Here's to the Where I Belong Challenge! I literally banged this out in 24 hours, hence the typos. I will probably edit it when I have a chance. Enjoy!
SeeD Adventure Comics:
The Origin of Angel Wing and the Fantastic Fight Through Time
Some people would say that the life of a plucky girl reporter is a charmed one. I've been all over the world witnessing historic events first-hand, from mad scientist Odine's attack on Deling City with his Marlboro hypnosis machine, to the flamboyant ascension parade for the evil Lady Ice Strike and her henchman, Cross Knight. Of course, I've paid a price for putting myself in the middle of all the action. I've had my eyebrows singed off in an explosion. I was accidentally jettisoned into space while doing a story on the Lunar Base. I almost fell off a building once and had to cling to the side for dear life when Doctor Odine attacked Esthar with an earthquake machine. Much to the swooning delight of all my girlfriends, I usually find myself being saved by the mysterious Lionheart.
Sure, he's okay if you like super strength and ridiculous speed and combat expertise. And leather capes draped over broad shoulders and strong hands and icy blue eyes that pierce right to your soul and…
Wait, where was I going with this? Oh, right. Lionheart. He's a massive jerk, though I owe my life to him a couple of times over. He never asks if I'm okay when he's lifting me away from an overflowing pit of lava or snatching me from the snapping jaws of Galbadia's Imperial T-Rexaur Cavalry. No, it's always, "You should learn to stay out of the way" and "the story isn't worth your life, is it?" Well, I'm a professional reporter for Timber Maniacs Magazine and the story is very much worth my life!
Okay, I'm starting to have second thoughts about that right at this moment. I'd be willing to overlook Lionheart's lack of social skills right now if he'd just make a timely appearance.
Esthar is a beautiful city, lights of a thousand colors shimmering from glass towers that reach into the sky. That shining mosaic is miles beneath my feet and the air is thinning, my lungs aching for substance as I'm pulled higher and higher. Finally, I stop rising. Wind tears at my skin and claws through my hair. Silver clouds swirl above me and bolts of lightning slice down toward the city below.
I'm gasping as I yell, "Ultimecia! Any words for Timber Maniacs Magazine?"
The witch floats in the sky many feet away from me, her crimson skirt swimming around her like a living thing. Slivers of electricity reach down to caress the horns on her headdress. Lady Ice Strike was flamboyant, sure, but she has nothing on this diva.
Her skirts rippling and swirling and undulating, she cuts through the distance between us until she can grasp my shoulders in her clawed hands. I'm not sure what's worse about looking down right now, the miles and miles of empty air between me and the city, or all the cleavage.
"You kan tell them that I shall tear the world asunder as I twist the threads of past, present, and future into the singularity of time kompression!"
"Wait, where are you from?" I shout over the angry wind.
She blinks her yellow reptilian eyes. "Why do you ask such a foolish question? It matters not from what geographic location I kame! Temporality is the only-"
Hyne, she can wax poetic about this time travel stuff forever.
"I just ask because you have a really weird accent. Your c's sound like k's and I'm… I'm not even sure how that's possible."
"You are outliving your usefulness, Heartily!"
She shoves me down and I plummet like Timber Maniacs' readership the month we ran a cover special on the artist Nida's erotic Ochu paintings. I scream, because it doesn't matter how many times you've nearly died, it's scary every single time.
The city rushes up at me, and just as I think that I'm about to become a very ugly puddle on one of Esthar's very pretty streets, I jerk to a mid-air stop so fast that my joints pop. I find myself dangling over the Presidential Palace. President Loire is standing on the balcony, surrounded by Esthar soldiers in top-of-the-line techno-glam uniforms.
"Bring me Ellone!" Ultimecia demands as she floats down to my level. "Or else the next time I drop the reporter, I will not catch her."
The president and I are pretty good friends, you see. Years ago, before he got into politics, he was a travel writer for the magazine. He still keeps in touch and does occasional guest articles, like his infamous "I'm the Darn President! A Case for Casual Khakis in Politics."
"I will not ask again!" Ultimecia warns.
To punctuate her point, she flicks her wrist and sends a fireball hurtling toward a distant building. A corner of the structure explodes, raining glass and concrete onto the street.
"Oh, come on!" President Loire groans. "That was just plain unnecessary."
On the street below, Cross Knight forces his way out of the palace through a throng of Estharian soldiers. He has his gunblade pressed to the throat of a frail brunette.
"I found her! I found Ellone!"
With a wave of her fingers, Ultimecia draws Ellone into the air. She twists and kicks her legs as her feet leave the ground, but can do nothing to anchor herself. Wind currents begin to spiral around Ultimecia, and Ellone and I are flung around like shirts in a dryer.
"Fantastik! Now I kan complete time kompression!"
"No, really!" I shout. "Do they not have the letter 'c' in your time period? My readers will want to know!"
The witch ignores me. She draws Ellone into her arms, those devil eyes glowing.
Ah, but there, in the distance! I can hear the roar of the Ragnarok.
"SeeD!" I squeal in excitement. This means I'm going to be saved. Plus, I've covered the super-powered mercenary group many times before, and it always makes for a good story.
The red, draconian airship speeds toward us and I can see the guns distend from its underside. The ship fires off several rounds in Ultimecia's direction, but the witch moves far too quickly.
"Booyaka! You've got to deal with us now, witchy!" a high voice booms over the Ragnarok's PA system.
"Cool it, Sunshine Cadet," another voice mumbles in the background. "She has a hostage."
"Oh, right! Sorry!"
The gunfire ceases and the Ragnarok drops altitude, nimbly swooping in to land on the palace rooftop. A moment later, the hatch opens and the world's greatest team of heroes for hire comes striding out. Well, 'striding' implies some level of nonchalance and grace. Sunshine Cadet, the Ragnarok's enthusiastic pilot, runs down the ramp so fast she nearly trips and tumbles the rest of the way down. She catches herself, floating gently into the air instead. Her yellow costume bares her arms and is bikini-cut to reveal her legs. Brown boots rise to her knees and a jaunty yellow ascot decorates her neck. Her yellow mask rims her eyes, and even the ends of her hair flip up to defy gravity.
Blitz zooms out of the Ragnarok atop his trusty T-board. A black hood covers his blonde spikes and thick, red tinted goggles hide his eyes. His muscled arms are bare and his legs move freely in his baggy shorts. It's a little lazy for a superhero costume, but I guess he works the urban look well.
Mistress Mysteria exits with her whip already uncoiled from her hip. Her pink catsuit clings to her generous curves and a cascade of blonde hair curtains her shoulders. For a second, I feel a flash of envy. All girls do, I guess. Sunshine Cadet is bouncy and friendly, but Mistress Mystery just oozes sex appeal, and the rumors abounding about a secret relationship between her and Lionheart don't help.
Then, of course, there's Sharpshot in his ridiculous cowboy hat and purple domino mask. That trench coat can't be anything but burdensome in battle.
Finally, there's Commander Jerkface himself, Lionheart. He clambers down the ramp in those heavy, knee high armored boots, zipped into a black leather suit. His cape drapes behind him, the shoulders lined with white fur in a suggestion of a lion's mane. He wears a black metal helmet on his head comprised of sleek curves. Two lines sweep back on the sides of the helmet and round off to dull points like the ears of an angry kitty, which I think is a little adorable. Another curve swoops down over the bridge of his nose, like a lion's snout, and his pale eyes peer out through the narrow slashes of cat eyes. His mouth, a subject my pesky imagination can't seem to stay away from, is uncovered, but jagged points of metal, shaped like teeth, stand stark against the pallor of his cheeks.
Yeah, so maybe the first couple of times he saved me I thought about how easily accessible his lips were for a long, lingering kiss of gratitude, but that was before I realized he was an irredeemable meany.
He raises his gunblade, its blue glow trailing light as it moves, and stabs it in Ultimecia's direction. No matter what my girlfriends think, I say the size of that thing is overcompensating for something.
"Sunshine! Blitz! On point!"
"Yes sir!" the two upwardly mobile members of SeeD exclaim at once. They rise into the air, Sunshine Cadet of her own power and Blitz on his T-board and dart toward Ultimecia.
"Sharpshot, do not hit the hostage."
The silly cowboy levels his gun and begins taking frighteningly accurate shots at the witch.
"Hey, you guys!" I call and wave in greeting.
Lionheart sighs. "Mysteria, help me get Miss Heartily down from there."
"No, really, I'm fine!"
But I'm growing less fine by the second. Ultimecia's hands press against the sides of Ellone's head as the two lock stares. Ellone's lids droop over her dark eyes, but Ultimecia's eyes shine bright, toxic yellow, the pupils narrowing into slits. The two spin and spin, too fast and fluid for any of Blitz or Sunshine's blows to land. Pressure is building around us. I try to pull air into my lungs but the invisible weight is crushing my chest. Electricity scissors through the sky and my hair rises on end, crackling.
"Okay, maybe I'm not fine!" I call.
Mistress Mysteria has used her telepathy to pry up one of the sky platforms nearby. She stands alongside Lionheart and Sharpshot, gripping her whip in gloved hands and bowing her head in concentration as she moves the platform across the sky, closer to Ultimecia.
I feel like I'm being ripped apart. I can only manage the tiniest gulps of oxygen. My skin lurches across my bones and my stomach knots in instinctive reaction to the power growing around us. I've felt power before, but nothing like this. I'm being unraveled.
No, everything is being unraveled. The clouds melt together into a solid sheet of silver, which begins to drip like melting wax over the city's skyline. The neon colors of the city also blur into a nauseating concoction of harsh blues and pinks and it all melds with the sky.
"Help!" I scream, though I'm not sure any sound escapes my throat. "Lionheart, help me!"
The platform is nearby. Sharpshot is still firing away, though his bullets just blend into the thick air and disappear. Mysteria's eyes are clenched shut, her lips twisted down as she concentrates. Lionheart reaches for me, his gloved fingers inches away.
Everything seems slow, slow enough that I can look over and see that Ultimecia is so taken in her own power that she can't dodge anymore. Sparks lick across her skin and her eyes rolls back into her head. Blitz's fist catches her in the cheek, slowly, so that I can see the flesh bulge out around the indent of his fist and spit fly from her lips. Her fingers slip from Ellone's face as she flies backward.
It's all so slow I see it happen in the span of time it takes me to reach for Lionheart's hand. The tips of our index fingers are almost brushing when Ultimecia slams into me. I feel her hands on me, though I can't pinpoint her touch to one physical location. There's just heat and power burning across my skin and slicing into my bones. I scream again, I think.
And then nothing.
My eyes snap open. My pulse throbs in my head to the pounding of my heart.
"Oh Hyne, this is worse than the morning after Xu's bachelorette party," I groan.
Then I look around.
"No, this is worse than the morning after that Groovy Technicolor Chocobo concert."
The world is no longer a puke-tastic milkshake of colors, but it's still all wrong. It's like a history book exploded all over reality. In the distance, I can see the Centra Tower rising from the dirt. Its metal frame no longer sags to one side from the burden of age and it shines like it was supposed to hundreds of years ago. In another direction, I can see the Tomb of the Lost King standing proudly, no longer crumbling but made of solid bricks as it had been a thousand years ago. The sky stretches over me, a vast quilt with patches of different colors. Green, purple, red, blue, gray, and black. There is no sun or moon as far as I can see. The ground is a flat span of cracked barren nothing interrupted by sudden swells of earth around the various historical structures I can see, as if someone just ripped these things up by the roots and planted them here for decoration.
"This is bad," I say to myself, because it's quiet and I feel like the sound of my own voice will reassure me. It doesn't.
As I'm digging through my pockets for the little camera I carry around (a good reporter is always prepared!) I hear a moan rise from behind me. I whirl around, mind flashing back to the dreaded Balamb zombie invasion from last year. But no, no cause for concern. It's just my black-hearted hero laid out on the ground. I don't think he was even there a second ago.
I pad closer to him and kneel at his side. I could pry that stupid helmet off of his head and finally see his face. "The Unmasking of Lionheart" would make an excellent cover story, but my fingers hesitate inches away from his head, and somehow I end up touching his exposed cheek instead. He feels so warm to be so cold.
His eyelids flutter, revealing flashes of pale blue. I snatch my hand away and cross my arms safely over my chest.
"Oh, so you're alive," I say.
"Where are we? Where are the others?"
I shuffle back on my knees as he sits up and surveys the area. The corners of his lips dip down in a scowl, but it's not all that different from his usual expression. I hate that I can never tell what he's thinking.
"Well?" I ask. "What are you thinking?"
"Wow! You're totally right, Lionheart. What an astute observation!"
I push myself to my feet, take a moment to dust off my knees, and spin a slow circle as I take in our surroundings again.
"So, this must be time kompression. Ugh, now she's got me doing it!"
"Must be," Lionheart remarks and pushes himself to his feet as well. His throat bobs as he swallows and I watch his lips soundlessly flap for a moment as he prepares to give voice to something he doesn't want to say. "Did you... are you hurt?"
I stretch my arms out and study myself.
"Not as far as I can tell. But it was painful, especially when Ultimecia touched me."
"You placed yourself in danger again."
"It's my job!" Oh, this old argument.
"Unless your official job description is to get in my way-"
"Yes, because everything is about you, Lionheart." I take a step closer to him, though I don't think I could ever hope to intimidate him. "It's not like my job depends on me braving all of the dangers of the world so that people can sit nice and comfy in their homes and enjoy cheap, safe thrills at my expense!"
He blinks, momentarily taken aback. Then he steps closer. It's a much more effective tactic when he does it.
"You know what they call women like you in our line of work? You're a damsel, Miss Heartily. To our kind, that's the worst thing you can be."
"A damsel!" My voice splinters into a shriek. Okay, so I'm not cute when I'm angry. "Let me tell you something Mister Shiny-Boots." I'm also not clever when I'm angry. "I don't have super powers like-"
"-the rest of you, which means that when I march into danger I do so knowing full well that I might not-"
"-come back. I have more bravery in my fingertips-"
And to demonstrate my point, I slam my hand into his chest. He goes flying backward with the force of it and the momentum carries him several feet before he crashes into the dirt.
"Holy Hyne!" I exclaim and try to run for him. "Are you okay?"
Despite my best efforts, my feet aren't going anywhere. I look down and realize I was just kicking in mid-air. Wait, what?
"I tried to tell you," he calls, still on his back. "Look behind you."
A hazy white light in the shape of wings has unfurled from my back at some point. They stretch and flutter as they keep me suspended a foot off the ground.
Lionheart gets to his feet again and crosses the distance between us. "Ultimecia was overflowing with power when she touched you. I bet you absorbed some of it."
"Wait, so I have powers now?" I can't see my own face, of course, but I imagine it's lifted in a cheesy-stupid expression of joy, like Blitz's face when he made an appearance for a charity hotdog eating contest. I hold my hands up in front of my face and wiggle my fingers. "This makes me a superhero, too! Hmm…" I flash a grin at the stony-faced hero in front of me. "Or maybe a supervillain instead?"
"Guess this means I can stop rescuing you?" He asks as one corner of his mouth quirks up in a smirk. "This will make my life a lot easier."
"Don't make me hit you again!" I wave my hand in threat. "And anyway, I don't recall ever asking you to rescue me." His smirk fades. For a long stretch of seconds, there's nothing but our locked stares and our silence. "If I'm such a pain in your leathery behind, why did you always save me, anyway?"
He looks away. The cracks in the desiccated earth are suddenly more interesting than I am.
"Do you remember when you saved me out in space?"
The air ripples and thickens to something more than gas but less than solid. Everything begins to go dark, and I gasp and reach out. Lionheart takes my hand without a second thought and my fingers tighten around his as the world around us disappears. I can't quite breathe.
When the air thins again, sections of it clump together and brighten into distant spheres of light. It's enough light that I can see we're floating suspended in blackness. Clumps of color take solid shape nearby, forming the hulking lunar base. Then I see myself drifting slowly away from it, a bulky white lump of spacesuit dwarfed by the infinite space around me. I can't hear myself, but I can see my lips moving through the helmet's window. I remember uttering a lot of unsavory words.
"Wow," I say. "So this is time compression."
Lionheart is still holding my hand. I kick my feet again, but we can't move. I focus on my new wings, try to feel them with my mind and beckon them to move. They stretch and wave and push until I'm gliding toward my past self, towing Lionheart behind me. I try to grab her, but my hands pass through and she shimmers like a mirage without noticing that we're here. We're just watching a movie scene play out.
"I wasn't covering supervillain activity or any disaster," I say. "I was just doing a safe, easy little story about the lunar base. Of course, it was just my luck that while I was trying on a spacesuit, there was a miscommunication in the control room that resulted in them opening the airlock. I thought I was done for. There was no reason for you to be there, so I thought I was on my own. But then…"
The Ragnarok appears over me. Its airlock opens up and another figure in a spacesuit descends from its belly, attached to the ship by a cord. Through this spacesuit's helmet I can see Lionheart's signature feline helmet.
"I was so shocked." I watch myself laugh as she spots her perpetual savior. "All I could think was, 'how did he fit that helmet over his other helmet?'"
"I just happened to be in the area."
"I was in space. It's not like you were in the neighborhood buying milk or something." I watch the Lionheart of perils past scoop me into his padded arms. "I really thought I was going to die. Not that I haven't thought that before, but… you were always reliable." I turn and try to study the expression of the present Lionheart, but he gives me nothing. "Or what about the time you saved me from Lady Ice Strike?"
The scene changes again, through the magic of time compression, I assume. From nothingness, the inside of Lady Ice Strike's throne room forms. I see myself creeping down the long walkway to her throne, wearing my favorite blue blazer and carrying a tape recorder in one hand and an intricate gold bracelet in the other.
"Umm, Miss Lady Ice Strike?" I stammer as I approach her. She doesn't even turn her head to look at me, though I think if I had the weight of that horned headdress resting on my head, I'd try not to move too much, either. I circle around her throne and she regards me with golden eyes void of any emotion. "Hi there. My name is Rinoa Heartily and I'm a reporter for Timber Maniacs Magazine. I just wanted to welcome you to Deling City." I offer the bangle, and can see myself wince as I hope she doesn't mind the lack of gift wrapping. "This is just a small token of my, um... my humble…" Crap, I can't remember the speech I'd written out. "This is just a small, humble gift of welcome," I finally rush on. "To congratulate you for your ascension. I, for one, welcome our new sorceress overlord." I laugh, but it sounds suspiciously like sobbing. "Err, and I was hoping that maybe you could give Timber Maniacs Magazine an exclusive interview?"
"How did you get in here?" she asks.
"Umm, well. I climbed." I shrug. "Lax security?"
Her eyes narrow and she claps her hands. Two massive lion/lizard hybrids dart into the room, scrambling forward with little lizard feet on their front half and lion paws on their back half. The sorceress rises from her seat and drifts out of the way, so she can watch the show. The creatures snap needle teeth in my face and my legs buckle beneath me, dumping me ungraciously in the floor. I scream, and as if the sound is a summoning spell, my hero bursts through the doors and leaps in front of me.
"Did you really think that was going to work?" Present-Lionheart asks.
"At that point in time everyone on the planet was terrified of her. I thought maybe if I buttered her up with some appreciation…"
I watch as Past-Lionheart swings his mighty gunblade into the snapping jaws of an Iguion. Green blood flies, spatters across my face as I cower back against the wall.
"Cross Knight!" Lady Ice Strike calls.
He comes rushing in with his own narrow gunblade drawn, his gray trench coat swishing behind him as he runs. The crosses on the upper sleeves of his coat shine like blood in the light. He wears a helmet, like Lionheart, but his helmet is silver and horned, like the favored adornments of his beloved witches.
"Ugh, sorceress groupie," I mutter. To Present-Lionheart I say, "It was a hard night for you. Not only did you save me from the Iguions, but you had to fight Cross Knight, too." As I speak, the fighting speeds up around us. "And then Lady Ice Strike, well… struck you with ice."
Three ice crystals lodge into Past-Lionheart's chest and he falls. I hear myself cry out.
"If it hadn't been for your friends..."
Then the SeeDs are in the room, too. Mistress Mysteria kneels by Lionheart's side as she tries to heal him. Blitz and Sunshine Cadet alternate between attacking Cross Knight and Lady Ice Strike while Sharpshot fires at both. Me, I just curl up against the wall, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. My reporter's notebook dangles from my limp hand.
Still holding Present-Lionheart's hand, I fly through the scene as everyone fights in fast-forward and stop to hover over myself. I look so powerless. So useless.
"Okay," I say, though the soft word of admission makes barely a sound from my lips. "Okay, so maybe I was really irresponsible. I got myself into so many jams and somehow I always knew you would bail me out. That wasn't fair to you. I just... I'm not powerful. I can't do anything, not like you and your friends. And I just wanted to do something for all the normal people like me who feel helpless in this world. I wanted to be brave for them, to face down the danger so I could show them, through my words, what it was like. Showing them the truth and reporting to them the facts was the only thing I could do." I turn to Present-Lionheart. "Is that so bad?"
"No," he says, his voice a soft rumble that washes over me in the most delicious way. "No, I guess it isn't. You were doing the only thing you could."
Sometimes, when I'm around him, I feel these little tickles of something in my stomach. It isn't indigestion, I'm pretty sure, and it isn't unpleasant. Floating there, amid a shared memory, his hand in mine and his icy gaze melting just a little in the wake of my confession, those tickles explode in warmth, in full-blown affection.
"Thank you," I murmur. It's too intense, this moment. I feel my cheeks heat to a blazing redness and look away. "Hey, do you remember when we first met?"
The memory around us fades into darkness, but nothing forms in its place.
"I know it was one of the times that you saved me, but I can't really remember what came first. Can you?"
"Well, no. I…" He hesitates.
Go on, go on, I mentally prod, but he doesn't say anything more. Still, blurs of color bleed into the black and solidify into another scene. We're in a massive room, a floor of shining marble beneath us. Golden light gilds the marble pillars and the domed ceiling so high above. Women wrapped in glittering fabric sway and spin with men in uniforms.
"Oh, this is the Balamb Garden Combat Academy graduation. I came to one of these one year to do a story on it. Got to interview the headmaster and everything. I didn't get into any trouble here, though. This isn't where we first met."
Even as I say that, I see myself cross the ballroom floor in a dress that, I admit, might have been inappropriately short. But hey, when you have legs like mine, you should show them off, right?
I weave my way through dancing couples with a purposeful stride, and I think that I must've been going to find the headmaster. But no, when I come to a stop it's in front of a uniformed young man, a recent graduate from the academy.
"Alright," I hear myself say. "You have two choices. You can either give me an interview for Timber Maniacs Magazine, or you can dance with me for one song." I grin. "What's it going to be, handsome?"
My poor victim looks up at me with a glacial gaze. "Whatever."
"Oh my Hyne!" I look at Present-Lionheart and see those exact same eyes. "You mean, you're him? He's you?" My past-self drags the helmet-less Lionheart onto the dance floor. "But with your super strength and speed, why did you even need to attend a combat academy?"
"Super strength and speed are useless if you don't learn to focus them," Present-Lionheart responds.
We both fall silent as we watch our past selves bumble around the dance floor. We bump into other couples and he steps on my feet, but I just laugh and pull us back into the flow of the music until we're gliding like pros across the pristine marble. We stop as the room dims and fireworks burst above. My past-self spots the headmaster over Past-Lionheart's shoulder, and I give him a quick parting smile before I leave him standing there alone. This time, outside myself and outside the scene, I watch him. The way he looks down at me with contentedness playing at the upturned corners of his lips. He really liked me.
"So that's why..."
"I've never been particularly good with people. I think most women would've given up on me mid-dance, but you didn't. You were kind to me that night." He can't look at me, the poor, sentimental mush-ball. "Truth be told, I had read a number of your articles prior to that and thought you were rather brave for a regular person. I just didn't realize at the time that the braver you would become, the more reckless you would be."
I open my mouth to tease him about liking me, but his helmet can't hide that he's flushing, and I can't bring myself to do it.
"What's your real name?" I ask instead.
"Off the record?"
"Of course! I wouldn't betray your trust on this after all you've done for me. Even if it would be the story of a lifetime."
"My real name is Squall Leonhart."
"Squall," I repeat. I smile at him. "I like it."
He clears his throat. "Well, we don't have time to exchange life stories. We have to fix this time compression thing. The sooner, the better."
"Right!" The memory fades and we're left to blackness again. "Let's think about this. It seems we can conjure up pieces of the past if we think about them."
"Are you sure you're not controlling it?"
"Me? This last memory wasn't something I was thinking about. It had to have been you."
"I wasn't thinking about it, either. Well, I was trying not to. I felt... almost a tugging in my brain. Maybe you ripped it out of my mind and conjured it up with your power?"
"Hmm... let's test this theory," I say. "Think up a memory. Something I would know nothing about, and wouldn't be able to force out of you."
A few minutes go by. His lips purse and his eyes squeeze shut in concentration, but nothing happens.
"Alright, now I'll try."
In no time (no pun intended) I find myself watching as I sit in the floor of my apartment and cuddle a squirming puppy to my chest.
"The first day I had my dog, Angelo." I beam. "So I do have control over this! Let's see, what else do we know?"
"We can't interact with anyone from these past scenes," he offers.
"That's right. Or maybe..."
"I have an idea!"
"Don't uh-oh me! Unless you have a better idea." I snap my fingers, enthusiastic now that I get to run the show for once instead of watching uselessly from the sidelines. "See, I can control my place in time, and apparently I'm dragging you along with me. Maybe it's the same for Ultimecia and Ellone, so maybe I'll be able to interact with them. One time-powered witch to another, you know?" I shrug. "It's worth a shot."
I think about the moments, just before time was torn apart, when we were hanging in the air above Esthar, and then there we are, watching the fight from a short distance away. Everyone zips around us, blurry forms caught in the thrall of action, but Ultimecia and Ellone are solid. They whirl, locked in their clash of power, and I realize I can see them more clearly than I saw any of the previous memories. It's as if they're anchored to their moment. I take Squall's arm and wrap it around my waist.
"I can control time around me, but you can't. I might lose you if you let go."
With a push of my wings, I shoot toward Ultimecia and Ellone's embrace. Their power creates spirals of wind around them and it takes everything I have to shove my way through it. Yes, this memory is different. I can actually feel this one. Poor Squall clings to me like a terrified child.
"This is so demeaning."
"Now you know how I've always felt!" A pause, then I say, "Hey, can I join SeeD if I save the day?"
"I'll think about it."
"I'm going to call myself... Angel Wing!"
"I haven't said yes yet!"
"How about, if I save the day, I get a kiss instead?"
My, my, but Super Rinoa is bold. He doesn't respond to that, but then again, we are flying into certain danger and he's one of those stick-in-the-mud heroes that think a life or death situation is no place for frivolity.
I stretch my hands out as I close in. Sparks dance along my fingers. Yes, yes, I have the power here. I can do this. This is my present, I tell myself. I can reach out and touch them because I'm making this the present.
Despite my mental pep talks, I almost expect to go right through Ultimecia. I don't. My palms slam into her face and the collision of power casts us both away from each other. Ultimecia is flung the farthest, though, and she's let go of Ellone in the process. The action playing out around us freezes.
"Ellone?" I ask.
She gives me a shy smile. "You have power over time now, too."
"I can't really say I understand. I mean, I tried this on a whim, but… this is the past? I couldn't interact with any of the other past moments I've been to, but I can interact with the two of you?"
She shrugs. "Ultimecia and I both have power over time. Granted, my powers are specially focused toward the past, but I still possess an instinctive temporal awareness that those without the power of time do not. You see, we really exist in all points within our own timeline, but most lack the ability to perceive their timeline as anything other than linear. Because of our awareness, we're able to control time around us, to anchor ourselves to a particular point. So, when we go through time, we can interact with others that are like ourselves. Thanks to time compression, we're also able to exist at all points in anyone time line. We have a unique window of opportunity."
"That's… all very confusing and convenient," I point out.
"So it is with time." Ellone offers a gentle smile. "Your power is of a broader span than mine, since you've absorbed power from Ultimecia. If you can pull a memory from her mind, I think I can take us back into her past."
"So we go back to a period of time when she was vulnerable and stop this from happening," Squall suggests.
"Better," I say, "we go back to when she acquired her powers and prevent her from acquiring them."
"It may mess up the time line," Ellone says. "Then again, it really can't get much more messed up than it already is."
"Better make up your mind now." Squall points with his free hand to Ultimecia. She's recovered from the bull and charging full-steam at us, her weird living skirt whipping like a tornado around her.
Ellone and I grasp hands. "Let's do this!"
I fly the three of us in a head-on charge against Ultimecia. Let me tell you, my two passengers are a lot heavier than they look, too. I'm not an airship. Still, I power along. Ultimecia's dark lips part and an echoing howl of fury rips from her throat. I try out my own battle cry, but I end up yodeling like the mating call of a grat, so I shut up.
I try to nudge into her brain the same way I inadvertently did with Squall. Show me the moment you got your powers, I think. That will be our present.
The familiar blur and pull of shifting temporality happens again. I dodge around Ultimecia just before she barrels into us and look around instead. We're hovering over a rocky shoreline. A storm is blowing in from over the ocean, whipping the waves into a foamy frenzy smashing against stones lining the beach. A woman drags herself out of the sea, over the rocks. Her sodden black cloak clings to her back and seems to weigh her down almost too much to move. She leaves a trail of blood in her wake.
Standing a safe distance away, on a grassy hill that slopes down toward the water, is a young woman in a loose red dress. Her blacks hair tosses in the wind and her bright eyes watch the other woman try to crawl up the hill. She's different, younger than the Ultimecia we know, but the shape of her eyes and the roundness of her face is the same. This is Ultimecia, before she was Ultimecia. I aim for her.
Present-Ultimecia bares down on us again. I reach back and squeeze Squall's shoulder.
"You have to distract her!"
"I don't have your power. What if I can't?"
I grab him by the belt loop. "Just stay close to me!"
He releases his hold on my waist and lets the wind current push him around to face Ultimecia. He fires bullets from his gunblade that don't hit her, but explode around her in brilliant flashes of light that blind her.
The dying sorceress lifts a bloodied hand toward Past-Ultimecia. "My powers... must pass…"
We slam into Past- Ultimecia and knock her aside just as a glaring white aura rises from the dying witch and shoots forward. It hits Ellone and me, an explosion of white that knocks air from our lungs and burns away our sight. So much energy clawing into me, down into my bones, down into my soul. The power swallows everything in a wash of sterile white.
My eyes snap open. I'm hanging in the sky over Esthar again, but everything is still this time. No living energy tearing through the air, no wind. Everyone is just hanging, suspended where they were when time compression began. Ultimecia is particularly pitiful, slumped over with the weight of her massive skirt swallowing her. Her head hangs as if it can no longer bare the weight of her horns.
Ellone is awake and alert as well. We're the only ones that even seem to be breathing.
"Good, you're alright. President Loire will be happy."
I steal a glance to the president on his balcony below, but he, too, is frozen with his head tilted back to look at us.
"What's going on?" Electricity sings in my veins and rushes gleefully through my heart. "I feel more powerful."
"We stole Ultimecia's powers before she could receive them. They split between us."
"Then why are we here now? Shouldn't that have prevented time compression from ever happening? Or Ultimecia from ever traveling from the past to place us in this situation?"
Ellone shrugs. "It could be a paradox... alternate time line... time loop... whatever time travel jargon fits here. I've been sending people on trips to the past for years now and I still don't understand how this stuff works."
"Time travel plots sure are strange."
"You got it. We need to get everyone to safety. There won't be anything to hold them up when we..."
"Press play on reality?"
My wings still flap silently at my back. Ellone doesn't have wings like I do, but she can float on her own now, without me or Ultimecia holding her up in the air. We drag the SeeD members and Ultimecia down to the presidential palace rooftop and set them safely on solid ground.
"Will they remember anything?" I ask.
"We won't know until we unfreeze time."
"In that case, give me a few moments."
When I return, I'm no longer in business casual. No, I've donned a sheer, narrow blue cape that dangles between my wings and glitters in the light. I'm wearing a light blue bodysuit that bares my legs, because if Sunshine can pull it off, so can I. Matching arm braces cover my forearms, and I complete the look with a white sash around my hips and white knee-high boots. My mask is blue and angular, framed by white feathers. I don't feel silly, not one bit. Not even with the look Ellone is giving me.
"Really?" she asks as she tilts her head.
"Really," I say, hovering above the rooftop. I pose with my hands on hips and my chest pushed out. "I'm Angel Wing now! And what about you, Time Sister?"
"Oh, being the president's adopted daughter is enough spotlight for me. But you have fun with that."
Together, we will time to move forward. It's something I've done a lot in my life, from math classes in high school to staff meetings at the magazine to bad dates with guys who are obsessed with Triple Triad. This is the first time it actually works.
The members of SeeD wake first. Poor, powerless Ultimecia is alive, but exhausted it would seem. The heroes get to their feet one by one and try to orient themselves. Blitz is the first to notice me hovering just a few feet above their heads.
"Who the heck are you?"
Squall, ever untrusting, immediately draws his gunblade and thrusts it up in my direction.
"Whoa there, fella. I'm super flattered, but don't you think we ought to get to know each other a little better before you start poking things at me?"
Scarlet devours his cheeks in the most adorable flush and I inwardly crow. So this is the power of anonymity! I've never been confident enough to be this fluidly flirtatious.
"What happened here? What about Ultimecia?" He gestures toward the witch still crumpled in a pile.
"Fear not, fellow heroes!" I project my words and deepen my voice a little into my best superhero voice. Ellone rolls her eyes. I don't appreciate the lack of support. "I have disposed of this vile threat to our world! I assure you, Ultimecia shall trouble you no more!"
"But who are you?" Sunshine Cadet demands with a stomp of her foot.
"Some might say I'm a champion of time. A savior of past, present, and future!" Okay, Rinoa. Reel it in before it gets too cheesy. Squall is looking at me like he isn't sure whether to join Ellone in the eye-rolling or just laugh, and that's not a good sign. "But you may call me Angel Wing."
I can tell from the lack of reaction that Squall doesn't remember anything that we went through together today. I suppress a sigh. I'll have to treasure those lost moments in my head now, all alone. Still, now that I know what I know, things will be different between us. I'll make sure of that, starting now.
I drop down, snag Lionheart by the front of his leather suit and yank him into a kiss. Hm, yes, his lips are full and warm and every bit as delightful as I used to imagine before I decided he was a jerk. I will definitely be doing this again.
I release him, take in the sight of his reddened lips and pink cheeks, and let the satisfaction roll over me.
"I'll take that as my thanks for saving the day." And then I wink! Look at me go!
I fly off before he can utter a word. Oh, things are going to be different now, Squall Leonhart, because the new and improved Rinoa Heartily is coming for you!