Seifer let his eyes become adjusted to the darkness around him as he walked slowly through the cavern. He heard people further down, their quiet voices echoing back to him as light whispers. Keeping Hyperion ready, the ex-Knight carefully studied his surroundings as he delved deeper.
“Summon Guardian force: Psyche!”
Seifer started and growled. His gunblade up came up and he looked around shifty-eyed and tense. They were going to fight him with Guardian-Forces? What was Psyche? He had never heard of that particular GF.
There was a flash of light that exploded in the distance, the GF coming to life, Seifer decided. His heart beat faster as he watched the light speed up and careen towards him. When it hit, it enveloped him completely and for an everlasting second all he could do is stare, paralysed, into a pair of violet eyes.
Which turned amber.
And then there was darkness.
“How about you?”
Irvine sighed and felt his heart clench. Zell was hanging his head looking miserable, and Squall had become even more cold and unresponsive than anyone thought possible in the past few days. Who knew Selphie had meant so much to him.
“Well. We have teams searchin’ a 150-mile perimeter around the royal house, and all small sects and minorities are being questioned. We haven’t gotten any good DNA samples from those men because the poison has destroyed most of the evidence. Those guys walked around with the antidote right in their blood systems.,” Irvine sighed in frustration, “But at least we have the antidote now too. Vaccinations will begin once Kadowaki has made enough,”
“Great. Needles. I just love needles.” Zell groaned.
“I know, not fun, but it will be useful. Now, let’s think for a sec,” Irvine sighed and stared at the computer screen in front of him, “they took Selphie. Currently Selphie has been in charge of two things. Applying for an instructor’s degree on junior mechanics and building the engine for the Aries. Seifer already admitted to hearing those creeps mention the Aries, so we don’t need to question why they took our gal. Aries, though, was supposed to be internal, a secret stealth ship that only elite Seeds and the top-command units knew about. So the information was leaked—”
“Or someone hacked in,” Squall interrupted.
“—or someone hacked us,” Irvine repeated with a growl, “We need someone who is tech savvy enough to trace a potential hacker.”
“Have you forgotten? They stole her away,” Zell snapped, “Damnit. Hell!”
“Calm down,” Squall retorted icily, “Get Nida, he was in the same classes as Selphie.”
“Good idea Squall,” Irvine muttered as he scanned the search engines once more.
When the man was brought down he looked just as solemn and as heartsick as Squall felt. He quietly went on his way checking the logs of the Balamb security system, his eyes swiftly traveling down, deciphering the paragraphs of code that the other three men couldn’t even hope to ever learn.
A silence stretched on as he checked them. The minutes turned to hours, and it was soon night. Squall had moved from his seat to lean against the doorway, his eyes shut and head bowed. Irvine was arched back in his chair looking pained and forlorn while Zell seemed frustrated and had begun to walk around the room.
The door opened beside Squall making him jump in surprise. It was Quistis looking stricken, and in her hands was a tray of coffee.
“I brought you this,” she managed, her voice very soft.
“Quistis, what’s wrong doll? You look frightened,” Irvine jumped to his feet and took the tray from her,
Quistis Trepe bit her lip, looking fragile, “Seifer took his test today, in the Fire Cavern.”
“Did he pass?” Squall interjected,
“He hasn’t come out yet, and the cave has been sealed off. No one can get inside,” Quistis’ voice rose to hysteria.
The four men stared at her in shock. Quistis? Dishevelled? Scared? Irvine collected her into his arms and felt her tremble.
“Quistis, how did it happen?” He murmured, stroking her hair.
“I-I…I-I don’t know…he went in, it was fine, then a bright light sealed the cave over entirely, locking him and the testers inside. All entrances to the cave are closed off. Instructor Elvelyn said it’s the work of a Guardian Force, but Seifer never had one, and no one was allowed to learn what the testers had in store for Seifer, now there all trapped and I wanted to pass because Selphie said he could change and Selphie…Selphie…”
Irvine swallowed hard as he felt wetness drip onto his neck. Looking awestruck at Squall and Zell he turned faintly pink, for once unsure of what to do.
“Q-Quistis…” He stuttered.
“What if something bad has happened to her? We were supposed to look out for one another…”
There was a loud crack that sent Irvine and Quistis flying away from each other and Zell and Nida both jumping in place. The wall sported a shiny dent and Squall had disappeared from the room. Quistis burst into tears afresh and Irvine left with her to calm her down. Stress was working its way into the blood of the SeeDs, and it was tearing them apart. Never had one of their own been captured like this.
Seifer opened his eyes to darkness. He was on the ground, his cheek pressed against the gritty floor of the cavern. Here was a softness nearby though, his fingers were clutching it. Looking up he cried out in surprise and was on his feet in an instant.
“Pretty boy, running away from me.”
“Seifer, why did you leave us? You were supposed to protect us…”
“Why don’t you come back to us Seifer? We can give you power.”
Seifer shook his head, glaring at the image of the sorceress. Matron had been restored. He knew she had, so what was she doing here?
“I’m here to take you back, my Knight, you and I, together, think of it, think of the power.”
“I don’t want it, you’re not real,” Seifer retorted flatly.
“Am I not?”
Edea whispered seductively and glided forward. Seifer found himself pressed against the wall, he didn’t remember backing up either. Edea’s amber eyes watched him carefully, illuminated by an unseen light source. Her pouty lips were turned up in the corners and then…they were coming closer…
Seifer felt an electrical shock course through him as Edea broke their sudden kiss. Oh, he had been given them before from her, but this…this had felt very real.
“Of course my Knight, I am real,” Edea smiled chillingly.
“You can’t be,” He whispered breathlessly,
“Join me again Seifer, there is nothing for you here,” Edea demanded.
“No, I can’t,” Seifer looked confused, he felt confused.
He had thought this was all over, but here she was. His once-protector. The woman who used him. The woman who promised him everything, and she was doing it again. She looked the same as she always had, too damned perfect, daringly beautiful; he bet her skin was just as soft as it had always been.
“Touch it and find out,” She whispered.
Mutely he shook his head. Never again would he be persuaded to join her. Edea’s eyes narrowed as she read his thoughts. Her claws stretched out and embedded themselves in his shoulders, making him cry out in pain. She hissed and sent her magic reeling into his mind, images of the past, thousands, all coalescing inside his thoughts.
Fighting with Squall.
Beating up the juniors.
Embarrassing Trepe in her class.
Tripping Selphie in the hallway.
Slashing Squall’s face.
Attacking the SeeDs in battle.
Standing beside Edea.
Every intimate moment with her.
Watching Rinoa become Squall’s.
Killing innocent civilians.
Laughing as people died.
Clenching his fist, feeling his power swell inside him.
Watching the pride on Edea’s face.
“Join me my Knight.”
Watching Squall’s disgusted look.
Seeing the pain on Quistis’ face.
Watching Selphie tear up.
Cutting into Irvine.
Laughing at the destruction.
Watching Quistis sink to the ground in pain.
The flash of light that followed as Edea flew forward, her fist erupting through Seifer’s chest, burnt Seifer’s retinas as he screamed in pain. The world around him collapsed and pain like he had never felt before seared his insides.
They said later that when Instructor Elvelyn found him, Hyperion had been driven through his ribs.
Everything has a cause and a consequence. And because of Seifer’s broken return, carried—somehow—by Instructor Elvelyn, Quistis Trepe shattered into pieces. Anxiously awaiting Trianon’s call she had been standing at the entrance of Balamb, having left soon after Irvine had thought she was asleep, and thus was the first instructor other than the cerulean-haired woman to see Seifer, covered in blood and breathing shallowly.
“What happened? What happened? Answer me!” Quistis’ voice slid up a notch once more.
“He appears to have stabbed himself,” Trianon replied carefully, wary of Quistis’ frantic blue eyes gazing at the soldier.
“Why? Why would he do that? What did they do to him?” Quistis demanded, a cold fury evolving from her panic.
And in that moment clarity returned and Trepe stood up.
“Get him to Kadowaki’s, I want those in charge of the test RIGHT here and RIGHT now. This tests are not designed to kill, there is NO reason for this to have happened!”
“Hyne, what the hell happened?”
Zell ran up and stopped, backing away from a pool of blood growing beneath Seifer as a weary Trianon tried to pick him up. Seeing that she was exhausted, Zell bent over and despite his size, managed to fold Seifer up gently and walk away with him. Irvine came soon after that, annoyed with Quistis for leaving but now more concerned for Seifer. It felt odd to care for the young man, but if Selphie had said that Almasy could change…
“Come on Quistis,” Irvine tried to pry her away from the entrance.
“No. The testers will be coming shortly.”
“Quistis, it’s early in the morning, no one will speak until they’ve had rest.”
Quistis and Irvine both stopped and looked at Trianon crouched on the floor with her palm pressed against the cold tiles covered in crimson.
“They used the Guardian Force of Psyche,” Trianon stood up shakily and blinked back her drowsiness, “It had to be Psyche. That particular Guardian Force can take fears and anything that might stand in a loyal soldiers way—”
“And make them face it?” Quistis paled and looked plainly horrified.
“Correct,” Trianon nodded shortly
Blood rushed to Quistis’ face. Irvine stepped back uneasily, watching her teeth clench and her hands ball into fists. Trianon stayed where she was, mostly out of fatigue, and then was shaken back into reality when Quistis grabbed her by both shoulders,
“Who told them to use a manipulative guardian force?! These are SOLDIERS not criminals! They don’t deserve to have that done to them! Who told them to use Psyche!? WHO?”
“Quistis!” Irvine leapt forward and dragged Quistis away as she struggled and seethed.
Trianon faltered now, “I…I told them to use either Psyche or Quicksilver, Quicksilver would have made a maze that the Seed would have to use logic to get out of…I suppose they thought this would be too easy?”
If looks could kill, Trianon would be slaughtered on the ground and bleeding from every major organ.
“Do you know who Seifer Almasy is?” Quistis managed to ground out.
Trianon shook her head, still looking calm but there was confusion in her eyes.
At that Quistis had to sigh and sag her shoulders in defeat. It wasn’t Trianon’s fault if she had no idea what Seifer had done. She allowed Irvine to lead her to the doctors where Kadowaki, bent over Seifer, ordered the girl to sit down, told Irvine to demand Trianon take a day off for exhaustion, and for him to have a glass of wine.
Two hours later Quistis, still simmering with anger, was clutching a bottle of pills to keep her sedated. Stress Leave. At a time like this. She was stalking down the hallway along the dorms when two things happened that she would never have predicted.
The first was Nida careening out of nowhere, and slamming into her so hard she flew a good four feet before crumpling to the ground in front of Selphie’s door. The second, occurred as Nida ran over to help her up, as he held on to Selphie’s door for support the panel fell inwards sending the man crashing into Selphie’s room and Quistis back to the ground.
“Ugh!” Quistis felt her breath be knocked out of her and she lay, stunned, on the ground while Nida waited patiently for his head to stop spinning.
They sat up slowly and Quistis frowned deeply. Sliding mechanical doors like the ones to all the dorms should never fall inwards. Nida seemed to agree and they stood up cautiously, Nida turning on the lights.
The window was open, sending her pale yellow curtains floating into the room, and everything inside was thrown about, broken, or missing. Quistis stepped carefully, oblivious to her new aches and pains, as she surveyed the area.
“We have no way of knowing how long ago this happened,” She whispered,
“The door was cut by a laser, so thin they must have just slid it back into place, see? There’s the other half still inside the internal frame,” Nida pointed.
Quistis studied it and felt tears well up in her eyes. Selphie had been so proud of her room when she finished decorating it. Her CDs had been thrown around, most smashed, the bed was torn to shreds, every drawer opened, every book torn apart.
“They were trying to find the plans for Aries’ engine,” Quistis sighed sadly, “Selphie only made sketches though, and I don’t think she kept them.”
“Do you think they’ve gotten anywhere else? The mechanic rooms?” Nida asked, looking tired and depressed.
“The doors to those rooms are much thicker than these ones because they’re mostly sound proof, the intermediate ones at least, and it would be plainly obvious that she’d never leave it with the juniors,” Quistis shook her head, walking over and reaching through the curtains to close the window which had been letting in frigid air.
She looked back into the room as she moved the window towards her; it was such a mess, all torn up.
“Quistis!” Nida cried out, his eyes flaring,
Quistis gagged as something grabbed on to her arm and yanked her viciously into the window, slamming her head against the glass. She braced her foot against the wall and tried to pull herself back, attempting to quench her fear as the silhouette of a man in cloaks rose up on the other side.
Nida lurched forward and grabbed the nearest object, a stereo speaker, and sent it hurling into the man. The glass shattered instantly and the fingers gripping Quistis’ wrist let go immediately. Quistis dropped to the ground feeling dizzy from all the sudden movements as Nida tore the curtains down and looked outside, his gun spinning to his hand.
“How the hell did it get up here?” He gasped, looking at the suddenly serene side to Garden’s outer walls.
Quistis shook her head mutely and climbed to her feet. Nida found his belt communicator and ordered some sleepy SeeDs to get down to Selphie’s room and block the entranceways. Walking Quistis to her room he dropped her off and sighed. It had been the longest day ever, and he hadn’t even had time to tell Quistis that he had a lead on Selphie’s whereabouts.
As Nida walked back to his room he bumped into Squall who was walking stiffly with another SeeD. Hurriedly Nida explained what had happened, and then he snapped his fingers and gave Squall the good news.
Never before had he seen Squall smile so brightly.