The orchestra has arrived, seated themselves, tuned up, and fallen silent, awaiting the entry of someone special. At last, they have appeared. A slender figure, the type of person who looks as though they'd been put together by a child out of pipe-cleaners, all long arms and legs, slim torso, and very little bulk at all. He bows to the orchestra, then turns and bows to the dignities assembled in the main hall of the Estharian Presidential Palace. As the applause which greeted his entrance dies down, he steps toward a microphone standing to one side of the stage.
"Good evening Mr President, Commander Leonhart, honoured Shumi visitors, ladies, and gentlemen. While certain of our number here tonight were involved in the Second Sorceress War pretty much from it's inception, for the majority of people both in Esthar and in other nations around the world, the story of this war was slow to emerge. For the vast majority of Estharians, the first we knew of the war was when the Lunatic Pandora flew across our city, and heralded the first Lunar Cry in three generations.
As a composer and a performer, I see it as part of my role to help my fellow human beings comprehend the world we live in, and the major events which change this world. As such, I made it my mission to create this orchestral suite to try and capture the spirit of the events which comprised the Second Sorceress War. In creating this piece, I had the aid not only of Commander Leonhart and the SeeD team who travelled through Time Compression itself to confront the Sorceress Ultimecia, but also of the former Sorceress Edea Kramer, the current Sorceress Rinoa Heartily, and of the SeeD who took on the highly risky under-cover role of Sorceress' Knight to Ultimecia herself, SeeD Seifer Almasy. Their assistance was invaluable to me in my attempts to gain an insight into the Sorceress who so nearly destroyed our world five years ago, and who will attempt to do so far in our future.
So, I present to you this, the premiere performance of my latest composition: The Second Sorceress War Suite."
He turns once more to the podium, raises his baton, and brings his hands into the downbeat, launching into a theme which bears a strong resemblance to the SeeD anthem.
In the audience, Squall Leonhart looked down at the programme he'd been handed on entry. The suite was apparently designed to tell a story, starting at the first event where the hand of Ultimecia became apparent to the wider world outside Balamb Garden: the attack on Dollet by Galbadia. From there it would move on to the parade in Delling, then the destruction of Trabia Garden, the attack on Balamb Garden, and the actions of the Galbadian military.
He hid a sigh. This composer had been a major nuisance at Garden for three or four months, interviewing each of them in turn, and demanding all kinds of emotional information - how did they feel about discovering Edea was possessed; how could they carry out an assassination attempt so cold-bloodedly, and so on. Explaining the effects of Guardian Forces hadn't been easy, because, as usual, the man had been horrified to discover the trade-off they'd made. In the end, they'd had to give him a try at junctioning Carbuncle (the friendliest of the GF they had available, and the one whose tastes tended toward memories of humiliation and embarrassment, memories most people didn't mind losing) so he'd understand the true weight of the trade.
Squall had been told by Laguna the composer was now working on a suite he called "Guardian Forces". Shiva had been amused.
Unfortunately, there was still this performance to get through. Orchestral concerts were fairly high on Squall's list of things he wasn't overly interested in, and getting higher by the second. It wasn't that the music was particularly discordant or unpleasant - the composer was a highly-regarded musician who was good at his job. It was just Squall couldn't help thinking about the pile of paperwork on his desk back in Balamb; a pile he was certain was breeding. Music, in Squall's opinion, was a slightly more pleasant background noise for getting work done by than the rattle of Balamb Garden's air-conditioning, but that was all it was.
Apparently President Loire of Esthar shared his opinion. Laguna was fidgeting to Squall's left, while on his right, Seifer was attempting to avoid falling asleep. The big blond SeeD had just arrived back this morning from a monster-hunting mission in Trabia (hauled back by the scruff of his neck by Fujin, if the truth be told) and the resultant confusion of time zones wasn't helping him stay awake by any means. On the far side of Seifer from Squall, Quistis was upholding the honour of SeeD by paying full attention to the performance, and occasionally noting down comments on her programme. Selphie, Zell and Irvine were all sitting a few rows back, behind the various dignitaries (a spirited attempt by Seifer to hand his front-row seat to Selphie had been squelched by Quistis). The Kramers were sitting with Rinoa in a shielded box, out of deference to Estharian sensibilities regarding Sorceresses, and Ellone had elected to join them.
The first piece, "Dollet Invasion" ended. Time for the second: "Entry of The Sorceress".
At the first few notes, Seifer, who had been dozing slightly in his seat, sat bolt upright. Squall, alerted by the sudden motion, shot a glance at him, and was shocked to see Seifer's face almost as white as his favourite jacket. Another flicker of movement, caught out of the corner of his eye, alerted Squall to the fact Edea Kramer had apparently fainted, and Rinoa was looking shocky as well. There was something wrong here...
"Stop the performance," he said to Laguna.
"What?" Laguna whispered back. "Why?"
In response, Squall jerked his head slightly in Seifer's direction, and then toward the Sorceress's box. "They all reacted badly to this piece of music. I want to find out the reason."
In the confusion of the fire alarm (hastily pulled by one of Kiros' fleet of aides) Squall got Seifer, Edea and Rinoa out of the room and into the small suite in the Estharian presidential apartments he occupied (at Laguna's insistence) whenever he was in Esthar.
"What happened?" he asked them.
Seifer glared at him. "Time loops suck," he said.
Squall raised an eyebrow.
"It was the song," Rinoa said, shakily. "I'd heard it before."
"During rehearsals?" Quistis asked, looking puzzled.
"No, not during the fucking rehearsals, Quis," Seifer snapped out. "Do you really think she would have been able to attend the fucking rehearsals here in Esthar? She's a fucking Sorceress for Hyne's sake - the only way she was allowed to attend tonight was if she was put in a shielded glass box just in case her powers got loose and hit some poor Estharian geek in the fucking fashion gland and made 'em decide not to wear those creepy robes!"
"Easy," Squall said, putting a hand on Seifer's arm. Seifer shrugged it off.
"Ultimecia," said Edea, faintly. "She liked the song."
Squall's eyes widened, as he put the pieces of the puzzle together. Then he nodded.
"How did Ultimecia know about it?" Zell asked, puzzled. "The guy's only just finished writing about it."
"Hyne on a pogo stick, Chicken-Wuss!" Seifer burst out. "Have those fucking feathers of yours finally grown into your brain or something?"
Zell was prevented from taking a swipe at Seifer by Selphie's sudden gasp of comprehension. "She must have heard it. It went all the way to the future."
Seifer nodded. "Exactly. Ulti heard the tune in her time. She quite liked it. She liked it enough to adopt it as her fucking theme tune in her twisted up head. She was fucking humming it the whole way through the damn parade in Delling, I know that much."
Rinoa nodded. "She was humming it on the space station, too. I think she was actually remembering a performance of it - I could hear the instruments, and it was exactly as they played it tonight."
Edea nodded when Squall turned to her for confirmation. "She was very fond of the tune. Many of her favourite memories involved it playing in the background." She paled.
"Let me guess," Irvine commented, looking somewhat queasy himself. "Those memories weren't pleasant ones to be seein', right, Matron?"
Rinoa was also looking shaky as a result. "They weren't," she said.
"So, what're we gonna do about it?" Zell asked. "I mean, we can't really tell the guy to un-compose it, now can we?"
"There's nothing we can do," Squall pointed out. "It's part of the time loop."
Quistis nodded. "Of course. Ultimecia still exists far in our future, even though she's dead in the past."
Seifer snorted. "Like I said, time loops suck."