Chapter 9: Reluctance
Zell and Lulu sat in front of the little fireplace, exhausted and eating some rations that they kept on their persons. They had been out all day in the Mist trying to figure out a way back to Lindblum, to absolutely no avail. A steep cliff, a river and some wooded areas were the only thing nearby. They couldn’t call their ship down due to interference with the Mist either. They were well and truly stranded.
And it didn’t help that there were monsters lurking around outside.
“What do you think we should do next?” Zell said as he took a bite out of the ration bar.
“I’m not sure.” Lulu replied as she took a bite out of her own bar. It tasted very bland, but was packed with enough protein to make up for it. It wasn’t the first time they had had to eat these bars, so she was used to it. Still, she really would rather have been eating something a bit tastier. “I suppose we could try to find some kind of entrance in the Cliffside. It’d be a bit risky, though.”
“Yeah…” Zell said. “We might even have to abandon this place just to make any headway.”
Lulu looked around the little hut. They hadn’t tried going too far away from it, even though they might have found a way back up to Lindblum if they did. It was dusty and looked like it was falling apart. Or at least, that’s what it seemed. But it really felt like this place had been deliberately built like it was on purpose.
Both Lulu and Zell knew that there was something suspicious here, and perhaps against their better judgment had stayed. Plus, the more they were out in the Mist, the more tired and irritable they became.
“How do you think Omega and Stitch are doing?” Zell asked.
“Probably doing better than we are.” Lulu said dryly, but she was sure her own worry was plain. “The Target might be planning something similar for them.”
Zell punched the ground in angry. “Darn it! Just what does he want!?”
Lulu looked at the crackling flames. “I really don’t know. I just hope they’re okay.”
Zell looked at her. “Feeling a bit more accepting of Stitch then?”
“No, not really. He’s a little pain in the butt.” Lulu retorted. “Still, I do realize that Omega probably had a good reason for bringing him on board. It’d just be nice if he’d fill us in on that.”
“I’m sure he’ll tell us eventually.” Zell said. “Maybe we should actually talk it out with him, though?”
Lulu nodded and was about to say something when a terrible chill flew up her spin. It was a feeling that had crept on them ever since they got here, on and off, but at a consistent rate. Lulu tensed up and could tell that Zell had felt it too.
Without verbalizing anything, they both slowly crept to the window. As far as could be seen, there wasn’t any activity out there. But Lulu could just tell that some kind of creature was lurking out there in the Mist. It wasn’t a Heartless, though, that much they could surmise. In fact, they hadn’t encountered any Heartless while they were down here. The reason for that Lulu couldn’t begin to speculate on, and it didn’t make the situation any worse.
Zell placed his hand on the handle to the door and looked to Lulu for confirmation. Lulu took another quick look out the window again and nodded. Zell opened the door and slowly made his way out of the hut. Lulu followed him and together they checked the perimeter, again finding nothing. However, there was still that sense of unease over them. There was something out there, just waiting to strike.
“I’ll take the first watch this time.” Zell said and Lulu didn’t protest. She was just really hoping that Omega and Stitch were alright.
Lindblum Business District, Alley
“Stitch! Stitch, say something!” Omega shouted at Stitch, but Stitch didn’t respond. He had just collapsed against Omega’s arms, trembling, but unmistakably unconscious. Omega held him in disbelief, trying to figure out what happened in his head. It all led to one conclusion.
He turned to face Nero, his expression and voice filled with rage. “What did you do to him!?”
“You couldn’t begin to imagine the extent of what I’ve done to Experiment 626.”
“Why!? Why are you doing this!?”
Nero smirked. “To make you stronger.”
That was the last thing Omega thought he would say. That was what this was about? Was that why he destroyed Trabia? Was that why he was holding Lulu, Zell and Lindblum hostage? And Stitch?
Stitch’s body shook so violently that Omega had to tighten his grip. “You… you would hurt so many innocent people just to make me fight monsters? Just to make me use the Keyblade and become stronger?”
“Of course! My dear Omega, nothing is more important than you getting stronger.” The man said, his smirk widening as his eyes narrowed. “And I will force you to get stronger through any means.”
After he said that, he seemed to just fade away, as if he weren’t there to begin with. Omega didn’t waste any thoughts on where he might have gone as he took off his jacket and placed the still trembling Stitch in it. Stitch let out a little wheezing moan, but didn’t wake.
Stiltzkin, who had been understandably frozen in fear this entire time, slowly approached. “Umm, sorry… but what was that all about?”
He looked up at the Moogle. “I wish I could tell you, but I don’t really understand myself.” Omega said as he got up, holding the wrapped up Stitch to his chest.
“W-what are you going to do?”
“Well, as you can see, I don’t have many options.” Omega coolly said as he turned and looked around. He wanted to make sure that no Heartless was lurking around, as fighting them while holding Stitch would have been a chore. Perfectly doable, but not necessarily the most practical approach to take in this situation.
“Let me come with you!” Stiltzkin piped up. Omega stopped and turned back to look at him. Stiltzkin, who seemed to recoil a bit, but continued. “I mean, the Heartless might come back and I still have this book on me.” Omega just continued to look at the Moogle in silence, which clearly made him uncomfortable. “Maybe… I might be able to help your friend there, at least.”
Omega didn’t really need to think about the offer. In truth, he hadn’t actually intended on leaving Stiltzkin behind. As it happened, Omega had some suspicions he wanted to confirm concerning that book and this meeting. That Stiltzkin might be able to help out was just a bonus as far as he was concerned.
Before he could respond, however, another voice chimed in from overhead. “I wouldn’t say no to that. Moogle magic is very powerful, after all.” From some rooftop nearby, a short figure dropped down in front of Omega and Stiltzkin. The figure had blond hair, was well dressed and had a tail. Omega recognized him immediately.
“Oh, so you remembered me! That’s great.” Zidane said cheerfully. “Makes things a bit easier that way.”
“What do you want?” Omega said bluntly, while Stiltzkin stood there trying to make sense of everything. Omega could sympathize with his confusion, but had other things to worry about. “How long have you been here?”
“I’ve been around for a bit.” Zidane explained. “I was looking for the right moment to jump in.”
“Have you been following me?” Omega said. “Don’t think I don’t know a thief when I see one.”
“Seems I’ve been figured out.” Zidane said, in that same annoying friendly tone he had at the diner. “Though, rest assured, I’m not here to steal anything from you.”
“So you’re just out for an afternoon leisurely stalking?” Omega said dryly.
“Not exactly.” Zidane said. “I’ve been hired to keep an eye on you and your friends.” He put his hand up up to stop Omega from responding to that. “I know, you probably are not happy to hear that, but I will explain everything once we’re away from possible Heartless attacks.”
Omega snorted in exasperation at this short thief’s tone. He was the one who started this whole conversation at this moment and now he was trying to take the lead? Who did he think he was? However, another moan from Stitch made Omega calm down a little. Much as he hated it, he would have to wait till both Stitch and Stiltzkin were safe before he pressed the issue further.
“Fine, you better.” Omega said darkly to Zidane. He looked down at Stiltzkin. “Alright, follow me closely.”
Stiltzkin nodded and picked up his bag.
Business District Inn, an hour later
Omega tucked the blanket under Stitch’s chin and turned to Stiltzkin. “You sure?”
“Maybe… but even Moogle magic has its limits.” Stiltzkin said uneasily. Omega hadn’t been sure if he would even want to help after Stitch’s behavior towards him, but was grateful that Stiltzkin didn’t seem to care too much about that.
Omega didn’t say any of that, though. He just nodded, then looked at Stitch’s sleeping form. “Well, I appreciate anything you can do.” He told Stiltzkin before turning to Zidane, who was sitting on the window, looking calm with that annoying smile of his, while also having a good getaway next to him.
“And you,” Omega started in a completely different tone, one that showed his overall contempt. “You have exactly thirteen seconds to explain yourself before I decide to hack you into little pieces.”
“Oh come now, is that anyway to treat a friend?”
Omega just narrowed his eyes at him. “I’m gonna make this clear, Zidane. You and I are not friends. You are just someone who might be an ally at best and an obstacle to take down at worst.”
Zidane shrugged and shook his head. “Ah, you’re just as hardheaded as I was told.” Zidane said. “My group was hired by a man named Arcanus to keep an eye on you and help you out when we can.”
If he were expecting Omega to be surprised to hear this, he must have been very disappointed.
“Obviously the guy can’t take a hint.” Omega folded his arms and turned away from Zidane and watched Stiltzkin taking out several bottles of potions, ethers and any other things that Omega assumed he would be using on Stitch. The latter was squirming around, still clearly in pain. Omega wondered if he was dreaming. He pushed the thought away and turned back to look at Zidane. “Look, I don’t your help, especially if he’s offering.”
Zidane scratched the back of his head. “You really don’t like him, do you?” He said. “But, I’m not just going to break my contract. I stick to what I do.”
“Honor from a thief, that’s a rarity.”
“You can make the tired jokes, but the way I see it, you aren’t going to be getting rid of me so easily.” Zidane confidently placed his hands on his hips. “You need me.”
“Debatably.” Omega said as he cracked his neck. “Now would you prefer to leave by the door or, my preference,” Omega went and began opening the window, “thrown out the window?”
If Zidane had thought Omega was serious, it didn’t seem like it. It was clear, though, that he wasn’t about to give up without a fight.
“I know how to get down to the valley.” Zidane said and that made Omega pause, the window halfway open. Seeing he had the advantage, Zidane continued, “And my group can get down there and rescue your friends for you while you fight in the Festival.”
Omega looked back at Zidane. “You aren’t lying to me, are you?” He said in icy cold tone. Stiltzkin stopped what he was doing to listen. Zidane continued to stand his ground, though.
“No, absolutely not.” Zidane said. “I’m not trying to trick you, or take advantage of you. I just want to help you.”
“A lot of people have said that to me,” Omega said, approaching Zidane, “They often have secret agendas.”
“Yeah, well I don’t.” Zidane said, clearly not going to back down and unintimidated by the taller teenager. “And again, what choice do you really have?”
Omega and Zidane stared at each other for quite a while. The tension in the air was stifling, but Omega knew that Zidane was absolutely right. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, as much as he didn’t want the help, he knew he had no real choice. Whatever it took to save all three of them.
“Fine.” He looked away and back to bed where Stiltzkin and Stitch were. “I better not regret this.”
Zidane placed his hand on Omega’s shoulder as if they were all chummy and flashed a half-smile at him. “No worries, you won’t.”
The corner of Omega’s lip twitched. This already sucks.