Ellone noticed her Uncle sitting in a far corner of the large room and walked over. "Uncle Laguna?" She called with a slightly worried tone of voice. "What's going on? I woke up to the sound of soldiers moving up and down the hallways. Are we being attacked?" He looked up and smiled warmly. "Oh, I'm sorry they woke you too. Nothing to worry about, you'd best go to bed." She took a seat next to him and stared him in the eyes. It was real sweet of him to tell her not to worry, but something was very wrong, she could tell…she could always tell. Reading him like an open book. Laguna absently tapped his fingers against the panel on the melody of some song he remembered from his childhood. But Ellone didn't go back to her room like he told her. "They're coming for me again, aren't they?" Ellone asked rhetorically. "…I'm a danger to everyone here." Her Uncle placed his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. "We already talked about this. I'm not gonna let Ultimecia get you, no matter what. Besides…I think Sorceress Adel would attack Esthar anyways. She's got a score to settle with me for shooting her into space and all." She smiled. "Perhaps that is true, but I still feel--" "Hey, hey, cheer up Elly!" Laguna told her with a wide goofy smile. "Okay, topic change. About that Sorceress coming to Esthar? When is she due to arrive?" Ellone closed her eyes. She could feel the Sorceress's powers. It drew nearer every second, but how far away those powers were, she couldn't tell. Her ability to sense a Sorceress was brand new, or perhaps she had always had it, but never knew about it until a few nights ago. Suddenly she felt every Sorceress on the entire planet. A strange sensation, yet enlightening. Who would have known there were that many? Some less powerful than others, maybe not aware of their own powers even… "I'm sorry, " Ellone apologized. "I don't know exactly. But she will be here soon." Laguna nodded and switched on the Com. system. "Kiros, are you there?" -"Yeah, still down here." He replied. "No news yet." "Well, I have a feeling our Sorceress will arrive shortly." Laguna informed him. "Stay sharp." And the transmission was ended again. If only they could contact their sources in Galbadia as easily as that. <<------------------------------------------>> Kenan sighed. "Oh-kay, one more time…ready?" Zell and Irvine looked at him. "Kay--none." He told them. Irvine scratched his forehead and tipped his hat up slightly. "Kay-non?" He smiled. "That's my name. Well, not quite pronounced like that, but that's about the closest I can get in this language." "Kay-none." Zell chuckled. "Why didn't you ever tell us that was your name?" Behind the three men, Selphie and Quistis were chuckling gleefully. Kenan glared over his shoulder. "Oh come on, it is a Centra name. One could at least pronounce it properly." "So why don't you spell it like it's pronounced?" Quistis rationally suggested. -"Okay, one should at least pronounce AND spell it the Centra way." He corrected. Zell rubbed his eyes. Probably for the tenth time in the last few minutes. The endless path was really starting to get to him. Five hours, that's how long he estimated the journey cost so far. Five long hours of walking on an endless deserted Rail Bridge, whoo, what great fun. Sure, he could talk to his team buddies, but everyone prefers a pillow and a warm bed to his friends from time to time. That time was probably six hours ago, back when they were still at Balamb Garden being briefed on the situation. Irvine scanned around. No sun to see…yet. He knew it'd be sunrise soon now. Within the hour for sure. And then Esthar would become visible; or at least the cliffs around it. I bet they have great beds in Esthar. High-tech and all…yeah. "Looks like we're not going to catch up in time." Quistis pointed out in a soft tone of voice. Kenan sighed heavily. "I know, I know. Let's just hope Laguna has some common sense and won't just help Leonhart and the Sorceress." -"Knowing Laguna…" Selphie reasoned. "He probably will. He helped us SeeDs, so why wouldn't he help Squall?" A few small stones were kicked ahead. Quistis looked up. It was Kenan who did the kicking. "Commander?" -"Dammit." He cursed. "Sel's right. I failed again." Everyone looked down. Nobody quite knew what to say to that. Sure, Kenan was being too hard on himself, but there was an unmistakable truth to it. He did fail before. "Oh come on. It's not over yet." Zell of all people said to encourage the Commander. "We'll save the day, right guys?" Selphie jumped up with a wide smile. "No, you're wrong Zell." He looked at her. "Uh…wha? I am?" "We're gonna save the world!" She exclaimed cheerfully with some other newly found source of energy. They laughed. Some miles ahead, Sorceress Skye and the SeeD Squall Leonhart were closing in on the entrance to Esthar. They could see the supposed salt-flats just up ahead. Thus the end of the Railway Bridge was finally in sight after a long nightly walk. Skye looked aside at Squall. "I don't see Esthar, are you sure it's there?" "Yes." Squall stated. "They've just cloaked the city, as a precaution I guess." She smiled reassured. "Oh, okay. So we just ring the bell then?" -"Yeah." Her eyes narrowed. "You weren't even listening to me." … … … He paused as they were but a few steps away from land, real land. "I thought I heard something up ahead." She peered over the salt-flats, paying attention to any and all sounds coming from it. "There's nothing there!" A cold howling wind was about all she heard. Strange how that's supposed to be only a holographic projection or something…at least, that's what Squall told her. He gestured her to keep it down. She skeptically crossed her arms. Is he getting paranoid now? Squall looked up. "It's coming from up high somewhere. Don't you hear it?" "Sorry to dissap--" She started then her eyes widened. "Wait a minute! I hear it!" The sound was only slightly louder than that of the strong wind ahead, no wonder she couldn't hear it right away. Squall must have great hearing, or heard that sound before? She turned to him. He stood searching the skies ahead. "What is it Squall?" Before he could answer her, the sound doubled and suddenly echoed loudly in the salt-flat valley. Some mere seconds later, two dark shapes flew over side by side at tremendous speeds, with engines roaring. No doubt now, those were airplanes. It was too dark to clearly point out which kind, but with the blinking lights on their wings, the roaring engines, and speed with which they flew by, this was the most logical conclusion. Squall followed the lights for a moment. He shrugged. They were heading directly for FH; they flew almost perfectly above the Railway Bridge. Where would they go there in such hurry? Balamb Garden? He considered it wasn't definite they were headed for the Garden. And it wasn't really his concern right now. "Uhm…Squall…I think you might wanna, uh, tell these guys a thing or two…" Skye uttered as she held up her hands. As he turned around, he noticed a squad of Esthar soldiers had suddenly appeared in front of them, holding up their weapons in a threatening way. "Identify yourself." A soldier directly in front of Squall ordered. "And state your business here." He sighed and threw his gunblade on the ground, to show he was now unarmed, and reached for something in his pocket. Most soldiers aimed their weapons at the young man, as if saying 'don't try anything'. A sense of déjà vu came over Squall. This looked very familiar… He came up with a small card and tossed it to the apparent leader of the pack. "I am Squall Leonhart. SeeD from Balamb Garden." -"Balamb Garden…eh?" The soldier with his card mumbled. "Your card checks out. But who's the girl?" Skye looked at Squall. Seems he left the explaining to her now. "My name is Skye. I'm…a Sorceress. The Galbadians captured me, then Squall freed me. But the Odine's bangle around my neck can't be removed by anyone but Doctor Odine himself, so I'm here to see him. Squall is my escort." The lead soldier was about to reach for his communicator, when he realized they were probably out of internal communications' range. They'd have to be in Esthar to be able to contact anyone. Squall frowned. "Galbadians captured you? I'm your escort?" He whispered. "Yeah well, I had to think of something. You can tell your story once we're inside." She told him reassuringly. On command of the leader, the soldiers lowered their weapons. As ordered, they would just have to take them to Mr. Seagill. He would take care of the rest. With another gesture from the presumed leader, all soldiers except him went to their hiding places again. Some sort of welcoming committee, Skye pondered. The soldier folded his hands on his back. "I'll escort you inside." Squall moved to pick up his gunblade, and carefully sheathed it. "Okay, let's go." -"You're the boss." She grinned and joined up with him. They followed the soldier through the salt flats. Squall was somewhat surprised there were no creatures in sight anywhere. Last time he passed through, there were quite some battles. "It's not far." The soldier assured them. Skye sighed but kept up with the two men. She was now starting to get tired, even powers of a Sorceress have their limits…apparently. After walking some minutes the soldier stopped at the edge of a high cliff. "It's somewhere around here." "I hope so…" Skye stated seeing a long valley up ahead, but no signs of Esthar. She heard some strange sounds coming from her left. Kind of…electric or something? Squall heard it too and soon found the ladder leading to Esthar. "Here it is." The soldier smiled. "Ah, you've been here before?" He took position beside the ladder. "Guests first." Squall just shook his head, and climbed up the ladder. Skye grinned, obviously more impressed by the soldier's kindness. <<------------------------------------------>> They walked in and as the door closed a bell rung behind the counter. A rather hefty man appeared from a room next to the shop. Raijin counted his chins…there were about three of em…. "Bloody hell…wat ken I 'elp ye wit?" The man asked in some strange dialect of his own. Seifer concluded it must have been hard talking normal when you're so fat you need to sit on two chairs. He leaned against the counter and smirked. "I want a gunblade." The shopkeeper rubbed his eyes. "Do ye 'ave any idea wat time it is?" "Well, do ye?" He asked impatiently as the three customers just stared at him coldly. A rather strange bunch. Raijin nodded and stretched. "We had to get up early, ya know?" Seifer looked around the small Weapons Shop. Not exactly much choice, but FH did have a sort of 'peaceful town' reputation. Still, he found the one he was looking for. "I'll have that Flame Saber." He told the shopkeeper. He groaned, but since business wasn't exactly flourishing lately, he'd help his early customers. "It's cheaper to collect de items needed for it yerselves." He said as he grabbed the red gunblade from his assortment. Fujin glared at the small clock in the shop. "NO TIME." Seifer grinned. "Yeah, we have some…business to take care of." The shopkeeper threw the gunblade on the counter. "Oh-kay, dat'll be…" As he looked up from the prize-list he was sifting through, he saw the tip of the blade being held mere inches from his neck. Or one of his many chins as Raijin thought. "SEIFER." Fujin called with a hint of annoyance and stepped up to the counter. She gave the man a few thousand gil. The shopkeeper smiled thankfully, already forgetting about the threatening gunblade. "Dat'll do…tanks lady." Fujin and Raijin stepped outside. Seifer followed behind, looking down at his new gunblade. He switched it from his left-hand to his right and then back again. The first thing a good soldier should do when he gets a new weapon is familiarize himself with it. And Seifer obviously considered himself a good soldier. But that Leonhart guy really bothered him. Is it possible that he is stronger than me?! He wondered. I am the Sorceress' Knight! Nobody can beat me! Fujin and Raijin nervously scanned around. Still no Balamb students anywhere, even though the Garden was docked in town. It was quite odd, but they didn't really mind. Perhaps they caused more damage then they realized? "Cut it out you two." Seifer ordered uncomfortable with their precautions. "They're busy with repairs. And while they do that, we take over Esthar, kill Leonhart and capture Sorceress Skye. Simple really…" Fujin nodded. "AFFIRMATIVE." Seifer sheathed his newly acquired gunblade and looked up at the skies. "Let's get some distance from FH so the Lunatic Pandora can pick us up." He said, pointing to the road leading up to the Rail Bridge. "We should be able to walk a bit closer to Esthar if we go up there." <<------------------------------------------>> The soldier that had escorted Skye and Squall inside left to rejoin his squad. Another group of soldiers now stood in front of the two at the city entrance. Although it looked more like a docking platform of some kind to Skye. She gasped in amazement. Sure Squall had told her a bit about Esthar, but still the sight of such a huge city appearing out of thin air was breathtaking. "I'm Squall Leonhart." Squall sighed. "From Balamb Garden." He added quickly. Two men stepped up to him from the group of soldiers. Squall recognized them right away. Kiros and Ward. Kiros smiled. "I'm glad to finally be able to talk to someone from Balamb Garden. We can't contact anyone on the outside anymore, since our equipment was destroyed. And we were worried about the Balamb Forces." Ward's face politely lit up, no doubt his way of greeting since he can't use his voice anymore. Skye peered up at the big guy. "Hi. My name's Skye." By his looks she could tell he was no treat. The other guy, the dark-skinned one, just looked at her strangely. "Are you the Sorceress we've been waiting for?" She looked down, embarrassed having to admit to this in front of all those soldiers. "Y-yes" One didn't need special powers to sense their fear. Ward smiled and tapped his buddy Kiros on the shoulder then gestured to move to the car. "Of course." Kiros said. He turned to the two guests. "Forgive my lack of manners. Please follow us to the Presidential Palace, we'll talk once we get there." They followed Ward to the car and got in. Kiros turned to the group of soldiers that were eyeing the newly arrived Sorceress. "Return to guard duty." "Yes Sir!" Skye looked at the jolly big guy sitting next to her in the back of the car. "So, what's your name?" She was so delighted to finally be able to talk to someone. Squall wasn't really the conversationalist, so she learned. The man looked at her and smiled…but it soon faded. -"His name is Ward. He's one of the President's aids here." Squall explained from the other side of the guy. "He lost his voice some time ago." Ward looked aside at the young man, amazed he knew all that about him. This wasn't one of the SeeDs that had visited Esthar a while ago. Skye turned, but could only see Squall's head. Ward's stomach blocked most else one could see on her right side. "I'm sorry, I didn't know that." She apologized to the President's aid. He shook his head. It was okay. Ward had experienced this sort of thing many times. People would talk to him and no matter how much he wished he could say something back…he never could. The door to the driver's seat opened and Kiros took place behind the wheel. After a few seconds the car hovered up from the ground and drove off. "We'll be at the Palace in no time" He assured. "Wow!" Skye exclaimed as the car drove over the highway. A swirling, purple colored road that ran everywhere. Squall looked out the window briefly, but was hardly impressed. He had too much on his mind to be sightseeing. "Uhm, excuse me Sir?" Skye called to the man on the driver's seat. -"Call me Kiros." He grinned. "Sir makes me sound old." You are old. Squall thought. Skye smiled. Strange how she felt so comfortable around Kiros and Ward even though she'd never met them before. They had this kind of laid-back attitude which a…certain SeeD she knew…lacked. She sat up straight in her seat. "Uhm, Kiros, you said you were waiting for me? How did you--?" Squall lifted his head up in curiosity. That was a good question. How could they know? "Well," Kiros started off but he had to focus on driving as they passed a long row of armored vehicles. The vehicles were quite large and took up most of the road. One had to drive carefully in order not to scrape any. Soldiers on top and alongside of the armored cars seemed to be getting ready to move; they were all geared up. Sighing in relief he hadn't hit any of the APCs, Kiros looked in the rear view mirror at the Sorceress. "Do you know Ellone? She is the one that informed the President a Sorceress was on her way to our city." Ward grumbled a bit, but maintained a smile on his face. "Don't mind him." Kiros grinned. "It's just that we've been waiting all night." -"Well, we've been up all night too." Skye pointed out with a sudden sleepy face. "It's a long walk to Esthar…" Ward turned to the young Sorceress with a surprised look on his face. "Yeah, we've been walking all night long." She replied to his question, even though he couldn't voice it. In front of the car and slightly to the left, Skye noticed a huge building. All roads seem to lead up there. It was probable that's where they were headed now as well. "So, Ellone is here?" Squall asked. "In Esthar?" Kiros nodded but kept his eyes on the road. "Ellone should be in the Palace. Hmm…I thought all SeeDs knew this…" He looked in the rear view mirror and noticed something metallic around the young woman's neck. "Sorceress Skye? If you don't mind me asking, isn't that a Odine bangle?" "Please, call me Skye." She laughed. The way he said Sorceress was new to her. He didn't say it with fear, more with respect. Still she'd rather not be called that at all. "Yes it is." She said to answer the question. "I'm here to get it removed. Only Doctor Odine can, I think." They neared the huge building now. Kiros slowed the car down a bit. Eventually the car stopped exactly in front of the Palace, in the middle of the road. Ward grinned. "Yeah, I learned to drive from Laguna." Kiros laughed as he opened his door. "And I have his way of parking a car." Skye remained seated till the kind Kiros opened the car door for her. She could really enjoy being treating like royalty or something. If only it was just that, royalty. Ward and Squall crawled out on the other side of the car. "Shall we see Doc Odine right now?" Kiros politely asked. "I'm sure that thing is uncomfortable around your neck." -"Oh, that'd be great." Skye replied and turned to Squall. He seemed as indifferent as ever, but that was just his style. "Go ahead." He told her. "I need to speak to Ellone." Kiros and Ward let the two guests into the palace. To Skye's amusement, they had to ride some sort of hovering couch to actually get in the building. Once inside they trudged down a long hallway, decorated with beautiful paintings on the walls and with a great carpet on the floor to walk on. Truly a hallway fit for a King, Skye observed. Up ahead, the hallway split in two. "Odine is this way." Kiros said and gestured Ward to take the other. "Escort Mr. Leonhart to Ellone." His big buddy made a goofy kind of salute and led Squall in down the other hall. "See ya Squall." Skye grinned and waved him off. He didn't say a thing or even look back. -"Hmpf." She mumbled with hands on her hips. "Didn't even say goodbye." Kiros shook his head and led Skye down the hall. "Just follow me please." <<------------------------------------------>> Selphie jumped up and down "WHOO-HOO!" "We made it! Isn't this great guys?!" Zell rubbed his eyes again and looked down. Dirt had started to clog around his shoes. "Yeah…great." They made it to the Esthar continent. He would have been happier about it if he was fully awake. -"It's nice, but that remember the mission?" Kenan asked Selphie. "Were we to reach Esthar? That aint it, I think." Selphie stopped jumping around. "…I'm sorry Commander…" Quistis folded her arms. "Don't be so hard on her Kenan. I think it's quite an achievement that we made it." Irvine took of his hat and ran one hand trough his hair. "Quis is right. We left at sunset, and now we're her at sunrise." "That's really not bad, you know?" Everyone looked at the sun, as it rose over the horizon. The bright, almost cheery color of the sun was beautifully reflected in the clear blue ocean water. "…I forgot dirt could be so dirty…" Zell whimpered as he took off one shoe in a vain attempt to clean it. Irvine put on his hat. "Thanks for ruining the moment Zell…" -"Huh? What moment?" "Come on guys." Kenan said and walked further towards the salt flats. Now that they were actually already on the land surrounding Esthar, it shouldn't be far to the City entrance anymore. Zell hopped one on foot behind, trying to get his shoe back on at the same time. "Uhm, hey guys?" He called. No response. "Wait up. Wait for me!" He yelled then hopped after 'em He stumbled over a rock and fell face down in a puddle of mud. Finally everyone looked back. Irvine and Kenan were laughing so much they nearly forgot to breathe. At first Selphie and Quistis laughed a bit too, then they felt sorry for the guy. It could have happened to anyone. There was no need to humiliate Zell. "Here, let me help ya buddy." Selphie said and pulled him up. She looked at him. "Ew, his face turned to mud!" Quistis giggled. "No Selphie. His face is just completely covered with it." -"That's kinda gross." She chirped then giggled. "You're not eating the mud, are ya Zellie??" He managed to wipe most mud off with his hands. "No Selphie. Even I'm not THAT hungry…gee…" "Aw. Cut it out!" Zell snapped, noticing the two jerks were still not finished with laughing. His face glowed red. Kenan stopped laughing and softly hit Irvine in the chest to stop him too. "Ooof. " He held up his hands. "Sorry Zell. But ya should have seen how ya looked covered with all that mud…heheheh." "You should have been more careful." Irvine told his unfortunate buddy. Zell's body sagged. "Yeah…well it's hard to see where I'm going if my eyelids keep sagging. I'm dead tired." "Don't worry," Quistis pointed out. "I'm sure Laguna will let us sleep-over." Selphie started dancing around a bit. "Whoo-hoo! Let's make it a slumber party!" Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Uh, Selphie, that's not exactly what I meant." "That's what ya said." Kenan laughed then stretched. "Ugh, we could all use some sleep." Selphie, Zell and Quistis stared back at him rather strangely. -"Whoa, what?" He asked, not sure what this was all about now. "Behind you." The three SeeDs said at about the same time. He gasped and slowly turned around. A group of Esthar soldiers stood with guns aimed at his head.