Although the afternoon sun was warm on his skin, Seifer continued to feel the same chill which had settled in his body since early that morning. Shortly before sunrise, the blond had been wakened by intense coldness and discovered a seemingly dead seer held within his arms. Panic driven, Seifer had shaken awake the brunet with unexpected ease, and then refused to release Squall until the shade of blue left full lips. But despite the obvious distress of the fighter, Squall didn't answer any of the man's questions concerning the wandering dream, the brunet only stating that he was dead in that future and that he needed time to think about the things he had learned. Not understanding how there was anything to learn from being dead, Seifer had demanded to know what would lead to the seer's death, but received no reply further than a small shrug.
Now traveling through a forest of tall evergreens, Seifer glared at the peaceful scenery surrounding them and occasionally kicked innocent rocks from his path. A fair distance ahead were the forms of Laguna and Kiros, the dark-skinned man earlier recognizing the tension existing between the Hero and Protector. Without much subtly, Kiros had suggested that they would lead the way, thereby leaving Seifer and Squall enough space to speak privately.
"You are angry with me."
Hefting his pack, Seifer scoffed at the first words spoken by the blind man since lunch. "A bit obvious, don't you think?"
"Your growling is difficult to miss."
Squall sighed at the terse tone. "Why do you refuse to understand that it's difficult for me to answer your questions?"
"I don't know, kitten, why wouldn't I understand that you can't answer something like, 'how the fuck do you die?'. Call me crazy, or maybe I actually care about keeping you alive."
Slowing to a stop, the blind man stated quietly, "I can't answer you because I don't know."
Seifer turned sharply to face the seer. "You don't know? But you said--"
"I said that I had died, but I don't know how," Squall interrupted softly. "I woke in this strange room that wasn't any place on Earth, nor do I think I was in Hell. Either way, I can't be certain where I was, but it felt wrong. I don't think I was supposed to be there."
The somber and somewhat fearful words calmed the fighter's anger as he asked, "Is that what you've been trying to figure out since this morning? About how you got there?"
"No. It's useless to assume the ways I could die." Stepping forward, Squall reached out and placed his hand on a muscular arm. "It will be easier to talk if you guide me."
Green eyes widened slightly at the rare request for him to physically lead the blind man, but wondering if there were other reasons the seer desired contact, Seifer rested his hand on the brunet's. "You're freezing to the touch. Are you certain you don't want to stop and rest?"
Smiling softly, Squall shook his head. "I'm always cold. You're just being paranoid."
The blond scoffed, but didn't argue with the seer as they renewed their steps to follow the older men leading far ahead. It was silent for a length of time, Seifer forcing himself to be patient as the stoic man lost himself in deep thought. From experience alone, the blond knew that Squall would speak once ready and without preamble, but it was still painfully difficult for the fighter to hold his tongue. And so he distracted himself by watching Laguna talk to his friend, the long-haired man waving his arms dramatically and frequently tripping due to his inattentive state. How he was the father of the serious brunet, Seifer couldn't begin to imagine.
"Do you believe that love, any kind of love, could be wrong?"
Emerald eyes went wide at the unexpected question, Seifer then exhaling deeply in befuddlement. "Hell, Squall... how in Hyne's name am I supposed to answer that?"
The seer offered no help, but instead strengthened his hold as he leaned vaguely against the larger man.
Sighing again, Seifer straightened and considered the question with a seriousness he wasn't accustomed to. "Any kind of love, huh?"
The blind man nodded vaguely.
"Hn..." There was a time of thoughtful silence before the blond replied, "You know what, I don't think I can answer that. I mean, what we have is considered wrong and unnatural by most. Hell, at one time, I thought the pretty much the same. But I feel so complete with you near, and even though you've made it your hobby to irritate the shit out of me, I know that I'll never regret loving you. Is it wrong? I don't give a fuck. And damn the person who tries to separate us."
Squall breathed a laugh as he loosened his tight hold. "I wasn't referring to us, you idiot."
"Oh? Then what were you referring to, kitten?"
The seer didn't reply directly, his small smile fading before he said, "In my dream, I spoke with... someone. While I'm afraid to admit his words were truths, I can't ignore what he told me."
"Who did you speak with? I mean, if he seemed a liar..."
With soft amusement, Squall said, "He's more than simply a liar, but... I'll just say that there is a history between us."
"Should I be jealous?" Seifer asked, his voice already displaying a dangerous possessive edge.
"It's not like that, and I don't want to hide this from you, but I also don't want reveal his name in fear of the Spirits making my life Hell."
"As if they haven't already made your life a living Hell," the blond muttered under his breath, and then asked in a clearer voice, "So, what did this mystery man have to say? It's not like you to ask about love and whatnot."
"Nh, I suppose it isn't like me..."
Before Squall had the chance to say anything more, Laguna called out from the edge of the forest and waved for the two younger men to hurry. Sighing with irritation, Seifer increased his pace while pulling the blind man with him. Once they reached the smiling Laguna and his more stoic partner, Seifer almost demanded to know what they wanted, but his voice was instantly lost as green eyes settled on the sight of a decently sized cabin. His first thought was that the place didn't look too bad after years of neglect, though it seemed a lot smaller than he remembered. Then again, Seifer himself was a lot smaller back when he had called the place 'home'.
But quickly following those simple thoughts came dark memories of why he and his father were forced to leave that home.
"I don't know if I can do this," Seifer stated in a hoarse voice.
"No need to worry, young Almasy," Laguna assured gently. "Kiros, Ward and I came here shortly after you appeared in our town. We gave your mother a proper burial and the house was cleaned as best we could in the chance that you would want to return to your home. Though I'm afraid we haven't come back in the past decade or so. There's no telling what travelers and animals may have done in that time."
Seifer felt some of his courage return with the knowledge that the skeleton of his mother wouldn't be waiting for him inside. Placing a hand on Squall's, he squeezed lightly before stepping in the direction of his old home. Laguna and Kiros followed behind and held their silence, something Seifer hardly noticed as numerous memories assaulted his mind. Most were ridiculous memories as he remembered where he used to favor chasing lizards and which of the currently bare bushes grew the sweetest berries. Closer to the cabin was a single tree which had a broken piece of twine wrapped around the trunk, the sight reminding Seifer of his mother hanging up the laundry. But as they neared the front door to the cabin, mundane memories were lost to the phantom sounds of screaming.
"Nothing will hurt you here."
Startled by the quiet voice, Seifer stared down at the seer. "I've been hurt here before."
"I know. But there is something here, a protective force that is reaching out to you. Can't you feel it?"
Once mentioned, the blond suddenly realized that there was something strange to the air, an added pressure that wrapped around him to join the protective hold of the seer's magic. Though curious about that energy, Seifer chose to ignore it as his attention became more focused on the door before him. Hesitantly, he reached out and pushed open the battered door, though didn't step inside. Whether waiting for the smell of blood or the attack of his long dead mother, Seifer didn't know, but when nothing happened, he inwardly laughed at his childish fears and stepped over the threshold.
Whatever he was expecting before his entrance, Seifer was surprised by the state of the cabin inside. The old furniture was in excellent shape, only the fading of colors due to sunlight proving their age. No dust stirred at their steps further inside and nothing seemed out of place. It was disturbing in a way, but Seifer didn't feel threatened or afraid. He felt at home.
Without warning, Squall jerked to a halt before slumping against the large fighter. Startled, Seifer quickly turned and wrapped his free arm around the slim waist to better support the seer. But the blind man didn't slip into a vision as the blond expected. Instead, Squall exhaled a long, shaky breath as milky eyes shifted to the side of the room and seemingly focused on something invisible.
Though afraid to ask, Seifer questioned softly, "What is it, Squall?"
While hearing the fighter's question, Squall couldn't answer directly as he focused on the odd energy in the room. He instantly recognized the presence as a wandering soul, and yet the spirit was somehow different than those the blind man had interacted with in the past. One obvious difference was the undistorted voice of the woman, and being more accustomed to the vague whispers of the dead, Squall was unbalanced by the clear words of the soul.
::My love, forgive me, forgive me. I was weak and could not fight Adel's greater power. I love our son, would have never--::
As the spirit broke off into soft crying, the seer shivered at the amount of sorrow radiating from the distraught soul.
Deciding to ease the fighter's apprehension, the blind man stated, "You apparently look like your father - you're being mistaken for him."
Seifer stiffened against the blind man and then moved sharply, perhaps hoping to see the spirit with his own eyes. "M... Mom?"
The cries of the woman, Elyse Almasy, faded into silence before she spoke with disbelief. ::S, Seifer...? Seifer, my precious child, you are alive...?::
Knowing the man couldn't hear her question, Squall answered for him. "Despite his recklessness, yes, he is alive."
The spirit's energy shifted, causing the seer to shudder at the feel of dead eyes staring directly at him. ::You can hear me. Then, you are a healer as I was in life?:: Before the brunet could reply, Elyse hummed in disagreement. ::No, you are more than that, aren't you? You... You are here to watch over my son. The foreseeing Protector who guides the Hero::
Surprised that the woman knew of such legends, the seer replied a simple, "Ah."
::And you have brought my son here to fulfill your duty?::
Smirking slightly, Squall answered, "Yes, but not as Hyne would have us fulfill our destiny."
The mother's soul sighed with relief and whispered, ::Thank the merciful Spirits::
Though wanting to argue that none of the Spirits were 'merciful', the seer said, "Instead of sacrificing the Hero, we have chosen to resurrect Altemehsia."
The temperature to the room plummeted at the declaration. ::Resurrect the fallen goddess? Are you insane? Have you poisoned my son's mind to make him agree to such foolhardiness?!::
Squall recoiled at the intense energy of the spirit, his hand going to his chest as burning coldness crawled through his veins and into his heart. Eyes closed tightly in pain, the brunet pressed closer to the warmth of his lover.
Seifer tightened his hold around the seer. "What's wrong? Don't tell me that she's hurting you."
"She thinks I'm insane, and that I've led you astray in my madness," Squall replied with some strain and silently wondered at the protective nature of Almasy blood.
The blond breathed a quiet growl before turning to the corner of the room. "Don't blame him for this, woman. I was the one to convince him to awaken Altemehsia. And it wasn't even my idea to begin with, but your husband's brilliant plan, so blame him and leave Squall the fuck alone!'
At the mention of Seifer's father, the pressure of frozen energy dissipated from the room. ::Alexei? Has he come with you?::
Released from the icy hold of the spirit, Squall relaxed and spoke softly. "Your husband is no longer alive. Once, I was able to guide his spirit into Seifer's body and they have spoken at some length."
The soul's energy flickered with uncertainty. ::If you speak the truth, then... he has also died with eternal regret::
"He died to protect your son."
::A-ah, he always swore to guard our child with his life... But I can't understand. He would never suggest to raise Altemehsia. He held the destiny to prevent her resurrection, a destiny our son shares::
"But your son believes he will be the last of his line. He--"
"I don't think you've been formally introduced, Mother," Seifer interrupted before the brunet could continue his explanation. "This is Squall Leonhart - he's my Protector, but more importantly, he is my lover. I am devoted to him and I won't have an affair with some whore for the idiotic purpose of having a child."
Instead of the outrage the seer expected after such bluntness, Elyse was stunned into silence for several moments before she asked, ::Squall Leonhart, as in Laguna's child?::
Warily, Squall nodded.
There was more silence after the affirmation, and then unbelievably, the spirit began to laugh.
Unable to hear his mother, Seifer leaned over and whispered into the blind man's ear. "So, how is she reacting to the news?"
"She... is laughing."
"Well, shit, I expected worse. Is it because she doesn't believe me, or does she just find it amusing?"
Finished with her laughter, Elyse stated, ::Fate is a cruel and beautiful goddess. She taunts one man with a love he could never have, and then gives his son the same unnatural love, but this time allows it to flourish::
"I don't understand," Squall said.
::Laguna was a lovely man in his youth:: the spirit said suggestively, and then quickly asked, ::But tell me the truth, do you return the love which my son feels for you, or is he blind in his desire?::
Offense prompting the seer to speak before reason, he replied, "I have always loved Seifer."
Startled by the awed tone, the blind man turned to the blond and was met by heated lips. Though embarrassed by the open display of affection, Squall found himself unable to pull away from the man who tasted of spice. Mercifully, Seifer kept the kiss chaste and short, though he caused the brunet to blush when he leaned forward and caressed his lips against the seer's ragged ear to whisper - "You are amazing."
::I see that my son is as reserved as his father::
The heat of his face increasing at the mother's humored comment, Squall turned his sightless eyes to the spirit and attempted to regain some of his composure by returning to the previous subject. "It is for this reason that Altemehsia will eventually be left unguarded and a sorceress will be free to revive her. But Seifer... he believes that if we are the ones to resurrect her, then I may have enough power to cure the goddess of her madness.
::Ridiculous...:: Elyse muttered as the electric energy of her spirit glided forward until directly in front of the seer. Tendrils of power reached out for Squall, the icy caresses instantly making him go rigid while drawing a suppressed whine from his lips. But the unnatural touches didn't stop at his skin as they probed deeper into his chest and mind. Though wanting and needing to scream out loud, Squall was without breath until the moment the spirit withdrew and left him limp in the arms of his lover. ::Ridiculous, but perhaps possible. The deciding question, however, is if you truly wish to help the goddess::
"She didn't deserve her fate," was the seer's breathy reply.
"Squall, what's happening? What is she doing?" Seifer asked while holding the man close and offering his heat to the brunet.
The seer didn't respond, needing the last of his energy to focus on the wandering soul.
::Interesting reply. I myself never had the desire to risk everything for a chance at healing the goddess. But, perhaps, you are stronger than I::
Though Squall reflexively wanted to deny that he had such strength, he instead said, "We were told that there are books here about healing. I haven't been formally trained, so I need as much information as possible."
The spirit flickered with surprise. ::You haven't had training and you can speak with the dead?::
"I have been trained in some sorcery, but not the healing arts."
::A-ah, I suppose that would have enhanced your focus... Very well, the library my Alexei mentioned can be opened by Seifer. Look for the black stone in the cellar. As for guidance, I will offer what help I can::
"Thank you," Squall said with sincere gratitude.
::You should go. My presence will only weaken you further::
Nodding, the blind man wrapped an arm around Seifer's neck.
::Wait, tell my son... Tell Seifer that I love him and that I've missed my little kitten::
Eyes wide in disbelief, Squall could only nod before telling the man, "Help me outside."
The fighter followed the command by leaning down and placing his arm behind bent knees, causing Squall to huff in resentment as he was lifted from the ground. Cradling the smaller man in his arms, Seifer offhandedly said, "We'll talk again, Mom," as he carried the seer outside into the warm afternoon air. Laguna was startled by the sight of his son and immediately went into a worried tirade about how pale his son looked. Such words would have been irritating from anyone else, but after years of life without his father, Squall was able to smile at the older man's stumbling words.
Quickly tiring of the continued rambling, Seifer explained sharply, "He spoke with my mother for too long, and she didn't seem overly friendly."
Laguna hummed with understanding. "Elyse was fairly stern woman in life. Back in our war days, she would lecture your father and me for a full day whenever we did something stupid to get ourselves injured. For punishment, she often refused to heal our wounds and tell us to 'suffer in our idiocy'."
Making his presence known, Kiros added an amused, "And they still never learned their lessons."
Seifer breathed a laugh. "I don't remember that about her."
Sounding unsurprised, Laguna said, "There is plenty I could tell you about them. More about Alexei than Elyse, I fear, but if you have any questions..."
The fighter made a noncommittal sound at the offer, but his attention was obviously elsewhere as he laid the seer on the sun-warmed ground next to a tree. "How do you feel?"
"Tired, but well."
"Liar," Seifer murmured while sitting next to the blind man. Placing his arm around the narrow waist, he added, "You're even colder than before."
Squall chose not to respond as he relaxed against the blond.
Laguna cleared his throat softly. "While I imagine you can warm him later, first things first - did you get what you came for?"
As Seifer hummed in smug approval, the seer decided to ignore his father's comment and replied, "More or less. The books are hidden away, but Seifer can reach them. And his mother offered her assistance."
"Then, you won't be dissuaded from this plan to revive Altemehsia."
Squall was surprised by the disappointed tone of his father. "You don't approve?"
The older man sighed. "I admit that I held the hope that anything of worth would have been removed from this place by now, but I should've known better that Elyse's ghost would protect her home. Still, I don't understand why you have agreed to do something so reckless. You've only returned home a short while ago, and just last night you tell me that you want to remove the seal that has protected the world from Altemehsia. I'm afraid that if I let you do this, I will lose you a second time."
Unable to console his father, Squall instead said, "I have my own reason to take part in this madness."
"And what is your reason?"
Unexpectedly, the question hadn't come from the seer's father, but from the blond at his side. Even so, Squall couldn't reply immediately as his thoughts drifted to the wandering dream and the voice of the demon Spirit. Though he wanted to repeat everything which Griever had told him, the brunet feared that the other Spirits residing within him wouldn't react well. At the minimum, they would argue until Squall went mad from the numerous voices, and at the worst, they could try to stop the Protector or punish the demon god. But Squall knew both his father and Seifer deserved to know some of the information he held.
"As I already told Seifer, I spoke to someone in my dream last night."
"Wait, was this one of those wandering dreams you told us about? Where I..."
"I haven't dreamt of your dead form in months, Father, but yes, it was the same sort of dream." Squall paused briefly as he thought of how best to begin his explanation. "Seifer, what do you know of Khaos?"
The large man shifted at the question. "Khaos? I don't know much, only what the old man Kinneas told me when I was a kid. Wasn't he some demon bent on ridding the planet of humans?"
"In the basic sense, yes, long before Altemehsia's fall, Khaos desired to cleanse the world of humans." Too drained to want to speak at length, Squall looked in the direction of his father.
Not one to need much prompting, Laguna began eagerly, "Born from a demon princess impregnated by Hyne, Khaos and his twin brother Griever were the holy war gods, and when fighting with each other, they instigated the worst wars known to mankind. From that view point, Khaos only witnessed the ugliness of our race and eventually decided that his Father had made a mistake in creating humans. But he was a clever demon compared to most. Resisting the urge to directly murder humans, he instead walked upon the Earth and taught the dark arts to foolish men who thought they could control the magic of demons. Unnatural plagues killed thousands, the awakened dead rebelled against their masters, and famine driven wars destroyed once fertile lands. And throughout it all, Khaos laughed as humans nearly brought upon their own demise."
Quiet jingling sounded and faint power flowed into the seer as Seifer handled his trei-pernula jarre. "Isn't that the magic which binds you to me?"
Squall replied, "In a fashion, but as I've already explained to you, the properties and strengths of the bond varies depending on what is offered to the binding and the intentions of those performing the magic."
Seifer hummed softly in reply, obviously not appeased by the seer's answer. "Alright, so Khaos was a bastard and he was sent to Hell because of it. What does that matter to us?"
"While I'm not certain, but somehow, between the Age of Madness and the Age of Darkness, Altemehsia fell in love with Khaos."
"Impossible," Laguna interjected. "There is nothing in the Bukre du Hieghen to suggest that, and more so, why would she even acknowledge the demon god whom she helped her Father seal away in the lower depths of Hell. I'm sorry, son, but this man you spoke with must have been lying to you."
"He wasn't lying," Squall argued gently, "and you once told me yourself that the Bukre du Hieghen wasn't necessarily truth. However it happened, Hyne eventually learned of their affair and he made his disapproval known. Altemehsia refused his demands to end the relationship, and so he punished her by enlisting a human to 'kill' her."
Seifer scoffed. "Shit, isn't that a bit harsh?"
"Hyne is a vengeful god. And it was merely a punishment in his eyes, not a real death. After all, Altemehsia is a true goddess formed from his own body, and therefore cannot experience death. But whether or not he predicted that his punishment would lead to her madness, only Hyne himself knows."
"And it's for that reason you'll help me," the fighter stated in realization. "Because you pity her."
Squall went tight-lipped at the suggestion. "I chose to support you before my dream."
"So you did, but now you have an excuse to make it feel less sinful."
Seifer laughed softly at the blind man's silence, but thankfully changed the subject. "Then, this whole tragic romance tale, was that everything the mystery man told you?"
Hesitating, Squall replied, "No, he also... He finally admitted that your original destiny was to release Hyne from the bindings which Altemehsia had left as a trap for him."
Laguna spoke out in shock. "Hyne has been sealed all of this time? But how? And why hasn't anyone known before this?"
"I image," Kiros offered in his calm tone, "that anarchy would have reigned if mankind knew that their god was defeated."
"But surely we would have noticed some difference," Laguna argued.
Seifer interrupted the older men. "Wait a fucking minute here! Then everything was Hyne's fault to begin with? That if the idiot god hadn't overreacted in the first place, the Age of Darkness would have never happened, and then the Heroes and Protectors wouldn't have been necessary to seal the bitch away. And now, all of your suffering as my Protector because I have to unseal the fucking dumbass... None of it would have happened if he had left Altemehsia and Khaos alone?"
Hesitantly, Squall nodded.
The fighter growled at the confirmation, but didn't dwell on it. "And my supposed 'original' destiny? What the hell happened to change that?"
His sightless eyes narrowed, Squall replied, "I won't let you die for Hyne."
"Die...? Then those bitch sorceresses weren't lying?"
His resolution weakening, the seer bowed his head in shame. "I didn't know. I swear that I didn't know."
After a silent pause, Seifer chuckled gently with no hint of his previous anger. "You see, now you're insulting me. I know that you would never knowingly lead me to my death. And even if you did decide that you want me dead, you're the type to find more enjoyment in strangling me with your own two hands."
"Don't mock this."
Laughingly, the blond leaned over and kissed the corner of scowling lips. "I always mock Death, kitten. Otherwise, I'd be afraid of the bastard."
Squall huffed at the words. "You would be an idiot to not fear Death."
The fighter didn't disagree with the statement, his indifferent shrug felt by the blind man. "Is there anything else left to tell us?"
Smiling softly, the seer said, "Your mother also wanted you to know that she loves you, and something about missing her 'kitten'."
After a quiet cough of surprise, Seifer chuckled. "Damn, that's right. I forgot how she used to always call me that. But sorry, lovely, I still think it fits you better."
Squall huffed, but that was the extent of his argument.
Brushing his fingers beneath the hem of the seer's shirt, Seifer said, "If that's everything, then I think I had better get a small fire going. You're still freezing to the touch. Go ahead and rest, and later we can search for those books."
Lacking the energy to stand, the seer nodded his agreement that some rest was probably needed. And as Seifer removed his arm to stand up, the blind man realized how cold he was without the touch of the blond. Wrapping his arms around his body, Squall leaned back to turn his face into the warm rays of the sun. And as the other men began to setup camp for the night, the seer closed his eyes and ignored the whispering of the voices in his head as he drifted to sleep.
Rubbing his hands together to bring back some warmth to the frozen digits, Seifer walked up the dimly lit stairs which led to the room he shared with the seer. Unaccustomed to the harsher winter of the mountains, the fighter was getting tired of the icy air and the snow which didn't melt for months. But Seifer knew his irritation with the cold weather had little to do with his frustrated state. Instead, there was the stress of Squall's training in the healing arts, something that was easier said than done. And unable to help his lover in any fashion, the Hero was slowly going mad.
Sighing at his childish need for attention, Seifer knocked softly at their door before entering. His mouth open in an unspoken greeting, the blond inhaled sharply at the sight within the small bedroom. Action before reason, Seifer bolted forward until dropping to his knees where he wrapped his arms around the meditating seer in a near tackle. Instantly, the white aura around Squall vanished as the brunet cried out in surprise.
"Seifer, what in Hyne's--"
"Don't do that," Seifer demanded before pressing his face into the seer's neck, the awkward position muffling his added words, "Never do that."
Shifting as much as the unyielding hold of the fighter would allow, Squall rested a hand on a muscular arm. "What are you talking about?"
"You were glowing just now. The same white glow as when..." The fighter trailed off as he was assaulted by images of the young Squall defending him from Adel, the bloodied boy then dropping to the ground and dying in dark mud.
His tone softer, Squall said reassuringly, "And I've already told you - Adel had drained me to the point of death before I had used my powers. While using such magics may have pushed me over the limit, they were not the cause of my death."
Seifer sighed quietly while loosening his hold. "Say what you want, but that's not how it looked to me."
Leaning back against the broad chest of the fighter, Squall raised a hand which instantly glowed with a warm white light. "I need to learn how to manipulate this magic if I'm to help the goddess. Unless, do you happen to know another way to heal her?"
Covering the smaller hand with his own, Seifer stared at the rays of power which seeped between his fingers. "Don't lie to me, Squall. Can this magic hurt you?"
"Any magic can harm its caster, but only if that person doesn't understand and respect his powers."
The blond scoffed. "In other words, you want to continue your training without me around to bother you."
"That's not what I said."
"But it's what you meant."
A quiet laugh sounded from the blind man. "You are infuriating. If you would stay and listen to my father's reading of the texts, you would understand more about my powers."
"Whatever, kitten. The one time I tried staying around, I couldn't understand half of the things mentioned and then fell asleep. And I know better than to willing submit to that torture again."
Humming thoughtfully, Squall commented, "You're in quite the mood today. What's wrong?"
The seer breathed a laugh before freeing himself from the fighter's hold and standing up. Turning, Squall smiled fondly at the kneeling blond. "Shall we dance, my neglected idiot?"
Despite the insult, green eyes brightened at the offer. "You shouldn't be so cocky, kitten. While you've been playing with spells, I've been sparring with Seagill and occasionally beating up that bastard of a priest. I'm clearly too much for you."
Smirking, the blind man replied, "Prove it."
A flight of stairs and several insults later, the two men left the warmth of the church in exchange for the open space of outside. In a relaxed pose, Seifer twirled his dagger between two hands and silently watched as his seer removed the silver blade that was always kept on his body. The knife held at his side, Squall stood with his head tilted vaguely, the blind man prepared to listen for the fighter's movements in the surrounding snow.
Knowing stealth would be nearly impossible, Seifer decided to use speed and force against the seer. Dashing forward, the fighter feinted for the brunet's front, but then tossed his dagger to his other hand in order to attack the man's backside. Squall reacted quickly, his knife parrying aside the deadly drive as he turned and raised his leg to ram his knee into the blond's exposed side. Seifer leaned away to soften the blow, smirking at the knowledge that he had just barely avoided a deep bruising. Gazing at the beautiful man, emerald eyes glittered with excitement at battling the skilled seer, and with his smirk widening, Seifer moved his knife hand in order to strike the long neck adorn with faded bite marks.
They sparred for the rest of the afternoon, Seifer careful to recognize the limits of his partner while not making it too easy for the stormy-eyed man. Once deciding that he was done for the day, the large blond tricked Squall into making an awkward defensive move, and with the seer unbalanced, Seifer tackled the man to the snow. Laughing at the annoyed expression of the seer, Seifer dodged the brunet's final attempt to slam the hilt of his knife into the fighter's head. The attacking hand was quickly grabbed before it could do any other damage, and with a victorious smirk crossing his flushed face, the blond trapped the man's arms into the snow before claiming a kiss from tight lips.
"So, what did I win?"
Squall scoffed, though a faint smile belied his mask of irritation. "You want a prize for defeating a blind man?"
"No, I want a prize for defeating you."
Before Squall was given the chance to reply - a sinful comment given the gleam to his sightless eyes - they were interrupted by the sound of clapping. Seifer silently cursed as the blind man went still beneath him and pleading blue-gray eyes were directed upward. Conceding to the fact that his fun had been ruined, the blond moved off of the smaller man and helped the seer to his feet.
"That was absolutely incredible," Laguna gushed as he stepped into view. "You told me that Seifer was giving you lessons, but I never imagined that you could fight with such skill. It was almost as if you could..."
Rolling his eyes at the man's lack of discretion, Seifer said, "Squall doesn't need his sight to defend himself. Even Ward knew that enough to teach him self defense years ago."
"Of course I know that, but just now..." Seemingly at a lost for words, Laguna stepped forward to rest a hand on his son's shoulder. "You've matured far beyond my imagination, Squall. When you first lost your sight as a child, I hoped simply that you could live a happy life. And while you were denied that at first, you still became stronger and wiser than your years. Wherever you may have inherited your resilience, it certainly wasn't from me."
"No, you don't have to say anything. But I... I need to apologize. I have doubted your judgment concerning Altemehsia when I should have been supporting you. All this time I've been afraid to lose you, but I also refused to see that you've grown from the child who feared his dreams. I think I understand now that you are facing your nightmares with a courage I never had."
Squall smiled gently. "You underestimate yourself."
Laguna shook his head, then pressed his lips to the brunet's brow. "I have faith in your abilities. If anyone can achieve the impossible, it would be you."
Sightless eyes shifted with uncertainty, but to Seifer's surprise, the seer didn't argue with his father's sincere words.
"Enough of that," the long-haired man stated lightly. "Dinner will be ready soon. You and Seifer should clean up before coming home for the evening."
His voice displaying his continued astonishment, Squall replied, "We will be there shortly."
Clapping the younger brunet's shoulder in parting, Laguna smiled broadly before heading in the direction of the church and calling out Ward's name.
Seifer shook his head as he watched the older man reach the back door and nearly fall while kicking the snow from his shoes. "I still can't believe the two of you are related. Maybe I can see it in your facial features, but beyond that... Hyne, he's such an idiot."
Expecting to be scolded from his seer, Seifer was startled when he turned and found the brunet covered in a warm white light. Though his heart clenched at the disturbing sight, the fighter held back his desire to yell or attack the smaller man, anything to make that light go away. Sightless eyes then shifted his way, the milky whiteness shining with a disconcerting glow that made Seifer shiver and slide a foot back through trampled snow.
"This is my power. Do you understand what it is?"
"You're a healer, so I assume it's some kind of healing power."
"In a sense, but it's more than that." Squall lifted a hand and a white flame twisted to life on his palm. "I command bheun poetir, or more simply 'life energy'. In this way, I can condense a person's bheun poetir or contribute my own energy and thereby heal mortal wounds. But in the same fashion, I can remove that all important energy from a body and kill a person without leaving a mark."
"As you did with Adel," Seifer stated dazedly, remembering how simply the sorceress was defeated by the blind child.
"Yes, but normally, using my ability in that way should have led to insanity." Chuckling softly as he seemingly stared at the twisting flame in his palm, Squall added, "Or perhaps I am insane. Either way, you've changed me into someone who controls the energy of life as humans weren't meant to command such powers."
Seifer snatched the raised hand and jerked the seer close before declaring harshly, "You are not crazy."
The seer didn't reply to the statement. Instead, with his cloudy eyes still glowing, Squall pressed his free hand against the broad chest. "Prepare yourself."
The warning not very useful to the blond, Seifer inhaled deeply at the sensation of ghost fingers penetrating his chest. Though gentle, it was distressing to feel the nonexistent hand slide through his body until pausing at his heart. The hand then shifted as fingers stroked against something deep within the Hero and the result was instantaneous. Seifer cried out when lightning like pain coursed though his body, and as he shoved the smaller man away, the blond stumbled back until falling to the snow. Intending to glare at the brunet, Seifer was nearly blinded as everything except the seer bore a painfully bright golden glow, forcing the fighter to promptly close his eyes and cover his face with shaky hands.
Frightened and angry, Seifer demanded, "What the fuck was that?"
Squall stepped to the fallen man and placed a steady hand into blond hair. "Reaching for a soul is different than simply controlling life energy. When the time comes, I will have to tear that piece of soul from your body. Can you be ready for that pain?"
Seifer moved his hand and grasped onto the seer's arm in order to pull him down to the ground. Hugging the smaller man close, he buried his face into the long neck. "It'd be a lie to say 'yes', but you won't frighten me away from our decision to revive the whore goddess. I can deal with some pain if it means a chance at peace for us. But have a question for you - can you handle causing me that amount of pain?"
The blind man didn't respond immediately as he nudged the larger man into straightening. Searching lips caressed the fighter's cheek before finding his mouth, the seer then initiating a rough kiss that stole away Seifer's breath. Eventually breaking that connection, Squall said, "I don't want to, but I will. Against better judgment, I believe you when you say that this will end everything. And I'm so tired."
Daring to open his eyes, Seifer was relieved that the golden hues to his vision had dimmed to nearly nothing and he was able to comfortably gaze at his lover. "Who said that it'd be restful after we've raised the goddess, hmm?" he asked with a suggestively rough voice.
The white glow of before gone, Squall stared forward with dull eyes that spoke of suffering and exhaustion, but he still managed a weak smile. "Anything for you."
Sighing at the seer's tortured existence, Seifer placed a hand at the man's cheek and gently kissed below a sightless eye. "All I want is you, kitten. Nothing else is good enough for me."
There was a quiet whistle of chilling wind as the Protector stood in front of the cave which had plagued his dreams as of late, a magically created cavern which hid the sealed Altemehsia. And though unable to see the dark stone of the scarred mountain side, Squall had 'seen' much of the cavern from his visions and was able to imagine the sight before him, as well as what was held within. Steps on rocky ground sounded behind him, the aura of the approaching Hero a soothing force against the chaotic thoughts within the seer's mind. Seifer stopped close to the blind man, but he didn't touch the other man in respect of his space.
"I thought we were waiting until the summer for this."
Continuing to focus his sightless eyes on the cave entrance, Squall replied, "I wanted more time to prepare, but the visions and dreams are coming too often these days. If it continues..." The seer trailed off, afraid of his suspicion that he was gradually breaking down against the pressure.
The sharp crack of knuckles sounded as the blond shifted. "Fine by me if we do this sooner than later. Though, I don't think Laguna will appreciate the note you left him."
Squall frowned at that knowledge, but he also knew that his kindhearted father would have never let him go. It was months earlier than he had told his father that they would attempt reviving the goddess, and though Laguna was sincere with his trust in his son's abilities, Squall could still sense the man's reluctance in allowing his son to do something that was potentially suicidal. It was inconvenient, but the brunet could never fault his father. And so, Squall had decided to leave well before dawn, trusting that Seifer would follow without too much of a commotion despite the sudden departure. In that way, even once reading the note left behind, Laguna wouldn't be able to reach the cavern until it was too late, and only a part of Squall feared his father reaction to the impersonal 'goodbye'.
"Well, it doesn't matter to me. There's a good chance that we'll bring about the end of the world here, so maybe he won't get the chance to be angry with you."
Squall sighed at the fighter's offhanded comment about liberating a plague upon humankind. "If you disapprove--"
"Don't even say it, kitten. I've been with you for every one of your visions and I'm sick of watching you have those death dreams. I'm ready to end this as much as you are."
The seer smirked at the confident tone. "Then there is no reason to delay this further."
Seifer reached out at the words, his arm wrapping around the blind man's lean waist. "It should be pretty dark in there, and since you lied about going to my old home instead of here, I didn't think to bring a torch. Are you up to guiding me?"
Squall's response was to rest a hand on the fighter's larger hand, and then stepped forward to the mouth of the cavern. Passing from the warmth of spring into the coldness of shadows, the seer shivered at the feel of a ward trying to repel him, but the touch of the Hero allowed him passage without harm as they stepped further into the chilling dampness. Gradually Seifer's hold grew tighter, a sign that told Squall of the fighter's unspoken distress with the enclosed darkness of the cavern. Unable to assure the man with anymore than a squeeze of his hand, Squall reached out with his free hand to brush his fingers along the walls in guidance. Though made of rock, the walls were impossibly smooth to the sensitive fingertips, telling of the powerful magic that was used to create a passageway into the mountain side. But as such details didn't matter much to Squall, the seer instead focused on their path to the chamber where Altemehsia was hidden away.
It was a long walk through darkness, something commonplace for the blind man, but Seifer had never experienced the same all-encompassing blackness that the seer lived through every day. Feeling that he may be crushed at any moment by the fighter's hold, Squall unconsciously began to hum a disjointed version of a lullaby his father once sung to him, a song that his mother apparently favored. Seifer laughed at the attempt to soothe his fears, but then quickly apologized when the blind man stopped his humming. And so, with a quiet hum echoing off the walls of the cavern, the blind man led his Hero through the dark maze of tunnels.
Longer than Squall thought it would take, the two men were halted in their journey by an apparent dead-end to their path. The seer heard Seifer breathe deeply in relief before he released his death hold on the smaller man. With the sound of moving cloth and the faint hiss of pain, Squall prepared for anything as the Hero presented his blood to the unmarked doorway. But there was no other sound aside from Seifer's muttered curse when the air shifted around them and the hidden room was revealed.
"Holy shit, what is this place?"
Squall had no real answer to offer, his only knowledge about the enormous room coming from his blurry visions where large glowing crystals of white stood out from the dark rock of the mountain to illuminate the chamber. In that line of sight, there was nothing else to the expansive room except for two objects at the far side of the cave. But remembering the blood that was supposed to pool on the cavern floor, Squall shook his head to free himself of those thoughts. He then reached for the Hero, waking the blond from his startled state.
"Uh, there's enough light in here, so I can manage on my own. But damn, is that really Hyne or just a statue?"
Thinking of his visions, Squall recalled the image of a large statue which knelt at the side of a casket formed of crystal and stone. Though blurry, the blind man had 'seen' the vague details of the frozen god, the winged man appearing both youthful and feminine with his deceivingly slender build. But then his mental image changed as there was a flash of silver from the cracking of gray stone and the god was released from his bindings. With the flap of large feathered wings, the freed god smirked and vanished into nothing, leaving behind the sacrificed Hero on the ground and unmoving.
Jerking straight at the call of his lover, Squall found his breath erratic and short from panic. Mentally scolding himself for the minor breakdown, the seer calmed down from his frightened state and demanded softly, "Don't touch the statue."
"Hn, I don't like the feel of it anyway. Fuck, this whole room feels sick to me. If you're up for it, I'd rather get out of here sooner than later."
Squall nodded once, his hand then taken in a warm hold as he was led to the back of the room. Widely diverting around the large statue, the two men stood next to the casket of stone and crystal. At the command of the seer, Seifer placed drops of his blood onto the magical seals of the casket and then proceeded to remove the heavy lid. The sharp and loud fall of solid crystal onto the cavern floor startled the blind man and made him scowl in the fighter's direction.
"Hey, it's heavy. What did you expect me to do - lift it up and place it gently on the ground?"
Calming his breath, Squall reluctantly realized that he was more anxious than he had accounted for.
"Shit, so this is the almighty goddess, huh? Looks like a normal sorceress to me. Well, except for those markings all over her body. Do you think they're natural or did she have some kind of holy tattooing done?"
Unable to stop a smile at the Hero's ridiculous thought process, Squall stepped closer and rested a hand at the rim of stone. "Use the binding spell I taught you and keep her in place while I begin the healing. And prepare yourself," he added, knowing he didn't need to explain further.
"Hn, don't worry about me, kitten. But I think I should warn you that one of her fingers just twitched."
Recognizing that time was precious, Squall reached out and cringed at the unnatural aura of the goddess. But he refused to be intimidated by his fears and he placed his hands at the woman's chest and head. Instantly the seer was overwhelmed by the absolutely enormity of the being at his touch, as if an entire world of life and power existed within the simple humanlike body. And though he began to shake at that unimaginable existence, Squall relaxed and allowed the power of the goddess to wash through him.
Just as Altemehsia began to stir beneath his hands, Squall straightened at the feel of emptiness, a strange void in the goddess that made the blind man smell blood. Focusing on that cavity, the seer called to the vastness of bheun poetir that existed within the goddess and began to heal the damaged soul. Eventually, Squall heard the cursing of the blond, a dangerous sign that Altemehsia was waking faster than expected, waking before she could be completely healed. Given little choice otherwise, Squall reached out with a quick hand and grabbed onto the shirt of the Hero. There was no gentleness in retrieving the fractured soul from Seifer, which resulted in the piercing screams from the fighter. Though despising that sound enough to wish for deftness in addition to his blindness, Squall didn't shift his focus from the task at hand.
Released from the magical bonds of the hurting Hero, Altemehsia shifted with more pronounced movements. Not allowing himself to be rushed, Squall directed the stolen piece of soul back into its rightful place and quietly spoke in the ancient tongue to coax the soul into healing itself. Initially, that forgotten piece of soul was rejected as something false and wrong, and reacting to that, the first sound from the goddess in thousands of years echoed off the cavern walls as she screamed in rage. Seifer yelled a cursed before physically restraining the goddess, a foolish attempt in normal situations, but the weaken body couldn't fight against the strength of the Hero.
Granted that extra bit of time, Squall forced his own life energy into the goddess and pressed the fractured soul closer to the torn cavity until tendrils of the woman's bheun poetir reached out to examine what was being offered. Fear coursed through the goddess as the body prepared to reject the portion of soul once more, but the seer held fast and demanded that the lost piece belonged there. Sorrow flooded the blind man, an unexpected emotion amongst the feelings of rage and fear, and as Altemehsia cried out once more, her bheun poetir abruptly snatched the portion of soul and flared to life with healing energy.
With the primary task accomplished, Squall sunk into the erratic energy of the goddess and followed the flooding flow of healing power to clear its path wherever the blockage of ancient scars remained. But despite his good intentions, Altemehsia continued to fight against the long needed healing, and with every minute wasted, she regained more of her strength. And so it was with little surprise that Seifer abruptly cried out, the large man apparently thrown aside judging by moved presence of the Hero. But the subsequent feeling of numbness made Squall pause with a sense of horror.
It abruptly became impossible to breathe, let alone speak, as an icy hand clamped around his throat. Reflexively, Squall clawed at the murderous grip in the need for air, and in that struggle, he didn't notice when the blackness around him first began to dissolve away. But as he squinted in discomfort from the white light of the surrounding crystals, Squall froze in place as he viewed upon the world which was slowly emerging from the darkness. His first sight was of the Hero, the large man slumped in an uncomfortable position at the bent leg of the winged statue. And from his unmoving state, cracks of molten silver crept up the gray stone of the sealed god. Eyes wide in disbelief, Squall wanted to convince himself that it was only a vision, that his sight and inability to breathe were proof of that. But the clarity of his sight, that he could see the wisps of golden strands swaying over closed eyes, told him differently.
The hold on his throat tightened, making blue-gray eyes water in pain, but Squall wasn't afraid of his potential death. Instead, he looked to his tormentor and stared into dark amber eyes that were filled with a mix of hatred and fear. Time slowed as he gazed into the dimly lit eyes, a part of the seer recognizing and understanding the inner agony of the goddess. It was painful to be near completion, something which required being broken and restored into new life. But knowing of the peace associated with becoming whole, Squall reached out and rested a hand on a pale cheek crossed by dark purple markings.
'Be free', he mouthed, unable to form true words even though the hand at his throat loosened in surprise. A white aura appeared around his forearm and traveled down to his steady hand. And as he poured his life energy into the goddess, Squall smiled fondly at the widened eyes which glittered with a softer light that eventually pushed away the dark amber hue to be replaced by polished gold.
But then the world exploded as silver light filled the room and Squall was thrown back into the back wall of the cavern by the flash of power. Dazedly, the seer lifted his head enough to see the unfurling of a large wing, the white feathers glowing with a metallic gleam in the dim light of the cavern. The wing pulled back fully and the released form of Hyne was revealed in all of his inhuman beauty. Though appearing mostly human in appearance, something about the androgynous form was wholly wrong to the seer's senses, as if the body was too perfect to be anything but a god. The bowed face was more male than female, but still delicate in a way that didn't suit the vengeful god. And as Squall stared at the deity, he inhaled sharply when silver-blue eyes opened, their first sight in thousands of years being the crumpled form of the seer. Pink lips lifted into a smirk that made the brunet shiver in awe and in fear, but before Squall could begin to wonder at the expression, Hyne vanished so suddenly that the air clapped together in a deafening sound of thunder.
Once quiet retook the cavern, Squall uncurled from his position and forced his aching body into standing. Pushing off from the wall, the brunet stumbled forward as his stormy eyes glanced at the large casket of dark stone speckled with various colors of crystal. The woman within, the goddess of light, was unmoving in her opened cage as a pale arm hung limply over the edge.
But Squall no longer cared about Altemehsia, his cleared eyes instead hungering for another sight as he walked unsteadily around the casket. Breaths became difficult for the seer when he located the body of the Hero, Seifer lying sprawled in the place where the sealed form of Hyne had been freed. The large man was covered with the broken crystal and dark rock that had been scattered throughout the cavern, the sight reminding the seer of too many visions that he swore wouldn't occur.
"Se... Seifer?" Squall choked out, his legs failing him only a few meters from his lover.
Though he refused to believe the obstinate Hero could be dead and he wanted nothing more than to throttle the blond until he was awake, Squall couldn't move any further as a wave of intense pain washed through him. His mouth open and his head thrown back, the seer couldn't even cry out as he felt like his soul was being torn from his body.
::Father is calling...::
Stormy eyes went wide at the child's voice, and glancing down, the seer watched as a green-white ball of light slowly emerged from his chest. Once freed of its cage, the ball uncurled into a small creature with light green fur, large black eyes, and a shimmering ruby on its forehead. Its long ears drooping in apology, Carbuncle nodded a vague 'goodbye' before the demigod vanished into nothing.
The pain momentarily lost to numbness, Squall slumped to his side as he fell to the rocky ground in exhaustion. Gray eyes shining metallic blue, the seer stared at his lover and smiled weakly. Squall had forgotten that the revival of Hyne meant more than the endangerment of Hero's life and soul, that without the power of Hyne within Seifer, there was nothing to keep the seer alive. But death didn't matter to Squall as he felt the other Spirits stirring within him in preparation to leave his mortal form and join their sire in Heaven. His soul would finally be at peace, and once in Hell, he would be able to spend the rest of eternity with the sinful Hero.
It didn't seem like such a bad fate after all.
Author's Whining -- *deep breath* Almost done. And for those keeping track, I relented to the request that I wouldn't kill Seifer, but I made no such promise for Squall. *grin*