By: xaphanea



Quistis giggled as she put down a Bite Bug's Card.

"I believe that I just won." She scooped up her cards as well as one of Dr. Kadowaki's.

"Quistis, how DO you do it?" The doctor sighed heavily, leaning back. "That's the third time today you've beaten me!"

"Well, I've travelled all over the world and played many different variations." Quistis shrugged. "I just have more strategy now, I guess."

"That makes sense." Dr. Kadowaki nodded. The door made a sliding sound as a tall blonde girl entered shyly. "Hello." The doctor stood up.

"Hi." The girl turned to Quistis. "Miss Trepe? I was told to come to you for my dorm key."

"Oh, dear!" Quistis put a hand to her forehead. "What HAS become of me? I completely forgot you were arriving today! Sorry, sweetie." She fished around in her bag and pulled out a small gold key for her.

"It's okay." The girl accepted the key graciously. "Thanks."

"You'll be in the dormitory doubles, room 17." Quistis clasped her hands together. The girl smiled and exited the infirmary.

"Who is that?" Dr. Kadowaki asked.

"She just transferred here from Sefaliya Garden." Quistis told her.

"The Asylum?" The doctor gasped.


"Yeah, my friend was hired there as a doctor." Kadowaki's eyes grew wide. "She sent me one single letter, and she told me how strange the students and teachers were there. And she also said that every single student there was related to each other. She called it the Asylum."

"Well, that is strange." Quistis crossed her arms. "Could you imagine if Zell and Squall were related?"

"Or Seifer and Zell!" The doctor laughed heartily and caused Quistis to guffaw so hard she had to sit down.

"Who's that?" Zell asked Selphie as they were walking together in the hallway towards the elevator. A tall girl in black leather pants and a light blue sweater carrying a denim pack over her left shoulder came out of the infirmary.

"I don't know, a new student I guess." Selphie shrugged.

"Really." Zell watched as the girl glided away from them, her long curly blonde locks bobbing behind her. He shook his head as if you destroy all thoughts about her. Selphie linked her arm through Zell's and snorted.

"Down boy." She giggled, and they rounded the corner to the stairs.

"Hey!" Zell defensively put his hand up. "I had no... attraction to her!"

"Right..." Selphie pushed the button to open the elevator.

"I live only for you, baby." Zell made his voice low and wrapped her in a hug.

"Get off me you pimp." Selphie giggled, and Zell reddened slightly.

"OW!" Seifer heard the girl yelp as he practically barelled into her. She was tall, but thin, and she fell back onto her butt. He smirked, but put a hand out to help her up. She looked at his hand, and then his mocking face, and pulled herself up.

"Well, are you okay?" Seifer pulled his hand back.

"Yes, I'm fine." The girl flipped her hair over her shoulder and fixed her pack. She continued down the hall and Seifer turned to look at her perfect curve as she walked.

"Wow." He breathed and then turned away, heading to his destination, but slower this time.

Irvine leaned on the railing, looking into Balamb's crystal blue water. He sighed, thinking of Selphie and her spunky, attractive nature. He turned around and looked up at the bridge, seeing Selphie and Zell together, laughing. They were such close friends, Irvine wished him and Selphie were that close... maybe closer...

"Excuse me." A tall girl asked, pointing to the nearby hall. "Is that the dorm hallway?"

"Uh... yeah..." Irvine nodded mechanically and watched her turn and walk down the grey carpet. Irvine managed to bring his jaw back to a close as he stared, letting out a short whistle, and then turning back to the water.

"Squall... Mm..." Rinoa accepted Squall's passionate kiss that enveloped her mouth. He began walking forwards, forcing her backwards into the vacant room.

"It's okay," He whispered. "This room is empty... no one will come here." He locked the door behind them and began kissing her neck, continuously causing her to move back. Rinoa gave in to his charms, and laid back on the bed, pulling him up on top of her. She ran her hands through his lush brown hair, and gently massaged her lips against his. He ran his hands up and down her midsection, savouring the feel of her small body in his power. He began moving downwards, kissing her upper chest and all of a sudden Rinoa froze, pushing him back.

"Oh!" She quickly scooted off of the bed. "This room is... vacant..."

"Well I hope so." The blonde girl at the door raised her eyebrows. "Because I'm moving in."

"Okay, uh... well then, we'll be going now." Rinoa grabbed Squall by the collar and pulled him quickly out of the room, trying to sound firm as the girl shut the door behind them. "Squall!"

"Sorry." Squall wrapped his arms around her waist fondly. "I didn't know." He softly kissed her forehead and she smiled momentarily.

"This time let's walk all the way to your room, okay?" Rinoa began moving, and Squall laughed, following her.

"CONFUSION." Fujin stammered.

"I agree, ya know?" Raijin answered. "Seifer was supposed ta be here twenty minutes ago, ya know?"

"Yes I DO know." Fujin put a hand to her forehead in annoyance. She covered her face with her hands and turned away from him, walking past a girl she didn't know, but didn't really care at the moment.

"Hi." The girl stopped to talk to Raijin. "I hear that the disciplinary committee is really strict around here, is that true?" Fujin whirled around to face the girl who had struck up a conversation with her comrade.

"Well... ya know..." Raijin stuttered pitifully.

"Yes, they ARE very strict." Fujin spoke up. "So watch yourself. Come, Raijin." Fujin grabbed his arm, and when he didn't move, she kicked him brutally and practically dragged him down the hallway. The girl giggled, already knowing that the two of them were on the disciplinary committee. She continued on her way passively.

"Alright, dismissed." Instructor Julian Owans waved his hand and turned back to his computer screen as the students obediently filed out of the classroom. When he was sure he was alone, Julian pulled a disk out of his drawer and popped it into the drive connected to his computer. There was a light knock at the door and he whipped around to see a tall thin blonde girl standing at the doorway. "Class is over." He raised his eyebrows as he looked her over.

"Yes I know that." The girl smiled warmly. "My name is Gayel, I just transferred and I wanted to meet the Instructor here. I heard that Balamb has had some of the best Instructors around the world."

"Well, we have had some great ones." Julian leaned forward, smiling at the blue and black clad feminine figure Gayel supported. "What makes you so interested in teaching?"

"Well, I'd eventually like to become an Instructor myself." Gayel shrugged cutely. "I've always admired them, and I just want to be as admired and looked up to. I want to be a modivator."

"Wow." Julian nodded. "Well, my name is Julian Owans... what Garden did you say you transferred from again?"

"I didn't say." Gayel giggled. "I'm from Sefaliya Garden."

"Well, I believe I've never heard of it." Julian narrowed his eyes. "Whereabouts is it?"

"It's on an island near Esthar." Gayel informed him. "It's not very popular."

"Indeed." Julian bit his lip. "Well, I hate to kick you out, but I have some work to do, so if you'd like to familiarize yourself with the basics here, you can come back later and use the tutorial if you'd like."

"No, I think I'll be fine." Gayel was already at the door. "It was nice to meet you, Instructor Owans. Have fun playing your game." She exited the room and Julian was taken aback by her last sentence. He turned and saw that his computer screen hadn't displayed anything to do with the game on the disk he had inserted. She WAS a strange one.

Gayel finished unpacking and stood back to admire her cozy room. She smiled and snatched up her thin one handed silver blade, sliding it into it's sheath at her waist. She put her fingers to her temples, checking over her junctions quickly before slipping on her white leather jacket. It was her favourite jacket, it had soft white fur all on the inside, and it stuck out at the bottom of the sleeves and along the waistline. Along with that, Gayel wore her baby blue velvet boot cut pants with her ebony black knee high boots underneath. She slipped on her baby blue velvet gloves and fluffed her thick blonde curls, admiring herself in the mirror. It was her favourite outfit, it described her perfectly, the light happy colours, and the sexiness of the ensemble.

Gayel slid her key in the lock and exited her room, locking the door shut and dropping the gold key into her inside breast pocket of her jacket. She headed to the front gate, she had decided to acquaint herself with the Balamb area, such as the Fire Cavern, and maybe Balamb Town. She stopped at the gate and turned to the man behind the glass.

"Excuse me." She leaned forward and smiled. "Do they modify weapons in Balamb Town?"

"Why yes, they do." The man replied, startled by her conversation.

"Thank you sir, have a great day!" Gayel walked away, her perkiness spreading out around her. She recieved a few looks on her way out, but she ignored them, stopping at the draw point to take out a few Cures, adding to her strength. Gayel knew she was strong, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

"Squall, I know that you want to spend time with Rinoa, but the fact of the matter is, you are the only one who can do this." Gayel heard a female voice just outside of the gate by the road. She stopped short, giving whomever it was a little more time to speak before she broke the moment.

"I know, I know." Squall replied. "I'm doing it for Mrs. Dincht. It's alright, I won't complain."

"Sorry I can't accompany you... but I have some things to attend to." Gayel decided to exit the gate at that time, and came upon Quistis and Squall. "Oh, hello!" Quistis exclaimed.

"Hi, Miss Trepe." Gayel greeted her.

"Perfect timing, dear. And by the way, call me Quistis." Quistis clasped her hands together. "Are you heading to Balamb Town?"

"Yes actually, I am." Gayel lied. She was going to go to the Fire Cavern first, but that could wait. The man in front of her, the one she had stumbled upon with his girlfriend in her room, he squeezed her curiosity.

"Well, would you mind travelling with Squall?" Quistis asked. "He has some errands, and well, I would go, but..."

"No problem!" Gayel flashed him a friendly smile. "That is, if you don't mind my company... sir." She emphasized the word sir, and for once in his life, Squall blushed. He vividly remembered what happened earlier, and scowled quaintly.

"Sure, why not." He robotically answered, and Quistis waved.

"Okay, I'll see you two later!" She headed back through the gate, and Gayel turned to Squall.

"Well, did you finish your OTHER errands?" Gayel teased, and Squall began walking, shaking his head. Gayel couldn't wipe the triumphant grin of her face as she jogged to catch up to him. They were about the same height, and she noticed this time how good looking he really was close up. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself."

"... whatever." Squall pertly replied.

"Well, I'm Gayel, if you're interested." Gayel cocked her head. "I take it your name is Squall. Nice to meet you." She didn't expect and answer, and she was surprised that he said anything back to her at all.

"Yeah." At least he was trying to get the last word in. Gayel had played this game many a times with guys before, she was pretty good at it.

"I guess our last introduction wasn't the most comfortable, was it?"


"You know, when I saw you with your girl, you seemed like a more open guy." Gayel rambled on, as if ignoring his one word sentences here and there. "I didn't expect you to be like this."

"Have you met Selphie yet?" Squall asked out of the blue, not meaning it to be out loud, but accidentally speaking. This girl just seemed to happy-go-lucky like Selphie.

"No. I haven't met anyone except for Quistis..." Gayel trailed off. "And Instructor Owans."

"Really?" Squall snorted. "You're a student?" He rolled his eyes. When Quistis was an Instructor there had been the 'Trepies', and now there was a group of girls called the 'Ownies'.

"Oh, no." Gayel laughed. "I've been a Naldi for five years now, since I was 13."


"Oh, you know, a soldier for my Garden. Like a SeeD."

"So you're eighteen?"

"Yeah. I want to be an Instructor, ideally. That's why I came to Balamb." Gayel continued, eating up the silence with her sweet voice. "In my previous Garden, everything is so strict and stuff, so I just left. To tell you the truth, I didn't really 'transfer' here, I kind of ran away from Sefaliya and made it to Balamb."

"Why did you choose Balamb?" Squall wondered.

"Well, for one, you have such a colourful history." Gayel sighed. "SeeD's saved the world. Two, Galbadia... well... so many countries hate Galbadia. And Trabia, well, it's still recovering from being bombed. I've heard so many beautiful things about Balamb... I had to come here."

"That makes sense, I guess." Squall replied.

"So..." Gayel furrowed her brow. "Tell me about yourself. How did you get to Balamb?"

"I... don't remember." Squall looked at the ground. "I was in an orphanage when I was little... but I don't remember the transition from there to Balamb Garden."

"Oh." Gayel blinked repetitively, not knowing for the life of her what to say.

"Sefaliya..." Squall thought for a moment. "Isn't that Asylum?"

"No!" Gayel defended immediately without thinking. "I mean... yes. God! No. It was named Asylum from rumour, but it's not one."

"Why do they call it Asylum?" Squall asked, and Gayel regretted ever wanting to spend time with this guy. He was too cool and calm, a real challenge for her.

"Because it's so strict there." Gayel tried.

"I've heard that everyone's related." Squall's gaze burned into Gayel's eyes, as if he was interrogating her.

"Okay, okay!" Gayel put her hands up. "I give! Sefaliya Garden is way different than any other Garden. The Headmasters and Headmistresses, theres four of each. They pretty much had a bunch of kids and raised them up to be Naldi's. They kept the Garden a secret, it was underground and located on an Island near Esthar called the Kemsken Island. Until the underground facility couldn't fit all of the Naldi inside, they had to extend above ground. The eight Heads decided to make an official Garden out of their family military, and they named it Sefaliya Garden. So we're all pretty much brothers and sisters, and if not, we're like family anyway because we live with eachother. It's really hard on some, because they fall in love and then find out that they're actually distantly related somewhere along the line. It's not easy to find someone that is honestly not your own blood."

"Has there ever been anyone that isn't related to the Heads?" Squall inquired.

"Yes. One." Gayel cast her eyes aside. "She... was different."

"What happened to her?" Squall found himself surprised at his abundance of questions.

"She died." Gayel shrugged. "It happened around the time I was born, I don't know much more about it."

"You didn't leave because of Instructing." Squall blatantly crossed his arms.

"Wh, what?!" Gayel felt put on the spot and she stopped walking abruptly, looking him square in the eye. "Excuse me. I did not ask for you to... delve into my thoughts and tell me how I've made my choices! I WANT to be a teacher!"

"But that's not why you left." Squall pressed on. He didn't know why or how he was doing this, but it felt right. This girl standing before him was lost, and even though she didn't want to admit it, she was afraid. He could sense that, and for some reason, a part of him wanted to help her out of her shell. Maybe it was because he needed out too... and maybe she could bring him out with her.

"You know what?!" Gayel finally let herself go, as the anger seethed through her. Her happy, fresh exterior shattered as her mind exposed itself. "Screw you! You can walk by yourself you fucking... ugh!" She couldn't think of a way to finish her sentence as she turned on her heel and left in a huff. Now she was going to go to the Fire Cavern.

Squall entered Balamb Town slowly, and walked down the road until he reached a familiar doorway.

"Mrs. Dincht?" He pulled the small bag out of his pocket. "Mrs. Dincht, I have a package from your son... Hello?" Squall peered around the room, and then headed into the next one. It was highly unlikely she was there, but he checked up in Zell's room anyway. Nobody.

Squall exited the house and began walking towards the train station, stopping to look about him. It was then that he realized that there was nobody in town. There was no one in his sight. Squall ran to Zell's next door neighbor's house, and burst inside, finding nobody. He ran up to the train station, to find no train, and no people anywhere. He sprinted to the hotel and slipped in, seeing absolutely no people, even upstairs. What had happened to Balamb Town? It was a ghost town now.

Squall flipped open his SeeD cellular phone and dialed Quistis calmly.

"Hello?" Quistis' strong voice came over the line.

"Instructor..." Squall paused. "There's something seriously wrong here."

"Headmaster Cid, with all do respect." Selphie stomped her foot. "We canNOT work without another SeeD as experienced as we have been."

"And I refuse to take Nida out to the battlefield." Quistis added. "Nor Xu, for that matter."

"We have no choice." The Headmaster shook his head. "Squall is on his way to Deling City now to speak with the General, you're going to have to fare without him, and take Nida or Xu with you."

"Headmaster Cid." Zell came sprinting into the Headmaster's Office. "Xu can't be found anywhere. Nobody's seen her today."

"You don't need to speak with my father... what about that new girl?" Rinoa suggested, stepping forward. "Didn't you say she was a soldier at her old Garden, Quistis?"

"You didn't try to contact Xu?" Quistis shook her head, ignoring Rinoa, and speaking to Zell directly.

"We got no signal at her end." Zell shrugged.

"Quistis." Rinoa tapped Quistis' shoulder.

"I didn't ASK you." Quistis snapped, shaking her off harshly. She turned back to Zell.

"Quistis." Headmaster Cid spoke up. "Gayel may be able to help you."

"Gayel is with Squall." Quistis gently told him, and then turned, once again, back to Zell.

"What?!" Rinoa shrieked, and Quistis whipped around to face her angrily.

"Listen to me, girl." She spat. "We don't need any jealous girlfriends or rebellious daughters in SeeD's way. You are not a SeeD, you are not a student here, and you are just in my way. So back off, because having you running around worrying about Squall just gets on people's nerves and you should go do it somewhere else while we do OUR job." Quistis was fuming, and Rinoa looked about to burst into tears. She looked at Headmaster Cid, and then to Zell, then to Selphie. With one last look at Quistis, she ran to the elevator and punched the button in, crossing her arms and stifling her tears until the doors completely closed.

"Instructor..." Zell began, but Quistis silenced him by putting her hand up.

"If you're getting no signal from Xu, there's only one place nearby she could be." She said. "The Fire Cavern."

"Exactly." Headmaster Cid stood up, breaking the tension professionally. The elevator made a ding as the doors opened once again, this time revealing Irvine looking rather confused.

"Miss Heartilly-" He began.

"Irvine, you're with me." Quistis cut in. "Run and get Nida, quickly. Selphie, you take the bridge, and Zell, locate Seifer and tell him what's going on, then bring the disciplinary committee back here... wait a minute... Selphie, you go get Seifer, Zell, you take the bridge."

"Aye aye." Selphie exited quickly, and Irvine and Zell went up to the bridge to relieve and fetch Nida.

"Miss Trepe." Headmaster Cid sighed.

"I know, Headmaster." Quistis licked her lips. "And I'm sorry. It's just... that girl gets on my nerves. She doesn't care about the well being of the SeeD's, or Balamb for that matter."

"Rinoa is blinded by love and hate." Headmaster Cid pointed out. "She loves Squall, and hates her father."

"But we cannot let her family and relationship problems get in the way of our job." Quistis firmly said. "How would the people of Balamb Garden feel if they heard that their own security was threatened because one petty girl didn't want to have her father involved in anything to do with her?"

"I understand where you are coming from, Miss Trepe." Headmaster Cid nodded. "Just please, try to be a little less harsh with her and a little more gentle. You understand what love is, do you not?"

"Unfortunately yes, Headmaster." Quistis sighed and exited the office.

Gayel stood near the far back of the Fire Cavern, looking at Ifrit's scorched home.

"Wait!" A female voice stopped her, and Gayel turned her head slightly.

"Yes?" Gayel sheathed her sword, put her hands on her hips and looked at the smartly dressed woman before her.

"I-" The woman was about to speak when a few new voice wafted over to them.

"I don't understand why Xu would be here." A male voice sounded frantic.

"She has to be here." Gayel recognized that voice as Quistis. "Where else would she be?" Quistis came into view followed by Irvine, who smiled invitingly at Gayel when he recognized her. Quistis barely acknowledged her as she turned to Xu.

"Quistis!" Xu moved her attention from Gayel to Quistis.

"Xu, why the hell aren't you in Garden?" Quistis demanded.

"Nida told me what was going on and sent me to find Gayel. He said she would be here."

"Nida." Gayel barely breathed.

"How does Nida..." Quistis looked behind her and Nida shyly stepped out of the shadows. Gayel's eyes nearly popped out of her head when her eyes fell on his ashamed looking face.

"Nida!" She stammered, and stepped forward hesitantly, as if wanting to touch him but halted by fear.

"Listen this is all very confusing, but we have to get back to Garden NOW." Quistis motioned to Xu, and pushed past Irvine to leave. Xu followed after a slight shrug to Nida, and Irvine tipped his hat, winked at Gayel, and left. Gayel looked at the ground, blinking and clenching her fists simultaneously.

"Gayel." Nida bit his lip. "When I heard you were here, and that they needed help... I had to get you. I know how skilled you are and Garden needs your help. I asked Xu to get you because I-"

"Was afraid to face me." Gayel finished bitterly. "You didn't think you'd have to, did you? Save it, Nida. I'll help without your recommendation." With that, she hastily swept past him, leaving with the rest. Nida looked to the lava and sighed before slowly turning to lumber from the area.

"Okay." Quistis wrung her hands as she stood before Headmaster Cid once again. "We've located Xu... and Gayel, although I believe there is some tension between her and Nida."

"Zell!" Headmaster Cid called, and Zell came down from the bridge right away. Xu and Irvine came up the elevator and entered briskly.

"Where's Nida?" Quistis inquired.

"He and Gayel are on their way." Irvine reported. Selphie came up with Seifer, Fujin, and Raijin. Finally Gayel and Nida appeared from the elevator just as Headmaster Cid's phone rang.

"Hello, this is Headmaster Cid of Balamb Garden." Cid began. The others all waited a few agonizing moments before the Headmaster replied. "Well General, I assume that Squall made it there safely, then."

"Is Squall there?" Quistis asked. "May I speak with him?" Headmaster Cid put a finger up to signify one moment and Quistis quieted herself.

"Oh, it's you." Seifer snorted when he spotted Gayel, and she smiled sarcastically at him.

"Where ARE the people of Balamb?" Headmaster Cid demanded calmly. "Did you contact anyone in Timber?"

"No trains have come to Timber from Balamb in the last 24 hours." Caraway told him from the other end of the phone. "No trains have even come through Timber in the past 24 hours. Two have stopped in Deling but they have all been Galbadian, and not heading towards Timber. Security has been tight since the death of President Vinzer."

"Alright, please let me speak with Squall." The Headmaster paused as Caraway handed the phone to Squall.

"Headmaster." He said. "I don't think Galbadia has anything to do with this."

"Even so, you should probably take a look at Galbadia Garden."

"With all do respect sir, I don't think it will make much of a difference." Squall took a breath. "I believe Esthar has something to do with it."

"Either way, I still want you to check Galbadia Garden. Then we will have a discussion on the matter." Headmaster Cid looked to Selphie. "I'll send you the Ragnarok." Selphie saluted and exited briskly. Headmaster Cid lightly placed the phone in Quistis' open hand and she stared at it for a moment before putting it to her ear.

"Rinoa's fine, and I'll make sure she comes with us." She winced.

"Oh, thank you Instructor." Squall professionally replied, and hung up the phone.

"Is my daughter coming?" General Caraway asked, and Squall shook his head.

"No sir, she will safely stay back in Garden."

"Good." Caraway nodded slightly. "You may go wait at the gates of the city. Shyla will escort you there." A woman dressed in a short blue dress came out of the shadows and took Squall's arm.

"There's no need..." Squall protested.

"Nonsense." Caraway waved them away and Shyla led Squall out of the mansion. Caraway sat down in his comfortable swivel chair and let out a deep whoosh of breath, staring up at the last photo he had had of his beautiful wife Julia. She was in her favourite blood red dress she wore the night she first sang 'Eyes On Me'. "My dearest Julia... my world is upside down without you." He sighed and pulled the picture off of the wall. Her hair framed her face beautifully and her deep eyes stared down into his soul the way they always had. Rinoa looked so much like her, he realized. He wished that his daughter would come back to him.

"Alright then, simply I will tell you this." Headmaster Cid bit his lip. "We do not know what we are dealing with here. The people of Balamb Town could have been taken hostage, they could have all been killed, nobody knows. We may have to deal with an army, or one powerful man behind all of this. Even so, I would feel much safer if Nida, Xu, and the disciplinary committee went along with you. Head to the Ragnarok and wait there until I contact you from the bridge. Gayel, please come with me." The team saluted and then headed to the elevator. Gayel accompanied Headmaster Cid to the bridge, and they stood at the comm system.

"Do you want me to help, sir?" Gayel asked politely.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Headmaster speaking." Headmaster Cid pushed the button for the comm and announced out to the entire Garden. "To clear up the rumours flying around, Balamb Town is in danger, and we are obligated to help. Everyone who has family or friends in town, please feel secure that we will do everything in our power to get them back. For everyone else, support your fellow students and SeeD's alike. I am sending the Ragnarok Team to aid Squall in Galbadia, and we will soon get to the bottom of this mystery. Until then, cross your fingers, and show extensive leadership qualites while our best leaders here in Garden go away. Thank you." He clicked off the link and turned to Gayel.

"Is Squall the leader of the Ragnarok Team?" She asked.

"Yes he is. He is a very important person to this Garden. While I was in a state of confusion and weakness, Squall took over the Garden and kept things under control. Without him, Balamb would be finished." Headmaster Cid nodded. "Gayel, I understand that you and Nida have a... history. I don't want it to get in the way of your work, and I know that you are new here. But as I said before, we don't know what we are up against. With your expertise you could become an asset to our military forces. So I am asking you to set aside your quarreling nature with Nida to help us."

"I can do that, sir." Gayel saluted and smiled warmly. "I believe in Squall, the first time I met him I felt strength radiating from him. And aside from being cocky, I think that he has it in him to lead the Ragnarok team to the beginning of this entire case."

"Good, good." Headmaster Cid patted her shoulder, and pushed the link button to the Ragnarok. "Ragnarok team, I am sending you the newest member. Gayel Merlana."

"Oh no." Nida sat down and buried his head in his hands when he heard the name.

"Nida what is it, ya know?" Raijin pressed. "You're so uptight about that girl, ya know?"

"Yes, Raijin, I know." Nida sighed.

"SILENCE." Fujin kicked Raijin, and dragged him out of the bridge. Seifer was seated across from him, Selphie was in the pilot's seat, with Irvine standing behind her fondly. Xu was down with Rinoa in the passenger area, and Quistis was sitting beside Selphie. Zell was in the airlock, 'warming up'.

"So come on, tell." Seifer pressed. "What's up with you and this new chick?"

"Her name is Gayel." Nida replied firmly.

"Okay." Seifer nodded. "So how do you know her?"

"None of your business." Nida snapped.

"Okay, well I'll just let her tell me." Seifer narrowed his eyes. "I think she likes me already."

"Bull." Nida snorted. "She'd never be interested in someone like you."

"Why is that?" Seifer slyly smiled. "I'm a likeable guy."

"She doesn't like arrogant, know it all, cocky assholes." Nida was about to say more when there was a shuffle.

"And what if I did, Nida?" Gayel walked between the two. "You think you know me that well? You've been gone a while. There's a lot you don't know about me." She turned on her heel and disappeared into the elevator.

"Burned." He snorted, and Nida clenched his jaw, sitting back.

Gayel leaned forward on the railing, sighing heavily. There was a slide as Zell came out of the airlock and bounded over to her excitedly.

"Hiya." He smiled warmly. "You're Gayel, aren't cha? Welcome to the team."

"Yes, thank you." Gayel forced a faint smile but didn't make eye contact for fear of letting her depression show.

"Hey, you okay?" Zell stopped bouncing around and turned her to face him; for once he looked serious.

"Yes..." Gayel tried, but saw that he wasn't buying it. "... No."

"Come on, you can't go into a mission like this." Zell told her. "What's on your mind?"

"Nida." Gayel couldn't stop the tears and the words flooded from her mouth like a waterfall of sorrow. "I left Sefaliya because it was hell without him! I loved him so much... and then one day he just up and left me. I couldn't bear it anymore, everything was just too much without him there to keep me on the ground..."

"Nida was in Sefaliya?"

"Nida was BORN in Sefaliya!" Gayel sobbed. "We grew up together thinking we were cousins... but when we were older we found out we weren't related, and we fell in love. He promised we'd be together forever, and then he just left... I had no idea he was here."

"Oh..." Zell didn't know what to say so he simply wrapped her up in a hug and let her calm down into his chest. "Listen. I don't know why Nida left you, but I'm sure it was for a good reason, because he's not a bad guy. You can conquer this, you'll make it through this mission and then the two of you can sort out everything. So wipe away those tears and go to the bridge." He used his thumbs to smear away the moistness and she smiled.

"Thank you." Gayel took a deep breath and linked her arm through his.

"By the way, my name is Zell Dincht."

"Well thank you, Zell Dincht." Gayel began walking and the headed back to the bridge.

"So, Squall." Shyla grinned widely. "Where are you going next?"

"I know Caraway sent you to get information from me, whoever you are." Squall turned away. "It's none of your business, you can leave now."

"I want to see the Ragnarok." Shyla licked her lips. "If it's as good looking as you are, it'll be a sight to see, hm?" She leaned forward and breathed hotly on his neck.

"... Whatever." He pushed her away and put a hand to his forehead, peering into the distance where the red ship was just coming into his view.

"Heey, look!" Selphie cried. "There's the city! Whoo hoo!" Irvine smiled at her cuteness. They landed right in front of Deling City, and Fujin and Raijin exited the Ragnarok to fetch Squall.

"There he is, ya know?" Raijin exclaimed when Squall strode towards them.

"WOMAN." Fujin protested when she spotted Shyla following him.

"You can leave now." Squall whipped around to face the annoying girl. Her eyes were wide as she stared up at the passenger window, spotting Rinoa glaring back at her.

"I see Miss Rinoa!" Shyla cried. "I'm going to tell the General you brought her!"

"BLACKMAIL." Fujin stated angrily.

"What do you want?" Squall seethed.

"I want to come with you." Shyla crossed her arms.

"No way, ya know?" Raijin put his hands up.

"Shut up." Fujin kicked him.

"We can't let her go back to Caraway." Squall informed them. "If he finds out Rinoa is with us, we'll be making an enemy of Galbadia easy."

"The General is a powerful man, full of vengeance." Shyla smirked.

"You shut up too, ya know?" Raijin cried.

"Okay fine." Squall grabbed Shyla's arm and began up the ramp to the ship.

"Oh yay a POW!" Selphie clapped her hands when she spotted Squall dragging Shyla into the bridge.

"What?!" Shyla squealed. "That's not what I had in mind!"

"SYMPATHY. NONE." Fujin snickered. "We don't want you here, but we have no choice."

"Damn you all!" Shyla squirmed.

"Seifer, you're the head of the disciplinary committee." Squall shoved Shyla into Seifer. "Discipline her, and keep her under confinement somewhere."

"Okay." Seifer slyly grinned. He easily picked her up and slung her over his shoulder, struggling and all. He headed to the airlock, he knew there were some places there to keep her and if she made noise nobody would hear. He fished around his belt and found his handcuffs, snapping them onto Shyla's wrists around a thick metal post.

"Why are all you Balamb guys so hot?" Shyla inquired, moving her arms above her head so she was able to flaunt her breasts before his eyes.

"I don't know." Seifer winked.

"Are you all sexually talented as well?" Shyla licked her lips and breathed in deeply.

"Well, I know I am." He reached out, slipping an arm around her waist.

"How about you uncuff me and prove it?" Shyla challenged.

"Mm no, I know what you're trying to do." Seifer snaked his other arm around her waist.

"Hmmmmm..." Shyla brushed her lips against Seifer's cheek.

"FRIG SEIFER!" Zell yelped from the doorway.

"Damnit Zell just because you're not getting any doesn't mean-" Seifer began, but when he turned around he saw Quistis standing there too. "Is this your business?" He spat, taking his hands from Shyla.

"Squall told us to check on you." Quistis crossed her arms. "Obviously there was need to."

"What, Instructor, do you want to join us?" Seifer asked.

"You wish!" Zell clenched his fists.

"I didn't ask you, Chicken-Wuss!" Seifer glared at him. "As you can see, everything is fine so you can leave. Unless, dearest Instructor, you want to stick around for the 'interrogation'."

"Interrogation, eh?" Quistis walked up to him, laying her hands on his collar, and held her face just inches from his. Zell was about to protest when she suddenly grabbed his ear and twisted, dragging him whimpering from the airlock. Zell took one look at Shyla's half erotic expression and then at Seifer, snickered, and shut the airlock, leaving Shyla secured inside.

Xu silently stood and left the passenger area when she saw Squall enter, she knew he wanted to be alone with Rinoa.

"Don't say anything." Rinoa looked down at her hands when he sat beside her.

"There's a lot to say." Squall softly told her.

"Only for me." Rinoa blinked and gazed at him. "I have an unconditional understanding for what your job entitles you to. I should be the one apologizing."

"I have nothing to apologize for..." Squall trailed off. "And why are you apologizing?"

"Squall!" Rinoa leapt up, turning to him in anguish. "Are you crazy?! I just endangered the whole mission by going to the window and that girl... you have nothing to apologize for?"

"No, I don't." Squall stood up as well. "What did you think I-"

"That makes me so happy!" Rinoa jumped to him and threw her arms around his neck, swinging around like she had the first time she really met him.

"You didn't endanger the mission."

"But I didn't know that you told Caraway I wasn't coming... she's going to go tell him now."

"We have her in confinement." Squall said. "It's all okay now. We're on our way to Galbadia Garden."

"Good..." Rinoa licked her lips and looked to him innocently.

"Hey Squall you'll never guess what- ah..." Zell stopped short when he saw the two of them kissing. They both turned and looked at him, causing a nervous reaction. "... Yeah... well. We're in sight of Galbadia Garden... Xu wants us all up at the... uh... bridge." Squall stood, and headed past Zell, who allowed Rinoa to take his arm and exit the passenger area with him.

"Hmmm." Quistis bit her lip nonchalantly. "That doesn't look right." Everyone was now at the bridge, looking out at Galbadia Garden. It was totaled, it looked like a dump, and there was chaos outside. Thousands of Garden residents were outside, running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

"Come on, land." Seifer barked. "We have to get down there now."

"Alright!" Selphie was still as happy go lucky as ever. She circled the Ragnarok around the Garden once and then finally came to a land right by the front entrance. She leaned back in the chair to look at Squall. "Do you want me to stay or come out?"

"I don't think we'll be needing an emergency escape." Squall shook his head. "Better to come and help. Just make sure to close the Ragnarok behind you." They all exited the Ragnarok in one huge group, and the Galbadians stopped moving, staring open mouthed.

"Squall, say something." Quistis elbowed him, and he stepped forward.

"We are your oversea neighbors from Balamb." Squall cleared his throat. "We have come here to investigate, some very strange things have been happening around the world I believe. We'd just like to look around and ask a few questions please."

"Hello, Ragnarok team." The short Headmaster came out of the crowd.

"Yes, hello, Headmaster." Quistis stepped towards him. "May we ask what happened to Garden?"

"Well, we pretty much were bombed. Or so it sounded like." He shrugged. "It appears that they were looking for something, but I do not believe they found it. Basically after the evacuation, there was an aircraft circling around looking at us, and then they just zoomed away. I apologize for the alarm, but everyone grew afraid as soon as they saw the ship. I tried to calm them down, I recognized the Ragnarok."

"Well, then this is cause for confusion." Quistis crossed her arms and tried to think. "What did the ship look like?"

"It was black..." The Headmaster shook his head. "And the symbol on the side was... I've never seen it before... like a yellow and red snake I think. It was hard to make it out." There was a gasp and everyone turned to look at the one who had made it. Gayel was covering her mouth, and she turned to Nida.

"It was from Sefaliya." She licked her lips and put her arms down, clenching her fists.

"God." Nida let out a whoosh. "Do you think they're trying to find us?"

"But why would they take all the people from Balamb Town?" Zell asked.

"We're going to have to find out." Irvine spoke up. "Let's go to Sefaliya now."

"Damn." Gayel hung her head. But she knew that it had to be done.

"Wait!" Selphie cried. "If they're going around to the Gardens looking for you, then they'll have been to Trabia! We have to go there first!"

"If they attacked Galbadia and are gone already, Trabia has already been attacked so we can go to the other Garden now." Seifer snapped.

"NO!" Selphie wailed. "We have to go calm everyone, please! Squall, please?"

"Squall this is stupid." Seifer argued. "We can't favour one person because they used to attend a Garden, and leave everyone else's lives at stake. We have to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. The people of Balamb Town could be in serious danger."

"I hate to say this, but I am agreeing with Seifer." Xu added, wringing her hands.

"Xu!" Selphie ran her hands through her hair frantically.

"Okay everyone stop." Squall put his hands up. "Gayel, where is Sefaliya Garden?"

"Squall!" Selphie made a move towards him but Irvine grabbed her and held her back.

"Sh." Irvine whispered in her ear. "He'll try and give everyone what they want."

"Near the Esthar region." Gayel lowered her eyes.

"Okay. Here's what we're going to do." Squall said firmly. "Nida will be our current pilot. We will drop off Selphie and Irvine at Trabia Garden so she can do whatever she wants to do there. Then we'll head to Esthar and Xu, Seifer, Fujin, Raijin, you go into Esthar City to see Laguna, Kiros, and Ward. Inform them of the situation, they may strangely be able to help. Quistis and Zell, go look around inside Galbadia Garden, try to find anything helpful. I will go with Nida and Gayel to Sefaliya and we'll try to get to the bottom of this. After we are done, we'll come and get everyone. That should give you a few hours."

"What about me?" Rinoa spoke up.

"You are to stay in the Ragnarok at all times." Squall said.

"But Squ-" Rinoa began to protest.

"Yes sir." Quistis headed down the ramp with Zell, and the Headmaster accompanied them. Irvine let go of Selphie, and gently massaged her shoulders.

"Thank you, Squall." She smiled and went back inside.

"You don't mind going with her?" Squall asked Irvine worriedly.

"No, it's my pleasure." Irvine tipped his hat. "Besides, I have to keep her out of harms way if anything should happen. I'd be worrying about her if I wasn't there." He headed inside, and so did everyone else. Only Rinoa and Squall were left on the ramp.

"Squall." Rinoa stamped her foot. "You can't treat me like a child. I can fight too."

"You don't have to fight." Squall told her. "I know you don't like it, and I remember promising you before everything had happened that after we made it through Time Compression, you'd never have to fight again. I am keeping that promise."

"Then why did you bring me here?!" Rinoa cried, and she backed up as Nida activated the ramp to lift. They headed into the corridor, and the ramp sealed shut. There was a slight shudder as the aircraft came to life and they took off. "I thought you needed help!"

"No." Squall shook his head vigorously. "I brought you here because I wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn't want to leave you all alone in Balamb."

"Well if I'm not doing anything then take me back!" Rinoa screamed. "I thought you actually believed in me! I thought you actually knew I could help you all!"

"I know you can. But not in violence. And this will lead to violence."

"THEN TAKE ME BACK TO BALAMB!" Rinoa yelled in his face. "I want to go back."

"Fine." Squall sighed. "Fine." He went up to the bridge, leaving Rinoa sitting by the ramp, hugging her knees in anguish. He went up to tell Nida that they would have to make a stop at Balamb Garden. Rinoa managed to stand, and jogged out towards the airlock, spotting Seifer just about to open the doors.

"I wouldn't do that." Rinoa called out, and Seifer whipped around to face her.

"Ah..." He was about to come out with some smart ass remark but thought better of it when he saw her unhappy face. "What's the matter..." He slowly walked over to her as she leaned on the railing, looking down at the first spot they had seen the huge purple alien that eventually led to their first romantic moment in the cockpit.

"I don't know what it is with Squall." She sighed heavily. "He seems like he wants... I don't know what he wants. Whether he wants to protect me, or leave me, or need me."

"I hate to say this about Squall, but I know he needs you." Seifer furrowed his brow.

"How? How would you know, anyway?" Rinoa questioned.

"Squall and I are on the same wavelength. We're... alike in a lot of respects." He tried.

"I don't think so." Rinoa shook her head. "Squall isn't an arrogant asshole."

"He was, before you." Seifer crossed his arms. "Ask Quistis... oh wait, you two don't get along that well, do you?"

"I don't know why she hates me." Rinoa shrugged. "I think I just get in the way. Maybe I shouldn't interfere with Garden. I'm just an extra girl, and if I can't help, then why bother even coming at all, right?"

"You were a big help to them during everything." Seifer told her. "Listen. Squall loves you. (God I can't believe I'm saying this to her.) He would do anything in the world to protect you. I think you should be there for him."

"You don't think I should go back to Balamb Garden?"

"No. Seeing your face after he's been through tough times, it's a relief." Seifer put his hand on her shoulder. "Seeing you safe, and happy, it keeps him on the ground. He does what he can to protect Balamb Garden, and his friends, but over all that, he does everything in his power to protect you. Because he loves you."

"God, Seifer, when did you become so insightful?" Rinoa smiled faintly.

"I was always like that with you." He pulled her close to him in a hug and she returned it gratefully. "Don't you remember?"

"Yes, I do remember." Rinoa thought back to the summer before she had even been to Balamb Garden. "Clearly. That was amazing, Seifer, thank you." She pulled away from him and smiled quickly, turning and jogging up to the bridge. Seifer sighed, watching her blue form perfectly glide from him, and then whipped around, quickly slipping into the airlock before anyone else could interfere.

"Do you think we should drop off Shyla at Balamb Garden?" Xu inquired, and Rinoa shook her head as she appeared from the elevator excitedly.

"No. Squall, I think she should stay on the Ragnarok." She told him.

"Why?" Squall asked her confusedly.

"Well..." She searched her brain for a response. "We don't want to make an extra stop if we don't have to, right?"

"But aren't you..." Selphie began.

"No." Rinoa firmly put a hand on Squall's arm. "I'm staying here with all of you."

"Really?" Squall's eyes lit up. "Good, okay, then, Trabia next stop."

"Aye aye!" Nida bellowed, laughing.

Selphie jogged quickly off of the ramp of the Ragnarok, with Irvine efficiently following. Trabia was also in ruins, although definitely not as severely as the last time they had been bombed. It seemed as if the attackers just wanted to scare everyone out of the Garden, not hurt any innocents. Which was great, and it also eased Selphie's racing thoughts as she scuttled about, checking up on people, and chatting quickly with others. Irvine silently followed her, keeping a close eye but not smothering or getting in the way. When Selphie finally decided to go inside to take a look, Irvine caught up to her.

"Are you sure you want to go in there?" He asked.

"What do you mean?" Selphie turned to him.

"Don't you think you should wait until everyone gets back inside... like the Headmaster?" Irvine tried.

"Well, everyone is afraid to go inside." Selphie bit her lip. "And Trabia Garden has been without a Headmaster since the last bombing by the Sorceress."

"Oh." Irvine put a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"No, it's fine." Selphie forced a smile and giggled. She struggled with the door and finally managed to slide it open, revealing Trabia Garden in pretty good conditions despite what had happened. She let out a massive sigh of relief, and jogged away, towards the screen system, rapidly pushing buttons. "I didn't get a chance to get rid of this the last time I was here. It was transferred to Balamb, but there was still a copy left on this system." She opened up her information file and began the deleting program.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe the Trabians want to have this?" Irvine stepped up, adjusting his coat. "Maybe as a memory for when they miss you?"

"Why would you think that they miss me?" Selphie seemed a little uncomfortable.

"They seem to look to you as a mother, to tell you the truth. Everyone in this Garden loves you." Irvine shrugged. "I think you know why. What is it you are hiding, Selphie? Why did you transfer from Trabia?"

"Irvine, I-" Selphie began, but a crash was heard and she ran off to investigate. Irvine sighed, and headed off after her.

"I wonder where this Garden's mobile system is?" Quistis pushed aside some debris with Zell's help.

"Instructor." Zell licked his lips nervously. "Why are you so mean to Rinoa?"

"Mean?!" Quistis was taken aback. "I'm not mean."

"You're right." Zell thought for a moment. "You're downright nasty with her."

"Zell!" Quistis snapped. "This is not a time to be talking about personal quarrels."

"So I guess when our leader is off in another Garden and we're trying desperately to recruit, then that is a time for personal quarrels." Zell retorted. "Look, Instructor, I may not be the smartest one out of our group, but anyone can see that you've taken this a little too far. What is it about Rinoa that makes you so harsh with her?"

"God, Zell." Quistis sighed heavily as they walked. "I... I just hate the way her attitude is towards Squall. She's so needy... it's disgusting. And she acts like she's a part of us just because she's with him. I'm just so-"

"Jealous." Zell finished loudly. "You're jealous, aren't you?"

"WHAT?!" Quistis stammered. "I, I... that's unheard of! I can't believe you! Zell-"

"You are!" Zell accused more firmly. "I know you love Squall, everyone can tell, but you are totally jealous now. And you're taking it out on everyone by taking out time to make Rinoa miserable."

"Zell this is absurd." Quistis snapped, turning to him and pushing him backwards offensively. "Don't speak to me like that. I would never be jealous of Rinoa, ever. I am simply concerned about Squall's well being, but I'd never want to take her place. To me, Squall is a colleague, before my student, but now, an equal."

"You liked him better as a student though, didn't you?" Zell pushed her back, but lighter than she had touched him.

"Don't psychoanalyze me." Quistis grabbed his shoulders, and made him look her in the eye. "I loved Squall before with all my heart, but I gave up when Rinoa came along and... he fell for her. I understand that they love each other, but one day she's going to break his heart. She's going to hurt him. And I don't know if she means it or not, but that's besides the point. I feel towards Squall now like he is a younger brother to me. As if I can protect him. And I don't want Rinoa to hurt him."

"Instructor." Zell cocked his head to the side. "I wouldn't want Rinoa to hurt him either. But I don't think she will. She cares for him too much."

"Well if that's the case, she won't do it knowingly." Quistis pulled away from him, blinking rapidly. "But one day she'll definitely do something to hurt him... and I just don't want to see it happen..."

"I-" Zell tried.

"Come." Quistis waved him forward. "Let's keep on."

"What is it?" Irvine asked, seeing Selphie scoop up something into her gentle arms.

"It's the Headmaster's kitty." Selphie turned, revealing a beautiful calico, with bright green eyes not unlike Selphie herself.

"I thought you said the Headmaster was..." Irvine prompted her.

"She is." Selphie's eyes grew wide when she realized what she had just said.

"She?" Irvine furrowed his brow.

"Oh my God..." Selphie put down the cat huskily, covering her eyes with her hands. "I didn't think I'd have to tell anyone this, Irvy."

"Hey." Irvine was at her side in an instant, and wrapped his arms around her protectively. She had her back to him, and he felt her shudders as the tears fell from her dainty face.

"The Headmaster was really a Headmastra." Selphie sniffled, trying to keep back the tears. "She was my real mother, Irvine. My real mother, before the orphanage. She never wanted me when I was born, so she gave me up as a baby, and sent me there. And when I came back, she was not happy. At first we didn't know that we were together in Trabia, because she wasn't very open with the Garden at all. Some of the Trabians were uncomfortable having a woman as their leader... but there was nothing to be done. So she kept a low profile, and finally she actually found out about me. And for all those years of me being in Trabia she hadn't recognized me or my last name, or anything. But when she did, it was awful. She ordered the Garden to transfer me, and they had to comply. She wanted to send me farther away to Galbadia, but that didn't work out so I went to Balamb. On my way there, I asked why I had to be transferred. And the Garden staff member that was traveling with me told me that the Headmastra was my mother. I freaked out, I begged him to take me back so I could see her, but he refused. He said that I had to stay away, she didn't want to see me. I was devastated, but by the time I got to Balamb, I was calmer and I promised myself that I would put it behind me and live my new life, because my mother had chosen it as well and it had to have been best for me if she advised it. So when I heard Trabia was bombed I was so scared... I was so afraid that all my friends were hurt, or worse, that my own mother was hurt. And it was true. She was dead... and all that was left of any of her things was this cat. Her cat. Her name is Selphie..." With that Selphie broke down into earth shattering sobs, and Irvine had to steady himself to hold her. He turned her around and enveloped her into his coat, letting her pour her heart into his chest fondly. Having her in his arms gave him a sense of comfort, a sense of peace. She was so small, but the way she clung to him made Irvine soar, and he wished he could hold her forever.

"It's okay." He whispered into her hair. "Everything is alright now. Trabia will be fine... and you'll be fine. I'll take care of you, Selphie."

"Promise?" Selphie stifled her sobs and looked up at him. He wiped her tears away with his thumbs, and shot her his very own sexy Irvine smile.

"Yes, I promise." He nodded, and she wrapped her arms around him.

"Oh thanks, Irvine!" She laughed, and it was music to Irvine's ears hearing her. "You're the best!"

"So are you." Irvine murmured to himself. "So are you."

Xu put her hands daintily on her hips as the Ragnarok took to the skies once again, leaving her and the disciplinary committee behind.

"Well Xu, lead on." Seifer made a gesture, and she turned to him abruptly.

"What do you mean, lead on?" She raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression you knew your way around here."

"Actually no." Seifer shrugged. "I've never been in Esthar City before."

"Well neither have I!" Xu exclaimed, running a frustrated hand through her hair. She looked to Fujin and Raijin, but they both shook their heads.

"Never been here, ya know?" Raijin plainly said, and Fujin put a hand on his arm.

"STRATEGY." She replied. "This place is like a maze. We split up."

"So, me an' Fujin will go this way, ya know..." Raijin pointed down the first road. "You two go thataway." He pointed towards the opposite direction, and before Seifer or Xu could say anything, they were briskly heading away.

"Well, okay then." Xu professionally faced the second road. "Let's begin."

"Hey. Xu." Seifer nonchalantly kept up with her. "Do you remember the time that I took the SeeD exam with Squall and Zell?"

"When you messed up severely and almost cost us the entire mission? Yes." Xu harshly replied.

"You know when you said that calling myself a leader was a joke?" Seifer gulped. "Well... you know, I've realized it's true." Xu looked at him, her eyes wide. She had never expected the ignorant Seifer to ever admit a fault. But he just did, and she was amazed by it.

"Seifer." She smiled. "You just agreed with me... no, you just admitted there was something imperfect about you."

"Okay that's enough." Seifer clenched his fist. "Stop now."

"It's alright." Xu couldn't suppress her grins. "There may be hope for you, yet." She giggled, and Seifer snorted.

"What's that supposed to mean?"


"There's Sefaliya." Gayel pointed, and Nida nodded, recognizing it. Squall was taken aback, he had never seen a Garden like that before. It was all black, with gold accents everywhere. There was so much bustle around as well, he could see the people running around, the males in black pants and sleeveless shirts with gold trimmings. The females wore gold tank tops and black kilts, with gold around the bottoms. They wore black knee high boots with golden laces. The Garden itself gave an aura of perfection, it looked somewhat like a cross between Galbadia Garden and Esthar City, it was the hugest Garden that any of them had ever known.

"It's so..."

"Perfect?" Gayel clenched her jaw. "Now you know why I wear white."

"Still, it's different than the last time I saw it." Nida cocked his head.

"Yeah, they never cease to change things around." Gayel sighed. "This isn't going to be easy, Squall. Are you sure you don't just want Nida and I to go?"

"No." Squall shook his head. "I have to go with you. If they are responsible for Balamb Town, it involves me as much as it involves you."

"If you say so." Nida shook his head as he landed the Ragnarok. The gatekeepers standing on either side of the golden front gate took an offensive stance, not used to having visitors to Sefaliya ever.

"Okay quickly get out before they become impatient." Gayel briskly led Squall and Nida to the exit of the Ragnarok, and Rinoa followed worriedly.

"Squall be careful!" She called as he headed down the ramp.

"I'll come back for you, I promise!" He turned and told her. "Close this after we're out! If anything happens out of the ordinary, get the hell out of here!"

"Without you?!"

"We'll find each other. I promise!" He ran to catch up to Nida and Gayel, leaving Rinoa standing there with a nervous expression on her face. She closed her eyes and clutched her necklace, praying silently that he be watched over carefully by the faeries every moment.

"Who..." One of the guards began, but a look of surprise came over him when he saw Gayel and Nida standing before him. Squall was behind, just catching up. He stayed back; this wasn't his dispute.

"We need to meet with the Heads." Gayel calmly held her head high, cocking her head to the side. The guard was at a loss for words, and he kept glancing at the other guard nervously. They didn't say anything, and then there was a few footsteps clicking on the cement behind them. Squall whipped around to face five men in black tuxedoes walk up professionally and sneer at him.

"Dearest Gayel." One man put a hand on her shoulder and she glared at him fiercely.

"Don't speak to me." Gayel shook him off and took Nida's arm. She began walking in through the gates, and Squall followed quickly. The guards were too shocked to do anything, and just gawked at the three. Squall was amazed by the technology in Sefaliya, it seemed as if everything was so much more advanced than the rest of the world. After traveling around winding passageways for what seemed like an hour, they came to a large golden staircase and Gayel stopped, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.

"Gayel." Nida crossed his arms. "You don't have to do this. I can go alone."

"I have to face him some time." Gayel slipped off her jacket, feeling the heat surrounding her nervousness. She handed it to Squall, who absent mindedly took it, watching her perfect figure glide up the spiral staircase above him. Nida jogged up after her, and finally Squall slowly let his boots ring out on the slick surface of the golden steps. They came up into a huge room, it was all black, and a thin controlled fire lined the back wall, all the way across. There were eight black leather chairs behind the flames, and sure enough, there were four women and four men seated in them professionally. They looked like statues, stone people watching over the bleak room. But when Gayel walked up to the fire, looking as if her clothes could catch and burn right from her body, one of them stirred. A man. He leapt to his feet and tore towards her, stopping just as short of the fire as she was.

"Jesus, Gayel!" He reached across and grabbed her arms, but pulling back as soon as he felt the scorching of the fire.

"Hello to you too, dad." Gayel took a step back, not wanting to be so close to what she thought was a hideous creature.

"Why have you come crawling back to us?" A woman stood, glaring down at the white clad girl.

"She didn't want to." Nida spoke up. "Neither did I."

"Is that..." The woman squinted. "Is that my Nida?!"

"I'm not yours any more than Gayel is his." Nida shot back sternly. Squall was surprised by his firmness, usually Nida was so laid back and humble.

"Excuse me." Squall cut in, clearing his throat. He wasn't afraid, these people weren't nearly as intimidating as Sorceress Ultimecia, or Adel, or half of his previous enemies for that matter. "We've come to talk to you about the current situation that has arisen in Balamb, Trabia, and Galbadia. Esthar is seemingly unaffected, so we've sought you."

"Finally, I think we've found our way." Xu sighed in relief as the large building loomed before them. "It took us long enough. I hope Squall and the others are alright."

"Bah, it's Squall." Seifer waved an arm passively. "Mr. Leader will be fine."

"You're very confident." Xu giggled. "I hope you're serious." She stepped up to a nearby Esthar soldier and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Yes, ma'am?" The soldier politely inquired.

"I am looking for Sir Laguna and his comrades." Xu assumed a Balamb stance. "Is he here in Esthar City?"

"Well actually, no, he's not." The soldier's look was grim. "Sir Kiros and Sir Ward are out looking for him, he seems to have disappeared, along with little Ellone. Nobody's sure what happened to them, or whether they're alive and together. If you're very devoted, I'd ask your help in the search."

"Do you know where Kiros and Ward are?" Seifer crossed his arms.

"Last I heard they were on their way to the Shumi village." The soldier saluted to Xu. "Sir Laguna is well loved there."

"Hm." Xu turned to Seifer. "We have to be here when the Ragnarok comes."

"But if Kiros and Ward don't find Laguna in Shumi... then we'll never be able to track them down." He came back. "We also need to find Fujin and Raijin... I wonder how they're faring?"

"Excuse me." Xu caught the attention of the soldier again. "If you see a silver haired woman and a large boisterous man, please inform them that they have to meet at the designated area for the Ragnarok."

"Yes ma'am." The soldier saluted once more, and Xu returned with a SeeD salute. She turned back to Seifer, sighing heavily.

"I guess we should rent a car then." She suggested.

"And a boat." He nodded, and pointed down the road cautiously. "I think the car rentals are that way." He scratched his head, and then turned around. "Or that way..."

Rinoa jumped as she saw a figure dart under the Ragnarok. She turned around and sprinted all the way down to the opening, almost colliding head on with Nida.

"Nida!" She squealed. "What's going on?!"

"I knew they would do this." Nida frantically searched around the room, looking for something, but now knowing what to look for. "I knew it."

"Nida. Where's Squall?" Rinoa tried to keep her voice calm and steady.

"I don't understand what they want..." Nida continued as if she wasn't even there looking at him confusedly. "But I have to help them..."

"NIDA!" Rinoa grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him to a standing, giving him a light shake as if to clear his head. It worked, and he coughed heavily.

"They had it all planned out. I should have seen it sooner." Nida hung his head like an ashamed little boy. "They mistook Squall for me, and I managed to escape... but he yelled to me, he told me to get you out of here before anything."

"Oh, no." Rinoa shook her head. "No you don't. What happened?"

"We were ambushed from behind right in the middle of a heated argument, and the lighting isn't too good in that room. The Head room." Nida rambled. "I think they meant to grab me and Gayel. But they got Gayel and Squall. I just slipped out, and all I could hear was Squall yelling 'Nida save her! Get her out!', and I have to do it... it should have been me in there..."

"Nida please!" Rinoa clasped her hands around his shoulders tightly. "We can't leave, we have to help them! Where are they? How can we?"

"Rinoa." Nida looked at her seriously and put a ginger hand on her cheek. "I don't know what the Heads want, I have no idea. But they've been looking for us, Gayel and I. They have all the Balamb people, somewhere underground in the dungeons. They'll be looking for me now because they got Squall instead, and I don't know what they need me for. I think they're waiting for something, but I don't understand what. I'm just so confused, but Rinoa, I need to get you to safety, Squall told me..."

"What about Gayel?" Rinoa cut into his thoughts. "Nida I know you love her. I can tell that easily, why don't you want to help her?"

"I do want to help her!" Nida defensively cried. "I just can't! If I go in there... they'll be able to complete whatever it is they're working on!"

"But what if they hurt Squall and all the people of Balamb Town?!" Rinoa's voice was shrill and full of fear.

"I have a feeling that the outcome will be much worse for the entire world if I go back in there." Nida gulped loudly as a piercing siren flooded the sound waves. "That's the alarm! We've got to get a move on, now!"

"But Nida-"

"Listen, Rinoa." Nida grabbed her arm and began up towards the bridge. "We have to recruit everyone, pick everyone up. Then we'll think of a rescue strategy, okay? We can't do it alone."

"... I guess you're right." Rinoa finally agreed, and they quickly made it to the pilot seats. Nida expertly got the ship shut and ready, lifting off into the vast Esthar airspace. He was out of sight before Sefaliya could even keep the Ragnarok on their scanners.

"I'll get Xu's team first." He said, and swerved down where they saw two small figures standing there, seemingly Fujin and Raijin. Nida landed quickly and watched the two hurry under to board the ship. Within moments they were up in the bridge, breathing heavily.

"What's the matter?" Rinoa innocently inquired, putting a light hand on Raijin's shoulder. He stood, causing her hand to drop.

"Laguna and Ellone are missing, we have to go to the Shumi village to pick up Kiros and Ward." Fujin bit her lip, stumbling as Nida shot into the air.

"What about Seifer and Xu?" Rinoa furrowed her brow.

"They left us a message, ya know? To meet them at the Shumi village." Raijin crossed his arms. Nida turned to the left, heading northerly towards the Trabia region.

"Well, we will do that. I'll pick up Selphie and Irvine on the way." He coolly said, piloting with a grim expression on his face.

"Ow!" Gayel squealed as the Sefaliya guard twisted her arm back to cease her struggling. They had been descending for a little while, and Gayel had given up trying to use her mental map to figure out where they were in the Garden anymore. She was losing hope, and she didn't know what was going to happen. She couldn't see Squall in the darkness, but she knew that it was him because he had cried out for Nida to save Rinoa. His selflessness surprised her, she couldn't seem to understand everything about him but before she had prejudged him as self centered. She realized that he was simply in love, and that was powerful enough to change even the cold shell of a man. They came to a long rock hallway lit by a few fiery torches a few meters apart attached to the wall. There were so many people in the cells to the left, and Gayel assumed they were the villagers of Balamb Town. At the very end, there was a smaller cell, and the two guards thrust her and Squall harshly down onto the dense concrete. The bars slid shut with a creak, and the guards briskly headed away.

"Gayel..." Squall groaned as he assumed a sitting position. "I think they thought I was Nida..."

"Squall, are these people from Balamb?" Gayel tried to change the subject, and there was a shuffle on the other side of the bars as one of the figures turned around to look at them. Squall scrambled over to the woman and reached an arm through, entwining his fingers with her hands assuredly.

"My son, where is he? Is he safe?"

"Don't worry Mrs. Dincht, he's fine." Squall replied, nodding to her. "Do you know what's happening here?"

"All I remember is stepping out onto the streets of my town and then everything going black. We all woke up here." Mrs. Dincht shook her head sadly. "They must have released a gas or something. That's all we know, we haven't seen anyone."

"If they were looking for you two..." Squall turned to Gayel. "Then why didn't they just attack Balamb Garden head on like they did to the others?"

"That question I think I know the answer to." Gayel leaned against the cold rock wall. "Balamb is known to be so strong, my theory is that Sefaliya is afraid of Balamb Garden. That's why they were more discreet and sneaky."

"Now that they know where you and Nida are, can't they let everyone go?" Squall puzzled, pursing his lips.

"Nida's escaped." Gayel crossed her arms. "If he hadn't, then the Heads may have had pity and released you all. I don't know why the two of us are so important."

"If he made it to the Ragnarok, I'll bet that Rinoa is probably already planning an ambush." Squall winced. "I hope they do the smart thing and hide Nida... because whatever they want with him probably won't be good."

"What are you talking about?" A strong male voice sounded a little way down the tunnel.

"I feel him here, I can feel his presence here." A smaller female voice replied, and Squall strained his eyes to see two figures pushing past the crowds of people orderly.

"Sis!" Squall pulled back from Zell's stepmother, grasping the bars as Ellone came close, reaching through to throw her arms around his neck.

"I knew you would come! I knew it!" Ellone let her tears fall freely down her cheeks, so happy to see him. Laguna lumbered up behind her, sitting with Mrs. Dincht and taking her hand in his, trying to comfort her.

"What are you two doing here?" Squall pulled back, grasping her hands tightly, not wanting to let go. "You're supposed to be in Esthar City."

"Well, the two of us went for a drive late at night, we were going to visit the sorceress memorial. I wanted to show Ellone some things, and well, you know. We hadn't even gotten there yet when a missile or something hit the dust ahead of us and I stopped the car." Laguna hung his head. "That's all we remember."

"This is incredible!" Gayel slammed her fist down onto the hard floor in sheer anger. "I can't believe this Garden has sunk so low as to DO this! It's disgusting! What do they want?!"

"Hey, Ward, isn't that...?" Kiros trailed off just as they were about to get in their car. "That's the Ragnarok!" The large red ship landed, blowing their hair back off of their foreheads. In a few moments Rinoa and Selphie were outside, talking as calmly as possible. They all boarded the ship again and Nida leaned back in his pilot seat.

"I didn't see Seifer or Xu on the way here." He pointed out, and Fujin shook her head.

"UNDERESTIMATE." She stated plainly. "If Seifer is out there and he needs us, he'll find us. Don't worry about him."

"It's not him I'm worried about." Rinoa crossed her arms. "It's Xu."

"She's with Seifer, ya know?" Raijin gestured, stating the obvious.

"Exactly my point." Rinoa felt her face grow hot a little, hoping nobody would notice.

"Look, I'm going to head to Galbadia Garden now to pick up Quistis and Zell. We might be able to find a few soldiers there willing to help us. Then we'll swing by Balamb Garden to fill in Headmaster Cid." Nida took control of the situation and nobody seemed to object, so he slingshotted up into the skies of Trabia.

"Seifer." Xu came up behind him on the boat they were in. It was a cruise that was heading up the eastern coast of Trabia, and it would pass the Shumi village. Once they had informed the captain of their situation, he said he'd make a stop there to drop them off.

"Yes." Seifer was leaning on the railing, looking down into the shining blue water of the Trabian sea.

"Yes what?" Xu puzzled, looking at him half slyly half confusedly.

"Xu did you ever have feelings for Nida?" Seifer blurted out.

"Whoa, that came out of the blue." Xu raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"What do you mean, why?" Seifer side glanced her. "I just want to know."

"No, I've never had feelings for Nida." Xu shook her head, leaning up beside him, sighing heavily. "He's a great pilot, and without him, we would have had some Garden trouble back after the FH, but other than that, no. He's just a friend, a fellow SeeD." She summarized, trying hard to wipe the grin from her light features.

"What about Squall?" Seifer pressed on. "You always liked Squall."

"No, not him either." Xu laughed. "Why the twenty questions all of a sudden?"

"I just feel like I don't know you." Seifer pursed his lips. "But I feel like I should, you know? You've always just been professional Xu, friend to Instructor Trepe, Headmaster Cid's little gopher. But I realized how much I didn't know about you really as a person."

"Jesus Seifer where did all the insight come from?" Xu shook her head.

"You know, Rinoa said that to me earlier today." Seifer told her. "I convinced her to stay on the Ragnarok with Squall... I wonder how they're all doing."

"Hm, there's a lot about you I never guessed was there either." Xu admitted. "I just see you being worried about your rivals and it's soothing to know that there's a kindhearted caring person under that grey coat of yours."

"Quit psychoanalyzing me." Seifer snapped.

"You like it."

"Shut up."

"But you do." Xu knew she had won, and felt triumphant to have conquered the almighty Seifer. She turned around, leaning her elbows on the railing and looking up at the height of the huge cruise ship. "I-" Before she could finish her sentence she was cut off as she felt a pair of lips pressed against her own. It came as a shock at first, but then she managed to relax, and found herself disappointed as Seifer moved back from her. "What was that for?" Her large innocent eyes looked up into his twinkling green ones.

"Had to stop your rambling somehow." He teased, and she thwacked him on the arm playfully. "I'm sorry, you just looked so beautiful I just couldn't help it." Xu found herself growing warm and her face flushed a light shade of pink.

"Should I take that as a compliment coming from you?" She crossed her arms pertly, expecting an answer.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Seifer pretended to look hurt.

"Don't give me that puppy dog look." Xu wouldn't signal a sign of defeat by breaking their locked gaze, but was having a hard time standing the feeling his eyes were sending her.

"You're not running away." Seifer stepped forward and slipped his arms around her waist, not gently but not forcefully. In that confident way he always did things. "Does that mean you enjoyed it?"

"Maybe." Xu ran her hands up and down the sleeves of his thick grey coat, still meeting his gaze.

"Well this is a cruise." Seifer leaned down, kissing her cheek softly. "We still have a while until Shumi... you're supposed to enjoy yourself on a cruise..." He kissed her cheek again, and Xu felt an electricity going through her veins that she had never felt before.

"So what do you suggest..." She managed to reluctantly say as he moved his lips down to her collarbone, running his hands up and down her back.

"Did the captain let us have a room?" He whispered. "Or are we cargo?"

"I have the key." Xu grasped his chest, feeling warmer with every brush of his lips on her skin. "Room... one twenty... four..."

"Mm." Seifer all of a sudden leaned down and scooped her up into his arms, and she giggled, a girlish thing that she never usually did. But Seifer was so sexy, so inviting, she couldn't help herself, she gave into his charms. Even if they had been rather nasty to each other in the past, she couldn't turn down his newfound goodness, or his sweet green eyes. There was something there that hadn't been there before, and she had yet to find out what it was.

Squall watched Ellone sleeping in Laguna's protective arms while Laguna himself snored into her lush chocolate coloured hair.

"Who is that, Squall?" Gayel tiredly asked. They were sitting side by side against the concrete, watching all of the Balamb Town people sleep in their huge cell. "You two seem close, but you can't be involved... Rinoa."

"No, she's like a sister to me." Squall shrugged. "We grew up together."

"I'm sorry." Gayel felt a sheer sadness begin to fall over her.

"For what?" Squall puzzled.

"All of this. It's my fault." Gayel hugged her knees. "If I had never run away... this wouldn't have happened. If I would have kept Nida here with me..."

"No, it's not your fault." Squall thought for a moment, and then put a hesitant arm around her shoulders to comfort her. Gayel jumped, and then accepted the embrace gratefully, taking advantage of the closeness of another human being to feel her there. "If anything, you saved a lot of lives. Without you and Nida, whatever they are doing here can't be done."

"But, all these people..."

"It could have been a lot more hurt." Squall assured her. "And nobody here is hurt, they're simply locked up. But nobody's injured or killed. Everyone is safe. Whatever Sefaliya is planning could possibly do major damage to all humans. I hope that Nida is hiding now, to save the world. Like we all did before. It has to be done again."

"He's too stubborn for that." Tears threatened Gayel's eyes. "He'll come back to help us, I know he will. Nida is just like that. And Rinoa will want to save you, too."

"I'm trying not to think about that." Squall was surprised by himself. Before he was never like this. He was always so blunt, stating the obvious. Now he was actually trying to rule out the obvious with hope... he had always said never to get your hopes up. Was it Rinoa who had changed him? Or the whole experience with Ultimecia and the struggle to save the world? He didn't know, but it felt strange to feel tactful. In the darkness Ellone was listening to the two of them, and smiled.

"So where is Squall now?" Headmaster Cid inquired, and Nida shifted his weight.

"Squall and Gayel are in Sefaliya Garden, sir." He replied. "They mistook Squall for me in the bad light and I used the opportunity to escape."

"Do you have any idea what they want you and Gayel for?" Cid scratched his head.

"No idea whatsoever. I only know that they will stop at nothing until I am found again." Nida hung his head. "I feel responsible for this." Cid looked to Rinoa, who sat on a nearby chair, listening intently. She didn't say anything.

"I hardly think that you could be responsible for all of this." Cid stood up straight. "But you can be responsible and not let Sefaliya get a hold of you."

"What do you mean?" Nida inquired.

"I mean that you have to hide. We'll find somewhere, I'm sure." Cid shrugged and looked to Rinoa. "The others can go negotiate with the Heads, and get Balamb Back."

"The last time we went to negotiate one of our own got captured!" Rinoa stood.

"I can't hide." Nida added. "I have to save the people that I caused to be there in the first place."

"But we don't know what they're going to do with you." Cid clenched his fists simultaneously to relieve some stress. "It could be endangering to the entire world for all we know."

"So you're going to risk all the people of Balamb AND Squall AND Gayel?!" Rinoa sounded downright angry. "Sir with all do respect-"

"Rinoa, do you remember when we had that battle with Galbadia Garden and you fell out of the Quad?" Cid cut in. "When you were hanging from that ledge, it was the same thing. The entire Garden was under attack and the junior classmen were in trouble in the classroom, and here you were, nearly falling. Squall had to make a decision. And he made the right one. He went to find a way to save you, and sent everyone else out to Galbadia Garden until he got there. If he would have had everyone worry about you at once, then Garden would have been destroyed. So even if one person that you love dearly is in trouble and you'll do anything to get them back, you have to think about everyone else in the world that could be in danger."

"So who's me in this situation?" Rinoa asked.

"Squall, Gayel, and all the people of Balamb." Nida downcast his eyes and licked his lips nervously. "I see what you're saying, Headmaster Cid, but I have to help undo this. Please, please let me help. I can't just hide."

"Nida, it's up to you what you want to do." Cid sighed, and flattened his palms on his desk in front of him. "Nobody will hold it against you, you just do what you think is best. Why don't you head to B1 to think it over. I won't do anything until you return." Nida nodded, and stepped into the elevator. He watched Rinoa jump up to follow him, but Cid stopped her. Her sympathetic worried look stuck in his mind as he descended down below the first floor of Garden. The ruins of Garden Master NORG still remained, and he stood in front of it, scanning his eyes over every bit of the horrible mess.

Then it came to him. The reason Cid had suggested for him to go down to B1.

"Gayel needs me. Squall needs me. Everyone needs me." He said aloud, to nobody in particular, not even himself. "Without me, Sefaliya can't complete whatever it is they want to do. I should hide, I should run. But I can't. I have to find out what they want, what they're trying to do. I have to be a leader, I have to live up to my responsibility. For Gayel. For all the people." He clenched his fists, looking up to the peaceful figure of the dead Shumi before him, hoping for all the world that this was the right thing to do. His heart led him to the decision, and he knew that could be dangerous. But he knew what he had to do.

Nida stood before the microphone, ready to make a speech just as Squall had done so long ago. He felt nervous, but he knew that he could do it, and he felt what he had to say. He was all alone up on the bridge, the others were all down in Headmaster Cid's office awaiting what he was about to say.

"Hello, Balamb, this is Nida speaking, your pilot." Nida began, letting the next words flow from his heart into the receiver. "The people of Balamb Town, Squall, and our newest Ragnarok member, Gayel, have been captured by a remote Garden in Esthar called Sefaliya Garden. The people there are very strong, and capable of destruction beyond our imagination." He paused, giving everyone in Balamb Garden a few moments to let his sentences sink into their minds. Not one person, from SeeD to junior classman to instructor, was stirring at all. "I feel as if I am responsible for this, and I apologize thoroughly. But I believe that we are caught up now in a struggle to save the world from Sefaliya's wrath. I am the key to that, and if they should happen to get a hold of me, I would take my own life to save all of yours. I need to you show the same devotion towards this all, and I must ask of your help. Dr. Kadowaki will keep account of all the junior classmen in the library. All students please head to the Quad until further notice. Every SeeD with a rank over twenty, please meet at the front gates, and every SeeD with a rank below twenty, please go to the second floor classroom. Instructors head to the parking lot. You will all receive further orders from a selected leader, please be patient." He hesitated, not being able to think of anything else to say, but feeling that it wasn't complete enough. "I... I wish you all Godspeed. Thank you for your loyalty." He turned around to find that Rinoa had come up the elevator without him even noticing. He had been so intense in concentration that he hadn't realized she was there. As soon as their eyes met she threw her arms around his neck and he accepted her embrace graciously.

"We can do this." She murmured into his shoulder, and then looked up at him, tears filling her wide eyes. "We can."

"Yes. Yes we can." Nida nodded robotically, taking a deep breath.

"Okay, Dr. Kadowaki, keep the junior classmen calm and be ready to get them into Balamb Town when I pull the garden up to it. Zell, you head to the second floor classroom to pep up the SeeD there, get them ready. Organize them into squads and set up some battle stations in Balamb Town in case Sefaliya attacks. Quistis, you speak with the instructors, assign them each a car and have them take them into town in case they are needed. Selphie, you go to the Quad to tell the students they are to watch out for the junior classmen and help out Dr. Kadowaki the best they can. Irvine, Rinoa, Fujin, Raijin, you go inform the SeeD at the front gates of the plan, and what they are to do. Headmaster Cid, Kiros, Ward, if you could, please accompany me to the bridge and we'll start over to Balamb Town." Nida took a deep breath after speaking to everyone, and Dr. Kadowaki stepped forward into the more lit area of the room.

"Excuse me, Nida." She said. "I want to accompany you all to Sefaliya. You'll probably need me a lot more there than I could be of help in town. I have a few medical apprentices that will be there, and the students are more than capable of handling the junior classmen on their own."

"Alright then, if you're sure." Nida nodded. "Just make sure, head into town with them anyway and then come back after. We'll take the Garden to the far side of Esthar, across the Trabia region, and come in from behind. If the Garden can't survive the ground, we'll stay in the water by the shore and take the Ragnarok the rest of the way." He watched Cid, Kiros, and Ward nod and step onto the lift and disappear above him. Quistis, Zell, Dr. Kadowaki, Selphie, Irvine, Fujin, and Raijin piled into the elevator to go down. Rinoa stepped forward, clasping her hands behind her back like a little kid.

"You're a natural born leader." She smiled, glancing to the side. "You are a lot like Squall, you know."

"That is a compliment coming from you, I assume." Nida meant that as a joke, but didn't feel like smiling.

"I guess I shouldn't be telling you to be careful." Rinoa shrugged, still avoiding his gaze. "You seem to know exactly what you're doing."

"I am far from knowing what I am doing." Nida quickly replied. "I actually really have no idea what I'm getting into. I just know I have to help those close to me."

"That's all that matters." Rinoa reached out and gave his arm an assuring squeeze, finally meeting his eyes. "Thank you Nida."

"Don't thank me yet." He shook his head. "Thank me when you and Squall are sharing an embrace in the bright sunlight."

"I will."

"Thank you, Captain." Xu blushed, and the captain smiled warmly, letting her and Seifer off of the cruise ship. The Shumi village loomed up in the snow, and as the monstrous boat pulled away, Xu shivered as she watched it gracefully battle the strong sea.

"Are you cold?" Seifer pulled her close to him, and let her hold his svelte body as he wrapped his long grey trench coat around the two of them.

"Not anymore." She said, closing her eyes and losing herself in his arms as she had been doing for their entire trip. She wished that the circumstances weren't what they were, that there was no war, and that the people of Balamb Town weren't in such danger. She'd be able to relax and enjoy some time with everyone, and with Seifer. Although the past little while had been the best of her life, she knew that it would be so hectic for everyone, and she probably would end up having to put him on hold until things settled down. And that could take a long time.

"What are you thinking?" Seifer cut into her arguing mind and her eyelids fluttered as she looked up into his sweet gaze.

"I was thinking how strong you are." She sighed, and tilted her head to the right. "And how..." They both heard a low buzz and whipped around to see a massive structure coming around the nearby cliff.

"It's Garden!" Seifer let himself cry out and they leapt to the shore, staring open mouthed at their home.

"Nida look!" Headmaster Cid pointed to the snowy bank of the Trabia earth near the Shumi Village. "It's Xu! And Seifer!" Nida's eyes smiled as he slowed to a stop, watching Xu and Seifer excitedly speed in through the front gates below him. Within moments they were up in the bridge, and Xu hugged Nida so tightly he felt his blood pulsating in his veins.

"Nida! Thank God you came!" She then noticed Kiros and Ward. "We had just come to look for you, Sir Kiros, Sir Ward."

"Laguna and Ellone are missing." Kiros crossed his arms.

"Yes, we know." Xu nodded. "Where are you taking Garden?" She directed the question to Headmaster Cid.

"We're going to the offensive on Sefaliya." Nida answered for him. "They have the Balamb Town people, Squall, and Gayel. We have to save them all."

"How did they get captured?!" Seifer stepped forward shrilly. "You let Squall get captured?!"

"We didn't LET anything happen." Nida returned his piercing glare. "The important thing is getting them out of there, especially Gayel. They won't hurt anyone, they're just waiting for me and Gayel. Since they have her, they need me. So the two of us have to escape."

"So why are you piloting? You should be hiding." Seifer spat harshly.

"Seifer." Xu put a feminine hand on his chest, stopping his approaching quarrel. She turned to Nida. "What can we do to help?"

"When we get to Esthar, we're going to try to come into contact with Sefaliya's Heads." Nida shifted his weight. "We're going to ask them what they want, and the conditions for negotiation."

"You're going to negotiate?!" Seifer blurted, and Xu backed into him, sending him onto the lift. It immediately sped downwards, cutting him off before he could curse at her.

"We basically are going to come up with a strategy to crack security. The objective is to get Gayel into safety, and then get all the people of Balamb, including Squall, back to Garden." Nida continued. "I'm going for Gayel, that way we can escape together, and stay away from Sefaliya and everyone else that may be a threat to the world. Everyone else will handle the others."

"Sounds good, but what if you get caught, Nida?" Xu worried.

"If that happens, and there is no possible escape, then I will cast death on myself." Nida let out a deep breath and the others were all speechless. He hadn't told anyone that yet, and even Headmaster Cid was at a loss for words.

"You would kill yourself?" Xu managed to breathe.

"I wouldn't have a choice. And then, that way, without me, Sefaliya wouldn't be able to complete what ever it is they are doing." Nida shrugged.

"Wow." Xu smiled. "You are a true soldier, Nida."

"No, I'm actually just a pilot." Nida turned back to the controls, and started maneuvering towards Esthar.

"Get the girls." A stern voice called down the bleak dungeon hallway, and two sets of footsteps clicked down the concrete. Squall sat up straight as an arrow, and shook Gayel slightly.

"Gayel... I think they're here to get you." He whispered, and she groggily looked up as a guard slid open their cell. The other guard was opening the villagers' cell.

"Come here." The guard took Gayel's wrists and handcuffed her, violently tugging her from the cell and locking it behind him. The other guard stepped among the prisoners, and scooped Ellone up into his arms.

"Elle!" Laguna jumped up, but Squall, with a lighting fast movement, grabbed his leg and held him back.

"Don't. It won't help anything if you defy them." He firmly said, and Laguna bit his tongue as the guards made off with Gayel and Ellone.

"How may I help you?" A friendly voice sounded.

"Put me through to the Heads please." Nida spoke into the microphone.

"Sure thing." There was a click and then short static as the woman on the other end connected him to the main room of Sefaliya.

"Hello." A loud voice boomed.

"Headmaster Talon." Nida began. "This is Nida speaking."

"Oh, Nida." Talon sneered. "We were just talking about you."

"I'm sure you were. Where's Gayel?" Nida snapped.

"My my, you are very to the point, aren't you? You get that from your father, you know." Talon smirked.

"I doubt that." Nida cut in. "Let me speak to her."

"She can hear you."

"Gayel, say something." Nida said.

"Let her speak." Talon commanded the guard holding Gayel's mouth.

"Nida!" She let out a huge sigh. "Nida I know what you're trying to do, don't do it! They're too strong! Just get out of here, don't let them get you!"

"Gayel, is Squall with you?"

"He's downstairs... but Ellone is here." Gayel breathed.

"Ellone!" Kiros cried. "Elle! Where's Laguna?!"

"He's downstairs too." Gayel replied. "Look Nida, this is dangerous, they're going to-"

"Enough." Talon waved his hand and the guard silenced her. "Nida, let's bargain. You come back to us, and we'll return the prisoners to Balamb Town."

"No. Not until you tell me what you need me for." Nida countered.

"Gayel will tell you when you get here."

"I'm not stupid, Headmaster. Unlike my father." Nida felt himself grow cold.

"That's hitting below the belt, Nida." Talon shook his head. "We want to make the world a better place, give it a glorious future."

"To you a glorious future is like hell to everyone else. Why do you need Ellone?"

"She is powerful and we have to channel that brain activity. Don't worry, it won't hurt her." Talon paced back and forth shortly. "She'll feel fine when we're done with her."

"I won't bargain unless you tell me what you're doing." Nida firmly said.

"If you won't comply, we'll get you one way or another." Talon's voice went from mocking to piercing.

"No, you won't." Nida shot back. Headmaster Cid reached out a hand and covered the microphone, speaking only to Nida.

"They're not going to tell you. We should just proceed with your plan." He suggested, and Nida sighed, frozen for a moment before removing Cid's hand.

"I am willing to trade for the people of Balamb, Squall, and Sir Laguna."

"Good." Talon began.

"But," Nida emphasized. "If you harm any one of them, it's off, and we will destroy you." He clicked off the com link and Talon smiled at Gayel, who looked so distressed she was ready to explode.

"Gayel dear, you are about to play a major part in the history of the world. Why the long face?" He leaned down to look at her.

"How can you do this to your own son?" She yelped. "You're killing him!"

"All the Naldi are our children." Talon sprea his arms wide. "And this is what's best for them all."

"What, sucking all the life force from them? It'll be torture for all of us."

"But think of what you're saving." Talon's eyes grew wide with longing. "Once all these petty little creatures are wiped from the face of the earth, we can breed. We can start the new era of Naldi, our own race. It will be the perfect world, our paradise."

"But you're killing all of humanity and other living creatures! And us current Naldi!" Gayel protested.

"That's a small price to pay for paradise." Talon softly replied.

"You are evil!" Ellone managed to yell through the guard's fingers. "You are pure evil and you shouldn't be running a Garden!" Talon's eyes flared as he strode towards her.

"You ungrateful little lab rat." He fumed. "When your mother needed food and shelter for her baby, we took her in. We helped her, and when she died giving birth to you we found a stable home for you. The worst we could have done was to keep you here in Sefaliya, to grow up in an environment like this. You were Edea's first orphan, and she took such great care of you. We made that happen, and you call me evil?!"

"I was born... here?" Ellone shook, overwhelmed with emotions. Her knees grew weak and the guard dropped her to the floor. She held herself up on her hands and knees, her gasping breaths making fog on the shining floor. "Edea never told me... you knew my mother... she stayed here?"

"She was the only person that ever came to Sefaliya that wasn't related to anyone. Normally our laws are against it, but your mother was special." Nida's mother stood from her seat on the far side of the flames. "She was very special."

"Did she have my powers?" Ellone breathed slowly.

"Ellone, your mother was an angel." Another one of the females commented.

"Angel..." Ellone just barely mouthed, and Gayel looked on sympathetically. She had heard of Ellone's mother, the legendary angel that had lived in Sefaliya as a unique person, instead of a Naldi like the rest. When Squall had told her Ellone's name, she knew it had sounded familiar. This was the child?

"She was sent to earth to aid a family trapped on Hell Island. She fell in love with the eldest son, and he returned it. She had to stay on earth, since she was unable to bring him back to the heavens with her. Then she became pregnant with you. He was killed in Timber trying to defend a resistance. She was lost afterwards, and came across Sefaliya. After hearing her story, we took her in and she lived here for a time." Nida's mother bowed her head. "My mother delivered you, and your mother smiled as you were placed in her arms. She whispered the name Ellone, and passed away."

"Why?" Gayel was so caught up in the story, she had to inquire.

"Angels aren't able to conceive a child and live." Talon turned around. Even he looked sorrowful over the subject.

"She knew that, but after finding she was pregnant there was nothing she could do, and she didn't want to kill her unborn child. When her husband died, she was eager to meet with him again, and wasn't afraid of her fate." Nida's mother concluded, and Ellone burst into tears.

"My mother was so great, and so selfless..." She sobbed. "And here I am, going to cause the death of the world that she gave her life to bring me into..."

"All units to the Ragnarok, now!" Nida hurriedly called over the com system in Balamb Garden and then stepped onto the lift.

"Nida." Headmaster Cid put his hands on Nida's shoulders. "You are a great SeeD, I am honored to have you at Garden. Good luck."

"Thank you." Nida saluted one last time, and the lift lurched downwards, bringing Nida right down to the eye level of Rinoa Heartilly.

"Nida, I'm coming with you." She held her head high, breathing heavily.

"You're going with the rest." Nida replied just as confidently.

"No, I have to come with you."

"No Rinoa." Nida grabbed her arms and shook her, trying to knock some sense into her pretty little head. "I HAVE to proceed alone. It's easier, and that way if I get captured, you can all still escape."


"RINOA! Listen to me please, I know what I'm doing. You go get Squall." Nida blinked rapidly. "Please."

"Okay." Rinoa gave in, slumping her shoulders. "Fine."

"Good. Don't worry, Rinoa, everything will be okay." Nida tried to assure her, and they entered the elevator to go down to the Ragnarok's landing dock.

"Nida, I just finished it!" Selphie stepped back to let him admire her masterpiece.

"Wow, that's great!" It was a doll of Nida himself, to be used as a decoy. Everyone was in the passenger area, and Quistis came forward, diverting his attention towards the strawberry blonde.

"We know you'll be venturing into danger." She began, and held out a long wooden box, and he took it into his arms. "We know you were trained as a pilot, but it would make us feel a whole lot better if you took this with you." Nida clipped open the box and inside it was lined with a deep red velvet. Sitting right in the center was a long, gold, one handed shiny sword. It had a leather handle, and it was most likely the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. Besides Gayel, he thought.

"Oh, you guys really shouldn't have..." He was at a loss for words.

"Zell made it." Quistis shrugged. "He really does have talent." Zell elbowed her and she laughed, brightening up the atmosphere with her smile.

"You guys are all so great." Nida downcast his eyes. "I've had a lot of fun working with you all, and being in Balamb Garden. After all we've been through... I can't really believe I won't be able to see you every day anymore. I'm really going to miss you." He fought back the tears, he couldn't let any of them see him cry. Quistis threw her arms around his neck first, and then Selphie joined the hug. Rinoa and Zell moved in at the same time, and Irvine entered behind Selphie. Xu squeezed in and even Seifer joined. Kiros, Ward, Fujin and Raijin watched, filling up with emotions as the eight friends before them grasped each other.

"SADNESS." A wimpy comment from Fujin.

"I'm going to miss him, ya know?" Raijin quietly added.

"Beautiful." Kiros crossed his arms, and Ward let out a silent nod.

"My dearest Naldi." Talon was the spokesperson of the Heads. He stood in front of the rest, and looked down into the crowded auditorium where each and every single student at Sefaliya stood looking upwards at them. "You are going to be the basis of a new era. Feel proud, and endure." He nodded to his wife, and she pulled a lever behind her on the wall. They looked down from their balcony to see the entire auditorium bar in and trap everyone inside. The students began to anxiously look about them.

"I can't believe this." Gayel hung her head, and squeezed her eyes shut. "Why aren't I down there with them?"

"Because Nida will try to rescue you, and you're more vulnerable in there." Talon told her. "We'll get him as he's executing his little plan easily. He's so blind he'll walk right into our hands."

"Sir. The girl wishes to have a few words with her Uncle." A guard dragged Ellone onto the balcony.

"Bring her downstairs then. Five minutes." Talon looked to Gayel. "Would you like business there too?"

"Yes." Gayel's voice was hard, but he waved his hand and let her be brought down as well. They descended, and as soon as their footsteps were heard on the floor, Squall and Laguna leapt to their feet, eyes straining to see who was coming their way.

"Elle!" Laguna cried, and reached through the bars to her. She ran into his arms and held him tightly, despite the barrier between them.

"Squall." Gayel went up to the metal, looking through at him. "They're on their way. You guys can go home."

"What about you two? What's going on?" Squall asked, and Gayel shook her head.

"It doesn't matter. You're all going to go home, and everything will be okay again." She looked at the floor. "Rinoa's coming for you."

"Uncle Laguna, I promise I'll find you again!" Ellone was sobbing. "Just go to Balamb Town with everyone and I'll come back to you. I promise."

"I never wanted you to leave me again... oh Elle..." Laguna couldn't let go of her, he didn't want to give up.

"Alright, that's enough." The guards grabbed Gayel and Ellone quickly and dragged them back to the stairs.

"I love you Uncle Laguna!" Ellone screamed, and fought against the guards with all her might.

"Elle!" Laguna slammed his fists into the bars, and shook them violently. But neither of their attempts were to any avail, they were being separated. Again.

"Sir, there's three people entering Garden." A guard ran down from the control room to rapidly tell Talon.

"Oh good, I'll go meet them at the gates." Talon held out his arm, and his wife took it gracefully. They walked to the front gates, just in time to meet Zell and Irvine and... Nida.

"Who's over there?" Squall leaned against the bars, trying to see in the darkness opposite the stairs. When the figure came into the light, he saw Selphie. Then Quistis emerged behind her.

"Squall!" Selphie cried happily, and kneeled down to work on the lock holding the cell shut. "Oh wow, I'm so glad you're here!"

"Rinoa. Where is she?" Squall exited the cell, and headed over to the one beside him. "I have to see her. Is she safe?"

"She's fine, Squall, don't worry." Quistis told him as Selphie picked open the lock on the large cell. "She's with Fujin and Raijin."

"Why is she with them?" Squall worried.

"Because she-" Quistis began, but was cut off by the sound of rapid footsteps on the hard concrete floor. "Shit."

"Run faster!" A female voice screeched, and the three figures arrived into the light with relieved faces. "Squall!" It was Rinoa. She leapt into his arms and he held her tightly, so wonderfully glad to have her warm body close to him again. Raijin was holding Squall's gunblade.

"Nida has Gayel's sword, ya know?" Raijin held out the weapon. "Here."

"Thank you." Squall kept his left arm around Rinoa and accepted his gunblade with his right. "We have to get out of here."

"These are the times I wish I had brought my gun." Laguna exited the cell, followed by a number of eager villagers. "Mrs. Dincht, are you alright?" He asked, and the woman nodded.

"Yes, I am fine."

"Who were you running from?" Quistis asked Rinoa, who pointed shakily back down the corridor.

"Them." The thundering of boots came down the steps as a pack of Sefaliyan guards rushed for them.

"Quick this way!" Squall bolted the way Quistis and Selphie had come from, and all the villagers followed farther behind. One of the guards yelled something, and there was a clink. Before anyone knew what was happening, a huge explosion rocked the entire stability, and even Squall was thrown to the floor. Screams echoed behind them, of people burning as their skin melted from their exposed bodies.

"No!" Mrs. Dincht squealed shrilly, beginning to squirm towards the flames licking the walls. Laguna held her back as she whimpered in agony. "Dylan! Felicia! Janek! Onga!"

"Jesus!" Squall had to close his eyes, he couldn't bear the sight of all the burning bodies. He had grabbed Rinoa and slammed them both on the ground, shielding her with his own body. Quistis was lying against the wall nearby, and he saw she wasn't moving. "Quistis..." He scrambled over to her and checked her pulse, relieved that it was still there. She was simply unconscious, having received a harsh crack from the concrete on the back of her head.

"Is she alright?" Selphie worried, and they heard shouts from the other side of the flames. "Oh damn, we have to get out of here."

"Okay, come on." Squall slung Quistis' limp body over his left shoulder. Laguna helped Mrs. Dincht follow them, and Selphie, Fujin, Raijin, and Rinoa galloped as well. It seemed they were the only survivors, at least, until they heard the gunshots ring out behind them and the further screams in the flaming hallway.

"Nida wait!" Xu caught up to him, and held out Gayel's thin silver sword. "You have to give that to her when you find her."

"Do you have something to defend yourself with?" Nida asked her, sounding concerned.

"I have Seifer." Xu found herself blushing slightly, but knew that this wasn't the time for that and Nida wouldn't say anything either.

"Okay, from here on I go alone." Nida took her hand in his. "I'll get Gayel and we'll escape to safety... and I'll get Ellone transported back to Balamb Garden."

"Come back someday Nida, please." Xu felt herself feeling the sorrow of before, but not wanting to give in to her tears this time.

"I'll miss you Xu. Thanks." He turned and jogged down the hall just as Seifer came around the corner, out of breath from trying to keep up with her.

"I hope he'll be okay." Xu turned to Seifer, and he reached out to wipe the only tear she had let fall down her cheek.

"He's strong." Seifer nodded. "So is Gayel. They'll be fine."

"Come on." Xu took his arm and they scampered off. Everyone but Zell and Irvine and the Nida doll had come in from under ground, where Nida had remembered a secret passage him and Gayel used to play in as kids. It was still there, even the Heads didn't know about it. Zell and Irvine were to distract Talon and the rest of the Heads attention while the others managed to rescue the prisoners.

All of a sudden Xu stopped short in front of a window overlooking an auditorium. She and Seifer stared open mouthed at the hoards of Naldi, frightened, writhing in fear of what the Heads were going to do to them. "Oh my God... Seifer."

"Squall! I think we lost them, ya know? Slow down!" Raijin cried, and everyone slowed to a breathtaking stop. Mrs. Dincht sat down and began to sob uncontrollably, and Laguna dropped down beside her, trying to comfort her.

"TIRED." Fujin commented, so out of breath she was barely able to form the word. Squall gently let Quistis down from his shoulder and laid her out. He put a soft hand on her cheek, and leaned down to listen for breaths coming out of her mouth. They were short and raspy, barely noticeable, but he fine tuned his ears and managed to feel them.

"Instructor..." He hissed, shaking her slightly. "Quistis, please wake up." He sat her up and supported her, turning her head from side to side. Eventually her eyes fluttered open and she looked at him, her expression blank.

"Squall...?" She murmured, and fell back, having to be supported still. "I feel so... weak..." She mumbled her words, they didn't come out clearly nor strong like they used to. Squall pulled her up with his right arm and held her head to face him, as her eyes wandered all over and finally just locked on his.

"Quistis please, you have to stay awake." He said as calmly as possible. "We'll get you help, just please try and stay awake." He forced her to look at him, and she nodded sluggishly.

"I'll try..." She slurred half clearly. Squall scooped her up into his arms, and she wrapped hers around his neck and shoulders. Rinoa felt a twang of jealousy from their closeness, but fought back the feelings, knowing that it wasn't a situation that she should be interfering with.

"Come on, this way." Selphie pointed, and they came out to where there was a large window over hanging the auditorium.

"Look at all the people." Rinoa's eyes grew wide.

"Not people." Selphie sympathetically let out a breath. "Naldi."

Nida stood up, peering through the small crack that lengthed in front of him from a door. He could just see Gayel and Ellone being held by two guards against a railing over the auditorium. Nida gasped when he spotted all of the Naldi down on the wooden floor. A movement caught his eye as he just managed to catch an image of Zell darting across the opposite door. With a glance back, he motioned to Irvine and the two of them burst out onto the balcony and held the Nida doll over their heads.

"Nida!" Gayel squealed. "Put him down!" Talon and his wife appeared from the door, heaving in their breathlessness. Zell nodded to Irvine and they tossed the doll over the edge.

"No!" Nida's mother screeched and backed out of the balcony, escaping down the hall.

"Zell you..." Gayel choked on her words when she realized what was happening. Her guard threw her up against the wall to meet Zell's attack. Ellone crumbled to the floor as Irvine went for her guard. Gayel reached up and pushed up on the lever, setting the confinement in the auditorium to off. "Everybody run!" She screamed, and all the Naldi scattered, trying to reach the doors.

"Stop!" Talon grabbed Gayel by the hair, wrenching her backwards and pulling the lever back down. "You can't stop me, little girl." She winced as he shook her, pain channeling through her scalp.

"No, but I can." Nida emerged from his hiding place and drove his sword into his father's back. Time seemed to stop as Talon met with the floor, half on top of Gayel. Nida slowly retreated his gold sword, reveling in what he had just done. Talon's eyes darted around, and he realized that al of the Heads had gone, and the two guards were dead. It was over. He met the eyes of his son and clenched his jaw against the pain. Then his eyes closed eternally and he slumped down. Nida dropped his sword clattering to the floor and fell to his knees, helping Gayel out from under Talon's body.

"Nida I-" Gayel's voice broke and she clutched him, not wanting to let go. He held her close to him and she embraced his chest tightly, so relieved at his tender touch.

"Gayel we have to get out of here." Nida murmured into her curly blonde locks.

"Promise you won't ever leave me again." Gayel looked up into his deep sweet eyes.

"I promise." Nida felt as if the two of them were one entity, one full being of passion and love. All of what was going on around then seemed to blank out, all the panicking Naldi, Zell and Irvine comforting Ellone, and even the Heads all running away.

"Seneca!" Gayel's father called after Nida's mother. "Nida's alive! He killed Talon!"

"What?!" Seneca stopped dead in her tracks and found it hard to breathe. "My son... he killed my husband..." She covered her face with her palms and fought back the tears.

"Seneca, we can rectify this." A male Head put his hand on her shoulder. "We can release the Wolves." Seneca's head snapped up and paled slightly, before nodding her head in solemnity.

"Yes. We must." She smoothed her hair back and led the group towards their next destination.

"Oh God..." Selphie put a fragile hand to her mouth. "What happened?" She buried her face in Irvine's chest and he held her, distantly scanning his eyes over the barren landscape.

"This is not my home." Ellone blinked back her salty moisture, and held Laguna's hand. Quistis and Rinoa stood on either side of Squall, each holding onto him, Quistis for support to stand, and Rinoa for emotional support. Zell stood stock still, his mouth wide open as if he was about to consume a large amount of food. His mother stood beside him, just as surprised. Xu breathed heavily in gasps as Seifer put his hands on her waist, for a small comfort. Fujin and Raijin gaped at the scene. Nida was at the front of the bunch, holding Gayel close, their weapons in their hands, ready to scream out for mercy from the Gods. The Naldi were all behind them, just as surprised and fearful of what lay before them. Esthar was ruined. The City was smoldering, and there were bodies strewn all over the Esthar region, not too far apart but all looking as if they were sleeping, and becoming one with the earth. Looking over to the Lunar Base, it was just as bedraggled as Esthar City.

"What happened?" Gayel bit her lip, gasping shortly.

"The Wolves." A Naldi in the background quietly said.

"What?" Nida turned around to face the boy.

"The Wolves!" Gayel recalled, and let go of Nida to put her hands to her delicate forehead after dropping her sword. "That means that the whole world is like this! Nida, don't you remember?"

"No." Nida shook his head in anguish.

"The missiles, the gas, the Sefaliya warfare!" Gayel crossed her arms. "The Heads all sacrificed their life forces to bring destruction to the world instead of using us. Now we're all alone here... there's nothing left. They're getting what they wanted anyway."

"But why not just do that in the first place?" Zell asked.

"They wanted to be the ones to begin the new life." Nida found it was all beginning to make sense. "But when they knew they had lost... they wanted to leave us all alone here instead."

"What are we going to do?!" Gayel finally let her sobbing ensue, and Nida was surprised at her sudden show of emotion. He had never seen her cry before, and engulfed her into an embrace to comfort her.

"Trabia..." Selphie moaned.

"Winhill..." Laguna added.

"Dad..." Rinoa choked out.

"Garden..." Quistis sniffled.

"The Orphanage..." Ellone breathed out heavily.

"Nida we have to DO something!" Gayel pulled back, sadness streaming down her face in little rivers that snaked through him like electricity.

"What can we do?" He whispered, holding his arms out. "It's all over. We tried. And we failed. What can we do?"

"Can't we try the life force machine?" The same Naldi who had suggested the Wolves in the first place spoke up again. "If we can wipe out the planet, can't we give life to it as well?"

"You think so?" Gayel turned to him, hope filling her large eyes.

"It's possible." Nida looked around, trying to decide what to do next.

"No, you can't do that." Ellone stepped forward. "You would all die. Every one of you."

"It's a small price for the entire planet." Gayel downcast her eyes. "We have to do it. We have to try. The risk is great, but we have to try."

"But... no." Ellone reached out and tightly hugged both Nida and Gayel at the same time. "If it weren't for you two, I would have never found out about my real family... my mom. I can't let you go, I have to return what you both have done for me. Please, please don't do this."

"Elle, the planet." Laguna put a hand on her shoulder. "If I were in their places, I'd do the same thing." Ellone squeezed her eyes shut, and then pulled back from them, looking seriously into their faces.

"I want to do one thing for you." She said. "I want to send you back. Give you the feeling of before, of sheer happiness and passion and love that you both shared. Right now. Go." She closed her eyes, and both Gayel and Nida quickly fell to the ground.

"Oh my!" Mrs. Dincht put a hand to her heart, as she watched the two figures sleep rapidly.

"So how long has it been?" Gayel playfully ran her fingers up Nida's neck, knowing he loved to be tickled.

"Three weeks." He kissed her lips gently and she let out a soft moan. "These training trips are far too long."

"I agree." Gayel murmured as she shifted her weight, pulling him closer to her. He slid his hands up the back of her shirt, unclipping her bra strap and teasing her entire back with his fingers. She laid down on her back on the cushy couch, pulling him on top of her, grinding her hips against him. Nida removed her shirt slowly, and then slid her bra from her arms, revealing her two healthy looking breasts exposed for him. He ran his tongue along her shoulders, and then moved down to her right breast, teasing the nipple and flicking his tongue against it, igniting her passions rather quickly. She slipped her hands under his own shirt, pulling it over his head slowly but longingly. He moved his lips down her stomach to her belly button, and took her pants zipper in his mouth, pulling it down with his teeth. Gayel's pants easily glided off of her smooth legs, and Nida kicked his own confining pants from his body, leaning himself down on top of her again for another kiss.

"Gayel. I love you." Nida whispered through the darkness.

"I love you too, Nida."

Gayel sat up with a start and noticed everyone staring at her and Nida.

"What the hell was that?!" She squealed, and Ellone half smiled.

"It worked." She watched as Nida awoke from his slumber as well.

"Wow." He shook his head, and helped Gayel to a standing.

"I sent you both back to that time." Ellone emphasized the word 'that', and crossed her arms, shivering from the enveloping cold.

"Thank you." Gayel smiled at the memory, glad to have been able to relive that moment again before what they were about to do. "Thank you so much." She hugged Ellone again, and they all turned towards the Naldi.

"Are you all willing to do this?" Nida asked them, and not one of them protested.

When they came to the auditorium, Ellone and the others stood on the balcony, while all the Naldi, including Gayel and Nida, stood down on the floor. Ellone spread her arms, knowing that there was a little pain for her, but in the end she would be fine. She was thankful, but felt a mourning for the Naldi that were giving their lives to save the planet. Selphie stood at what looked to be a control board. Gayel had told her exactly how it worked, and exactly what to press. The rest would be up to them to try and direct their life forces to bringing everything back. Selphie looked down and saw the quiet solemn faces of the Naldi, and watched Nida nod, closing his eyes. She began pressing a series of buttons, and when she was finished the combination, the entire room began to glow. Ellone felt a surge go through her, piercing her veins and burning her flesh, but kept concentrating, channeling the power to go where she wanted it to. She had to do it, she had to be strong.

"Nida, wherever we go, we'll find each other, right?" Gayel said between gasps of pain.

"I promise we will, and then we'll be together forever." Nida managed to spurt back to her.

"It hurts..." Gayel cringed, clutching Nida as he grasped her back.

"I know..." He breathed. "Love you..."

"Love you too..." The last words spoken in the auditorium as the light went out. Total blackness ensued as the Naldi each fell to the floor, into their slumber that would last forever. All of a sudden there was a small sphere of light shining through the dense darkness. A woman's figure materialized and wafted somewhat transparent near them.

"Ellone." The voice was soft, gentle, and articulate. "Ellone, you have done well, my daughter. Be strong, I'm always watching over you."

"Mother..." Ellone managed to whisper as the light grew and grew, shades of purple, pink, green, blue, all the colours ever imagined built until a huge flash, and then an explosion. The roof of the auditorium seemed to melt away, and the energy escaped into the sky. Sunlight filtered in through the open ceiling, and they all stood, open mouthed, staring at the blue sky above. Ellone led them all climbing up through the opening to watch as the world was reborn. The normally rocky desert ground of Esthar was now filled with grass and flowers, and butterflies flickered in and out of vision around them. All of the bodies were gone, hopefully restored to their original states in the cities, or wherever they had been before.

"It's beautiful." Xu sighed, and they all held each other, whether it be arms, hands, whatever they could grasp, they felt all as one, as the planet sprung into being before their very eyes.


"And so I now announce Miss Rinoa Heartilly a SeeD of Balamb Garden!" Headmaster Cid spread his arms, and smiled over the crowd. The party was in Balamb Town, down at the harbor. There had been a memorial service for all those lost, and the entire town was newly devoted as Balamb Garden's Non-Mobile Base.

"Thank you." Rinoa bowed her head to him, and smiled happily as she ran into Squall's waiting arms. She turned around to face her father, who put his hands on her shoulders.

"You can't imagine how proud I am of you." He licked his lips. Rinoa was about to say something harsh, but a feeling of pure love waved over her and she smiled up into his awaiting eyes.

"Thanks Dad." She surprised him, and they hugged. When they pulled away, the General held out his arm, and Shyla came out of nowhere to take it. "Shyla." Rinoa raised her eyebrows.

"She's been through a lot for you guys." Caraway nodded. "Just show a little respect." He winked, and Rinoa giggled, turning back to Squall.

Mrs. Dincht and Zell danced to a fast waltz, happy to be safe with each other. Quistis sat, talking with Headmaster Cid and Dr. Kadowaki quietly to the side. Selphie and Irvine danced heartily together.

"DISGUSTED." Fujin crossed her arms, referring to Xu and Seifer kissing out on the dock.

"Aw Fuj, lighten up, ya know?" Raijin put in, and for once, she didn't kick him.

"Do you think they're together?" Ellone asked Laguna as they leaned on the railing overlooking the moon reflecting off of the water.

"I'm sure that Gayel and Nida are together right now, looking down on us." Laguna put his arm out. "Now let me have a dance with my favourite niece."

"Uncle Laguna, I'm you're only niece." Ellone smiled, and they headed over to the make shift dance floor.

"Wow, he's good." Gayel giggled, sitting on the roof of Balamb hotel, watching the party.

"Yeah, he knew exactly what we were doing." Nida smiled at her, putting an arm over her delicate shoulders.

"I miss them." Gayel laid her head on him, inching closer.

"Ah, it's more fun watching them when they don't know we're here." Nida teased, and she smacked him playfully.

"Come on, let's invite some guests." Gayel grinned, and Nida nodded, whistling. Down from the clouds came many dancing couples, all the Balamb Town villagers in their newfound happiness, and the Naldi that gave their lives to save everyone else's. On the roofs of the Town of Balamb, they joined the party.



And happily.


Post Fic Author's Note: Oh my God, that took me a while to write, but jeez, was that fun! I really hope you enjoyed it, please review I'd really like feedback on this one!