Dedicated to Aries. Rest in peace, angel.
Ch 33 – Requiem Of Fledgling Angel
As Zell ran towards Dee and Angel he looked into the distance, seeing the massive dragon highlighted as the only true landmark for miles around, standing out on the horizon. Dammit…if Bahamet can't tell the difference between Squall and Aqual then we're in serious trouble… He thought to himself as he skidded to a halt beside his daughter and girlfriend, sliding on his knees over the smooth glass to arrive beside them.
Reaching out to Dee he tapped her face lightly with his hand, rousing her gently. "Hey sweetie, rise and shine, no time for a nap."
Wincing, Dee sat up as Zell turned to Angel, tapping her face as well. "Wha…what happened? It feels like someone threw a log at my chest…" Dee coughed, blinking hard as she tried to regain her senses.
"You've just been introduced to a Sorceress, Dee…" Zell said urgently, helping Angel sit up as he reached around to a small pack on the back of his tattered and bloodstained pants to pull out three High-Potions. Putting his arm around Angel's shoulders, the girl obviously too dazed to speak, he ripped the cork out of one of the small metal bottle and put it to her lips, helping the liquid go down her throat.
Dee winced again, grabbing one of the two he'd placed on the ground and, ripping it open, drank the contents down swiftly – before blinking as she felt the magical potion breath new life in her limbs. "So…this girl who looks like Rinoa is the woman we've all been looking for? Why aren't we helping Rinoa fight her!"
Zell sighed softly, throwing the bottle in his hands away and watching for Angel to react to the potion. "Because I know, from experience, that we'd get creamed. And not in the nice kinda way – in the totally fucked up kinda way. The only way we won last time was because we had all my friends there – Squall, Rinoa, Quistis, Selphie and Irvine…" He sighed quietly, his voice distant. "What I wouldn't give to have the whole gang here again…"
He blinked suddenly as Angel finally came to, blinking up to Zell. "Where…what happened? Is it over?"
"Nope. It hasn't even begun yet." Zell looked back over his shoulder to Rinoa and the Queen. "We'd better get out of here before they start – I get the feeling this place is going to get very dangerous very fast…"
"No shit." Dee muttered as the massive shadow of a mythical creature blocked the sun from view within the stormy skies – before the enormous clawed foot of Bahamut crashed down around them, the sound of shattering glass and crunching bone filling the air.
Rinoa pulsed a gasp as she looked back to see Zell, Dee and Angel disappear beneath the Dragon King's stomp, the gigantic dragon having simply leapt from it's position half a mile away to land right where the Dinchts had been.
Before her, the Queen smiled a small smile – before her wings suddenly slashed out from beneath her back, the glass beneath her shattering out in the circular pattern as the air grew dense with paramagical energy, her eyes bursting with white-hot fire – before throwing her hands out, using her paramagical energy as a psychic push.
Feeling the sudden, massive increase in paramagical energy, Rinoa whipped her head back around to face the Queen, her wings flaring up – to be hit by the push, the invisible force blowing her right off her feet and spiralling back into the air, wailing pitifully as she did – to slam into Bahamut's stomach, hitting the scaled King's body with enough force to knock the wind out of her – before Bahamut's clawed fist slashed out, smashing her in the wings as she fell forward off his body and sending her straight to the ground.
Hitting the glass with an almighty crunch, Rinoa's scream rang out as she came in contact with the hard ground. Pain she was not used to shot through her body, her wings quivering as she tried to push herself to her hands – before the air around her grew hot, her glowing white eyes widening –
As the Flare hit, the explosion sending shards of glass in all directions as the flames consumed everything within a fifty-foot radius, the sound of the blast causing every loose piece of glass to rattle and shake on the smooth ground.
The Queen laughed out loud, her voice like nectar to any ear that heard it – even Bahamut, the Dragon King, paused to listen to its beauty. This is pitiful… The Queen finally pulsed, her lips closing but her mind speaking. Drawing her hands apart she placed a hand on her hips, a broad smile on her beautiful face. At least have the mental capacity to try and start this duel with what little dignity you have left.
Within the smouldering crater, the melting glass dripping into the cavity within the dirt, a blacked figure finally pushed herself to her feet. That is to say, not exactly to her feet – she was floating just a few inches off the ground, after all. Shaking her head clear of soot, her glowing eyes fierce within her darkened face, Rinoa spread her wings wide, shaking them quickly to get the dirt out of the feathers – before slashing them down, the single downward thrust sending her careening up into the air.
Well, at least you can still fly… The Queen pulsed with a grin before flapping her wings also to take to the skies.
Beneath the two warring Sorceresses, the Dragon King watched them take to the air, flying up and beyond the clouds, it's reptilian head bending up to watch as a brilliant light-show began to play within the stormy skies, flashes of red, blue, black and white creating a kaleidoscope of colours for the GF to enjoy…
- A flash of light from its foot -
Before, without any warning whatsoever, it's leg was suddenly blow off it's footing, causing the dragon to stumble forward to dig one claw-filled hand into the massive sheet of glass surrounding it – before a red gauntlet flew up to crash into the Dragon King's chin, snapping the massive Dragon's head back and sending it smashing into the ground on it's back, a massive squeal of pain and anger rising from it's gullet as it writhed on it's back.
Beneath it, Zell Dincht landed back on the ground, his teeth bared and his fists clenched tightly as an Aura slashed through his body, making it glow a bright yellow. Water dripped off his body as two Dolphins dove back into seawater that had appeared out of nowhere – his Dolphin Blow Limit Break, the magic seawater giving him an edge by using its swell to launch him up into his opponent's face - as well as giving him the dolphins, which appeared to do nothing except look pretty.
When the dragon king had crunched down on top of the Dincht's, it hadn't expected it's size to work to their advantage – instead of crushing them under it's three-toed foot, the three SeeDs had leapt to one side just in time – to land in the space between the dragon's toes, only barely escaping becoming Dincht Pancakes.
Waiting for the Sorceresses to get out of the way, Zell had asked Angel to cast Aura on him – before letting fly.
The Queen had forgotten one important thing when she had flown up after Rinoa.
The Well of Souls.
"Angel! Get the Well!" Zell shouted, pointing towards the lonely looking arcane bucket sitting in the middle of the field of glass. "Dee and I will have to contend with Bahamut!"
Angel was already off running as Dee leapt to Zell's side, looking up at the massive dragon as it screamed, the glass around them shivering from the very resonance of it. "Um…Daddy…how are we going to fight the big dragon again?"
"With our fists, our feet, and our wits, Dee." Zell muttered, all business, the Aura flowing through his veins making him feel like a million Gil, the power of his Limit Break coursing within his body.
"Right…but how are we really going to fight it?"
Zell rolled his eyes and looked at her. "Just punch something, will you?" He asked – before watching as the massive dragon rolled up to it's feet, shaking its scaled body to rid itself of the glass wedged between its scales.- - -
Angel ran with all her might, trying to tell herself not to look back. Zell and Dee can handle it…they're stronger then me…I've got to get the Well out of here…at least then the Queen won't be able to revive anybody with it…
Racing up to the lonely looking arcane bucket sitting in the middle of the shattered glass, Angel skidded to a stop on her knees, slipping over the smooth glass as she swiped up the Well in her arms and rolled her body to reclaim her footing, breaking into a sprint once more without even stopping for breath.
The Well tucked under one arm, her little brown ponytail bobbing behind her as she ran; she shot a quick, nervous glance over her shoulder to her loved ones. "Stay safe…" She whispered…
Back with Bahamut, the Dragon King was having a surprisingly hard time with the two Dinchts. They were so little and fast, it was hard to swipe at them or stomp them into paste – the GF's roars of frustration continued to build in tempo.
Beneath the Dragon Dee leapt to one side again as the massive clawed foot slammed down into the glass around her, her lithe body barely escaping a crushed death. Her mind was reeling with incredulity – she'd never fought a monster before, especially one this big and powerful! Its roars made her ears hurt, the glass beneath her feet vibrating with each ear-splitting reptilian shriek. It's scary visage, the massive wings spanning wide behind it as it looked to and fro to try and find her with its intelligent eyes – she was sure that if it did find her it would eat her.
Thusly she was simply trying to evade it for now, really too scared to attack and bring about its wrath on her.
Zell was a different matter. Leaping out from behind its left ankle suddenly, he smashed his fist into the Dragon's scaled foot, the Uber-Ehrgiez gauntlet ringing out with a metallic clang as metal hit scale – before Bahamut stumbled forward with a look of confusion and shock on its face, its foot blown off balance. Following through with his Aura-powered attacks, Zell approached the beast quickly – to suddenly spin on a heel, his left leg whipping out in a slashing arc to slam into the monster's foot once more, blasting it right off the glass, sending the Dragon careening into the ground with an enormous boom.
"Now, Dee!" Zell shouted as he suddenly began to sprint for the Dragon's face.
Blinking, Dee could only stand, rigid in shock and fear, as the Dragon's clawed hand ripped itself out of the glass-covered ground and slam back into it, causing the earth to tremble as the Dragon pushed itself to its hands and knees – before Zell suddenly appeared beneath it.
Dee's baby-blue eyes widened as she watched her father place both hands on the Dragon's chest, the muscles in his shoulders and arms tensing and flexing, his teeth gritting as his tattoo grew taut, the yellow Aura around his body flaring about him – before he suddenly crouched down – and lifted off, pushing Bahamut right off the ground with him!
Impossible! Dee exclaimed in her mind as she watched the SeeD and the GF fly several stories in the air – before the GF suddenly span about in mid-air – and was rammed into the ground once more, the shockwave blowing Dee off her feet as she threw her hands up to defend her face from loose glass as a crater of immense proportions was created by the Dragon's body as it was slammed into the War-World dirt. The Dragon's shriek of pain rang out over the wide glass plain, every single loose shard of glass shivering as the shriek continued out in all directions…
Before its clawed hand reached up to swipe at its chest – sending a yellow blur flying out into the horizon, the blur wailing in protest before slamming into the ground with an "Oof!"
Rolling over onto its belly once more, the Dragon King pushed itself to its feet – before blinking its reptilian eyes as it felt something crawling on it's back!
Dee could not believe she was doing this as she grabbed another scale and used it to launch herself onto the Dragon's sinewy shoulder, looking right into the yellow eye of the beast – before suddenly slamming her fist into the eye, the eyelids squeezing shut as the Dragon threw it's head back and screamed out with pain, Dee having to hold her hands to her ears to stop her eardrums from exploding – before a clawed hand suddenly swatted her against the shoulder, crushing her against the tough scales, causing her to scream out in immense pain.
Lying limp on Bahamut's shoulder now, Dee could only whimper in dazed protest as the Dragon King picked her up by her leg and, lifting her with it's claws, turned it's head to survey the tiny being with it's good eye, as if to wonder how this insect could cause it so much pain.
Dangling limply, her arms hanging beside her head, Dee opened her light-blue eyes painfully, seeing the gigantic yellow eye inspecting her – before suddenly throwing her left hand out, a shard of Blizzara Ice slashing out – to stab into the Dragon's other eye.
Now blinded, Bahamut threw Dee viciously to the ground, her body digging into the glass-filled dirt as the monster reached up to clutch it's bleeding eye, the sliver of Ice embedded directly into the slitted pupil. It's wail of pain seemed to reach a crescendo as it pinched the sliver between it's claws – and tore it out, purple gore splattering out of the eye before it's clawed hand slammed into it, holding it shut as it slashed it's head to and fro, trying to rid itself of the pain in it's head…
Before a sudden explosion sounded from the horizon, the Dragon King looking up – to suddenly spin on its feet as something fast slashed past it, going at speeds unmeasurable, the yellow blur disappearing in a straight line somewhere on the horizon as a sonic boom rocked the airwaves.
Bahamut was wounded, confused, insulted and angered. These two tiny Gaians were doing more damage then Quezacotl and Alexander put together! Now the Dragon King was blinded and had been spun around, causing it to be very, very confused as to where it was pointing at the moment.
It was at this point that the injured Dee decided to wake up, coughing viciously and rolling onto her back, spitting out some blood and moaning, feeling very-much in pain.
The Dragon could almost sneer, it's fangs beared as it drew it's clawed hands away from it's blind eyes. Following the pitiful, agonised wailing of Dee, the Immortals' blood assailing the Dragon's nostrils at the same time, Bahamut stepped up to the girl with earth-shaking steps before lifting one foot high, the massive heel situated right over Dee's shaking body, blotting out the sun and sending her into almost pitch darkness as she closed her eyes and curled her injured body into a ball, thankful that it was going to be quick…
Before Zell suddenly appeared from nowhere behind Bahamut's pinned leg, his fist buried within the ground as the glass and dirt beneath it exploded outward in a spraying explosion, his body crouched down into the glass. Smoke curled up from his body, the soles of his boots slightly melted from the intense pressure and heat made by the sheer speed he'd just attained…
…Before Zell actually arrived, his fist slamming right into Bahamut's leg, his red gauntlet slamming right through the hard scales, digging through the soft meat and brittle bone within to explode out from the other side.
The sheer power of Zell's My Finale Heaven had blown Bahamut's foot right off and sent the gigantic dragon spinning through the air above Zell to crash into the ground a few meters ahead of the SeeD, the Dragon's body flopping and rolling on the glass-covered floor before finally resting still, it's leg spurting massive gallons of purple blood, it's wings bent and twisted from the roll on the ground, it's arms lying limply by it's sides.
"Was…was that it?" Zell asked himself, ripping his arm out of the ground, wincing as he held the elbow where it had broken in the slap Bahamut had given him previously – before the full extent of My Final Heaven overcame him, Zell's right leg twisting violently to the left, the bone within his thigh snapping from the power it had just put out, unable to withstand the pressure of going from zero to Mach 25 then back. He fell to the ground with a howl, clutching his leg with his good arm, biting his lip to stop himself from crying out anymore as he looked over to see Dee lying limply a few feet away.
The massive sound of a dragon king hitting the shattered glass floor filled the air, dust and glass also invading the free space as the dragon lay on it's back, it's head lolled to one side, it's reptilian tongue hanging loosely from the razor-toothed maw.
They had defeated the Dragon King.
High above them, soaring through the air on wings of crimson, the two Doppelgangers continued their battle above the clouds, their feathered wings beating against the oppressive cold as they slashed through the sparking clouds.
Rinoa flitted to and fro, her body dipping in and out of the cloud, red puffs floating from her exit points as she flew through the crimson skies. When she had exited the cloud for the first time, she had been expecting blue skies – but no. The sky had been a metallic red, filled with the blood of the trillions of bodies down below which had invaded the atmosphere and created a shield of haemoglobin around War World. Wind whistled and howled around here, sound echoing for eons around them.
Her shock had been short-lived, however, as she turned – to watch as a massive pair of wings suddenly slash from the cloud she had exited from – and slam into her, the powerful flying appendages crushing into her body with amazing power. Her breath knocked out of her, she had begun to fall, her dirt-caked hair flapping in the wind as her body began to plummet – before she was suddenly halted mid-fall, stopping in mid-air.
Blinking her smoking white eyes, she looked up – to see her own face, perfect in it's beauty, radiating intense energy from those twin smoking white eyes – before she had been tossed back up into the air, her body spinning wildly, her wings flailing as they tried to find some decent air to purchase on.
Finally halting her rise, she looked down once more – just in time to get hit by the Thundara, the electrical attack causing her entire body to spark and jump, her voice screaming out to the crimson heavens as the power made every muscle jump and twitch – before she suddenly broke free from the power and flew backwards, falling down towards the earth – only to disappear into the clouds. She had been greatful for the cover before she had gagged – it was not a normal cloud made out of condensed water, but of condensed blood, the liquid coating her body and making it wet – before she burst from the cloud coughing and spluttering.
You see, little Sorceress? The Queen had pulsed, her arms crossed under her breasts as her massive wingspan beat behind her, flinging the clouds away from her body, the current created by the beating air making a vacuum beneath her. Our race was created for this. This planet is the proof.
I don't understand…Rinoa had pulsed back, her arms up, prepared for anything – but at the same time trying to push her blood-soaked hair from her face.
…Of course not. The Queen had replied, almost sadly – before pushing her hand out, the cloud surrounding her suddenly picked up by the wind which was magically created by her and had been bearing down on Rinoa…
…If the Gaian hadn't quickly slashed her damp wings down, sending her rocketing up into the air and into the blood-filled clouds once more.
Now it was a game of cat and mouse, the two Sorceresses now flying throughout the clouds, popping out momentarily to launch a magical attack at the other, the levels of magic quickly growing to monumental proportions.
Rinoa, it seemed, seemed to have the upper hand. Where she did not mind diving into the blood-filled clouds for cover – 'did not mind' meaning 'not having any real choice' – the Queen seemed content to avoid the clouds as much as possible. Even flying up to meet her SeeD doppel, she had avoided the blood-soaked collections of moisture.
What does this mean? Rinoa thought to herself as she popped out of a cloud and hovered quietly behind it, sensing her opponent easily.
Her body, hair and clothes were matted with blood, and she had forgotten where her bleeding wounds and the blood from the clouds began. The smell of blood was all over her and had made her gag at first – but not now. Now her breath was heavy, her head spinning from the smell and the taste of iron in her mouth. The battle was completely one-sided – where Rinoa dodged, ducked and dove for cover, the Queen simply sat back and took pot-shots at her, as if she had all day.
Well, it's not like she's in any real hurry…Rinoa thought to herself again as she ran her fingers through her hair once more, pulling the blood-slick locks away from her crimson face and out of her eyes.
Crashed and loud booms were being heard from beneath her, and she allowed herself a brief smile. At least Zell is holding off for now…please Squall, try to hold on until I can get you…what!
She blinked, her smoking white eyes going wide as the cloud she had been hiding behind suddenly began to glow intensely – before it exploded around her, the lithe Sorceress diving desperately as the Queen's Holy burned through the air above her, singeing her feathered wings for a brief moment before she disappeared into another cloud, the fluffy red mass swallowing her up easily as the Queen flew over to her previous position, her massive wings beating hard as she looked about herself, mild annoyance on her face.
I can hear your thoughts from a mile away, little Sorceress…The Queen pulsed, contempt in her telepathic pulses. …you think too much.
Just beneath her hovered Rinoa, her hand over her mouth as she tried not to breath too loudly, her wings flapping just enough to keep her within the cloud without destroying it, and less enough to not make any noise over the sounds of battle below them.
It was then that the sounds died down, the only noise left now being the whistling wind of the cloud and the beating of two pairs of wings.
Rinoa was shocked into a sudden stupor. She'd expected Zell to take a little longer then that – or had her battle with the Queen taken longer then she had thought? In her current mental state, being so dependant on her Knight and having been denied access to him for so long, she was seriously considering wether she had all her marbles left or not. Thinking she could take on a Sorceress of such calibre seriously put doubts on her own mental wellbeing.
She blinked suddenly as the clouds above her suddenly departed, her head flicking up, the smoking white eyes wide in horror as the Queen hovered above her, having found her as she had mused her sanity, the woman's hands pointed at Rinoa more deadly then any handgun or explosive device. Lets see how they've gone, hmm? The Queen pulsed to her doppel – before a sudden burst of wind erupted from her splayed fingertips, hammering into Rinoa and causing her to scream out, her angelic voice richeoting around the heavens as she began to fall head-first towards the ground.
It was a nose-dive. She had no chance of pulling up or fanning her wings to slow her descent. Everything was moving so fast…she had no chance…no chance at all…
Then she hit the ground.
But not as she intended.
Her white eyes had been closed, squeezed shut, her last thoughts being the face of Squall and the sound of his voice in her ears – then strong arms had curled under her, catching her death-dive as easily as a father caught his daughter.
Her breath coming briskly, her body and mind wracked with pain but shakily holding together, she looked up, seeing blond hair and blue eyes, tanned skin and a welcome smile. Z-Zell…you're alright…She pulsed weakly, a small smile on her face…
"Not exactly, Rinoa. But he'll be fine in a few moments."
Rinoa blinked, lifting her hand to rub her smoking white eyes – to sudden see who had caught her. Blond hair, yes. Tanned skin, yes. Blue eyes, of course…but shielded by a thin pair of spectacles, perched upon a straight nose above a lopsided grin.
Zell groaned as he opened his eyes. The clouds above him had parted in a circle around them, resulting in the crimson sun shooting him right in the eyes. Wincing, he tried to sit up – before a soft hand on his chest pushed him back down. "Not quite yet, Zell. Let the magic do it's worked."
Groaning again, Zell looked over to the female voice, his vision coming into focus – to see Veronica, the teen smiling down to him. The Immortal nanomachines which had flooded her body gave her skin a shining look, as if she had been rubbed with tanning oil, and her eyes now twinkled like diamonds from the amount of tiny robots living within them. "You never did know when to accept help, Zell. And, as usual, someone's come to bail you out."
Zell snorted at that, brushing her hand from his chest and forcing himself to sit up. "Don't lecture me just yet, Vee – gimme a chance to pull myself together first." Rubbing his leg, he blinked as he lifted his gauntlet up – to see it slightly smeared in a silvery substance. "Veronica…you didn't just…" He started…
"Yes. The nanomachines." Veronica said with a nod. "I've been working on controlling them with my mind. After all, they're a part of me now."
"…And you can heal me with them?"
"Anything, really. It's just a matter of trading lost materials with the nano's." Veronica chuckled nervously. "Actually, I'm not sure of all of it – Julius knows more then I do."
Zell looked up – and grinned manically as he saw the large computer specialist holding Rinoa. "Julius, you old dog! Where the hell have you been hiding!" He crowed.
"When the Queen let off her Holy within the base, Veronica and I were trying to evacuate with the rest of the personnel. We were too late, however…I managed to save Veronica, but the rest of them…" Julius' face was saddened as he cautiously put Rinoa to the ground, blinking in surprise as she didn't actually touch the ground, instead floating an inch or two off it.
"…It's not your fault, pal…" Zell said solemnly, looking up into the sky as the sound of beating wings, the Sorceress Queen beginning to make her entrance. "…It's hers."
The Queen floated towards the SeeDs slowly, her beating wings steady and rhythmical, her hands folded under her breasts as she surveyed the situation before her. Hmmm…no Bahamut…and more SeeDs then I expected…She pulsed sullenly. There is something about you SeeDs that just makes my skin crawl.
Zell smirked, grunting as he stood, wobbling uneasily but regaining his balance quickly. "We're like cockroaches. We'll never die." His voice was full of defiance as he clenched his fist, lifting it into the air, the blood-red gauntlet shaking with barely concealed rage as he spoke. "No matter what you throw at us. No matter how hard you try. You'll never destroy us! Never, understand, you bitch!"
I understand. The Queen pulsed with a small smile, a small smile adorning her beautiful face, not even a thread of hair out of place on the raven-black locks. But remember – even a cockroach can be squashed with enough pressure. Lifting her hands from beneath her, her smile twisting into a sneer, her eyes wide with homicidal rage, a dark orb grew within her palms, black electricity slashing forth from the orb as it rumbled and growled with paramagical energy.
The Ultima in her hands was a small one – but it was enough to eradicate everything within a fifty-foot radius. The evil sneer etched onto her face, she watched as every single face below her fell in fear and shock as she lifted the Ultima high, prepared to be thrown – Zell, Rinoa, the girl with the shiny skin, the younger blonde one being revived by her, the tall man…
It was the Queen's turn to have a look of shock on her face then. Her mouth opened wide as well as her burning white eyes as the tall blond man stood to one side to point down at a supine form lying on the floor.
"Throw that Ulitma and you'll destroy all of us!" Julius yelled to her, quickly crouching down beside Squall's body and, wrapping his left arm around the unconscious SeeD Commander's neck, placed his right hand to the back of his skull. "And if you don't put the Ulitma away, I'll break his neck!"
Julius' first view, having exited the hole in the ground which Rinoa and the others had come from, had been an unconscious Squall – lying within the enourmous indent of an injured dragon on the glass-covered ground. Julius' mind had worked quickly, seeing how Zell and Dee were so badly injured – Squall had somehow been forced to defect to the Sorceress' side. Suffice to say, this would make him a very valuable bargaining chip if the Queen ever backed them into a corner. She would never risk killing her Knight, the man she loved with all her heart and soul.
Rinoa screamed out then, her mouth wide as her Angelic voice pealed out, clutching to Julius' pant-leg and gripping it tightly. No! She pulsed desperately. Don't do it!
Yes! The Queen pulsed simultaneously. Please don't! See, I'm putting it away!
As she pulsed the words into their minds her hand lowered, the Ulitma's crackling energy dwindling into nothingness before their very eyes.
Julius smirked. He had her on the ropes, and she knew it. "Now, get down on the ground and fall out of that form, quick – what!"
Let go of him! Rinoa suddenly pulsed, her smoking white eyes blazing with fiery anger as she grabbed Julius' arm and pulled it away from Squall's neck, kicking the SeeD with her boots as she tried desperately to wrestle her lover from this big man's grasp, her wings beating madly behind her, feathers filling the sky as she fought against her own allies.
"Rinoa!" Zell screamed to her. "Stop it!"
But it was too late. Rinoa, her madness encompassing her, finally kicked Julius right where it counted – in the testicles. Even a hardy fighter like himself couldn't withstand a kick to the goolies from a woman, especially a woman as desperate as Rinoa – there was an instinctual advantage that all women had when aiming for a man's testicles that guaranteed the maximum pain from an attack to the area. His wind blown out of him, he was left clutching his groin as Rinoa finally kicked off the ground, carrying Squall with her in her arms, her wings beating desperately behind her as she tried to use her dwindling strength to fly away from these people who was out to hurt her Knight…
…Before something suddenly rammed into her back, sending her careening back into the ground, landing atop Squall with a psychic shriek.
The Queen had tackled her to the floor!
Gone was the Queen's uppity manner, her hierarchal superiority complex towards the SeeDs – now she was a wildcat, using her nails, scratching and clawing at Rinoa, fevered desperation in her fiery white eyes also as she tried to keep her prize.
The SeeDs looked on, dumbfounded. Everything was happening so quickly, so suddenly. The scene was obscene to say the least – the two most powerful magical entities in the known universes were currently scrabbling in the dirt over an unconscious man like two school-girls fighting over a boyfriend.
Julius was the first to break the spell, surprisingly. "Quick…grab the Queen…" He croaked, still curled in the foetal position and clutching himself from Rinoa's berserk attempt to 'save' her lover.
Zell stepped forward immediantly, grabbing the Queen's large wings and holding them tightly in his gauntlet-covered hands, gritting his teeth as he tried to hold her still – before he blinked as he watched her focus suddenly shift from Rinoa to him and the others.
Was all he got out before the ground beneath them suddenly blew apart, massive chunks of glass, metal and dirt suddenly flying up into the air along with the rest of the SeeDs as the psychic blast collected them all up and tossing them away from her. Now unprotected by Julius' trump-card – Squall's body, the only vessel worthy of carrying Aqual and Squall's soul – she had free reign over how much power she could dish out at the SeeDs.
And the amount was devastating.
Zell was thrown away from her immediately, left grasping two handfuls of white feathers as his body was slammed directly into Dee's supine form, still being quickly healed by Veronica – who was also collected up by Zell's flying body, the three of them sent hurtling into the sky to slam into the ground hundreds of meters away. Julius followed suit as well, only landing a few meters away from the other Gaians.
Looking back down to Rinoa, the Queen's fiery eyes were mirrored by her Gaian doppel, the two sorceresses trading statically charged glows. The Queen was on top, her fists beating down on Rinoa, but Rinoa was on top of Squall – the Queen couldn't risk releasing any paramagical powers near him, lest he was hurt by them.
Her attacks on Rinoa were slight, however, compared to the damage Rinoa was doing to her. Years as a freedom fighter, then in the Sorceress War with Squall and the others, before finally living with the SeeDs in Garden had taught her more then enough hand-to-hand to fend for herself had she ever been separated from her Knight. Rinoa's fingers, knuckles and fists jabbed, thrusted and gouged for the throat, the mouth, the eyes and the face, brutal and vicious, instinctual desperation in her attacks fuelled by half-remembered dirty-fighting techniques.
Finally, a jab to the throat had caused the Queen to cough, spluttering, her breath choked as her windpipe was crushed momentarily – giving Rinoa enough time to kick the Queen in the stomach with her boot, sending her onto her back as she rolled over and, grabbing Squall under his armpits, kicked off the ground with renewed vigour, the dirt and glass exploding out from beneath her as her wings beat harshly. She needed to escape with her Knight – that's all she knew she had to do. It was her one focus, her one goal.
Flying hard, her wings beating on her back like they had never beat before, she flew straight up, hugging Squall tightly to her as she climbed higher and higher into the sky. The smell of his blood, sweat and skin all had a calming effect on her – even the leather of his jacket on her skin gave her closure. Don't worry, my Knight…Rinoa pulsed as they flew higher and higher. …Everything will be okay…everything will be okay…everything will be…
Having been flying straight up, Rinoa had been ignoring her surroundings, simply trying as hard as she could to reach the clouds, where they had a slim chance of escape…before the clouds parted suddenly to reveal the green gleam of a Ragnarok, it's leaf-green metallic shell standing out fiercely on the red sky as it seemed to appear out of nowhere directly in front of her, slowly hovering out of the clouds as if it had been sitting there the entire time. It's dragon-like head was pointed directly at her, the dark lense of the glass glinting menacingly as if intelligence glinting from a Dragon's eye.
A Heart Ragnarok.
The Red Ragnarok had fallen.
Rinoa had no power left. Physically drained to the point of exhaustion, she had no energy to call upon the paramagic within her. It had taken all her might to fly herself and Squall this high – and now the twin-mini-guns of the Ragnarok unfurled from it's little arms, pointing directly to Rinoa.
…At least we'll die together…Rinoa thought to herself, her burning white eyes squeezing shut as she clutched Squall hard to her, her wings beating erratically behind her now as she pressed her face to his dirt-covered back, the smell of his leather jacket filling her senses as the glowing white tears streamed from her face and stained the black material…
"Whoops! Wrong one! Dive dive dive!" A hyperkinetic voice suddenly squealed out over the Ragnarok's announcing system, the green mechanical monster suddenly banking sharply to begin to fly towards the ground.
Rinoa's eyes were wide behind Squall as she tried to compose herself, her body physically trembling from shock and exhaustion. Selphie…when this is all over I'm going to kill you… She pulsed to Squall, and only Squall.
Within the Green Ragnarok, Selphie hooted as they erupted from the clouds, flying straight towards the ground – and spying a lone figure on the ground – and this one had large wings. "No doubt, it's the Queeny! Charge the Plasma Cannon!" She roared, her feet planted directly onto the accelerator pads beneath her so they were both touching the metal floor.
"Yes ma'am!" The two Estharians shouted in return, beginning the proceedings with gusto.
The two Estharians had always known that Selphie hadn't always been together in the mental sense – she was always too air-headed, too cock-sure, too ditzy…but what she had done before had been more then suicidal. Sheer insanity didn't come close to what she had been thinking when the Green Ragnarok had pointed it's already charged Plasma Cannon at them – before they had shot at each other!
They had held on tightly as the two particle beams had rocketed directly towards each other at speeds inconceivable – before the beams had twisted around each other, looping around each other's lines of fire to completely miss each other and continue to bear down on their intended targets. The plasma charge had been designed with paramagic in mind – once a target was locked in, the particle beam was able to loop itself over and around any obstacle in it's path in order to hit it's target.
As they had watched the Green Ragnarok's plasma charge bear down on their own Ragnarok with building speed, Selphie had done what any other insane person would have done – she'd immediately shoved every single control, thruster, booster and hover-pad directly forward, tilting her Ragnarok up so the mechanical dragon was pointing at a 45-degree angle, the cock-pit directly in the path of the plasma charge – before hitting the eject button.
The head of the Ragnarok had immediately shot out, being sent flipping through the air as the plasma charge swerved to avoid the loose cockpit and slammed into the falling body of the Estharian Ragnarok, devoid of controls – then exploding brilliantly, lighting up the sky as the plasma charge igniting the remaining fuel-cells and ammunition within the aircraft.
The ride had been nauseating, Selphie and her two co-pilots spinning violently around and around, their seat-belts wrenching at their bodies as their disembodied cockpit flew through the air – to ram directly into the top of the Green Ragnarok, slamming directly into the conference room at the middle of the spinal area right between the wings/main boosters.
Just as Selphie had planned.
The Green Ragnarok was manned by robots. There would be no physical guards protecting it's insides. Now, with it's objective complete – the destruction of the SeeD Raganrok – it hovered harmlessly, awaiting orders.
And, upside down, Selphie had unhooked herself from her seatbelt to fall to the roof of the cockpit, landing on her hands and feet like a cat before looking up to the others. "C'mon!" She had cried, her excitement flipping into overdrive. "We gotta hurry up and re-program this thing!"
Now, after a few hundred pulled wires, some re-programming and some 'tender loving care' to the AI unit, the Green Ragnarok had come under Gaian control and had turned right around to fly back to where the action was – the massive flash of light that had lit up the horizon.
'Beep! Operations compromised. Proceeding to self-destruct.' The AI unit Selphie had TLC'd out of the main control dashboard and into the corner spoke in it's tinny, metallic voice, the box surrounded by hundred of torn wires and shattered circuits.
"Quiet you!" Selphie yelled to it as their death-dive continued, before looking to her comrades. "How we going, guys!"
"Ma'am! Plasma Cannon will be operational in less then fifty seconds!" One Estharian called urgently.
"You've got fourty!" Selphie yelled back as the Queen realised that something was wrong with the fact that her only remaining Ragnarok had begun to charge it's plasma cannon and bear down upon her at increasing speed.
Smirking, she lifted her arms to point them at the massive metallic dragon.
'Paramagical energies detected. Taking evasive action.' The AI beeped casually, sliding across the room as Selphie banked to the right as hard as she could – before the sky was suddenly filled with a holy light, the light intense, eradicating everything within it's path as the Holy beam slashed just underneath the Ragnarok's left wing, searing the green paint as Selphie flipped it around – before slamming her foot on the boosters, the large ignitors on the behind of the spaceship suddenly erupting into life and sending her shooting straight towards the horizon.
Everything was suddenly being crushed down as they rocketed straight towards the emptiness of space, the G-Forces the Gaian's were being put under squashing them right into their seats. Slamming both her feet down on the left accelerator pad, Selphie twisted the controls to the left as hard as she could, the Ragnarok suddenly turning on a dime, suddenly facing back towards where the Queen had been as they suddenly broke through the atmosphere and floated,. Backwards, through space, facing down to the red planet before them – before she slammed her right foot back down on the right accelerator, sending her shooting straight back towards the planet and the Sorceress!
The ground coming towards them at unbeleiveable speeds, Selphie watching as the Queen came into view – before suddenly taking flight, her massive wings beating harshly in the red sky making her a very obvious target. Selphie lined up the aiming module at the epicentre of the two gigantic wings…where a very dark light was beginning to form, black electrical energies suddenly shooting out from within the dark light as if it was some kind of generator.
'Beep. Ultima detected. Taking evasive action.' The AI beeped.
"Gods, whats she trying to do, kill us!" Selphie cried…before frowning. "What? Of course she is! Um…guys!"
"Fifteen more seconds, ma'am!"
"We don't have fifteen seconds! We don't have fifteen mili-seconds! We're about to be destroyed by the one most singular powerful magic in the known universe! Now if you don't get that damn cannon going, the last thing I'll be doing in my short life will be killing the two of you in the most painful manner I can imag…"
"Ma'am! Fire now!"
Selphie blinked, looking down at her screen to see the Plasma Cannon was finally charged. Her tiny fist slammed into fire button so hard the plastic cracked.
The Queen's Ultima was finally charged as the Ragnarok continued to grown larger and larger, flying directly towards her, the long barrel of the Plasma Cannon slung on it's underside finally emitting a long burst of light – before the roar of a Plasma blast suddenly echoed around WarWorld as the gigantic metal dragon bucked with the sudden burst of energy.
The brunt of the Plasma fire bearing down on her, the Queen's lips curled into a sneer as she lifted her hands to point them at the beam shooting towards her, the small ball of black light crackling and sparking energetically. She was hurt, dirty, and insulted in every possible manner – she would eradicate these upstarts herself, retrieve her worthless Knight, and destroy the entire planet with her power. Her idleness had become a nuisance. Her attempt to derive some kind of humour from the SeeDs' antics had been an outrageous failure. She would end this now.
It was then that her eyes widened, the smoking white light suddenly flashing in sudden surprise.
She'd forgotten something.
Her surprise was her downfall. Shocked that she had completely forgotten about something so important, she failed to recognise the Plamsa charge bearing down on her, even as it grew larger and larger. Blinking back into focus, she desperately threw her Ultima at the beam before throwing up a barrier of magical protection.
Her shock was complete as she watched the particle beam bend around the massively powerful energies of the Ultima, suddenly remembering that the Estharians had designed the Plasma Cannon for such an full-frontal attack on powerful paramagics – before it hit her shield.
Screaming out in pain as the heat hit her first, her clothes were destroyed utterly as her shield bent inwards with the sheer force of the beam of super-concentrated energy, the silken clothe seeming to simply evaporate off her skin as it began to blister and boil.
Her last thought as the Plasma beam wiped her from the sky was that she had forgotten that the plasma beam was a purely physical attack. She had placed up a Shell to try and stop it, in her shock and desperation. A magical defence against something designed to subvert paramagic.
She was defeated!
- - -
Within the Ragnarok Selphie whooped with glee as the instruments confirmed a kill. "Booya! We did it!" She squealed with delight – before blinking in surprise as she watched the Ultima, having been untouched by the Plasma charge, sailed right into the underside of the Ragnarok. "Ah crap-sticks…"
The Ultima simply had to touch the plasma cannon's barrel – before suddenly expanding violently, blowing up like a balloon being pumped up completely with one breath – before being sucked into itself, disappearing into nothingness, everything it had enveloped going with it. Now the entire plasma cannon had been scrubbed from the underside of the Ragnarok, as well as most of the hover pads, as if they had been drawn on by pencil and the Ultima had been a massive eraser. The entire underside was sparking with loose wires trying to send electrical information, the leaf-green paint giving way to ugly gun-metal grey piping and layers of armour.
"Ma'am, we've been hit!" The Estharians screamed in unison as every single warning klaxon, bell and siren sounded at exactly the same time.
Selphie wasn't listening, however. She was sitting back in her chair, exhausted, her hands trembling from the exertion she'd been putting out the last few months. It's finally over… Her mind whispered to her calmly as disarray filled the space around her.
'Beep. Operations compromised. Sustained massive damage. Initiating self destruct.' The AI beeped quietly amongst the chaos within the cockpit, not really caring if anybody heard it and really just wanting some attention.
"Well I didn't see that coming." Zell muttered to himself as he picked himself up off the ground, dusting himself off as he looked up at the Green Ragnarok wobbling slightly in the air. "Why the heck would a Heart Ragnarok take on the Queen?" He smirked down to Veronica and Dee as they winced, sitting up simultaneously. "Not that I mind, y'know…it's just, I kinda figured Rinoa would be the one to kick the Queeny's ass…"
A loud groan came from the east before a metallic girder was pushed to one side – followed by Julius standing. His face still etched with pain, he walked slowly over to Veronica before hugging her tightly to him. He needed closure.
Zell was next to him in an instant, his eyes wide as his grin was huge on his face. "Dude, you took one to the nads! You're a man, man, you took it and you kept on going, you rock!"
Julius simply looked down at Zell…before trying to grab him, only being held back by Veronica.
Chuckling nervously, Zell backed up and turned to Dee, scratching the back of his neck as he crouched next to her as she sat up. "How do you feel, sweety?"
"Mmm…like someone's been goosestepping on me all day…" Dee muttered, running her hand through her long blond locks and watching as her Ehrgiez glove came back slick with coagulating blood. "…I was really close to Final Death then…"
Zell frowned. "'Final Death'? You mean, dying and not being able to be revived? C'mon, you got your daddy here! I'd never let anything happen to you."
Dee smiled softly, pushing herself to her feet before throwing her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "I know…"
His breath was loose in his chest as she pressed herself against him, his hands gentle on her hair as he held her to him. She closed her eyes, thankful that it was all over, that this evil entity had finally been destroyed. Now, perhaps they could begin to live something of a normal life…as one complete family…
"…Daddy?" Dee asked his shoulder.
"Yo." He replied to her hair quietly.
Zell's eyes were wide as his entire body went rigid, a demon touching his spine coldly. Angel…
- - -
Angel had been sprinting with the Well for almost an hour now, having put miles behind her in her trek across the WarWorld wasteland. The glass was still beneath her feet, the intense heat of the GF attack having melted the sand before the rushing wind had cooled it into hardness immediantly.
Zell had told her to grab the Well and run, and that had been the plan…until all the sounds of battle had died down behind her. No light. No explosions or booms. Nothing left to her now but spanning emptiness around her and the whistle of wind as red dust swirled around her.
Now she needed to find somewhere to hide until she was certain it was safe to come back out. It was the only sensible thing to do. If Zell had fallen, she needed to keep the Well away from the Sorceress Queen.
She was praying desperately that he had not died as she continued to run, trying to make her way towards the mountains in the distance. She didn't dare using magic to help her – the light and paramagical energy would be too obvious in such a barren wasteland.
The only sounds were her heaving breaths and her footsteps digging hastefully at the smooth glass, causing her boots to tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap in unison with her heart, pounding within her chest, powerfully and without remorse. Her arms burned without relief, the stone bucket heavy in her grasp. Her arms were wrapped around it tightly, hugging it to her breasts, the other half of her concentration concerned with keeping it tight to her as the rest focused on running as hard and as fast as she could.
Then, suddenly, another sound filled the air around her. It was a sound which she had been dreading, the sound which she had been wishing she would never hear again.
The beating of wings.
Closing her eyes tightly, her arms hugging the Well closer to her heaving chest, she began to run faster, trying to concentrate on just her balance and speed, and not the heavy beat behind her growing in rythem with her own acceleration…
She had no choice. She needed to look. She needed to make sure she had enough room to at least cast Haste. And so, craning her head around, she saw…
Horror. The Rinoa which she knew would never look like that, covered in blood, her clothes and wings and skin stained in it, her eyes wide and fevered with insanity, her arms outstretched to Angel with her sharp nails scratching out for her, her mouth open and wheezing as her eyes burned and sparked and smoked…
Angel's shriek rang out over the open space, the glass echoing it out into the empty sky.
A few miles back, the coldness in Zell's body intensified to the point where every single nerve ending seemed to vibrate. "What the fuck was that?" He asked in shocked confusion as a shriek echoed out from the plains to the north…
Before Julius suddenly flew past him, Veronica following suit, the two of them flying straight through the air to crash unceremoniously into the ground some yards away.
His eyes were wide with shock – before something suddenly struck Dee in the neck, so hard and fast she didn't have the chance to cry out.
Something wet hit his face.
The smell of copper filled the air.
Dee's body went limp in his arms, her head slumping back – only being held to her neck by a few threads of muscle, the spine showing a stark white within the muscle as crimson mist filled the air around Zell.
Something filled with air as well. A sound.
Zell couldn't tell it was his screams. He couldn't comprehend much. He could only feel his daughter's dead body in his arms, weightless yet pulling towards the ground as his hand moved to her silken gold hair, trying to place it back to her neck – before a rock smashed into the side of her cheek, shooting it from Zell's hand to fly away, skittering to the ground and rolling to a stop at Veronica's limp form.
Her body fell lifelessly to the floor as Zell's arms let her drop, his strength nowhere near enough to lift her dead, empty weight. She landed with a thump and a splat, red splattering on the cracked glass beneath his feet.
Her head had been sliced off.
She could not be brought back!
Once a limb was lost, there was no chance of it ever being restored, at least, by Gaian paramagical standards…but nothing could sure total decapitation. Only the Immortals had the technology to fully regenerate a human body…and the last remaining person who could ever find them was now dead in Zell's arms.
As quickly as his shock overcame him it was overridden by rage. Unquenchable, formless, seething rage.
He knew who had done this without looking, and balling his fists so tightly blood seeped from the metal around his fore-arms, he turned his blood-splattered tattooed face to the left slowly, his entire body trembling as he saw…
Himself. Scorched and looking smug…but it was most defiantly him.
Azel tossed another rock up and down in his hand slowly, a small grin on his face as his spiky-blond hair ruffled slightly in the wind – before speaking out triumphantly. "Now I've got your attention…"
- - -
Squall's unconscious body lay upon the glass, unmoving on his back like a corpse. The only sign of life was the rhythmical rise and fall of his chest, his scarred face lolled to one side with it's mouth open, breathing in the wasted air of WarWorld.
A winged shadow billowed over him, the beating of the wings causing the dust to rise around him in thick crimson clouds – before Rinoa suddenly slammed into the ground beside him with a sickening crack, her body shattering the glass even more as she hit the floor and hit it hard.
There was barely anything left of the Sorceress. Covered in the forgotten blood of a billion bodies, beaten and worn, her energy was all but spent. Her eyes, usually smoking merrily with a white light, were now barely glowing. Her wings, normally lush full of feathers and energetic even when folded down were now hanging limply behind her back. A low moan emerged from her lips as she pulled herself, bleeding from the glass in her arms and legs, from the crater she had made upon impact.
She seemed to lift herself up, as if her body weighted ten times more then it should – before, with almost superhuman effort, she pulled the Well from where she had landed on it, the stone bucket crushing the glass as she rammed it into the floor. The thing weighed so much…but she needed to keep going. She was so close to having him back…she just needed to keep moving a little longer.
Sweat was running down her face now, cutting channels through the blood and dust as she pulled herself forward, dragging her body towards her lover, her wings trailing lifelessly on the floor behind her. She could have dropped out of her Sorceress status an age ago…but she fear that if she did, her injuries would consume her.
Finally arriving to his side, she lay down upon him, draping her body over his chest, tears flowing down her cheeks and mingling with the sweat and blood as she sobbed. She was so tired…
Kissing his cheek softly, she rolled to her side and curled her hand around the Well beside him, pulling it closer, the stone grating against the glass loudly as it moved.
She paid it no heed as she placed her hand on the thick lid. The lid was about three inches thick, and looked like it had been stamped down with a hammer. Indeed, she couldn't even see any joins anywhere which would show where the lid began – but she knew that this was the lid. Somehow, something within her, some secret part whispering to her fatigue and madness-riddled mind that this was it.
And, digging her fingers into five grooves on the top of the lid, she twisted…
A sudden, ferocious kaleidoscope of colour filled the sky, shooting straight up into the atmosphere, a deafening roar erupting from the small stone bucket. Rinoa's weak screams were muffled entirely as the trapped souls within their magical prison were all released simultaneously, filling the sky and spreading out over the world.
Rinoa's eyes were wide as she paused for a brief moment. For a split second her current mission was put on hold as she watch in awe at the spectacle before her.
Lights. Billions upon billions upon billions of tiny, floating lights were shooting up into the sky, like glowing sand being thrown into the air and spinning out of control. Like a sea of light it flew through the clouds in a spanning, circular pattern, covering the world with it's light, blotting out the sun entirely with it's own incandescent glow.
"D-do you see it!" Rinoa cried to her unconscious lover, her powers having waned so low she was capable of normal speech. "Do you see the light, my love!"
Then she blinked, her mind returning as quickly as it had hid, and she looked down at the body she lay upon.
The tears streaming down her face, she now knew what she had to do.
She had to remove the soul within the body. She had to kill him.
Moaning as she forced herself to straddle his chest, her hands pressing down on his torso as she pushed herself to sit on him, her wings hung limply behind her as she cried out in anguish. She looked like a fallen guardian angel, crying over her dead ward. But, as she lifted her hands up high, a weak light filling her fingertips, she almost looked like an angel bestowing a gift upon a fallen warrior…the gift of life.
Her fingers entered Squall's chest easily, her hands sluicing straight through the chest to grasp the flickering light that was his soul. There was no blood, no tearing of the flesh – this was a spiritual attack, focused on the soul of the creature being targeted. Almost as soon as the Sorceress had grasped the soul within the body, the body reacted, being roused from it's slumber to fight off this creature trying to destroy the inhabitant of the shell.
His grey eyes were wide as his mouth opened, the roar of the Well drowning out his suffering screams as his fists clenched so tight his nails tore through the leather gloves and dug into his palms, blood pooling where they beat upon the glass.
Rinoa's eyes were squeezed shut tightly, the feeling of his body writhing beneath her more then enough to make her body defy itself. If she actually saw her hands in his chest, ripping the very soul of his body, she was absolutely certain she would lose every last scrap of focus she had left. "Just die! Die and never ever come back!" She screamed to the soul of Aqual, the dirty image of her torturer masquerading as her Knight suddenly welling up in her mind, her resolve hardening a little more as she reminded herself just who she was trying to kill and who she was trying to bring back.
Her hands now buried up to the wrists within his chest as she pulled with every single muscle, every fibre of her being…
Before something suddenly grabbed her from behind, strong arms wrapping themselves around her chest and pulling as hard as they could.
Rinoa's eyes were wide. No! Not when I'm so close! Not when I've gotten this far! You can't stop me! Her mind screamed out as her head whirled around – to see Angel!
"Rinoa!" Angel screamed into Rinoa's ear over the deafening roar of the Well's Release, her entire body seeming to be focused on pulling Rinoa off Squall. "Don't let go of Aqual! Just don't let go!"
Rinoa's glowing eyes widened as realisation suddenly filled her mind. She's helping me! Confidence was now with her, and turning her head to look down at the struggling form she had her forearms embedded in, a sudden smirk covered her face as she shifted her legs up so her feet was planted on Squall's shoulders – before the smirk was changed into twisted determination as she pulled with all her might, lifting her head up and screaming out, the two women pulling with every single shred of their strength and determination, their will resolute to the last…
Before Angel suddenly ripped Rinoa clear of Squall's body, his arms and legs finally falling limp – as the two women looked at the figure within Rinoa's hands.
It was just like Squall – only transparent and glowing, Rinoa's hands gripping his torso tightly – before the figure was reduced to glowing light, the baubles seeming to spin around Rinoa's hands and body briefly – before they were sucked into the spiritual geyser erupting from the Well.
Rinoa, her powers now almost completely spent, rolled off of Angel, coughing and crying weakly. Her sudden show of strength had disappeared as quickly as it had grown, and now she could barely move.
Angel was crying as well, confused and frightened beyond disbelief. It had only taken a few moments of sheer terror when Rinoa had snatched the Well from her that she had realised that the Queen would have simply killed her for it – not scared her witless and taken it from her. Then she had remembered that Aqual now inhabited Squall's body – scratch that, had inhabited his body – and that Rinoa had been going slightly batty the entire time afterwards…
She scrambled over to the spent Sorceress, gripping her shoulder and shaking it violently, having to lean right down to her ear to scream into it over the roar of the Well. "Rinoa! What do we do now!"
Rinoa's eyes had no pupils or irises, but Angel could feel that she was looking at her as she turned her head slowly to face her – before her mouth moved, whispering a single word.
Angel looked back to Squall, blinking in confusion, before looking back down to Rinoa. "I don't understand! You killed him!"
Life. Rinoa mouthed again, weakly lifting her hand to point it to Squall.
I don't get it! You just tore his soul out! How am I supposed to revive him if he doesn't have a soul anymore… Angel's mind screamed out – before her brown eyes widened. Spinning around, she looked up at the source of the intense sound and light she had used as a beacon to find Rinoa and Squall – the Well of Souls. The Souls were being released at an exponential rate, the light now glowing all around them, filling the air with the floating bulbs of light.
Squall's soul must have been put into the Well. Angel's mind finally realised. The Queen wouldn't have missed the opportunity to lose such a powerful soul to the ether.
The finality evident, Angel pushed off Rinoa and skidded to Squall's corpse, ramming her hands into his chest, white light flashing around her as she cast Full-Life on his body.
She was unprepared for what would happen next.
Suddenly the lights that had been floating around her were all rushing towards Squall's corpse, rebounding off each other in their mad dash to enter a viable, usable shell that was being resurrected. They even passed straight through Angel, the feeling leaving a warm sensation through the body-part they passed through – but that didn't stop the horror she was feeling.
"W-What have I done!" She screamed as Squall's body was suddenly lifted off the ground, pushing her off him to begin to spin up into the air, being lifted high into the sky as soul after soul passed through the body, causing him to jolt and shake as each soul seemed to try him on before being expelled or escaping of their own free will.
Rinoa could not help, even if she wanted to. All she could do was lie there, watching as Squall's body was engulfed in the light, and hope that her luck would keep holding out…
The light-show above them did not distract the two Zell's battle. Indeed, it seemed to have been it's beginning – like gunslingers of the old west the two doppels had stared at each other, each wrapped in their own personal hatred of the other – Zell for killing his daughter, Azel for being such a thorn in his side – before the sudden explosion of sound and light had made them both jump – and race straight towards each other.
Zell had run, screaming, straight at Azel, his left fist pulled back as Azel ran forward, pulling his right fist back to let it fly – as Zell span around it, rolling around Azel's body to slam his drawn-back elbow into the back of his head, sending the Heart sprawling forward into the shattered glass.
Sliding on his belly for a few seconds, Azel rolled with his momentum to flip up to his feet – before suddenly letting fly with a mule-kick which took Zell straight in the stomach, his feet and arms being blown forward as his body was lifted off the ground as Azel twisted his body and leg around – to slam Zell's body into the glass, the glass shattering as his back was crushed into it.
Azel had planned to pull his foot back – if two gauntlets, one silver, the other red, hadn't reached from the crater to grasp it and hold it to the chest it was pressed down on. As soon as his hands had grabbed the leg, Zell's body rolled backwards, his legs slamming into Azel's back and flipping him forward so that his face hit the glass. Now Zell was sitting on his Doppel's spine, his knees digging into the lower-back as he pulled the Heart's leg up high, almost lifting his abdomen off the ground as he tried to tear it off the body…
Before Azel rolled to the side suddenly, bucking Zell off him for a moment – and giving the Heart enough of a chance to tear his leg out of his vice-like grip and, spinning on his back like a break-dancer, rammed his feet into Zell's face, sending the SeeD flying up and out of the crater into the field beyond.
Rolling back and onto his feet, Azel leapt out of the crater – to suddenly be slammed out of the sky as Zell tackled him out of mid-air, causing the two of them to fly straight over the crater – and straight into the ground beyond, Azel's back smashing straight through the glass to dig through the disturbed earth beneath, a trench of immensive proportions being dug into the ground from the sheer force of the brutal tackle.
Their momentum slowing, Zell followed it over his adversary, flipping up and out of the trench to hit the ground in a run. Skidding to a stop, his boots squealing on the glass beneath, he spun on his heel – to see Azel scrambling out of the trench right behind him, dirt and glass rolling off his tanned back, his scorched blond hair now filled with it.
Baring his teeth, Zell roared at the Heart, balling his fists and taking his stance, his feet spreading and digging into the glass to find traction.
"That's it, SeeD!" Azel yelled, his voice full of glee. "We have nothing to live for anymore! We'll fight until we are both broken and defeated!"
Zell couldn't answer. He simply roared again, before taking off in a sprint, his boots hammering into the earth as he leapt forward, slashing his feet out in a leaping kick. His boot sailed straight past the Heart who ducked underneath it, allowing Zell to land – and swing his fist around, Azel catching the hand and wrapping his arm around it, locking it underneath his armpit before slamming his fist into Zell's ribs, causing the SeeD to roar in pain – before smashing his head into Azel's face, the Heart screaming out in agony as his nose erupted in a gush of blood, releasing Zell's arm – and allowing him to step forward and slam his foot into Azel's mid-section, the kick blowing Azel right off his feet and to his back.
Azel was trying to ignore two parts of pain, his nose and his stomach – before his eyes widened and he rolled to one side, Zell's knee slamming straight through the glass where Azel had just been lying. Jumping to his feet, Azel came at the rising Zell swinging, his left fist hooking across – to be blocked by Zell's arm, the SeeD reaching out to grab Azel's hand and twist it around at an awkward angle. Bellowing in agony,
Azel was forced to run around as Zell placed his hand on his elbow and tried to break his forearm. Running around, Azel suddenly flipped his body around in the opposite direction of his bent hand, unbending it – and grabbing the hand holding onto him, countering the counter. Stepping forward, Azel pulled Zell's arm forward to throw him off-balance and into Azel's right fist – which Zell deftly brushed to one side with his free hand and, placing his left leg inside Azel's leg, pushed his body forward – and slammed Azel into the ground hard, his back being crushed against the floor with jarring force.
Rolling with it, however, Azel's legs bunched up – and slashed straight up into Zell's chin, smashing the SeeD away from him and allowing him to roll to standing, Zell forced to stumble back from the ground-attack.
Light flooded their destroyed arena. The shattered floor crunched beneath their feet as they began to circle one another slowly, trying to find the weak point in each others' stance. The fight was so close it was unbearable. Azel's strength and speed was being matched by Zell at every point – indeed, Zell seemed to have the upper-hand.
Zell's baby-blue eyes were as empty as bottomless pits as he stared upon his daughter's killer. The only thing in his mind was revenge, utter and complete – his life was moot compared to the sight of this man's blood staining the floor, his baby-girl's death avenged. His love for her had been that complete – in the short time they had been together, they had bonded like a father and a daughter would bond, possible even more-so if it was possible. And now she was dead, lifeless, her ashes scattered to the wind and her body lying limp on the floor. And her killer was standing right in front of him…
Zell suddenly exploded from his position, covering the tiny ground between them in less then a second to slam his left fist into Azel's stomach, blowing the man off his feet – before his head was jarred to the side as Zell's right elbow slashed across his face – before his left hand stabbed straight out, hammering his palm into Azel's bare chest and blowing him off his feet once more, sending him flying away across the ground.
Racing after the man, Zell watched as he finally hit the ground, skidding along the smooth, cracked surface – before rolling backwards to his feet and standing up to spin around, his left foot raising into the air in a round-house kick. Zell applied the brakes – but was unable to come to a stop in time thanks to the smoothness of the glass, Azel's foot smashing into Zell's cheek and sending his body spinning, rolling through the air to crash into the ground on his belly. He had no time to scream as he tried to scramble to his hands and knees – before Azel's feet crushed into his back, slamming straight into his spine and causing immense pain for the SeeD.
Zell's anguished roar almost overtook the roar of the pillar of light a few miles away – before he span himself around, willpower giving him strength as Azel was thrown off-balance without warning- to receive a kick to the sternum, the boot slamming straight into Azel's chest and blowing the wind out of the Heart, causing him to fly off once more, allowing Zell enough of a chance to get up.
Finding his feet, his hand to his back and his body bent like an old man, Zell fought through the pain and looked up – to see Azel rushing straight for him, having recovered quicker and taking a bead on him, his Orihalcon-covered arm pulled back to punch forward – if Zell hadn't suddenly jumped into the air, his body rolled over Azel's launched fist, his legs whipping around – to smash into Azel's back, sending the Heart flying forward into an upturned heap of dirt with an explosion of dust, smashing straight into it and digging himself in from the sheer force and speed he was travelling at.
Zell landed on his back, bellowing out in agony – before whipping his legs around and flipping his body up to his feet. He would not rest until his adversary was dead at his feet – no matter how much pain he felt.
Running forward towards the heaped dirt, Zell blinked suddenly – before the entire ground shook as a massive earthquake rocked the world around him. Shattered glass and clumped of dirt, rock and metal suddenly filled the air as entire sections of the earth seemed to jumped from the ground, like a collection of square blocks jumping up and down within their box.
Zell's body was shaken by the Quake – before he finally forced his body to face the earth and, slashing his fists down, slammed them into the earth, digging them in deep – and holding on for dear life, riding the paramagical attack out as it jarred and jolted his body violently.
When the magic finally subsided, Zell yanked his fists out of the ground – before vomiting unceremoniously, his stomach still rolling from the powerful attack – before a fist suddenly smashed into the side of his head, a hand grabbing his hair and pulling his fist into a dusty knee, a crack and blinding pain signifying his nose was well and truly broken.
Reaching out with a shaking hand, Zell grabbed the edge of Azel's abdomen armour with his gauntlet, feebly grasping at it as his face was slammed into the knee once more – before his fingers curled around the armour and, gripping it tightly, yanked it viciously forward – into his other fist, the gauntlet slamming right into Azel's crotch.
The Orihalcon protected Azel's naughty-bits from receiving any serious damage – but the hit was not taken lightly by the armour, and Azel's howl was heard for miles around as he fell to his knees, cradling his groin in his hands as he looked up to Zell with a dirty expression on his face – before Zell's upper-cut smashed straight into his nose, breaking it even more and sending him to the floor.
The area in which they were fighting had suddenly changed dramatically. Now large clumps of earth had been uplifted, revealing the sheets of steel armour that the Gaian base had used to protect against any paramagical attacks, lain underneath ten feet of soil and the bones of dead warriors. The glass had been mixed with the distrupted earth, resulting in a deadly ground – already they both bore massive scratches from the glass-ground – now they would have to contend with it stabbing into their skin.
Not that Zell minded. Pain was the least thing in his mind as he reached out and grabbed Azel's leg, Zell's upper-cut having knocked Azel out momentarily. Pulling the man down off the little uprise they were on at the moment, Zell dragged him down to where the ground was a little more level – before hefting the leg hard, lifting the Heart up, arcing over the SeeD through the air to whip into the ground flat on his face.
Azel resumed consciousness immediately as screaming pain filled every piece of skin not covered by the nigh-to-indestructible armour. His chest, face and neck were covered in tiny pieces of shattered glass, the pieces standing out on the tanned flesh as the light reflected from their dusty surfaces. His bellow of pain turned quickly into an agonised groan as he pulled at his leg, yanking the unprepared Zell off-balance – to stab his other foot into Zell's face, the heel smashing straight into Zell's chin and dislocating his jaw as he fell back, slamming into the dusty ground with his own scream.
Unlike Azel, however, Zell's clothes – worn and battered as they were – were largely untouched, protecting him from the scattered glass all over the ground.
The two fighters now on the ground, moaning in agony, Zell rolled backwards on the ground to come into a crouch, a hand to his chin to hold his mouth together – before he suddenly and viciously wrenched his mandible back into place, opening and closing his mouth to test it's tenderness, keeping his eyes on his enemy the entire time.
Azel had crawled over to a sheet of exposed metal, moaning the entire time, his body leaving a bloody trail on the dusty red ground – before rolling over, exposing the full extent of his damage. His muscled chest had been perforated entirely, the glass sticking out in all directions. The pieces didn't seem that large – but then, like an iceberg, the surface did not always tell the truth.
Zell picked himself up slowly, his breathing heavy. His strength was waning – but it seemed he had defeated his opponent. He kept his eyes on Azel, however, making sure he would catch any tricks or sly manoeuvres that the Heart might pull off – his mind replayed the deceit by the Heart Seifer that Squall's Moomba recording had told him about. He would not let his guard down until the Heart was less then ash.
Azel seemed defeated, however. His chest rose and fell slowly, his eyes closed, his body trembling slightly with each wheezed breath. The chunks of glass in his skin oozed blood, lines running down his skin to pool underneath him on the dirt-stained steel that he lay on.
Zell approached the Heart slowly, his boots crunching on the glass, the roar from the pillar of light behind him seeming to slowly fade as his entire focus drew upon Azel, his breath, his movement, everything that made him.
Azel's eyes opened – to see Zell standing over him. His lips twisted into a bloody sneer as he watched Zell simply stand there. "Whats wrong…hero?" Azel muttered, coughing slightly. "…Loose your nerve…already?"
Zell's blue eyes narrowed at the words before he knelt over the Heart, lifting his fist up high before swinging it down –
To be caught by Azel's hand as it flew up, catching the SeeD off-guard!
Azel's sneer grew larger as his hand tightened around the silver gauntlet in his grasp, lifting his feet up to shoot them right into Zell's stomach, blasting the breath from Zell's body like lightening. The powerful stab was retracted almost immediantly, and Zell fell forward, gasping, as Azel pulled himself out from underneath him.
Pushing himself to his feet, wobbling only slightly, the Heart lifted a hand – to begin picking bits of glass from his face and chest, grimacing with each shard removed. The shards had been small, nowhere near enough to do serious damage – his skin, however, was pock-marked with bloody indents which bled freely, rolling down his skin and over the Orihalcon armour on his legs. The man had just taken a face full of glass and he was brushing them off as if they were nothing!
Zell tried to move – before a foot, seeming to be carrying all the gravity in the world, pushed itself onto his head, keeping it pinned on the ground. "When I'm finished." Azel muttered quietly, continuing to pull the glass out of his skin, dropping the bloody shards down in front of Zell so he could watch them land on the steel.
Zell tried to struggle, to no avail. Grasping the Heart's leg had worked before – but now it was unmovable, like it was made of stone. What the crap! I was all over him a few minutes ago! Zell's mind screamed as he placed both his hands flat down on the steel and tried to push up, his head only being squeezed into the metal even more as Azel applied more pressure.
It was beginning to hurt before the pressure suddenly vanished, Zell's down-ward pressure suddenly causing him to leap high into the air, back flipping back – to land on another upraised piece of metal on his hands and feet, like a cat. Looking down, Zell hissed in anger – Azel was standing there, serene, his skin still covered in the bloody marks of the glass.
The smirk that had been there previously had made an encore as Azel lifted his left hand to run his fingers through his scorched blond hair. "Every time we meet, SeeD, you surprise me…our first meeting, that thing with the tree-trunk shocked me completely. It showed you had my imagination. Then you suddenly appear out of the blue, your body completely regenerated when I made sure it was ash. And now, you and your little posse of miscreants have…" He lifted his hand, counting off the points with his fingers. "…One, beaten back our army. Two, beaten me back on two occasions. And three – destroyed my Queen." His smirk widened even more as he dropped the hand, before shrugging. "Not bad, I suppose."
"Less talk, more fight." Zell muttered back, finished rubbing the side of his head where the boot had been and standing upright, balling his fists and squaring off.
"C'mon…we've got all the time in the world now." Azel snorted. "It's not like we have to worry about the souls anymore…the Well has been destroyed as well. It seems, in all circumstances, your mission is a complete and resounding success."
"Just blows, having to admit I'm better then you, huh?" Zell bit back.
"Ah…but then, your mission parameters never included that everybody had to remain alive at the end of it, did they?" Azel countered, lifting his hand to waggling his finger at his double. "At rhe end of the day you've won the war…but this is one battle you won't walk away from. You'll die here a hero martyr, just like you did before."
"I'm shaking in my booties." Zell retorted. "Now put up or shut up."
Azel sighed, rolling his eyes. "Gods, Zell, haven't you ever heard of drama! That was the part where you say 'I'm going to destroy you and save the world', or some bullshit."
"Former, yes. Latter, I couldn't really care about right now."
Azel chuckled at that. "Oh yeah, the girl. You know, she actually kicked a lot of ass. I was impressed. Especially by the way you two fought together. You actually had me concerned that you could beat me…" Azel's baby-blue eyes suddenly narrowed as his voice lost it's joviality completely. "But now you're all alone. The computer geek and his bitch has fallen. I can't even sense your Sorceress anymore. And your girlfriend scampered ages ago. Possibly the only smart one amongst you..."
"I'm not alone..." Zell replied suddenly, his voice chillingly clear.
That made Azel blink in mute surprise. Not at the interruption…but at the complete conviction of Zell's words. It was like he knew someone who was behind him, someone who still had his back. But there was no-one anymore.
"…She's still with me." Zell finished. "And she'll help me beat you right into the ground where you belong."
That made Azel laugh. "Wha – the girl? The girl's ghost is going to help you?" His laughter was short-lived as he twirled his finger around his ear. "Gods, SeeD, I think I've hit you in the head one too many times…"
"You think so? Come and find out." Zell replied calmly.
This made Azel pause again.
Zell's eyes narrowed. "C'mon. Let's go. What are you waiting for? A gold-plated invitation? Sooner or later you're going to have to attack. Or maybe you're the one who's supposed to be afraid? Afraid that I'm going to really beat you."
Azel growled at that – causing Zell to smile wickedly, the smile making the Heart's blood boil. "Fine." The Heart spat, spreading his feet wide and lifting his hands. "You want me to fight with all stops pulled, then I will. Prepare to meet your maker."
Zell only replied once, the two words signalling the final battle between the two of them.
Azel exploded from his position beneath Zell, his legs flicking out from beneath him to stab forward, the leaping kick effortlessly dodged by Zell as he ducked around it – only to receive a slashing punch to the chops as Azel landed, his body flowing with the first attack to launch the second one effortlessly. His body rolling with the blow, Zell span on his heel – to swing his foot around, his legs sailing out to slam into Azel's raised forearm.
Lowering the leg quickly, Zell stepped forward with a vicious blow delivered directly to Azel's stomach, his Adamantine-covered fist hammered directly into the Heart's hard flesh, causing beads of sweat and blood to spray from the body as Azel tightened his abdominals to absorb the blow – before head butting the SeeD viciously, his teeth bared as he rammed his forehead into Zell's face. Not allowing Zell to fall back, Azel's hand grabbed Zell's shirt-front and pulled him into a knee to the stomach, Zell's breath blown out of him once more as the knee rammed into his guts once, twice, thrice –
Before his hand moved into the line of fire, stopping the knee dead in its tracks as his other hand grabbed Azel's throat. The Heart choked out a surprised gasp – before grabbing the gauntlet by the wrist and twisting it away from the throat, spinning Zell's body around so his arm was trapped behind his back, pulling up to almost touch his neck, his shoulder threatening to pop out of place.
Zell groaned in protest – before he suddenly kicked off the steel floor, ramming his back into Azel and knocking him off-balance, allowing the SeeD enough time to recover his pinned arm and, turning to face his opponent, drop to the floor and slash his legs out in a scissor-kick, the kick taking Azel's legs out from beneath him and causing him to land on his backside on the steel floor with a metallic clang.
Getting up quickly, watching Azel do the same, Zell blinked hard, his arm throbbing from the twisted position it had been in previously. He looked about him quickly, gathering his bearings.
The floor on which they stood was not just a piece of armour for the base – it was an actual floor of the base, having been unearthed by the Quake as it had rolled through the ground. The walls had all but been obliterated – only a few remained, and the foundations were showing within those. Long, thick retaining poles jutted out from the tops of the broken walls, plaster and concrete still hanging off them.
Zell's eyes narrowed. Poles…
Before Zell's body was smashed away by Azel, his slight drop of concentration costing him dearly. Grabbing the SeeD by his lapels, covering the small distance between them in nano-seconds, the Heart threw his head back far – before ramming it directly into Zell's face with hammering speed, the crack rendering Zell stupid as he stumbled back – before Azel's spin-kick slammed straight into his chest, sending the SeeD flying back, through a retaining wall and out the other end.
Composing himself with surprising speed, Zell managed to put his feet down on the steel floor and slow himself, his boots skidding as he leaned his body forward to ease his backward momentum, one hand on the floor for balance – whilst the other held something which made Azel smirk in mute surprise.
A length of iron pole, grabbed as Zell had flown through the concrete. It was about an inch thick and was a good five feet in length. Small bits of rock and plaster still clung to the slightly rusted surface, but it looked sound as Zell held it behind him, his arm outstretched as he finally came to a halt.
"What's that?" Azel called with a laugh. "A prop? C'mon, aren't I humiliating you enough?"
But Zell didn't reply as he stood, his teeth bared as he grimaced from the blow he'd just received – before calming himself and bringing the iron staff forward. Holding it in two hands, he began to spin it around slowly, windmilling it in front of him as if to create a circular shield before his body. He span it slowly, the staff moving lithely from one gauntlet to the other, his eyes ice-cold behind the moving wall of iron – before he pulled his head back sharply, beckoning his Doppelganger forward.
Azel laughed again – before suddenly running forward.
Zell's spinning stopped as abruptly as Azel took off, and standing back, held the weapon with both hands. Az Azel pulled his left fist back, Zell lifted the pole and swung it sharply to the Heart's right – to be blocked by Azel's Orihalcon-clad forearm, the Heart smirking as the forearm was pushed in by the sheer strength of the blow – before Zell suddenly twisted his entire weight and deftly swung the staff in the opposite direction, to Azel's completely unguarded left.
Thanks to the sheer strength of the first blocked attack, Azel had been travelling slightly to the left, his arm pulled back for a strike – which had no chance of being delivered as Zell's staff slashed right into his neck, striking between the neck and the clavicle, Azel's blue eyes widening in shock, his mouth gaping open in a choked gasp of pain – before he was sent flying, slamming into the steel floor and sliding across it to hammer into a wall, the already weak concrete bucking under his considerable momentum.
Shaking his head, his neck feeling as stiff as a plank of wood, Azel looked up -to criss-cross his arms above his head as Zell's iron staff was slashed right down, Zell's leaping attack causing Azel's body to buckle the steel floor underneath it with a shattering bang – before Zell simply pulled the iron rod out from where it was resting on the X-ed arms and stabbed the tip into Azel's chest like a pool-cue, the brief stab sending the Heart right through the wall he'd just landed against.
Back flipping away from the massive dent which he'd just created in the floor, Zell span the staff in his arms again – before holding it behind him, his other hand outstretched, his legs spread, ready for anything.
Before him, behind the dent in the floor, the stone wall finally fell right over, revealing the pillar of white light which had been hiding behind it. The light was slowly spreading all over the sky, enveloping the clouds and causing all the shadow around them to slowly melt away. If Zell had been playing attention, he would also note that there were small lights floating through the air, the pyre-flies having slowly been flying out of their captivity to await whatever happened to free souls.
A pile of rubble shifted slightly, making Zell's muscles tense – before a rock suddenly flew at him from the pile.
His hand deftly slapped the rock from the air, sending it flying out into a small cluster of souls, the pyre-flies scattering a few seconds after the rock had travelled through them.
Azel suddenly reared from the pile of rubble, his hand clenched – as he ran forward, throwing rock after rock, a barrage of missiles assaulting Zell.
Zell began to slap them all out of the air, each one delivered with more and more force, the Adamantine on his gauntlets protesting with clangs and rings as each rock was sent hurtling out of harms way – before Azel was finally upon him, leaping forward with his arms outstretched.
Zell slid back on his heels to create some distance between them as he flicked the iron staff over his back, the length flipping over his shoulder into his awaiting hand and stabbing out – to be caught by Azel's hand!
The two Dinchts now holding the same pole, they glared at each other over the five foot radius – before Azel suddenly pushed forward, forcing Zell to stumble back a few feet. Zell regained his footing instantly – to push back against Azel, forcing Azel back as well.
There was almost a comical sense to it as each Dinct took turns trying to knock the other over in a reverse-tug-of-war, the objective being to push hard enough so the other would fall flat on his back, leaving the pole behind him – but it was only when they finally pushed at the same time that the game was finished. The make-shift iron staff, having decided it wasn't made for this kind of punishment, began to bend in the middle as each Dintch pushed forward, the five-foot gap suddenly closed into a foot-wide gap as each Zell was left holding a U-shaped iron pole.
The humour was lost to them, however, as they glared at each other over the foot-wide gap. Each man held their end of the pole tightly, as if to never let go, their fists crackling slightly within their respective protective coverings.
Each man was, for lack of a better word, a mess. Blood, sweat and grime covered them both. Zell's clothes were beyond battered, his shirt having been ripped and torn by the trips though the ground and walls, as well as being pulled and yanked by Azel. His skin was scored with nicks, marks and cuts, burns and welts. His nose was most certainly broken, and his lips had been split several times. He could taste the copper in his mouth too, having bitten his tongue and the insides of his cheeks during the battle sometime.
Azel's body looked worse, if possible. Having survived a Flare head-on, his tanned chest heaved as the scorch marks bled as freely as the innumerable cuts and gashes made when Zell slapped him into the glass. Every visible piece of flesh had been cut – he even still had a few small pieces left in the skin here and there, glinting in the bright light of the souls around them. His nose had also been broken, and large welts and long, ugly purple bruises had appeared where Zell had smacked and stabbed him with his staff.
Both Dinchts had fist-shaped welts all over their bodies, their tough skin accepting the gauntlets each other wore on their fists with little objection apart from yellow and purple bruises. Each man was breathing heavily, having pulled all stops out in the battle – and, amazingly, Zell had been holding his own the entire time. Azel had been shocked at first – but then he'd just accepted it. At least he was a challenge.
Zell's gritted teeth finally opened as he spoke in growled tones. "I cant believe you look like me. Even the sight of that tattoo disgusts me."
Azel's smirk infuriated Zell even more. Was everything a joke to him? "Like it? Got it in a harem in Crisp while we were recruiting."
"You don't deserve to wear it!" Zell suddenly shouted, dropping his half of the bent staff – to slam his gauntlet into the side of Azel's face, flames licking out from the inside of his palm as he slapped Azel's face hard, snapping the Heart's head across…
…As smoke poured from the black tattoo, the smell of searing flesh filling the air to overcome the smell of sweat, dirt and blood, Azel screaming as he staggered away from the SeeD, his hand coming up to cover the burn on his face.
Zell watched, his face grim, as Azel pulled his hand away – to look at the tiny bits of inked flesh melted onto the dirt and blood covering the silver metal. Zell's small Fire attack had burned the tattoo right off Azel's face, the ugly mark searing the flesh right off the muscle.
"M-my face…" Azel moaned, reaching up to touch it again, his hand trembling as he did so. "…What did you do to it!"
Zell reached up to touch his own tattoo. He knew that would get a reaction. He remembered his own reaction when he saw he'd lost his own tattoo back on the Immortal world. Losing it through the regeneration of his skin recuperating after escaping Crisp…before having it given back to him by the Immortals when they re-birthed his body.
It was him. Not a dark spot of spiked ink, but a flame that would burn eternally, showing people just who he was – unhindered by morals or social standard. Apart from the rest. Unique in every possible way, and even maybe, in a small way…
…Better then some.
Not that he saw it as that all the time – but then, he had sat back when looking at himself in the mirror occasionally and figured that he did look pretty cool with it on compared to most dull, boring faces. Even earrings and eyebrow studs can be removed – you really have to work at getting rid of something like this.
Which was why Azel was now clenching and unclenching his fists, blood splattering to the ground from the bleeding wound on his face, his blue eyes flaming with rage as he turned slowly to look up at the SeeD. "Zelll…" He hissed, his teeth clenched so hard it looked like they were about to pop out of his mouth.
"You took my baby." Zell snarled coldly. "What I just took from you was nowhere near payment." He raised his clenched fist, the blood-re gauntlet smeared with his own blood thrice over now – his own against Sam, his own when he rubbed it off his face, and Azels. "Only your dead corpse at my feet will be adequate payment, Azel – I'm fighting for my Dee, and no words, no actions, nothing you ever do can change the fact that I'll fight till my dying breath just to see you choking on your own vomit, you fuck!"
His small speech was over abruptly, however, as Azel suddenly appeared beneath him. Zell's eyes were wide as Azel's fist seemed to twist in his stomach, his outstretched hand hanging tightly over Azel's shoulder as he lifted his burned face to looked up into Zell's shocked expression.
"I told you before…" Azel snarled, the usual smirk on his face now completely gone. "…No more hesitation."
Then he pulled his fist out and, pulling it back with what seemed like infinite slowness, suddenly slashed it forward – to smash it directly into Zell's face, the punch snapping Zell's head back and causing him to flip backwards – to slam into the wall behind him, exiting out from behind it with rubble flowing through the air around him as he skidded off the steel floor – to travel through another wall, this one's being from a hallway as he flew straight through both walls of the hallway – to finally fly out into the open space of the glass desert, his spinning body still flying through the air with no sign of stopping –
Before Azel suddenly appeared in his line of trajectory with speeds unseen, jumping high – to slash his leg out, slamming it into Zell's back – and sending him flying straight back towards the base, being sent straight through the three walls he'd just gone through to skid across the steel floor, dust smoking off his body as he rebounded off the floor to his feet, still skidding from the sheer power of the kick – to suddenly come to a stop at another wall behind him, hitting it with his back and falling to his hands and knees.
Zell's breathing was erratic, his eyes wide as pain shot through his body at an alarming rate. His speed…his strength…they're so high… Zell thought, coughing suddenly and lifting his silver gauntlet to his mouth, coughing something up from the pit of his belly – before pulling his hand back to reveal the sticky warm blood covering the dirty palm. What the crap! We were even not a few seconds ago! Has he been toying with me the entire time!
His thoughts were short-lived, however, as he looked up to the sounds of boots quickly thumping on the steel floor – before his view was obstructed by a Orihalcon-clad hand, the hand slamming directly into his temple and sending his head smashing into the wall he'd hit, his entire head suddenly embedded into the concrete as his body twitched, unable to comprehend this much pain all at once…before Azel suddenly began to sprint along the wall, pulling Zell's head through the wall with him, leaving a trail through the concrete as he pushed the head before him, Zell's body sliding defencelessly along for the ride – before the wall mercifully ended, Azel throwing the SeeD's limp body forward as they finally left the steel floor of the ruined base and clenched his fists together, lifting them high above his head – to slash them down into Zell's stomach, the SeeD flying directly into the WarWorld dirt, glass and sand wet with blood flying up as a crater of stupendous magnitude suddenly grew from around his body, the earth cracking loudly in protest from the immense amount of pressure being put onto it.
Azel flipped over the crater, landing outside it before walking to the edge and looking down into the centre, where Zell lay.
His spiky blonde hair was covered with the white concrete, his tattooed side having born the full brunt of the push through the wall. His eyes were closed; his arms limp by his sides as blood leaked from his mouth, forming a slowly growing pool by the side of his head. He was not dead, however, just knocked out – his chest rose and fell slowly, each shuddering breath an aggravation to Azel in every respect.
Stepping over the edge, Azel slid down the curved slope of the crater before walking forward, moving towards the SeeD cautiously. Although having revealed the true extent of his power, he was wary – the SeeD had survived Final Death, after all. Nothing he did should be taken for granted.
This was why the Heart was astonished as he grabbed Zell's shirt-front and lifted him from the ground, holding him up with one arm, regarding him in the light of the souls now floating copiously around them. Blood dribbled out of Zell's mouth as his head lolled forward, his arms and legs hanging loosely beneath him, a puppet with it's strings cut.
Shaking him didn't bring any reaction, Zell's arms and legs simply flopping about beneath him, and Azel frowned with anger. "You're going to make me kill you in your sleep! Wake up already! I'm not done dealing your punishment yet!"
It was then that Zell's left hand suddenly snaked out – to be caught by Azel's hand, the hand gripping Zell's wrist tightly, catching the sneaky appendage as Zell's eyes opened, grunting in surprise and causing Azel to grin wickedly. "That's better…" He growled…
Before Zell suddenly opened his right palm and turned it to face Azel, a Blizara spouting from his palm right into Azel's face, the ball of hard, cold permafrost smashing right into Azel's face, forcing him to release Zell and fly back to hammer into the wall of the crater.
Zell fell to the floor, landing hard with a cry of pain. His entire body was wracking with pain – it had taken all his willpower to keep from attacking as Azel had lifted him up, and even when he'd figured Azel had been duped, the Heart continued to fill Zell with dread. Even now, Zell turned his head to look back as Azel pulled himself from his hole in the dirt and shake off the remnants of the ice, spying Zell lying on the floor and walking forward toward him.
Zell needed to put some space between them. He needed to find a way to escape. So, his hands weakly scrabbling at the dirt, he began to try and crawl away slowly. Pulling his battered body forward a foot at a time using nothing but his arms – his legs didn't want to work, for some reason – he tried to get away from the Heart, to find some time to heal himself, to recuperate and figure out what to do next…
…Before a boot suddenly slammed into his side, a rib audibly snapping and causing Zell to howl in pain.
"There's something wrong with you." Azel muttered, looking down at the SeeD as he kicked him again, hearing another rib go with muted satisfaction. "There's something wrong with all you Gaians. You keep…trying. Like it's a fucking drug or something. 'If I try, I'll succeed.' Bullshit." He kicked Zell again, causing the SeeD to cough up some more blood, the crimson liquid spilling to the ground easily. "Trying never helped anybody. It's only when all the odds are stacked in your favour that you truly succeed. I mean, look at me. The Queen picked me because I ass-raped all the other Crisps who even looked my way. She bestowed on me more power then you could ever imagine, gave me an army to control…"
Suddenly, he grabbed Zell's shoulder and flipped him onto his back before straddling him and holding his arms down, smirking into Zell's bloodstained face. "…Now look at you. Pissy powers. In charge of – what? A traitor, a gothic slacker, an angsty gunblader, a geek with a girlfriend complex and a weak as shit Sorceress. You take on my army only to lose massive amounts of your men, falling right into our plans – then you have the audacity to fight me all by yourself." He chuckled, as if the entire concept was amusing to him. "I mean, look at yourself now! You were doing so well, trying so hard…but a few punches I don't pull…and you fall like shit that's been stacked too high."
Zell tried to move – but he couldn't. The bastard's grip was too tight, his weight seeming to be unmoveable. All he could do was look up – to spy something shiny within the dirt of the crater.
"…You couldn't even save yourself. You make me sick." Azel growled, his voice rising with menace with each venom-filled word. "Which is why…I'm going to make you suffer right till your last choked breath!"
Zell's hands were suddenly free – before an encompassing grip suddenly enclosed itself around his neck, his windpipe closing into itself as the grip crushed his neck inward. Azel was going to choke him to death!
His hands pushed up to Azel's face, the Heart having to move his head to stop from having his eyes gouged out – before the hands began to scrabble at the Orihalcon-clad gauntlets around his victim's neck, fighting desperately to find purchase that wasn't there as Azel pushed his thumbs right into Zell's Adam's apple, forcing it back into his spine…
Back at the Well, Angel was fighting not to scream as Squall's body was continually invaded again and again by souls.
The roar had overcome all her senses, the light overwhelming as Squall's body had become nothing but a pinprick of black within the encompassing white, the black winking in and out of existence like a strobe-light as soul after soul flashed through him, never seeming to stop, passing through his body again and again and again…
Rinoa was simply watching and praying. Praying that her luck, having been junctioned with her most powerful magic, would hold out as long as it already had. The Luck Junction was a tricky thing – the fickle finger of fate rarely fell on the person with a powerful Luck junction, the scales tipped in the favour of good fortune. There was always the chance, however, that the scales would inadvertently spill in the opposite direction at random occasions – the misfortune of having such good fortune. Nothing lasted forever.
Please Squall…please come back to me… She thought to herself as she watched his body continue to rise, further then she could fly in her condition, Angel's kneeling form the only other thing in her sight. …You…you promised me…you promised we'd go to the sailing…when this is all over…you've never broken one of your promises…not ever…
It was then that the form of a green Ragnarok suddenly soared through the Well's spouting souls, starlting both Rinoa and Angel as it appeared like a dragon leaping from a waterfall of light.
Banking around sharply, Selphie looked down to the two forms beside the shooting stream of light on the ground on her vid-screen and looked back to the two men behind her. "How's the repairs coming?"
"All weapons are offline, ma'am, and all the bottom hoverpads have been scrubbed off the board…" One of her Estharian co-pilots reported. "…But everything else is in operational order. The landing gear was tucked just underneath the damage area, and the self-repair bots have maintained their working order. We can land and pick them up, if you wish."
"Alrighty, lets do that." Selphie muttered, turning to look back to the screen. "They look like they need a good days rest…as we're doing that I'll take out that bucket-thingy with a det-charge and stop it from doing whatever it's doing…"
"Ma'am! We have a lifeform floating in the air, about a hundred meters above us!" The second Estharian shouted suddenly, tapping a few buttons to bring the image onto Selphie's screen…
…Who gasped in shock as she recognised the body, jolting as each and every cluster of souls slashed through it. "Squall!"
"Ma'am, I'm not reading lifesigns…no, wait…hang on, yes…no…yes…no…" The Estharian grunted in anger. "The instruments must have been damaged by the Ultima. It's showing a constant rate of life, then death, followed by life again. Almost as if he's dying and being revived, over and over and over…"
"Whaaa…" Selphie squealed, grabbing her hair and moaning. "I don't know what to do! Is he dead or not! I don't even know if we ought to grab him if he's like that!"
"Ma'am, we ought to focus on Rinoa and the other SeeD beneath us before focusing on the Commander." The first Estharian piped in. "Once we have them on board, we can concentrate on how to rescue the Commander."
Selphie pouted at the idea…but saw no other viable choice. Who knew what might happen if someone went near Squall as that beam of light had him – who could tell if the same thing wouldn't happen to them too? "…Alright, take us down…" She said quietly, the Estharians obeying immediately, the green Ragnarok flying down to land unceremoniously beside Rinoa and Angel.
"Beep .Welcome to WarWorld. Temperature, 34C. Please watch your step as you disembark." The AI peeped to the three SeeDs as they bustled out of the cockpit.
Back to Azel and Zell, Zell was running out of his already very low options. His strength had waned to the point that struggling was no use, and his breath was already running out. Already he could feel the burn in his lungs as they desperately searched for oxygen to feed off, his eyes spotting wildly as darkness began to creep into the edges of his vision.
He needed to fight back somehow…he needed to beat the Heart off so he could recuperate…but he couldn't beat him with his fists…even now he couldn't cast magic…he was helpless, like Azel had said…
Then his eyes widened more as he looked behind him – to spy the shiny thing he'd seen before.
Azel was too busy trying to choke Zell to realise he was outstretching his hand, reaching for the object half-buried in the dirt with his hand, his fingertips only slightly grazing the edges of the object.
It's just out of reach! Zell's mind screamed at him. For fucks sake, I've got to reach it!
His hand was grasping for it violently now, digging at the dirt in a bid to reach for it, his gauntlet's fingertips snicking the edges – before his eyes widened…
And he pulled his hand back so his wrist was at a ninety-degree angle.
Almost immediantly there was a slight buzz in the palm of his hand – before Rinoa's broken Blaster's Edge suddenly flew into his awaiting palm, his magnetically charged gauntlet holding onto it like glue!
The sheer force of Rinoa's ascension to the top of the base must've been so strong it had even sucked stuff from beyond the Tidus within the lower levels. Her Blaster's Edge must've been pulled along with all that debris, and by sheer chance, have been pulled up to the surface when Azel had cast the Quake on the base.
Azel's eyes were wide as he suddenly saw something flash from the corner of his eye, his concentration on Zell's red face and bulging eyes so great he didn't actually realise something was amiss until it was too late – and the razor-sharp discus on the Blaster Edge was embedded in his shoulder, cutting right past the Orihalcon armour on the curve of his shoulder and slicing deep into the nape of his neck
The immense grip on Zell's neck was released finally, allowing him to kick Azel away from him feebly and roll away, coughing and gasping, one hand to his neck to massage the air back into his throat as Azel's screams and spurts of blood filled the air. The Heart had managed to stumbled back onto his feet, away from Zell, and grasp the discus with his Orihalcon-clad hand, trying desperately to pull it out, bellowing in anguished pain as he tried desperately to dislodge it from his chest.
Zell had had enough. He'd been holding back, because what he was about to do had to work, otherwise he was done for – but, seeing as sheer luck had only just worked for him, he figured he had nothing to lose now.
So, willing himself to his feet, one hand still to his throat, he spread his feet wide – and tensed all his muscles, blue static beginning to form as his adrenaline flowed in torrents through his veins, his teeth gritting as his feet were suddenly crushed into the soft earth – before his own screams filled the air, his guttural battle-cry taking over Azel's screams of pain enough to garner the Heart's attention.
The Heart's eyes went wide, recognising what the SeeD was about to do – before suddenly gripping the vicious discus embedded in his chest with his hand and, pulling with a supreme effort, tore it from his body, the slice spouting blood all over the floor and his body as he threw the weapon to the floor – and also clenched his fist, his other arm hanging limp at his side, useless as he begun to draw on the power within him as well.
Zell forced back the feelings of distress and elation as he watched Azel draw on his own Limit Break – the sheer fact that he had been reduced to using a desperation attack as well signified two things – that he had the power to do so after receiving such a vicious wounding, and that he could still fight after receiving such a wounding.
Zell would not have a second chance at this anyways – he needed this to work. So, spreading his feet wide, he crouched down on his right, in the perfect sprint-race stance, blue electricity lacing all around his body as he opened his mouth to utter the first word of power. "MY!"
He lifted his right arm, sending it far back behind him, the blood-soaked Uber Ehrgiez lifted high above his body, the electricity coursing up and down it. "FINAL!"
He curled his left arm out in front of him, the power flowing around him almost completely charged…almost…almost… "HEAVEEEEENN!"
There was a sudden, shocked glance traded between the two doppelgangers as they echoed each other's words, Azel's own stance mimicking Zell's to a tee – before they suddenly exploded from their starting points, flying past each other as blurs, one dark, the other silver, each beginning their circumnavigation of WarWorld…
- - -
At the Well of Souls, Selphie was just helping Angel onto the ship as a dark blur suddenly flashed right past them, the sheer force of the blur causing the entire ship to spin on it's footings and teeter dangerously. The two Estharians, carrying a shell-shocked Sorceress on the ship's stretcher, fought desperately to keep their footing, looking back to see Angel smile and Selphie woot the blur some encouragement before speaking up…
- - -
"…What the fuck is that!" Major Almasy shouted over the beating of the Black-Hawk's rotors, pointing to a silver speck on the horizon which was growing bigger by the second.
Seifer, Quistis and Irvine all leaned out of the helicopters, now severely doubting their usefulness after such a bumpy ride and the pilot's unconvincing reports that they had 'everything under control' after such a massive blast, to look out – and cheer as the blur suddenly flashed underneath them, a trail of destruction left in it's wake as it flew over and through the WarWorld's landscape.
"That's my Zell! Booya! Go Zell-man!" Irvine shouted to the speck as it flew into the horizon…
…At the bottom of the globe, two blurs travelling at speeds reaching and exceeding Mach 25 slashed past each other…
- - -
…The Ragnarok was just getting off the ground as Selphie suddenly gripped the controls hard, the dragon-ship rocking violently as a silver blur suddenly retraced it's steps underneath them, flying right past the Well and causing Selphie to frown in confusion and turned to speak…
…As Irvine spoke into his radio. "Hey, Zell can't turn around mid-Heaven, can he?"
"No." Quistis replied over the radio. "He's moving too fast to turn around. Why?"
"Because I think he's coming back this way."
"What?" Quistis asked in surprise as she leaned out of the helicopter once more – to watch as a dark blur flew right underneath them, retracing the massive trench it had dug into the red earth not moments before. "What the hell…" She whispered to herself as she watched it flew off to disappear into the horizon towards the light-source that they were travelling to…
The point of contact.
At the crater, the air was still. It had been less then thirty seconds since the two Dinchts had left the area, and already the wind had blown away the dust which had been kicked up by their launch. Two massive trenches, the sizes of tanker trucks on steroids, cut a channel right over the crater, starting at the centre of the crater and moving out…
The two Dinchts suddenly appeared, twin trails of dust and dirt kicking up behind them as they passed straight through each other and rammed their fists into the entrances of their respective trenches, the trenches being obliterated entirely as the shockwaves of their connection seemed to rock the entire world…
Before they actually arrived.
That was all Zell could feel at the moment.
Pain, and something on top of him.
A crushing weight, something so heavy it was forcing the air out of his lungs, causing him to gasp – and eat dirt.
He desperately threw his arm out, the move seeming to take forever – it felt like he was swimming through dirt – before fresh air was finally accepted into his lungs as he pushed whatever the weight was away, a bright light also warming his face as he slowly opened his eyes…
To see Azel.
His opponent stood before him, his breathing heavy, his injured chest rising and falling as he began to stagger forward. His right arm was nowhere to be seen, his torso seeming to simply end where the shoulder was supposed to begin. Shattered, shredded muscle was all that remained, blood and fluids seeping out of it in mass quantities – but he was still standing.
His footing was irregular as he moved forward, his eyes half-lidded, his remaining arm limp by his side. His tanned flesh had also taken a pale pallor – the loss of blood was taking it's toll. It was only a matter of time until he died.
"Zell!" He cried suddenly, forcing himself to look up at the SeeD embedded within the rock and dirt, his voice laboured by heavy breathing. "I'm…not finished…with you…yet…"
Zell tried to push himself out of where he'd seemed to have been buried in the dirt – but found that his left leg felt like someone had speared a billion javelins of white-hot searing pain into it. My Final Heaven is supposed to be a finishing move…I hit him, but he's still standing…and now I have to deal with it… Zell thought to himself, taking several deep breathes – before pushing himself out of the ground with a cry of agony, rolling out of the hole in the side of the crater and sliding down to come to a halt near the centre.
The results of two My Final Heaven's connecting were mind-blowing. Where there had been a ten-meter-wide crater before was now more close to a hundred meters, debris littering the ground around them. As Zell pushed himself to his feet, he could even swear that he saw Veroinca's body lying somewhere near, Julius close to her as usual…
"Zell…" Azel cried again, staggering forward. "…C'mon…we…have to finish this…"
Zell was completely and utterly exhausted. He was certain his leg was broken in several different places, his body was battered and beaten to a pulp, and he had very little strength left at all. He still could not believe that Azel was moving after taking so much punishment – then again, the same could be said about Zell.
"…Alright…" Zell muttered, gathering his strength. "…I'm coming."
Pushing himself to his feet, wincing at the pain shooting up his leg, he drew himself to his full 5'5" height before limping forward slowly, painfully, approaching his opponent one last time with determined courage.
Azel also staggered forward. His leg had also been shattered – but, where Zell had to deal with it, Azel had the Orihalcon to keep him together. Even if you break a bone, the Orihalcon kept your limbs intact enough to optimise performance. It had been one of the reasons he had been so strong, so fast…but now, he was on his last legs. And he despised Zell for it.
The two doppels met at the still-smoking crater, slowly coming to a halt about two feet away from each other. Each man was so tired, he could barely stand up straight – but the fire in their eyes still burned with a passion unquenchable, even eyes as fatigued as they were.
Through gasped breaths, Azel spoke up as he grasped at his cleaved chest with his remaining hand, his voice quiet for the first time Zell had heard it – and with a twinge of something else. Respect. "…Fucking…try-hard…"
"…Yo…mama…" Zell replied with equal fatigue, one hand holding onto his leg in a bid to keep it together.
Grimacing with the effort, Azel then drew his bloody fist back, lifting it high to swing it down with enough power to knock Zell for six, Zell bowing his head as if to accept the blow without defence, Azel about to give him everything he had left –
If Zell's hand hadn't suddenly shot up to block the attack, hammering into the crook of Azel's elbow as blue static began to shoot up his body.
"No…" Azel moaned as Zell's blocking arm gripped Azel's arm, Zell's bowed head looking up – to sneer at his double as he lifted his left hand from his leg and dew it back – and began to shake it, the blood-red gauntlet beginning to vibrate wildly as static laced up and down the arm – before the vibrations grew more stable, causing the arm to begin to blur, the forearm simply fading from human eye comprehension as it vibrated at speed unimaginable.
"No…" Azel moaned as Zell pulled his fist back even further, the speeds increasing even more as the red blur simply became a swimming shape in the air, static flashing off Zell's entire body now as the ground began to tremble.
Zell's eyes widened as Azel's did as the blur of a fist began to smoke a red smoke, his Limit break climbing even more as his energy topped and superseded anything previous, the rocky ground beneath them cracking under the paramagical energies within the air.
Zell's fist began to move forward, ever so slowly, as if he was pulling the entire atmosphere of the planet along with him, his muscles feeling like they were on fire as his wounds seemed to pulse with pain, his energy fluxuating around him in such a way as to hurt."Door!" Zell's fist suddenly slashed forward, the slowness he felt only nanoseconds before disappearing as his fist slammed straight into Azel's perforated chest, the hand literally passing through the chest to exit from the back. Amazingly, there was no blood, no rupturing skin, no bodily organs flying all over the place – Azel looked completely fine, apart from having the nub of an arm rubbing against his chest.
He knew better, however, and in his last seconds on earth he threw his head back and screamed out, screaming out his anguish, his pain, his anger, his rage, everything he had been looking forward to and having never done all disappearing in a blink of an eye as soon as this man before him stepped into the picture…
Then physics caught up with him. His chest exploded backward, his sternum, lungs, heart, oesophageus, windpipe and spine suddenly exploding from his back in a big bloody mess, his mouth unable to scream any longer as his vital organs followed suit, blown straight out in speeds incalculable – to disintegrate in mid air, Zell's attack literally killing Azel on the spot.
His energy waning, Zell withdrew his vibrating, electrostatically charged hand, watching as Azel looked at him. Azel seemed to look disappointed in his last moments on the planet – before he simply fell back, Zell letting go of the arm he'd been holding onto to let the Heart flop onto the floor, finally dead.
Zell had done it. He'd completed his mission…at the cost of his daughter.
He felt his hand twitch within his gauntlet, but he paid the pain no heed as he sank to his knees and lay down on the ground, the fatigue finally catching up to him, the darkness finally beginning to close around him like a warm blanket, blood seeping from his mouth as he closed his eyes, the roar in the distance beginning to rise in volume…
…Selphie frowned in confusion and turned to look back to Angel. "Was that who I think that was?"
"It's impossible!" Angel said, running to a computer to watch the re-play the Estharians had put up. "Zell cant turn around during My Final Heaven. The whole point is to increase speed and not decrease it until point of impact. And that includes having to turn. He just ploughs straight through everything until he reaches his mark – where he started."
The SeeD had accepted the arrival of the Green Ragnarok with grace – having seen it last as a Heart ship, she'd courageously stepped in front of the fallen Rinoa in order to protect the Sorceress – before almost falling over in relief as Selphie hopped off the loading bay ramp and ran forward, filling her in on the bare basics as her two friends loaded Rinoa onto a stretcher.
Now in the air, the two women were looking at Squall's body, still floating through the air as hundreds of souls per second poured through him. "Look, we'll figure that out later – you're certain Squall's okay like that?"
Angel bit her bottom lip, worried about Zell – but having to concentrate on the task at hand for the moment. "Look, it's like I told you – Aqual took over Squall's body with the help of the Queen. Rinoa took Aqual's soul out of Squall's body, then opened the Well of Souls to find Squalll's soul so she could put it back – but then this happened." Pain overcame her face as she timidly sat down in a chair. She wanted to rest, but there was too much left to do. "It's like the souls are all fighting over the body…trying to bond with a host in order to live again."
"…So…should I blast the stream?" Selphie asked, reaching for her control panel – before a big fat warning sign came up on her screen, causing her pretty face to glow a bright pink. "Oh…right…no weapons…"
Angel had been reaching out to stop Selphie from pressing anything else, and sat back in her seat as she realised that Selphie couldn't do anything. "I don't think that would work, anyways. This isn't a monster, it's a fountain of souls. You flew right through it when you were coming here, for Hyne's sake!"
"I know. We couldn't stop. Afterburners were on the fritz."
Angel groaned. The way Selphie had just delivered the last statement made her want to throttle her. "Look, I just want to get to Zell!" She shouted angrily.
"I know how you feel, Angel, but Squall's here, and in more danger then Zell. Zell can handle himself, everybody knows that." Selphie replied calmly, not perturbed by Angel's sudden outburst.
Angel simply sank back into her chair, suddenly embarrassed that she had lost control like that. "Look at me…I'm shaking like a leaf…almost soiled myself on almost four occasions today…I'm a failure as a SeeD…"
Selphie snorted. "Hon, you should have seen me when we were up against Ultimecia. Man, I was so frightened I dropped my nun-chaku."
That made Angel chuckle slightly – before her eyes widened as the screens in front of them focused on Squall suddenly flashed. "Look!"
Right before them, the flow of souls proceeding to Squall's body slowly began to lessen in speed as his body began to float back down to the ground.
"Holy crap!" Selphie exclaimed, before bringing up the scanners and scanning the body. "Its…it's alive! And it's consistent!" Her hands were suddenly a blur as she pressed buttons and commanded consoles. "Angel, go to the loading bay! We're going to grab him on the way down."
"Right!" Angel said, jumping from the co-pilot seat beside Selphie's, happy for something to do.
As she walked down to the loading bay, coming into the massive empty bay and waiting for the doors to open, Angel couldn't help but watch, as they drew nearer to the spout of Souls, that the pyre-flies were coming into the ship as well. Unhindered by the physical plain, the pyre-flies were allowed to come and go as they please, and moved through the thick hull of the ship with no effort whatsoever.
It was here that Angel crouched by the bay doors, hugging her knees to her chest, and waiting…waiting…
…Waiting to see him again.
She was certain he would be alright. He'd been through so much, and had survived much more…there was no way that he would die this time.
But…she missed him. Even with such a short time apart, the tenseness of the situation had overcome her. After the destruction of the Queen, Selphie had said that she had immediately flown for the Well – but not before seeing a fifth figure emerge from the hole in the ground where the Base had been and smacking two of the figures away before firing magic at the other two.
It was the only explanation that made sense. No-one else would have survived such brutality and come out with such anger…
Zell…please…you have to win…Angel thought, burying her head in her knees, feeling tears rolling down her cheeks as her grip tightened on her dirty pants…
Before the bay-doors had opened – and something had flown in, striking Angel with such a force it had blown her away from the doors and into the far corner of the bay.
It had been a collection of lights, the baubles which had been flitting in and out of Squall's body – a set had flown and attacked her!
Now she felt something growing in her, something she had never felt before – power. Unbelievable power. Power unmeasurable. And as she felt it grow, she looked up – and saw them.
The souls. Not just as lights – but as people. Full, floating people. They moved around each other as if swimming through a strong current, being sucked through a vortex which they had no choice but to follow – and before her stood a woman in purple.
The Queen of Hearts!
"As with all the Angels…" The Queen said sadly, holding her hand out to Angel. "My power goes to you, a Sorceress of lesser or equal power."
"But…but I'm not a Sorceress!" Angel cried as she felt the thing grow within her once more. "Rinoa is the Sorceress!"
"You cannot choose what you are as much as I could. Now you have my power, I can pass onto the final plain and live out my afterlife…with him…" The Queen whispered as she turned to face a man with grey eyes – before they were both sucked into the vortex of light swirling outside the bay doors.
Angel looked down at her hands as the ghost of the Queen left – and realised they were no longer shaking. Indeed, she felt…revitalised. Energised. Reborn.
Spreading her wings behind her, the white feathers settling as if they had always been there, her smoking white gaze looked out to the res sky beyond the spout of souls – to see Squall slowly spiralling down to earth. Spreading her wings wide, she leapt from the loading bay ramp and flew out to him, catching him in her arms before flying him back to the Ragnarok, landing on the loading-bay floor as if she had done it a thousand times before.
Lifting her smoking white gaze, she lifted her hand to the open/close stud across the room – and smiled as it depressed itself all by itself, the loading bay ramp closing behind her and allowing her to look down at Squall – who had his eyes open, his scarred face twisted into a frown.
Angel blinked uncertainly then, a puff of smoke appearing when she closed her eyes, before smiling down to him. Um…hi?
"You're…not Rinoa…" He asked in his cool voice, the voice filled with fatigue.
No…Rinoa is in the Infirmary right now…want to go see her?
"…Yes…I have to…see her…"
Looking up suddenly, the fledgling Sorceress noticed the two Estharians bearing the stretcher, standing completely still as they stared at her. Utter disbelief was etched on their faces – that the cute little brunette who had boarded their dragon-jet could have been a Sorceress had not once crossed their minds.
Angel ignored the Estharian's looks as she opened the loading bay doors and flew out, through the stream of souls, towards where Zell had been last.
Veronica opened her eyes slowly – before wincing, placing her hand to her temple as she felt something wet, pulling her hand back – to see a silvery substance coating her fingertips and palm. Panic shot up her spine momentarily – before she realised that, now, this was what her blood looked like. The nanomachines had multiplied to such a point that her blood had become a moot point.
I have to vent them somehow…She thought to herself, sitting up and feeling the dirt and debris which had covered her body slide off – as well as something else, sitting in her lap. It felt heavy enough to be a rock, but was soft to the touch…
Her silver-tinged eyes went wide as she roughly shoved the head off her lap, the golden locks twisting around it as it rolled away from her.
Rolling over to her belly, Veronica tried not to vomit, retching loudly as the WarWorld wind began to pick up around her, blowing dust in all directions.
She almost jumped out of her skin as something suddenly pulled itself out of the ground beside her – before realising it was Julius, his hands to his face as he moaned. "Oh gods…my head…" He murmured, before lowering his hands – to look around. "Wha…my glasses…oh gods…Veronica! Where are you!" He cried, his initial confusion turning to panicked concern.
Veronica blinked – before suddenly leaping at him, grasping him tightly to her, looking over his shoulder at the head lying not a few feet behind him. "Julius…" She whispered.
His arms were around her immediantly – but he could feel her trembling. With his glasses gone his sight was reduced to blur at a long distance, the curse of the hacker having to stare at a computer screen all day. Looking down to her, squinting slightly, his face bunched in confusion. "Whats wrong? Is Azel still out here?"
Veronica shook her head. Although the roaring light in the distance was still consitant, the sounds of Azel and Zell's battle seemed to have vanished a long time ago. "I…I think it's over…but…"
"…Dee…" Veronica whispered, clutching to Julius tighter, burying her face in his broad shoulder.
"What about her?" Julius asked, still confused about the current situation – before the realisation hit him. Blinking hard to force his eyes to focus properly, he turned to where Veronica had been staring…to see something out of place within the red ground.
A blur of yellow stood out brightly within the fuzzy red that was his sight…and Dee's usual blue dress wasn't attached to the gold.
His fists balled. Azel…you bastard…not again…
His anger was short lived as Veronica suddenly doubled over him again – and vomited violently, silver liquid splattering over his shirt.
"Dammit!" He shouted, grasping her shoulders and shifting around so she could puke on the ground, releasing the nanomachines building up within her. "You've been holding back again, haven't you? You need to drain it – don't hold it back, Veronica, let it out!"
Veronica's body heaved again, the sounds of splattering filling the air – before she stopped.
"…Is that it?" Julius asked, leaning forward to look down to her with his squinting blue eyes.
"So why have you stopped!"
"…Because…I know how to put them to use…" She said, lowering her hand to place it into the silver muck on the ground, letting her fingers become lucent in it – before lifting her face to Julius', shifting closer to him, almost as if to kiss. "Open your eyes wide…" She whispered, her voice strained. "…Trust me…"
He did so instantly, opening his eyes as wide as he could, the dark blur that was her face suddenly coming into focus for a split second – before he felt something slick and warm touch his left eyeball, a cool feeling suddenly swamping his eye and flowing through to pool in the centre of his brain.
She'd licked his eyeball!
The sensation was almost as erotic as it was strange, and before he could respond she had moved to delicately press the tip of her tongue to his right eyeball, the cool feeling flowing through it just like before – and then it hit him.
The cool feeling wasn't just a reaction from her kissing his eyes – it was the nanomachines which had coated her tongue when she had released them, the microscopic-sized robots, thousands within a single drop of silvery saliva, now flowing over and around his eyes and travelling through his brain.
There was a brief moment where his sight blurred to the point where colour was moot – before everything cleared, becoming crystal clear, as if his eyes had never been ruined by hour upon hour of computer-screen radiation.
The smile which covered his face was brushed to one side as Veronica collapsed onto him, his arms coming to her shoulders again to hold her still as she coughed violently, her hand to her mouth – before she gripped his stained shirt. "…Her…her body…you have to find it…"
He nodded then. He knew exactly why she had bestowed this gift to him so quickly.
Dee was dead by Gaian standards…but by Immortal standards, the chances of her being revived had suddenly increased tenfold by the woman in his arms. The nanomachines multiplying within her body were curative nanos – specifically made to heal.
And they were linked to Veronica's body and mind.
Placing her down to the ground gently, Julius stood and looked around, trying to find out where they had landed compared to where he'd last seen Zell and Dee before Azel had knocked him out.
The landscape had changed to the point where Julius couldn't even tell where on the planet he was – two small canyon-sized trenches had been cut into the floor leading north and south, the canyons both meeting at one gigantic crater which seemed to have been dug in to the ground by a GF's footprint.
Running to the edge, he looked down – to see two bodies lying supine in the centre, smoke still pouring up from around their bodies.
He had no chance to run down and examine them, however, as he suddenly found his prize – a small teenaged hand, half-buried and limply hanging out of the ground.
Running over to the hand, he grasped it and pulled it clear from the loose rubble before hefting it onto his shoulder. There was something macabre about the entire thing – but he was certain Veronica knew what she was doing as he turned and ran back to his lover, pausing only briefly to look down to the still form of Zell – Wait, my friend – before running for Veronica.
Skidding across the ground to stop beside her, he saw with his new-found sight that she had pulled the head out of the ground and placed it down, the face looking up to the sky. The teenager's eyes were closed, the expression calm – she looked like she was asleep.
"P-place her down…" Veronica ordered, Julius doing as he was told and placeing the body down gently, the neck pressing against the bottom of the skull. "Okay…now…don't look…" She whispered, before leaning forward.
Julius obeyed her again, ignoring the noises of her heaving, wincing as she mewled in pain, his head turned away to not look. He felt her trying to grasp at his hand as it rested in his lap and he grabbed hers, letting her hold onto him tight as her body heaved again – before she finally fell back, her head landing in his lap with a thump, her eyes closed with exhaustion.
Julius brushed a shining lock of black hair from her face before grabbing the hem of his shirt and wiping her lips clean tenderly. "You did good, honey…" He whispered, stroking her hair gently as he looked over to Dee's body. Silver liquid had drenched her neck, shoulders and chin, and there was the sound of tiny crackling as the robots went to work on such a vast area, replacing missing tissue with their own protein-based bodies and working themselves into intricate forms in order to complete the task.
Now drained, Veronica looked like she was about to fall asleep. Grasping his hand weakly, she smiled up to him – before passing out.
Julius stayed by her side, stroking her hair gently, allowing himself a reprieve. He was certain their evacuation will be ordered soon, but just making sure he pulled a warning beacon out of the back of his belt and activated it, pressing the small stud down before throwing it to one side. The beacon would send a distress signal straight to the nearest SeeD receiver, which shouldn't be too far away.
Everything was done. The Queen had been destroyed. Their mission was a success.
He'd almost fallen asleep himself when Dee suddenly sat up with a gasp, her hands to her neck and rubbing the new skin, the flesh white in comparison to the tan covering her skin – before she saw something that made her gasp once more.
- - -Angel's flight was short as she zipped through the air, her wings beating powerfully behind her. She now realised the exhilaration that Rinoa had described to her whenever she had flown – the feeling of weightlessness, the air on your face, the total freedom it allowed you…
But as she flew through the pyre-flies which surrounded her, coming over the area where the SeeD base had once been, the feeling was easily forgotten as she overlooked the destruction which had occurred there – as well as spying the epicentre of it all.
Her wings banking sharply behind her, she flew to the centre of the crater within the middle of the field, twisting her wings up to buffet her descent before landing – on thin air. Just like Rinoa, her body never truly touched the ground as the paramagical aura she was generating flowed – her feet stayed just an inch off the dirt as she ran forward to kneel beside the body of Zell.
She placed her fingers to her lips in shock as she saw the body that lay before him – bloodied, eviscerated and obliterated, Azel lay with his chest blown apart, unmoving, his blue eyes staring up into the sky blankly.
Tears rolled down her face slowly, the glowing droplets falling to her shirt-front and staining them as she looked at the body. Even though she had foguth against him, heard him speak such horrible words, and heard of the disgusting things he'd done to her lover and her friends, she felt a weird displacement as she looked down at his blank face. It was Zell's face, the man she loved with all her heart…it was the face he would wear when he died.
She shook her head violently and placed her hands to Zell's back, squeezing her smoking eyes shut as she tore her sight from Azel's body. No…this is your love…your Knight…She thought to herself firmly, feeling Zell's warm skin under her bare hands, feeling his dirty skin through his tattered shirt.
He was on his belly, his head turned away from her, and she could see the pool of blood which had been flowing out of his mouth slowly growing – but she was not afraid.
Her Sorceress powers, lying dormant for so long, had finally been awakened – and now she could sense his spirit.
And it burned like a raging fire, the flames leaping to the heavens, the light almost unbearable to look at. His soul was indomitable – even in this subdued state.
Rolling over, she whimpered psychically as she saw the state his body was in. She had been so put off by the feeling of his soul being so strong, she hadn't realised it didn't reflect the condition of his body. Drawing her hands around him, she held him close to her, his head against her shoulder as her wings encircled them both. She could feel his blood running through her shirt, wet and warm on her skin – but she also felt his breathing tickling her neck.
Holding him tightly to her, she whispered softly into his ear, her voice like a soft melody as her hand gently stroked his hair. "We're together now…bonded like nothing else…unique and unbreakable…and we'll never allow hurt to befall one another…never again."
Her glowing tears began to fall freely as she looked up to see a couple of figures sliding down the crater's walls, shouting and waving. Her laughter was only heard by Zell's subconscious as Dee and Julius ran towards her, Dee waving and shouting in hyperactive elation, Julius also smiling as he carried Veronica on his back, her arms limply wrapped around his neck. Above them the Ragnarok slashed across the sky, afterburners roaring as it banked around sharply in the air, pyreflies scattering as it came back towards the crater – as two Earth helicopters finally began to fly over the horizon, coming towards the Gaian base slowly but surely with it's now very disappointed payload…
Unconcious, Zell shifted slightly in his sleep, nestling closer to this warmth that had suddenly appeared to chase away the cold which had settled into his skin…
As the Black Hawks touched down beside the Ragnarok Irvine jumped out, his Carbine discarded to the copter's floor as he ran forward – to be blown right off his feet by a leaping Selphie, the girl squealing in delight as she rammed her lover's body into the ground and peppered his face with kisses.
Quistis hopped out of the copter and jumped over Selphie and Irvine, running forward to the winged being standing by the unconscious Zell and the awe-struck Dee. "Rinoa! Glad you made it in one piece…" She started to say – before blinking in surprise as she watched the Sorceress turn to be revealed as Angel. "…What? I don't understand?"
Rinoa is on the Ragnarok, in the infirmary. Dee pulsed quietly, her cheeks flush as she looked down to her boots, trying to scuff the floor but being unable to since she was floating an inch off the ground. …I was able to accept the Queen's powers when she was killed.
Dee was crouched beside Zell, one hand on his chest, the other dabbing at his face was the torn hem of her shirt. She was looking up at the wings on Angel's back, her eyes wide in pride and awe. My mother, a Sorceress…maybe that means I might be part Sorceress! It could, seeing as my mum and Angel are pretty much the same on a genetic level…at least, I think they were. Now she just looked confused, almost as confused as she had been when she had been revived.
One moment she had felt a searing pain in her neck before someone threw a rock at her head and knocked her out as she tried to breath – the next she had been looking up at the pyre-flies and something suddenly opened her windpipe, allowing her to breath.
She didn't know it had been Veronica that had revived her – Julius and Veronica had immediately gone to the sleeping quarters on the Ragnarok, disappearing inside with barely a word to the others.
Which was understandable. Everybody was exhausted, Zell was in no state to talk – and there was still a few loose ends to tie up.
The Seifers stepped towards the Sorceress and the others. Seifer, predictably, simply looked at Angel – before promptly dismissing her sudden rise of power, instead walking over to the body of Azel and giving it a good sharp kick.
Major Almasy, on the other hand, looked flabbergasted, blinking hard and rubbing his eyes as he stared at the…angel before him. He shouldn't have been surprised, seeing as he'd only fought a massive humanoid monster not three hours ago, had been watching his Gaian comrades destroy their opponents using fire and ice which burst from their hands, and was currently sitting in the shadow on a gigantic metallic dragon-rocket ship.
His eyes were riveted to the woman, causing her to blush harder – before blinking as something was suddenly drawn out of his chest with a thump. He looked down – at Dee, the teenager holding the knife which had been embedded within his breastplate and, grabbing his free hand, placing it in his palm. "Don't stare, please." She said to him with a beaming smile, before turning and skipping back to sit beside her father.
The Major looked down at the knife in his hand, realising that he hadn't even been able to budge it with all his strength – before sighing, his shoulders hanging heavy. "You guys have bourbon in your world, right?" He asked nobody in particular. "I need a long, hard bender if I'm gonna be able to comprehend all this."
Walking back from making sure Azel was really, really dead, Seifer walked back to Zell and looked up at his doppel. "Shut-up and bring a stretcher. We'll get him onto the ship then fly back to the battle. By now the word that their Queen is dead will have hit the Hearts – they'll give up easily now."
Quistis nodded, watching as the Major grudgingly obeyed the Seed and ran to the helicopter to grab a stretcher, before turning around to face Angel, looking up at the sky and at all the pyreflies. "Any idea what these are?"
Souls…all the trapped souls that the Queen had gathered within her Well…Angel pulsed, lifting her hand to grasp one of the smoking lights, the smoke a kaleidoscope of color as she brought it close to her glowing eyes to scrutinise it.
Quistis frowned and reached up to grab at the lights – to watch as her hand passed right though them. Looking back over to the Sorceress before her, her face grew grim. "Why haven't they passed on to the next plain? And why can we see them?"
A few thousand millennia trapped within such a confined space is cramped… Angel replied within Quistis' mind, lifting her hand to release the soul, the little smoking light fluttering away like a butterfly. They wish to relish the space before moving on to the next world. And as for seeing them…well…I guess even several trillion souls would be hard to miss, even by a person like the Major, who has absolutely no paramagical training whatsoever.
Quistis nodded. As always, Angel was the perfect SeeD – sharp witted and intelligent. "So…what? Just let them be?"
We cant do anything to them anyways, and besides, they're not harming anybody… Angel replied absently as she watched the Seifers kneel at either end of Zell before lifting him onto the stretcher the Major had placed down for him, Dee following close behind them as they walked onto the ship – before the Sorceress looked back to Quistis. Why ask me, anyways?
Quistis blushed then, brushing a lock of blond hair from her face and pushing her glasses up her nose a little nervously. "Well, you are a Sorceress now…I thought you'd know what to do about them…"
Angel smiled a sad smile, closing her eyes – before her feet touched the ground, her wings behind her shrinking away to nothingness. Opening her chocolate brown eyes once more, she smiled at Quistis. "Sorry Instructor…I'm just as clueless as you are about it. Right now, I just want to go to Zell and rest."
"Of course." Quistis said, nodding curtly, before looking over to Selphie and Irvine who were still on the floor, their reunion getting a little heated as they continued to kiss passionately. "I suppose we'd better get going, shouldn't we Irvine and Selphie?"
Her sharp rise of voice made the two jump, Selphie pulling Irvine's hand out from under her shirt before jumping to her feet, blowing a raspberry at Quistis before running for the Ragnarok, Irvine being dragged by his hand behind her as they disappeared up the ramp and into the loading bay.
"What now, Ma'am?" One of the Earth pilots called to Quistis, walking forward from the cockpit of one of the Black Hawks.
Quistis was about to speak – before spying something on the lip of the crater.
A collection of people, a few hundred at the most, crowding around the edge. Quistis frowned in confusion – before smiling as two stood out from the rest.
One was round, his brown hair and tweed jacket smeared with grim and dust. The other, tall and lean, was running his fingers through his long black hair with the silver temples.
"Ah crap, we missed out on the entire thing!" Laguna cried – before pointing his trembling finger at the Ragnarok in the centre of the crater, his eyes wide as his voice cried out in shock. "What – what have you done to my ship! My gods, it's green! And it's totally smashed up, too – the observation deck is totally ruined!" His hands moved to his hair, pulling at it as he sank to his knees. "And to top it all off, I lost my gun! Gods dammit!"
Cid placed his hand on Laguna's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "Come now, Mr. President, it's not too bad – and besides, your gun is right by your side. You dropped it when you realised everybody was alright."
But Laguna wasn't listening, his hands to his face as he sobbed into his gloves. Cid rolled his eyes and shrugged. Laguna had always been slightly mental. Turning to the survivors of the GF usage, he waved his hands about, calling out orders. "Okay ladies and gentlemen, form a line, we're going down to the Ragnarok!"
"The utterly ruined Ragnarok!"
"…Yes, Laguna, that one."
"The ugly green Ragnarok!"
"If I recall, you also had a green Ragnarok made in your collection."
"That's not the point!"
Quistis sighed and rolled her eyes, turning to Angel. "Come on…we'd better tell Selphie that she has a few minutes to kill before they calm down and come down. I'm sure Irvine and her will spend the time more productively then Laguna and Cid will."
Angel laughed as she followed Quistis onto the ship, feeling at ease for the first time in a long while.
A month later…
The waves crashed on the bow of the ship as it cut through the water, ocean filling the horizon for miles upon miles all around them. The smell of sea-salt filled the air, assailing the nostrils of the party-goers as they danced, laughed, sang and ate, the yellow Gaian sun beaming down warmly on them and reflecting off the waves, making the ocean looking like it was blanketed in sparkling diamonds.
The SeeDs had requisitioned the White SeeD Ship from Ellone, borrowing it for their time off after their ordeal. Coming back to Gaia, the SeeDs had been hailed heroes, having defeated the evil Sorceress once more and bringing order to the Universes once more.
Squall had awoken from a deep sleep a few days after he'd been picked up, his brief state of consciousness quickly subsiding as his soul and body tried to rest from the barrage of abuse they had gone through. Rinoa had also been placed in the same room as Squall, the two of them being in critical conditions when they had been returned to Gaia. Rinoa had been exhausted, having been pushed to the very limits of her mental and physical scales and beyond them – but she had awoken slowly to find Squall sitting beside her bed, quiet and adamant as usual, giving her his small smile he gave only to her.
They had become inseparable after that, never leaving each other's sides. It had been rare to see them apart before – but now they literally never left each other, the mere thought making them feel physically ill.
Zell had awoken in his hospital room, his entire body swathed in bandages – to get the fright of his life as Dee jumped into his line of sight and hugged him tightly, breaking something else within him. After Angel had cast Curaga on him – now certain it was safe to use magic on him – she had explained how she had become a Sorceress, telling him everything that had happened to both him and Dee. The two girls had also become inseparable during their time together, finding many things in common – but Angel had never told her anything about how she had gotten her Sorceress powers.
"So…you have all of Rinoa's powers?" Zell had asked, scratching the back of his neck, more then confused about it all.
"…Actually, seeing as I don't really know how powerful I had been before I accepted the Queen's power…" Angel had replied meekly. "…I might be a little bit better."
Zell had laughed at that, hugging her tightly, before hugging Dee tightly as well, thankful they had both been returned to him in good spirits and shape.
Julius and Veronica hadn't hung about for very long after returning to Gaia. Once Veronica had renounced her SeeDship, the hacker and his ice-bride had disappeared off the face of the planet. Zell had begun to search into their whereabouts in order to thank Veronica for bringing his daughter back to him and to thank Julius for all his help – but had given up after a few days, figuring they would much rather want the time to catch up then be annoyed by him.
The Major's Tidus had been reconstructed and reopened in Balamb Garden, now allowing free passage between Earth and Gaia. Major Almasy was now the representative of Earth on Gaia, and was lavishing the attention that he got whenever he travelled the different planet, meeting Shumi's and Moomba's, tasting the different customs between Trabia, Esthar and Galbadia, and having, as he said, 'one hell of a trip.'
Now the SeeDs were finally having some fun, after a month of tying up all the last loose ends. Evacuating the Gaian Army back to their respective worlds with the help of Rinoa and Angel, putting the straggling Hearts in their place with ultimatums which were either obeyed or viciously reprimanded – finally, they were able to rest.
Ellone walked out onto the deck of the ship, giggling as she stepped awkwardly over a sunbaking Selphie lying beside a sunbaking Irvine, his fedora tipped over his face, and walked towards the Dinchts standing at the buffet table.
Zell was dressed in a simple pair of blue and red board-shorts, his tanned muscle free for all to see as he grabbed a bun and a sausage and put them on his plate, before grabbing his mustard and tomato sauce. "Okay, see, you have to put the sauce in first, otherwise the juices in the sausage will make the bun soggy – Dee, are you listening!"
Dee stood beside her father, her lithe form clad in a one-piece bathing suit. She blinked, caught, and chewed the three sausages in her mouth up before swallowing. "Um, yes Daddy…"
"Crikey, pay attention! Now, you put the tomato sauce on first, then the mustard. Put on enough so the mustard mixes with the tomato, then slide that sausage in there and POW! One Balamb Hotdog!" He said in triumph, lifting the marvel of culinary cuisine for all to bask in it's glory – before devouring it voraciously.
Angel sat back in a lounge chair a little, her brown eyes shaded by her sunglasses. She wore a black bikini that Selphie had picked out for her which just bordered on Angel's level of acceptable modesty, keeping everything together but for some reason also lifting her breasts so as to make them seem bigger. She had no idea why Selphie had gushed over her when she had tried it on – before watching Zell's jaw hit the floor the first time she'd worn it for him. She lay back and watched her daughter and Knight fight over the last bun, giggling as the two of them squared off and took their stances. "No fighting, you two, or you'll get a spanking from Ellone!"
Zell blinked, lowering his hands and turning around to face the older woman. "Sis!" He exclaimed – before quickly kicking his heel up under the table, knocking the bun off the plate it had been on and out of Dee's outstretched grasp – to catch it as it sailed over his shoulder and offer it to his 'older sister'. "Hotdog?"
Ellone laughed, placing her fingers to her lips before shaking her head. "No thankyou, Zell – but Squall would like to see you at the head of the ship."
Zell paled, smiling nervously. "Uh-oh. I wonder what that means." He said, scratching the back of his neck, tossing the bun in his hand up and down – before sidestepping, pulling Ellone out of the way as Dee's crash-tackle made her sail right past him and down into the deck, cleaning up the snoozing Selphie and Irvine in the process.
"Better go see what the Commander wants, I guess." He said, handing the bun to Angel before leaning down to give her a quick kiss on the lips. "Don't fly off without me."
"I wont." Angel replied with a smile, watching him walk away – before yelping as Dee leapt from the bottom of the deck away from a very angry Selphie and Irvine and scampered past her, grabbing the bun out of Angel's hands as she scarpered around the buffet table, closely followed by Selphie and Irvine, Selphie grabbing a link of sausages and swinging them around her body like nun-chaku as Irvine grabbed the tomato and mustard sauce squeeze-bottles and began squirting with extreme prejudice.
Walking along the edge of the ship with his hands in his pockets, Zell spied Squall and Rinoa standing at the bow of the ship, looking out at the ocean. Squall stood behind Rinoa with his arms wrapped around her waist, his chin resting on her head as they both stared absently out into the sea. Squall was also wearing board-shorts, black ones with silver flames licking up the sides, and Rinoa was wearing a bikini which rivalled Angel's in modesty.
Zell approached them cautiously, not really knowing if he ought to interrupt – before biting the bullet and clearing his throat noisily.
Squall turned his head slightly at the noise, looking over his shoulder to spy the fist-fighter. "Zell…"
Zell lifted his hands up in defense. "Look, Squall, for the last time, I didn't pinch your CDs, they just…wound up in my bag, that's all."
"It's not about that…"
"…And I took those Occult Fan magazines with the full intention of retuning them, but you know, chocolate melts…"
"…Zell, it's not about that either…"
"…And your Chicobo certainly had it coming, but I didn't mean to sit on it…"
"What!" Rinoa exclaimed suddenly, still standing before Squall, who was now rolling his eyes and felt like face-palming.
"…No, Zell, it's not about that either…"
Zell frowned, crossing his arms over his bare chest and jutting his chin forward. "Well, whatever it was, I didn't do it. It was Dee."
"Zell! I'm not going to blame you for anything, so shut up!" Squall suddenly shouted.
Rinoa blinked before looking up to Squall, her own anger gone as she looked at him quizzically.
At the other end of the ship Dee, Selphie and Irvine paused from their fight, Dee with her bun in her mouth and brandishing two celery-sticks, Selphie's link of sausages swinging limply in her hand, Irvine pausing in his head-shot, and Angel looking very angry at having her new bikini getting mustard on it.
White feathers flew and an explosion sounded, causing Zell to jump. "What the hell was that?"
"Zell, please, just listen to me…" Squall begged, exasperated.
Zell smirked, before shrugging, happy that he wasn't going to get scolded for anything. "Alright, alright, what's up?"
"Zell…" Squall said, now having turned with Rinoa in his arms. "…Rinoa and I are getting married in a few months."
Zell's eyebrows shot up as his smile grew in size. "Really? Wicked! Congratulations!"
Rinoa smiled to the short fist-fighter. "Thankyou Zell…but that's not why we asked you to come and talk to us…"
Zell blinked, thinking for a moment – before snapping his fingers in realisation. "Aha, best-man, right? Sure thing, why not…I'd better dust off the old SeeD Uniform…"
Squall suddenly spoke out. "Zell, marry Angel."
Zell blinked again – before doing a double-take. "Uhhh…come again?"
Rinoa giggled. "It's been really cute that you've been dancing around this for so long, Zell, but seriously, it's time to do it. Angel's been dying for you to, you know."
Zell's face seemed to lose it's colour as he looked down at his bare feet, scuffing the wooden deck with his heel. "Yeah…I know…" He looked behind him to see Angel flying around in the air, tossing a wailing Irvine up and down with her psychic powers, before approaching Squall and Rinoa and leaning forward, lifting his hand to shield his words as he whispered. "…I've even gotten the ring…" He looked about furtively, before stepping back. "…But I haven't gotten the courage to ask her."
"C'mon!" Rinoa crowed, laughing out loud. "How can you, of all people, be scared!"
Zell simply blushed, looking down at his feet once more, his hands clasped behind him. "…I dunno…I guess I'm just…" His voice trailed off at the end, causing Squall to frown and lean forward.
Zell looked away again, rasing his voice a few more decibels so it was audible. "…Just afraid I'd be a bad husband."
The man and woman standing before the fist-fighter looked down at him with twin shocked expressions – before Rinoa leaned forward to punch Zell right in the cheek. "You're such an idiot!" She fumed, trying to get at him and only being held back by Squall. "Squall, lemme go, I'm going to kill him!"
Yelping, Zell took this as his que to leave and ran, quickly, and didn't look back.
Calming down quickly, Rinoa leaned into Squall's embrace and smiled, looking up at him. "You think he's going to?"
Squall leaned forward with a smile and kissed her cheek, before turning them to face the ocean once more. "I do."
Rinoa snorted, pinching his forearm, smiling warmly as she felt his warmth on her back. "You say that later, silly…"
Dee looked up from her viewing point on her mother's lounge chair as Zell walked back from the bow of the ship and pointed at him, laughing and almost dropping her hotdog. "Ha ha, you got busted! It was for the Chicobo, right? I told you not to sit there, but nooooo…"
Zell rolled his eyes and sat down on the lounge chair, reaching out to ruffle her long blonde locks. "Nah, it wasn't about that…"
"Then what?" She asked, looking back up and watching as Angel dunked Irvine into the water again before tossing him up with her psychic powers, waving to her winged mother as she smiled down to them.
Zell sighed heavily, reaching out to put his arm around Dee's shoulder and pull her close to him. "Hey…you like it here, right?"
Dee blinked, looking up at Zell as he looked out at the ocean, obviously not concerned with the fun that was being had at Irvine's expense. "…Of course I do, Daddy. Being here with you, and Mother…of course, Mr. Cid said we'll be looking into a way to get back to the Immortal Universe, but to tell the truth…I don't think I want to go back there anymore." She lay against him then, snuggling into his embrace. "It's too much fun here…"
"Mmm…but you like it with me and Angel, right?"
"Of course, dummy! Why wouldn't I? Besides, once you finally get off your lazy ass and buy that place in Balamb that Mum likes so much, we'll be able to live like a real family instead of being in separate places on the Garden…"
"Mmm…" Zell replied with a nod, stroking her hair gently.
Dee closed her eyes and sighed. "I love you, Daddy."
"I know, sweetheart. I love you too."
It was later on, during the warm night, that Angel and Zell walked along the deck, looking down at the water as it lapped against the stern of the ship. They had dropped anchor a few miles off the shore of Dollet, the beach-side city's lights winking on the horizon along with the stars in the sky.
Angel gasped Zell's hand gently, swinging it between them as she walked, letting the movement make their shoulders rub together, the touch sending chills up her spine. "Gods, I still cant believe how great it feels to be home on Gaia…"
"Yeah, tell me about it. Seeing all those different Universes was pretty cool, but the last one just sucked royally…" Zell replied with a chuckle, before stopping and leaning on the guard-railing along the edge of the ship.
Angel wrapped her hands around his midsection, her breasts pressing against his back as she kissed the back of his neck gently. "What's wrong, honey? After you spoke to Squall you got all quiet…you barely even touched your dinner, which simply isn't you…"
"I know…" Zell said, one hand in his pocket, the other resting against the railings, relishing the feeling of her against him. "…I've been thinking…and you know how thinking affects my appitite…"
Angel paused, before walking around to place a finger on his chin and turn his head to face her – and to see it was a deep red. "Whats wrong, Zell?" She asked, concern edging into her voice.
Zell chewed on the inside of his cheek – before speaking meekly. "Angel…would you like to marry me?"
Angel blinked, taken aback by the question. "Is…is that a proposal?" She asked softly, tears welling in her eyes…
"No. I'm just asking." He replied, cutting the feelings welling inside her off a little.
"…Of course I would like to marry you." She asked, turning him around to hug him tightly. "I always thought that you'd ask first, that's all."
"Oh…" He said, his hands gently playing with her ponytail as he hugged her back – before pulling away and looking into her eyes. "Angel…would you like to marry me?" He asked, almost as if to confirm.
She blinked, uncertain about how to react now. "…Are you asking now, or…"
"Nah, I'm proposing now." He said, reaching into his pocket to pull out the little box he'd been fingering the entire time through dinner and opening it to reveal the ring within.
Angel's happy squeal made Dee jump in her bed, sitting up and rubbing her eyes – before turning to bang her hand against the wall at Selphie and Irvine's room, the sounds of moaning and thumping coming rhythmically from the wall. "Gods, stop that wrestling or training or whatever it was I walked in on, you two!" She shouted before lying back and pulling her sheet over her head.
Zell lay on the floor where Angel had jumped on him, her kissed raining down on him, feeling slightly baffled. "This is a yes, right?"
Ladies and Gentlemen, thankyou for reading FF8 Tournament: Twist In Time. I know it took me a long time to finally get this last chapter out, but I think you'll all agree that it was well worth the wait. I hope you liked the ending – one reviewer said it did get rather dark near the end, and they were right – the ending, I think, was a nice cap to it all.
I'd like to thank all my regular readers for being such wicked readers and staying true to me for so long. Your reviews inspired me and made me enjoy the entire procedure even more – I hope your last ones will give some insight into what you liked about the story and why you hung on for so long.
This isn't the end, however. True to my nature, in the future, if you check the story, you might find another chapter – Twist In Time Extras. This will be like a DVD extra's chapter, including bloopers, interviews with me and one of my most influential reviewer, Matt – that's right, I'm going to see why you liked it so much you big lug – and, quite possibly, an alternate ending. If you have any questions about a sequel, the characters, or any of the Universes the SeeDs visited during the story, put them in your review and I'll answer them in this extra chapter.
Thankyou one last time. This is the Eight Winged Angel, Michael Kenny, hoping you enjoyed my story.