Chapter 4: Forewarning

  

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Lulu bolted upright in her bed when a sound strongly resembling a truck backfiring resounded throughout the castle. It sounded like it came from the garage. She looked around, blinking. She didn’t see much, though; it was still dark outside. The black mage looked around grumpily for her alarm clock. The time read 3:51. Who on God’s green earth could be up at this hour? Two more sounds had quickly followed the first one. Lulu contemplated getting out of bed to see what it was, and then wondered if she really wanted to know what the origin of the sounds could be. It really could have been a truck backfiring, or it could have been Zidane scrounging around in Cloud’s room. The latter could have resulted in Cloud being woken and seeing the monkey pilfer some precious belonging. The spiky-haired one would then proceed to give chase, resulting in the loud noises. It could have been multiple explosions from Coco’s lab, or it could have just been Dante eating. It could’ve been anything at all, really. Lulu decided that she had best stay in bed. Not because she was afraid, but because, she concluded, some problems could (and should) solve themselves.

Lulu dropped back onto her pillow, moodily pulling the covers over her head. She had almost dropped off to sleep when she heard a soft scratching outside. At first, she though it was at her door, but as she sat up in her bed and listened carefully, she thought it (whatever it was) might be scratching a few doors down. Quietly, she climbed out of bed and by the time she had gotten dressed, she had heard a door close softly. Silently, she left her room and crept across the hall and down it to her right. She stopped at a vacant room when she heard voices like sandpaper rubbing against itself trying to whisper. She couldn’t quite tell what they were saying, even when she placed her ear against the door. So, carefully, she turned the doorknob and opened it a crack. She peeked in. Nothing. But the voices had gotten louder, and against the wall on the right side of the room, she could see candlelight flickering, from a room connected to the one she was looking into.

Lulu cautiously entered the room. ‘Most likely that Trish is performing some satanic rituals and making a deal with the Devil just so she can get rid of Dante,’ Lulu thought absently. All of that didn’t explain the voices, though, not one of them being Trish’s. Lulu was like a dark ghost as she noiselessly glided to the edge of the next doorway. If she hadn’t had such pale skin, you might not have seen her at all, everything else about her being so dark. The mage took out a small, palm-sized mirror that she usually used to re-apply make up, and held it up to see around the corner.

“Today is as good a time as any,” one of the voiced rasped. It was a rather large Blade, and it looked more than a little nervous. “We could catch them off guard. A good idea, that. We could strike now. Yes, now! When they’re all asleep.”

“Fool,” a Shadow (another creature intending harm that came standard with the accommodations in the castle) grated. It’s cruel red eyes narrowed dangerously as it spoke. “That’s when the small one is awake. Remember two days ago? That last ‘raid’? No one ever noticed it because we tried to put into action at night, when they were all asleep. Except the annoying one. That little monkey picked up on our trail and ruined everything. As long as we aren’t moving he won’t bother with us, but as soon as we try to do anything, he’s suddenly curious, and then things start going missing. Like Joe’s eye. Remember that? Joe was just sitting next to you and then all of a sudden, he’s complaining about a missing eye,” the Shadow nudged another Blade. At this point, Lulu turned around, surprised, and peered in from the doorway.

“Complaining?” the small Blade responded hoarsely. “He was outright screaming!”

“Keep it down,” an edgy Marionette hissed.

“Tch. You puppets are all the same. You’ve all been subdued to worthless piles of garbage. You let them push you around without so much as a grumble of protest,” the large Blade uttered.

“Well, look at the result we get,” the Marionette retorted. “Anyone of you can place good money on a bet that says that I will outlive you by at least a year. In fact-”

“All of you make like a tree and can it.” A large, looming figure at the very back of the room croaked. There was a pause.

“…I don’t get it,” the small Blade said, scratching his head. He looked around at the other creatures to see if maybe he had missed something. They looked back at him, just as confused.

The Shadow sighed, the sound of a bitter wind ripping through the bare limbs of a long-dead tree. It whispered quietly to a ghost-like monster (a Death Scissors, if Lulu recalled correctly). It was so quiet that Lulu almost didn’t catch the words. “Tell me again why the majority voted for this one to be our leader?” The Death Scissors shook its head sadly, looking upwards in hope of an answer from above.

The large Blade wasn’t near so silent or subtle, though. “God, what an idiot,” he (Lulu could only think it was a male) said bluntly. Every head in the room snapped up to look at him, wondering if he was still sane. “Well, he is,” he said defensively.

The humongous shape stirred itself. It pointed an ominous clawed finger at the unfortunate Blade. “Oh yeah? Well at least I’m as dumb as you look.” The monster folded his arms triumphantly and waited for the Blade’s comeback.

The other monsters blinked, wondering if their boss had intentionally accused himself of this incredible fault (for the larger Blade had been naturally cursed with semi-crossed eyes and a slightly drooping mouth. Features that all in all made the homely creature look thickheaded) or if he (again, Lulu could only conjecture that it was a ‘he’) was just that dim-witted. Slowly, laughter began to spread throughout the room. At first, Lulu wondered if the leader had just realized what he had said and was remaining silent out of shame, but then he actually began to laugh. Lulu’s eyes widened at the monster’s stupidity. The moron thought that the other creatures were laughing with him. ‘Poor fool,’ Lulu thought, chuckling to herself quietly. The laughter died down eventually, and the Shadow spoke again.

Back to the point,” it said, trying not to bubble over with laughter. “We cannot attack them now. It’s not time.”

“Well,” the large Blade started, but then had to stop from chuckles that had to come out. He finally got hold of himself, and continued. “What do you recommend we do, then?”

The Shadow was about to tell him when their boss broke in. “What I say goes! And I say that we attack at night!” The Shadow looked at him quizzically, and tried to suggest a better course of action.

“Well, we could… But don’t you think that we should act when the monkey might be asleep? We could attack at midday, after most of them have their lunch and aren’t suspecting anything. We’ll catch them off guard, away from each other. With some careful planning, we just might win.”

“No,” the Boss had decided to be obstinate. “I wanna do this at night.”

“But if we do it at night, you’ll…ah…be tired. Yes, that’s it; you’ll be tired and want to go to bed. You wouldn’t want to miss all the action, would you? Why, that wouldn’t do at all,” the Shadow murmured apprehensively.

The Boss sat down and Lulu could’ve sworn that he was pouting. “Fine, we’ll go at midday.” The Shadow looked as if a great load had been removed from his shoulders. “But you get to lead us into battle,” their leader said with a smirk. Lulu could see the Shadow’s expression crumble. This, of course, increased the likelihood of it being the first to go down in the fight.

Lulu decided that she had heard enough. It was time to leave before they saw her. Quietly, she slipped out of the room and silently hurried down the hall to Malon’s room. She opened the door and went over to her bedside. ‘The girl must sleep like a log to not have woken at those noises a moment ago,’ Lulu thought as she shook her gently. Malon mumbled something and, at Lulu’s persistent shaking, woke up. “What is it?” she said sleepily, rubbing her eyes.

“Malon, this is important,” said Lulu seriously.

Malon sat up, still rubbing her eyes. She looked at the black mage and sighed. “What? What could possibly be important enough to be up at…” She looked at her alarm clock. “At 4:27 in the morning?”

“There are a bunch of monsters preparing an uprising. They’re going to carry out their plans at midday. Fortunately, their leader is a complete moron, so if we prepare properly, we shouldn’t have too much trouble. But we have to get things ready. Now.” Lulu shook Malon again as she began to fall asleep.

Malon heaved a long sigh. You would have thought that she had just been told to go save the world or something. “Alright, alright. Fine. I’ll go wake up Tifa, Aeris, Katt…and…that…other one, what’s her name? Oh yeah, Fara.” She climbed out of her bed and stumbled over to her closet. Lulu left to go awaken Trish, Freya, Garnet, Coco, and finally, Yuna. She thought about waking up Rinoa, but then she thought twice and decided that the poor girl didn’t need to really get involved in this until later in the morning.

About fifteen minutes later, everyone but Rinoa was gathered in the huge meeting room that was also part of a large library that the Femme Fatales had claimed for their own. Trish, still in her nightgown, leaned against the wall. “So, what now? What’re we supposed to do?” she asked around a yawn, not really concerned.

“Well, I guess we should stick together until it blows over,” Garnet said, still rubbing her eyes. She went over to the nearest cushioned chair and collapsed into it.

“Yeah, good idea…” Katt mumbled, unworried as to their situation.

Coco hadn’t ever gone to sleep that night, so she was livelier. “We should lock all of our rooms. I have a special sealant you can put around the cracks at the edges of your doors so no Shadows can get in. I also have a reinforcement that you can coat on your doors so they can’t bust them down. Then we’ll regroup in this room here, since it’s the largest room immediately accessible. We’ll then, of course, seal the door and strengthen it with my reinforcement, along with some furniture. They will inevitably figure out that we’re in here from our scent and noises and such. Some of the monsters even have infrared vision, so they will find us. That’s not to say, however, that they’ll get to us.” Coco nodded, satisfied.

Trish looked at her, her face blank for a moment. “And in this ingenious plan of yours, how do you expect us to get back into our rooms? If the monsters can’t get in, how’re we supposed to?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I have a special acid that will only burn through the sealant. After all of this is over, we’ll just pour some of that on it,” Coco said dismissively, waving a hand.

“Okay,” said Aeris. “What about the men? What are they going to do?”

“Why, Aeris, you actually sound worried,” said Fara. “They can take care of themselves.”

“Yeah, just ask any one of them,” Trish perked up. “Any of them will tell you that they could have saved the world easily without our help. They don’t stop to think how this makes us feel, so I say here’s a chance for them to prove themselves.”

Freya smiled cruelly. “Yes. Yes, let them prove themselves. It shall be…interesting.”

Garnet stopped. “Uh, I don’t remember Zidane saying anything like that…”

“Yeah, Link acts kinda macho sometimes, but he’s never said anything like that,” Malon added.

“I agree,” Yuna said softly.

“Same goes for Aeris and me,” said Tifa.

Trish looked at the people who had agreed with Garnet. “Well, does anyone else have the same opinion as the princess?” she said, exasperated.

“Um, well, I do,” said Coco. “Crash comes up to me daily and gives me a big hug, telling me in his own way how he couldn’t have done it without me.”

Fara snorted. “Well, I say let ‘em rot,” the vixen growled.

“Oh, come off it,” Katt said, frowning at Fara. “You and I both know that you wouldn’t have any source of income if your precious Fox were to kick the bucket.”

Fara stood gaping at Katt for a moment, and then she folded her arms impudently and sniffed. “Shows how much you know.”

Lulu didn’t want this to become another shouting match (at least not at the moment), so she butted in. “Okay, I have a solution. If any of the guys find us before this uprising starts, then we’ll give them refuge.”

“Well, that’s kind of unfair, Lulu,” said Malon. “I mean, what if they sleep late? Or, you know, this castle is pretty big, what if none of them find us?”

“Yeah, or what if it’s someone who doesn’t deserve saving? Like Dante. Or Cid. What about them? Why should we run the risk of having to save their sorry hides?” Trish asked, annoyed.

“Well, just don’t bother with them,” Lulu said, ignoring Coco’s look of surprise at this statement. “Anyone else, go ahead and pick them up.”

Just then, the large, heavy door creaked open a bit. Rinoa stood in the doorway, clutching a teddy bear and still wearing her pajamas. She was blinking at the lights and rubbing her eyes. She saw all of them standing around, and her face brightened. “Good morning, everyone. What are you all doing up at…” Rinoa glanced at the humongous grandfather clock on the right wall. “…5:15 in the morning? That’s pretty early.” She shut the door and walked over to sit next to Yuna.

Coco answered her before Trish could. “Oh, we were just talking about stuff. Hey, Rinoa, could you go get all of your crayons and picture books and whatnot? All of the stuff that you like to pass the time with. And bring them back to this room,” she called as Rinoa jumped up and hurried towards the door. “In fact, I think that we should all get our stuff together. Anything that you might need for, oh, let’s say…two days, at most.”

Trish got up and started to leave. “Well, I guess I’d better get started. I’ve got a lot of Dante dart boards to get together.” The demon snickered and left. The others filtered out after her.

Lulu got all of her stuff together and headed back to the library/meeting room. When she got there, Malon, Garnet, Freya and Tifa had already arrived. They had all gotten dressed, and were looking considerably more active. They were standing around, chatting amiably. Lulu walked over to them, and set her stuff down on one of the oversized and overstuffed chairs. As she talked with them, the others came in, one by one. Next to last was Rinoa, carrying all of her belongings. Lulu, Garnet and Aeris rushed to help her, since she had so much stuff that it looked like she was about to collapse. When they had all of her possessions in the room with everyone else’s, they waited for Coco. She was the only person that hadn’t arrived yet.

Eventually, though, the bandicoot inventor stepped into the room nervously. Every head turned to her. Trish opened her mouth, no doubt to demand why Coco had taken so long, but then closed it again with a click as she saw what Coco had brought along with her. Coco cleared her throat and walked in, carrying a load of her essentials. A sleeping bag, a toothbrush and tooth paste, two hairbrushes, her sealant and reinforcement, a small chemistry set, a CD player, and, among other things, a leash that looked as though it had survived many a violent encounter. At the end of this obviously durable leash was…well… something in the general shape of a triangle dressed in blue jeans and red sneakers. It was also wearing a nightcap and blinking blearily in the light. Lulu didn’t immediately realize that she was gaping at this creature until Katt burst out laughing. Something about how strongly she resembled a fish with that expression. Lulu wasn’t really listening.

“What…is that?” the black mage queried uncertainly.

Coco grinned at her. “Um, well…He’s my brother. Everyone, meet Crash,” Coco said, busying herself with her luggage. Crash stopped scratching himself like a dog and looked around at everyone, panting. “I think I should warn you that he can be very…er, energetic. You might want to watch your belongings if he gets to close to them.” She grinned again.

Trish looked at Crash, who was looking hopefully at her. “Oh no no no no no. We’re not bringing that in here. I don’t know what your trying to pull, but I’m not staying holed up in here with some weird creature who looks like he could stomach pretty much anything within a two mile radius.” She glanced at the bandicoot. Crash was still looking at her expectantly. “What? What does he want?”

“Biscuit,” Crash said pleadingly.

There was a pause. “A biscuit? Don’t tell me you expect me to feed him!” Trish said incredulously.

“Oh, no. You don’t have to do any such thing. Crash, look. Over here dear,” Coco snapped her fingers gently to get his attention. His head jerked up to look up at his sister. She reached into a large metal box that she had brought with her, and pulled out a good-sized biscuit. It looked pretty hard, so it would probably last a while. He sat down and started to munch contentedly.

“Wait a second,” said Fara. “I thought it was agreed that we would only pick up the guys we met while walking around. From the look of him, I’d say that you woke him up and brought him. I mean, why else would he be wearing a nightcap?”

“Yeah, and it looked like the light hurt his eyes, too,” Trish agreed.

Coco looked a little guilty. “Well, I couldn’t just leave him all by himself. I mean, who knows what could’ve happened to him? Poor thing, all alone in the middle of an uprising.” She patted Crash’s head gently.

Rinoa blinked. “There’s going to be an uprising? Uh-oh. Um, I need to go find Squall. He warned me about uprisings. He said if one ever happened, to get to him as soon as possible.” Rinoa suited actions to words and got up to leave the room.

Trish planted herself in front of her. “No,” she said.

“But, but…” Rinoa started.

“No, Rinoa. We’re safe right here. You don’t need to go find Squall right this minute. You can see him later this afternoon,” Trish folded her arms and waited.

“But, what if Squall doesn’t know? What if Squall gets hurt? Oh, I have to go find him. I have to tell him about it,” Rinoa walked past Trish, quickening her pace as she approached the door.

Fara jumped in front of her. “Oh, no you don’t. Ever since I started living in this place, I’ve wanted just once to see Dante suffer. I can’t stand that idiot. He walks around demanding tribute and then audibly wondering why he lets us live here. I swear, the man drives me crazy. This might be the only chance I get to grind it in his face. I’m not gonna have you run to your precious Squall and then have him warn all the other guys about this,” the vixen said, moving with Rinoa to block her from the door.

Rinoa stopped. “But, what if…What if one of the monsters catches him asleep?”

Lulu rolled her eyes. “It’s going to be happening at midday, Rinoa. Squall is always up by then.”

Rinoa turned to Coco. “Coco, please let me bring Squall here so he’ll be safe. Please? You brought Crash.”

Coco looked at Rinoa, who was now on the verge of tears. “Well, I suppose one more guy wouldn’t hurt…” she mumbled.

“Hey, if Rinoa gets to bring Squall, can I bring Link? I mean, it’s only fair, right?” Malon asked.

“Yeah, I want to bring Cloud,” said Aeris, who was only a second ahead of Tifa.

No!” exclaimed Trish. “That is way too many! Why don’t we just bring them all here? We might as well, if this is how it’s gonna be.”

Lulu made a vexed sound. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. This is not up for discussion after this, so you might as well be happy with it. All right, Rinoa, you get Squall. Malon, you get Link. Tifa and Aeris, you two get Cloud and that is it. Nobody gets anyone else. Garnet, I see that face you made. I daresay that Zidane is more than capable of taking care of himself. And Yuna, Tidus stays in the ocean outside. Since the uprising is taking place inside, I think he’ll be safe.” Lulu folded her arms with a look that dared anyone to shout a protest.

“Well, I suppose that’s okay…” Fara said in a tone that said she could’ve done a lot better.

“Good. Rinoa, before you run out that door, I want you to calm down. We’ll pick up Squall for you, but seeing as it’s…” Lulu glanced at the grandfather clock. “6:43, I want you to listen to me. When the clock hits eleven AM, I want everyone to come back to this room. Except for you, Trish. You too, Freya. I’m going to need you two to help me…collect…the boys. I want you to find me at about ten. Rinoa, for Fara’s sake, don’t tell anyone, not even Squall, about the uprising. That seems to be very important to her.”

Rinoa nodded vigorously and skipped out of the room. After that, everyone filtered out, with Coco being the last since she had to tie Crash to a leg of the heavy oak table usually used for meetings. She left Crash a plate of the hard biscuits to keep him occupied.

The next few hours leading up to eleven o’clock for Lulu was spent eating an early breakfast, sealing her room with Coco’s concoction, and keeping tabs on where Link, Squall, and Cloud were. When the clock in the hall that Lulu was walking down while tracking Link showed ten thirty, Lulu turned at the next corner and continued down the hall. She stopped at the sixth door down, and knocked briefly on the door before marching in. Trish looked up, for a moment appearing a bit annoyed, from a conversation with an uncomfortable looking Auron. But when the demon saw that it was Lulu, her expression turned from irritated to innocent.

“Why, Lulu, how nice to see you. I was just chatting with Auron here. That’s all. Nothing else. Isn’t that right, Auron?” Trish looked pointedly at the quiet swordsman.

He looked at her, his expression unreadable because of his coat’s high collar and his sunglasses. Eventually, though, he grunted and said, “…A chat. Yes. I was just leaving.” With that, he turned and left the room, closing the door after him silently.

Lulu glanced at Trish and sniffed. “Do you realize what time it is?” Seeing the blank look on Trish’s face, the black mage supplied her with an answer. “Ten thirty! You and Freya were supposed to find me at ten. And you’re in here talking with Auron. I should’ve expected you to be boy-hunting on this particular day.”

Trish looked like she would have exploded right then and there. Lulu thought this odd, because in the past, others had teased Trish about truly having a boyfriend, and it had never affected her in the least. In fact, the demon actually laughed along with everyone else, especially when the joke paired her and Dante. “Look you, I am not-!” Trish’s started, but her tirade was cut off by the door creaking open. Freya’s furry, white head poked in, her ice blue eyes landing on Lulu and Trish. She stepped inside, tucking a wet-looking handkerchief into one of the sleeves of her coat. After that, she didn’t come any closer.

“Sorry I took so long. Cid absolutely refused to believe me when I told him that my skills with a spear were greater than Dante’s ego. And that he couldn’t even swat flies properly with the way he handles his weapon. He was convinced that I was in error.” Freya snickered softly to herself, apparently remembering something amusing that she had most likely done to Cid to try and persuade him differently. But Lulu would’ve placed good money on a bet that said that Cid was still at the bar getting drunk (and otherwise making a spectacle of himself) and bellowing to the whole world that Freya was delusional, and if she were to come around when he were sober (Lulu would’ve paid heavily to see Cid like that; fortunately, she would never have to worry about parting with such a large amount of money, since she knew it would never happen), he would “show all o’ yoo yung whiffersnarffers that Cid High*hic*wind ruled all o’ yore tiny worldzzz…” around a drunken slur and then collapse on the table he was standing on.

Lulu sighed and suppressed a growl. “You could’ve dealt with him after the uprising,” she said irritably. “Let’s go before we waste more time.” She grabbed a heavy book, checked to make sure her ether-saturated cloth was still safely in her sleeve, and walked to the door.

The filed out into the hall, continued down it, and turned to the right. They walked for about five silent minutes, and then Lulu stopped suddenly at a door. She held up a hand and listened.

“Yeah, you’re right! Fox should dump Fara. For his own good. I mean, look at the guy. He has no money. At least not when she’s around. She skims his wallet every hour, on the hour.” That voice sounded like it belonged to Cloud.

“Yeah, just walk right up to her and tell her to her face that he doesn’t need her anymore.” That was Link.

“That’s what he should do. And if she didn’t like it, that’s too bad, because, for once, what Fox says goes.” Cloud sounded satisfied with himself.

There was a pause. “Uh, would you walk right up to Fara and say that to her? Because, I think I might even hesitate at that.” Link would be right to hesitate; Fara had a very short and explosive temper.

Lulu could see Cloud blinking at that question. “Um, well…you know…Yeah, I would, I guess. Just give me a day or two and a few drinks to get my blood up, and, yeah, I think I could do that,” came Cloud’s nervous response.

“Even if he did, there’s no guarantee that Fara would leave the poor guy alone. I think she’d drain every penny out of him before she let him go,” Link said.

Lulu decided to go in. She checked with Freya and Trish to see if they were ready. They nodded, and Lulu opened the door. The two men were both sitting in chairs, chatting pleasantly. She walked in, looking cheerful, all the while getting around behind Link. Cloud could run the fastest (no doubt from fleeing from Aeris and Tifa; fancy him giving relationship advice), so Trish had to deal with him. Freya would have to help her, in case he somehow managed to get away from the demon, but she might have to help Lulu with Link, so the Dragon Knight took a neutral position.

“Hello, boys,” said Lulu in a friendly tone. “What are you guys up to today?”

Cloud and Link (who were the only people in the room other than the girls, fortunately) looked at each other curiously. Then Link said uneasily, “Uh, hi girls. Um, nothing much. How ‘bout you?”

Trish grinned as she casually strolled towards Cloud. “Oh, we’re just fine. We just heard your conversation, and decided to drop in.”

“Don’t tell Aeris and Tifa! Please, I didn’t mean a thing I said about them! I was caught up in the moment!” Cloud sounded pretty desperate.

“What are you talking about? We didn’t hear anything about them,” Freya said, and smiled. Cloud’s face had fallen, and he hung his head in his hands, moaning. “But I’m guessing that there were some words said about them. All we heard,” Freya said, patting Cloud’s head comfortingly, “were you two talking about Fara.”

Cloud’s head jerked up. “Don’t tell her anything. I mean, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right?”

“I don’t know…” Lulu said uncertainly. She was almost directly behind Link. She readied her book behind her back.

Link had noticed her approaching. “Uh, well, we really didn’t mean anything. We were just talking, you know? We do have the right to free speech.” He was craning he neck in order to keep Lulu in his sights.

“Well…” Trish looked undecided. “We might be able to strike a bargain…” She was directly behind Cloud, but he didn’t seem to notice. Lulu could tell Link did, though. He was looking more and more anxious.

“What kind of bargain?” asked Cloud, and then he stopped, apparently seeing Link’s face. “What are you trying to do?” He looked like he had just realized Trish’s, Freya’s, and Lulu’s positions.

“Oh, just a little deal. That’s all,” Freya said reassuringly, rubbing her left arm a little. Probably feeling for the metal bar hidden in her long, baggy sleeve.

Link couldn’t take it anymore. “Come on! Tell us!” His voice cracked in the middle of his yelling, betraying his nervousness. He had finally given up trying to keep Lulu in sight, but he was probably reading Cloud’s face, which was looking pretty apprehensive.

Trish was taking out a thick cord and a damp cloth from her pocket. None of them could see it for the back of Cloud’s chair, though. Well, Lulu and Freya could see her arms moving. Link most likely could, too. Lulu smiled warmly. “Okay, we’ll tell you. How about, you come with us peacefully, no yelling or screaming, and us girls won’t tell Fara or Aeris and Tifa anything you said.”

Cloud’s voice sounded a bit panicky for a moment. “Where…” He got a grip on himself. “Where will you be taking us?”

Freya supplied him with an answer. “I suppose you have a right to know that much. We’ll be taking a secure room away from the action until things blow over.”

“What action? What’re you talking about? Lulu, what’s she talking about?” Link said, alarmed that they were about to be abducted.

Lulu smiled sweetly down at Link’s worried face. For a moment, she found herself caught up in those deep blue eyes. He was surprisingly handsome. She could see why Malon wanted him to be safe. Suddenly, Lulu snapped out of it. If she had been in private, she would’ve slapped herself. Hard. She was glad she hadn’t had to deal with Cloud; his perception probably would’ve been a lot better at seeing the dazed look that had to have occupied her face when she had looked at Link just then. She noticed Link’s brow furrowing slightly, most likely from the way her facial expressions kept changing. Was she blushing? She had better not be. Yuna had said that she should at least try to find a boyfriend. Well, she hadn’t been that frank, but that’s what she had meant. Lulu was not interested in men any longer. But she had begun noticing changes in her behavior. She hadn’t singled Link out. Not at all. His face was just the one she happened to be looking at at the moment. The same thing, she realized with a start, could have happened while she was looking at Squall or Dante. Dante?! She shook her head, trying to clear it. What were her senses coming to? Well, she reasoned with herself, he was good-looking, just stupid. She sniffed. Freya got along just fine without any guys in her life; Lulu could do the same. Ever since Chappu…

Lulu growled, and Cloud actually jumped. Link sunk down far into his overstuffed chair, trying to put as much space between her and himself. His hand was groping for his sword and shield, which were lying on the ground a few inches away from his chair. Lulu casually knocked them out of his reach with her foot.

“Okay, Link, I’ll tell you. There is going to be an uprising at midday, and Malon and Aeris and Tifa want you two to be safe. Don’t you feel guilty now Cloud? Anyway, we’re here to pick you up. So, come along,” she made a shooing motion.

Link drew back even further from her, if that was possible. “Um, what about the others?” he asked.

Freya opened her mouth to say something, but then she closed it, standing very straight. Her face smoothed, and she spoke. “They won’t be joining us. You are the only two coming.” Trish looked at her curiously, and looked like she was about to say something. Lulu would’ve liked to know what Freya was thinking also, but Freya gave them both a warning glace. “But, I have to run now. I’ll see you all at the…safe room.”

Lulu gawked at her, astonished that Freya would pick now to act strange. Freya gave Lulu a long glance, and turned to leave. As she reached the door, she brought her right arm up and touched her right shoulder. That was the sign. Trish grabbed a handful of Cloud’s sun-colored hair, brought it back against the back of his chair, and shoved the ether-soaked rag into his face. Almost at the same time Lulu dropped her book and leapt over the back of Link’s chair, landing on top of him. She thrust her own cloth over the hero’s mouth and nose. Cloud finally managed to throw Trish off of himself, and he slid off onto the floor, kneeling and gasping, but it was too late. Link picked Lulu up and shoved her out of the chair, and he lay there coughing. The black mage grabbed her heavy book and struck Link in the head with it. It was too much for him; he was tough, but, as any of us will find through experimentation, the human body finds it very difficult to take the combined efforts of ether and a good-sized, leather-bound book. And, under such extreme circumstances, the usual reaction is unconsciousness. Which held true in Link’s case.

Right after Lulu had struck the elfin swordsman, Trish ran over and grabbed Link’s shield, stumbled back over to Cloud (who was fumbling for his Buster sword), and, since it was too clumsy to swing efficiently for Trish, she held it over his head and dropped it. Apparently, that was good enough. He collapsed with a groan. Lulu hurried to the door to look for Freya. Where had that strange girl gotten?

“Hey, Lulu, I could use some help here,” Trish called. “We don’t need these two lying here like a couple of corpses if someone accidentally walks in.” Trish was using the thick cord to secure Cloud.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” said Lulu. She was hearing some pretty weird noises from down the hall. She went down it, and as she came to an intersection, the noises sounded like they were coming from a room to the left. She turned, walked to it, and stood listening to the chaos.

“Get over here!” That was Freya’s voice. Crash!!

A cry of pain was heard. Lulu couldn’t quite think of whose voice it was… Lulu decided to go in. She opened the door, and something slammed into her stomach. The black mage suddenly found herself suspended in midair.

“Get back! Back, I say! Or she gets it!” her captor’s uneasy voice warned.

Lulu, miffed at her new and undignified position, started pounding his back. That it was a guy was obvious. Lulu continued to strike him until he finally swung her around and dropped her in front of himself. She wasn’t facing him, so she couldn’t see his face. But she thought about the voice and clothes. Finally, she knew who this rash individual was.

“Squall, I’m only going to tell you this one time. Let. Me. Go,” Lulu said quietly. She had left her ether cloth back in the room with Link and Cloud. She looked at Freya, who shrugged at her. Vexed, she looked around the room. Aha! There was Freya’s cloth! But, unfortunately, it was across the room, partially under an overturned table.

“I’m not going to let you go until I find out what’s going on,” Squall said, shifting his grip to get a better hold on her.

Lulu decided to try and get his guard down by a change of conversation. “Yes Freya, what is going on? You left the room acting strange. What are you doing?” As she said this, she winked at Freya.

Freya played along. “One of my belongings has gone missing, and I have reason to believe that Squall took it.” She glared accusingly at Squall.

His grip slipped some. Just what Lulu was waiting for. “What? I didn’t take anything of yours! What would make you think-” Squall was cut off by Lulu slipping out of his grasp. Freya dashed over to the door and slammed it shut before Squall could make his escape.

Lulu scurried over to the table and pulled the cloth out from under it. When she turned back to Squall, Freya was attacking him. She had somehow managed to knock his gunblade out of his hands, and she was currently drawing that metal bar out of her sleeve. Squall readied himself visibly, trying to back up against something. Lulu chuckled inwardly. Poor thing. It was almost too easy. She got running start and leapt onto his back. Squall cried out in surprise, but his yelp was muffled because of the cloth she was holding over his mouth. He pulled at her arm, but she managed to keep the rag in place for about eight or nine seconds. Gradually, his actions began to slow, and eventually he slumped to his knees. She let him go, grabbed a broken chair leg, and hefted it. Just in case. She didn’t have to use it though; he was out like a light. Freya grabbed some rope from one of her numerous and often deep pockets. She bound him, hand and foot, and both her and Lulu dragged him back to the room where Trish was.

“About time you two got back. What happened?” Trish greeted them.

“We got Squall, as you can see. By the way, Freya, what was wrong with you?” Lulu asked.

Freya smiled smugly. “While you two were flirting with the boys…” She looked at Lulu. “Well, you anyway, Lulu, I heard something. I gave the door a quick check. It had been opened a crack. I knew I could’ve been wrong, but I thought that I saw Squall’s face briefly. So, being careful not to give him any reason to be alarmed, I left the room. He was already gone from the door by the time I came out, but I could hear him going down the hall. So I tracked him, and cornered him in that room. He tried to get away, and that’s when you stepped in, Lulu.” Freya was grabbing one of Cloud’s arms to drag him back to the library/meeting room.

“…Whatever,” Trish said with a sigh. Probably feeling put out for missing the action. “Let’s just get back to the room. It’s…” The demon checked the clock on the right wall. “11:03. We don’t want to be caught up in the uprising with three unconscious men to look after.” She gripped Link’s arm and pulled him towards the door.

Lulu hooked her arms under Squall’s and put all of her weight into hauling him out the door. It was like he was made out of stone. She had never thought him to be so heavy. It took several minutes to get all three men even halfway up the hall. Freya and Trish didn’t seem too troubled by the extra weight. Lulu had, before now, gotten along perfectly fine without almost manlike strength. She used magic to get by. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any magic spells to lessen the weight. She would have to make a point of practicing that kind of spell. So Trish or Freya dragged their victims several feet ahead of her, and then one of them came back to help her. They were making little progress. Well, at least until Garnet and Malon showed up.

“What are you three doing? Do you realize what time it is?” Malon asked, a touch of worry in her voice.

“We’re going as fast as we can. They weigh a ton,” Trish explained patiently.

Lulu had an idea. She dropped Squall’s limp form unceremoniously onto the ground and straightened slowly, knuckling her back. She turned to Garnet. “You know white magic, don’t you?” The princess nodded. “You know Float, right?”

Garnet nodded again. “I do. And since you asked so very nicely, I’ll help you.” She concentrated briefly, and Squall began to float. He glided over to Garnet, and she grinned. “Perhaps you should learn some white magic,” she said, a bit smugly.

Lulu grunted. “Yes, well, can you divide your spell? Because that would be even more helpful.”

Garnet frowned. “I can make one more spell, but if you want me to maintain it all the way to the room, then that’s about it for me.”

“Fine. Get Cloud, and I think we can manage Link. Malon, care to help?” Lulu asked, bending her aching back once again to grasped one of Link’s arms.

Malon agreed, and got his other arm. Trish grabbed both of Link’s legs, and Freya supported his back. They proceeded back to the library at an awkward jog.

Eventually, they only had to cover two more staircases and another long hall. ‘At least we’re almost there,’ thought Lulu. Her back was killing her. Then came the crash. A Blade hurtled in front of them at the top of the staircase they were on. Garnet was at the front, and at the monster’s sudden appearance, she gasped. Squall dropped and rolled down some of the steps. He came to a stop against Malon’s leg.

“Don’t panic, Garnet. That’s the last thing we need right now,” said Freya.

Lulu shifted her grip on Link’s arm. She looked at the Blade’s ugly face. It looked familiar…Ah, yes. The one with naturally crossed eyes and a slightly drooping mouth. She glared hard at the creature. Lulu was tired, but she concentrated. It was running at them, now. Behind the large Blade, a pack of other monsters rounded the corner, screeching, shrieking, and screaming. Blood-curdling cries filled the room, setting Lulu’s teeth on edge. She closed her eyes, and gave all of her attention to her spell. Suddenly, heat washed over her. She opened her eyes, and the large Blade was covered in fire. It screamed its death cries, clawing at them blindly. It was only a few feet away, so the girls had to back off some. The other monsters watched the Blade collapse onto the stairs, its thick hide burning away to show muscle and bone. The creature’s black blood oozed down the stairs towards Garnet. She looked a little pale. Lulu hoped she didn’t puke right then and there. The black mage turned her baleful gaze to the other monsters. They looked back at her. She singled one out, and it spontaneously combusted. The creature screeched, and groped for something to put out the fire out. Lulu knew it wouldn’t matter, though; it was burning from the inside out. It squealed and howled horribly, fumbling for the other creatures, hoping to get help. They drew back from him fearfully, knowing that fire could be extremely contagious. They took one last look at Lulu, and scampered back down the hall that they came from.

“Come on, let’s go,” said Malon apprehensively.

They continued up the stairs, slightly quicker than before. Garnet cast Float on Squall again, stepped gingerly around the disfigured corpses of the two unfortunate monsters, and hurried down the hall.

They managed to get back to the library/meeting room without meeting any more monsters. Once inside, Lulu dropped Link’s arm and slammed the door thankfully.

“Squall!” Rinoa cried joyfully. She ran over to him. “What’s wrong with him? Is he sleeping?” she asked curiously.

Trish dropped Link’s legs. “Yeah, he’s sleeping. All three of them are sleeping, and will stay that way until later this evening.” She dusted her hands and dropped tiredly into a chair.

Freya helped Malon take Link to a couch and lay him on it. All of the guys were still bound, and if Lulu had anything to say about it, they would stay that way until the uprising was over. Garnet set Cloud and Squall on separate couches, and then went over and sat down in a chair. Lulu had already collapsed into her own chair, and was ready for a nap.

“Crash, I want you to watch these three, and if any of them move, I want you to let me know,” Coco said to her brother as she went to the door and proceeded to reinforce and seal it. Crash, who was still tied to the table leg, perked up at his sister’s words, and he nodded his head vigorously.

Lulu was glad she could rest now. She was beat, after wrestling with two grown men and toting one of them all the way back to the library. This experience was not one she wanted to repeat. Ever. If there was ever another uprising (and Lulu knew there would be), then she was sure that all of the men could take care of themselves. No exceptions. Lulu leaned back against her chair, and relaxed. She was going to take a long nap.

 

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