movement one :: mirror (rinoa)

The grey swirls around her are making her sick; nauseous, even. She knows that they have just defeated Ultimecia-Griever, but beyond that, she knows nothing. She remembers the battle and the thrust of Squall's blade with a desperate jolt, and she vaguely remembers Ultimecia saying - something. Something about memory, which is ironic, in some way.

She thinks she has been here - wherever here is - for hours. Maybe a day.

- - -

Rinoa is watching her friends through the haze. She has not known them for long but they are already her family, already all she has left. Rinoa knows what family is like; she had it, once, before the Accident. And after that, she learned quickly what family was by comparing it with what family was not: Her Father Caraway. Her life has defined for her very distinctly what family should be, what ties do bind, and with all of her heart Rinoa knows that these five young souls are her new family.

She is standing in a room plated in crystal and mirrors, but they are not all mirrors. Some reflect her back at herself; some reflect her movements, but the body is that of a young child, or an old, old woman; some are other scenes completely, flowers and feathers and darkness and dust. And some, mere splintered shards, carry her friends. Each shard has one soul inside and Rinoa has already paced the room twice, watching them. They are wandering through the grey haze that permeates even this room, each alone, their movements strangely slowed or dulled, as if Rinoa is watching a movie in slow motion. SeeD, Wandering: A New Motion Picture Extravaganza. Although nothing is really happening. She has already watched Irvine cup his hands around his mouth as if yelling; she has seen Zell trip a couple times. Otherwise, they are all just walking. Slowly. As if they're walking through water, or glue, or sticky grey mist.

It is Selphie she is watching when the voice speaks. Selphie has just broken out in a jog, a strangely slow-looking jog from Rinoa's perspective, and every time her foot touches the round Rinoa swears she is just about to trip. Selphie is crying in the fog, the tears dully running down her face, visible even in the crystal. Rinoa has lifted her foot to take a step, Squall's shard is next and she is wondering that if through their odd bond she can speak with him, connect with him somehow. She is wondering what the grey fog is. Her foot is in the air, her eyes on Selphie's yellow form, when the voice speaks.

"Time Kompression," the voice says, and it is the voice of Ultimecia. Rinoa jumps - she knows - she knows that they defeated her. It is the one thing she remembers. For a brief moment she wonders why it is so important for her to remember. She knows - she herself hit Ultimecia with magic and blade and Angelo, her angel her self, angel wings flying white and black magic pouring. White feathers, black feathers. She knows that Ultimecia is dead. She knows.

"Yes, I am," that voice says again. It feels like claws down her back, nails on the stupid chalkboard of her stupid lousy boarding school, the one her father sent her to get her out of the house. Wait - is Ultimecia reading her mind?

"Yes, I am," she repeats, and Rinoa loses it.

"Get out of my fucking mind," she yells, turning around, and Ultimecia is standing there. All the words drain out of Rinoa's mouth. She turns again to the crystal and mirror - Ultimecia is not there. She has no reflection.

"What the hell is going on?" Rinoa is furious, her fear converting itself directly into rage, do not pass go do not collect 100 Ultimas. "Why are you here? You're dead, you little bitch." Something hits her: "Or am I dead too and this is my punishment, to get stuck here with you for eternity? And - why am I in here watching all of them?"

It sinks in suddenly: "Maybe I am dead," she says, softly, to herself, turning back to look at the crystals and mirrors. It's a weird heaven: she never would have thought heaven's walls would be made of glass. But she's sure it isn't hell, even if Ultimecia is there, because they'd never let you watch your friends in hell. And she was always told it would be a lot hotter.

"It is Time Kompression," Ultimecia says smugly, and walks up to stand beside Rinoa. She is still not reflected in any of the crystal and mirror. Rinoa is seething to see the sorceress beside her and wants nothing more to reach out and strike her down, to call up some ferocious spell. She has never wanted this witch's inheritance but for once her shoulderblades are itching for the wings.

"In Time Kompression, we all exist, and we all do not exist." Ultimecia reaches a hand out, and Rinoa can vaguely see through it. Rinoa experimentally reaches her hand out and discovers that she too is see-thru. Oh great. Because Transparency was something else she always wanted to have, along with Sorcery.

"Why am I here?" she asks, biting down on her tongue both figuratively and literally until she expects to feel the blood coming out in spurts. "Why are you here? Why are my friends out there?"

"You are not dead," Ultimecia says, staring at the crystal.

Rinoa waits, but the sorceress is still concentrating on nothing. Rinoa takes the chance to check her friends one more time in the mirrors. Irvine's hands are cupped around his mouth again, and he is frantically yelling. Zell is still meandering, his eyes darting between ground and horizon. Quistis is walking steadily, nothing betraying her unease save her mouth, which is set in one long grim line, like her brow. Selphie is still running, sobbing now, also calling into the haze. Squall -

"They are not dead either," Ultimecia says as Rinoa's eyes land on Squall. He is resting now, sitting on an upcropping of rock coming out of the grey mist, his head in his hands. Her heart goes out to him.

"You are here bekause you are bound to here," Ultimecia says. "They are lost bekause they are not."

Rinoa's eyes are back on the crystal and mirror. It almost looks as if Selphie and Irvine can hear each other, from the way they are yelling and screaming. Maybe it's just the way their crystal shards are oriented. They could be running in opposite directions for all Rinoa knows. They could be running in different times and in different worlds. They could not even be running. They could be dead, and these could be movies. SeeD, Running.

"Bound to here?" Rinoa asks almost vaguely.

"Bound to me," Ultimecia says, and Rinoa's world shatters.

The crystal and mirrors explode around her and the shards are piercing her like bullets. She once got hit with a bullet. It was in a battle with them, her first bullet, and she remembers actually not thinking it was so bad - the fire spells had been worse, in her opinion, much worse - but then the bullet had to come out and she'd yelled and screamed and thrown a fit and cried her bloody eyes out until Quistis had hit her with a well-aimed Sleep and continued on with the tweezers. The glass is actually worse than bullets because it's sharp and it continues to twist in her skin once it's in, and new glass is pouring in from nowhere, little shards and needles and crystal and feathers and -

and she is back, standing before the wall.

The wall is solid. Rinoa is glass-less. Ultimecia is still standing.

"How," and this time Rinoa's voice is so dark that she doesn't recognize it, "am I bound to you?"

Ultimecia is watching the crystal wall. Rinoa's raging eyes are locked on the dark sorceress and so she does not see Irvine emerge from the mist within Selphie's crystal, she does not see the two of them embracing in joy, tears on both faces, reflecting in glass and mirrors. Irvine picks Selphie up, spins her, kisses her full on the mouth. Selphie buries her face in Irvine's shoulder, her boots still in mid-air. The two are dancing, yelling, giddy in the grey glue. She does not see Quistis look up sharply, as if she has heard a noise, and continue on with new vigor.

"You bekome me," Ultimecia says, and her voice too is hoarse and dark.

The room fades into darkness.

Rinoa feels like she is falling. "Ha," she says. "That's impossible." There is no way there is no way no way no way -

She cannot see Ultimecia anymore, but the voice is still there. "I remember this," the voice says. "I remember this konfrontation."

Rinoa is suddenly anchored in the dark; it feels like she has landed on something and is struggling to her feet. "You're a liar," she says as she struggles for something like balance.

"I kan taste your fear," Ultimecia says. "Your emotions are powerful."

Rinoa puts a hand out for help and cries out as something sharp enters her palm. She has cut herself on what appears to be a shard of glass. Maybe she has found the wall. Now she just has to get the lights working. Apparently being transparent doesn't mean you're injury-proof though.

"And I smell the blood," the voice says. Rinoa starts to get seriously creeped out. Not only is Ultimecia a crazy sorceress with whom she has some kind of bond, but she's a vampire? She wants to laugh at herself: of all the things to worry about, she's worried about Ultimecia sucking her blood?

Rinoa is amazed at the speed of her emotions tonight; the fear and rage, distracted momentarily by the pain, flare up again. It is a harsh red light, the scratching sound as a match is lit.

"Shut up," Rinoa yells, her voice as red and raw as the new hole in her palm. "Just shut up. Tell me something useful. How can I get out of here?"

"He is lost," Ultimecia says, and there is a point of light in the darkness.

Rinoa bends towards it like a plant, cradling her injured hand. The light is coming from a piece of glass. Squall is inside, still seated, still holding his head in his hands. He has not moved since she last saw him.

"What's wrong with him?" And her voice is a breath and a prayer.

"He loses hope," the voice continues. "He loses all. He is lost."

"I have to get to him," Rinoa says desperately. Squall. "I have to get him out of there."

The grey mist is now visible, curling around her ankles like a strange eager kitty, and Rinoa is filled with new vigor herself. "How do I get to Squall? Tell me!"

There is only silence.

- - -

Rinoa is convinced that she has been in the crystal room for days. She has not spoken with Ultimecia. She is confused and tired but not hungry. She does not know why. Maybe one doesn't eat in Time Compression. Maybe one doesn't eat when one is see-thru.

She did figure out how to turn the lights back on.

She doesn't want to think about how she did it, really. But she had been watching Squall, seeing as Squall was not only the man she was in love with but literally the only source of light in her dark world, ha ha. And Squall hadn't really moved. He'd shifted around a couple times and brushed at the sticky mist but otherwise there hadn't been anything.

And eventually she'd started screaming. She didn't remember what had started it. She'd probably been talking to herself, or maybe trying to reach Squall, or even trying to get Ultimecia's attention again. But it had turned into a tirade, a torrent of hatred and anger and fear and anguish, angel wings and demon fangs, and eventually she was just screaming, raw words in a raw throat, and something came out of her.

It was some language that she didn't know at all, and there was a big ugly stirring inside of her, from the place she knew she kept those damned sorceress powers. She had trapped them, inside her, and although she knew she was making it up it was almost a physical feeling, coming from somewhere behind her lungs, or maybe inside them. Lungs were just air anyway. But she had shrieked something like a demented harpy and the crystal wall had ignited itself, the light from nowhere coming back, and then other lights had started to come on. She had screamed then, a very Rinoa-y scream with her own voice, and the spell had stopped with a disgruntled little groan.

The new light is enough that she now knows as much about where she is as anything. The crystal walls are in the middle of an island of land in a sea of darkness. It's not water - just air, dark air, empty air. The island is not large, maybe the size of Quistis's classroom. She hasn't figured out where the lights are coming from. She's not sure she wants to know.

She'd gone back to her perch before the crystal wall. Her legs got tired eventually so she has spent the last - period (hours? days? is there time in time compression?) - watching her family cross-legged on the dirt. She is aware that time has passed, that she has not eaten or slept or really moved all that much or even gone to the bathroom. Rinoa knows this is strange, but she doesn't know why it is happening.

Most of all, she watches Squall. A sort of darkness has settled over her just from watching him, a chill from the grey mist, which (she notes dispassionately) is beginning to stick to her socks and boots. She saw that Selphie and Irvine had found each other, that Irvine's mirror was now empty. She had seen Quistis walking with determination, seen her start calling, and a couple hours ago the three had found each other. Selphie had literally jumped into Quistis's arms and Irvine had kissed her full on the mouth as well and Quistis had cried, Quistis who never cried. Rinoa is sure they are getting close to Zell. Unfortunately Zell thinks the sounds are from some giant enemy, for he has started to jog, and nervously look over his shoulder.

But Squall has not moved. Squall does not move. He sits on his rock, having given up. And something has settled over Rinoa: an ominous feeling, a gut feeling. It is telling her how the mists work. It is not the clearest of feelings but it is intuitive. It has something to do with searching for the ones you love and having them search back. Something about connections between people, between their minds and their hearts, forming that last bond between bodies. Rinoa is sure the others are searching for Squall but he is not searching back. Squall is not doing anything.

Rinoa could just kill him. She'd taught him, she really had - or she thought she had. She'd opened him up, let him see that her love and his friends' love and Garden's love and all of it was golden and good and Squall had made that speech at the end about let's all hold together and she'd giggled. Fat lot it meant to him, apparently, to have him on a rock, having given up. Her Squall didn't give up. Her Squall was a fighter. Her Squall carried her across the world's biggest and ugliest bridge - on his back - because he wanted to.

She has looked over the edge of the island a couple times. The darkness is beginning to eat at her and she wonders if she jumped - what would happen? Would she fall back into her world? Into the grey mists? Would she die? Would she fall forever? What was at the bottom?

When I land, will my eyes be closed - or open?

Rinoa is resolute in staying. Whatever magic keeps her alive and nourished is doing so for a reason. So she will sit on her butt in the dirt in front of the mirrors until she figures out the reason. Her throat still hurts from that word of power but she doesn't want to think about it.

She is watching Squall again, her heart bleeding for him, her eyes angry as hell, when the world starts to fold in on itself. Bemused, she watches the glass before her bleed together like watercolors; it's pretty, and it's something new, something that's not grey mist. In the spiral that results there's a bright yellow line that she knows came from Selphie.

"This is Time Kompression," the voice says, and now she can sense Ultimecia, and that's the most terrifying thing that has happened since she found herself in the crystal room.

"Is that the only sentence you know?" Rinoa says in an ugly voice, because she is scared. Ultimecia only looks bored.

"Why are you still here? Why is Time Compression still here? Why can't I get out of here and why can't you go away?"

Ultimecia turns her head, a noble movement, all grace and cold and sheer will. "You kannot. Time Kompression will run its kourse. It must."

"I don't want it to," Rinoa says, fiercely. "You know how to stop it." She takes a step towards the woman, trying to look tall and imposing. "Make it stop, or I'll kill you."

Those empty eyes are still bearing down on her and it's taking every last ounce of will to continue to meet that gaze if one could only drown in the depths drown drown why are her eyes so empty what are you afraid of - Rinoa, are you afraid her eyes will be brown too?

Ultimecia says nothing.

"If I become you," Rinoa says, and her voice is tainted, the fear is leaking through her into her voice, "how does it happen?"

Ultimecia continues to look at her for a few brief minutes, and then there is a flash of light as if the sun came up six days in a row all at once. The empty cavern is full of it. The grey mist lights on fire like billions of candles and Rinoa and Ultimecia both shriek.

When Rinoa dares to open her eyes, her cavern is back to normal. Darkness, and stupid wall of mirrors. And no Ultimecia.

- - -

"Do you know what it is like," the voice whispers, "to watch yourself kasting magik you know nothing about? To watch your past self, whole, before the magik drove you krazy? Before your mind was lost?"

- - -

The darkness and the mist are the same thing, Rinoa realizes. The mist is just a tangible form of darkness. By becoming tangible it loses some substance and becomes grey, but it also gains the property of stickiness. At this point tendrils of mist are beginning to stick to her clothing. Rinoa is beginning to think she is losing her mind.

She cannot watch the crystal wall any more. Selphie and Irvine and Quistis have almost caught up to Zell; Zell is starting to recognize their voices. Squall has not moved. If something doesn't happen soon the four will leave Time Kompression for good and Squall will be stuck there forever because she is not there to get him back.

The mist is sticking to his clothes too, but in big ragged tears. It's trailing off his back and the tops of his knees as if he were a statue in a snowstorm. Rinoa has already cried three times about him. Stupid man. She is so angry.

Rinoa decides to break the crystal wall. Hopefully something will happen. She is secretly hoping for something cool, like a big explosion that will end Time Compression. If nothing else it will probably bring Ultimecia back, and Ultimecia will probably be upset. And if nothing nothing else, it's something to do.

She looks around for a weapon. There are little rocks in the dirt and one by one, she starts throwing them. They're not doing much damage but they do make a cool noise, so she keeps it up for a while. The rocks she is finding get bigger and bigger. Sometimes they make dents in the glass and mirrors. Currently there is a big crack across Irvine's face. Rinoa finds this deeply satisfying.

She continues to look, aware that she is finding rocks where there were none, but she isn't thinking too hard about this until she reaches down and puts her hand on the axe handle.

Rinoa knows there wasn't an axe on this island.

"Now," she says in a bemused voice, trying to keep from shaking in fear, "where did you come from?"

"You have kreated it," Ultimecia says. Rinoa looks up but the sorceress is already there. Rinoa wonders how Ultimecia gets on and off the island, and if it's a trick she might be able to learn.

"How did I make an axe?" Rinoa asks tartly.

"How did you make the rocks?" Ultimecia counters. "Magik kan kreate as well as destroy."

Rinoa wants to argue, but at that very moment it clicks in her head that she now has a weapon. She doesn't really know how to use an axe but it doesn't matter. She doesn't really know how to use anything but her long range blaster weapons that Her Father Caraway made her train with so she didn't get hurt - but it doesn't matter. She has something now, and she lifts it up (Hyne it's heavy) and takes a shaking step towards Ultimecia.

"I kan save him," Ultimecia says, and it doesn't take a doctor to figure out who she means.

"What?" Rinoa breathes. If there is a way to get Squall back, to save him -

"What if I told you," Ultimecia says, "that I would stop the Time Kompression and return all of your friends and all of your time - if you give yourself to me. Give me your body to use. I will fill you with my powers. That is the price."

"Yes."

Rinoa's voice is absolute. She wonders at her sincerity. The word has leaked out before her brain has even had a chance to think about it. But even thinking about it she knows that it is right. Anything for Squall - even everything.

"Yes, I would," she repeats. "If you save Squall." There is a pause, a sigh; Ultimecia is watching her.

White feathers, black feathers. Are the choices ever easy? Her mind is echoing on itself. She thinks she is going mad.

"So this is how it happens," Rinoa says, thinking she understands.

"No," Ultimecia says. "This is not how it happens."

"What?" Rinoa turns on her, dropping the axe because it's too heavy. She doesn't understand. She is ready to choke Ultimecia with her bare hands.

"I kannot stop Time Kompression," Ultimecia says. There is a glint in her eye that Rinoa has not seen before. Rinoa thinks Ultimecia is going mad. "I only wanted to hear your response."

Ultimecia turns in a circle slowly, and Rinoa sees that her feet are barely touching the dust. The sorceress is floating slightly in the grey mists. Floating. This is crazy. They are both crazy. Two sorceresses, one island, zero sanity. Ten thousand mirrors.

"Your voice - your choice. You know it is true now."

"No," Rinoa says. Her heart is full of sinking despair. "You're playing games with me."

She sinks to the ground, her fingers trailing in the dirt. "How does it happen, then? What happens?"

Ultimecia grins, the mad clown sort of grin that sends children wailing. "You give me your body, fully, pretty one, to use as a shell. A vase for my pretty powers."

Ultimecia is mad, but at least she's talking. Rinoa keeps asking. "When?"

"The magik makes you live long. You will live longer than the others, longer than him. Eventually you will kome to me and offer to me."

Rinoa comforts herself by thinking that this all could be the illusion of a crazy sorceress. She doesn't really know whether it could be true or not. She's not sure which one of them she's talking about when she thinks crazy sorceress either.

"You kome to me," Ultimecia cackles, "and beg -"

She vanishes as Rinoa charges her with the axe, swinging like a true novice but with all of her force and anger. Rinoa turns the axe on the crystal wall, beating and bashing -

The butt of the axe works better, actually, and she destroys every mirror. She drives the axe through it all and then smashes the pieces. She closes her eyes as she breaks the one containing her four friends. She winces as she breaks the one containing Squall. But every piece of glass comes down. Every shard of crystal. The axe does its job.

- - -

"Do you know what is it like," Ultimecia asks her, "to watch your former self attak you? To watch the body that is now yours kut through your own flesh and bone?" The voice in the darkness is a hiss, a hiss of steam and madness and sticky grey mist. "Watching yourself kill yourself. I remember the thoughts I had about the evil sorceress, too. And I know that I die. I know the end."

"Do you know," Ultimecia asks, "what it is like to know how you will die?"

In her voice is madness, and wind, and feathers.

- - -

Rinoa is drawing in the dust with a piece of glass. She has thrown most of it off of the island, and has brushed the island clean with her shirt. She doesn't feel like putting the shirt back on because it's dusty. Besides, no one is there to see her in her bra anyway.

The one piece of glass she has saved is a piece with Squall's face in it. The mirrors are still doing their job. If she wants to watch she can still see Squall shifting, sighing. But he is still sitting on the rock. Rinoa vaguely wonders why he hasn't starved to death yet. She herself should be in tatters.

She figures she has been drawing on the island for a while now, probably most of a day. First she just doodled, stick figures and the alphabet and a big crooked heart that said RH plus SL. Then she rearranged it to say SL plusRH. She tried drawing cartoons of her friends too but she's not much of an artist. It made her laugh though, a big scary crazy laugh fit for a crazy person. She was proud of that.

After that something happened, some kind of haze dropped over her vision, and she started lining out a giant circle and filling it with runes, symbols and triangles and circles within circles, things she had never seen before. When the writing started to glow she got scared of herself again and wiped it all off with her shirt.

Idly she begins drawing on her arm with the glass. She is grazing the skin, cutting lightly, barely drawing blood. She draws a swirl and likes how the red looks against her pale skin so she draws another. Two look even better so she adds a third curly line. She likes this; she will make herself a tattoo. Struck by inspiration she turns her arm over and as she sets the mirror at her wrist to draw she is struck by the image glass at her wrists, ready to slice and she has an idea.

"Ultimecia!" Rinoa stands up, still gripping the glass, blood dripping down her arm. The bright red is cutting through the mist, hissing as it falls onto the dusty floor. The dust is thirsty, the mist is afraid. Blood cuts mist: red defeats grey. Rinoa knows she has finally gone loony and she is proud.

"Ultimecia, I give up," she yells, her voice still angry after all these days, all this darkness. "If you don't come out and tell me what's going on right now, I'm jumping off this cliff."

She half expects the sorceress to show up immediately and is surprised that she doesn't.

"I mean," she calls louder, "how can you have my body if I'm dead? If I die now? What happens if I slit open my wrist right now? I can stop you!"

Finally, she hears the voice. "What will jumping gain you?"

Rinoa struggles with this one, but her arm is beginning to hurt and it reminds her. "Well, if I jump and you don't let me die, then I know what happens in the end. And if I jump and die, I know I'm right."

"You're still dead." Ultimecia is laughing at her.

"But I know." Rinoa is lightheaded now, the blood drip drip dripping down onto the thirsty dirt, and half-crazed she makes a lunge for the edge, leaping high into the air -

for a brief second she is hanging in the darkness, and then she feels gravity take a hold of her; she is falling into the darkness. Ultimecia is letting her fall and she probably will die but it's okay, at least she doesn't become a crazy insane sorceress at the end of it. Rinoa shifts in midair, feeling the lurch as her body moves faster than her stomach, the nausea; she grips her glass shard, lining it up against her wrist. She will slice it open, so at least if the fall is forever, she can bleed to death -

There is sudden full wrenching pain and Rinoa thinks this is it, I am dying, but then she opens her eyes to watch death and realizes that she is back on the island, in a crooked fetal position at Ultimecia's feet.

On the island.

Ultimecia.

Rinoa looks up, everything draining from her at last.

She is panting from the fall and the fear and her brain is still whirling and her arm is still bleeding, painted red at this point, dripping from her fingertips like a macabre french manicure. She is looking at Ultimecia and trying to remember to still breathe.

"So this is how it happens," Rinoa whispers. She knows now. The knowledge has settled into the pit of her stomach; it feels like poison, like lead. She hates it already and she knows that she will have to live with it for the rest of her life. The knowledge is resting in an almost physical sense. Between this knowledge and her sorcery there will soon be no room for her internal organs.

Rinoa is scared now. She has been scared before, yes, but that is chicken-shit to the actual fact that she actually does give her actual body to the actual real Ultimecia. In the flesh, ha ha. She now knows fear.

"Yes," Ultimecia whispers in return, and Rinoa sees a flash in Ultimecia's face that is unmistakably her. "This is what happens."

Rinoa knows. She must go back for Squall. She must slit these unslittable wrists, break the mirrors. Even if it means that she will return to the real world and, in the end, Ultimecia will win.

But Ultimecia loses in the end, Rinoa remembers. She knows now. Her own loss, her own death. Her own life.

"I - I don't want to know," Rinoa whispers. "I don't want to remember."

Ultimecia nods, once, regally. Rinoa wonders where she learns to be regal and graceful. Does it come with age? Does it come with sorcery?

"Look," Ultimecia says. "Look into the krystal."

Rinoa looks down to her shard of glass. She has gripped it so hard that it has cut into her palm, an arc of red across her life line, her heart line. The arc makes a T with her love line. Rinoa wonders whether this is actually as bloody meaningful as it sounds. Bloody meaningful, ha ha. Morbid humour is all she has left now.

But in the shard of glass is Squall's face. He has looked up at something. She wills the picture to turn in that direction, and to her surprise, it responds. Rinoa sees a young girl, wearing blue and black, and a storm of angel wings and feathers and flowers -

"Yes," Ultimecia repeats, "this is how it happens."

Rinoa bows her head. In her mind's eye she sees feathers, both white and black. They are drifting down like snow and there are flowers mixed with them, bright spots of light. She sets the shard of glass on her wrist and looks one last time. Ultimecia's face - her face - looks back at her.

Rinoa feels her wings sprout from her back as she drags the shard across.

- - -

"In the future," Ultimecia says, "it is you. It is you who drives us mad. I may take your body, but it is you who take our mind."

- - -

She is hovering in the mists, her wings keeping her suspended above the ground as the grey sticky tendrils brush her face. She can feel that time is running out (is there time in Time Kompression? she has never answered that question). She closes her eyes to get her bearings and then she is off, flying through the mists at the speed of light and flowers and feathers.

Squall.

He is the answer to everything, and Rinoa only hopes that in the end Squall will be worth it. Worth the terrible price she will pay someday.

Rinoa finds herself agreeing with Ultimecia. Now she knows how she will die. It is not an entirely pleasant feeling, knowing. She knows it in her stomach along with the rest of the knowledge she does not want. It is an actual physical horrible ache and she wants to tear at her stomach with claws and fangs until it all comes out.

Sometime, in the years to come, she knows that Squall will look back and say Why does Rinoa stay? Why does she put up with me?

Squall will never know about her future. She must make sure of that.

"Squall!" She calls through the mist. On second thought she stops mid-air to check the - wait

Her hands are empty. Why had she thought she was carrying something?

Rinoa can feel her magic beginning to fade, but she is sure that this is the right direction, so she lands and walks. The angel's wings dissipate into tiny motes of crystal and feather, both black and white. The motes are glowing in the mist for a couple brief seconds before they are swallowed.

"Squall?" she calls again. When the magic leaves her it always makes her body ache, as if she had just been in some major battle, or hadn't eaten for days. This time it has left an odd ache in her stomach area. She wonders about this: there is something significant about the stomach ache, but she can't really remember.

She knows that Ultimecia is dead. She knows that they defeated her. It is the one thing she remembers. For a brief moment she wonders why it is so important for her to remember.


update :: ff-net horrid formatting problems fixed, 16 jan 2005