Gaia8 - Balamb Plains North
The narrow dirt road continues to wind its way around the green landscape, winding between trees and sparse hills, finally coming to an end at the foot of the Balamb Garden. The front of the garden is quite pretty and is decorated in various wild and domestic plants, trees and shrubbery. There is even a cement road carved out of the landscape, winding its way around the plains from the base of the garden. A large mountain rises just behind the garden although it looks quite impassable, and sparse forests dot the remaining landscape.
<Garden> [leads to 'Balamb Garden - Entryway']
<South> [leads to 'Gaia8 - Balamb Plains Central']
Zack has arrived.
Sometimes, when it's just me and my bike on the dirt road...I kinda lose myself.
Was what Zack might have said if he still had a motorcycle, or numerous other things; lacking such things as he was, he had a large sword slung across his back, a travel bag slung over his shoulder, a fine coat of travel dust and a nice little device he'd snagged for the bargain price of 300 gil while still on Spira (passing through Luca quickly to Get the Hell Out Of There) which was actually ShinRa-made-- played music and stuff. He'd made sure to get plenty of records of music-- some good, some not so good for traveling-- before he'd left, and that'd cost him almost as much as the player in the end, but at least he had something to LISTEN to while he traipsed all over everywhere.
Currently his selection was something nice and loud. And since he was traveling alone-- out in the open-- on a dusty road, on foot, with no one around to see him-- he was jamming out whilst he walked.
With his eyes closed. Not that he'd ever been here before, but he figured he was feeling pretty good, it wouldn't be too big a deal. The beasties 'round here stayed away from the roads for whatever reason, and they weren't /that/ tough.
"So you think you can love me and leave me to dieeee! OHhhhh /baybeeee~/"
Too bad that the flying military academies don't stay away from the roads here, because Zack is getting awfully close to one of those.
This may be evidenced by the approach of Rinoa from the Garden not that far away now. She's rather less dust-coated (or if it's there, it doesn't show up against the glow). She's carrying nothing (at least, nothing immediately visible--there is a weapon-shaped lump at her side beneath her vest if one looks closely. One never knows when one's going to have to detour off the roads, after all) and she doesn't seem at all ready for a Long Journey, but she *does* look determined and a little bit frustrated.
The sound of music distracts her, though, and she stops, blinking and squinting and...is that who she thinks it is? And what is that he's playing? Does he have more? Maybe some of it is good for dancing.
Right, right. Back to the matter at hand-- "Zack!" She waves enthusiastically and breaks into a run to approach him. "You're here at a perfect time! I need your help--we're going to stand in the middle of the road and wait for Squall." Not bothering to wait for his response, she continues, "He had something to take care of in Balamb earlier today," what it is, she doesn't know and she doesn't particularly care--she just checked to make sure it wasn't anything especially stupid or dangerous, "and I know that as soon as he gets back, he'll go hide so that I can't track him down. So we're going to stop him before he can do that."
She smiles too brightly and awaits Zack's response. Or rather, his assent. She doesn't seem to comprehend that he might prefer not to get involved in some crazy Squall-catching scheme.
Galileo, Galileo Figa-- wait, wha-- "Rinoa!" Whoops, let him turn off his music and stuff the equipment into his bag. "Hi! Whoa, haven't seen you in a while--who's Squall?" Stand in the road and wait for him? Well, he supposed he wasn't doing anything better. "Okay!" His grin (if a bit dusty) was as genuine as it would have been if she'd asked if he liked puppies, wanted to help her repair a greasy old car, or thought that Sephiroth looked funny with his hair in a braid.
"Is he your boyfriend?" He asked teasingly, as he waited for her to lead him to whereever they were supposed to be waiting for the man. "What's he look like? Is he good to you? I could beat him up a little if he's bein' a doofus, sometimes that gets through to guys." Zack, the well-meaning soldier!
We does things differently back in Midgar, boy.
Rinoa's timing is impeccable... but then again, she has a certain advantage when it comes to intercepting Squalls. Somewhere around the time that Zack is turning off, a faint rumbling sound becomes audible from a long ways down the road back toward Balamb. It grows gradually but steadily louder, heralding - along with some puffs of kicked-up dust rising beyond those last few rises back there - the approach of something that talks in a mechanical rumble, which grows in turn into the full-throated roar of an engine. And then Squall is rumbling into view, all black leather and the bulk of his gunblade hunkered down over the motorcycle he left Garden on much earlier this morning, the rush of moving air whipping his hair around his face.
Naturally he never wears a helmet.
"An idiot," Rinoa retorts in response to the question of just who exactly this Squall is. She doesn't seem particularly grateful that Zack is helping out--after all, that's only what she expects from him. And, well, from everybody around her, but she's especially confident in Zack. "And he's only my boyfriend because I'm willing to put up with idiocy from him. But there's such a thing as too much!"
She opens her mouth to go into the rest of Zack's questions. After all, if he's going to help her (and of course he is), he deserves some answers. But that's when she catches sight of Squall's approach from afar. She peers a little closer, to make sure that it *is* him. Then, as he comes fully into view, she nods decisively and points. "He looks like *that*." A beat. "Pretty, huh?"
An idiot, you say? "Really? So maybe it'd do him a little good if I knock some sense into him, right?" He grinned, dropping his travel pack, cracking his shoulders and, as he followed her pointing finger, chuckling. "That's your guy? Nice ride, nicer rider! Okay, Rinoa, I'll see if I can catch him." She has good taste in men, he's concluded, because the man he sees has a good taste in machinery. Clearly this is how judging good boyfriend material should be done. After all, /he/ was good material for Aerith because of his own taste in flowers and awesome rad motorbikes as well, right? And Rinoa was kinda like Aerith. Cute, anyway.
Too young for him, though. Probably just right for this Squall guy! Unsheathing the massive, wicked-looking sword on his back, Zack crowed and stepped into the middle of the road. Running his fingertips over the Time materia in his bracer, he began to cast a Slow spell once he'd managed to more or less get a sense of his target. There wasn't a lot of distance between the two of them by the time he'd flung the spell out-- probably just barely enough to brake in time before Squall either had to swerve off the road to avoid him or hit Zack square in the stomach-- but as he braced himself, legs apart and sword raised like a baseball bat, he grinned devilishly and waited.
And if all went well, the Slow would hit and slow Squall down enough to prevent his speed from making the collision fatal, and Zack would swing when the distance was right to smack Squall off of his bike with the flat of the blade.
...yes, he is a man of solutions, this man. Unconventional, to be sure, but...well, theoretically he would be delivering Squall right at Rinoa's feet, more or less!
"Think fast, kid!"
<OOC> Zack apologizes, he always makes the worst plans.
<OOC> Squall ...facepalms. :)
<OOC> Rinoa says, "It's okay, he's resilient. He can take a lot of damage. :D"
<OOC> Zack says, "Which? I know /I/ can. ;) Can he?"
<OOC> Rinoa says, "...yes."
Still some ways off, Squall's seat on the bike begins to straighten a little, and his headlong speed begins to ease off - Rinoa's tripped his radar. As much because of that as anything else, the spell Zack casts takes him almost completely off-guard, and abruptly the motorcycle and its rider are moving in slow-motion, overtaken by their own dustcloud.
And that's when things go south. In the space between the first flare of magic and the spell snapping into effect, Squall is already reacting; he ditches the bike without a thought, wrenching the handlebars and his weight into the seat. The Slow kicks in just as he's throwing himself into a slide that drops him underneath the arc of Zack's swing... which is good, because it means the pile of metal and mercenary that's bearing down on Zack is suddenly moving a good bit slower, the difference between a bone-breaking impact and a rather more comical dogpile.
Only *after* she has enlisted Zack's help and explained the situation (as best as she was able to in that short amount of time, anyway) to him does Rinoa realize that maybe Zack was not the best choice for co-conspirator in this little mission.
She stands on tiptoe as she watches him, her eyes going wide. "Zack, that might not be the best idea, he's got--"
--combat reflexes, she's about to say, but by then he's already demonstrating. She winces--but damned if she's going to let either of them get hurt. Not, admittedly, that there's much to do at this point. "Protect!" she blurts out, and a faint shimmer surrounds both Zack and Squall.
Then she's clapping a hand to her mouth and cringing slightly in preparation for any injuries she may need to deal with.
It was like becoming a HUMAN ROCKET, in a way, except he didn't fly very far and as he fell, he realized he was still holding his sword and, what's more, it might be dangerously close to lopping off someone's head (or at least wrenching his hand pretty hard), so he brought his right arm down, point of the blade jamming into the dirt, and let go the instant he felt it tugging against his hand, letting gravity take him the rest of the way and tumbling back from the impact like a slinky falls down stairs.
He didn't miss the blue gleam of Protect, nor the flash of steel that meant the bike was still coming towards him (slowed, thankfully), and as he finally hit he reached back with his now-free hands, shoving against the dirt to spring up and to the side (out of the path of the bike), landing on his feet and stumbling back a step or two as he tried to gauge whether they'd sufficiently grabbed the guy's attention. Say, enough to make him get off the bike and pay attention to Rinoa.
If so, they were set and he could focus on his aching stomach; if not then he was going to ignore it and leap at the guy. Hey, you! "Damn, I'm impressed," he grinned, appreciative of the pummeling he'd taken in the process.
Oh, he's gotten Squall's attention, all right. The motorcycle grates to a dusty, grinding stop fully on its side, carrying Squall along with it, and it's a good thing his habitual wardrobe is built to take a lot of punishment or he'd be one long painful scrape. As it is, he's probably kind of bruised, and he looks supremely put out as he disengages himself from the bike and levers himself up - still in slow motion - with one arm.
Slows are always such a pain in the ass.
He gets a knee under himself, taking his weight off his hand to allow him to bring it up. First order of business is to trace, in half-time, the lines of a spell in the air, surrounding himself briefly in a swell of the green-blue-violet shimmering of an Esuna. And then, in realtime once more, he hauls himself up to his feet, looking between Rinoa and the guy who tried to clothesline him off a moving motorcycle.
"What," says Squall. "*The hell.* Was that about."
"That," Rinoa declares, hands on her hips, "was about getting your attention so that you wouldn't dash back to Garden and hide from me again."
But as she makes her way to where the two of them stand, in varying states of damage and indignity, she looks just a bit sheepish. "But maybe that wasn't the best way." She mumbles a bit, though, so as to not have to admit it very loudly. Bad enough that she has to admit it at all. "Squall, this is Zack. He's a good guy. Zack--" She waves vaguely at him. "I, um, already introduced you to Squall." Perhaps not in the best of ways.
She lifts a hand and holds it out to Zack; white light concentrates around her palm, then flows out to Zack, healing the minor bruises he just suffered. (Can't do anything about his dignity, though. Probably a good thing he doesn't have much of it.) She starts to turn to Squall, then, but she hesitates, then looks away.
Holy-based healing doesn't work very well on someone tainted by darkness.
He has plenty of dignity! He's just really free with it. "Nice to meet you! Sorry about the bike." Because that is a /nice/ bike, man. "Thanks, Rinoa." The healing was of course quite appreciated, and he rolled his shoulders, cracked his neck and scratched his fingers through his hair to make sure it wasn't especially dusty after the fall he'd taken. He would still be a bit sore and all, but occasionally it pays off to be dipped in mako for a really long time.
"So, has she got your attention now?" Because I'm all out of crazy hijinks to get your attention for her. He crossed the distance to where his sword now stuck out of the ground, grabbing it by the hilt with his right hand and jerking it from the ground, swinging it back into its place across his back.
Rather sourly, Squall looks away, bending to heft the motorcycle back upright onto its tires with a grunt. "If I say no," he snarks Zack-wards, knocking the kickstand into place with his heel, "you gonna try to kill me again?" He's so charming. It's so obvious why Rinoa's crazy about him.
He isn't exactly grumbling imprecations under his breath, but he looks, dusting himself off with short, impatient jerks of his hands, as though he'd *like* to be.
The sun is still out and about and the sky largely cloudless. It's been a nice day with a nice breeze hinting of the sea and crisp air and other things customary to Balamb Island. And burned rubber and tarmac now, though both of these smells aren't long in disappearing once again. Still and all, there's something else on the wind that isn't quite physical. It follows - something that might be noticed by those sensitive to the ethers of the world first, almost instantly after by those with well-honed combat sense and -then- to the phyiscal eye. No less than three dark portals open in a shimmer of the air and drop to the ground a mixture of Heartless. Shadows and Knights by the look of them, five of each. Still, for talent present, hardly a danger even to the least trained of the group.
Their tactics are certainly kamikaze - they leap toward Squall and Zack with only a slight shake of their heads to reorient themselves in the real world.
"Yes, he is," Rinoa answers for Zack, glaring at Squall. (She sees nothing wrong with this. After all, he followed her orders to help with stopping Squall! Even if that...got a bit messy.)
But her expression softens as she approaches Squall. "Sorry about that," she says in a quiet little voice. "But I didn't want you sneaking in when I wasn't looking and running to lock yourself in your room or hide in the most dangerous part of the Training Center."
She looks up, then, and raises her voice back to its normal levels. "Zack, why don't you--" She frowns. There's something off about the whole atmosphere. Something that pings wrong off her very nature. But in the end, she shrugs and goes back to what she was saying. "Why don't you come back to Garden with us for a bit and--"
She never gets to finish the invitation, because that's when the portals open. Her eyes widen, and she yanks her weapon out from under her vest and slaps it onto her hand and wrist. "I'll take the ones in back!" And take them she does, firing off the sharp blade at them, going straight from bubbly invitation to combat readiness. She may not be of Squall's calibre when it comes to combat, but she learned a thing or two from fighting at his side.
Simultaneous to Rinoa's 'Yes, he is', Zack protested, raising an eyebrow. "Whoa, I wouldn'ta killed you even if it hit, promise." Though how he would have been sure not to send the SeeD splattering head-first against the ground is anyone's guess; but as Rinoa stepped over to Squall and whispered at him, the ex-SOLDIER grinned knowingly and set about collecting his travel pack again, stopping before he'd knelt to pick it up and frowning slightly, not looking at Rinoa but about them in puzzled curiosity, reaching for his sword and-- an instant later, when the threat manifested itself-- drawing it again without missing a beat.
"Well well well!" He brought the blade around in a swing to slice apart those that were leaping at him, and edged closer to the other two, to be sure to keep them in the zone of 'allies' and not lose sight of them. Never want to lose sight of your allies and accidentally hit them in real combat. It's not pleasant. "We get visitors like this in these parts often?" He asked cheerily.
Something about Rinoa's approach mollifies Squall a bit, somehow, despite his best efforts at remaining surly. He draws in a breath that comes out in a sigh. "We've been through this--" he begins... and right about then, the dark portals start shivering open, and Squall's head snaps up.
In another moment he's hauling his gunblade out of its scabbard, dropping into an instinctive combat stance in front of and half to the side of Rinoa, covering her. "Heartless," he says through his teeth. "Rinoa, stay close to me."
Then it's battle, and the bright crystalline blade of the Lionheart flashes out at the Heartless converging on Squall, a swing backed with lethal force.
The 'back row' is Shadows, the little blobs of generally humanoid shadow with antennae and round yellow eyes. The forerunners are knights, clanking their slender, emblem-crested bodies when they begin to charge. One of them dives forward into a rapid, vicious spin of armored limbs as it approaches Garden's Commander. One of the shadows dives for Squall as well while two knights close on Zack from left and right. Though a number of each kind remain, they have yet to close - one of the smaller ones is easily picked off by Rinoa at the first sail of her weapon.
But the attention of the Heartless is on the two young men, not upon Rinoa herself. 'Staying close' to Squall may be difficult when two more of the creatures begin to close in on them.
At first, Rinoa doesn't see any harm in following Squall's orders. He's her Knight; it's only his duty to protect her. Besides, she's good at being protected. Except when she's doing something stupid like running away to try to save the day. Then she's crap at it.
"They shouldn't look so *cute*," she complains as she picks off another Shadow. She gets her weapon into place for another blow. "I still think they'd make great pets if only I could squeeze the Darkness out of them."
Then she stops, frowning slightly. "They're not going after me," she says. Ditzy she may be, but she's not *completely* unobservant. "You guys stay here," she declares after a moment's thought. "I'm going to try to pick them off before they get to you."
She strides a few long, determined steps closer to the enemy, gesturing as she does so. "Haste," she says, and she speeds up, even her eyes moving too fast as they flick from Heartless to Heartless. She lifts her weapon arm once more. Like this, she should be able to take out the Heartless before they're even close enough to hurt her companions.
Unless, oh, they have something else in mind. Then this might be a bad idea.
Zack fell silent, concentrating largely on the little beasties and keeping an eye and sort of 'ear' tuned for any sign of suspicious shadows or voices murmuring to him. He'd spent enough time in the past year or more being bothered by such friendly faces as Aialsted to be mistrustful of ANY heartless attack he found himself involved in, even if it seemed to be totally random.
It was kind of weird how they were sort of focusing on himself and Squall, for that matter; he stabbed the knight on his left, swinging his sword about to slice the one on his right in half. But then Rinoa pointed out what he'd been thinking, and stepped forward to take the little monsters out herself. "They're not exactly giving us a whole lot of trouble, but--" Well, there she goes, all hasted and such. "'Kay! Go get 'em!"
"Rin--" Squall doesn't like this plan. *He's* the Knight, dammit, this sort of thing is his job! He can't hope to keep up with her with the Haste spell in effect, but he tries his damnedest anyhow, stubbornly, grimly mistrustful of the whole situation. "Be careful, dammit!"
Zack has disconnected.
<OOC> Rinoa leaves it to Maleficent to figure out how Zack gets conked fighting a bunch of low-level Heartless. XD
<OOC> Maleficent says, "The fact that I was about to bring in more powerful types. :I"
<OOC> Squall says, "Oh good, that means I don't have to punch him in the face on the sly."
<OOC> Maleficent snicker.
<OOC> Rinoa says, "I can't take you anywhere."
<OOC> Squall says, "...whaaat?"
The gunblade and Zack's sword are both adequate to cleave the Heartless, weak as they are. Even Rinoa's smaller weapon cuts its path but there are more where the first ten came from and more portals to open and close to eject them. Shadows and Knights and vicious looking mouths and eyes on a sworl of shadow in the shape of a large spherical creature which floats. Their hectic, spastic motions have the most unfortunate effect of catching Zack offguard. For a little while at least, the SOLDIER is left dazed by the efforts of these larger creatures that seem to be laughing with sinister glee at the plight of the defenders.
But they too concentrate on Squall, now, seeking to cut the man and his downed companion from the young woman who starts to move away. Her angle -is- far better to pick off the Heartless but it also leaves her in the open. Five more Knights spin into existence, two of them holding a strong net which they allow to flare up and out between them. Their charge fans outward to the left and right of Rinoa and their intentions of catching her in it are quite clear.
"I'll be fine!" Rinoa sings out. "These things are no match for us--"
And that's when the bigger ones show up. "...but maybe these are," she says in a smaller voice. Still, she keeps fighting, even though her eyes go wide with worry when Zack falls. He doesn't seem to be *too* badly hurt, but he wouldn't be here if she hadn't dragged him into this. Oh, well, no time to worry about that right now. She turns back to the fight--
Only to see the net coming towards her. "Huh?!" And then she's scrambling backwards. The Heartless are between her and Squall now, but she can at least put some distance between her and that net. And while she's at it? She fires another shot from her weapon, this one right at the net itself, with the intention of shredding a nice wide gap in it.
For an interval, Squall is fully occupied, surrounded by Heartless. Shadows and Knights aren't really strong enough to threaten him - he's surrounded by wisps of evaporating darkness as each swing of his gunblade reduces a minor heartless to so much dissipating shadow - but this many of them are enough to keep him busy.
Then he sees the net, and rage surges up inside him as the purpose of this unexpected attack suddenly becomes a lot clearer.
"RINOA!" The hell with this one-at-a-time business; he hauls his gunblade back one-handed and throws the other out. The mob of Heartless may have managed to separate him from Rinoa... but that just means he doesn't have to hold back for fear of hitting her by accident. The Heartless massed between him and Rinoa get the chance to see his grey eyes darken to stark black - and then, with the explosive surge of pent-up magic being abruptly released, a wave of dark energy erupts outward from his outstretched hand.
There's one thing to be said for the power of darkness. At least it can be turned against its own.
Backing away will only take Rinoa so far before she reaches the other line of Heartless - that is to say they are trying their damndest to get her surrounded with a semi-circle on the outside. Her aim is true and the netting tears a little - but it is clearly made of stern stuff for the cut only occurs about the width of the key flying-blade. Though its forward progression was slowed by the strength of the net, if it circles back over or around the net it will return to Rinoa completely - but if its return vector happens to be at an angle to pass through the net again, it may not have enough force to break through. It will take a few cuts to render the net useless, for all of this.
That -is- true. Though there are times when they are strong against the element - and certainly Heartless as a whole are not really -weak- to it - the creatures are injured by the wave of emotion-driven shadows that pour from the young commander's fingertips. Two Shadows disentegrate immediately as does a Knight who had been injured previously by Zack before his most unfortunate KO. The path toward Rinoa is opened another foot of the ten or so that has been driven between the two - but each inch is a precious gain, is it not?
Meanwhile to this battle another entity has arrived. No dark portal this time though it is in a way not -unlike- the same pathways on which the Heartless arrive. Green flames flicker from the ground and sweep upward to a brief column from which forms the robe-clad figure of the dark fairy Maleficent. Her lips are twisted in a half-sided parody of a smile while yellowed eyes glitter with interest for the developments before her. Most casually she begins to approach the periphery of the battle.
"Squall--" Rinoa half-turns, her eyes wide not so much with fear as with surprise and just a hint of worry, and so she gets to see *his* eyes go black and the darkness radiate out from him. She winces, and then she turns away to catch hold of her weapon again.
But it doesn't come. The Shooting Star bounces against the netting a couple of times before whatever strange technology that powers it loses the force to hold it upright, and then it clatters to the ground.
Rinoa looks at that little metallic shape for a moment. Then she starts backing away once more--but this time in Squall's direction. "Aero!" She flings out the spell, trying to push as many Shadows as possible out from between herself and Squall even if they aren't actually destroyed, then rush into the empty space where they were before.
But there's still a few feet between her and Squall when she looks up and sees Maleficent. "Who...?" Whoever it is, Rinoa definitely has a bad feeling about her. But she can't let herself be distracted. She tosses out another Aero spell at the Heartless between her and Squall and keeps moving.
The dark wave buys him only a little ground... but a little is enough. Blackness is still streaming from his fingers like wisps of color-inverted steam as his hand closes on the grip of his gunblade again, and as he gathers himself it seeps into the blade itself, the pale blue-green crystal darkening as though it were soaking up in.
In the next moment he launches into motion, the darkened gunblade flashing out not just once but again and again and again, a sharp crack of gunfire punctuating each blow of the Renzokuken. Maleficent hasn't reached his awareness, focused so completely as it is on carving a path straight back to Rinoa, where he belongs.
How utterly... sentimental. Maleficent would laugh aloud at the sight were she here merely to observe - the struggle of two people to be together despite the gulf that separates them. In this case it is two of the creatures like the one which knocked Zack out. Scouring winds score one of the things and leave it open to be decimated by the furious blows of the posessed Lionheart - gunblade or man, you take your pick. The second shifts into a frenzy of movement, hard to hit, random enough to avoid but also difficult to anticipate. Both Rinoa and Squall may be in danger enough to be knocked back by its attempt to knock one or the other down.
And then there were ten more Shadows and four of the Knights. Troops that seem to come in, not in masses which might benefit the defenders by being taken care of all at once with the strongest of attacks, but moderation by moderation.
To wear them down. It is at a reasonable distance - outside of immediate physical range and with enough view of the battlefield that she might anticipate a spell or two sent her way that Maleficent halts once again and waits for the conclusion of Squall's Renzokuken. Her smile has more depth but one couldn't call it -pleasant-. Not by a long shot.
But don't get distracted, Rinoa. Those Knights which hold the net are throwing it at you while you watch Squall and Maleficent and try to puzzle out the reason for the latter's presence.
Rinoa lifts her hands to call up one more spell--but then the ball of Darkness is coming at her far too fast. She acts on impulse, as she always does, but this time it's actually a fairly smart move: she flings herself into a roll on the ground, going *beneath* the Heartless. As she comes face up halfway through the roll, she shoots off a Blizzard at the underside of the foe, then keeps rolling.
When she gets up again, she's...well, covered in dust, her hair all tangled, her hands scraped. But she's also next to Squall--
And that's when the net falls on her. "Hey! Get this thing off me!" She kicks it.
The fury of the Rezokuken spends itself with one final, powerful upward slash. In its wake, drained of all the strength of the darkness that he poured into the assault, Squall drops heavily to one knee, breath coming in short gasps. But whatever it cost him, his goal has been achieved - Rinoa is within arm's reach, and he reaches immediately to haul at the net that's fallen over her. Oh *hell* no.
A voice may - or may not - give him pause if only for a moment. It is an order, of sorts. "That will not be necessary," The voice is familiar and it belongs the fairy who has stood by and waited for the commander's fury to play out. And while anger may be there, sharp eyes notice that the attack did take something out of the young man. Perhaps it -is- enough. "We have plans for her."
The Heartless which remain have, for the moment paused in their attack as if obeying some unspoken order. Their numbers form a loose circlr around the two, though one end parts to permit Maleficent passage. Laughter is in her voice and eyes, not the kind which bodes well for a victim but at least suggests she is amused by -something-. "No harm will come to her." Which may or may not be a lie though for not at least the Knights that were struggling to keep the netting over the young Sorceress are not going out of their way to make sure her struggles are minimal. There may be a grain of truth.
She -is- far more useful undamaged and alive right now. Possibly - if she is one of the ones.
"Excuse me?" Rinoa is a little indignant. Well--more than a little indignant. "You think Squall's gonna stop helping me just because you *told* him?" She crouches to start trying to find the bottom of the net and pull it off. "You don't know him very well." She's proud of her crazily obsessive boyfriend!
"No thank you!" she continues. "I think I'll take my chances here, and I bet Squall will..."
Rinoa trails off as something about the dark fairy's attitude towards Squall goes *click* in her head. She stands, even though she's still covered in the net, still clutching part of it in one hand. "...you're the dark Sorceress who did this to Squall," she says. She doesn't bother specifying what "this" is. After his little show of Darkness earlier, it should be obvious enough.
Just to show she's not intimidated even if she's right, she eyes the Knights at her side, then gives the net a sharp *tug* at just the right moment to hopefully unbalance one or both of them.
Maleficent's voice makes Squall's muscles seize; his head comes up, eyes gone wide and still far too dark a grey. No. Oh no.
Gritting his teeth, he marshals his strength. There was an order implied in the fairy's words, but not a direct one, and though his own innate honesty and deep-rooted professionalism works against him, for this, he wrenches purchase out of that loophole - and hauls stubbornly at the net with one hand, while the other draws his combat knife to hack at it if he can't manage to free Rinoa with her bare hands. "You've got to get out of here," he tells her, quietly, through his teeth.
"Did this?" And laughter does follow this time, a low chuckle full of that same sinister humor. Her smile matches the shades of that undertone as half lidded eyes focus on the young Sorceress. "I did nothing he did not ask for, child." She'll not contest the term used in reference to herself; it's close enough. She laughs again but this time it is in response to Rinoa's efforts to free herself. "Such a spirited child you are..."
The Knight is thrown off balance, rather comically windmilling limbs in an effort to stay upright and bouncing against one of its allies who seems to regard it with a reproachful look. Shape up soldier! The other is more agile and keeps his footing, but with Squall helping to cut loose the netting....
"Stop." This time Maleficent's order is more literal and a good deal of the humor has vanished from the woman's voice. But then it may be understandable that Rinoa's freedom does not fall within the boundaries of Maleficent's plans. The purr returns, but it is backed with maliciousness so characteristic of the fairy, "Unless," she says, eyes again wide as she focuses on Garden's commander, "Yes. Shall I order -you- to bring her back?" The twist of a smile is back, unfeigned but certainly unwelcome. "By all means! Go ahead, my Lion." She is fond of using that term as a pet name. "Take her from the net and bring her here to me."
You paged Squall with 'Would Rinoa be able to yank the knife from Squall's hand?'.
From afar, Squall supposes so. It foils my plan for Drama, but that is probably just as well, so go for it.
You paged Squall with 'Well, Rinoa was going to stab at the net for a bit, then get frustrated enough to cut herself so she could focus on the pain and go Angel Wing. What was your plan?'.
Squall pages: ...similar, expect for the part where Squall doesn't get an Angel Wing out of it.
You paged Squall with '...I'm sure Squall can find a way to hurt himself without the knife. He's creative in his masochism.'.
Squall pages: What a pair.
Squall pages: So, yeah, go for.
Even through the netting, Rinoa glares daggers at Maleficent. "Oh, please. You know as well as I do that giving Squall just what he asks for is a bad idea for him and everyone around him." She'd probably pat him on the head if there wasn't the net separating her from him. Of course, there's also the fact that she looks rather too angry for such a gesture at this point. "Especially when it...corrupts him like this."
She does take a moment to look smug at the Knight she managed to knock off balance. But then Maleficent's getting serious, and Rinoa stares at her, wide-eyed, as the implications of the witch's words hit home. She's giving *orders* to Squall. Orders that, Rinoa knows, could well tear him apart.
Well, to hell with that. *She's* the only one who gets to give her Knight orders. Her eyes go hard, her mouth firm, as she grabs the hilt of the knife that Squall's holding, pulls it from his hand, and yanks it back through the net. With the blade in hand, she stabs furiously at the netting, slashing it with a frenzied speed. Her Haste has worn off by now, but with raw emotion (don't-touch-my-man-*bitch*) driving her, it's almost hard to tell.
But it's not enough. The net is tough and she doesn't have much time before...she's not sure what, but even if Squall can withstand this first order, there's no telling what Maleficent will demand he do next. Whatever it is, eventually she'll manage to get him to do something that would break him. It's Rinoa's turn to come up with a way out.
A light comes into her eyes--nothing holy, just pure determination. She wraps her free hand around the blade of the knife and she squeezes tight. Blood drips down from her palm, some spilling to the ground, some trickling down her wrist and staining her sleeve.
She finally pulls her hand away, and for a split second, she looks at it thoughtfully. Then she reaches into the pain, bundles it together with her protective rage, and concentrates.
Phantasmal white wings descend upon her back. Light wells up inside her. Now the light in her eyes *is* something holy. Wasting no more time, she holds out her hands and forces from her a blast of pure holy energy, directly into the net and the surrounding Heartless.
For the second time, Squall's muscles seize up, and for several moments he is utterly still, frozen in place even as Rinoa pulls the knife out of his hand. While she struggles against the net, he fights his own inner battle, flailing inwardly against the sudden crushing pressure of the geas.
And, it seems, loses. Even as Rinoa is making her last gambit, as the knife is biting into her hand, he is moving mechanically to pull the net away, just as Maleficent commanded. As the light is welling up in and around her, he is reaching to close a hand on her upper arm, as though to pull her to her feet.
Only Squall himself has any notion of just how close a thing his gamble was, or if it was even really much of a gamble at all. But he can *feel* the holy power building, connected as he is to Rinoa - and as she unleashes it, he deliberately leaves himself wide open to it, to her, letting the release of all that raw holy energy wash along the bond that connects them and through him.
It *burns,* but he can use that pain.
"No," he says.
"And here I was considering that he fights most admirably not to be consumed by it. Nevertheless, he had a choice and I explained to him the risk. Did you know he did it for you?" Or so Maleficent must assume. 'Find someone special' he had said in the outset. And the ironically the power hadn't been needed at all.
Maleficent need not move and she holds her ground despite the awakening of Rinoa's power. And Holy it is, light causing the Heartless to shrink back from it in the outset and then disappear utterly as it burns through the net - which, though strengthened was just a net, nothing more - and into the group of dark creatures. Most turn away from the light before they vanish, throwing their hands up in dismay. One or two might have survived and might have fled. But when it returns to an intensity that is bearable to look at, they have all vanished but for Maleficent.
The power of Light. Vicious, nasty, -irritating- thing. And though Maleficent recognizes that all things must have balance. She flinches away as a snarl of annoyance pulls her lips from the sinisterly pleased expression. A... very interesting development, albeit one that may prove Rinoa is indeed the one she's looking for. But it seems that it is Squall's simple 'no' that strikes her harder than the Light.
"You..." She is no longer anywhere near to sounding pleasant. "You dare to defy me?!" The geas is still there, flickering, dimming, hovering on the brink of a moment that will lead to one path or another. But how long can Rinoa sustain that holy burst without depleting herself? How much control does she -have-?
Maleficent may not have retreated but she comes no closer either. In her hand is a long staff and this is raised before her before striking the pavement of the road with an impressive sound. "Kneel before your mistress," she commands, summoning up what power remains upon the bondage that conscripts Squall's obedience. "By my right to command you, you -will- obey!"
Or will he? For all that she has learned some harsh lessons, there are still forces beyond Light and Darkness that she still underestimates at times.
As she forces her release, burns away the Darkness around her, Rinoa half-turns to look at Squall. She blinks once, and her expression is a confused mix: half regret that he's using her, using their bond, to hurt himself like that, half pride that he could find in him the strength to do that. And, outlined in the holy light, she smiles and lifts her bloodied hand to reach in his direction.
Then the light fades, leaving her alone with Squall, the two of them facing Maleficent. The wings still hover on her back; she seems to not quite connect with the ground. Light still spills from her. But the expression on her face, although fierce, is very human as she rests both hands on Squall's shoulder, holding tight to him. Even if something in her eyes has gone past "human" to the Light beyond it.
"He doesn't have a mistress," she yells back at Maleficent, making no effort to control her voice, her emotions. "And he won't obey!" And if he needs any reminder of that, she leaves one hand on his shoulder as she lifts the other one and funnels nearly all the rest of her energy into a holy blast directed straight at the dark fairy. "Leave him alone! Right now! And an hour from now, a day from now, weeks and months and years from now--forever! Don't *ever* come looking for him again!" The light has seeped into her voice as well, and it almost *hums* with primal, elemental power. "He's *mine*!"
When it's over, she'll still be standing, but trembling with the effort. It's all right, though, as long as she's next to Squall. "And his own," she adds weakly. "He doesn't belong to anybody."
Squall has the chance to do little more than rise to his feet, taking up his gunblade once more, before Maleficent's will presses hard on the geas that still binds him, with enough force to make him sway on his feet. He's drained, both by the potentially lethal combination of Darkside and Renzokuken and by the holy power that's just seared through him. Rinoa is pouring out her strength like water. With his weapon in hand, he glares defiantly at Maleficent, even as the command, the pressure of the geas, bears down on his shoulders like a physical weight.
Kneel before your mistress, she commanded. He musters his ragged pride enough to lift his head... and then, with careful and deliberate motions, makes a one-quarter turn and reverses his grip on his gunblade to plant the point of the blade against the ground, before he sinks down to one knee, hands clasped over the grip of his weapon, head bowing, a wordless and profound illustration of a knight's fealty.
An attack the dark fairy is prepared for and shields herself with flame and power that shunts most of the holy light to the side. But though she looks largely unscathed when both powers finish their impact and fade, she has suffered from it. The hand not clenched extremely tightly to the staff is half raised in defense of her body. But what hurts more is the defiance that the gesture suggests - and Squall reciprocates.
And in kneeling to his mistress, the last fetters of the geas shatter. Squall is free from it, though not necessarily of the Dark. Rinoa's Light may have weakened it for a time but it is still there.
Probably. Either way, it is certain that it was not a condition that only existed in Squall's body at the price of obedience to Maleficent.
Who hisses in a deep breath and holds it, her features and very being a mask of fury. It is obvious that she would love nothing better than to strike both down where they stand. The opportunity to make it count is there, she senses it. Both look tired; she knows Squall is weakened from his efforts if nothing else. And while Rinoa may be an unknown, there is a good chance she is near the end of her own resources. Maleficent knows all this from experience and knows she could very likely succeed in killing the two teenagers.
But the counterstrike never comes. The dark fairy closes her eyes. When she opens them again there is a smile neither pleasing to her or pleasing to see. She is swallowing that sour bile of defeat.
Temporary defeat, she tells herself. Rinoa must live. And Squall... he must too, if she is to salvage this situation.
"So I see. Perhaps I have once again underestimated that emotion," she muses to herself perhaps but loud enough to be heard by the other two. "And yet, I still have one thing of value." Finally Maleficent exhales, slowly, calmly, rebuilding her expression from the ground up and forcing a pleasant manner into it. Her voice, however, is as chill as the deepest winter. "You will bring Rinoa to me in two days' time. Or I will consign your mother to the deepest Darkness imaginable."
<OOC> Rinoa...may have to choose to sneak away on her *own*.
<OOC> Maleficent says, "That's what I love about you hero types. <3"
<OOC> Rinoa would give Squall comfort sex first, but I'm afraid he's still figuring out kissing.
<OOC> Maleficent's player dissolves into immature snickering and giggling.
<OOC> Maleficent says, "Well. I'm sure his dad could give him The Talk."
<OOC> Rinoa chokes.
<OOC> Rinoa says, "OMG I WANT TO WATCH THAT SCENE."
<OOC> Maleficent says, "I promise you that if Laguna ever gets the impression that his son is not a player at the age of 19, there will be something the likes of which we will never want to see ever. (But we will because it'll be damned funny.)"
<OOC> Rinoa tries to pose now, omg. XD
<OOC> Squall FLAILS.
<OOC> Squall *FLAILS.*
<OOC> Maleficent |Laguna: Squall, I've taken some time off leading Esthar because I heard you might have... well, a -problem-. *pause* With women. So I decided to come here and see if you want to talk about it. You know, because while I wasn't all that great when I had a case of nerves, I admit... Well, it wasn't like I was lacking, really! *another pause* ....But hey, if this is about... you know, liking -guys-, I'd understand that too. *paaaaause* I wouldn't be able to help you with that one! But I'd understand it. I've been reading some books on how to be an open minded parent. They've got this pretty big library in Esthar... Did you know there's a whole section of books about being a parent? (and on and on and on)
As the blaze of light fades from Rinoa, leaving her shaking and breathing heavily, she lets her hand drop from Squall's shoulder as he falls to his knees before her. Instead, she rests it on his head, leaving a partial thumbprint of blood on his forehead, near the start of his scar. Then, hot tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, she lifts her chin high and turns to face Maleficent. "Get your own Knight. But not this one."
For a moment, though, as she sees the bitter anger on Maleficent's face, worry flickers through her eyes, her mouth opening slightly in unsureness. Some tiny sane voice within her raises a glimmer of belated caution: what if this witch strikes them both down, here and now? What if this noble gesture was exactly the wrong thing to do? What if she's going to get them both killed?
"You've certainly underestimated *us*," she hisses out, but she doesn't seem to expect an answer. Or, if she did in the first place, that expectation is quite wiped out by what Maleficent says next. Rinoa's eyes widen. "Squall--your mother--"
Oh, no. Squall told her something about Raine, yes, and it wasn't good, but Rinoa hadn't connected that with the dark forces controlling him. "She's under this...witch's control?" And yes, there is a strong temptation there to say something that merely rhymes with 'wtich,' but she's just too nice. It's a terrible fault of hers, really.
There's a long pause, then, as Rinoa works through possible scenarios in her head. Then she casts one last furious glare at Maleficent and drops to her knees before Squall. The wings still glimmer at her back, the light still emanates from her--but only because she's not sure she could drop it now and still stay upright. Wordlessly, she puts her arms around him and pulls him close.
Then she lifts her gaze to glower at Maleficent, refusing to look away until the dark fairy has left them.
"When you have made your decision," Maleficent continues far more smoothly than before. "You may bring her to this place. There will be someone here to show you the way." Which is to say that she implies she herself will not be waiting and that seems sensible.
For this deal, she fully intends to confront Squall in a place of her own choosing. "Farewell," she calls to both of them and though her humor is far from restored over the matter there is a sickly sweet quality to the tone of her voice.
And then she's gone again in a flash of green fire that towers high and leaves no trace that it ever was.
There is some silence, afterwards. Then Rinoa says in a small voice that tries very hard to be comforting, "We'll show her. She can't hurt you any longer."
That's certainly not true. Maleficent can very easily hurt Squall. Just not in quite the same way she could before. No, now she has to come up with all new ways to do it--and such scheming is in no way beyond her.
"We'll figure something out."
By which Rinoa means she'll figure something out that probably won't be a very good idea and will probably make Squall frantic with worry. But discussion of that is not really in the agenda for now, as it is now that Rinoa finally gives up the ghost. The wings shimmer and fade from her back; the light retreats back into her heart.
And she quietly slumps forward, leaning unconscious and smiling on Squall's shoulder.
It is suddenly very quiet out here.
Squall stays just as he is for a long while, kneeling at the side of the road, supporting Rinoa as she slumps unconscious against him. He... needs a moment to catch his breath. To let everything that's just happened sink in. Not to mention that he doesn't especially want to move right now.
But he can't stay here forever. He's got two days to come up with something resembling a strategy. And, more pressingly, Rinoa needs a visit to the infirmary. Eventually, after maneuvering his gunblade back into its sheath and making sure his hold on Rinoa is a secure one, he forces himself up onto his feet, and considers his options. Balamb Garden, within view. Rinoa unconscious. Zack unconscious. Himself exhausted. And the motorcycle.
Squall lets out a sigh, but finds the energy in him for at least one spell; shifting Rinoa carefully against his shoulder, he extends a hand towards Zack long enough for a weary "Cure." As the blue-green light of the spell fades away - without waiting to see the results - he turns toward the distant Garden. It's not a short walk... but he's gone farther, in worse condition than this. And there are hardly even any bite bugs this close to Garden. The training patrols keep them down.
He'll send a team of them out when he makes it back to Garden. Leaving the motorcycle for Zack, whenever he should happen to come around, Squall starts walking.