid were already walking towards him looking confused, but at least the latter had some fondness in his eyes.
“Seifer, welcome back,” Cid greeted warmly.
“I fought with that thing…it poisoned me.” Seifer said wearily, his head swimming.
“Let’s get you to Kadowaki’s then,” Xu sighed.
“Wait…those things…they’re human,” Seifer croaked.
At this both looked alarmed and Seifer found himself being dragged inside the Garden. At the doctor’s he demanded to see Squall, Quistis, or Selphie, since those three had been with him last. Kadowaki shook her head, confusing him, and tried to push him down with no success.
“They’ve gone on a mission. Selphie will be back to take care of the Aries though,” Kadowaki tried to soothe.
“No! That’s it’s! Where did they go?” Seifer fought off her hands with a snarl.
“They’ve gone on a mission,” Kadowaki pressed firmly, “Lay down, I need to take a blood sample!”
“Those things, those guys, they want something with the Aries, something will happen,” Seifer glared at Kadowaki.
He wasn’t even sure why he cared. He did though, of all his screw-ups why add these dead SeeDs to the list? He had to fix something just so he knew he could.
“There are enough SeeDs and juniors that you don’t have to worry,” Kadowaki argued, finally getting the blood she needed when he stilled for a moment.
“Where are they?” Seifer asked.
“I can’t tell you that,” Kadowaki replied, she looked almost sad, “Seifer, they can take care of themselves.”
“Maybe Trepe can, but the rest are just babies,” Seifer spat, angry with himself and everyone else.
Kadowaki shook her head and sedated Seifer while they worked the poison out of his body slowly. As she did so Xu rushed in looking worried.
“I just got a call from one of the juniors, something’s happened inside the Royal House of the Qun’sho’s.”
Seifer sat bolt up right, his head heavy with drugs, “Thank you Xu!”
“What?” Xu looked at him, clearly confused.
He slid off the bed and took one step before he crashed into a wall. Kadowaki winced and pulled him back to the bed.
“What happened?” the doctor asked.
“I’m not sure,” Xu looked worried, “The junior was cut off, we’re sending extra SeeDs but they can’t leave for another 6 hours, we need to give them supplies and get the Ragnarok back here.”
Four hours later had Seifer awake but dazed. He was looking around the office from his bed when Nida came in looking rushed and hurriedly collecting medical supplies. Seifer sat up and stared at the man, not really recognizing him.
“Hey, you,” He called hoarsely.
“Seifer?” Nida turned, his arms full.
“Where are you going? To Quistis and Squall, right?”
“I have to come with you,” Seifer stood up and held the bed for support.
“Seifer,” Nida stared at him, “You can’t, you’re not healthy enough and you’re not SeeD.”
“Damnit!” Seifer cried, “I have…I have to fix this, I know what they want, and I knew they’d be in trouble, at least let me go to get back at the bastards for poisoning me.”
Nida blinked, more confused than ever. Seifer wanting to help? The creatures being tied into the Qun’sho? Seifer had known? Nida didn’t even know that Seifer had returned to Garden much less care enough about it to demand to be let on to one of the missions.
“Seifer I can’t.”
“They want the Aries,” Seifer glared at the man, “I don’t know much about it, but I gather it’s important.”
“The Aries isn’t finished, it’s useless without the engine and only Selphie…Selphie!” Nida’s eyes grew wide with horror.
“Let’s go,” Seifer grabbed the other box of medical supplies Nida had intended to take and began to walk out the door, albeit slowly.
“If Xu finds out she’ll kill me,” Nida whispered, sitting in the docking bay with Seifer.
“Don’t worry about it,” Seifer snapped, “I’ll just say I hid on board.”
Nida sighed and shook his head, “Selphie…she’s been through a lot with the attacks and all. If they kill her we’ll never get the Aries running properly, she draws some plans on paper, but most are in her mind, if they capture her we’re in just as much trouble.”
“You care for her?” Seifer asked, sliding a sideways look at the almond-eyed man.
“Enough,” Nida replied shortly, which told the whole story to Seifer.
Seifer smiled and then looked off, the smile fading from his lips. A siren called and they hoisted everything up into the Ragnarok. People milled about, completely disregarding his presence and busied themselves with getting the cargo and themselves on board. Seifer folded himself up into a storage closet and hoped the trip wouldn’t take long. If he did something good it wouldn’t take away all the evil, but it would show promise for a better future, and hell, maybe he’d be able to pick himself back up.
The ride did take a long time but Seifer didn’t care. He was so anxious that even if the trip had taken six seconds it would feel like a choked eternity.
When the Ragnarok landed no one was prepared for the sight that unfolded when the cargo doors opened.
“This food is amazing,” Irvine stared at his heaping plate while Zell couldn’t even be seen over the top of his.
They had broken for dinner and the SeeDs had excitedly jumped in line to sample all the delicacies that found their way on to the hungry dancer’s plates. Selphie had taken claim to the dessert table and had mass quantities of chocolate and ice cream on her plate, having already blitzed through her dinner. Squall was eating methodically and slowly, savouring each burst of flavour he received from the food. He took a quiet pleasure in this, unlike the others who exclaimed over everything. Silently he faded out to settle in his thoughts, it was better this way, being alone, wasn’t it?
“I know the real dances are over…but may I?”
They all looked up to see a man with jet black hair and amber eyes staring intently at Selphie. The girl’s eyes were huge and her mouth parted for a moment before closing. Quistis kicked Selphie underneath the table to urge her to reply to the man whose hand was outstretched in her direction.
“Um…okay…” Selphie smiled a little and then perked completely, “Yeah, okay!”
Squall couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. If the dances started again he’d be left at the table. But then again, he would be able to observe much better from this standpoint. Irvine and Quistis both leaned over to watch Selphie and the stranger dance together, Quistis even cooed at the cuteness of it all.
“She looks like a little girl in those huge skirts,” The blonde smiled.
“She does,” Irvine grinned,
“’Sthat a gun in ‘is pocky?” Zell managed over a mouthful of food.
“What?” Quistis asked, squinting, “You’re right, why would he bring that to a dance…”
Her tone had turned even, which meant she was wary and about to move. Her whip had been easily clipped to her leg under her skirts, and Irvine had also concealed his weapon well, Squall, unfortunately, had to exchange his gunblade for a regular gun. Standing slowly Quistis took Irvine’s hand and they walked out on to the dance floor.
As Selphie twirled gracefully the man spun her around his back. Her eyes hit the hilt of the gun at the same time that it fell neatly into his hand. He shoved her to the ground, holding on to her wrist, and then pointed the gun at the ceiling and fired.
There was an immense explosion and a shower of glass and smoke as the bullet hit a bomb hidden in the left-most corner. The guests screamed and scrambled for cover while the SeeDs all pulled out weapons and dove for spots that enabled them to hide.
One by one the lights were shot out, indicating that there was more than one enemy in the building. Sparks rained down, catching the ornaments alight and making the crowd panic even more. Their voices filled the room and they leapt for doorways, crushing others underneath them.
The doors were ripped off their hinges as the mad rush of people stampeded out, leaving a trail of dust and broken tables in their wake. Flames sprouted and flared up the walls adding a feverish orange glow to light the darkness up like Hell on earth.
In the middle of the flames Selphie was crouched, captured by the man with the gun at her head. Bombs were set off in the remaining corners sending pieces of the ceiling crashing down, destroying the once beautiful room. The man looked up and yelled something that Selphie couldn’t hear but she could feel the magic as it sprung up around them. He was shielding them from the falling debris.
Like Squall, Selphie couldn’t hide her weapon in her costume. She had a small gun and some tools for those tricky situations but nothing could help her when the man’s gun was against her temple. Her eyes flickered over the room in fear for her friends, if she had been wanted dead it would have happened by now.
He had her wrist in a vice grip and slowly he knelt beside her, pulling her roughly against him. Selphie let herself go limp as her training had always taught her to do. She searched desperately through the haze and fire to find her friends and she was soon relieved to see Irvine and Quistis huddling together under their own spell. But Squall? Where was he? And Zell? Michelle? She twisted around as much as she could, ignoring the threats from the man. Dimly she saw Trianon pushing the princess out one of the back doors, she was a streak of cerulean-turn green by the firelight. The table they had been eating at had been crushed under the falling ceiling pieces and she had no idea where Squall was. The crackle of flames took over the screams outside and most of the people had either fled or were now slain and bleeding corpses near the exit ways and tables.
Selphie bit her lip, agonized that this would happen. Why her? Had they mistaken her for the princess? Selphie looked up at the man and into his rich amber eyes. He didn’t look like the type to capture a princess; he didn’t seem very interested in the Royal House at all since he had let the entire family escape. As the strips of cloth decorating the hall were eaten up by the flames they tumbled down slowly, charred and in ruin. The stonewalls snuffed the fires out by themselves and the only flames now came from the tables themselves.
The night sky struck through with silver stars was above them now, and although she was sweaty from the dances, hot from the flames, and frightened for her friends Selphie took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the heavens and the dim coals around her. She swallowed and shut her eyes, the smoke stinging them far too much to be left open. When she let them open once more she saw a dozen of the black-cloaked creatures flooding into the building. Her heart beat painfully against her chest and unconsciously she pressed closer to her captor, she was afraid of those beasts, because she did not know what they were.
He stood up, dragging her with him, and then she felt the spell disappear. Selphie turned around looking frantically for her companions as he yanked her along without a word. Selphie resisted once but he smacked her harshly across the face. Wounded she followed, it would be wiser if she was in top shape for an escape if the chance arose.
As they stumbled over the wreckage, between the ghostly creatures, a black blur darted out from the shadows, followed by another, and another, and another. Selphie hissed as the man’s nails dug into her tendons and veins but the hiss turned to elation.
Bullets streamed past them from Irvine and Squall’s guns while Quistis whirled, skirts and all, into a frenzied attack with her whip. They couldn’t harm the man though, because he had pulled Selphie in front of him for protection.
“Kill them!” The man ordered.
The black wraiths all turned around and then dashed towards the SeeDs like shadows flying through the air. Selphie screamed as her friends went back to back and tried to fight them off, she never got to see the entire battle though because the man was pulling her away.
They ran over the ruined ballroom and out into the night. Selphie fell twice from the weight of her skirts but he was always there to pull her up and cuff her for her clumsiness. She couldn’t even remember the past moments-- they had happened so quickly-- but when Selphie chanced a look back her heart swelled.
Squall was running towards her. The wind streamed through his hair and stung his eyes but he never blinked. She could see the anger in his eyes even from the distance between them; they were alight with their own fire.
She pulled back sharply, surprising the man and sending him reeling. Squall must have run out of bullets, but Selphie still had her gun. She wrenched it out of her dress but it took her time and the precious seconds had been sorely needed. The man backhanded her sharply and raised his own gun, firing at Squall. Selphie shrieked in both pain and horror as she saw Squall falter and hug his arm close to him. He never stopped running though. Her gun was kicked away and Selphie was left defenseless, watching as the man fired shot after shot at Squall.
The man cursed and pulled Selphie to her feet once more when his bullets had all been used up. The wraith-creatures were coming out now, having dealt with Quistis, Zell and Irvine. Selphie’s eyes filled with tears as she watched Squall be taken down. For a moment their eyes met and she felt an electric shock run through her body.
The sky lit up bright blue and lightning crackled down as a massive feathered serpent exploded from Squall. He had summoned Quezacotl. Before she knew what she was doing she was mumbling her own magic, ready to burn the world down with her in the very middle of it. Her own fate, whatever it be, was not her problem at the moment, she needed to get the rest of the SeeDs out, that was priority.
“Ifrit! Hellfire!” Selphie cried, her eyes turning amber-gold as the magic surged out of her.
The man screamed in pain as fire leapt up his body and the wraiths all shrieked as their cloaks caught on fire. The man never let go of Selphie though. His grip on her wrist was growing tighter with every piercing pain that racked his body. As Ifrit subsided back into her Selphie let out a cry of frustration as the man hauled himself to his feet, the stench of burnt flesh all around him. She gagged against it and looked back, tears in her eyes as she saw Squall on his knees, being slammed into by angry creatures in tattered cloaks. It was too dark to see much of anything. The man tossed her into the back of an all-terrain vehicle and bound her wrists and legs tightly. Selphie whimpered and curled up in a little ball. She hoped Squall was okay.