Chapter 4

Ryn opened her eyes, although it was hard to tell if she did or not. Nothing but darkness and silence found her when she woke. "Bahamut, where am I?"

"That old mansion remember? Reiven locked you in a coffin."

"Oh my, she did, didn't she?" Ryn gulped, not liking the concept of being trapped in a small box for any longer then she already had been. Shifting her hands to rest on the coffin's top, she tried to push it open. "Well, I didn't think it'd be that easy," she said after her first try didn't work. "I could use magic."

"Did you want to fry, or drown, or crush us both?"

"Well then, what do you suggest, genius?"

"Oh, I'm a genius now?" Ryn rolled her eyes, but let him talk. "Why don't you try and pry the tip of your long sword into the crease?"

"Why don't I just slice off my arm while I'm at it?"

"You're more careful then that."

"Alright, we'll try your way." Ryn shifted her weight to her right side in order to wiggle out her long sword.

After some careful moments, she was able to free the sword and bring it up towards the crack. Using her right hand to feel for the exact spot, she slid the tip of the blade into the opening and, without cutting her body, pushed down on the hilt.

"Can you tell if it's opening yet?"

"Well if it is then it's terribly dark out there."

"That's to be expected right? Try pushing up with your arms now."

"Alright, alright, stop being pushy." Ryn heard the dragon sigh, but ignored him. She slid her blade down next to her and pushed up and off to the side. The cover fell loudly off to the side, causing some ringing in her ears.

"Was that necessary?" Bahamut complained.

"Oh shut it." She sat up and took a deep breath, but ended up coughing it out a second later. The room was caked in smoke and Ryn, being the lucky individual that she was, inhaled half the room. "What the hell?"

"Something's on fire," Bahamut observed.

"Do you want me to comment on your habit of stating the obvious?"

"Can you stop making fun of me for a second? This can potentially be very serious!"

"Only if you stop it first."

"Your such a child, Ryn."

"Well, better then a millennia old lizard." Bahamut cut off the connection before Ryn could say anything more. He knew that if he didn't they'd never get out.

Ryn coughed again and ducked down under the smoke. Feeling her way across the stone floor, she slowly made her way towards the door. She hit her head once, before reaching for the handle and pushing open the door. She cough again once she reached the corridor.

Ryn wasn't totally sure how the smoke had gathered that far below the ground, noticing that the room to her left with a bunch of books and papers was unharmed, but when she reached the stairwell she had a good idea. The entire staircase was ablaze. Coughing again and dropping to her knees again before inhaling more smoke, Ryn touched her hand to the stone wall. Considering how hot the inferno in the stairwell was, the stone was surprisingly still cool. "Any suggestions?" she asked her guardian, reestablishing the connection between them.

"You could always borrow my wings again."

"You'd care if they got singed though." The redhead could hear the dragon sigh and she smiled faintly. "Sorry, sometimes I forget to turn the 'being an ass' light switch off in my head."

"Sometimes? Try all the time. Just use my wings. It'll be the fastest and the safest way."

"I'm more worried about the building above. Obviously the place is ablaze."

The dragon paused. "You still have that Phoenix Pinion right?" Ryn nodded. "Get it out and hold onto it while I set up your 'traveling equipment.'"

"You're going to try and absorb it?" Ryn closed her eyes and muttered a few words. She felt the phoenix feather spear in her fingertips and opened her eyes again. The item was actually her favorite out of her inventory. It looked like any other crimson, bird feather except that it shimmered a mixture of yellow, orange, blue, and green when turned at different angles.

"That's the plan."

She held the feather by the bottom and closed her eyes, waiting for Bahamut's command. "How long do you think this'll last? Probably not that long, right?"

Bahamut didn't answer.

"Well, I guess we'll find out, huh?"

In reply, black and blue wings broke through her jacket and unfolded. They flapped a few times before they burst into flames. Ryn looked at her hands and noticed that the phoenix feather was gone. The wings flapped again, allowing the fire to surround her own body. She took a breath, steadying her nerves. She didn't like the prospect of being surrounded by an inferno. "It should last until you get out of here," Bahamut finally replied, "but don't take your time."

"Thanks for the advice."

"Wait, did you actually compliment me?"

Ryn sighed, but couldn't help but smile. "Maybe I think I'm going die so I'm giving you once last ounce of appreciation."

The dragon sighed. "Well, that was short lived."

Ryn smirked, took a breath and closed her eyes before crouching down and jumping up.

"Please tell me you plan on opening those soon," Bahamut muttered, flapping his wigs effortlessly up to the top floor.

"I trust you," Ryn responded, not liking the idea of flying through a blizzard of flames.

"Oh for goodness sakes, Ryn, you steer remember?"

The redhead sighed and cracked open an eye just in time to evade a clump of burning debris. She looked down and watched it fall, feeling a little bit better now that she knew she was so close to getting out of the basement. "Hey Bahamut, what do you think Reiven is doing here?"

She pulled herself through the doorway and into the bedroom as soon as she reached the top. Shielding her eyes from the bright inferno, she took one ginger step after the other, praying that the floor wouldn't collapse under her weight. "I've been trying to figure that out too," Bahamut admitted, "but I've been turning up blanks."

Ryn nodded as she maneuvered out into the hallway. "Well, we know she's not here on vacation." She gasped when a part of the roof broke off and took out the floor only a few inches in front of her. If it wasn't for the Phoenix Pinion, Ryn would've been ashes by now.

"Well, this place does match her style."

Ryn couldn't help but smile. She was going to counter his statement, but figured that he deserved a chance to be witty. Her demeanor changed a second later when some memories flashed in her head. Ryn couldn't help but choke back some tears when she remembered all the times that she and Reiven hung out together. They used to be able to practically read each other's minds. That may have come from the fact that their guardians happened to be brothers, but then again they were always close. Griever tore them apart. "Do you think she'll ever be the same?"

The dragon sighed, wishing that he had the right words to say to her, but also knowing that he couldn't powder the truth. "I know that Griever's manipulating her, not becoming her. She might recover entirely, but Ryn, it's gonna be a long shot."

Ryn just nodded, knowing that as well, but she needed to hear it out of someone else's mouth. "I'll try my best okay? I refuse to let her go without a fight."

"I know you will, Ryn and I'll help the best I can."

"Thanks pal."

They both made it out just in time for the Phoenix feather to run out of power. "Ironic," Ryn mumbled and took a look around. The entire town was ablaze. Bodies littered the ground, some partly consumed by the flames while other still burned. Her hands shot to her nose as soon as the smell reached her position. Even at this distance it was overwhelming. "B-Bahamut! W-what?" She just dropped to her knees and vomited.

The dragon waited for her to finish before trying to get her to move again. If they stayed here they'd most likely get charred themselves. "Ryn, we have to go find Reiven and get out of here!"

"Master, have you seen my father? I can't find him anywhere."

Ryn looked down into town at a younger woman with long, brunette hair that reached to her upper thighs. She looked down at an older man holding another civilian. The redhead didn't catch much of the situation, but she did hear the words "Mako Reactor."

"I remember something about a reactor."

"You do?" Ryn asked, not recalling the place herself.

"Yeah, I think Reiven mentioned it before she left," Bahamut explained.

"How careless of her."

"She probably wanted us to go there."

"There's nothing you can do! Tifa!" The brunette ran along the path past Ryn and out of the village, not even noticing the redhead.

Ryn debated on whether or not to follow her. She didn't really think that she had the right to save her if anything went wrong, but she had a feeling that she'd lead her to the reactor.

"Ryn, follow her," Bahamut order, ceasing Ryn's dilemma with those simple words.

æ § æ

Ryn wasn't sure how far away the reactor actually was, but after following the girl for about twenty minutes, she hoped it wasn't much longer. The girl surprisingly had very good stamina. Ryn wasn't expecting that, but was impressed nonetheless. Apparently she had some sort of training.

"Papa! Papa, where are you? Papa!" Tifa shouted as soon as a tall building came into sight. The building was a little old, but still awkward in its built. It was tall with a large, aqua green top that seemed to move as smoke passed through it. Metal spokes poked out from the sides making them look more like spikes than actual supports. A long stairway led up to the door and onto a platform on the inside.

Ryn hid behind some rock as soon as she saw Tifa run to the side of a man, presumably her father, with an incredibly long sword lying next to him. Ryn recognized the sword as the one that was hidden under the cloak of the silver-haired man that she had arrived with. "So, that was Sephiroth."

"I thought you knew that?"

Ryn ignored the question and scanned the area for Reiven. She vaguely listened to the conversation between the girl and her dad, knowing that she probably could go over there and try to help, but her main objective here was to find Reiven, not to get drawn into the affairs of this world. "Bahamut, do you see her?"

"I only see as much as you do, but I don't sense Griever."

"Sephiroth. Sephiroth did this to you right?" Tifa got to her feet, leaving her father to rest on the ground and looked over at the giant sword next to him. "Sephiroth, SOLDIER, Shinra, Mako reactors, I hate them all!" She grabbed the sword and ran up the stairs into the reactor.

"It's sad isn't it?" Reiven laughed as she walked out from behind the stairwell. She wiped away an invisible tear and laughed some more before heading over to Ryn. "What are you hiding for? Don't want the natives to see you?"

"You were hiding too, Reiven. What are you doing here anyway?" Ryn walked out to meet her in front of the reactor, hands loose and ready to grab at her long swords if she tried anything.

"Oh me? I came here for this of course." She shifted her left arm around from her back and lifted something long out so that Ryn could see it clearly. It was the same sword that Tifa had just taken inside.

Ryn cocked an eyebrow, not totally sure what to make of everything. "But how did you—"

"You know nothing do you? The sword that that girl just took was the real one. This one here is the fake." Ryn didn't respond so she continued. "Must I explain everything? You see, this sword is something very important to me, in fact to all the worlds. It's a Chaos Kross. You know what that is?" Ryn just shrugged. "I didn't think so. There are a grand total of five of these and what they do is—Wait, maybe I won't tell you. I'll just make you figure it out for yourself."

"How nice of you," Ryn growled, reaching for her long swords knowing that Reiven was about to make her move. "Tell me this though, why did you bring me here if you just wanted me to figure everything out?"

Reiven laughed and took a few more steps closer, the thick blackness of Time Compression melting the grass behind her. Ryn back away a little more, wanting to keep a good distance between her and Reiven, but she also knew that in order to get back to Squall and the others, she had to make it through Time Compression again.

"Really Ryn, where's the fun in a chase when the person who's chasing you doesn't know where you're going to be next?" Ryn couldn't tell if her eyes were Reiven's real forest green ones or Griever's tainted amber, but she knew as soon as Reiven closed the distance with a sprint and brought Sephiroth's sword down to slice her in two. Ryn brought her swords up just in time. "And besides, I just wanted to play a little more."

The ground slowly melted away around them, but not enough that they could fall completely into the compression. "You're sick, Griever." Ryn pushed the blade off to her right and circled around to hoping catch Reiven's unguarded right side, but Reiven did the same move and slapped Ryn's attack away.

Some more footsteps were heard coming up the path to the reactor. The other head soldier, Zack, had just come from the village, knowing full well what his partner Sephiroth had been up to. However, the last thing he expected to see was two fighting females. He blinked a few times and debated heading over there, but it looked as if the ground was melting away underneath them. He cringed and then gulped, wondering what he should do, but as soon as he heard someone a scream from inside the reactor he had his decision.

The two saw Zack out of the corner of their eyes, but luckily Tifa's scream grabbed his attention. "Well, that was convenient," Reiven said, bringing the long blade up professionally to block Ryn's attack from above. "There might have been even more blood spilt in this town."

"Shut up, Reiven!" Ryn shouted, regaining her footing after her rival broke her attack.

"You have to somehow get in a decent attack!" Bahamut shouted, his intentions good, but obviously badly-timed.

"Don't you think I know that?" She pushed another thrust out wide, but this time held it down with her right blade and came through with her left aiming at Reiven's right shoulder. Reiven side-stepped the left thrust and got her blade unlocked, but Ryn ducked under the blade when she counterattacked. Ryn fell into a roll and looked for Reiven as soon as she regained her footing, but the other redhead was already descending at her from above, blade first. Ryn wasn't sure when Reiven summoned her wings, but she didn't have time to figure it out. Instead of lunging away, Ryn stayed under the blade and just leaned away at the last second enough so that it grazed her right arm and then aimed up to hit Reiven bad in the shoulder.

She yelped and fell into a roll clutching her right shoulder. Ryn got to her feet and checked her own graze, but as soon as she felt she had footing, the ground disappeared under her. Reiven smirked when she saw her fall and lunged at her, driving Sephiroth's sword cleanly through her right side and out the back. Ryn gasped and screamed when Reiven ripped it out.

She merely laughed.

"Ryn!" Bahamut screamed, causing his wings to unfold from her back to keep her from falling even more.

"How's it feel?" Reiven taunted, coming at her again, but Ryn was in no condition to stop her. Instead she clenched her teeth and braced for another impact, but it never came. She opened her eyes and realized that Reiven must've already disappeared into another time.

"How does she do that so quickly?" Ryn wondered aloud, but yelped when she pushed too hard on her side. Her vision became blurry and the sudden heat flashes put her body through more confusion. She wanted to just stop, slip away into sleep, but her injured side continued to flare up. Biting her lip, she tried to stifle another scream.

Such a futile attempt.

"Ryn!" Bahamut yelled, but was unable to help. "Oh God no! Ryn!" His voice began to fade out.

She fell, Bahamut's wings disappearing with the lost of their connection. The dragon tried hard to get it back and for a split second he did. Forming the wings once again, he tried to stop her from spiraling out of control. "B-Bahamut," she rasped. "P-please help me get back to Squall." The wings disappeared again as Ryn slowly shifted back into unconsciousness.

"Only you can do that!" Bahamut screamed, only managing communication and nothing more. He was panicking. Never before had he felt so helpless. Ryn, he realized, could cure herself easily enough if she had any strength, but that was fading as much as the warm blood from her side. "Ryn, I can't help you. I-I can only watch you." He paused, desperate for some kind of plan. "Don't quit on me!"

In a last attempt at life, her adrenaline kicked some strength into her failing mind.

"Use memories, quotes, anything! Link your mind with me."

æ § æ

She was back, back in the abyss where she first saw Squall, the same Squall that she had tried hard to help her. He was struggling through his memories, just like Ryn was right now. "Think, Squall! Think of who you want to be with!" She took her words to heart and tried to remember.

Memories from the dance clicked like a slideshow across her mind's eye.

"Miss…"

"Taylon. Ryn Taylon."

The dolphin fountains.

The empty finger where the ring once rested.

The training center.

The bench where she and Reiven fought.

æ § æ

"Ryn!"

Her eyes fluttered open, but she couldn't make out the face. "C-Cye?"

"Oh my God, what do I do? What do I do?" Ryn heard hands as they fiddled through pockets then the sudden relief as the blue energy of Cura coursed through her body, targeting her wounded side.

Sleep.

Ryn wanted to succumb to it; get lost in the river of dreams, but someone was shouting her name. At first it did sound like Cye but after a while she realized it couldn't be. It wasn't him she had remembered. "Go away!" she thought instead. "Mind your own business."

"Ryn!"

Hazel eyes shot open. "Let me sleep, you bastard!" Her rescuer silenced, but the surprised yet hurtful look on his face calmed her raging anger. "Zell?"


A/N: I'm so sorry that this took so long to put up. I actually thought it would've been up so much sooner 'cause I had gotten really far into the chapter, but then just couldn't finish it so it sat around for a while. Well, here it is and now that I'm back in the FF8 world I'm not as stressed out about getting the FF7 world right. Heh... I hope you enjoy this chapter! A heart-felt thanks goes out to all the people who have been continuing to read this even though the chapters come up so slow. Thank you so much! Your support means so much!

Strata