The Sky is Empty Without Stars
By Brandon B. Cracraft
I woke up to the smell of vomit and urine, both mine, when a pounding erupted from my door. "What is it?" I yelled, wincing afterward. The hangover was grinding into my brain, while the insane amount of food formed a puck in my intestines.
"Zell, its Selphie," a soft voice replied.
"Party girl," I said, giving the words as much contempt as possible.
Her silence let me know that my words stung. "Zell, I had duties to Seed. I thought it would make everyone feel better. I just wanted to make people happy."
"Shouldnt you be with Irvine?"
"Can I come in?"
"No." My tone was cold. Selphie was one of my closest friends, someone who supported me when everyone else was ready to write me off as a chickenwuss show-off baby. I loved her like a big sister. If I saw her right now, I would most likely kill her.
"Damn it, Selphie! I got so drunk I wet the bed!"
I had hoped that would shut her up, instead she said, "It isnt the first time that I have seen you have an accident." I closed my eyes and remembered my time at the orphanage with its wet beds and torments from Seifer until accidents. Instead of embarrassing me, all I could think about was that my memories (and Selphies for that matter) would never have been restored if it was not for Squall.
I tried to play the cold bastard. Traveling with Squall and Seifer should have made me the expert at such behavior, but Im a chickenwuss. I started crying.
"Baby bear, dont cry."
I let out a string of curses and requests that Selphie perform sexual acts with family members and herself. Her silence was so understanding, that I had to cut at her: "He might still be alive if you paid more attention to the mission and less attention to Irvine."
Selphie cries quietly, but I always know when she has teared up. "You hate him, dont you? I wish you wouldnt hate him."
"Hes no good for you. What the hell am I saying? Hes perfect for you! Youre both colossal screw-ups."
I waited for her to yell back. It would have made me feel so better to hear her yell back. Her voice was quiet, calm, and so detached. "I am going to check on Quistus. She drank a lot last night, even more than you. I dont know if she made it to bed without passing out. Ill let you sleep a little bit more. Maybe you and that girl from the library"
"I loved him."
"Yeah. . .well. . ." I could hear her boots shuffling, "well, we all. . .um. . .you know. . .well. . .um. . .loved him. . .I mean. . .um. . .he saved our lives."
"No, Selphie, I loved him."
Silence. Selphie taking that statement in. "I think I knew that, too."
"Rinoa is a bitch."
Selphie giggled nervously. "Ive always known that." She always laughed when she was scared.
"Then why did you encourage them?" I asked.
"Hey, you encouraged him, too."
It was my turn to let the pain of a statement sink in. "I just wanted him to be happy. Squall didnt feel the same as I did."
"Something you talked about?" There was a gasp in her tone.
Squalls horrified and frightened face mixed with his way-too-polite words telling me how honored he would be was gay. The eternal chickenwuss started crying again.
"Zell, if you keep crying. . .you are going to make me cry." Her tone told me that it was too late for that.
I wiped my eyes and nose on the back of my arm, and did my best to take the choke out of my voice. "You should check on Quistus," I reminded her.
"You going to be"
"I really need a shower anyway."
I could feel Selphies presence at the door for several moments. I closed my eyes and willed her to go, biting my tongue to strangle my sobs. As soon as I heard her boots in the corridor, I began breathing (and crying) again.
After several attempts, I made my way into a sitting position, then a standing, and finally stumbled back and forth until I made it to the shower. I ripped my underpants getting them off, but I didnt care. The scalding water washed away the smell and the sting, but it could do nothing to settle my mind.
My hangover was easing away, so the knocking on the door was not as painful this time. "At least let me get dressed, Selphie!" I yelled.
"Zell Dincht, its Headmaster Cid."
Despite the fact that I was naked and there was no way he could see me, I instinctively stood at attention. "My apologies, sir. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Mr. Dincht, I need to see you in the main hall in an hour."
I fumbled through the pile of bikini underwear until I found one that smelled good enough to wear, pressed my uniform, and dressed. I chugged three cups of coffee to add some credence to imitation of sobriety.
My boots kept perfect Seed cadence as I walked into the hall. When I went to accept my last mission, I was so eager to impress Squall that I did flips. This time, I just wanted to be a good soldier. Squall was a good soldier.
"Mr. Dincht," Headmaster Cid started, "how soon do you feel you can return to active duty?"
"As soon as necessary, sir."
Headmaster Cid smiled. "Good. We have important mission for you."
I forced a smile.
"Seifer Almasy has come up missing. I have spoken to my wife, and she believes that Ultimicia might still be using him. While Seifer was Edeas knight"
The tall, dark form of Cids wife, Edea, entered. Her voice was cold and irritated my skin. "I used several spells, and other means of persuasion to ensure Seifers loyalty. I believe that the spirit of Ultimicia might still have some hold on him. There were many tasks that she asked of both of us that were not completed. I believe that Seifer is performing some post hypnotic suggestion."
"To do what?" All Seed protocol was gone from me. My face was locked in anger, and my fists were clinched so tight that I would have drawn blood if I were not wearing fighting gloves.
"I am not certain." Her eyes evaluated me as a quick snack. A single raise of her eyebrow silenced me. "A good deal of my time was spent in a haze. It is almost like multiple personalities. Ultimicia did a lot of things that I can barely recall. I remember the hypnotism sessions, but not any specifics. . .including the motivation."
"Wait a second!" I started to barge my way up to Edea, only to have her raise her hand and freeze me in my tracks. I swallowed hard, making eye contact with her pumps. "Are you saying that Ultimicia could still be alive?"
"Pieces of her still exist, otherwise Rinoa Heartily and myself would not exist." My mouth dropped open. "You look severely disturbed, Mr. Dincht. Are you sure that you are capable of taking on this mission?"
"I watched a good deal of my friends die at Ultimicias hands before she killed me. If Squall had not sacrificed himself, I would still be dead."
Edea was ice. "I am aware. Your death and resurrection are irrelevant to this discussion. I am going to ask you a simple question. Do your best to think before answering. Are you able to take this mission? This time, you shall not have Squall to bring you back should you die."
"Splendid. I will leave the particulars to you, Cid." Edea took one last glance over her shoulder at me before walking silently away.
The Headmaster cleared his throat. "We have assigned two other"
"Quistus and Selphie?" I interrupted.
"No luck there, mate." The British lilt made me wince, and I assumed a fighting position. Cid could not be serious about me working with Seifers old flunkies.
Raijin walked in smiling, carrying Seifers gun blade and grinning like a madman. Fujin walked beside him. Her feral gaze focused on me and her boomerang clutched gently between her calloused fingers. When Edea tempted Seifer to betray Seed the first time, those two obediently followed him.
"FIND!" Fujin said.
"Dont worry about that, love. We have the little chickenwuss on our side now, you know. He supposed to be an excellent tracker, aint you, chickenwuss?"
I turned toward Headmaster Cid, horrified. "Are you going to let them call me names?"
Cid looked puzzled. "Everyone calls you chickenwuss. I figured that it had become a term of endearment for you."
"CHICKENWUSS!" Fujin said.
I through up my arms. "Whatever. If you two want to live, youll follow me. Remember, the last time you fought me. . .I defeated you."
"I hate to correct you, mate, but I feel I got to. The last time you fought us it was three against two." Raijins smug smile stayed locked on me. Seifer must have taught him that look. I certainly remember it growing up.
"Lets just go."
"Youre the boss. Lets go Fujin."
They followed two steps behind me all the way out of the garden without saying anything. I hoped that would be how the entire mission would go. No such luck.
"Seifer once told me that he heard Squall and you talking," Raijin said, his arm crawling around my neck and his hand creeping down my chest. "Fujin, our boss here, is nothing but a virgin. . .and he prefers my jewels to your jewelry box."
Fujin made eye contact with my crotch, and I wondered if she was going to bite my manhood off.
Raijins hand made its way closer and closer to my crotch. "Seifer and I would play all the time together, you know. . .thing is that Fujin likes to watch. . ."
"What do you say the two of us make you a man, chickenwuss?" His hand made its way into the fly of my pants, and I jumped back. My pants fell around my ankles, but I didnt care.
"SEX!" Fujin repeated.
"Black bikini briefs? Zell, you pervert. And I thought that tattoo of yours was sexy. You have any others?"
Tired of being teased, I landed an uppercut under Raijins jaw, causing him to bite his tongue and spit blood. I followed up with two strong blows to the stomach. "Rule one, you keep your hands to yourself. Rule two, I am the boss. Rule three, no calling me a chickenwuss!" I tried to sound tough, but there were tears leaking out of my eyes.
Fujin stared at me emotionless, but she gripped her circlet again.
Raijin coughed up a little blood then laughed. "Youve got a little spirit after all. Dont worry about me giving you the bad touch, chickenwuss. I like prettier men than you." He wiped blood off his chin and limped over to where Fujin was standing.
"FIND!" It was phrased as a command. All of Fujins statements were.
I fastened my pants and turned away from them without another word. They continued to follow me, although much slower, since Fujin was practically carrying Raijin. I always kept one eye cocked toward them as we walked. I went through the academy with Raijin, and knew that the lecherous bastard was capable of anything. As for Fujin, well, few women were as frightening as Fujin.
When it came time to bed down for the night, I was relieved to discover that Fujin and Raijin wanted to sleep away from me. The thought of them plotting against me was more comforting than imagining them staring at my body as I slept. I awoke once during the night to the sounds of Fujin grunting and Raijin invoking the gods for better sexual potency.
The next morning, I washed, ate, and dressed quickly. Fujin and Raijin remained naked in each others arms, bite marks freshly carved into their necks and chests. "Wake up," I said.
"Getting all tough and dominant with us, love. I find that very erotic, you know. Going to rough me up a bit more?" Raijin pulled the bag down to reveal his erection. "Want some, mate? Nine inches is more than youll probably see again. Ill even lie to you afterward and tell you that you were good."
"Get dressed," I said, keeping eye contact.
"SLEEP!" Fujin demanded.
"No more sleep. Im in charge. You have to listen to me."
"Come on, Fujin, love. We dont want the chickenwuss to start crying."
"RAGE!" Like most people, Fujin stood a head taller than me. I refused to back down, though. I was a chickenwuss with pride.
"Weve got to go. You two do want to find Seifer."
Fujin contemplated for a moment, threw Raijin his underwear, and said, "FIND."
Raijin smirked at me again, and I could feel my blood boil. "I guess we know who is really in charge here, dont we, Zell."
I let Fujin take the lead as soon as I was able to pick up Seifers trail. Raijin giggled a couple times, but the two of them otherwise left me alone. I had a lot to think about, so I treasured the silence.
The silence was not broken by Raijins sarcasm or Fujins commands, but instead by the roar of a T-Rexaur. I ran toward the creature without hesitation, and planted three punches on its snout. With my strength augmented by magic, most humans go down after just one punch. A large, carnivorous dinosaur just gets pissed.
Fujin and Raijin hung back, as I continued to enter fisticuffs with a creature capable of swallowing me whole. "Little help guys?" I called out nervously as I dodged a claw.
"Give us a second, mate. Its on the way."
I felt energy surging from behind me and recognized it as a summoning aura. Fujin and Raijin were smart enough not to enter melee with the monster even if I was not. Shiva arrived first. The Queen of Ice emerged from somewhere within Fujins frozen soul and attacked the monster immediately., not only injuring it but causing it to sleep beneath an ice flow. Flames danced around Raijin until Ifrit appeared and finished the T-Rexaur off.
"Um. . .thanks. . .guys. . ."
"Not very clear headed, are you, mate?" Raijin laughed. "Beating that thing to death with your meat mashers would have cost us a day, you know."
"STUPID!" It was another word I was used to.
"Dont be so harsh, Fujin, love. Maybe Boss Zell doesnt have a Guardian Force."
"I have a Guardian Force. A powerful one." It came out a lot more whiny and immature than I wanted it to.
"Oh, really, mate. Which one?"
Fujin almost looked interested to hear my response.
"Alexander," I said finally.
Raijin began cursing. "You have a holy furking guardian force?! How the bloody hell did a chickenwuss like you earn that? I thought you had Quetzelcoatl?"
I tried to sound like I wasnt crying. "Quetzelcoatl is dead. Ultimicia killed him. He didnt return to me when I came back to life. Alexander was Squalls Guardian Force. It sort of adopted me."
Another string of curses. "Are you telling me that the boy leading this mission cant even keep a Guardian Force alive? Were dead, Fujin, love."
"If you two want me to lead you to Seifer you will shut up now."
Raijin and Fujin stared at each other for a few moments. "FIND!"
I forced my tears to dry and continued on. No one talks about what it feels like to lose a Guardian Force. Most people assume that its like when a pet dies. When Ultimicia hit Quetzelcoatl with her firagas and her drains, I felt every hit. Every point of damage she did was a direct hit on my soul. When he died, I had to fight one handed for a round because my thumb would not leave my mouth. Quetzelcoatl took a lot of my self-esteem, inner strength, and security with him when him.
Alexander crawled into the nook where I used to keep Quetzelcoatl. He was an incredibly powerful Guardian Force and fiercely loyal. He lent me his near fathomless faith, but he still could not repair the damage done to my psyche by Quetzelcoatls death.
I refuse to let Seifer resurrect Ultimicia or even a part of Ultimicia or do anything her name. She took the two most important people in a young orphans life away from him. I will never forgive her.
I will never forgive Squall for not coming back.
The trail that Seifer left was deliberate. I knew that he wanted us to follow him. Still we trekked on past glacial eyes, bombs, and caterchilar. Fujin and Raijin relied a lot on their magic and Guardian Forces, while I preferred the good, old fashioned meat mallets.
After nearly a month of travel, the three of us arrived at the entrance to a great labyrinth. "Hes in there," I announced.
"Furking maze of doom?! Can you navigate it, mate?"
"FIND!" Fujin insisted.
I just shrugged. "I can try."
Raijin swallowed hard, "Dont sound so convincing, mate."
Master Yamato took a frightened little boy, and taught him how to use his diminutive size to an advantage, how to place every bit of magic into one good hit, and how to attract the powerful Guardian Forces with purity of soul. The greatest skill he taught me, however, was how to avoid a trap. Navigating the maze was easier for me than it should have been. I think I even saw a look of awe on the face of Fujin once.
At the center of the maze was a bedchamber guarded by tonberries. "Thats not good, mate," Raijin said, "those things can kill you with one hit."
"I know," I said, letting the warm sensation slip out of my bikinis and down my leg. Tonberries scarred the always scared the literal piss out of me. Seifer used to tell me that the tonberries were going to come out from beneath my bed in the middle of the night and carry me off if I ever left the bed to use the toilet.
"Can you clear a path for me?" I asked Fujin and Raijin.
"You little chickenwuss!" Raijin shouted in my face, spittle stinging my eye. "You are going to run."
"RAGE!" Fujin had me by my back collar.
I tried to remain calm, but my entire body was shaking. "I think Seifer is on the other side of that door. I have to get to him and get the four of us out of here."
Once again, Fujin and Raijin stared at each other. "AGREE!" Fujin said, dropping me.
"Try not to slip on your piss when we get you through. . .chickenwuss!" Raijin yelled, true malice in his voice.
"FIGHT!" Fujin commanded her companion.
The sound of Seifers gunblade in Raijins hand reminded me of all the adventures I had with Squall. Fujin summoned Shiva to put an icewall between the tonberries and me. I ran as fast as I could and attacked the door with a series of punches until it was splinters.
I was not prepared for what was inside. Seifer lay underneath a canopy bed wearing nothing but silk kimono that was open enough to expose his genitals and his shaved, muscular chest. "The little virgin chickenwuss has come home to Daddy."
"Seifer, what happened to you?"
"Its called puberty," he said with a mocking laugh. He absently motioned to my urine stained uniform trousers. "You would think by now wet dreams would mean something different to you, Zell."
"We have to go. Fujin and Raijin"
"Are pale comparisons to the devotion you could offer me," Seifer said rising. "When we were little boys. . .well, you still are a little boy, I caught you looking at me as I slept. Your erection was so obvious in those panties you used to wear. I asked you to share my bed, but you were too much of a chickenwuss."
I blinked away the tears that stung directly into my eyes. "Why are you saying these things, Seifer. I know you dont like me"
Seifer walked over to me and kissed me before I could stop him. His tongue was probing and violent. I thought I was going to choke. He pressed me against the wall, his erection poking at my inner thigh.
"Leave me alone, Seifer," I begged. Tears crawled down my face in rivers as he thrust his penis against mine.
"Youre lips say no, but your eyes say yes." He grabbed me by the hair and thrust me over and over into the wall. His forearm pushed against my neck when he kissed me again. I couldnt breathe. "What a way to go, chickenwuss. Getting kissed by one of the men that you didnt have the balls to tell you were attracted to."
He dropped me suddenly. "You disgust me, Zell." The kimono fell open revealing a piercing and tattoo I never knew he had. "If you had asked me, you would have died a man instead of a virgin. Instead you asked Squall, and we both know how that turned out."
"I hate you," I said between loud sobs.
Seifer pulled a gunblade from the bed and pointed it at my head. "Take your clothes off, chickenwuss, or I will blow that tattoo right off your face. . .with a good portion of your skull."
I had no resolve. I was the same little whiny boy that bent beneath Seifers will. I was naked staring up at my master for the next order in quicker time than it took me to answer an official call from Headmaster Cid.
"Obedient little puppy. Natural born chickenwuss."
I nodded in agreement.
"After I rape and kill you, chickenwuss. Im going after your little friend, the one who dresses like a twinkie."
"N. . .n. . .not. . .Selph. . .ie. . ."
"What are you going to do about that, chickenwuss?"
"Leave. . .leave. . .leave. . ..leave. . .leave her alone. . .or I swear. . .."
Seifer laughed again. "Or youll what, baby bear, scream louder when you die?"
"I hate you, Seifer."
He kicked me in the chest. "Funny. You dont mean anything to me."
I summoned every bit of courage I could and channeled into one hit, square in the nads. Vomit and blood erupted from Seifer as I landed a kick underneath his cheek and followed it up with a series of punches into the kidneys. "I loved Squall, Seifer. You are no where near his league!"
"The little chickenwuss has a pecker after all." Seifer laughed as I felt a summoning aura so strong that I pushed to the ground. The Tonberry King emerged from the Underworld and eyed me with his lifeless eyes. "This is how you die. A tonberry knife. Is there any more fitting way for you to die? I told you that the tonberries would come for you."
"You are right about two things, Seifer. One, I am a chickenwuss. Two, I am scared of tonberries. This is not my night to die, however." My summoning aura grew suddenly and within a matter of seconds Alexander was there. Seifer stared in disbelief at how quickly Alexander came. Alexander pound his gigantic metal hands into the ground, knocking the Tonberry King on his back. "Finish him," I told Alexander, and the gigantic robot cast his Holy Judgement, turning the Tonberry King into smoke.
I smiled, nonchalantly grabbing one of Seifers kimonos to cover myself. "Now you know what it feels like to have your Guardian Force destroyed. It makes you empty and weak and as much of a chickenwuss as me."
Seifer just laughed, but it wasnt his voice. I recognized it immediately.
"Ultimicia! But your dead!"
"My thanks, little one. That Guardian Force was taking too much room in my knights soul for me to take him over. Now, that you have destroyed the Tonberry King, I have a new body."
I punched Seifers body over and over. "Get out of him, you bitch!"
The shadows wove around Seifer until they formed noble finery complete with blood rubies. Seifer/Ultimicia became very androgynous, skin of alabaster and hair of gold. The sorcerer merely raised its hand and I had to allow Alexander to return to my soul since he took so much damage. It snapped its fingers, and I felt my heart clinch up.
I held my breath and tackled shoulder first into the sorcerers midsection then kicked its legs out from underneath. Another wave of the sorcerers hand, and I was thrown back.
Fujin and Raijin entered. Raijin had a large grin on his face. "There you are. You shouldnt run off without me. Im lost without you, you know."
Im sorry Fujin and Raijin, but Zell killed what was left of Seifer."
Fujin turned to me. "RAGE!"
Before I could respond, Ultimicia blew up the labyrinth around us. The three of us stood amongst the rubble. Raijin let out a battle scream and attacked me with Seifers gunblade. My head was level, and I landed a solid hit to his forehead with my elbow. He fell unconscious, and I took Seifers gunblade. Before Fujin could throw her circlet, I pointed the gunblade at her.
"I didnt kill Seifer. The sorcerer did."
Fujin pointed at me. "ENEMY!"
"Fine. Fine. Fine. Whatever makes you happy." I released the safety and pointed it at Raijins head. "Take him out of here. Well talk about this later. If you attempt to do anything, I will kill him where he lies."
Fujin picked up her partner and began to walk away. "CHICKENWUSS!" she yelled.
"Yeah, bitch, Im that. Im also an idiot and way too furking short. I eat too much, and Im lazy. Ive got a lot to learn. I know a place I can start, though. Master Yamato, youre wayward boy is coming home and this time hes ready to listen to everything."
END OF DISK ONE
I returned to Seed alone. Cid and Edea questioned me for hours. From Edeas frown, I knew that she was unhappy with my decision to seek outside training. "Cid and I built the Gardens to help combat Ultimicia," she said, accusation laying under her flat tone.
"I understand that. I just dont think that it is benefitting me."
She walked over to me. In high heels, Edea was a monster of a woman. "Seed can forgive failures, Zell. You need not run from responsibilities." She circled me, causing my left leg to shake nervously. "It is even possible that I miscalculated in my judgement that Fujin and Raijin were good companions for this mission."
I shook my head. "It is nothing personal, and I will be back. I will just do better under someone else tutelage. . .away from everything."
Edea froze in place. "I understand now." She turned toward her husband. "Perhaps it is best that we let him go."
Cid just shrugged.
I put Seifers kimono in the incinerator and went to change into my old school uniform: white shirt, maroon tie, vest, tight grey shorts, knee socks, and polished shoes. I had five pairs of my old uniform. A part of me must have always known that I would return.
"You look like you are seven-years-old." I turned quickly at the sound of Irvines redneck drawl. My first instinct was to turn around and wipe the smirk off the sharpshooters face with my knuckles, but I instead forced a smile.
"I would not criticize how someone dressed if I were in your cowboy boots," I said, trying to make it sound casual and joking.
"I heard that Seifer whupped you." He gave me a smile that was genuine, but I didnt feel like being condescended too. . .even if Irvine thought he was being friendly.
"Ive got to pack."
"Do you need any help, Zell?"
I refused to make eye contact. "I dont need any help."
"Do you hate me, Zell?"
"How can I possibly hate you, Irvine? Selphie is like a sister to me. She loves you and is very happy with you. It means a lot to her that I get along with you."
"I blame myself for Squall Leonharts death. I didnt take the shot when I should have, and we all suffered because of it."
"True enough," I replied, no longer caring about his emotions.
"Im not the only one that made mistakes on that mission, you know," Irvine shot back. I couldnt tell if he was teasing or serious. Irvine always seemed impossible to read, because he never seemed to take anything serious.
"We all made mistakes," Selphie added as she entered from the hall, "even Squall." She instinctively walked between us.
"Hi, sugarplum." Irvine gave her a kiss. Selphie returned the kiss, but her eyes shot over to me.
"Im going to miss you," she said.
"Ill be back," I answered with a shrug.
"Baby bear, dont let the grief destroy you like it did Quistus." Selphies eyes were concerned. She looked so much like Quistus before the alcohol.
"Selphie, I am not going to let you down."
"Ill be waiting." She was smiling. It had been so long since I saw a genuine smile, not something forced to make others happy.
"Well be waiting," Irvine corrected. "As soon as your done"
"Irvine, shut up," Selphie said joking, "before your mouth ruins your sincerity."
"One last thing, Selphie"
"Tell me I look cute in my little school boy get-up."
"You look adorable, baby bear." I started smiling. I didnt even know that I could still smile.
Despite all of our technical advances, the fastest and most economical way to travel will probably always be by chocobo. I went to one of the local corrals in Balamb and sought out a green, since they were the fastest and most loyal.
Squee-Hawk stood eight feel long and was such a deep green he could camouflage himself in an evergreen forest. When I met him, he nibbled at some stray hairs on my head and gave me a very polite and enthusiastic whark. He was too much money, but I bought him anyway. A chocobo is more than a mount. They are friends for life, and Squee-Hawk and I formed a rapport the second we made eye contact.
"Whark as fast as you can, buddy," I instructed Squee-Hawk. There is nothing like being on the back of a chocobo, not even a motorcycle. Chocobo and rider seem to become one the faster they go, giving the rider all the bliss of a workout with none of the exhaustion.
The war between the gardens left a good deal of Balamb in ruins. Master Yomatos dojo was no exception, its wrought iron gate was little more that metal shavings. The meditation pastures had been blasted to hard sand by bombs and mines.
I stared in disbelief and horror. "Whark?" Squee-Hawk asked.
"Its my old home, Squee. Even more than with my foster mother. Witness the place were a little boy became a bigger little boy."
"Is that who I think it is?" a hidden voice asked.
"I thought they were dead," another voice answered.
They were both very familiar, but it took me a while to place them. "Biggs and Wedge?"
The two of them emerged, both wearing the school uniform, and looking about as dignified as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. I had fought the two when they were Galabadian soldiers, the sovereignty war that Ultimicia created to hide her schemes. The war was over and Biggs and Wedge, like all of Galabadia, was pardoned for their actions. "What are you doing here?"
"We are getting training from Sempai Yomato," Biggs said. Wedge nodded in agreement. They were as co-dependent as Fujin and Raijin.
"Sempai Yomato?" I had never heard my old master call himself that.
"My father is dead," a small boy said at the threshold, "I have taken over the dojo." I hardly recognized the fourteen year old Arlien Yomato, red haired and raven eyed. He stood a least a foot taller than I last remember him, which put him at my eye level. The mark of a Guardian Force inhabiting his soul left age lines around his eyes and mouth and self-confidence in his stride. He was much more of a man than me.
The mature demeanor fell when he realized who I was and ran to me like the boy I used to wrestle and spar with. "Oh, Zell, youve come home. I hardly recognized you with that tattoo."
I held him tight. "Only for the now, little sempai. I need my legacy. I need to achieve the strength necessary."
"The hidden Guardian Force that father promised you when you were ready?"
"You have a lot of progress to make still. The death of Quetzelcoatl and the spells of the Sorceress have left their mark on you, Zell." Sempai Yomato seemed so old at that second, possessing all the wisdom of his father and grandfather.
"I will do what is necessary, Sempai." I stood at attention like a good soldier of the Garden.
"And if that means the switch, Zell?" Sempai Yomato asked.
I sighed, remembering times when Master had nearly whipped me bare. . .normally for roughhousing with his son when I should be practicing. After checking his eyes, now crackling with the light of a powerful Guardian Force, I nodded.
Lunch that day was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It wasnt the best training food, but most of the continent was still on rations. I wolfed it down like it was steak. I was never too awfully particular about food.
I went out to feed Squee-Hawk, and saw the last of Sempai Yomatos students grooming him. He stood a half foot taller than me, and maybe a year younger. He had long black hair tied back into a tight ponytail. He was of mixed decent, Japanese and Caucasian, and the dual heritage mixed very well. His legs were muscular, despite a slim chest.
I found him very attractive.
"Um. . .hello. . .my name is. . .is. . .Zell. . .thats Zell with a z. . .thats the last letter of the alphabet. . .well you know that. . .anyways, Im Zell, who are you?"
Squee-Hawk shook his head and nudged me closer to the strange boy.
"My name is Kit Prader." He smiled revealing perfect, almost lupine teeth. His bow was polite and handshake was firm.
Squee-Hawk nudged at Kit, pushing him closer. I shot the chocobo an angry look. It wharked laughter in response. "This is Squee-Hawk."
"Hes playing matchmaker. I hope that you are gay."
Umm. . .well. . .um. . .well. . .you see. . .no one has really. . .well. . .no one has ever. . .well. . .asked me." The chocobo shook his head in frustration.
Kit smiled. "Are you?"
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"Good. I like men in tattoos." Kit walked away. I could feel his grin even after he left. I, on the other hand, just stared with my mouth agape.
The next morning, I performed my kata in front of the Guardian Forces shrine. The rhythm of my fists and legs in perpetual moment helped me concentrate. At the end of my routine, I called out "Alexander!" The gigantic robot was there before, I even finished his name.
"What is wrong, Zell. Surely you do not expect me destroy the sacred shrine. That would not release the Doomtrain. Quite the opposite actually." His voice was metallic but melodic, like a mechanical bird.
"So Doomtrain really is in there."
"Did you ever doubt it?" Alexander was flawlessly faithful, so the concept of lies and disappointment were foreign to him.
"I need to release him."
"Be cautious with the Doomtrain. He can be incredibly capricious. Its temperament is dangerously bipolar. I would not want it to harm you. Be wary of placing things close to your soul that could blacken it."
"I dont worry about things like that with you around protecting me."
Alexander rubbed his mechanical hand through my hair and I hear a thousand gears turning. "I know that you still dream of Quetzelcoatl, Zell. I wish I could take the pain away, but I have neither the power nor the right to do so."
"Do you think about Squall?" I asked him.
The gigantic robot leaned down so that he could make eye contact. "I often think of Squall. We cannot let losses consume ourselves. I love you. Do you not love me?"
"Do not be so blinded by the loss of Squall that you fail to see the opportunities in front of you."
I turned and found Kit standing there with a glass of orange juice. . .well synthetic orange drink, this was a recession. "Hes incredible."
Alexander turned his head toward Kit but said nothing. Slowly, Alexander disappeared back into my soul.
"I dont have a guardian force, yet," Kit said offering me the drink.
Not to let myself be outgooned, I took my shirt off before accepting his drink then let my thumb brush his.
Kit blushed. I had never made anyone blush before.
"Hopefully, Ill pick up the Doomtrain."
Kit grinned. "You have some heavy expectations."
I placed a hose against my head and let the water run down my body. It felt good to have someone look at my body for a change. . .and actually mean it. I even caught Kit absently adjusting his shorts.
Our moment was broken by the sound of Sempai Yomato shouting "What is wrong with the two of you?" I was relieved to discover that he was yelling at Biggs and Wedge. Their pants were around their ankles as Sempai used his hickory switch against them. "Stealing food when we have so little."
We better do our laps," I suggested. Kit nodded and we ran until I thought our hearts were going to explode from exhaustion. Afterwards, we spent the day in the meditation guardian. I heard Alexanders voice in my ear, reminding me that a summoner should never deny what he truly feels.
Every other recruit went to bed around nine oclock, but I was still practicing my kata in from of the Shrine at midnight. "Zell, dont you ever sleep." It was little Arlien, my surrogate brother, not the sempai who asked that. He was wearing nothing but a silk kimono that was short that the legs of his boxers peeked out.
"I have a lot on my mind."
"Zell, I have no clue what Im doing. Im a little kid. I want to stay up all night drinking root beer floats and playing card games. Im not a teacher. Im not a role model." Yomato sank his face into his hands and cried silently.
"Youre doing good. You manage to keep Biggs and Wedge in line."
Zell, I want to help you. Ive talked to my guardian force, but he couldnt help me explain this to you. Maybe you dont need a sempai right now. Zell, there is nothing wrong with missing Squall, but it doesnt mean that you cant look at someone else."
"You have my full permission as your sempai and his to pursue him. Hes in Room Three and he wakes up easily. Im sure he wont mind if you robbed him a couple moments of sleep if you had something important to say."
Sempai Yomato left me standing alone at the Shrine. I looked toward the dojo and thought about every time Squall touched me. He was beautiful, but our love was one sided. I encouraged him to pursue others. Why shouldnt stop by Kits bedroom, just to talk?
I felt like the biggest chickenwuss on the planet as I crept toward Kits door. I thought less of talking to him and more about the nape of his neck and his muscular shoulders, bare and exposed under the thin sheet.
Kit was asleep on a bamboo futon on the floor in nothing but a pair of gray briefs, giving me a full appreciation of his body. As soon as I entered, his eyelashes fluttered a little and he awake, double jits ready to strike. "What are you doing in here, Zell?"
I shrugged. "Squee-Hawk wasnt the only one who thought we would make a cute couple."
"Whark!" came from outside.
"Stay out of this," I yelled back, "Im nervous enough as it is."
Kit made his way to a sitting position, jits placed on the ground beside him. "Are you trying to seduce me?"
"I dont even think I know how. . .not to mention I dont know if Im ready for sex."
Kit stared for a moment. "You mean that you have never"
"That shouldnt surprise you. Biggs and Wedge must have told you that I am the eternal chickenwuss."
"Would you like me to hold you?" Kit asked, laying back down and patting the futon beside him.
"I want to. Diablos knows how many things I want to do with you, but I have done that, either."
"Its hard to screw up being held."
I laid down beside him and felt Kits arm around my waist. He was a lot stronger than I imagined. His black hair, free of its ponytail, brushed against my back. My heart began beating faster and faster, until I felt Alexander calm me. I turned around and faced Kit. Our faces were inches apart but the intimacy felt so familiar. Its not fair. Here you are in your underwear, and I am fully clothed." I took my time getting undressed, trying to be a sensual as possible until I stood in front of him in a pair of red bikinis.
"Should we get naked?" Kit asked.
I shook my head. "Im not ready for that."
Kit nodded and simply held me until I fell asleep. I didnt think I would be able to. With the exception of one time with Squall when we were little kids, I had never slept with someones arm around me. Alexander made it easy for me. The sound of his gears gently grinding in my brain was like a lullaby.
Kit joined me for my morning kata by the shrine. I was amazed at how similar his jit thrusts and parries were to my punches, kicks, and sidesteps, probably because the jit has such a short reach. Our heartbeats and footfalls were in perfect cadence.
Squee-Hawk watched between bites of greens and offered an encouraging whark. After a while, he jumped out of the corral and tried to keep up with us with beak and talon.
Our trance was broken by Biggs nasal shriek. "Kit! Chickenwuss! Sempai Yomato wants to see you!"
Yomato was pacing back and worth worriedly when we walked in. His Guardian Force, a fifteen foot samurai in golden and blue armor with a face that etched out of claw absently polished the ten foot glowing katana. The Guardian Force, named Hachiman, turned to Yomato with glowing us.
"Hachiman has many abilities," Yomato explained, in full Sempai voice, "one of which is a sort of sixth sense. He has discovered a great evil hanging around President Heartily mansion in Galabadia"
"Rinoas father?" I interrupted.
Sempai Yomato shot me an angry glance and then let his eyes wander over the hickory switch. I instantly got the message and clammed up.
"This evil is being powered by Guardian Force soul." Sempai Yomatos anger was gone as quickly as it arrived, replaced with concern. "Is that not where Ultimicia killed Quetzelcoatl?"
I let out a gasp and then "Yes, Sempai."
"Biggs! Wedge! I need you to watch the dojo. Zell, Kit, and I shall be traveling to Galabadia."
"Why cant we go too?" Wedge whined.
Sempai Yomato answered him with a hickory switch across his bare legs. "We all have duties. You shall perform yours without question if you ever seek to control the Guardian Force that Biggs and you share."
Biggs answered for them. "Yes, Sempai. We want to know how to use the Brothers so they stop beating us up whenever we summon them."
Sempai Yomato looked to Wedge to see what he had to add. After a while, he gave a defeated, "Forgive me, Sempai."
"Kit, Zell, have your mounts packed within an hour." We gave him a respectful bow and watched him disappear into his study where little Arlien troubled himself over whether or not he was making a good decision.
The sight of the Presidents mansion, brought back memories, all of them negative. Galabadian soldiers shooting us in the back, Irvines inability to pull the trigger, and being locked into the mansion by Rinoa so that she could play hero. Kit put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was going to be all right. I simply nodded.
Heartily watched the three of us walk up the steps with contempt in his eyes. "What do you want?" he asked me. My hands were in fists, and I knew that one good punch could kill this man.
Sempai stepped between the two of us. "Your excellency, do you have any summoners in the house." Yomatos tone let me know that Hachiman had already given him the answer.
A single line of sweat dripped down Heartilys face. "Yes. The war left a good deal of orphans. I found two children that were homeless, and I adopted them. I later learned they had guardian forces inside of them."
"Children?" Sempai Yomato asked. "How old?"
"Miri is eleven. Gomi is seven. Sister and brother."
That young?" A little bit of the boy showed past Yomatos demeanor. "To have Guardian Forces so young they would have to been implanted a birth."
They did mention something, something about their parents being summoners themselves."
Sempais hand instinctively went to his bo staff at the sound of a lie, but he relaxed a second later. "May we meet them? I run a dojo for summoners. Perhaps I could help them."
Heartily was in the middle of his decision when an enthusiastic girls voice yelled, "Gomi! Come quickly. Venus told me that there are other Guardian Forces here. Lets go meet them." Miri stood five foot tall, and kept her hair in chestnut ringlets. She wore a white dress with at least four petticoats. Her green eyes showed kindness and innocence. Despite her size and doll features, she commanded a presence. . .same as any summoner.
Gomi was as short as I was at that age, which meant that most of his clothes could be bought in the infants department. His hair was brown and hung into his black eyes. I knew that stare. It was the mark of the Guardian Force, Hades. Even the kindest of summoners had the appearance of cruelty when they channeled Hades. What would possess someone to put such a thing in a baby.
Miri walked right up to me, with Gomi watching from a dark corner. "Youre Zell. I recognize the tattoo. Rinoa told me about you. She told me that you were a chickenwuss."
"I am a chickenwuss. I wish I could tell you what your sister says behind your back, but your sister never told me anything about you two."
Miri shrugged. "Thats because Rinoa is a bitch."
Heartily gave his daughter a swat and lectured her on her language. I, on the other hand, had found a kindred soul. Gomi watched us for a few moments. I nodded his direction, and he shot me a terrified smile.
Despite such a hard swat, Miris eyes were still clear. "You will come back and see us, please?"
Heartily slapped her on the face this time, knocking her to the ground. She didnt even cry out, instead her brother cried for her. I instinctually swung at Heartilys face, but Sempai caught me a second before I made contact.
"Get off my property!" he yelled.
"I guess its the switch for me, Sempai," I calmly announced after Heartily slammed the door on our face.
Sempai raised an eyebrow. "No. He is not relevant to our mission, and it took conscious thought to keep Hachiman from taking his head. Miri and her brother are the important ones. No doubt, Miri will see you as some sort of hero and go looking for you. They have been fiercely mistreated by the President and his daughter."
"Come on, let us find a room for the evening."
According to Yomato, he only got two rooms because it was economical. Since he had private meditations, Kit and I had to share a bedroom and a bed. Even Alexander had to laugh at such an obvious ploy.
"Zell, you are beautiful," Kit said.
His comment took me off guard, and I blushed. I took my fighting gloves off, so that I could feel his skin as I ran my hands down his face. I leaned down to kiss him and he tried to press his lips against me but I backed away suddenly. "I cant." Tears were running down my face.
Kit was both angry and concerned. "Who is he?"
The proper verb is was. Hes dead. His name was Squall Leonhart."
Kit sighed. "Tell me about him."
"When I was a little kid, I was in an orphanage. Every orphanage has a kid that is eternally picked on. That was me. This guy, Seifer, used to beat me up all the time. I used to wear bed wetter pants then diapers to bed. . .and that they tried that god damned alarm that alerted everyone when I had an accident. Seifer told me that tonberries come for orphan boys, and always go after the smallest one first. Guess who was smallest. I never left the bed, regardless of how much I had to pee.
"One day, this kid Squall Leonhart who was two years older than me, offered to stay up with me all night to prove that the tonberries were not going to get me. Im a chickenwuss, so I cried and sucked my thumb most of the night. He held me. No one had ever held me before.
"I didnt even remember who he was when I saw him as an adult, but I fell instantly head over heels for him. He was so quiet, shy, and rugged. There was a look in his eye that was predatory, but he was still always nice to me. One day, I told him that I was in love with him. He told me that he felt sorry for me, because he could never love me back."
"He was straight?" Kit asked.
"When I found out that he couldnt love me, I tried my best to make him proud of me. I dont think that worked, either. The night that Squall died, in that bitch, Rinoas arms, it was like the night sky was suddenly without stars."
I felt Kits arm around my shoulder, before I even noticed that he had moved. "I wish I could be Squall."
I shook my head and this time I pressed the kiss against his lips. "Dont be Squall. Just be yourself." I looked at this beautiful boy and couldnt stop smiling. "I want to make love to you, Kit."
"Are you sure?"
I answered him by taking off his vest and then his tie. We undressed each other, although I stopped him at the underwear again. We rubbed our bodied against each other, sighs and moans escaped our mouth. I was about to climax in my bikinis when he lowered my briefs and was about to take my penis into his mouth.
A knock at the window interrupted us. "Mr. Zell, its Miri!" I heard the little girl scream. I told her to wait a second then dressed incredibly quickly. Kit followed my lead. I unlatched the window and the two children entered wearing their nightshirts. Both of them had bruises all over their bodies. "Thank you, Mr. Zell." Gomi climbed up on my lap and curled into my arms. He was asleep in second, his bed wetter pants scraping against the leg of my shorts. "Venus says that you have come to take us home. Tell me that you are going to take us home. I cant stand living with the bad people anymore."
"Wheres home?" I asked.
I turned toward Kit. "That was where Squall and I were raised."
Gomi woke up suddenly and let out a loud wail. "He cant talk, Mr. Zell," Miri explained, "you have to forgive him." I heard Gomis scream echoed by the sound of Yomatos door slamming open, and a distant growl. Alexander sensed dark magic. There was more than a nightmare going on.
"Whats going on?" Kit asked, taking his jits from his belt.
"Something is coming," Miri said, a light summoning aura surrounded her. Gomi clinched my leg and nodded.
Yomato burst in wearing his fathers old armor and holding his bo staff. He was far more scared than his eyes let on. I could tell by the way he clinched the pike in his hand.
Kit and the children actually looked to me for strength. Yomato just kept his eyes set in the direction of our adversary. I held my breath to keep my teeth from chattering, and then strapped on my fighting gloves.
The monster tore the roof off our hotel and peered in hungrily. It looked to be part tiger and part dragon with a little bit of scorpion added to cause extra nastiness. Several spiders legs and a double set of jaws made my bladder let go again. From the look on Gomis face, I was not alone in my shame.
"Alexander," I called out. He arrived and delivered a powerful punch to the monster. The monster was knocked to the ground, but he jumped up in one maneuver and laughed with at least thirteen different voices.
"That is Chimera!" Yomato shouted, beginning his summoning ritual. "He was locked away with Ultimicia."
Alexander cast holy judgement and the creature squealed in pain. By the time that Alexander and I began attacking the beast in perfect unison, Hachiman had arrived and began slicing at the monster. Kit sank both of his jits into its neck. We delivered what should have fatal blows.
Chimera hardly let us know that he was in pain.
Miri finally summoned Venus. She was a beautiful young woman with black hair that fell over her naked breasts. Just like the Botticelli painting, she arrived on a clamshell. "Prisoner of love," the guardian force said softly and stared into Chimeras face. It ceased fighting. We, however, continued to pound into it.
"The love spell wont last much longer," Miri announced.
I saw electricity crackle in Chimeras fingertips and yelled and everybody to step back. I recognized Quetzelcoatls Thunderstorm attack. The ground was bathed with electricity. Gomi could not move as fast, so I used my body to take the blunt of the blast for him.
Alexander disappeared as I began to lose consciousness. I lacked the energy to summon him back or even channel magic into my fists for another attack. Miri and Kit ran to my side. White magic surrounded Miris hands as she healed me. Kit called forth his own black magic, fueled by his feelings for me, to surround us all. Hachiman continued to attack Chimera with little luck. Finally, Yomato had to return his Guardian Force to him.
"Our only hope is Hades," Yomato said.
"He needs time to summon him," Miri replied. "Hes just a little boy."
Gomis summoning aura was even lighter than his sisters. We needed a distraction, and I had one idea left. I whistled and Squee-Hawk jumped at Chimera, its talons raking the monsters eyes. "WHARK!" he violently announced, pecking out the monsters many eyeballs. The Guardian Forces had weakened Chimera to the point where the chocobos attacks had become effective.
A shutter ran through all of our bodies when Hades was finally summoned. Hades was normally a forbidden GF, due to its dark nature. The thirty foot lich pointed at Chimera and cast death, instantly destroying Chimera.
I held Gomi as he sobbed madly. I couldnt imagine what controlling such a monster did to him. He clutched at my leg. "Its going to be all right. Im going to be all right. You saved all of our lives."
Yomato dropped the bo staff from his hand. "I guess I wasnt very effective." Squee-Hawk nudged the little sempai with his beak and placed the bo staff back in his hands.
"I still feel a Guardian Force here," Miri said.
"Quetzelcoatl?!" I summoned every bit of white magic I learned at Seed to try to restore my old guardian force. Kit put his hand on my shoulder and gave me all of his mystical energy. Kit passed out as I felt the crackle of electricity all around me.
Quetzelcoatl was restored. He flew toward me, and I felt his magic wash over me. "Youre alive," I said, between wiping tears from my face. The Guardian Force started to enter me, but I shook my head. "Not me, buddy. Not anymore." I pointed to Kit who stirred in his sleep and woke up with a smile. "He needs you more than I."
It was Kits turn to cry. "Zell. . .I. . ."
I bent down and kissed Kit, causing Miri to make a disgusted face. "Give him a good home."
Kit made his way to his feet, and the Guardian Force entered him. His hair and eyes developed an obsidian glint to them. He seemed at least a foot taller, and a lot faster. Quetzelcoatl augmented Kits already blinding speed.
"I never dreamed"
Even Gomi was smiling.
"We had better leave," Sempai Yomato said. He turned toward Gomi and Miri. "Do you want to come with us?"
"Will you take us home?" Miri asked.
"We have to go back to the dojo first, but if Zell feels he is ready" Sempai began.
"I want to make one last attempt to get the Doomtrain. After that, Ill take you to Edea and Cid myself." I gave the kids my most sincere "Big Brother Zell" smile.
They both attacked me with hugs.
I let Gomi and Miri ride Squee-Hawk, and he was happy to show off his grace and athletic ability, using any excuse to make a long or high jump. My chocobo appeared to like children as much as I did.
The night we made it back to the dojo, I did not sleep. I performed my kata over and over, hoping to awaken at least part of the Doomtrain. All I got was silence. "I guess it was too much to ask to get both the Doomtrain and Quetzelcoatl."
I felt the electricity of Quetzelcoatl before Kit touched me. "Any luck?"
"Come here," he said, pulling my face against him. His lips pressed against mine and then our tongues kissed. An animalistic fury took over me. Before I knew it, I ripped off Kits clothes and he had taken off mine. We rubbed against each other and then he entered me. The pain hit me suddenly, and I clutched the ground. I bit into his neck.
Then I heard the distant sound of a train approaching.
When I went I imagined my duel with the Doomtrain, never was I naked with the arms of another man around me. I saw it come closer and closer, and simply held my breath. I can only imagine what it thought. A second before its Runaway Train attack hit me, I summoned Alexander who caught it. Doomtrain hissed in frustration and anger. I hopped up and summoned a blizzard spell, focusing it on the wheels. Alexander pushed the train back with his massive strength, and I helped as much as I could with a series of punches and kicks. I could feel Kits summoning aura behind me, but I knew that it would take almost a minute to summon Quetzelcoatl for the first time.
"Behave, Doomtrain!" I ordered, between a series of punches.
As soon as Quetzelcoatl was summoned, his lightning bolt separate a few of the cars at the back. Kit ran over the top of the Doomtrain, stabbing each car multiple times with his jits. Meanwhile, Alexander refused to budge.
I concentrated for a second, and then cast my most powerful battle spell: My Final Heaven. The Doomtrain erupted in Holy Fire. Alexander grabbed it, filling it with more holy light as they both entered my soul together. The Doomtrains poison was in my blood, but Alexander counteracted it. I felt powerful, able to take on the world. I thought about all the things that would fall to me with the help of the Doomtrain.
"Easy, Zell," I reminded myself. "Youre just a chickenwuss. Dont let summoners madness get to you." I could hear Alexander sigh in relief. Thanks, buddy," I told the robot. "Im going to be fine now."
I kissed Kit, and he blushed. "Is life with you always going to be exciting?"
I shook my head. "That is going to seem awfully boring when we take the kids back to Balamb Garden. . .assuming you want to come with me."
"Wouldnt miss it for the world." I held Kit, and we watched the sun rise together. Tonight, the sky wasnt so empty.
I stared at my clothes for several minutes, trying to decide between my Seed Uniform and Master Yomatos uniform. My life seemed without definition. I was no longer who I once was, and it left me wondering where my greatest loyalties lied. I grabbed a black muscle shirt and severely thrashed jeans almost in a daze. I strapped on my fighting gloves, spiked bracelets, and motorcycle boots to complete the effect.
I was simply Zell Dincht: boxer, martial artist, black mage, summoner, lover, friend, dreamer, homosexual, chickenwuss, maybe even hero. I was no longer anyones student but my own.
Kit was wearing a red button up shirt, black tie, suspenders, and nice slacks. "And I was hoping for the skin tight black of the Seed uniform." Gomi and Miri followed behind. They were wearing Yomatos uniforms, the only different was Miri had a skirt rather than shorts. I put the kids on the back of Squee-Hawk, while Kit and I walked.
We arrived at the edge of the city of Balamb on a night darkened by overcast. Given the ferocity of cloud cover, I decided to spend the night in town rather than venture toward the floating Garden. I was greeted by a familiar voice when I got inside the inn. "What are you doing here?" Quistus Trepe asked between sips of whiskey. I hardly recognized her. Her hair was dirty, and had fallen into her face. Her breath and clothes reeked of different kinds of alcohol. You could hardly tell she contained two guardian forces behind those tired eyes.
"What happened to you?" I asked. Kit took the kids away and up to our rooms, before they could be further exposed to my former instructor.
"Nothing and everything happened to me, Baby Bear," she replied. "I simply do not feel like pretending anymore. Maybe you can pretend everything is fine, but I know that it is not."
"I used to look up to you, Quistus. You were my hero."
"So Ive let you down. Ive let everyone down. Take a furking number, Zell."
I ran upstairs, wiping tears so that the kids would not see me cry. I couldnt stand to see Quistus like that. There was nothing of her spirit and intelligence. Her alcoholism had sucked away everything that I loved about her.
I couldnt stand to look at her anymore.
"You going to be all right?" Kit asked, when I made my way back into our room.
I didnt answer him at first. I made up the kids beds and tucked them in without a word. Gomi looked at me concerned, then stuffed his thumb in his mouth and feigned sleep. Miri asked me a lot of questions, all of which were answered with shrugs, until she took a cue from her younger brother and pretended to sleep. "Quistus was our commander and our teacher. She took everything very personally, especially Squalls death."
"This Squall Leonhart must have been incredible."
I shrugged. "Hes a hard one to explain."
Kit looked over at the little kids. "So where is this orphanage you guys were raised in."
"Its now the Seeds Floating Garden. The orphanage, and Seed itself, was just a cover for Cid and Edea. They were creating an army."
"So you think Headmaster Cid"
"Edea and him are real end justifies the means kind of people." I laid into his arms and fell instantly asleep.
We were escorted into Seeds Floating Garden by two fresh recruits who looked like they would rather be playing the card game. I refused a guide and ignored protocol and marched through the Garden toward Cid and Edeas private chambers.
Unfortunately, I passed Irvines dorm room. He was in the middle of very loud and very strenuous sex. I tried not imagine Selphie and him contorted in every position of the kama sutra when I heard Miri ask, "Rinoa?"
I listened. The female voice was indeed Rinoa, not Selphie.
"She does these kinds of things," Miri said calmly.
"They got together soon after you left," Selphie said, walking down the hall. I could tell from the look on her fact that she had been doing a lot of crying. "Shes such a slut, and I hate her. She even threw this away." She handed me a chain with a ring on it: Squalls ring. "He gave it to her as a sign of love, and she threw it away callously." Selphie took a second to compose herself, suppressing every emotion. "So who are your friends."
This is Kit Prader, hes my" Kit gave a polite bow.
We were interrupted by the door suddenly opening. Rinoa stood at the door wearing nothing but a bra and see-through panties. Irvine didnt bother covering himself, just lay naked on the bed, smoking a cigarette. "Well, if it isnt my dear baby sister and brother? What are you two doing here?"
Gomi was visibly frightened. Miri looked ready to kill her. Even Squee-Hawk shot her an angry look. "Were here to talk to Headmaster Cid," Miri said.
Rinoa laughed. "A little young to be joining Seed."
"They want answers, Rinoa," I explained. "Surely you understand that."
"Enjoy yourselves then," she turned and went back to Irvine.
"Im sorry you had to see that," I told Miri and Gomi.
"Weve seen it before," Miri said coldly.
I hugged Selphie and lied to her about everything going to be all right. She knew that I was lying but nodded and held me tightly. "Somethings wrong with her," she whispered. "I mean, really wrong with her."
"She is a sorceress," I whispered back.
Selphie nodded. "When she is not. . .with Irvine, she is out playing with Bahumut or learning more dangerous spells. Zell, she knows Water. I know because of all of the dead animals that I have found drown. Im not just saying this because of Irvine. . ."
"I know, Selphie." I looked into her eyes. It had been a long time since I saw her scared about something other than me. "Well talk after I go see Cid and Edea. These kids had Guardian Forces placed in them at birth at the Balamb orphanage."
Selphie gasped. "You do, then. Ill be fine."
Edea lounged on a chaise like she had ben expecting us. The way Headmaster Cid was sweating and pacing let me know that she had known that we were coming. "This must be Miri and Gomi Heartily. I recognize the eyes."
Gomi hid behind me, trying to avoid Edea directly looking at him. Miri, afraid of nothing, walked right up to her. Her hands were clinched slightly, ready to start her summoning aura if necessary.
Edeas eyes locked on Kit, and I watched him shiver. "Who are you, young man?"
Kit looked like he had forgotten his name for a few moments and then recovered. "Kit Prader. I am a friend of Zells."
"A close friend," Edea corrected.
Edea rose. "I am aware of their condition, Mr. Dincht. We put Guardian Forces in them, because Cid did not feel that you would survive your mission to destroy Ultimicia."
"We needed a back up plan, Cid," the Headmaster stuttered. "Surely you understand that."
My anger was too much for me to control, and I punched the ground in front of me. "You were responsible for putting Hades into an infant?!"
Cid played with his glasses. "It would have done no good to not give them powerful Guardian Forces. . ."
"Where are our parents?" Miri asked.
Edea smiled. Miri stepped back a few paces and clutched my leg tightly. "I am your mother, child. We had hoped that you would become a sorceress. Instead, you became a white magician. I have been impressed with your abilities in that capacity, but saddened that you did not become a sorceress."
"Thats sick!" I yelled. I turned toward Cid. "You put Hades into your own son?!"
"They are not my children," Cid replied.
Edeas tone made me shiver. "Their father was Laguna Loire."
"They are Squalls brother and sister?" I was aghast.
"Half-siblings, actually," Edea corrected. "I was not Squalls mother."
"You crazy, heartless bitch! You bred children and inseminated them like cattle! You never even told them that they were your children. You even let that monster, Heartily, raise them. They have bruises all over their bodies."
Edea simply nodded.
I thought of a thousand things to tell Edea and Cid. All that came out were tears. For once, I wasnt ashamed.
"My boy" Cid began.
I scooped the children up in my arms and left. Kit followed me, silently.
Miri didnt start crying until we got out of earshot of everybody. I held her tightly. Gomi attached himself to me. Kit ran his fingers through my hair and tried to convince us that things were going to be ok.
Edeas own children, and she still saw them as nothing more than weapons.
I heard some applause from down the corridor. Seifer was clapping his hands, flanked by Fujin and Raijin. "Isnt this a touching scene? A whole family of chickenwusses?"
"What are you doing here?" I said, my face locked into a battle grimace.
Seifer laughed. "I have come here for my gunblade. I leave killing those children to Fujin and Raijin."
"KILL!" Fujin said.
"We could have been real close, you know?" Raijin said.
The two of them had already put up their summoning auras before getting close. I summoned Alexander, and Ifrit and Shiva stood in his way. I lunged at Seifer, and he kicked me out of the way, denting the iron walls with my back.
I got up for to deliver My Private Heaven when Selphies scream interrupted me.
"You killed Irvine!" she yelled.
Rinoa emerged from Irvines room, a crossbow bolt was in his neck. "It took you long enough, lover," Rinoa told Seifer. "You know how long I had to bed this moron."
"Shut up and kill the rest of them," Seifer said.
They both spoke in Ultimicias voice.
"Whats going on?!" Selphie yelled as she summoned her nunchukus with her magic and swung them at Rinoa. Rinoa blocked with her crossbow, and both weapons exploded in magical flame.
Fujins circlet buzzed into Kits shoulder and bounced off, his shirt became black with blood. Kit continued to lunge, jits in hand. Raijin stood in the way and cast a fire spell followed up with a swipe from his naganata.
Rinoa smiled, about to cast Water on Selphie. "Itll be over soon." Before the spell could be cast a liquor bottle shattered on her head and shards of glass were dug into her neck. Quistus stood there, her eyes as cold as Edeas. "Kill them all."
Cid and Edea ran out of their room. "What is the meaning of this?" Edea asked, seemingly unaffected by the fight.
"It is simple," Rinoa levitated to her feet and knocked Quistus with a drain spell that cured her wounds and left our former instructor unconscious. "I have returned for the last two parts of me." Rinoa raised her eyebrow, and a Water spell suffocated Cid.
"My darling?!" It was the first time that I had seen real emotion from Edea. "Diablos attend me."
Rinoa smiled Ultimicias smile. "Bahumut! Destroy them all!"
The two mighty Guardian Forces materialized at the same time.
Seifer took that as the diversion he needed and raised his hand summoning a horde of undead and pseudodragons. The Garden was in chaos. All I could do is fight my way to Seifer and try to defend Gomi and Miri.
Miri summoned Venus after five minutes of trying, only to have her Guardian Force knocked out by one of Fujins blizzagas. She screamed as if she had been hit herself. Fujin ran toward her with her circlet in a killing strike.
I whistled and Squee-Hawk ran down the hallway at top speed. Squee-Hawk leaped at Fujin and raised its beak back. The chocobo hit Fujin with all of its strength and shattered her skull in one hit. It let out a fierce battle whark to let all potential opponents know that the children where under its protection.
Kit continued to attack Raijin, despite the fact a heavy puddle of blood was forming underneath him. "You shouldnt have killed Fujin, you know!" he yelled. He cast meteor, and it slammed into Kits chest. I could barely make out his beautiful face underneath all that blood. Kit held his jits together and called forth his last ditch attack. His body was covered with electricity. Quetzelcoatl and him attacked together. All that was left of Raijin was a cloud of black smoke.
Rinoa casually batted away Edeas ice spears and walked up to her. "You belong with us, Edea. You always have." Edea actually looked powerless.
Rinoa was about to recite drain when she heard Quistus yell, "You should have killed me." Her summoning aura was almost as bright as mine. Siren appeared and cast Silent Voice on Rinoa, taking away her ability to cast spells.
"That wont stop me." Rinoa let out the Sorceress laugh as she shrugged off Silent Voice. "Im too powerful for Siren."
"Hey, slut!" Selphie yelled. Selphies cowboy boot flashed through the air at blinding speed and shattered Rinoas nose. "Even without a weapon, Im deadly. Zell and Seifer taught me how to fight." Selphie followed it up with a right hook to the eye.
"Very good," Rinoa said, "but I am a sorceress." She prepared to cast Water on Selphie when Selphie summoned Carbunkle. The Water reflected back on Rinoa. With the backing of Ultimicias power, Rinoa shrugged it off.
"We cannot defeat them," Edea said. "I need to get out of here, so that they cannot use me to resurrect Ultimicia." Quistus summoned her second Guardian Force, Leviathan, who entangled Bahumut. "Get us out of here, Diablos." In seconds, Edea, Selphie, Quistus, Diablos, Bahumut, Carbunkle, and Leviathan were teleported to Diablos dark dimension.
My wrists felt broken and my fighting gloves were tattered by the time I finally fought my way to Seifer. I pounded into him again and again, but I just could not hurt him. Desperate, I hit him with firas. Seifer finally tired of taking damage from me, and hit me with a Comet spell. I fell to the ground, most of my clothes burned off. . .but I was not beaten.
Before I could recover, Seifer cast float and sleep on Gomi. I tried to break the spells, but my fists only ricocheted off Seifers shield. "Before Edea, she thought too small. She never thought to check her son, the garbage boy, for sorceress potential." Gomi was in Seifers hands, and there was nothing I could do.
"You bastard!" I yelled.
"Whats the matter, chickenwuss? You getting all weak in the knees over the concept of a human sacrifice."
"If you hurt him----"
Seifer smiled. "Like I hurt your boyfriend?"
I looked down and saw Kit, beaten and broken, only alive through Miris spells. All I could do is curse, and wipe angry tears from my eyes.
"It is time for me to go, chickenwuss," Seifer said, summoning a portal. "You know where I am going. Where else could I force Edea to fight me?!"
I did know where they were going: Eden. The city that is also a Guardian Force. The place where I, Quistus, Selphie, Squall, and even Ultimicia herself was born.
"Weve got to get Gomi back," Miri said, applying Cure to Kits wounds.
Miris eyes were alight with anger and they bore into me.
"You cannot go where I am going. You have to stay here and help Kit."
"Ill be fine," Kit moaned.
"No. If you two go, you will die."
Miri started to protest, but she could tell that I would have no arguments. She went back to healing Kit.
Squee-Hawk stepped up to me. "Whark!"
"Youre staying here, buddy. Im counting on you to watch over things while Im gone. . .and if I dont come back."
Squee-Hawk walked over to Kit and Miri. He didnt protest, but I could see the concern in his eyes.
I summoned the Doomtrain. It took almost a full thirty seconds for it to respond. I climbed into the Doomtrain and flew it to Eden. . .and Ultimicia.
END OF DISK THREE
If there was ever a sign of how much of a chickenwuss I am, it is the fact that Eden scares me to death. It is easy to forget how large it is, but it is impossible not to realize that it is alive and pulsing with the magic of a sorceress. I leaped off the Doomtrain and called him inside of him. Alexander had not fully recovered from the battle, but he was healing fast.
A darkness floated in front of me, and I dropped into fighting stance. Edea and Selphie materialized in front of me. "Wheres Quistus?" I asked.
Edea had no emotional reaction. "It is a long story. We do not have time."
"I am aware," Edea interrupted. "Diablos is supreme in the Dark Dimension. Do you think that a simple scrying pool, the most basic of magics, is beyond him?"
"Show a little compassion, you heartless bitch!" I slammed my fist into the ground to drive my point home. "That is your son in there."
"And he must be destroyed if Ultimicias taint is on him. He is not old enough nor strong enough to resist her."
Selphie stepped between us. "We do not have time for this."
Edea raised her eyebrow. "Then I shall begin the spell that destroys all four pieces of Ultimicia, including myself. Miss Tilmitt, they shall most likely try to disrupt the spell."
"Ill be your point," she said. I felt a summoner aura begin and both Carbunkle and Pandemona emerged.
"Mr. Dincht, they shall most likely sway the boy to their side. When they do, they shall become unstoppable. I suggest you try to impede his possession."
I hardly heard the last of Edeas words, because I was already running toward the heart of the city. Hate coursed through my veins: hatred for Ultimicia, hatred for Cid and Edea for creating us, hatred for Galabadia and its cruel president, hatred for Rinoa and Seifer for falling prey to Ultimicias temptation, and hatred for myself for being so powerless.
I was almost to the main hall, when I saw something stand in my way. It was Squall Leonhart, staring at me with demonic eyes. His gunblade was stained black, and demonic fire leaked out of his mouth. "Hello, Zell. Did you miss me?"
"A homoculus?!" I was ready for anything but this.
Squall took off his jacket. "I was created for pleasure and pain. Which do you want, Zell?"
"Youre not even a good imitation of Squall!" I yelled, hitting the homoculus with My Final Heaven. It screamed and dispersed.
My eyes were locked in determination as I walked to meet Rinoa and Seifer.
"You cannot deny us, boy," Rinoa and Seifer said in unison. There was barely little that was human about them still.
Gomi was crying and sucking his thumb, but he did not look their direction.
"We could destroy you."
"Gomi, baby bear, are you all right?" He looked my direct. He was scared, but he was also defiant.
"You two really are pathetic," I announced. "Ultimicia took you over, when she could not even intimidate a frightened little boy into doing her bidding." I summoned Doomtrain and slammed into the two of them, destroying their altar then called him back inside of me.
"We will destroy you," they said.
I simply dropped to fighting stance. Alexander was still too injured to call him. Destroying the altar and traveling through dimensions had tired the Doomtrain out. It was just me and them.
Gomi began floating in front of them. "You will do our bidding!" they demanded. The boy was a mask of tears, but I saw him slowly be taken over. He started summoning Hades.
"Fight them, baby bear!" I yelled. "You are not alone with them! I am here."
"As am I." Edeas voice echoed through the hall. Her face was made of smoke and fire. Her eyes were eldritch light.
"The destruction spell!" they said. Magical bursts of energy flew the hands of the twin sorceress, but Edeas will remained strong. Soon, there was nothing to Edea but eldritch fire. It swept over Seifer, setting his hair, hands, feet, and genitals on fire. In a matter of seconds, he was consumed. All that was left was the sound of his agonized scream.
Hades materialized from Gomi. Rinoa looked at the possessed Gomi and demanded. "Destroy her."
"Kill him!" Edea commanded. "If you kill him, Hades will be powerless."
I saw Gomi struggling against the will of the sorceress. Hades hand brushed Edeas flames, taking away a good deal of her power. . .but he did not cast the death spell. Instead, Gomi broke free of the spell.
"Impossible," Rinoa said. "Hes just a little boy."
"I can only take one," Edea warned.
Gomi stared at Hades as I tackled Rinoa and punched her face until it was nothing but a mask of bruises. She threw me off. "I am the Sorceress Rinoa, and I will destroy you all."
"No," Gomi said. It was the slightest of sounds.
Hades turned toward Rinoa and pushed her into the flames. Edea did not have the energy to burn her up as quick as she did Seifer. It took Rinoa several minutes to die as each of her internal organs than her extremities caught fire. Edea perished with her.
Selphie ran up to us. "Eden is still powerful. The sorceress magic still exists."
Selphie saw the boy and started crying. This isnt fair! I cant do this."
Gomi looked over at Hades. There was sorrow in the skeletons eyes as it approached its master. It summoned a death spell, but could not deliver it.
Selphie looked at the Guardian Force. "You cannot destroy him, regardless of how many times that he orders you to. A Guardian Force can never destroy its human."
I was crying, not like a man or even a chickenwuss. It was a little kids sob. The crying that Gomi should have been doing. "Ill take care of it," I said, trying to will myself to become stone faced.
Selphie turned and left. "I cant watch, Zell."
Gomi looked up at me. Both of us had stopped crying. "Zell, what happens to people when they die. Will I go to hell because I have a piece of the sorceress in me?"
"No, baby boy. Youll go to someplace nice in the stars where your brother waits for you. Squall was always a star, a star that had fallen to Earth. If people like him didnt die, then we wouldnt have such bright stars."
"Will I become a star, Zell?"
"Youll be the brightest star in the sky. I look up at you, and youll wink at me. Youll be able to see me wherever I am."
"Zell, Im still scared of dying."
"I swear to every god, I wont let you hurt. . .even for a second."
"What about Miri? Kit? You? Will you all be stars in sky with me?"
"Ill fight Satan himself to join you."
Gomi closed his eyes. A seven year old boy looked up and said. "Im ready to die now, Zell."
I held my breath, but it didnt matter. I still heard his neck crack as I closed my hand around his neck.
Fires and eruptions began all over Eden. The last of the sorceress powers were destroyed. I was going to die there, with Gomis fragile body at my feet.
"We have to go," Selphie ordered.
"Why?" I sobbed.
"Kits down there. Dont leave him. He needs you. There are a lot of people that need you. I need you, Zell. Im not as strong as you."
I hugged Selphie tightly. "We couldnt get out of here, even if I wanted to. Doomtrain couldnt handle another run."
Selphie expelled her breath. "I have a Guardian Force than can teleport us home." Selphie began her summoning aura, as I punched away debris that would have disrupted her. The Guardian Force emerged from her.
Quistus. Well, not just Quistus. Quistus had some how merged with Bahumut, creating an even more powerful creature. She teleported us away with a wave of her hand.
"She made the sacrifice," Selphie explained. "She knew it was the only way that we would be able to come home."
Miri and Kit ran up to greet us. Miri stopped short. She looked ready to have a heart attack. "Hes dead, isnt he?"
I nodded. "He died as a hero. Same as his brother."
Miri was crying but she kept eye contact. "One day, I hope to prove as brave as my brothers."
I took out Squalls rings and put them on a makeshift grave. To all those who have died with honor: Squall Leonhart. Headmaster Cid. Edea. Gomi Leonhart.
Kit kissed me. "Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for coming back to me, Zell."
I looked at them. "We have a lot to rebuild."
END OF DISK FOUR
Brandon B. Cracraft's Fanfiction