Grazhir :: Final Fantasy :: Snafu :: 10

10

She left Lunatic Pandora with two of her minions and warped them north to Lunar Gate. Inside she thralled everyone in her path and forced them to send her party up to Lunar Base. As soon as they were awake again she sauntered forward toward the exit of the boarding room, brutally smashing the man who came through the door to meet them into a wall and snapping his neck.

Part way down the corridor and after another few base workers had been murdered she noticed something wrong and stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turning her head to the side. Adel’s Tomb was missing. Enraged, she screamed, and went on a rampage, killing everyone she could find before entering one of the escape pods with her minions and launching.

*

The com crackled and Kiros spoke. “We have an unscheduled launch from Lunar Base. A team is being sent out for recovery.”

“Acknowledged,” Squall sent back, wondering if they should be worried.

The next twenty minutes were tense ones. A second capsule had launched from the base, and not long after that Kiros reported a single man had been retrieved from the first, in a state of hysterics and unable to communicate effectively. Just as Kiros was letting them know that a team had arrived at the second capsule, Squall’s eyes went wide on seeing Lunatic Pandora come to a stop over Tear’s Point and begin to glow as it slowly sank downward, Tears’ Point glowing in response. Even at their distance the sound of cracking stone could be heard and when lights began shooting skyward Squall quickly sent, “I think Tears’ Point failed.”

Muffled swearing came back across the com. “Piet has been tranquilized enough to speak. He reports that a woman who looked like renditions of past sorceresses stormed Lunar Base and started killing everyone. It looks like he was the only one to survive. The second launch must have been the intruder.”

“Shit,” Seifer muttered.

“Selphie, get us some distance,” Squall ordered absently, trying to work out the implications. He started murmuring to himself, thinking out loud, still transmitting. “Edea was sealed. But we still have a sorceress on the loose. Our plan must have failed, not worked fast enough. The powers must have jumped, but why the base? Was she after Adel as well as Ellone? But why? It wouldn’t even be the same person, just the powers.”

“I think we need to get matron out of that seal,” Irvine said. “She’s still trussed up, and I think she needs to be questioned. There is something very, very wrong going down.”

Selphie cried out and pointed. “Look! It’s happening.”

Squall snapped back into focus and glanced up through the transparent roof of the ship. Tears’ Point had most certainly failed. “Get us to the memorial!”

Selphie had them there in minutes and stayed in the ship, ready to launch again the second they returned. Squall ran inside with Seifer and Irvine just in time to see the workers there release the seal. Kiros must have contacted them the moment he heard their plans. It was a quick hop back to the city and Selphie set them down on Laguna’s private landing pad. By the time they were in his office Edea showed signs of waking.

“The fact you could even bring her here indicates that she is no longer a sorceress,” Kiros commented thoughtfully. “Even with her powers subdued the city’s shields should have repulsed your entrance with her on board.”

“Do you think it’s safe to unbind her, then?” Selphie asked as Seifer whirled around and kicked the wall a few times, cursing under his breath.

“She will be ‘under the weather’ for a while no matter what,” Kiros replied. “With all of us here we should be all right.”

Squall and Irvine moved in to release her from Odine’s bizarre restraints, but stayed close and alert. She finally opened her eyes, blinking slowly, then focused on the faces closest to her. “Squall, Irvine. You’ve grown so much.” Her gaze wandered by the older trio without recognition, then focused again moments later. “Selphie, Seifer.” When she struggled to sit up Irvine assisted her and stepped back immediately, still tense. “I have waited for this day to come, and also feared it. Is today a joyous day? Or an odious one?” She looked around as if seeking someone. “Have I protected Ellone!?” she cried desperately. “Is she still safe!?”

A glance bounced around the room and Ward rushed out, presumably to hustle Ellone off to somewhere farther away. Squall thought sitting in a ship ready to launch might be good, or perhaps down in the fleet cavern. “Matron,” he said slowly, “Ellone is safe. Why does she need to be safe?”

“Squall?” Edea took the glass of water Selphie had fetched and took a deep sip. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I must seek out Dr Odine in Esthar. I have been freed from control, but it’s urgent that my powers be suppressed.”

“Matron,” Seifer drawled, “I don’t think you have them anymore. Why don’t you try something simple and harmless. Something that won’t cause us to all to skewer you out of reflex.”

She turned a puzzled look his way and raised one hand, then brought it down against the arm of the sofa. As it struck she recoiled in surprise and the glass in her other hand slipped free and shattered on the floor. “I’m free?” she whispered. She got up with surprising grace and looked around, then glanced down and waved her hand. When nothing happened she sat back down heavily.

Squall asked again, “Why must Ellone be kept safe, matron?”

Edea looked up sharply. “Because Ultimecia has need of her powers.”

“Who—?”

Odine barged in and scuttled over, eyeing Edea like a specimen in a lab jar, then whipped out a funny little device with dozens of blinking lights on it. He pressed something and waved it around in front of Edea, then hooted. “No powers! The woman, she is harmless!” he declared as he tucked the device away.

Everyone relaxed at that and began to take seats. Squall tried again. “Who is Ultimecia and why would she want Ellone?”

“Ellone!” Odine said. “The strange little girl I wished to study more.” He sent an accusatory glance toward Laguna and Kiros.

Squall prayed for patience as he kept staring at Edea.

“Ultimecia is a sorceress from the future,” she finally answered. “She has some way to send her consciousness and power back into the past to possess another sorceress. Some ‘Junction Machine’.”

Odine squeaked and immediately began examining his nails.

Squall glared over at the little man, then turned back to Edea and nodded. “Please continue.”

“We’re in Esthar?” she asked.

His eye started twitching at that point, but he settled when Laguna put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, leaned down, and whispered, “I think she’s still a bit disoriented. Be gentle, okay?”

Squall nodded and signaled to Selphie, who nodded and said, “Yes, matron, we’re in Esthar, in the city. Why would Ultimecia want Ellone, then, if she can already send herself back?”

Edea took a new glass of water, this time from Kiros, and said, “She wishes to go farther back in time. If she can do so she can compress time.”

“For what purpose?” Selphie asked.

“The past, present, and future would all be compressed and she would rule. She is the only one who would be able to exist in a such a world, she and no other. Her heart is filled with anger and hate. She fears something from her present’s past, from our time. I believe she is trying to compress time to prevent whatever it is from coming to pass.” Edea went silent and drank some of her water.

“. . .So she needs Ellone to achieve it. Okay. Do you know if there is any reason she would go after Adel?”

“Sorceress Adel is the type who will not hesitate to use her powers for her own selfish desires. Combined their power would be unimaginable, and Adel would have reason to go after Ellone as well, as she escaped once already.” She finally seemed to realize something and turned her gaze on Laguna. “I know you.”

“Yes,” he replied. “I came to your orphanage years ago in search of my little Elle.”

“Uncle Laguna,” Edea said softly. “Correct?”

Laguna grinned goofily and nodded, then handed her a pastry in case she was hungry.

Squall leaned against Seifer and said quietly, “She must have forced Edea to pass on her powers to someone in Martine’s office right before the trap took effect. Maybe she saw something suspicious about the situation, but it was too late to back away from it by then. Now she’s somewhere over here in a new body, probably furious because Adel is already gone.”

Seifer said back, “So we did screw up her plans, but not enough, unfortunately. We can seal as many sorceresses as we like, but we can’t get to Ultimecia. And if every sorceress alive now were sealed, no one would be available to pass on her powers so that in the future Ultimecia would even be one.”

“And since she is, and this is the past to her, then we obviously don’t find all of them or most of them are nonthreatening. So the only way to get to the source is to go forward.”

“Through Time Compression,” they said together.

“Well, shit,” Seifer said.

“Agreed,” Irvine chimed in sourly. “Because if we defeat her during Time Compression paradox is averted.”

“I don’t like it,” he said. “It means placing Ellone in danger.” He suddenly realized that everyone else had also been listening in.

“You lost me,” Laguna confessed.

Squall shifted so he could face him. “Dad, Ellone can’t send someone she doesn’t know back, nor can she send anyone to someone she didn’t know in the past. The only possible sorceress who makes sense back then is Adel. But Ellone doesn’t know whom Ultimecia is currently inhabiting. If she did she could connect from anywhere, just as she did with me.”

“Oh! I get it.” Laguna’s shoulders slumped. “Damn.”

Beeping sounded from the desk and Kiros hastened over to answer it. “Kiros here. I see. Send one of them to the office immediately.” After hanging up he returned and sat down. “Lunatic Pandora was brought nearer the capital and a small army disembarked to advance on the city. Several of our soldiers were able to witness Ultimecia leading them, but she was thwarted by the city’s shields and retreated. However, her people continue to advance. Our military is defending the city so you are not needed there to help. It does mean she may try to trick us, though, somehow.”

“A small army is advancing on us and we shouldn’t worry?” Seifer asked in disbelief.

“Yes. Esthar’s military strength far outweighs that of Galbadia. We knew it was only a matter of time before they started trying to take more territory, and despite our protections we wished to be prepared for such an eventuality.”

Selphie snapped her fingers and pointed at nothing in particular. “We use a decoy!”

“Darlin’?”

“Dress someone up—like me, as an example—to look like Ellone. Dress Ellone up as someone else. Or maybe forget the decoy and just disguise Ellone. The point is to get her into a position somehow so she can do whatever it is she needs to do to be able to connect. Then whisk her away to safety and let her do her thing from there.” She pinned Kiros with a stare. “Are there any such things as OCS suits? Maybe panels we can toss up to resemble a large rock?”

Laguna scurried over to the desk and tapped a few things, said, “Ward, it’s safe to bring Ellone to me,” then came back and sat on the arm of the couch next to Squall. “If nothing else we can ask her about what she’d need to do. But if Ellone agrees to help, much as I abhor the idea of placing her anywhere near danger, we must do everything we can to keep her safe.”

*

A few minions died to momentarily appease her rage and Ultimecia was sitting there staring at her reflection, working out a new plan of attack. She ignored the knock on the wall at the entrance to the room and let her ‘knight’ answer it, only paying attention when she recognized the girl being dragged in. “Report,” she ordered.

“My lady,” one of the soldiers said, “she was found outside Lunatic Pandora by my patrol. She claims she wasn’t spying, but she’s obviously not one of ours. We brought her to you for disposition.”

Ultimecia rotated her chair so she was facing them directly. “So, the foolish little girl is back. Come with another pathetic plan, have you?”

“No! I was trying to get to the safety of the city!” the girl sobbed in fear. “Please let me go!”

“Oh, I don’t think so, child,” she purred. “Since you were stupid enough to come anywhere near me again I’ll use you for my latest plan. A little subtlety on my part will serve me well this time.”

*

Nida felt like he was waking up from a nightmare in which he could see and hear and smell everything around him, but where he had no conscious control over himself. Something about those wide, pleading brown eyes had shaken him. She—she was so familiar. Why? Why did she look at him that way, as if she knew him? He watched in a daze as the sorceress and the girl simultaneously collapsed, trying to make sense of what was happening, but feeling no compelling reason to act.

The girl suddenly stood up, her entire demeanor changed. Fingers methodically wiped away tears as she gazed at the body on the floor. “The changes should hold for long enough,” she muttered, then turned around. “Knight,” she snapped. “Take my former body toward the city and along the border, but do not attempt to cross it. Make it appear as though the defending soldiers have forced you to abandon me to their mercy. Flee, and return here.”

He repeated her instructions automatically and said, “Yes, my lady.” Nida moved forward and crouched so he could heft the still breathing form into his arms, then rose and began to leave.

“You three,” the girl said. “Escort him past our perimeter so he is not stopped by our people thinking he does something wrong. Get him as close as you can to the city before retreating.”

“Yes, my lady!”

Some time later he was on his own, the sorceress’s former body cradled in his arms. He looked around and drifted to a stop, thinking back on what he had seen. What was wrong with him? Why was he doing this? He had been sent on a mission to liberate Timber, so why was he following the orders of a sorceress? That girl. . . . A moment later he felt the barrel of a gun pressed against his temple. “I was sent here to lay a trap,” he heard himself say.

*

“I’m not sure of exactly how long,” Ellone was saying when the beeping started again.

Kiros rushed over to answer it. “Kiros here. What!?”

Squall was surprised by the sheer amount of shock that shaded that simple word.

“Yes, right away. We’ll be waiting. Make sure he’s disarmed.” Kiros hung up and said, “Ultimecia has jumped bodies again.”

“For the love of—!” Seifer got up and kicked the wall again a few times.

“Our people found a young man standing around in a daze, carrying what looked like the sorceress as described to us. However, the man said he had been sent to trick us and made no attempt to resist being taken into custody. The woman he was carrying was brought through the shields without effort, which supports his claim. He should be here shortly.”

Ten minutes later a sharp knock sounded and the door was pulled open. Everyone turned to look. The sight brought Squall to his feet. “Nida!?”

Nida was pushed in by one of the soldiers escorting him, a somewhat dazed look on his face. “Yes, that’s my name. I know you people. Some of you. Why am I having so much trouble remembering? What did she do to me?”

Seifer got up and walked over to grab Nida by the arm and hustle him over to a seat. The soldiers looked to Laguna for instructions, and were waved away. “Wait outside.”

“Nida,” Squall said, “snap out of it! It wasn’t so long ago you made SeeD with me, Seifer, and Selphie. Do you remember?”

“. . .Yes, I do now. Dollet. Timber. Garden. Deling.” Nida blinked a few times and shook his head. “Squall?”

Edea coughed delicately and said, “Ultimecia subverted his mind when the assassination attempt failed, and made him believe he was her knight. He was not in Galbadia Garden when you attacked. He had been sent after Lunatic Pandora.”

“Thank you, matron,” Squall softly.

“She took over a girl,” Nida said. “Dark hair, dark eyes, blue and black. She was . . . our client? Is that who she was?”

Squall said it before Seifer could. “Well, shit.”

“But this is good!” Irvine insisted. “Ellone, was seeing Rinoa for that long enough? Do you think you can connect to her?”

She hesitated, then slowly nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

“Is that who it was, Nida?” Squall persisted. “What happened before you were sent to trick us?”

“My memory of that is fine. My lady—” He shook his head. “The girl was brought in by a patrol. The sorceress recognized her, said something about ‘another pathetic plan’ that I didn’t understand. The girl denied it and begged to be let go. The sorceress switched from her body to the girl’s and instructed me to make a feint along the city border carrying her former body, to make it seem as though I was forced to abandon her to save my own life. But I was already confused by then about what I was doing—why I was doing it. So when the soldiers found me I admitted the plan.”

“So she doesn’t want us to know what she looks like, which means odds are she won’t twist her features again,” Squall mused.

“I think so,” Nida said slowly. “She wanted to be subtle this time.”

“Matron,” Squall said, “when you were taken over, how did you react?”

“When I realized that something was trying to possess me I fled immediately from the ship. I was desperate to protect Ellone, so I willingly retreated into my soul. I did not attempt to fight her once I was safely away. If she could have read my thoughts or memories she would have found Ellone immediately.”

“So you were a hidden, passive observer. All right. Rinoa may try to fight just because she’s so stubborn. Ultimecia may be able to read her mind and try to use her against us.”

“She has to know she can’t get into the city,” Irvine said, “so. . . .”

Squall looked at his father and signaled with his eyes toward Nida, then jerked his head back slightly toward the door. Laguna nodded and got up. “Nida, come with me. We’ll get you a safe room to have something to eat and get some rest, okay? Your help has been invaluable.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as Nida had been handed over to the soldiers Selphie said, “Let’s assume she knows that Rinoa barged into Esthar and was in the process of being kicked out when she fled. Let’s assume, seeing as how Rinoa’s still alive, that she got a car at the rental place and has been trying to find a way to get at Squall again.”

“All right,” Kiros said. “But why would that matter if Ellone can make the connection from the safety of the city?”

“She’s thinking ahead to the aftermath with the assumption that we win,” Squall explained, having immediately cottoned on. “Where we have to decide what to do with Rinoa, and to know where she would likely be. Ultimecia wants to get at Ellone, but can’t. She’ll be thinking furiously as to how Rinoa’s body can be used to advantage, and she isn’t even certain that Ellone is in Esthar unless she managed to rip through the minds of the white SeeDs. If we know where she is our people can swoop in once Time Compression ends, knock her out in a sneak attack, and haul her off to be sealed.”

Edea looked distressed by that. “She’s just a girl. I was granted powers when I was a mere five years old and was never a threat to anyone.”

“I’m sorry, matron,” Seifer said firmly, “but we know her better than that. Rinoa is incredibly spoiled, stubborn, and refuses to live in the real world. The idea of her with that kind of power makes me shudder. She’s the type who’s likely to go mad with it and we can’t afford to be planning for a third sorceress war while we’re still in the second one. Maybe if she’d been lucky enough to be raised by you she’d be a sweet girl, but she wasn’t, and she’s not.”

“I suppose I cannot object, then,” she said quietly.

“Find a way to make sure there’s an Ellone sighting?” Irvine suggested. “At least then we’d know she’s lurking somewhere outside the city. Maybe we could set drones on her to keep an eye out?”

“Well, we used a hologram to trick Adel,” Laguna said, “but I don’t think that would work this time. And we can’t do anything too obvious or she’ll probably suspect another trap of some kind.”

Squall had to assume his father was being so serious because Ellone’s safety was at stake. “Matron, as a sorceress, you must have had some fast method of travel?” he hazarded.

“Yes. I could either move myself to a place I could see within a certain distance but was not familiar with, or to places I had already been over great distances.”

“I’m just wondering if a drone could keep up with a sorceress traveling that way,” he said for the benefit of the others. “This is assuming Ultimecia stays in Esthar. Though if she still has Galbadia Garden under her control she might move back and forth between Esthar and G-Garden to check up on whatever they’re doing. Actually, maybe I have a better idea. Sis, I know that you weren’t paying attention to where I was whenever you connected to me, but if you actively wanted to know, could you?”

“I don’t know?” she said.

“Can you connect and not actually do anything? Not send the person you’re connected to back into the past?”

“I think so?”

Irvine jumped in with, “Can you connect to, say, Quistis, and see where she is, then disconnect?”

“I can try, but you know I promised you all I wouldn’t do it again without permission. I can’t exactly ask Quistis if it’s okay.”

“Er, good point. But I think in this case because all you’re going to do is try for a quick look at her surroundings, it’d be okay. You wouldn’t be forcing her to do anything—but she might still get knocked out.”

Selphie got up and grabbed Irvine’s arm. “Irvine and I are going to go somewhere. We still have our coms, so when we get wherever it is we’re going we’ll let you know. Then Ellone can try to connect to one of us and see where we are. Since I plan to choose a safe location there won’t be any concerns about danger.”

“Sounds good,” Squall said.

While those two were off finding a spot for the experiment Squall turned to Edea and said, “Once all of this mess is over we can see about reuniting you with Headmaster Cid.”

“Yes. I would enjoy that. For the moment, however, while all of this is very exciting, it is also very tiring. Would it be possible for someone to show me to a place where I can rest?”

Laguna jumped up and nodded. “Sure! You come with me and I’ll find you a guest suite. Even show you how to order up a meal or whatever.”

Edea stood and accepted Laguna’s arm, and off they went.

“We should drop Nida off at Balamb Garden at the same time,” Seifer said. “Assuming he even still wants to be a SeeD.”

Squall leaned against Seifer again and nodded.

Odine was apparently tired of being ignored. “Tell me, young persons, you have Guardian Forces, correct?”

“Why?”

“The girl’s connection ability is similar to interfacing with a Guardian Force. And I use that term knowingly!” Odine pulled a device out of his pocket and held it out. “This! More of my genius! Take it!”

Squall sat up straight and accepted it. The device vaguely resembled a vambrace, with straps to hold it to one’s forearm, but the surface was a screen of some kind.

“It is not harmful!” Odine said. “That holds copies of several Guardian Forces. Cerberus, Carbuncle, and Alexander.”

“Well we already knew a computer could store them,” Seifer said.

“It is not just storage!” Odine said indignantly and produced another of the devices. He got up and moved away, placing the device on the conference table, then walked half the distance between it and the sitting area. “Try to draw from me. You will see I have nothing.”

Squall arched a brow and stood up, handing his device to Seifer, then called upon the GF-innate ability to draw. Odine had nothing, just as he said. No magic and no Guardian Forces. “All right,” he said, then sat back down.

Laguna returned just as Odine was strapping the other one on. “Now, watch.” Odine furrowed his brow and suddenly a reflective shield sprang up around him. “If you were to try to draw from me again you would still find nothing. They are in the device. The device acts as an intermediary to allow the wearer to connect to and utilize the abilities of any Guardian Force stored within.”

“What about magic drawn to junction to enhance a person beyond human limitations?” Seifer asked.

“The magic is still within the body,” Odine said, removing the device and returning to his seat. “My research has shown that the use of Guardian Forces as you young persons utilize—”

Whatever he had been about to say was interrupted by the com crackling and the voice of Selphie saying, “We’re in position.”

Odine flailed his arms around angrily at being interrupted, but subsided into silence.

“All right,” Squall said. “Sis, will you step outside for just a moment, please? I’d like to know where they are in case both of them get knocked unconscious. Then we can try the experiment.” Once she was gone he sent, “Quietly, please. What’s your location?”

“Room 254 at the Regent. The most distinctive thing out the window we can clearly see is a sign for Johnny’s advertising a sale on healing items.”

“Good.”

Laguna raced out to get Ellone and she was shortly ready to try. Two minutes later of silence and she opened her eyes. “Irvine was looking down through a window at a shopping arcade. One of the stores was advertising a sale. Selphie was examining a menu for room service at the Regent.”

“Guys?” Seifer sent.

“We’re still awake,” Selphie responded. “On our way back.”

Laguna gave Ellone a bear hug as Odine coughed loudly and said, “The device.”

“All right, little man,” Seifer said. “What about it?”

Odine glared. “You can store as many Guardian Forces as you like within you, but can only utilize a handful of their abilities at any given time. The human brain only allows for so much. Using the device as an intermediary means you can use all of them. And if wearers are close enough to each other they can share, even if the devices they wear do not have the same GFs stored within.”

Squall raised his brows. “That could potentially be very useful. Any side effects?”

“Of course not!” Odine shouted, looking offended. “All of the test subjects lived perfectly normal lives until they suffered an unfortunate accident after my research was done.” He looked puzzled by the skeptical looks he was receiving and added, “It was a horrible tragedy! A hover-bus full of nuns from the Order of Hyne on the way to a potluck supper to raise funds for their convent crashed into—”

“Right,” Squall cut in. “We get it.”