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In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

–Coleridge–

Water

She smiled at her ancestor’s poetic conceit. Xanadu has long since been abandoned… More than a real place, it had become just another memory amongst the many her people were charged to preserve. As far as everyone knew –herself included– this place was all they had known for many generations.

(What amuses you, Child of Sand?)

(The references made by the poet to Xanadu, and its last ruler…)

(If the Matriarch were to hear you speak so irreverently of that most Sacred of places she would be extremely displeased)

(Apart from you, my friend, who would carry such a tale to her?)

(You are indeed an impertinent one, Child of Sand)

She smiled again, and gazed dreamily at the quiet stillness of the water. The Sea of Marid enclosed the City of Baal within its protective watery embrace. Enormous stalagmite pillars, taller than the city’s highest building, soared from the quiet waters to point upwards in fierce defiance of the huge stalactites that hung menacingly down from the cavern’s roof. If even one of them were to fall onto the city, it could cause unimaginable destruction. However, that was only a very vague thought, for in truth the natural halogenous crystal formations that grew on some of the stalactites provided the city with its light.

She turned and looked up at the soft light emitted by the glow flowers, as these incandescent crystals were called, that dotted the stalactites above her. She could hear the faint murmur of the subterranean waterways as they flowed from one lagoon into another… This isolated ledge was her thinking place, away from the noisy bustle of the city. She enjoyed its quiet solitude, mingled with the intermittent tinkling sound of drops as they slid off the massive stalactites. She had much to ponder upon…


(Child of Sand, you should confide your dreams to the Matriarch)

(I know, my friend, but this time they seem so trivial… I hesitate to trouble her)

(No dreams of yours has ever been considered trivial, Child of Sand)

Her dreams of late, rather than being disturbing, were a very strange mixture of the peculiar with the inconsequential. She couldn’t make any heads nor tails of them… To her great surprised, she blushed. ‘I cannot understand the possible significance of such an odd dream!’ For the first time in her life, her dreaming left her perplexed instead of troubled. She just didn’t know what to make of it…

Usually, her recurring dreams bothered her greatly for they were a presage of change, not always for the better. Because of them, the ban to the surface was lifted two years ago and once again, like in the days of old, her people had a small trading post at the very border of the desert … But the cost had been too high, and the benefits were as yet to be seen. All the experience had done was to confirm the notion that many already had: The surface was an extremely dangerous place. Best she never were to dream again. A futile hope.

The interdiction to the surface had existed long before her birth, upheld by at least two generations of Matriarchs. Of course, the path to the above was so arduous and dangerous that very few people ventured out. Therefore the ban had only affected a very minute portion of Baal: the Guild of Surface Traders. She thought it ironic that the only group that would’ve been rejoiced by the change were no longer in existence. According to the records of the era she’d accessed in the Grand Library of Zaouia, the guild had bitterly opposed the interdiction. They had even resorted to the extreme length of trying to incite the citizenry to revolt against it, but to their utter disappointment their attempts to rally the people were met with supreme indifference.

The truth of the matter was that the vast majority did not care, nor want to surface. Their lives revolved around Baal, and its three satellites: Agares, Zaouia, and Valefor. The waterways that interconnected all four were always busy with traffic. People associated the surface with danger, and wanted nothing to do with it. From what she could gather by reading the records, something terrible had hit the surface more than 80 years ago. The reverberations of it, had been felt all the way here, deep in the subterranean City of Baal. The Matriarch at the time had placed the interdiction to protect the people from some unknown threat. And for reasons unspecified in the public archives, the ban to the surface had remained until recently.

As far as she knew, only one person had ever broken the interdiction: Her birth father. He paid the price for his defiance. The Matriarch forbade him to return. The path home was forever barred to him …

(Ahansal Amazigh was a valiant man, but too proud and ambitious. Baal was too small a place for such a mortal. The desire in his heart to go beyond the limits of Zefirah Cavern was great, and he would spend many a days in the Grand Library reading the logs of the now defunct Guild of Surface Traders)

(For me, he’s as mythical as the lost Xanadu. He left when I was still in the womb. I was never told why he left, only that he did, and that he was bound by magic to never return…)

(Zoraida Alkhash-ka did what she had to in order to uphold the edict, Child of Sand. It was not an easy task for her, but not even the Matriarch’s Chosen One is above the laws of the Kashkabald People)

(No one should be, my friend. It is because of our laws that we have been able to survive here for more than one millennia after the long migratory trek from the surface)

(The surface your people left, Child of Sand, has since changed its geography many times over…)

(Call me selfish, if you will. I care not what the surface looks like! My life is here with my people… I don’t understand the Matriarch’s insistence that I learn to accept the surface!)

(Child of Sand, you are but young…)

Two years ago, she’d had the same dream for a whole month. She was surrounded by an neverending expanse of golden sand. Her eyes were blinded by the light emitted by a bright incandescent orb she knew to be the sun. Unlike the soothing light of glow flowers, the light in her dream burned her eyes and lit her skin aflame! She knew that the vast blue vault above her was the sky, and that it was infinite. Then the image would change and she would find herself standing in a strange area… so lush and green! She had felt a great longing to stay there and never move… Then it would change again to scenes of such carnage and devastation that for days she would refuse to sleep, just so she wouldn’t have to dream them again…

Finally, unable to withstand days of not sleeping, but finding her dreams to be unbearable when she did allow herself to do so, she had gone to the Matriarch for counselling. She would often do that. Hold off until she couldn’t bear it anymore. She remembered that after she finished recounting her dream, the Matriarch had looked at her gravely and decreed that it was time for her to leave Baal and go to the surface…

“You shall set out after the sounding of the waking Gongs. Yusuf shall be your guide. Iolanthe and Omar shall accompany you as well.”

“Am I being banished?” She was confused, and her voice echoed that confusion.

“No, my daughter, I believe the time has come to lift the interdiction. I’m sending you to scout the above. Yusuf is one of the few who still remembers the way upwards. The way was fraught with danger in the past, and it has become worse now. Omar and Iolanthe are very capable warriors. You shall be needing their support.”

The Matriarch stood up, and went to a long rectangular ornamental panel elaborately carved with the symbols of Baal and the Kashkabald People. At the touch of her fingertips, the panel disappeared to reveal an elegant looking halberd. The sharp blade gleamed even under the soft light of the glow flowers that dotted the high ceiling of the Matriarch’s chamber.

“Behold the Ashura, my child. This weapon was wielded by Onna, Erythraea’s daughter, and from her in direct succession mother to daughter, to us, her descendents.”

The Matriarch took the weapon from its holder and solemnly presented it to her, holding the pole horizontally with both hands.

“It is time for you to wield it.” Suddenly, the Matriarch’s solemn gaze turned sad, “You dreamt of your own destiny, my daughter. Now you must learn to fulfil it.”


Unable to bear her own thoughts, she stood up to gaze into the soothing waters of Marid…. The journey to the surface had cost them Yusuf’s life. Although they had been warned by the Matriarch, they had been overconfident of their own skill. No. She had been too overconfident!

(Child of Sand, you should not berate yourself. Yusuf understood the consequences of the choice he made. He was ready to greet the Great Beyond…)

(It was my fault! I was arrogant and overconfident!)

(Yusuf trusted your judgement, Child of Sand, to the very end)

(I betrayed that trust!)

(No. You honoured that trust by not taking the choice he made lightly)

(Why, Fravashir? Why?)

(The choice was very clear to Yusuf Roshd. He had completed his tasks. You had only began yours, Child of Sand)

Yusuf’s demise would be a deep sorrow she would carry to the end of her days… Not only had he been a beloved family retainer, but most importantly, a friend and her mentor. Now, even after two years, she bitterly mourned his passing. She wished the lessons she needed to learn were not so costly. Her dreams were dangerous…

(Yours is a gift of the gods, Child of Sand. In the long forgotten past, a gift such as yours would’ve been confined to the Oracular Altar where it could be amplified and perfected…)

(Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, my friend, but the idea of attaining divinity like my long gone ancestress holds absolutely no appeal to me…)

(To become one with the gods is a great honour, Child of Sand. You should not scoff at the notion)

(Please accept my apologies, friend, if I have offended you… But you should know better than anyone that not all mortals aspire godhood…)

(Child of Sand, Erythraea and the Necromancer Ormus defied the laws of mortals with their love, but not the will of the gods)

(I understand, my friend)

Blip! Blip!

“Zuleima.”

The voice belonged to her kinsman, and friend.

“Yes, Omar?”

“The Matriarch has summoned you.”

“I’m on my way.”

§ ~ § ~ §

“No words exist that can best describe the mysterious City of Baal, the last refuge of the Kashkabald People. A seasoned traveller can traverse the entire length of the Desert that bear their name for an entire lifetime, and never find the way. In fact, the only path into Baal is not to look for it, but to get hopelessly lost in the unmitigated labyrinth of sand… Or so the ancient saying goes, ‘Thou cannot find Baal. It will find thee…’…”

“The flight from Astaroth was long and hard. In the end, the Lady chose to stay behind after sealing the secret stairway with the following caveat:

Impia Tortorum Longos Hic Turba Furores
Sanguinis Innocui, Non Satiata, Aluit

Child of my Flesh, Child of the Future, in time you will understand the heavy portend of this warning. These words are not to be taken lightly for they belong to the Order of Zaruthra. I, Ormus, know that one day you, my descendent, shall be reading this which I have written. With the same terrible certainty I know the Order or Zaruthra will also have prevailed and survived the Great Cataclysm. Perhaps in your time, their guise will have changed, but certainly not their manner. They are not to be trusted.”

“Please forgive this slight deviation from the narrative, but I beg you to take heed of my advice.”

“As I mentioned, after we sealed the secret stairway, my Lady decided to make her last stand by stalling our attackers in the Throne Room. She knew, like I did, that the complicated ritual performed on Lord Odin needed time to attain completion, but we ignored how much time. In truth, no mortal has ever attempted to become one of the Fravashirs, but it was the only way of preventing the Seal of Aleph from weakening. Astaroth might be no more, but with Lord Odin’s sacrifice, the power of Astaroth should guard the Aleph until the world is healed once again…”

“Nothing I said would make my Lady deviate from her resolve. Like the Lord Odin, she entrusted me with the care of the twins… To honour her, I took oath upon the blood of my ancestors that I would do whatever was needed to ensure that the children reach their destination: Dohletia had to be taken North; her brother, Ishtarius, to the South. The oath I made binds all those who carry my blood with the deepest magic to fulfil the promise.”

“The enemy was wily and full of malice, but the Lady Xioma came from a powerful lineage of blue magic casters. I had no doubt in my mind that she would buy us the time needed to escape the Castle. I will not dwell in the parting of the Lady and her children for it was very painful to behold, and my heart still feels heavy whenever I recall the scene… All I will say is that after she bade her children farewell, she looked me straight in the eye and smiled. I bowed to her deeply. We both knew that our next meeting would be taking place in the Great Beyond…”

Zuleima paused from reading Ormus’s account of his flight from Astaroth, and of his subsequent entry into Baal. If the Matriarch had hoped that her confusion and resistance to the surface would be cleared by reading this, she was lacking her usual foresight. If anything…she was even more confused now than before! She felt like a child again, being told over and over again that everything would be making more sense with time!…

She had been mystified when Omar contacted her, wondering on why the Matriarch would summon her… The midday gong had long been sounded, its echoes reverberating throughout Zefirah Cavern with the answering gongs from Valefor, Zaouia and Agares. Her meeting with the Matriarch was brief and to the point. In her hands, she now held the Book of Ormus, the legacy from her long time ancestor. A most unusual book. Nevertheless, having the book in her possession did not bother her as much as what the Matriarch had said when she’d given it to her…

….

“Zuleima, you must prepare yourself for the unforeseen. The Book of Ormus which had long been held in our possession has claimed you as its reader.”

“Matriarch…?”

“No, my daughter, in time you will understand the significance of my words…”

She closed the book. Golden eyes examined its plain brown cover pensively. It resembled the ancient texts on magic that the Matriarch kept in her private library. –Humph– This one was strangely thin… She turned it around to examine its back… very plain looking… and old –very old–. Much older than most books in the Matriarch’s keeping, except for the One. Another peculiarity, not even the Matriarch herself knew of the exact contents of the book, because it would not open for anyone, save for her, Zuleima. And she could not choose which page to read…rather the book chose the pages on her behalf. ‘The Book of Ormus is a most peculiar text…’ She passed her fingertips softly over the cover, and felt a slight tingle at the tips of her fingers… The tingle of an answering magic.

Abruptly, Zuleima stood up and placed the book on a nearby table. It was time for surface patrol. Even if she had all the time in the world, the book only allowed her to read certain excerpts, and no more. No matter how she leafed through it, or where she held it open, she would find herself reading the same passages… She went to the small arsenal where she kept her weapons, and grabbed the Ashura from its usual hook.

She prized the Ashura above all other things in her possession. During battle, the Ashura could be split into its two components: the Taira, a pole, and the Majapahit, a keris blade. She zipped up her overall and strapped Ashura in its usual place on her back. In her hands, she carried the mask that would protect her face from the desert’s devastating sandstorms…

(You did not tell the Matriarch of your latest dream, Child of Sand)

(No… but I’ve dreamt about him again… The stranger with hair the colour of sand, and eyes like the sky. Strange symbols mark the left side of his face… Somehow I sense a restless energy emanating from the very core of his being…)

(I counsel you to confide in the Matriarch. This same young man has been appearing in your dreams for over a fortnight, Child of Sand, you should not dismiss them out of hand)

(Very strange and unusual monsters have been found preying on our desert caravans to the Trading Post… I did not think it appropriate to mention to the Matriarch that I’ve been dreaming about a strange young man!)

(Ah! You are embarrassed, Child of Sand)

(No!)

(We are mind-speaking and yet you think you can lie to me…)

(There are more important matters at hand)

(It is as you say…)

§

At the Gateway to the Sea of Marid…

Omar Roshd watched his cousin emerge from the Main Grotto archway with some amusement. As usual she was walking with her usual determined stride, calmly acknowledging with a brief nod in the head all the people that had gathered to greet her. No matter how much Zuleima disliked the comparison, many considered her to be the living image of the fabled Erythraea before she became a Sibyl.

The only image they had of the Sibyl was a very ancient carving located in Agares, and Zuleima’s resemblance to it was quite remarkable… However, barring the physical likeness, the acuity of Zuleima’s insight was…uncanny –for lack of a better word–, and her dreams… For the most part, they were normal, but the few that were not had to be taken very seriously for they were prophetic in nature. Or Zuleima’s hand-clasp… Omar recalled an incident quite a few years ago involving the Kazar of Valefor…

At the time he was feeling very proud, because he had earned the privilege of guarding the Matriarch. The youngest warrior to have earned the post. Zuleima herself was barely fifteen. She had been sulking because she had wanted that honour for herself, but the Matriarch had bade her to perform birth-daughter duties… Omar sniggered at the memory… Zuleima had been furious. She hated to wear the long ceremonial robes, and she disliked the Kazar of Valefor calling him an ‘unctuous toad’.

Naturally, as befitting the only birth-daughter of the Grand Matriarch of the Kashkabald People, Zuleima had been trained from the cradle to control her emotions. However, on that particular occasion, instead of uttering words of welcome after the ceremonial hand-clasp she had greeted that grand personage with a warning, ‘Beware of your penchant of collecting jewelled rings for it may cost you your dearly…’ Since that particular person’s fondness for jewelry was very well known, he had just laughed loudly and bowed deeply to both the Matriarch and Zuleima saying, ‘Great Matriarch! Your birth-child does you great credit for she had grown in beauty…’ With his carefully well-chosen words, he had completely dismissed his cousin’s counsel, and what was worse, by praising her looks, he had reduced Zuleima to a piece of pretty ornamentation.

Several weeks later, the Kazar almost died from poisoning. Granted, there were probably quite a few people in Valefor who could have done the deed, for that particular personage was not very popular…but the culprit was not a person. Rather the culprit was a very rare and beautiful jewelled ring that the Kazar had recently purchased from a very reputable dealer… It was rumoured to have belonged to one of Lord Odin’s most trustworthy retainers. In his eagerness to wear it, the Kazar had ignored the note that the dealer had tucked inside the box, warning the Kazar to be careful. It was a suicide ring. It had a hidden mechanism that when triggered would poison the wearer…

“Omar, ready?”

He interrupted the train of his thoughts to look at his cousin fondly, “Yes.”

“Where’s Iolanthe?”

“She was assigned to guard the Kazar of Agares.”

“And she doesn’t mind?”

He smiled at her incredulous gaze, “She’s a warrior. She’ll do what she’s told.”

Zuleima snorted at her cousin’s reply, and kept her thoughts to herself. They signalled their people, and started moving towards the light watercraft that would take them through the first leg of their long trek to the surface.

§ ~ § ~ §

…Concurrently, Surface, Ruins of Astaroth

Three armed figures are standing before the towering statue of a huge demon with widespread wings and deep red bejewelled eyes. One of them, a slender young woman holding a whip in her hand, says something to a tall young man wearing a hat, and starts towards what looks like an entrance, when she’s stopped abruptly by the other young man, a tall blonde holding a wicked looking gunblade. He seems very displeased, and is frowning down at the girl.

“…Seifer! What now?”

“Sniper-boy first… He’s got the nice shotgun, see?”

The girl grimaces and ignores the sniper’s snickering. She tries to shake off the blonde boy’s arm, but he won’t be budged. Using his gunblade, he signals the sniper to enter, he then grabs the girl’s arm and drags her inside with him. If glances could kill, the tall young man would be dead now. Soon, they too disappear inside…

§ ~ § ~ §

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I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

–Yeats–

[audio:http://cheezwhizsensei.net/aon/zornlazy.mp3%5D

“Welcome to Esthar City!”
“You are entering Ramp0234 to exit into Sector 09”
“Please merge into the flow of local traffic”
“Speed of Flow is presently at: 5 mph”

The rider of the powerful PQK–AX98 propulsion bike ignored the cheerful holographic prompts, and pushed his jets to new dizzying speeds, zigzagging through the traffic to the heated indignation of his fellow motorists. Soon the only thing those angry faces could see was the reflection of the sun rays bouncing off the helmet worn by the speed maniac that had zoomed by them. A few grumpy drivers stuck in the traffic jam grumbled.

“I hope the highway patrols stop that dangerous speed punk!”

The peaceful law-abiding citizens of Esthar would be flabbergasted had they been able to witness the arrival of the ‘speed punk’ at the Presidential Palace. With a violent and noisy swerve of wheels and air-jet thrusters, the shiny bike stopped right in the front smack centre of the Palace’s main stairway. A spot usually reserved for VIPs. However, the guards seemed to recognize the tall and sleekly powerful figure that lithely dismounted from the bike, even though it was completely helmeted and clad in a form fitting black jumpsuit. The rider had a wicked looking gunblade strapped in the back, but no one seemed to be alarmed by it, instead they saluted the armed man smartly with a, “Welcome, sir.”

The figure took off his helmet, and tossed it to one of the waiting guards, revealing shorn blonde hair, intense sea-green eyes, and a wicked scar that streaked his forehead. One of the guards –a newly posted one– sighed dreamily to herself, ‘Whoa! What a hottie!’

“Take it for me to the garage will ya?”

“Yes, sir!”

Seifer Almasy knew he’d just made the guard’s day, but then that little baby was sweet! With little perks like that, he shouldn’t really complain about his stint in Esthar. Laguna Loire may look and even act like a goof sometimes, but he sure knew how to work the skin off a guy’s ass! He’d just come back from fighting a fun little colony of Turtapods in the Great Plains, helping the Estharian forces clear out a space for the future Esthar Garden.

Was it just a few weeks ago that he’d arrived leading a small complement of B-Garden SeeDs? They all seemed to have settled down here, feeling quite at home in the enormous Compound that had been erected near Tear’s Point. He was the only one residing in the City, because he was also needed at the Presidential Palace.

He could still remember the great annoyance he felt at being summoned by the Headmaster so very early in that morning of July 4th. He’d had plans for that day! Plans which involved a certain instructor, and exactly how he intended to mow down her prim and proper ways… –To their mutual satisfaction– In his mind, one night had been more than enough time to think things through. Not to mention the fact that it was the second time around he’d asked her the same question… Unbidden, his mind wandered back to Garden, and a certain blonde haired instructor, ‘Quistis, I should’ve taken what you were offering me so unconsciously…’

He thought about their last night together when she had closed her eyes, fully waiting for him to kiss her… Oh, he’d wanted to. Desperately. It had taken all of his self-control to stop himself from tasting those pouty lips, and ravaging that sweet mouth. He’d wanted to imprint himself so deeply on her, that she would never forget him, but he’d sensed that even though her body was more than ready to receive him, her prissy little mind balked at the idea… So, he had forced himself off her. Forced himself to leave her room, to give her enough time to digest everything that had come to pass between them. He wanted her, no, needed her to come to him out of her own free will…

After being controlled by that bitch Ultimecia for such a long time, he understood the fundamental need of being able to choose for yourself how to act, and to take responsibility for those actions. When Tiamat had made the jump into his psyche, the GF had asked him whether or not he wanted the memories of everything he’d done under that bitch’s control to be erased. He’d been tempted, very tempted to accept… But he’d opted to keep remembering. He didn’t want to forget any of the atrocities he’d committed under that fucking witch’s command. He needed to remind himself of what he could become, had been… Other people could argue all day long about how he’d been possessed by Ultimecia, but he knew better. He’d allowed himself to be lured by her words, without thinking about the consequences. Without fucking thinking. –Period–

That bitch Ultimecia had usurped Matron, and under that guise had whispered dark promises directly into in his mind… The promise to fulfil all of his most secret desires. And being the selfish arrogant bastard that he was, he’d allowed himself to be seduced by her filthy words…

The Matron he knew, and remembered with love would’ve never asked him to commit all those despicable acts. When the realization of what he was doing glimmered in his mind, it was already too late… At least Matron had been able to rid herself of Ultimecia, but it had been too late for him. She had him firmly enmeshed in her trap. All the time he’d spent fighting the others, he’d also been fighting himself. In a very perverse way, it had pleased him ferociously whenever the others had beaten the crap out of him, the small part of himself which was still there had felt that it too had won …

‘Argh! Why am I fucking thinkin’ about shit like that!’ Of course, it had all started with the image of Trepe pictured in his mind… He started to scowl immediately, and to curse himself. She’d already made her choice, and most publicly! His frown became more pronounced. It was not enough for the little prick to visit her hotel room, but they’d been also spotted having dinner together! He needed to fucking stop thinking about them, or he would go nuts. He needed to get on with his life, to move on…

“Hey, Seifer! That frown will definitely kill your good looks!”

Seifer turned and saw Kiara Dessu approach him. She was one of the engineers involved in the Project, and had been coming on to him practically since his arrival. Maybe he should take her up on her offer; celibacy was making him go fucking crazy! There was no need to hold himself back now, specially after what he saw on the news screen. His scowl intensified. He’d deliberately missed Selphie’s birthday bash last week, because he knew that he would not be able to control his temper. When he’d seen that broadcast, they were lucky he was in Esthar or he’d probably would’ve been sorely tempted to run that little fuck, Zone, down with Hyperion… –Humph– He still might do it… Just for laughs.

“Hey! Come back to me!”

A hand grabbed his arm, and a pair of large brown eyes smiled up at him impishly. What the hell, why the fuck not? She wanted him, and he was making himself available. He smiled down at her, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Kiara stared up into his handsome face, and wondered if she finally got lucky. Sometimes he could be so moody! She knew him to be a ruthless leader, not allowing slack from anyone, but in general his people felt pretty at ease with him. ‘Except for that time when he arrived at the Compound in an extremely foul mood… For a few days after, everyone acted so very carefully around him, trying to make themselves invisible. Including President Laguna himself!’ –Sigh– Even with that scowl on his face… He is sooo hot! Better make sure he doesn’t change his mind!

“So, Seifer, wanna come over my place for dinner?”

§

Much later that night…

He stared into the myriads of lights that made up Esthar City at night. Kiara’s apartment was on the 67th level, and had a breathtaking view of the city. His own apartment was even higher up on the 90th level, but it was located in Sector 37, nearer the exit to the Great Plains, and the view from there was dominated by Lunatic Pandora’s huge structure. It simply dwarfed everything around it.

He’d known that Esthar City was a huge sprawling metropolis, but being more used to the flatness of Balamb, he’d been more struck by the sheer verticality of the city than by its extension. Most buildings in Esthar were over 50 stories high; as a result, traffic here was multileveled. Upon his arrival, he’d been awed in spite of himself. 30 million people living together in an almost orderly fashion… If he didn’t witness that kind of behaviour almost everyday, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Fuck, even he was beginning to do shit like wait around for his turn… Living here was turning him into a passive drone!

Unconsciously, his mind returned to B-Garden. Maybe he was being a sap, but he actually missed being there! Ma Dincht and Matron communicated with him almost every week, and he conferred with the Headmaster and Puberty-boy almost every other day, but it was not the same… With the Lunatic Pandora Project ongoing, and the need to clear the site that had been designated for the construction of the future Esthar Garden, he’d been kept too busy to even go home for a nice visit.

Originally, when Johan Piet had offered to shuttle him to B-Garden as part of the test-drive for their new prototype aircraft the ‘AegisM-1’, a much smaller and sleeker version of the Ragnarok, he’d quickly agreed. It gave him the opportunity to attend MG’s birthday and visit with everyone, especially with… He frowned, ‘Fuck! What’s the use? That’s stale water under the bridge…’ He forced himself to visualize the new aircraft… The Aegis was a real beauty. In the end, they used it to scout the Great Plains of Esthar for the test-drive.

At his suggestion, E-Garden was to be built midpoint between Lunar Gate and Tears’ Point, on the border of the Great Salt Lake. It had floored him that not only had they taken his proposal seriously, but that they were actually acting on it! He remembered feeling bored and highly irritated when one of those smarty-pants architects from some fancy firm had suggested that they revised once again, for the umpteenth time, the number of lavatory facilities to be included in the building. He’d looked at Laguna, hoping that the President would have enough initiative to stop the blabbermouth from continuing, but all he’d done was just return his stare with a shrug… That was when he’d lost it! He’d rudely interrupted to say…

“I know some of you guys don’t want to be caught by some monster with your pants down while you’re taking a shit…” There was some sniggering around the board-room, “But shouldn’t we be discussing where Garden is to be built, before we decide if E-Garden is just to become a huge lavatory facility?”

It had been his hope that with that little speech they would excuse him from attending those moronic meetings, but to his great surprise (and secret chagrin) Laguna had looked at him with approval, and from then on he’d been asked to attend every single fucking meeting! He’d hardly had time to breathe, going to and fro E-Garden’s site, Lunatic Pandora and the Presidential Palace, sometimes on the same day! He smirked, he’d been offered an aircraft to shuttle him around, but he’d absolutely refused to be carted around like a patsy.

Laguna, that wily fox, had taken one look at his face, and had immediately offered him the PQK–AX98 Bike… After taking one look at that sleek little baby, he’d accepted immediately. Speeding in the freeway with it was real sweet! It took him longer than if he used an aircraft, but at least he got to manoeuvre his transport himself.

After being Ultimecia’s fucking puppet, he wanted to do his own thing, even if it was something as simple and stupid as being able to drive himself to and fro a place. What was it that ol’ kook Odine called it? Ah…yeah…‘ze assertion of ze ego’. Piet, Ellone’s boyfriend, had offered to give him flying lessons, but with what fucking time? Whenever he was not full of monster guts due to fighting, he was surrounded by the architects and engineers involved in the design of E-Garden. What the hell was the Headmaster thinking when he sent him over here? Shouldn’t Puberty-boy be here instead of him? He knew less than zilch about the inner workings of Garden infrastructure.

Oh, he could give them advise about strategic locations or what was needed in a training centre or in a gym –anything related to training or fighting– but he knew fucking diddly-squat about how Garden was run…

On the other hand, all the fighting had done wonders for his SeeD ranking… Of course, clearing a path in Lunatic Pandora, and leading the fight against a barrage of Behemoths plus a whole pride of Toramas in the Great Plains of Esthar would do just that! In any case, he hadn’t expected any less. He knew the Headmaster wanted his ranking to go up as quickly as possible so that it would actually reflect his experience. He’d said as much to him in private that morning, after he’d dismissed the rest of the team …

“Seifer, you should take the opportunity that President Laguna has given you to raise your SeeD ranking. It should be child’s play for someone with your ability.”

Squall, present at the meeting, regarded Seifer steadily with a slightly challenging look in his eyes, and managed to surprised the latter when he said with an unexpected smirk on his lips, “Good luck, Seifer. . . Do your best!”

Puberty-boy’s tone at the time had seemed to imply that there was more to the mission than helping the Estharian Forces clean up Lunatic Pandora, but he hadn’t cared. He’d welcomed the opportunity to see some action! In any case, as far as he was concerned, Squall was B-Garden’s Commander; it was a given he would know extra shit. Maybe a year ago, before he got fucked up by Ultimecia, he would’ve given everything to be in P-boy’s position, but now… Never in a million years would he want that fucking job! All Leonhart did was hack through mountains and mountains of bureaucratic work! When was the last time he had seen some real action? He smirked thinking, ‘Humph, P-boy would give his eye teeth to be here in my place!’

All the nine SeeDs that had come to Esthar with him, except for Darryl Stevenson, were rookies. All of them were pretty close in terms of age and ranking, with him and Stevenson being the oldest only by a year or so. He knew that Stevenson had fully expected to lead the squad, since in theory he had been SeeD for more than a full year, plus held the higher ranking. Seifer smiled humourlessly when he recalled the expression on Stevenson’s face upon hearing Cid name him the squad leader. He’d only allowed the jackass to question his leadership once, just to show how lenient he could be… They’d been waiting for Chicken-wuss to fly them on Ragnarok to Esthar’s Airstation, when he’d ‘overheard’ Stevenson’s stage whisper to some of the others…

“With all of my SeeD credentials and my superior ranking, I’m by far the most obvious choice to be squad leader…”

Seifer ignored the jackass useless braying. He was too busy feeling put-upon by Trepe. She’d gone to B-City in the only free time he’d had available yesterday. He’d wanted to give her a proper goodbye… He’d been in the process of imagining the various pleasant welcome scenarios he would like her to greet him with, upon his return, when something that moron said to his increasingly fidgety and nervous audience caught his attention…

“… Of course, Mrs. Kramer and that girl, what’s her name…? Rin-something… are infamous Sorceresses, and he was their lapdog…”

Seifer didn’t give a fuck about what a little dipshit like Stevenson thought about him, but it pissed him majorly to hear the jackass slap Matron and Rinoa down! He went over to where the prick was holding audience. The others regarded his approach with various degrees of fear and alarm, but he ignored them. He wanted to insure his target was within range. Once that was accomplished, he casually let Hyperion –which was still inside its heavy case– fall on top of that jackass’s foot. All 50 pounds of it…

“YEOWCH!!!”

“You were in my way, Stevenson…”

One of the others quickly bent to retrieve his case and return it to him.

“Uh…Here you are, sir!”

“ALMASY!!! HOW DARE YOU DROP…!!!”

“Yo, people! LET’S GO!”

Chickenwuss’s arrival had saved Stevenson from further injury; although by the look on Zell’s face, he was also ready to dish out some punishment of his own. He had also overheard what the little dipshit had said about Matron and Rinoa. Seifer had already turned around to board Ragnarok when he heard Stevenson yell in acute pain, again. After that, Dincht caught up with him, and slapped his back with a friendly, “Let’s go, Asshole.” Which he’d answered with an equally amiable, “After you, Chickenwuss…” They understood each other perfectly.

After that little incident, where he thought he’d acted more than nicely, he’d been merciless with the fucker. ‘No one messes with…’ …Two shapely arms encircled his waist, while a soft mouth kissed him between the shoulder blades, and traced a slow path down his spine, over his buttocks…

“Seifer… is lonely… without… you…! –Hmmn– Come back… to bed…”

He closed his eyes as he felt her soft lips and wandering hands caress him. He was naked, not having bothered to put on anything when he left the bed, and she was taking full advantage of his nudity. Gently lifting her hands from him, he turned around to look down into Kiara’s heated eyes. Grabbing her dark tresses, he positioned her mouth and said quietly.

“No. Do me here.”

§

Much later on…

“Why can’t you stay the night?”

Kiara asked the question petulantly. After the most amazing sex, she’d expected him to at least stay the night. Then sighed, the hottest ones never wanted to stay… She watched him as he began to get dressed, covering his magnificent body with that sleek Gesperthane jumpsuit, a marvel of Estharian technology. The thick black material automatically moulded itself to the powerful contours of his tall body. She tried another tackle.

“Come for dinner tomorrow?”

“I dunno…”

His lack of commitment made her lose her temper. Turning around on bed to give him a view of her bare back, she mumbled.

“Fine! See if I care! You men…”

Her chin was seized, and a warm mouth sealed her lips with a hot kiss.

“See ya…”

Kiara heard the door glide open and then close. Sighing again, she sank into her fluffy pillows which still bore traces of his enticing male scent, and muttered peevishly into the darkness.

“Humph! I should’ve known better! Probably got someone back home! –Sigh– The hot ones always do…”

§ ~ § ~ §


“Arriving at sublevel 88, Crystal Hall 23H”
“Please be careful with your step…”

The lift opened and Kiara stepped out along with the other members of her engineering team. They were accompanied by two SeeDs and a small squad of Estharian soldiers, but she didn’t expect any trouble. She knew the area to be cleared of monsters, otherwise her team wouldn’t have been sent down. Her thoughts turned inevitably to one stubborn, arrogant, incredibly sexy SeeD…

‘Hyne! I shouldn’t let him get to me, but I think I’m falling for him…’ She knew that nothing would come from it. Just because she allowed him to practically fuck her blind every time he got the urge, it didn’t mean that he was ready to commit to her… ‘Damn, Kiara Dessu! Since when did you allow a guy to set up the agenda!?’ Ruefully she answered her own question, ‘Since his name is Seifer Almasy…’ If it were only the sex, amazing though it was, but she knew that it was something more… ‘I know some of the others are jealous of me, ‘cause I got him first… But to get a guy like him, you shouldn’t act coy…’

She was going to enjoy him for as long as she could, ‘Maybe I can even make him change his mind in the long run, and get him to think about a more permanent relationship…’ Kiara managed to surprise herself when she realized that she wouldn’t mind this at all. No. The problem was… Would he? She thought it ironic that for once, it was she the one ready to a make a more serious commitment! The lift doors slid open again, revealing the subject of her thoughts striding towards them. After nodding a greeting her way, he stopped a few yards away to confer with the engineering team leader, Dr. Mara Preston.

At work, it was always like this. He acted courteously towards her, with the right amount of friendliness; because of this she’d thought at first that he wanted to keep their affair a secret from the others. Of course, she realized soon enough that her little theory made no sense, that he never hid the fact that they would sometimes go home or arrive together… Or that time when they all went clubbing, and she’d glued herself to him (to discourage the others). Instead of being annoyed with her blatant display, he had flashed her a lazy grin, and had casually placed an arm around her shoulders. Anyhow, that night she made sure everyone noticed them leaving together…

Sometimes this casual behaviour of his irritated her, and she would flirt with others, to see if she could get a reaction from him, but nothing. ‘Strange… I would’ve pegged him as being the extremely possessive type…’ Kiara narrowed her eyes and frowned. Mara Preston had placed her well manicured hands on Seifer’s forearm, as she gazed coquettishly into his sea green eyes while answering his queries, ‘Hyne, Mara! Keep your damned paws to yourself!’ She smiled in satisfaction when she saw Seifer gently pry the doctor’s claws from his arm, even as he acknowledged her replies.

“Hey, Kia! Will ya stop ogling him, and pay some attention to this?”

Pete Tarkin had said it good humouredly; he and Kia went way back. He was not surprised that she would be screwing Almasy. He’d overheard more than one chick comment around the place on how hot he was… No, what surprised him was the incredible amount of time and energy Kia devoted to a guy who, as far as he’d been able to witness, did not return her regard the same way…

“Geez, Pete! I’ve already done all my calibrations! See?”

Kiara showed her long time friend the portable device where she had recorded all her data. Pete was a fun friend, but right now he was looking at her rather sombrely…

“Uh… Kia, d’you really know what you’re doin’ with that Almasy guy?”

“Huh? You’re not gonna lecture me, right?”

“Nah… But, I’m afraid this guy can really hurt you…”

“What? You think I might actually fall for him?”

Kiara tried to infuse her voice with a teasing quality, but instead she sounded wobbly even to herself… Of course, Pete, who knew her very well, was not fooled at all.

“No, I think you already did, Kia.”

Aereal view of Esthar City

“You are entering Ramp0415 to exit into Sector 37”
“Please merge into the flow of local traffic”
“Speed of Flow is presently: No Limit ”

Seifer sped back to his apartment, he needed to get up early tomorrow for yet another meet with Laguna and E-Garden’s design team. He hadn’t expected to be charged with making such decisions when he’s been assigned onto this mission! He wondered again why the Headmaster had asked him of all people to oversee the project and to represent B-Garden… ‘Fuck, our little instructor would’ve been the better candidate for the post… Oh, but wait, she’s fucking becoming FRT’s First Lady, right?!’

Tomorrow would mark the second month of his arrival to Esthar. He’d been kept so busy that he’d not had the chance to go home to Balamb, not even once! Of course, he’d kept in touch with the others, even Chickenwuss buzzed him from time to time, if only to trade insults… Seifer smiled evilly to himself, they had even agreed to split on a gift for Puberty-boy’s birthday, heh, heh… Too bad he hadn’t been present if only to see P-boy’s expression when he opened the box and saw what was inside! Irv’s photo-images of the event were okay, but it was not the same as being there…

Except for his red-beet face when he’d opened their present, Puberty-boy looked quite content… Even Trepe managed to look less prissy in the various group images Irv had shot his way –he frowned– she was fucking showing way too much skin! ‘Oh shit! What do I care? She’s screwing that moron Zone anyway! Let that littl’ fucker worry about it!’ From what Irv and then Squall told him, Trepe had been going quite often to Timber. The excuse being that she was brokering some deal between B-Garden and FRT… ‘What a fucking lame excuse!’

He felt incredibly annoyed at himself for obsessing over Trepe, again… He couldn’t even blame it on unsatisfied lust, since he’d more than gorged himself on Kiara’s willing body… And yet –he scowled– he couldn’t dissipate the overall feeling of dissatisfaction that had been dodging him this entire fucking week! Nah, scrap that, he’d been irritable this entire fucking month! There was no denying that his body was sated, but… Even now, after a very nice little bout of unmitigated sex with Kia, he was still left with a strange sense of wanting…

The turbo lift doors slid open allowing him to stomp out. ‘Fucking great! This is startin’ to piss me off!’ He slammed the palm of his hand on the ID-plate of his door causing the abused mechanism to complain loudly.

“Dear Resident, the use of excessive force will result in system malfunction…”

He muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath, and was about to hit the ID-plate again with equal force, when the door to his apartment slid open.

“Hyne, Seifer! Why do you always have to be so impatient!?”

§ ~ § ~ §

a/n: Added a soundtrack of when Seifer’s speeding through Esthar’s skyways! The short track is by John Zorn and it’s titled “White And Lazy (Main Title)” from his album Filmworks: 1986-1990. If you get the chance to hear it in its entirety do so! Personally I think it’s a great and coherent piece of fantastic music!

00016.jpg

In the circles of destiny,
Who be the puppeteer?
Who be the puppet?

–Graffiti rumoured to be found in Ultimecia’s Castle–

[audio:http://cheezwhizsensei.net/aon/LiberiFatali.mp3%5D

“…Poor, poor boy…”

…My child, perhaps I’ve loved you too much and the others not enough…

“Such a confused little boy. Are you going to step forward? Retreat? You have to decide.”

You were always such a rash child, perhaps I should’ve done more to help you curb your wild impulses …But by then, I already knew what fate had in store for you, and I could not bring myself to deny you the exuberance of your nature…

“The boy in you is telling you to come. The adult in you is telling you to back off. You can’t make up your mind. You don’t know the right answer. You want help, don’t you? You want to be saved from this predicament.”


In your desire to prove your worth, you could never resist a challenge, great or small… You would forever be challenging the others to try and best you…

“Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Besides, you’re only a little boy.”

She took possession of all the memories I had of you. But none of the feelings. You became an open book… She latched onto that aspect of your personality immediately…

“You don’t want to be a boy anymore?”

In her eternal cruelty… She gave me enough lucidity to witness her moment of triumph.

“Come with me to a place of no return. Bid farewell to your childhood.”

Such are the idiosyncrasies of fate, that the love of a mother serves best to condemn her own child. That hurt the most.

§

All this useless suffering, all the pain we’ve caused, all the pain we’ve endured… My son, in the end… The coming of this loneliness, of this Angel of Destruction called ‘Ultimecia’ is still inevitable.

She’s as much caught in the web as we are.

§

Even the God of Prophecy cannot escape the Fate…
–Graffiti rumoured to be found in Ultimecia’s Castle–

(Field notes: Splotches of blood stained some of the writing, the author seemed to have been caught and devoured by one of the sentinels. It’s not certain whether expression was to be continued with ‘Fated’ or to be completed with ‘Fates’)

§ ~ § ~ §

a/n:
The second graffiti is a quote from Herodotus.
Soundtrack is Liberi Fatali by Nobuo Uematsu

city

You will find no new lands, you will find no other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighbourhoods;
and you will grow grey in these same houses.
Always you will arrive in this city.

– C.P. Cavafy –

Mors stupebit et natura
Cum resurget creatura
Mors stupebit et natura
Gere curam mei finis

–Juno Reactor–


– Centra, Astaroth Castle’s Aetherium Chamber –

“Sire, ‘tis ready.”

“Fetch me the Lord Ormus.”

“As you wish, My Liege.”

The attendant bowed and exited the chamber…

“Beloved, wherein lies the wisdom of your intent?”

“In none. It is rather a small ray of hope I wish to bequeath to a world to be cast into deep shadow.”

“I can feel the tremors of power coursing through the castle’s old stone and from deep inside the earth’s bowels. But even with this knowledge I cannot help but to beseech you … Must this deed be done with such haste?”

“All the required preparations for the ritual have been completed. To delay what needs be done now will signify certain failure.”

“Beloved, please forgive my foolish lapse into selfishness. I know many have already sacrificed much for us to tarry. To delay the ritual would be to dishonour them. Please, forgive me.”

“They know that our age is drawing to a close, you have sensed it …And with its closing all the knowledge and wisdom we have accumulated shall be lost. This was the Sibyl Erythraea’s first prophecy uttered nigh half a century ago. When the light of sun, moon and stars is eclipsed by darkness, rivers of fire shall flow through our lands, our libraries shall burn, our people shall disperse throughout every corner of the world and the power inherent in our line shall dwindle as we mingle with lesser mortals to survive. The Sibyl foretold the Doom of Astaroth and it has come to pass. So be it. We have prepared long and hard for the waning of our kingdom… Indeed, for the waning of our very civilization. Nevertheless, the Sibyl Erythraea’s last prophecy is the one that troubles me greatly.”

“The breaking of the Seals of Goetia. The prophecy that blocked the brightness of the mighty sun, darkened the sky and destroyed the messenger. It shook the very foundations of this castle. …I – I could sense the coming of the Great Cataclysm…and then the Void… ”

“My beloved, you were completely drained of power and fainted. You had to be abed for at least a fortnight… That you, a being of such power could be drained thus…”

“It made you worry…”

“I find it extremely disquieting that the Sibyl should foretell of something that would come to pass so far into the future… ‘Advenient per secla futurus’ …And such a telling it was! The Sibyl’s voice was forever silenced when the Oracular Altar that contained the Gift was cloven in two. Such disturbing portend!”

“And thus the passing of the Sibyl Erythraea came to be as was foretold. Th-the destructive energy that split the altar …It–it was a most unwholesome power… polluted by such malice…”

“…”

“And yet the world shall know peace and prosperity… Many ages of men and women shall have come and gone ere the waning of Goetia’s Seal…”

“Nevertheless the Seal shall be broken and the power within shall be unleashed onto a most vulnerable unsuspecting world. A world lacking in the knowledge that we possess to contain it. I would that at least some guidance be left for those future generations that will sorely be in need of it. Some token that might aid them in the advent of the chaos that will befall their time. Perhaps my one act of foolishness will be like a drop of hope in the vast ocean of despair, as the deeds of our civilization become but very faint shadows in the memories of years to come, but I would leave it.””

“One by one, each of the seven seals shall be broken and this in turn will open the last one, the Seal of Goetia. The epicentre of α–Aleph, the First Seal, is located in the very heart of Astaroth… Our ancestors were very clever in the concealment of the other seals around the world.”

“Our ancestors did what was necessary to hide them from those foolish enough to believe that it will bestow them with neverending power.”

“It whispers promises and feeds into our darkest and deepest desires… It is a most fearsome foe for none would be impervious… The very nature of our humanity makes us all potential subject to its will…”

“And yet, beloved, our very weaknesses shall also make us strong. Have faith in those that will come after, and remember that in nature death is only but foretelling of growth.”

“’Tis for that reason that I will be adding my blue magic to yours.”

“Nay! You shall be needing all your strength! I have entrusted the Clavicula Grimoire into the safekeeping of the Great Matriarch of the Kashkabald people. Even if all else perishes, I hope the knowledge it contains will somehow prevail until the time of great need…”

“Beloved… if that Grimoire were to fall into the wrong hands…”

“I trust the Great Matriarch implicitly. This prophesy affects not only our descendants, but hers as well. As it is, the Clavicula Grimoire can only be opened if all seven seals have been broken. We know it contains powerful magic, but even we the descendants of the Grimoire’s makers have no knowledge of its contents.”

“True, it is as you have said…”

“Enough! The hour draws near! Listen carefully to my instruction: Our kingdom shall be no more. I would that you take our children Dohletia and Ishtarius to our secret mountain refuge in the north. I have already arranged it. Immediately after the completion of the ritual you are to leave. Ormus shall accompany you.”

“NO! I trust Ormus to take care of the children. It is my place to be here by your side!”

“I am to be bound by most powerful magic to the very stones of Astaroth Castle, along with Hephaestus, the ancient spirit that serves me… You cannot remain behind. This castle shall soon fall! You will accompany Ormus and leave with our children. Should our stronghold in the north fail, Ormus shall know where to take you. This is my last wish. Are you to dishonour it?”

“My Lord, you ask too much of me…!”

An attendant enters the chamber.

“Sire, Ormus the Necromancer awaits your favour…”

“Bring him to me at once.”

“As you wish, Lord Odin.”

§ ~ § ~ §

End of Book I
Chronicles Of Past And Present

To be continued… on Book II: Tales of Hidden Cities

a/n:

Translation:

Even in annihilation we shall be astounded by birth
With the resurgence of growth
Even in death we shall be astounded by birth
Bearing the cares of our goals

– “Conquistador I” by Juno Reactor from their album Labyrinth

I thought it was befitting to end Book I with a very cool piece of music that has lyrics in Latin. My favourite track from Final Fantasy VIII is Nobuo Uematsu’s richly orchestrated Latin choral piece, “Liberi Fatali”. Except for the line ‘Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec’ which is not Latin, the rest of the lyrics are in actual bona-fide Latin…

[audio:http://www.cheezwhizsensei.net/aon/Isabel.mp3%5D
Isabel, se quedó sin comer
Quizás él le dejó un papel
Escrito con sangre
Para que ella lea cuando sea grande

Cuentan que una vez en el tren
Quiso él volver a Isabel
Pero ya era tarde
La habían llevado a otra parte
con su madre
Atormentado, viaja asustado
Buscando a Isabel
A Isabel le decía que él
Se había ido y no la quería ver
Y así pasó mucho tiempo
Isabel no sabía si era cierto

Hasta que encontró el papel
Lo leyó y por fin pudo saber
Escrito en sangre
Ella lo entendió porque era grande

Tarde o temprano
No será en vano
Abrazar a Isabel
A Isabel, a Isabel

–Juana Molina–

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
01.07.01 AU

After an almost sleepless night, I spent the best part of today trying to avoid Seifer. Perhaps I’m being cowardly, but I want my life to resume its sense of normalcy, teaching my classes, catching the occasional movie in Balamb with Selph and Rinoa. These are all things I know and understand. They make me feel that I have some measure of control over my life. I want that quiet life back! The life I had before his return to Garden, before knowing how shattering his touch and his kisses can be …Before I discovered my body had a will of its own, separate from that of my poor confused mind…

I met Selph and Rinoa for lunch today, and our conversation went to yesterday’s celebration party. It was unavoidable. I sincerely congratulated Selphie for organizing such a great event. And of course, the talk went to how great Irv and Seifer looked in their SeeD uniforms. Desperate to avoid talking about Seifer, I deliberately teased Selphie about Irvine wearing his uniform with his signature leather hat… She giggled and told us that she did try to convince that sharpshooter to attend the party without it, but of course did not succeed. Rinoa wanted to know if Irv wore that thing to bed. To our great surprise, Selph didn’t bother with a reply but winked at us! (She usually gives us too much information about her life with Irvine!)

It completely weirds me out that those two didn’t ask me anything at all about what they witnessed so avidly yesterday …What’s going on? Why do I feel like they’re waiting for something to happen? I mean, we talked just about everybody else… We speculated on how much longer either Spade or Nida would wait to officially become engaged. After all they are both SeeD and Sam has already applied to get his instructor’s license (I should know because I’m helping him study for it!). We gossiped about Xu and Jack and how they left the party quite early… And of course we talked about Zell and Susana! Rinoa remarked that they made a cute couple, but Selphie hit it right on the nail, as usual, by saying that in her opinion, Zell had acted more like a brother than a lover towards Susana throughout the entire night!

Now that I think about how they interacted with each other, I can see what Selph meant… Susana danced with that guy Darryl Stevenson quite a few times, but Zell didn’t seem to mind it at all. In fact, he paid more attention to Ma Dincht, Matron and even Dr. Kadowaki than he did to his date! He wasn’t mean to her or anything …He just didn’t act very boyfriend like towards her at all! I had thought at the time that he was just being shy, but my mind was so busy wondering about Sasha Tavares and her family that my thinking processes must’ve completely failed me! I mean, the Zell I know might be ‘shy’, but he has all the subtlety of a T-Rex! If he were interested in someone, everyone would know about it big time!

Are we putting too much pressure on Zell? I know Susana likes him, but how about him? At first I truly thought it was Zell being dimwitted about it, but now that I’ve had a chance to see the both of them together… I’m not so sure what to think! Did they even dance? We want Zell to be happy, but can you push a person to be happy?

I’m just about exhausted! All this unnecessary worry about avoiding Seifer only to be told by Rinoa that Seifer had agreed to escort the Tavares back to Centra! …But why would he do that? (I was under the impression that he didn’t like Sasha …Could I be wrong?!?)

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
02.07.01 AU

This is a recurring dream…

We’re all battling Ultimecia in her castle, before we deal out the blow that will finish her off, she suddenly transforms into Matron. Not Matron in her sorceress garb, but our Matron. The long-haired kindly-faced lady that raised us and always took care of us with a quiet smile on her face. Except that in my dream she’s not smiling. She’s entreating us to kill her …There are tears running down her face… I begin to scream at the others, “Stop! It’s Matron! Stop!” but no one hears me …And then, a force I cannot control takes hold of my hand and makes me crack my whip at her …Over and over, again and again…

That’s when I wake up all shaken and sweaty, my face wet with tears. I look around my darkened room, and I need to always suppress the urge to run into Matron’s quarters so I can check that she’s still there, sleeping peacefully. Safely. Not lying on a pool of her own blood… Mutilated and stricken down by her own children!

At times like this, I need to get out of bed, need to take several calming breaths. I have to turn on all the lights I possibly can, to chase away the shadows. Go to the bathroom. Splash my face with cold water. Avoid looking at myself reflected on the mirror…

I can state this with absolute certainty. The decision I took with the others of fighting Matron to save the world… I would not, could not take today. Now that I have a better understanding of Shiva, I think that perhaps our GFs selectively took over all our childhood memories of Matron and of each other on purpose, to protect us, because they knew what we had to face. To fight an absolute stranger for whom you have no feeling whatsoever, is not the same as fighting someone who clothed you, fed you, and loved you…

I think back to when we made that fateful resolution back in Trabia Garden’s basketball court, when Irv told us who it was that we were fighting… After hearing what he had to say I suddenly remembered Matron, but it was like recalling the image of a kind stranger. I saw myself and the others as children, but again they were just images of people I barely knew. My feelings were not involved. I was eighteen at the time… Now I’m almost twenty. We were so young at the time! We are still young! But somehow I feel like I’ve aged an entire century.

I know that Ultimecia got a hold of Seifer by releasing all his childhood memories of Matron. What did it feel like to be flooded by all those suppressed feelings, all pouring back into him at the same time? I knew that when Irv’s memories were still intact, he’d found it impossible to shoot Matron. A veteran sniper at only seventeen, Irvine had been paralyzed, unable to function. It was only after he junctioned a GF that he found it possible to make the decision to fight Matron…

And I think about this twisted creature that is Sorceress Ultimecia… A being that is yet to be born, but we have already killed her… I pity her. I pity Ultimecia. She was victimized, and like many before her became like her torturers, became like the people who sought to destroy her. In her path for revenge, she annihilated everything and everyone, unable to stop herself. Soon, there was nothing left except bitterness, and the unquenched desire to destroy, to punish those who had wronged her. (Although they had long been exterminated by her own hand)

I wonder if the others realize that no matter how many times we kill Ultimecia, she will always be lurking in the future? Ultimecia signifies the end of History. To eliminate her would mean that we can also get rid of sunrise and sunset, and all the cycles of the moon… Oh! Why do I even bother thinking about something like this!?

I’m just so pathetic. I can hide it from the others, but I can’t hide this truth from myself.

About Matron, there’s simply something very perverse about the idea of destroying what we love in order to save something else that we value… I’m so confused.

The whole of today I felt drained and tired. I must’ve looked real bad, because Rinoa and Selphie kept casting me worried looks throughout the entire day… They are both very busy but at dinner they suggested we go to Balamb the day after tomorrow to check out this new movie “Written In Blood” at the Art House Cinema … Even Zell and Irvine offered to come! It humbles me to know how much my friends truly love me! To hear them gush about a small budget movie that they would normally never go watch in a million years… (They’re all into the big budget Trabian action films!)

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
03.07.01 AU

Another restless night… Honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I managed to fall asleep, but my dreams must’ve been plagued with that same old recurring nightmare because I woke up feeling really tired… It’s been a while since I’ve had this much trouble sleeping. I’ve never told anyone about this nightmare, specially not Matron. I wonder what could’ve possibly triggered it?

I need to get my act together! The others haven’t said anything to me, but everyone has been walking on eggshells whenever I’m around… I just wish they’d come out and voice their worry out loud! I guess they’re not used to seeing me being such a wimp, but I can’t seem to help myself lately…

At the end of the day, as I entered my quarters, I was thinking to myself that at least Seifer was not around to plague me with his impossible demands, when I saw him lounging on my bed! (Has my bed always been this small?) Annoyed at his intrusion, I wanted to know how he got inside my room! (Wasn’t he supposed to be with the Tavares on Centra?) Instead of answering my question, he stared at me and frowned. Getting off my bed to tower over me he asked in a demanding tone, “What the fuck is going on, Trepe? You look like hell!”

I took a step back until I realized what I was doing. Refusing to let him intimidate me, I stood my ground and frowned right back at him. I ignored his unflattering comment, and asked him again in the same aggressive tone he used with me what he was doing in my room and how he got in it! To my surprise, although he was still scowling, he told me that it wasn’t very hard to hack into Garden’s security to access the codes used to lock the rooms! He’d done it before, just for the fun of it! (Hyne! Is nothing sacred to him?) I folded my arms over my chest and looked at him repressively, all the time lecturing him about how wrong it was to invade other people’s private space when he interrupted my diatribe by saying, “I’d like an answer to my question, Instructor.”

I knew exactly the question to which he was referring. For a split second I really considered acting dumb, but I knew he would never let me get away with it. I was also irritated at the way he called me ‘Instructor’. (At least he’d called me ‘Quistis’ the first time!) I stalked to the foot of my bed putting some distance between us, and told him that his question didn’t deserve an answer! I also wanted him to leave my room and to leave me in peace. I told him he was a damned SeeD now, same as me. I mean, I had tried to be a mentor to him, I’ve tried to be his friend! What more did he want from me?

He looked at me with his usual smirk and said, “You don’t get it do you, Trepe?”

To my great consternation, he crowded me into a corner, his palms were on each side of my head while his face was uncomfortably near mine. He wasn’t touching me, but I felt suffused by such an intense heat. For the first time in days, my body felt alive! I damned myself and my own weakness. Mesmerized, I could only stared up into his darkened eyes to whisper, “Seifer, I’ve offered you everything I have of value and you’ve rejected all of it…” The wall probably has an imprint of my body, I was pressing myself so hard against it, trying desperately not to let him overwhelm me…

His eyes met mine for a second before he bent his head so that his lips were almost grazing my left ear. Lowering his voice he murmured, “We’ll play it your way, Trepe …But don’t make me wait too long…” The sound of his deep masculine voice inevitably sent shivers coursing down my spine. Then, he moved his head until his mouth was only a breath away from mine. I closed my eyes expecting the inevitable. “…I might lose my patience.” Soon after he said that, I felt the loss of his incredible body heat. I heard the door glide open and close. He was gone.

I needed to take a deep calming breath, I felt so undone by him. I also needed to take a very cold shower…

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
04.07.01 AU

After the little brush I had with Seifer last night, I had expected to spend another sleepless night, but I was able to sleep the whole night through. No nightmares! I can’t say I woke up feeling completely refreshed, but at least I wasn’t feeling tired! It’s amazing how being able to sleep gives one a more positive outlook.

I was somewhat surprised and greatly touched to have Squall join us for the movies this afternoon! I must’ve looked real bad these past few days! At least this time I didn’t have to deal with unwelcome lecherous advances, because I was seated between Zell and Rinoa. The movie itself was a pretty straight forward story of a little girl called ‘Isabel’ who is separated from her father. We are never told how this came about as the story focuses on how the child deals with this loss and how it affects her as she grows up. All we are shown is the opening sequence, where you see a man frantically trying to jump out of a train. The scene then changes abruptly to the head shot of a little girl staring at the camera with large sad eyes as she’s told that her father had taken the train and left her behind…

I’m not sure what the others thought about the movie, but personally I found it very hard to watch… For some reason, that child ‘Isabel’ became me. I was being abandoned and rejected all over again! All the suppressed feelings I have roiling inside me somehow rose to the surface with this movie…

I don’t know how I managed to keep it together until the return to Garden. I just don’t know what to do anymore with all these feelings I carry around! Seifer! He’s asking too much of me! Doesn’t he know what an incomplete person I am? How broken I happen to be inside? In the end, if I give in to him, he’ll abandon me like all the rest. It was hard enough when Squall rejected me, if I allow this to happen with Seifer …I know I would be shattered forever.

Sometimes, when I go for a stroll at the marina in Balamb City, I look at the people there. I see them talking and laughing with each other, and I wish with all my heart I could be them! They seem so carefree… so light-hearted… Their memories are intact. They are complete…

Even if they bring me pain, even if they make me suffer, I wish I could have all of my memories back so I can be whole again…

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
05.07.01 AU

During breakfast today, Irv casually remarked that Seifer had left early this morning on a mission to Esthar at Laguna’s express request, but did not elaborate more. (I was both relieved and disappointed at the same time! Hyne! I think I’m ready for the nuthouse!) Irvine was wondering out loud when he would be going on a mission as well, when we heard our names called over the PA. It was Xu’s voice asking us to report to the Headmaster’s office immediately.

The meeting was pretty brief. The monsters created by Lunar Cry were once again being unmanageable and we were being hired by the Free Republic of Timber to help them with some monster clean up. Two of their main towns, Mandy and Roshfall, were overrun and they wanted some help with the monsters attacking the outskirts of Timber City as well. Irv was to lead a team into Mandy, and Priya Dephta would lead another into Roshfall. I was to lead the team going to Timber City, as well as to oversee the entire operation.

It sounded complicated but it was an easy enough task. It was the best way to send out rookie SeeDs on missions under the supervision of the more experienced ones. Irvine would’ve been more than enough to handle the entire operation… But I suppose it would be in bad form to make someone who just made SeeD less than two weeks ago squad leader. Moreover, it would give me something to do. Since Instructor Aki has kindly taken over teaching my classes until the end of term, I feel like I’ve too much idle time in my hands…

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
11.07.01 AU

I’m so glad to be back in B-Garden!

Timber was a complete fiasco for me! I wasn’t able to do a damned thing except to coordinate the mission from inside my hotel room! I was mobbed everywhere I went! And by extension, members of my team were equally mobbed, which meant we were not able to do our job!!! Hyne! Does the media have me confused with some kind of famous actress or singer??? It didn’t help that Zone came over for a friendly visit… I think every single radio station and television channel in the country televised their President entering my hotel! I thought the hotel security was pretty good, but one reporter snuck in and took footage of Zone entering my room… After that, it was like a media circus…

Thanks Hyne, Spade was in my team. I contacted Priya and asked her to bring her team over to the outskirts of Timber City. I redeployed my own team with Sam acting as their leader to Roshfall. Irv’s team suffered no disruptions, so they were able to complete their job ahead of schedule. Although I was forced out of the actual fighting, at least I was able to supervise our mission and to complete it s successfully!

Heard from both Matron and Rinoa that Seifer’s not back from Esthar yet. I wonder what kind of mission they sent him on?

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
12.07.01 AU

I was glad I went to Timber after all! It has put me on a more even keel. I guess I needed to get out of Garden!

Today, I finally I got to sit down and spend some quality time with Irv so he could recount to me what happened at the Centra mission after I passed out. He was happy because the Timber mission increased his ranking by quite a bit! I bet that’s the main reason why Seifer was sent by himself to Esthar. After all, their ranking does not really reflect their experience, and I know Seifer would make short work of any SeeD who might tried to order him around if he considered that person’s prowess to be inferior, regardless of actual rank…

I’d already submitted to the Headmaster a somewhat less than detailed version of the Centra mission, but he wanted to let that version stand in the public record. The official report just summarizes that we found the remains of the three Centran agents (The samples we brought back identifies them) who had been incinerated by a Ruby Dragon, and that somehow we stumbled upon Sasha Tavares in a room… There’s no mention anywhere in the official report of the inscriptions or the hidden passage we found in Odin’s Chamber, and definitely no mention whatsoever of Hephaestus and what he instructed us to do…

Instead, the Headmaster wanted me to keep an unofficial account of it in my own personal field journal… At his suggestion, I was to question either Seifer or Irvine on mission details from the moment I lost consciousness. This is Irvine’s account of what happened to them:

After they left that little room with Sasha hoisted on his shoulder, and myself on Seifer’s (Hyne, I’m glad I was unconscious!), they proceeded into that huge atrium only to interrupt what seemed to be like some kind of ritual they were performing around a strange looking chalice placed in the middle of an altar. There was a yellowish-brown smoke swirling around the cup and it was slowly enveloping the altar, when Seifer and Irvine were spotted.

Irv swears that the three figures he saw standing next to a heavily masked one, were the Centrans we’ve been searching for: Patricia Barofsky, Galen Tierce and Conrad Knipper. The three of them were wearing robes similar to those worn by Sasha, but what really caught his attention, apart from their deadly pale faces and sunken eyes, were the wicked red scars that ran across their throat going from ear to ear and the perpendicular incision that started in the middle of their jaw and went all the way down. He didn’t how further down because of their robes.

Irvine was really creeped out by those sinister wounds, and by the fact that they didn’t move with the same jerky movements one usually associates with undead creatures. These moved with such great swiftness and agility that at first he’d been fooled thinking that they were still somehow alive, and he had trouble processing what Seifer was telling him, but he was glad that he took Seifer’s words at face value, otherwise he didn’t think he would here telling me about them!

One of them, he thinks it was Galen Tierce (or his shell), tried to skewer him with a very strange looking lance, but thanks to Seifer’s warning he jumped out of the way on time! Irv says that I gained enough consciousness to guide them to the correct door and thus giving them some extra time… However, I don’t remember doing that… Apparently, I also managed to cast Mighty Guard on our group, which in Irvine’s opinion saved their lives, because they’d almost gained the exit when Catastrophe was cast by the masked figure. The barrier generated by my blue magic cushioned all of us from the worst of that powerful magical blast.

Ironically, the strength of the spell hurled all of us outside and also sealed the entrance to the cave-like structure! Although they took quite a bit of damage, they were able to cure themselves and place as much distance as possible between us and the temple-like structure. Then Irv paused a bit in his account to look at me strangely and say, “Y’know Quisty? Even after we trekked for quite a while, we were still surrounded by a blue sheen that kept regeneratin’ us… Also float made it easier for us to carry you and climb down the mountain…” I looked back at him, lifted my arms and shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t understand it any better than he did how my blue magic became so powerful. I don’t even know if it would have the same effect now!

Anyways, he and Seifer finally paused to take stock of their surroundings, and realized that they were quite high up on some sort of hilly path almost entirely hidden by overgrown bushes. The path seemed to be sloping steadily downward. They had no idea where they could be, nothing seemed familiar to them. All they could do was assume that they were still somewhere in the Centra continent, because the terrain they were traversing was similar to the one around the Centra Ruins. After what seemed to Irvine like hours of descending the mountain path, they were getting ready to set-up a makeshift camp when we were spotted by the others onboard the Ragnarok and brought back to B-Garden.

Irvine concluded his narrative by telling me that had it not been for Seifer’s sheer determination to get us out, none of us would be here to talk about it. I suppose it says a lot about Seifer’s leadership qualities when someone like Irvine is willing to take his direction without question. On the other hand, when I think about the risks those two took… It could just be the case of one loose-cannon admiring the other! In any case, one thing is very clear, both Seifer and Irvine became good friends sometime during the mission.

The talk with Irvine made me think about all the unresolved items we brought back from the mission! A huge one was Sasha Tavares (Okay, I admit it, I’m becoming obsessed with her…) Why did she call me blue witch? Why did she refer to Seifer as Knight?(This part troubles me the most…) Didn’t Hephaestus call us the same when he was released?
What did the GF mean about lineage? What lineage?

When I asked her once about how I got to be in the orphanage, Matron told me that I was left on her doorstep when I was barely two. As it is, I don’t really know when my ‘real’ birthday happens to be since October 4th is the date Matron found me… And Seifer? She’d had him since he was a baby… The others came a bit later…

So many confusing thoughts I need to process…

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
13.07.01 AU

For no reason whatsoever, Zone suddenly popped into my mind! It could be because I saw him last week! Poor guy! Talk about unrequited love! Even after all this time, he carries a torch for Rinoa. When I gave him the handwritten note she wrote him, he suddenly broke down and cried on my shoulder! I consoled him the best I could, even to the extent of agreeing to have dinner with him. (In spite of all the media attention!) Of course, the picture of us having dinner together was plastered all over! Hyne! Don’t people have anything else to do, but gaze into a stranger’s life?

The weirdest thing about that entire experience was Rinoa’s teasing when she showed pictures of me having dinner with Zone in some glossy gossipy magazine! If she only knew that I spent the entire evening telling Zone that she was happy with Squall and that he needed to move on! As a matter of fact, Zone asked me if I would have dinner with him again, but I decided that I’ve already fulfilled my duty to him as a friend, and that one harrowing experience with the media was more than enough!

This afternoon I met with Irv again, but this time it was to plan Selphie’s upcoming surprise birthday party! Wow, time sure flies by fast! It was Susana’s turn at the front desk in the library so she let us have our meet there. (It’s a known fact that Selph will come to the library only when absolutely necessary) I was the last arrival, because everybody else was already there!

After the meeting, I have a new appreciation of Selphie’s organizational skills! I was asked to organize the party, but I tactfully suggested that perhaps Rinoa would be better suited for the job since she’s normally Selph’s second-in-command. I sighed in relief when the others agreed with me. After that, I promptly agreed to help Rinoa with the coordination detail. We stationed Raijin by the door to make sure that Selph would not descend on us unexpectedly (Though highly doubtful –we are in the library).

I hope we can surprise Selphie! We assigned Irv the job of keeping her busy…

Seifer’s still in Esthar. I wonder if he will make it on time for Selphie’s birthday? I know she would be very disappointed if he missed her party…

– – – – – – – – – –

Quistis’s Journal Entry
14.07.01 AU

I went into Dr. Kadowaki’s office today and for the first time she was by herself and not mending someone. (Lunar Cry seems to be getting progressively worse!) Still, respectful of her privacy, I knocked slightly on the door to alert her of my presence. She turned swiftly and upon seeing me greeted me with a wide smile. It’s been a while since we’ve had a nice long chat together!

I should’ve known better than to think she would just allow to sit down for nice chit-chat! She did talk to me but she also gave me a complete physical at the same time! After she was satisfied that I was completely recovered, she looked at me shrewdly and asked, “You want to know about Sasha Tavares?” Without waiting for my assent, she went to her terminal and typed in a couple of commands, once she finished doing that, she smiled at me and said, “I knew that you would ask me at some point, so I prepared a complete report on her physiology. Oh, I also added some extra data on that drug ‘Bliss’ and it’s cheaper counterpart ‘Bash’.” After saying that, she handed me the chip that shot out of her terminal.

Ah! Dr. Kadowaki you’re such an amazing person, it’s now wonder you’re so popular in B-Garden!

….

§


– Galbadia, Grand Minos Hotel and Spa Honeymoon Suite 03 –

Gabriel looked up from reading his mother’s journal. He hadn’t realized that his normally calm and collected mom had been such a mess of nerves in the past, but then she had some real major issues to deal with… One of them being his own father!

He gazed pensively at Ahnyang’s sleeping figure on the huge king-sized bed. In some ways he understood what his father must’ve gone through. Hideyoshi was such a mystery to him… So hot and passionate at times, and yet so formal and standoffish at others, not unlike his mother’s reaction to his father. He might be able to bury himself as deeply as he could inside Hideyoshi’s body, but her psyque remained an elusive thing… It really shouldn’t bother him, but it did.

He wondered how his father felt about his mother’s erratic behaviour and how he dealt with it. The fact that he existed was testimony enough that they eventually worked out their differences…

In any case, one thing had become disturbingly clear as he had read on: In the past his mother had been in danger because of her inherent blue magic abilities and somehow Sasha Tavares had been involved. But he was more worried about the present… Was it mere coincidence that he spotted Councilman Tavares just mere hours before the attack on Wallace? Both his father and Uncle Squall had been greatly troubled by his presence when he reported it… More importantly, was his mother in danger? And by extension, was Ella in danger as well? They were both so called ‘blue witches’. Why were they so important? Reading his mother’s journal only left him with more questions and no answers whatsoever!

He was also greatly bothered by the wording of all the inscriptions his mother had found during their Centra mission, specially by the one that contained the words found on Wallace’s belly:

‘Impia tortorum longos hic turba furores’
‘Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit’

Instead of relying on his mother’s rather amateurish translation, he’d already asked Mole to run the whole lot through the translation algorithm. He had also requested Aunt Zuleima to go over all of them, including the ones that Uncle Irv had recorded inside that strange chamber. If his intuition proved to be correct, they were already looking for another victim. The slashes that the bodies had on them as described by Uncle Irv were almost replicas of the ones found on Wallace: Precise incisions on very specific areas. He wouldn’t be surprised if their heart and liver were also missing. His mother’s journal just confirmed what he had suspected all along, that the incisions were part of a ritual. …But, for what purpose?

Gabriel frowned. Whatever the purpose it would definitely be a nefarious one that for some reason involved his family. He needed to get to the bottom of this quickly! From what he’d just read, an event of cataclysmic proportion happened twenty-two years ago, which went unperceived by normal people, but greatly affected those with magic sensibilities. It made his own mother faint, and if he read the journal correctly, Matron, Aunt Rina and Aunt Ellone were equally affected… However, due to his father’s and Uncle Irvine’s interference the ritual somehow was not completed as it should… And now twenty-two years later a similar event was about to happen…

§ ~ § ~ §

a/n: Translation

Isabel was left hungry
Maybe he left her a note
Written in blood
That she might read when she’s older

They say that once on the train
He tried to return to Isabel
But it was already too late
They had taken her to another place
With her mother
Anguished, he travels frightened
Searching for Isabel

Isabel was told that he
Had left and didn’t want her
And a lot of time went by
Isabel didn’t know if it was true

Until she found the note
She read it and finally knew
Written in blood
She understood because she was older

Sooner or later
It won’t be in vain
To hug Isabel

–Juana Molina–

[audio:http://www.cheezwhizsensei.net/aon/dolor.mp3%5D

¿Desde cuándo te empecé a amar?
¿Desde cuándo te empecé a amar?
La la la la…Oooh, oooh…
Dime cuándo comenzó el dolor
Dime cuándo comenzó el dolor
La la la la…Oooh, oooh…
Amores Perros, amores perros

– Ely Guerra –

– 06.05.23 AU – Balamb Garden SeeD Quarters –

Thin slits of morning sunlight penetrated through the blinds and touched Ahnyang Hideyoshi’s face, stirring her slowly awake. Sighing, she readjusted her cheek on the warmth of her pillow. Hmmn It was so warm and so hard. She heard the steady beat of her own heart, even as she listened to another beat… slowly lulling her back to sleep… HmmnAnother heartbeat… Suddenly her eyes flared open, only to stare at her own hand nestled on the slight blonde fuzz that covered the expanse of a beautifully muscled golden chest. She could feel something solid and heavy draped possessively across her back …and she was, naked? Her mind completely cleared of sleep, she craned her neck up and met the full power of Gabriel Almasy’s deep blue gaze. He was wide awake and was staring at her with amusement…the bastard! ‘Probably used to this,’ She thought sourly.

Ahnyang was in a bit of a dilemma, if she got up he would see her bare breasts, but if she stayed where she was… They happened to be plastered to his naked chest! The choice was taken out of her when a warm hand cradled her face, lifting it for an incredibly hot tongue-thrusting open-mouthed kiss! She was still trying to gather her wits together, when the warm covers were wrenched from her and she felt a hard slap on the butt as he said, “Rise and shine, Hideyoshi! We’re to report to the commander’s office in less than thirty minutes!”

“What!?”

Not caring that she was now giving him a full frontal view of all her charms, she got up on her hands and knees to glare at him and say accusingly, “You bastard! Why didn’t you wake me up sooner!” Then suddenly, she gulped, her eyes the size of saucers as her mouth hung open, her gaze travelling down his body. Gabriel Almasy was standing in front of her completely in the nude and looking supremely unconcerned, as if he did that everyday. Hyne Dammit! The bastard was beautiful! …Everywhere! She felt a blush travel all the way from her hair to her toes as she said to him in a strangled voice, “For Hyne’s sake, cover yourself!”

He just arched an eyebrow over sky-blue eyes. He could feel himself harden as he let his gaze travel lazily over her smooth nude body in obvious enjoyment, even as he said suavely, “Stop being such a prudish bitch Hideyoshi, specially after last night …unless …that pose happens to be an invitation?” Ahnyang had been so fascinated staring at his body that she hadn’t realized that she was kneeling on all fours. With a suppressed oath she grabbed the bed sheet he’d tossed so carelessly aside, and proceeded to cover herself with it. “Bastard! You did that on purpose!” In her struggles to wound the large sheet completely around her slender frame and to tame her long hair which was trailing wildly all over the place, she failed to notice that Gabriel had finished dressing and was closing in on her.

“W-What? …What the hell are you doing!? … Almasy! …Let me dowmmmMMmm … hmmn … …” The sheet was wrenched from her body a second time, and a pair of brawny arms scooped her up carrying her to the bathroom. Once there, her mouth was seized again for another searing kiss, before he allowed her on her feet, “Shut up and shower, Hideyoshi. You have less than twenty minutes now to report to duty.”

After saying that, he left.

§ ~ § ~ §

–Balamb Garden, Gabriel Almasy’s Quarters–

He’d broken a cardinal rule he’d set out for himself: Not to get involved with anyone in Garden! It was just not worth all the trouble! How the fuck did he allow it to happen!? And with someone who was best friends with Meijin and Sylvie! He knew from the moment he’d set eyes on her that she’d be trouble, but now that he’d had a taste of her… there was no fucking way he’d stop himself from going back for a second helping …and many more. Many, many more.

She’d intrigued him from day one, but he’d thought –arrogantly– that he had everything under control. When he found himself thinking about her in the middle of a mission for no reason whatsoever, he knew he was in trouble. The attraction between the two of them was potent. Maybe had it just been him, it would’ve been easier to resist, but she’d wanted him too. Gabriel grimaced when he thought of Foehn. He hoped he didn’t have to hurt his childhood friend… He decided to tell Foehn that from today on, Hideyoshi was off limits.

It hadn’t been his original intention to spend the night in her bed, hell, all he’d wanted was to alert her of their mission and their meeting with the Commander, but somehow he got sidetracked …It must’ve been the sight of all that dark inky hair streaming down that luscious body and the heat that had flashed out of those almond eyes …and now that it had happened he didn’t regret it. The bitch was hot! She’d been so aggressive that it had surprised him to find her intact, but then…with her sour disposition… Who would’ve dared? He’d had to restrain her when she’d slammed herself down his full length. The feel of her was indescribable! He’d noticed her grimace of pain when he felt her barrier give way. It had taken all of his control to force her to stop, to allow her body the time to adjust to his deep penetration, when all he truly wanted was for her to ride him wildly… In any case, she’d be sore today for sure. Too bad about that, he wouldn’t have minded giving her a practical demonstration of the wonders of showering together… ‘I wouldn’t be taking this cold shower now…’

Gabriel stepped out of the shower and towelled himself dry. In less than five minutes he was fully dressed in his SeeD uniform and halfway to the Commander’s office.

§ ~ § ~ §

– Balamb Garden Ahnyang Hideyoshi’s Quarters –

Ahnyang took a careful inventory of herself in the shower. Apart from feeling a very distinct soreness between her thighs and the presence of muscles she’d never felt before, she seemed to be all in one piece. She’d expected some pain, but the sharp sting of his penetration had surprised her, Humphperhaps it shouldn’t have …now she knew the bastard was impressive everywhere. She let the warm shower water pour down her face, and down her body… Hyne! She’d allowed that bastard to fuck her brains out last night.

Of course she’d been attracted to him from the very first meeting. The force of the attraction had shocked her. She’d been attracted to other people before, but the mild curiosity that had characterized such attachments usually faded when she got to know them better. Not so with that bastard, his pull on her senses was devastating, outside the realm of reason and logic! In the beginning she’d tagged it onto his good looks, Sighsuch an old excuse, not to mention a lame one as well… But she’d been in the middle of a mission, she didn’t have the time to be mooning over her squad leader, of all people! Maybe had theirs been a normal team-leader to team-member relationship, she wouldn’t had reacted so badly to his criticisms. She’d worked with total assholes before and their comments had not ever bothered her. She’d just done her job and let her record stand for itself, but apparently unsatisfied lust made things more complicated.

She should’ve known better than to follow him out of the cafeteria yesterday, but her curiosity had been her undoing…

They’d walked in silence until they reached the relative seclusion of the Eastern Quad, which had a view of the mountains. Most people preferred the other Quad, because of its breathtaking view of the sea. As they were walking, Ahnyang felt the stares of people; some were curious, many envious…

“Don’t let it bother you.”

There was a distinct undertone of amusement in Gabriel’s voice.

“How can you stand it?”

She’d looked up at his impassive face curiously. He’d shrugged powerful shoulders.

“You get used to it.”

They stopped when they reached the observatory, beneath the shade of a massive tree.

“Well?” She prompted, they were there at his request. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for his answer. It was swift in coming. Almasy was not known for his timidity, if anything he was known in Garden for tackling problems head on.

“We’ll probably have to work with each other again in the future, don’t you think we should clear up some issues between us?”

She’d been staring off into the distance trying to act cool, but the moment she heard his question and the emphatic way he said ‘issues’ she’d known immediately what he meant; however, she chose to ignore it because she hadn’t wanted to deal with the situation yet. Apart from the occasional glimpse in the cafeteria, they had successfully managed to avoid each other ever since their return to Garden. She turned to look into his face.

“Name one, Almasy.”

She knew she was not being very cooperative, his eyes had narrowed in obvious displeasure.

“Allow me to show you instead…”

Quick as lightning, he seized her waist with his arm pulling her body flush against his, trapping her hands, which she had held up in pure reflex, against his chest. His other hand held her head in place as his mouth descended on hers. As with his previous kiss, a wave of pure pleasure coursed down her veins, making her open her mouth wider to allow him to deepen the caress. A few seconds later, he raised his head but did not relinquish his hold on her.

“Do you get it now?”

“No. I need you to show me more.”

Standing on her toes, she’d reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck drawing his golden head down to hers for another sizzling kiss.


She shook her head at the hot memory. They would’ve probably gone further than a little kissing had Gabriel not been interrupted by the incessant blip of his comm unit. His sister had been injured, but Dr. Kadowaki had taken care of everything, he just needed to notify the commander and his parents. Ahnyang blushed when she remembered the kiss he’d given her before he left…

What was it about Almasy? All the bastard had to do was look at her to turn to mush! Like last night, he’d come over to let her know about their new mission and somehow they had ended up all over each other… In spite of herself, she felt a blush suffusing her face, the incredible explosion of the senses had been so unexpected, had he not smothered her cry with his mouth, all of Garden would’ve heard! …‘Shit, Hideyoshi! Pull yourself together, you’ve got a meet with Commander Squall in less than ten minutes!’

Ahnyang sighed, there was no point in obsessing over the bastard or in trying to figure out the why or how it happened because it already did… The saddest part of it all was that she might be joining the ranks of all those people who lusted after the arrogant jerk …Except that she’d rather kiss a Malboro than allowing him or anyone else know about it!

§ ~ § ~ §

– Balamb Garden, by the Central Library –

Gabriel made his way to the set of stairs that would lead to the main lift, his mind already on logistics of the mission ahead. They would probably be boarding the afternoon bullet train express from Balamb to Deling, and from Deling rent a vehicle to get to the town of Minos. They should be checking into the hotel by late afternoon, at the latest. As he waited for the lift, he spotted Hideyoshi hurrying to catch up with him. Scoff In typical fashion, she was wearing the male version of the SeeD uniform. Who was she fucking trying to fool?

“Hideyoshi, I see you made it on time.”

That only got him a glare from her.

“Not thanks to you, Almasy.”

The elevator doors glided open and they both went inside. They rode the lift up to the Commander’s office in absolute silence. Ahnyang tried to not look at him. She knew that if she did something stupid would happen, like her blushing as she recalled all the things they did last night. Gabriel fixed his eyes on her, and thought that she looked like a damn model for the SeeD regulation manual! Her long hair was once again restrained in a long braid. Her uniform starched to death and in pristine condition. She was gazing straight ahead. If he had the time he would’ve loved to make her look dishevelled, but the elevator doors were already gliding open into the receiving area before the Commander’s office.

“Hey, Gabe! Hello, Ahnyang! The commander’s waiting for you.”

“Good morning, sir!”

“ ‘Morning Ren! Do I smell coffee brewing around here?”

“Sure! Help yourself to a cup, boy!”

Gabriel smiled at Reinaldo Zuleiga, the SeeD that acted as assistant to B-Garden’s Commander. He used to be ‘Club’, a member of his mother’s legendary C.C. group, and the best babysitter ever! Good ol’ Ren would practically let all the children under his supervision do anything they wanted.

Ahnyang stared at the easy relationship Almasy had with the commander’s secretary, ‘Of course, he practically grew up here!’…

“How ‘bout you Hideyoshi? Want a cup?”

She snapped out of her reverie, “No. Thank you.”

Gabriel frowned at her formal manner, but before he could say anything, the door to the commander’s office opened and Squall was there inviting them inside.

“Ahnyang, Gabriel, come inside!”

As they entered the commander’s office he could sense Hideyoshi becoming stiffer beside him. Curious he looked in her direction and his eyes widened when he spotted Aunt Xu. He couldn’t help but blurt out.

“Aunt Xu! What’re you doing here?”

She smiled at him and replied, “What? I can’t come over and check-out the hottest guy in Garden?”

To his great annoyance, he blushed at her bluntness even as he inclined his head so the petite woman could give him a loud smack on the cheek.

“Xu, I don’t need to introduce the other member of this mission.”

Ahnyang bowed deeply and said stiffly, “Mother. Commander Leonhart.”

The effusive Xu became serious and just nodded a greeting at her own daughter, ignoring the obvious surprise in Gabriel’s beautiful blue eyes. However, her eyes narrowed ever so slightly when she noticed the body language between Gabriel and her daughter. Was she imagining things or did Gabe just move his body protectively closer to Ahnyang’s? ‘Oh, well …Che sera, sera…’

“Gabe, I was entrusted by your mother to deliver this to you in person.” She grabbed his hand and pressed a microchip onto his palm. “Quistis wants you to read it with great care.”

Gabriel stared at the tiny object on the palm of his hand and knew what she was referring to: his mother’s journal. He just nodded his head without saying anything, he was still reeling from the shock of finding out that she was Xu’s daughter! Hideyoshi was not an uncommon name in Trabia, so he’d never even associated them together. She didn’t look even remotely like Aunt Xu! Squall interrupted his thoughts with his clipped voice.

“Now, for mission details…”

§

…Afterwards

They were walking together in silence. After the meeting, when they have left Squall conferring with Xu, Ahnyang had tried to put a distance between them but he had stopped that by simply clamping his hand on her upper arm. She’d tried to pry her arm loose, but had been unsuccessful. It was obvious that glaring at him would accomplish nothing, so she’d just let herself be steered into the cafeteria. She was immensely thankful that it was sufficiently early for the crowd here to be quite thin.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He hadn’t spoken a word to her until now.

“Tell you what?”

“That you were Xu’s daughter.”

“I wasn’t aware that it was a secret.”

“You don’t look like her.”

She didn’t reply, but tried to shake loose from his hold again. To her surprise, he released her, then she realized they were at the counter. One of the ladies there winked flirtatiously at him, before looking at her inquiringly.

“Coffee and toast, please.”

“You need to eat more than that Hideyoshi if you want to keep up with me.”

She ignored his innuendo and grabbed her tray. She sat on the first empty table she saw, hoping that he would sit elsewhere, like on that other table with those two girls who’d been drooling at him ever since he’d entered the cafeteria. Not a chance. A tray filled to the brim with food and drink was deposited beside hers. Ignoring the empty seat in front, he chose to sit on the one right next to her. She stared daggers at him, the cafeteria might not be as busy as usual, but the few people that were there were all staring at the two of them. She didn’t appreciate the attention. He just ate unconcernedly.

“You’re going to eat or just stare at your food?”

He’d said the last word as if he had doubts about the validity of it. She could only stare at the way he’d polished off his breakfast.

“Where does it go?”

She blurted out before she could help herself. Her outburst caused him to answer her with a slight smirk on his sinfully beautiful face.

“What? You ask me that after last night?”

“Bastard!” She muttered under her breath, of course he heard her. Thankfully, Foehn showed up at their table.

“Hey, guys! Anything good for breakfast?”

He slapped Gabriel on the back and gave Ahnyang a blinding smile. Smiling slightly back at Foehn, she got up and said.

“Time for me to go, I need to get ready fo…HmmnMmm…”

Almasy had gotten up with her, and was giving her a most thorough kiss, right in the middle of the cafeteria, right in front of his friend, right in front of everyone!

“Report to Parking Lot B25 at eleven hundred hours.”

She didn’t want to make a further scene, so with her lips still throbbing from the sizzling kiss she left the cafeteria as swiftly as she could with her head held high. Meanwhile, at the table she’d left, there reigned an absolute silence. Foehn just stared at Gabriel before sighing.

“So it’s like that, huh?” It was more a comment than a question.

Gabriel replied gravely, “Yes.”

Suddenly, Foehn became Foehn again and slapped Gabriel on the shoulder.

“Man! You’re just one lucky dog!”

“Foehn if you slap me again I fucking swear…!”

“Awww, Gabe! Chill, man! Y’know my ol’ man sending me to FRT with Meijin? Man! Maybe I can score with her this time…!”

Gabriel could only stare incredulously at his childhood friend, and wondered not for the first time if his Aunt Rina had been on some kind of hormonal medication before Foehn was born…

§ ~ § ~ §

– Timber Train Station –

“Excuse me, could you tell me when’s the next train to Windhill?”

The woman at the station ticket booth stared in astonishment at the youth asking her the question … Wow! He was so pretty! Those hazel eyes somehow looked familiar, but her sense of professionalism made her direct her thoughts into answering the question of a potential passenger.

“You’ve just missed the afternoon express, lad. The next one leaving won’t be until late this afternoon.”

“Oh, well… I’ll get a ticket for that one then, please.”

She printed out the fare and said, “That’ll be 3,000 gil, lad. The train will be leaving at 4:45 from track ‘D’.”

At the lad’s confused look, she elaborated, “That’s the track located on level 2, just take the elevator and turn to your left.”

The young man paid for his ticket in cash, which was very unusual, “Thank you.”

HumphShe looked at the boy’s retreating back and wondered whether a pretty lad like that one would be visiting his ‘significant other’. She shrugged her shoulders, it was none of her business.

§ ~ § ~ §

– Grandidi City, Ganryu Mansion –

She had given her staff the entire weekend off –sent them all off to the Ganryu retreat at Bika Hot-Springs– . It was the least she could do for them, ‘They’re such a hardworking lot … so loyal, so overprotective of me!’ Her butler, Jomei Hoffmann, with his typical stubbornness had outright refused to take the leave, citing the fact that to leave Mistress Tahera to fend for herself the entire weekend was clearly unseemly, not to mention unworthy of a man of his stature. She had just laughed it off and called Jomei an old codger, too set in his ways… ‘He knows…how could he not know…’

Jomei had loved her for the longest of time, ever since they’d trained together under the tutelage of Master Otsu. When she’d been forced to marry into the Ganryu clan, instead of moving on as she’d begged him –ordered him– to do, Jomei had chosen to be by her side and be her most loyal retainer… No, he’d never been one of her many lovers, but she didn’t regret that– Lovers came and went…she hadn’t wanted to taint what she had with Jomei by taking him as a mere lover, when he was so much more… Her only one great regret would be in not defying her family, and taking the easy road of acquiescence that so many in her situation had done. But that had been in the long forgotten past…

As head of the powerful Ganryu organization, she’d given her niece Fujin her full support when she’d gone against familial wishes and married Raijin Kumo, an orphan of unknown parentage. The Naosu clan hadn’t cared that the young man was an accomplished SeeD, or that Fujin could have interests that were outside those of the immediate family circle. Tahera allowed herself a tiny smile, in the end, time had proven to be Fujin’s greatest ally. The twins Meijin and Rei, both so beautiful so talented, were the darlings of the family. All the Naosus ever did nowadays, during any kind of gathering, was to boast about the twin’s long list of accomplishments as top notch SeeDs.

She took a look around her favourite room, decorated in shades of green, blue and pink. ‘Such a cheerful and lovely place…’ The room contained some of the best pieces in her Tessen and Sensu collection. Slipping her favourite fan out of it’s secret holder inside her left sleeve, she placed the Murasaki back into it’s wall bracket. In time, this fan would go to Meijin, ‘The only one capable of wielding it to full power.’ She still remembered when she’d received the Murasaki from her old master. It had been his way of apologising for doubting her skills with the Tessen, which in his chauvinistic opinion could only be wielded by men. To prove him wrong, she had defeated Jomei, his other star student, with a Tessen.

The Murasaki was indeed a very rare fan, made of phoenix pinions held together with adamantine; it had a secret mechanism that would reveal hidden cactus thorns. It’s very beauty and apparent fragility were very misleading. Light and flexible, it was capable of deflecting the deadliest missiles or the sharpest of blades, and with its sharp cactus thorns the Murasaki was a deadly weapon… A very slight rustle brought Tahera out of her musings. She turned to face the source of the sound.

“Well met, Mistress Ganryu! You never disappoint.”

Suddenly, Tahera found herself surrounded by shadowy figures. She smiled. She could’ve been in the middle of a cocktail party, exchanging pleasantries with other guests.

“I’m flattered by all this attention, none less than from the very top of the ladder!”

“I’m rather saddened that we have to part like this, but traitors must be punished. You do understand, don’t you?” The voice was filled with real regret.

Tahera arched a supercilious eyebrow, every inch the Ganryu Matriarch, “You don’t actually expect me to answer that inane question?”

“Ah, but I shall miss you! Perhaps in death you shall render the service denied to us in life.” And signalled the others to attack.

Tahera smiled again and pushed the hidden remote in her ring, ‘Oh, I don’t think so…’ Before the others could get to her, they were attacked by a myriad of Shruriken. As they jumped to dodge the missiles, they failed to deflect the two carefully placed kaiken blades that pierced through Tahera’s heart and liver making them useless to their cause. A split second before taking her last breath she though, ‘Let that be my atonement, my death shall buy them time.’

§

They found Tahera’s jisei when they uncovered her will:

With no regrets
I close-up my house
Shut the windows
Leave through the open door
Outside, the scent of a thousand blooms
Envelop me as I take the path

§ ~ § ~ §

a/n:
Translation

Since when did I start to love you?
Since when did I start loving you?
La la la la…Oooh, oooh…
Tell me when this painful feeling began
Tell me when this painful feeling started
La la la la…Oooh, oooh…
Love’s a bitch, love’s a bitch

– The song Dime cuándo comenzó el dolor is by Ely Guerra from the soundtrack of Amores Perros

A jisei is a ‘death poem’