As he stepped out in the hallway again fifteen minutes later, Zell still stood impatiently waiting. Squall looked puzzled. "Didn't anyone fix it yet?" "Nope." He replied, annoyance clearly showing. "Some guy came by and said the problem is at the main power source. I think he said he'd go down to MD Level." Zell turned his head back to the hallway to his left, expecting Squall would just return to his quarters like he did before. "How long ago was this?" Squall asked, imagining the worst. Surprised, Zell glanced over his shoulder. "Uh, 'bout ten minutes I think. I dunno exactly." He looked in front of him again. Then it hit him and his eyes widened. "You…don't suppose something happened?" By the time Zell glanced over his shoulder again wondering why there was no reply, the doors to Squall's quarters shut once more. Hmph. What a jerk. He concluded. Precisely 1 minute and 28.67 seconds later (Zell just loved timing stuff with his new digital watch) he heard the sound of the door sliding open for, oh, about the millionth time. Squall, holding his gunblade in one hand, bashed against the door panel with his other. "Let's go." He told Zell as his quarters was now locked. -"What? Go where?" <<------------------------------------------>> Squall stopped in front of the elevator in the main hall, waiting for Zell to catch up. Heavily panting, he arrived a few moments later. "What's…with…all…this…running?" "Xu told me about another repair crew that headed down to MD Level to solve a similar malfunction." He explained and pressed the button to call the elevator. -"And?" Zell urged him to go on, with heaving chest. "They never came back." Squall said, not mincing words. Zell gulped. "And you want me to go down there with ya?!" "Don't be such a coward Dincht." He cringed. Noooo! That voice! Kenan met up with the two guys in front of the elevator. "Thanks for notifying me. I'll go check it out." Zell's lower jaw dropped. That double-crossing Squall DID inform Kenan! "I'm going too." Squall said confidently. "Things may be different here but this is still Balamb Garden…" After pressing the elevator call button, Kenan nodded. "I…I understand." -"You guys are crazy." Zell grinned nervously. "Who knows what's down there?" "Is the Zell you know also this wimpy?" Kenan asked Squall. He folded his arms over his chest and smirked. "I can't imagine him being a bold hero type." Squall preferred not to answer that question. Seeing a clear opportunity to escape, Zell dashed away from the elevator…or so he thought… Kenan had grabbed him by his collar and the only thing Zell achieved was nearly choking himself. "You're not going anywhere." He warned. "We're going down there, whether you like it or not." Zell held up his hands in defense. "All right! I'll go. I'm just saying it's a stupid idea." He was released from Kenan's grip. The Commander turned his attention back to the elevator, which still hadn't arrived. "I guess this isn't working either." Squall pried his gunblade right in between the slide doors and forced them open. He bent forward and looked up. The elevator appeared stuck on the second floor. Ignorant as ever, Zell stuck his head inside the shaft and peered all the way down. "Careful." Kenan told him whilst pulling him back quickly. "Wouldn't want to lose your head, would ya?" His face showed confusion. "Lose my head? How?" They heard a terribly loud scrapping sound. The entire elevator fell down and crashed into the bottom of the shaft. The sheer speed with which it dropped caused a gust of wind that blew Zell's hair into a mess. "Oh." He said and scratched the back of his neck, grateful his head remained attached to it. "Never mind, I get it." Squall sheathed his gunblade. "We'll have to climb down." "Agreed…" Kenan spoke delighted that someone else could come up with solid ideas for a change. He jumped to the other side of the shaft and held on the emergency ladder. Zell re-straightened his hair. "Watch this," He whispered to Squall. "He's gonna say something really nerdy." -"Let's mosey!" Kenan ordered, already starting to climb down. Zell shook his head. "He's so predictable." The three SeeDs went down to MD Level one by one. Kenan was first to reach the ventilation duct that led to the control room. It was about halfway between the first floor and…rock bottom? Since there were only a few red emergency lights operational in the shaft it was hard to tell how far down one could go. Or fall, for that matter… He couldn't help but sneeze since dust particles abundantly flew in the air. No doubt stirred up by the crashing elevator. "Here, let me help." He offered and extended his arm towards Squall to be of some aid. Without receiving any thanks he pulled Squall into the duct. "I'll go on ahead." Was all he got. Kenan didn't pursue the matter and extended his arm to help Zell. "C'mon, let's go." Zell whimpered and calculated in how much agony he'd be in the event something went wrong. A hundred feet fall seemed a fair estimate. Of course he'd fall on metallic debris…perhaps with sharp edges… He closed his eyes and prayed. I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die! Please! "Uh, Zell?" Kenan called impatiently. "Come on. It's only one small step away." Easy for him to say. Zell thought. He already made it… "Come on!" Kenan repeated forcefully. His voice echoed strangely, making it sound almost robotic. Zell huffed and puffed as if he was an old man. "Hey don't rush me. I'll get there eventually." He gripped the ladder even tighter, nearly squeezing his arteries closed. So later he accounted it to lack of oxygen to his brain that he suddenly let go of the ladder after another 'encouragement' and miraculously found himself some feet inside the ventilation duct. What he didn't realize was that he would have fallen like a brick if it wasn't for Kenan and his helping hand. But again he didn't pursue the matter. By all means, don't thank your savior! The two crawled quickly through the duct and made it to the control room. Well, they made to a room of some sort… They should have remembered the controls were a lot further down but strangely enough didn't. Guardian Forces effecting their brains? Zell and Kenan straightened and dusted themselves off. The dome-shaped room they were in luckily provided a little more breathing space than those cramped and dusty ducts. "Oh yeah!" Kenan exclaimed, memories flooding back to him at the sight of Squall standing next to a valve. "The valve! We need to turn the valve." After spitting on his gloves and rubbing them together until he felt a burning sensation, Zell deemed himself ready to single-handly turn the rusty valve handle. Squall didn't seem to mind and stepped aside. "We're rooting for ya." Kenan laughed, gesturing his comrade to go ahead by all means. Ready to give it all he got, Zell stepped up to the valve. He eyed it like it was his mortal enemy. After take one last deep breath he firmly took hold of the valve and applied pressure, aimed at getting the handle to open up towards the left. Zell was caught of guard when it already began the spin before he even used all his strength. Since he held on so tightly he was thrown along to in the direction the handle went. It felt like his arms were stretched to the limit before that handle finally stopped turning. "Someone already opened it." Kenan reasoned, barely holding back a sudden burst of laughter. -"The technicians." Squall concluded after helping a now strangely quiet Zell open the lid. The three men gathered around the hole and peered down, wondering what could lay waiting… "I wish we had a flashbang." Kenan sort of whimpered. "That's probably what the pros would thrown in the hole before going down themselves, you know?" Squall titled his head in consideration. Zell's eyebrows furrowed. "Well, we went down here before. Everything was fine then." "Fine?" Kenan asked in disbelief. "We were attacked by dozens of creatures. Like those two oilboyles, remember?" Zell stepped on the ladder, remaining perfectly calm and in control. "All we can do now is go down further." Kenan rubbed his chin, wondering at what time did Zell suddenly become fearless and he worried sick. With enough said already they descended the ladder and found themselves to be in some sort of large pipe with small puddles of oil laying spread across everywhere. Even spots of oil on the top of the pipe, which somehow seemed to defy the basic laws of gravity… So it was a pipeline to supply oil to the oil tank, they guessed. After first checking his equipment before moving on, Kenan came to a shocking conclusion. "Dammit!" He cursed loudly. "I'm unarmed." Shouldn't have thrown my gun away in despair. He reminded himself and made a mental note never to do something utterly stupid like that again. Zell banged his fists together. "I aint armed either." Kenan rolled his eyes in annoyance. "I can see that. But you're good with hand-to-hand combat. I prefer a gun." "That's right." Zell was more than happy to confirm and started ranting. "…Hand-to-hand is the basis of all combat, only a fool trusts his life to a weapon. Yeah, the clashing of bone and sinew is truly….uh…guys?" By now Kenan had joined up with Squall and the two were walking far ahead. "Whoa!" Zell exclaimed, frantically waving with his arms. "Wait up! Wait for me!" <<------------------------------------------>> Just a bit further down, in a control room only accessible after crossing an almost horizontal ladder, two Galbadian officers were attempting to fully disable Balamb Garden. Their efforts had met with little result, as it appeared someone up at the Garden controls stayed a few steps ahead each time they managed to disable a sub-system. The power outage would thus only be of temporary nature. But finally after having crawled down to MD Level while Balamb Garden was fending off the attack from Galbadia Garden they were getting close to figuring out how to deal with the problems. After spending more than a day in the ill-lit creepy metal dungeon that those Balamb wimps called MD Level they would do something right for a change and get their well-earned promotion. "Well Sir?" Private Wedge called hopefully. He hadn't seen daylight since that SeeD shot him down and he fled towards Balamb Garden's basement, and was getting pretty fed up with the whole effort. -"Let's see," Lieutenant Biggs mumbled, messing around with a set of wires. "Put this here…that there…" A wide smile appeared on his face. "There. I did it!" He stood up, pushed his lower-ranking buddy away from the console and grinned evilly. Wedge recognized it as a lame rip-off of Seifer's evil grin. Biggs came nowhere close to sounding that evil, but it was a nice try nonetheless. Definitely worth a 3.9 out of 5. "Why didn't you just pull all the plugs Sir?" He ignorantly wondered, scratching his butt like a baboon after feeling a nasty itch. Presumably caused by his butt-cushioned landing from a day ago. "If you want a complete power outage--" Biggs bashed him against the wall with his metallic arm. "You idiot! We would be trapped down here if I did that!" Wedge bent down his head in shame. "Oh. Right. Of course. Naturally. You're absolutely--" "Will you shaddap?!" Biggs snapped at him in a fit of rage. "I'm trying to cause optimum mayhem." "This requires silence!" Not quite following his boss's line of reasoning Wedge nodded obediently anyway. Like a child that just received a new fabulous toy to play with, Biggs moved his hands over the many buttons on the panel. He could now disable any system he wanted, since he managed to re-route control to the console in front. "Which will be first?" He asked out loud, but by no means meant for Wedge to open his mouth. "Communications again? Perhaps the lighting? The engines? …So many choices…" -"S-sir?" Wedge tried to warn, tapping on Biggs' shoulder. "Cut that out!" He ordered, swatting his buddy away like a fly. "Can't you see I'm busy?" Wedge took a few steps back and pointed at something beyond the shattered control room window with an anything but a steady hand. "It's them Sir! They're here!!" Biggs gazed at the other end of the horizontal ladder in awe. He was completely frozen in his place by the surprise. The two SeeDs standing there exchanged looks, then smirked at Biggs and Wedge. One held a gunblade not unlike the one Commander Almasy had. The other appeared unarmed at first glance, but by no means appeared any less menacing with his sturdy boots that would definitely leave a mark if used to kick with. "It's him!!" Wedge cried out, pointing at the unarmed SeeD. "He's the one that beat us twice before!!" -"Something isn't right." Biggs realized panicky. "Weren't there always three of them?" "This is insAAAAAaaaaaaaane!!" Zell yelled out on the top of his lungs as he swung with a loose cable over a two hundred feet deep steel chasm towards the control room. -"Go Dincht!" Kenan rooted, just like he always said he would. Biggs raised his metallic arms in defense and Wedge cowardly hid behind his boss's back. To no avail, since Zell perfectly timed his letting go of the cable and crashed landed right on top of the two Galbadian soldiers without suffering any injury himself, miraculously enough. Kenan carefully walked across the horizontal ladder and was first to congratulate Zell for pulling off such an amazing display of courage and stupidity at the same time. "Well done!" He said overjoyed. "You really earned your salary with that one Dincht." -"Ugh. I have no feeling in my legs." Wedge complained. "Do you think you could get off me Sir?" Biggs rolled over and plopped down on the floor with a loud thud. He lay face down, perfectly still, admitting his defeat. Zell looked around himself and swallowed heavily. "I… I… made it?" "Sure did." Kenan laughed out loud. "You might not be such a wimp after all." He bent down on one knee to inspect Biggs and Wedge. "Well well. You two again. I should have known." Biggs let a short choked evil grin then coughed heavily. "W-we give up!" Wedge cried. "Don't hurt us!" Kenan crossed his arms and dug into his mind. "As I recall…you said the same thing during the battle yesterday." Quickly Wedge pasted on a false smile. "I..uh..mean it now?" He offered for the SeeD's approval. -"I found the technicians." Squall informed the others, seeing two men tied up at the bottom of the gigantic oil drum. Simply forgetting the fact that he could have easily gotten himself killed just now, Zell proudly assumed his famous victory pose. "The winner! I totally booyakaded them." Knowing it would be a while before Zell would stop boasting about his achievements of that night, Kenan really didn't care to give him further thanks or congrats. He was able to contact Xu with the console Biggs was about to use for his 'optimum mayhem' and received instructions on how to restore all systems back to normal. The technicians were freed and the Garden was saved. All in a day's work. Of course, a for once quickly thinking Zell did most of the work… But that needn't be repeated out loud too many times. <<------------------------------------------>> Headmaster Cid helped pull up the second Galbadian prisoner of war from the elevator shaft, and lastly a tired-looking Commander Gantt. He beamed with pride. "Excellent work Commander. We've been wondering for some time now what was causing our mysterious power outages, but thanks to your efforts we shouldn't have to worry about that anymore." Zell pasted on an unusually cheesy smile, expecting a promotion or something along those lines. Much to Kenan's amusement the Headmaster only gave him a firm 'good-job-son' pat on the shoulder, while even the stranger Squall got a handshake and a "Thank you." Doctor Kadowaki, carrying a bag full of medical- and diagnostic equipment, arrived in front of the first floor elevator rather rapidly after being called upon. Especially given the fact she had to be called out of her bed for the emergency. "Is everyone okay?" She immediately began asking, thinking along the line of catastrophic accidents and other doomsday-like scenarios. She was met with weird looks, as it appeared nobody bothered to inform her it nothing seriously bad had happened. So they all found out first hand that even a normally very friendly person like the Doc could get a little upset from being called out bed for nothing more than two people who's wrists were slightly injured from being tied together with rope. "Excuse me?" Doctor Kadowaki asked. Her tone of voice revealed she was being anything but polite. "Rope cuts? I'm dragged out of my bed late in the evening for rope cuts?" Headmaster Cid tried his best putting the Doctor at ease, but all her stress and anxiety of the last few days had bundled up, ready to be released in full. Knowing what was best for them, everyone fled the scene before being dragged into it. Kenan made sure a Garden Faculty escorted Biggs and Wedge to the brig, where they would undoubtedly spent some quality time with the other Galbadian prisoners. Sun…sea…hot chicks…great food… Those were but a few things they'd surely miss out on during their stay behind bars. Hey kids, what have we learned? Kenan sarcastically asked himself like he was Barney, the purple-colored T-Rexaur that he used to adore as a child. -A long, long time ago!- That's right. He thought, continuing with his mental charade. Crime-does-not-pay. He stopped and realized he had forgotten their special victory group hug. Shoot, wouldn't you know it? "Yo Kenan," Zell called out from behind, freeing him from his childish thoughts. "Where you goin'?" Kenan looked around and realized he'd been subconsciously walking towards…the front gate? Yeah. That's where he had headed. The thought of getting some fresh air, as opposed to the oil-stench from MD Level must have crossed his mind without him consciously being able to recall it. -"For a stroll." He explained to hero of the day. Though luckily few knew of the title. "How about you?" "Well," He started but was cut off by a yawn. "…Take a wild guess." Kenan laughed. "Goodnight then. And, please, try not to wet the bed again. We're running out of clean sheets…" "Oi!" Zell grumbled, recalling that particular incident. "I told you! I spilled some water, okay?! Water!" -"Sure Zell." Kenan agreed, way too eager. "Whatever you say." Too tired to fire up that old argument again, Zell retreated to his quarters. Knowing the door would open, at last! <<------------------------------------------>> Rain pelted down outside. It felt warm as if hit Kenan's skin. An occasional gust of wind made his hair fly in almost all directions. … … … He stared across the barren Centra land. Even in the darkness it revealed a certain beauty only a Centra like him could ever truly comprehend. The land of his ancestors. Barren or not, it showed incredible strength. Neither the insistent rain nor the thunderstorms could bring any harm to it. It would remain untouched like Kenan saw before him until the end of time. Yet it used to be truly beautiful, long ago. No scientists, archeologists, historians or scholars could ever fully grasp what caused such dreadful thing as the death of an entire tribe and its land. "A 4000 year old civilization. They were the first immigrants in the areas now called Esthar and The Dollet Dukedom. The Lunar Cry of 80 years ago wiped out the entire population on the Centra Continent." Was what the schoolbooks said about the Centra. But Kenan never believed they were all wiped out. His family's existence proved that theory to be incorrect. Their genetics were different from those of other humans. They were descendants of that ancient civilization. He crossed his arms. How did so many die, but my family and a few other ones survive? Eighty years ago…it seemed so…close by. Yet eighty years ago was the time of the First Sorceress War. The modern technologies had hardly been invented yet. It was like the entire planet still lived in the dark ages. And nobody but the Centra survivors knew of their civilization's disappearance. Even the people who had immigrated across the seas during the course of the four centuries history of the Centra race didn't know of it. How could almost an entire race suddenly vanish? "The Centra…like humans today…got too powerful. They had lived peacefully for so long, but a Sorceress from the North started a terrible war." Kenan's dad used to tell him all the time. "It was magic son! No Lunar Cry or any of that hubbub, misused magic killed our people." What kind of magic could be that powerful? He always wondered. Nobody knew. The survivors themselves didn't know what happened. "A Sorceress?!" He demanded, looking up at the sky. It was exactly the same dark sky that appeared the day his father was buried. He asked the same question as he did that fateful day seven years ago. "The work of a Sorceress?" It had to be a Sorceress who did it. He was convinced of it. A Sorceress killed them all. His dad…his mom…his entire civilization. It was a never-ending curse the Gantts carried with them. Tia had already encountered her 'fate'. When would he? To end the curse once and for all…he decided at young age that he wanted to become a SeeD. So he could fight fate. No Sorceress would do a terrible thing again, ever! Fate isn't something written down in advance, waiting to happen. I have the power to change fate… He was a bit startled as thunder struck down from the ominous dark clouds that very moment. As if Mother Nature ironically showed Kenan there were always limitations to humans changing their own fate. The thunder struck nowhere near him, yet he was concerned about the fact he was standing out in the open. Didn't thunder always strike at the highest point? He looked over his shoulder. He had by now walked a good distance away from the low-hovering Balamb Garden, but could still make out the Esthar soldiers guarding the front gate. Kenan sighed. He couldn't exactly point out why, but he didn't mind standing there all by himself, slowly getting soaked. Finally some time to stop and think, could that be it? Not many distractions in this sort of landscape… Part of an old Centra tale described the land best. Angelus Errare; A place where even angels don't dwell. The rain was turning the usually dry land to mud. There were pools of water all around now. He smiled, and listened to the howling wind. "The wind, it's the cry of the planet. Listen closely, and you might hear what its trying to say. " His dad used to tell him whenever he got frightened as a kid by a storm outside. Sometimes he'd sit in the dark attic, all alone, trying to understand the planet's cries. But he never really heard anything. As he grew older he realized such a thing was nonsense… "It's not very wise standing out here, unarmed." He turned around and Squall holding his gunblade stepped up to him. "There might be monsters here." Kenan eyed him momentarily, then once again stared at the endless landmass in front, not minding the company. "Those Geezards might cause some nasty injuries if you're caught off guard." He warned again. -"It's okay." Kenan remarked. "It seems no monster dares show its ugly head around here anyway." And he was right. Not a creature was stirring. This land…it didn't look familiar to Squall. "…This is what you call Zone Two? I don't recall ever seeing such a place on the Centra Continent when I traveled through it." -"The Continent is quite large." He offered. "You may have over looked it." Squall shook his head. "I doubt it." -"Strange." Kenan muttered but didn't think much of it. "But what's ever stranger, why did Sorceress Adel attack only you? She was more powerful than the Adel you recall, why didn't she attack us all?" He knew by what he had witnessed in the Command Center that she could have won the battle, yet she chose to avoid it. Why did she attack only Squall, and let Laguna whom she hated so much the chance to escape? "I don't know." Squall replied honestly. "…There are lots of things I don't know…" -"Same goes for me." Kenan grinned. "Oh, but if there's anything you wish to ask, go ahead." Squall looked at his gunblade. The one he stole from Seifer. "Who killed him?" He wanted to know. "Was it the Sorceress?" Kenan looked aside. "You mean Seifer? I dunno actually, you sure you didn't?" "No. But If Adel hadn't shown up…" He paused. Would I have killed him? He didn't know. Despite everything Seifer had done, he didn't know. In a way, there was always a mutual understanding between him and Seifer, even if they acted like enemies and fought all the time. The Seifer Squall encountered in Esthar was weak. He wasn't the real Seifer. Perhaps in a world where Squall hadn't been around, Seifer didn't have anyone to spar with it and hone his skills. A world where I was never around…is that it? No, it can't be. The Sorceress attacked Esthar in the Lunatic Pandora. That couldn't happen all because I wasn't around… … …It makes no sense! I don't get it! "Say," Kenan started, interrupting his thoughts. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about Skye, would you?" Squall rubbed his temples. "She told me that she had washed ashore, suffering from amnesia. All she had on her was a dog-tag with the her name on it." Kenan beamed, his dirty mind kicking in. "You mean, she was naked besides that?" "No." Squall told him with a serious face. "I doubt that." Moron. He laughed, then ran his hand through his hair. "Okay, but seriously. That tag could be a clue. Civilians don't normally wear dog tags, do they? So--" "She is in some military." Squall concluded at the same time. Kenan grinned in disbelief. "And the hits just keep on coming…" The wind flared up. Both men shivered from the unexpected coldness. "I'm going to head back inside." Kenan told Squall. "I suggest you do the same." He zipped his jacket tightly closed. "I think I will." Kenan started walking back towards Balamb Garden. "I have one other question." Squall said, thinking now would be the best time to ask since the guy appeared in a good mood. "It's about Rinoa." Kenan stopped and turned. "Your girlie, huh? Sure…shoot." "Didn't you have a contract with her?" He asked. "I'm wondering how you could have dropped her off in Timber." -"It wasn't easy." Kenan sighed and crossed his arms. "Naturally she wanted to stay with us, but I thought it would be best if she stayed with her friends in Timber. A lot safer, you know? I talked about it with Headmaster Cid and he allowed the contract to be canceled." Squall nodded as if he understood and continued walking. Feeling sleep creep up, Kenan rubbed his eyes. Bed…here I come…He thought and had only one goal in sight now; getting some shut-eye.