Air and Angels

By Dragonbait

Chapter Seven

Through many dangers toils and snares

I have already come

Twas grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home

- Amazing Grace; Traditional Arr.

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Along the harbour at Fisherman's Horizon were men and women standing out on a quay waiting for a ship to come in. The ship was the White SeeD ship, with its elegant sails fluttering high in the wind. Ellone Loire watched as the ship pulled into the quay and the men and women hailed it. The long-awaited return of the White SeeD ship was cause for celebration—it usually carried with it the spoils of battle as well as valuable parts to be sold to the local vendors. It carried today in its hold several men who the world thought had vanished into quiet obscurity; today, they would be revealed as the heroes they truly were. Two of them were retired generals, one from Esthar, the other, Galbadia, a scientist who had worked on the original Deep Sea Excavation centre, and finally, a retired headmaster of Garden. The four men were thought of as the foremost experts in their fields, and it was rumoured that they were being brought in to assist Esthar in their war against Trabia. War was looking less and less like a rumour, and more like inevitability.

Ellone watched as the men emerged from the hold, and smiled as she recognised them—General Caraway had come out of retirement and had offered his expertise to Esthar, Major-General Carpus Zephyr had also come out of retirement to help. The two generals had once been on different sides but they were soldiers first and foremost; willing to put the past behind them and work together for the benefit of the greater good. They knew from experience that they would need all the help they could get in waging this war on a new front. Cid Kramer next stepped off the boat and onto the quay, his walking stick gripped tightly as he walked slowly towards Ellone. He, too, had come to help Esthar—Quistis had requested his aid and with a sad smile, he had responded. The last person to step off the boat was a tall and lanky man, badly scarred and missing an eye, dressed in a white trench coat with a dark grey cashmere sweater matched with black trousers.

"Dr Sigvard! Over here!" Ellone shouted, running towards him with a friendly smile. He returned her smile and nodded politely.

The other three men walked slowly towards Ellone, Headmaster Cid the last one to reach her. She thought the years had not been kind to him; he was arthritic and the lenses of his glasses had reached the thickness of vitamin bottles. To his side, Edea stood, dressed in her classic black dress, looking gaunt and pale. She had aged so much in the years since Ultimecia's defeat. Ellone was grateful that they had come. They would be transported from the White SeeD ship across into the waiting Ragnarok and then flown to Esthar. The White SeeD ship would remain behind, to refuel and stock up on necessities. Dr Sigvard slowly made his way to Ellone's side, and together, the six of them made their way to the Ragnarok.

A slight breeze blew the scent of the ocean up to them, and once again, Ellone smiled as the men slowly boarded the airship. Flying on the Ragnarok was the easiest thing for the group. A bittersweet smile crossed her face as she remembered Laguna's love of new things, and how he'd always wanted to fly in the Ragnarok. He had gotten his wish then, and she was grateful for that. It was hard; she missed her Uncle Laguna so much that every memory hurt. She knew the pain would dull one day, but not yet—not until he had been avenged. Her brand of magic was useless in these circumstances—she was no fighter, and that was what she needed to be.

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His arms were wrapped securely around her as they drifted in and out of consciousness. They were, for a moment, just a man and a woman who loved one another instead of a president and her most trusted general. Seifer's promotion had surprised none in the six months since he had returned to Esthar. Since returning from Gilgamesh, Seifer had become a lot more focused, bringing his knowledge of warfare under a sorceress to the table. His new blade, forged by the greatest legendary swordsman Gilgamesh, had been used rarely. It wasn't bathed in the blood of innocents like Hyperion had been. He was glad of that. Seifer shifted slightly on the bed, looking up through the canopy to the ceiling above—painted with clouds and cherry blossoms to resemble a tranquil outside world. Suddenly, he hated the ceiling. It presented a lie, and he hated it. The days outside this room had been filled with tension, with anger, with worry and quiet despair filling what little moments of quiet and peace they had.

They were playing the waiting game with anxiety creeping slowly across the faces of the players. The waiting killed them slowly, consuming every happy thought with anxiety. Seifer wished it would start already, he was sick of the waiting. Their army had swelled in recent months, with every young person wanting to do their bit to protect their county. He snorted quietly at that. They were in for a rude awakening if they thought that war would bring them the glory they so desperately hoped for. It was a violent, brutal world out there in the trenches—amongst the slow decay of their comrades and the eradication of hope. He had seen it in the eyes of the young cadets in the army—some as young as fourteen. Seifer wished he could convince them of the futility of war, but knew they would not listen to his voice of wisdom. Quistis slept on, sleeping peacefully while she still could.

Her knight, her general, was her port in the storm. Her dreams were dark. She dreamed of losing Seifer, of losing Síla, of losing the war. Sometimes, in her dreams, she stood on the edge of a cliff, looking down over the gully below, willing herself to step over it. It would only take a step, and her pain would end. But she was stronger than that—her will to live overpowered her pain, and she stepped slowly away from the big monolith that invited her over the edge. Sometimes, Quistis wondered whether she was strong enough to do this—to fight this battle that was coming. It would not be an easy one to win—the unknown number of the Trabian army was something they would have to contend with when the time came. She felt Seifer shift his weight, and she opened her eyes. "What is it?" she asked sleepily, as she looked up into Seifer's worried face.

"Nothing," he lied smoothly. "Go back to sleep." Quistis did so, and Seifer slowly got up out of the bed and went to find some clean clothes. Dressing, Seifer headed down the corridor leading out of the residences and into the reception area of the palace. Glancing around the room, Seifer discovered the familiar high ruffled collar Odine wore. What in Hyne's name is he doing here? What the fuck does he want? he thought, irritation growing. He detested Odine; he blamed Odine for Junction Machine Ellone fucking his life up. If it wasn't for Odine, Seifer would never have become the puppet he had been to Ultimecia. "Odine," he growled, "What the hell do you want?" His hand went for his gunblade, but grasped at the air. "Come to pester Quistis again, you freak?"

Doctor Odine turned. "Zat is not why I am here," he said, visibly shaken by the vitriol in Seifer's tone. "I am here merely as an observer of what is to come." It was a lie, and they both knew it. Seifer desperately wanted to kill the scientist, to destroy Junction Machine Ellone; he wanted the man to know the pain and suffering he had endured thanks to that infernal machine! But he knew now that violence wouldn't solve his problems. "I am also here to inform you that the Ragnarok has landed."

Odine had seen the airship from his office, and knew what it meant. The scientist that came with them posed a threat to Odine, to his research and his peace. Odine knew Sigvard needed eliminating, if only because of what he knew. Dr Sigvard knew more than he did when it came to the workings of the Deep Sea Research Centre, knew what they had unearthed in their greedy quest as young men. Odine only hoped that Derek knew what he was doing, coming back to Esthar after so long.

Seifer glanced over at the little monitor which showed the Esthar Air Station. Six people were disembarking, and he recognised four of them. Matron's come! A slightly joyous expression crossed his face as he realised he had been given a chance to talk with her, to explain what had happened in that year that he had been with Gilgamesh. He felt, for the first time in months, hope. The others, he wasn't sure of. He'd probably seen photos of them, long ago—he was sure they were war heroes from the conflict that had claimed both his natural parents' lives. Seifer glared at Odine, daring the insidious little bastard to speak again. Seifer hated Odine, and in that moment, he could've killed him. He restrained himself with great effort, clenching his right fist again and again. As the six made their way down the concourse to the waiting hovercraft to take them to the presidential palace, Odine paled visibly, Seifer noticed.

"What? You're afraid?" It was a sardonic tone to his voice as Seifer observed the scientist. The man obviously didn't want these people here in Esthar; Seifer continued to observe, watching the monitor in his peripheral vision. He could only hope that whatever scared Odine was useful in the coming years.

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Sculptor ran. The Shumi were going to war, for the first and last time in recent history. Little was known about why they were going to war, but Sculptor knew it had everything to do with the humans who thought they ruled the world. Humans were ignorant of the Shumi's true nature. They had in the past, gone to war. Thousands and thousands of years ago, Sculptor's memory told him, the Shumi had marched to their doom. They had been gods, when they were first in their infancy, and over time, they had stopped evolving into the creatures that protected the warriors in battle. For several thousand years, they had been there—waiting patiently until the world saw them as recluses, building their tranquil Shumi Village below the earth.

The early years of their long lives had been tumultuous, with the war against the first sorcerer, Hyne. The Shumi had learned then during that war that they could evolve into guardian spirits, but it took many lifetimes to do so. It had been a definite advantage to being such an advanced race. The first Shumi to evolve into a guardian spirit had taken on the name Alexander. It suited the Shumi who had evolved into Alexander—he had been a fierce warrior—for the name meant man's defender in the old tongue. It was a fitting name.

The next two Shumi to evolve had been twins. Their bond was such that it couldn't be broken by any means—they were known as the Brothers, Sacred and Minotaur. They had fallen near the tomb at Galbadia, and had remained there, guarding the soldiers who had fought and died for their hill and glen, and had stood against a proud enemy. They had routed the enemy's offenses, throwing giant fistfuls of dirt and boulders, and tearing the ground up only to have it come crashing down against the enemy.

Sculptor wondered whether they would come again to fight. They had long denied that they were anything but a species that had a tranquil lifestyle far beneath the land the humans walked upon. Their Ultima draw point above the earth had made them a target, during Adel's reign. She had wanted control of the draw point, and they had refused, much to the disgust of Esthar's soldiers. Esthar's soldiers had killed numerous Shumi, including the majority of the females—who weren't distinguishable from the male Shumis. Now, Sculptor reflected on the irony that it was Esthar who called for aid, and they were there to answer. They would evolve soon. He knew that it was coming.

Their time for evolution was long overdue—staying trapped inside the shells of their mortal skins, they were not as glorious or as god-like as they needed to be. Who knew if they would be able to recall the ancient memories handed down through the generations, between father and son? Sculptor reached the house of the tribe's elder, taking no time to knock on the door.

"Sculptor," the great elder spoke warmly. "Come join us as we plot our course." Elder was the oldest of the Shumi tribe who had not yet taken up his higher plane of existence. The younger Shumi bowed, and joined Elder and several other Shumi. "We wonder if it is wise to go to war. Clearly, there is great need for us to evolve again, though what forms we take on are unknown." Several Shumi looked startled—and Sculptor wondered whether they were waking the sleeping giant.

In the end, they agreed to evolve as they felt they were needed. The Shumi, once a decision was made, would stick to it—even if it spelt their doom. With heavy hearts, they walked back to their homes, each to contemplate the decision of the council. Some would evolve only into Moombas, others, they were sure, would become great destructive forces in the wrong hands. It was only a matter of time before the Shumi's secret would be discovered. The Estharian scientists, who had built the Deep Sea Research Centre, had come close to discovering the true nature of the guardian forces. But they had been deceived.

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Selphie Kinneas felt tired as she hefted herself up off the couch. Her ankles were swelling, and her back ached badly. Running after her two rambunctious sons was trouble enough without having to worry about the war that was on the horizon. Her beloved Trabia was going against all reason, all sensibilities, and she worried that this year's group of SeeDs would fall before they truly had a chance to live life to the fullest. Most of them were young—few were older than eighteen. They got younger every year, she observed. She had been seventeen the year they fought the Sorceress and won. It still didn't change the fact, she thought, that they appeared to get younger every year. She knew most of the students by name and by face. Trabia Garden was still a small institution, and Irvine ran several of the classes there—as did she. Trabia Garden, in the ten years since the last war, had expanded on their training credentials, adding many new courses to the curriculum.

She was not ignorant of the war that was coming. If anything, Selphie knew too much about what was yet to come. They had seen it happen again and again—and Sir Laguna's death had changed her world permanently. Some would argue that her world had changed for the best—that the long reign of Laguna had been such an anomaly in a country that had been ruled for centuries by whatever power had managed to seize the throne. Selphie disagreed with that view. How could the world be better without one of the most known activists for peace in it? She wondered how the world could go on turning on its axis when there were so many changes—and not for the better. She had spent the last war fighting for a world where there would be no need for SeeD—though she herself had been one—and still was one. She saw in her sons the terrible idealism that would lead them to their deaths, and if her eldest boy was going to be as foolish as to join Trabia's fight with Esthar, she knew she would be the one to kill him. She stood firmly on the side of Esthar, and had long thought that the consul of her beloved homeland had gone mad in their lust for power and gold.

Such sad thoughts brought Selphie to where she stood now, hands on her hips as she glared ineffectually at her sons and husband. "What have I said about guns in the house?" she asked Irvine with a pointed glare at his newest addition to their large armoury. "You know I don't want our sons exposed to them."

Irvine grinned at his wife, ignoring her pointed glance for the moment. He wouldn't fight with her in front of his son. "Selphie, how long are we going to pretend that our boys are anything other than potential SeeD candidates? We were their age when we were first given our weapons and told how to use them." He held up a placating hand lest his diminutive wife, who looked gorgeous even when she looked as though she could murder him, explode before he could continue. "It's not my fault that our sons see them—they watch the SeeD cadets and ask me when their turn will come."

Her husband had an extremely valid point. She didn't want to lose any more of her loved ones, yet it was inevitable. They would all lose more people as the years went on, whether it was through sickness, natural causes or war. Selphie could only hope that it was natural causes—she didn't wish to think of war. Yet war was inevitable—there was no point denying that. Somewhere in the back of Selphie's mind, in her memories, she recalled the terror and heartbreak of the war she had fought in all those years ago. Their boys were only six and nine—and the one in the womb, Selphie hoped, would not be old enough to remember the coming war. Irvine was right, and she hated to admit it.

In such times, desperate measures were needed. Whether Selphie and Irvine, and their children survived, she knew that no matter how hard she tried to hold to what normalcy they had, it would be swept away by the currents of change. It frightened her; the thought of another war so soon after the fragile peace had been won just thirteen years earlier. It had been so fragile because of what it had cost the SeeDs involved—many had lost loved ones in the battle against Galbadia Garden, and while Selphie had long since forgiven Seifer's actions, it had hurt to bury so many of her friends. Now it seemed like they would be burying more.

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"Hyne damn them all, I was told..." a drunken voice emanated from an Esthar pub. The man singing the song stood on the top of the bar, a beer in his hand. "We'd sail the seas for Trabian gold..." Others joined in the drunken angry warbling of the song, and the people who worked behind the bar looked at one another in confusion. They weren't sure what had prompted the angry song and the climbing up onto their bar, between the taps of beer, and the bar mats that ostensibly were designed to soak up any stray liquor.

"We'd fire no guns, shed no tears..." the crowd roared, "I'm a broken man on a Balamb pier, the last of Barrett's privateers!"

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A/N: Sorry for the delay in the chapter. The name of the song is called The Last of Barrett's Privateers, and can be found here: http:/youtube.com/watch?v=dl-CfQvz21Y (there's anti-American sentiment, but you'll see why I used it.) Obviously, I changed some of the words to reflect the world of Squall and co.