Crimson Lies Part Seven
Looking back on the memory
Of the dance we shared 'neath the stars alone.
For a moment all the world was right,
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?
And now I'm glad I didn't know, the way it all would end,
The way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance -
I could have missed the pain, but I'd of had to miss the dance.
~ Chapter Thirty-Nine: Antipathy ~
A cold breeze drifted through the hallway, and its three inhabitants felt it not only pass through enclosed space, but through their bodies. It was more chilling than any air conditioning vent could possibly be. Like an omen for them to leave, each suddenly felt uncomfortable within the dark confines.
"It's been long enough, I think we should go in after him."
"No, I think Squall needs to do this alone, he has his own demons to face."
"Quistis, I understand that…what if we get in there too late? We might not even hear any signal given to us. He was right about one thing, just sitting here waiting like by-standers is not doing us any good."
"I know…" her voice softly trailed off for a second, secretly concerned about the other that entered before the commander. "Zell, he's in there with Seifer, and whatever they're doing, it's their redemption."
"So, your redemption is to stand in the dark?" He bit his lip after the words came out more sharply than he meant. It wasn't as if during the past few days, either had time to work out the underlying issues standing between them. Zell had never handled Rinoa's disappearance well, and his haunting visions just compiled his emotions upon her return.
Quistis desperately wanted to say something to make the situation better; to apologize, to beg forgiveness, to do anything...but right now wasn't the time to get into sorting history. In this instance, she felt her silence was the best approach, although guilt was starting to take hold once again. Seifer, Squall, and Rinoa…she could feel each of their blood staining her hands. If something happened to any one of them, her friends would be lost to her forever; she would be lost to her forever.
Alex had been quiet during their exchange. She held her arms closely to her body, trying to warm herself. Something was telling her to get out of there, even if no official order had been given. Whether it was the fear of the unknown, or the uneasiness rooted from the discomfort in the room, everything seemed on a more urgent scale. She didn't ask permission before starting to locate the door handle. She just had to get the hell out. Zell tried to pull her back, but her resolve only grew stronger.
"Calm down Alex, are you sensing something again?"
"No, I just need to get out of here, it's so damn cold."
For the first time Quistis turned the helmet's flashlight back on, they had been conserving the batteries usage. The light first shined on Zell, and he instinctively covered his eyes in a natural reaction.
"Hey, watch where you are pointing that thing!"
"It's gone!" Alexandra's fears were getting the better of her, and try as she might, she was unable to locate the door latch.
"No Alex, it's here. You probably just got turned around in the dark, but I still don't think we should go in…"
Moving the light around, Quistis scanned the two by fours that lined the passageway. She moved to where Alex had her hand placed, and then scanned slightly past that. Feeling as if she was missing the most obvious place, the instructor started to get upset at her own ignorance. She noticed each board was numbered from original construction and all were closely placed together for added support. She followed the number pattern for a good five meters either direction, knowing that none of them had ventured more than that since Squall left the area. Reaching her hand out, she tapped each one, mentally counting them off. On the off chance they had been turned around, she then scanned the other side. She noticed that the supports were just as close together, and there was no sign of an entryway.
"It's gone…" the words came out of her mouth, and even she couldn't believe them.
"What the hell?" Zell held Alex tighter as her phobias continued to grow, and now there was the added reality they couldn't find the exit.
Quistis tried to remain logical and calm, knowing that Squall might need their help. She knew the only other way would be the route they had marked on the buildings blueprints, but that would mean some backtracking downstairs. Time was of the essence if they were called, so she knew that one of them would have to make a decision quickly.
"We're going back down. We stick to the original plan…head back toward the classroom." Grabbing Alexandra's wrist, she lead her down the dark corridor. The stillness of the air had returned, and any sign of movement faded back at their waiting place. She carefully went down the stairs, until the passage finally dead-ended back at the classroom door. Shining the light, she mentally checked that there was actually an exit on this end.
Opening the door a tad, she checked for any Galbadian personnel in the room. When it was clear, the three walked back into the classroom closing the door behind them. The three just stood there…somewhat in disbelief. Quistis felt the same cold chill pass through her as earlier, freezing in momentary shock. She carefully guarded her weapon, as did Zell, both prepared for anything of combatant nature; it was the unexplained nature they feared. The two SeeDs exchanged a look, as if to dismiss the incident upstairs as human error. Somehow, each must have missed the obvious, fears and emotion most likely took over reasoning.
"We better get moving." Quistis pointed across the class to the other door, "That was the one we marked."
"This one wasn't on the map," added Zell, restating comments from their earlier conversation in that very room.
"Yeah…" Her soft words trailed off.
They exchanged one last look, reading each other's mind as they had done in so many other life-threatening situations. Like two curious children, they re-opened the door, making sure their doubts were put behind them. Somehow, in that moment they weren't twenty-three-year-olds but scared five-year-olds afraid of what they would find on the other side. What they found defied logic, defied any known reason…a janitorial supply closet.
Rinoa felt a strange eeriness when she was left alone with Mitchell. If she could have reached a gun, she would have shot him on sight, but now another factor weighed heavily on her mind…Seifer. He had come in there for her benefit; she knew his arrival was planned, sending him unarmed on its own would be a careless, illogical move. He was to serve as a distraction, but along the way, something went wrong…she wouldn't let him sacrifice his life for hers.
If they did execute Kimberley first, that would buy her a few precious minutes. She shivered at the momentary thought of hoping another human being would be slain before another one. Her life was not worth the price that her friends were each willing to pay, and she would be damned to lose someone else she cared about. If there was one thing she learned was that men had their weakness. If her calculations were correct, pretending to seduce Mitchell wouldn't prove to be a difficult task, at least on his end…
He hadn't said anything since the others left, which was good as the sound of his voice made her sick to her stomach. He led her by the hand over to the desk, and she sat on the edge. Reaching in his pocket, he grabbed a set of keys, fumbling around for a long silver one. Tenderly he undid her handcuffs, massaging the red imprints left on her skin. She looked into his eyes and smiled sympathetically, he was trembling like a schoolboy left alone with a teacher. She suppressed her desires to kill him, as each action he made seemed to heighten her inner turmoil.
She felt a relief when he let go of her wrists, walking around to the other side of the desk. Reaching in a drawer, he pulled out what appeared to be white fabric. As he carefully undid the cloth, she could tell it was a gown and an outer lace robe. He held them up, as if proud of the garments.
"These were made for your execution, but now they will be for your christening. Your soul will forever be bonded to mine, and together we will be as one. Julia I shall inform your subjects that you have been reborn, and their day of reckoning is here. They will serve you, they will honor you, and they shall say our names in unison."
Rinoa's hand grew tighter into a fist; she had not realized the true scope of his dementia. She wasn't sure how to handle the situation, even with Bennett she could retreat into solitude. Right now, she wished this man would have hit her, broken her ribs, done anything but bring her mother into the moment. It was easier to handle the physical abuse, but hearing the name of her mother from the lips of this man…was far too much.
He set the robes on the desk, and made a gesture with his hand. She tried to smile calmly, as she reached down feeling the fabric. She felt the texture of the lace, and the delicate satin that the robe was made from.
"I had these designed by the finest tailors in Deling; the fabric was imported from Esthar, while the lace was handmade by Shumi-tribe elders. I spared no expense in making these, as you are worth every Gil my angel."
"They're beautiful," she gasped. It was the first words spoken that weren't a lie, even she could appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of the ceremonial dress. Continuing to run her fingers along the edge of the fabric, she felt his presence as he came up behind her. He moved his hands around her waist, pulling her back tightly against his body.
"You have to put them on for me now, I can't wait a moment longer to see you in them."
She tried to think of an excuse not to comply, but she needed him to believe her loyalty. Turning, she ran her fingernails seductively across his chest. "Jefferson, I will do whatever you wish, but what of your troops? What if they do not accept me? I'm afraid they will say that I have cast a spell upon you, and shall call for my death."
He moved his palm to her cheek, as if reassuring her that he could protect her no matter the cost. "My darling angel, no man alive shall ever bring you pain. If they believe you have cast a spell, then show them the true power you possess, and then they will know better than to question your will."
She looked her eyes downcast to the floor, acting as if ashamed. "Right now the injections have suppressed my powers. I would have no way to defend myself." He kissed her on the lips, and for the first time she didn't pull away, although it was certainly a natural reaction to have the urge to become ill. His touch burned her soul as if deadly poison, and the pain was increasing with each moment. She kept her mind focused on Squall, and Allison, and of anything pure or good. She purposely let him be the one to break the kiss, as he stared into her earthen brown eyes.
"Rinoa, those injections were only experimental, we couldn't test them on an actual subject. Your powers have not been bound for good. In fact, I believe some of your natural abilities should be returning shortly. But Julia, as I said, it is pure speculation on the scientists' behalf."
If not for the fact of the encouraging news, she would have been completely horrified that within the same paragraph he had called her by two separate names. What a paradox it was when she, only a few days ago, had wavered between two identities. At one point fighting between the personalities of Rinoa and Renee, her mind might not have registered his obvious error. Now she wondered how truly sick she, herself, had become or if reality had now permanently settled back into her psyche. Fearing that in this game, she might blur the lines of reality. She could only pray that wouldn't happen. Before during the battle for her mind, she felt betrayed, but now the trust of her knight could keep her within this reality…she hoped.
He noticed her apprehension, not about at him, but about something she was silently fighting within herself. Placing a finger on her chin, he made her look in his eyes. "I know what would help, you put the robes on, and I'll take down the anti-magic barrier. That way if one were to stray from the flock, you could set him in his place."
That hadn't been her intention, hell, she wasn't sure what her intentions were anymore, but that would be a great help to the others. The President had all but forgotten about Squall being in the building, or the attack by Esthar. She allowed him to kiss her again, before he headed around the desk toward his laptop. Looking at the clock sitting on the desk, the ticking hands reminded her of the race she was in for Seifer's life.
She grabbed the clothes turning her back toward him. Putting all modesty aside, she removed her shirt and let it fall gently on the floor. She could feel his eyes burning into her back, and was trying to hurry, without looking like she was rushing. Gathering the silken garb, she raised her arms allowing it to cascade gentle down her body. When covered by the length of the robe, she took off her pants, landing them in the pile with her top. Body mostly concealed, she turned back toward him allowing him to see her clad in the silken dress.
Moving toward her, he took the outer lace robe and placed it affectionately on her body. She was beautiful, as her dark hair was a sharp contrast to the ashen color of the robes. She didn't need to ask about the field, she could feel some of her abilities returning. Her powers were based on emotion, and when the shield came down, the emotion became almost too intense to control without Squall. She wasn't even sure if they would work yet due to the injections, nor would she even take the chance. If she allowed her darker side to take over, Seifer would surely pay the price, and she would never make it out of the building alive. Everything had to be carefully planned. Timing was of the utmost importance.
He pulled her back toward the desk, again placing her body on its surface. Noticing a small string hanging from a shoulder-line hem, he reached in his top-drawer grabbing a pair of scissors. The alterations for the robes were only finished last night. They had needed her actual measurements, and not the ones they had guessed from the photographs. The Palace tailor had been forced to work through the night to make sure that every detail was perfect. Once Rinoa actually put them on, the plan was to have Kimberley do any emergency fittings. She had some experience with needlework, and Mitchell had asked the tailor to leave all his supplies in his office.
The flaw in the robes, seemed to agitate the President to a surprising degree, and Rinoa could feel herself losing control of the man. She knew she had to be the sexual aggressor for a second, to put her plan in motion. She slid one of the straps off her robe, exposing her shoulder and upper breast. The simple act seemed to calm him down his anger, redirecting it into other avenues. Reaching behind her neck, he pulled her in tightly, kissing her with more fervor than before. She tried to return the kisses just as passionately, but found herself choking on her own bile. And like in her worst nightmare, Squall picked that moment to burst into the room. Both figures jumped at his sudden entrance, and Rinoa could all but hide her guilt.
In an act that she could only describe as cowardice, Mitchell quickly pulled her off the desk with force, placing her in front of his body as if a human shield. She trembled in fear for a moment, but from what she wasn't sure…guilt, embarrassment, death? The lion's eyes had a rage she had never seen, a passion that she had only witnessed recently. He had charged in there ready to attack, acting as if consequence didn't matter. She worried what could have done such a thing to him, what act could have made a man of steel crumble like sand.
He had entered the room with such deep intent, but the scene he witnessed must have even caught him off guard enough to regain his balance. He lowered the gunblade in shock as the passion changed to pain before Rinoa's eyes…at least she thought.
Mitchell tightened his hold of her waist, driving her even further into his body. "Will you kill him for me my angel?"
"Of course," she answered without hesitation. Knowing that Mitchell stood behind her she mouthed the word, "Allison" to Squall unsure of whether he could hear her nonverbally right now. She wasn't sure if her powers were strong enough for any other form of communication with her knight.
He nodded once without as much as a syllable uttered. In that second, she made the distinction between what she perceived as pain from betrayal on his face, to the pain he felt for failing her…and making her dance with this devil. She smiled at him knowing he wouldn't understand exactly why, but she realized they were stronger than they were two years ago in Deling. This time they believed in each other… She had seen those eyes years before, but this time she understood them. Squall knew. Allison was safe, which just left freeing Seifer, and then getting the hell away from this place. There was no way she and Squall could make it to the jail on time, so she had to stick to the idea of Mitchell releasing him, with one minor adjustment.
She prayed to Hyne he would understand. Rinoa had no idea if her thought would reach him, but she couldn't speak aloud in front of Mitchell. "I have to save Seifer, play along…Forgive me, I love you." The knight heard his sorceress speak the words in his mind, before the realization of their meaning could register.
She lifted her palm toward Squall, cruelly laughing as she tossed her head back onto the President's shoulder. With one flick of her wrist, a bolt of energy radiated out from her hand, and followed its path like a lightening towards a metallic rod. The feeling sent shockwaves through his body, and he grabbed his chest in pain. His eyes met hers and he could feel the pounding of his heart within his torso, whether it was from voltage coursing through his veins or her actions, he didn't know. He just could feel the pain.
And then darkness.
She was taken aback by the power that she had managed to use. For a moment, her world became slightly cloudy as if she was coming off some drug-induced high. Her body truly wasn't accustomed to using such energy, let alone to be in such a situation. She wanted to look back at Squall, to make sure he was okay, but she was sure that he had managed to handle the strike, and any Guardians would protect him from major blows. He would understand her actions in a second, and play along until they were ready to strike. She felt Mitchell release his tight grip from her body, spinning her around to his face. Now he looked like the rival lion that had just made its kill claiming his domain…such a proud, foolish, and spineless man.
Smiling toward him, she ran her delicate fingers seductively through her own hair joking, "He was always a pain in my ass anyhow."
The President almost seemed dumbfounded by the swiftness of her actions. He slowly parted from his trophy, letting his fingers brush with hers as he walked toward the fallen warrior. Looking down, the President couldn't have been more pleased with any other outcome. He finally had whom he obsessed these many years by his side, and the man who once stood in his way, was no longer a viable threat. Mitchell reached down next to Leonhart's body, picking up one of his shrines prize-possessions, the replicated gunblade that highlighted his collection. Why the weapon held such a deep fascination, even he couldn't understand…but his desire to claim Rinoa was strong, even if events had transpired for him to imitate another.
Running his hand over the handle, Mitchell followed the gunblade to where the blade began and the revolver ended. He took his index finger placing it on the silvery edge, allowing the razor-sharp edge to slice his skin. It was a deliberate act, as if commemorating the 'kill' with some blood-oath to her. He moved back toward where she stood, after placing the gunblade on a nearby table.
Raising his hand to her, he ran his finger slowly across her lips, allowing the blood to enter her mouth. Rinoa could taste the almost metallic, bitterness in her mouth. As the repulsive liquid filled all her senses, understanding of this man's psychosis became overwhelming; she no longer thought she could contain her obvious disgust. She had to get this over with quickly, to take the initiative so Seifer could be spared. Turning taking another step toward the desk, she once again let the material fall from her shoulder. Spinning back around quickly almost playfully like a cat, she jumped up to a sitting position removing the lacey outer garment completely.
"We don't need Leonhart, but I might need that other one."
She looked at Mitchell mischievously, motioning with her finger for him to move closer. "That Almasy guy, he was Ultimecia's knight, he'll know how to handle me… just like you do." She lifted a finger to his chest tracing a line up to his neck. "Spare him, you can keep that one as a trophy. He's already dead." She motioned her head toward the man lying on the floor.
"What about you?" Mitchell asked under his breath before leaning over to her, their lips almost touching. "What do you want as a trophy?"
Again, she laughed aloud with a sultry look, "Spare Almasy…and you'll find out. I need him, just like I need you."
He moved the centimeters in kissing her, as he had done earlier. This time she reciprocated the action, this time it was she that bit passionately at his lip. Knowing this was almost over was the only thing getting her through; she only hoped Squall would understand in the end. Rinoa leaned back further, moving her hand over to the intercom. "Before we get too carried away, make the call…spare him." He fumbled around as he put all his weight upon her, reaching over to the button.
"Yes, Mr. President, sir."
In between forceful kisses, he tried to speak. "Yeah…changed my mind…we might need Almasy…have him escorted up here…"
"Sir we were about to execute…"
"Do you doubt my word? Do you want your death the next I order?"
"Never sir," the voice slightly faltered on the other end. "We will bring him up to your office right away."
"No, give me twenty minutes or so." He grinned at Rinoa wickedly, pulling their bodies tighter together. "…Then bring him…to me…we found a use for him."
Knowing she had just bought Seifer some valuable time, enough to rescue him, Squall would take her cue. Rinoa waited a second for a response, as she opened one eye watching for the impending attack. She had no doubt in Squall's ability as a knight or as a military leader to know when they had trapped their enemy.
"Get this bastard off me!" Her mind finally called out to him, when she couldn't take the hideous torture. Every second of this nightmare was killing her, every second she was falling deeper into the world she had escaped. She was trying to surpass the horror, holding fast to everything she had taught herself.
"Squall!?" Still nothing…not within her mind, nor a noise from the floor. "Hyne now…Squall…please!!! I can't do this any longer…please."
She turned just enough to see him still lying unconscious on the ground. This wasn't supposed to be, it hadn't happened like this before…she used more energy with Richard Bennett that night she escaped in Trabia; it only knocked the wind out of him for a minute and he was never unconscious. She was physically weaker now, with some foreign substance running through her veins.
This was just circumstance, a combat maneuver… Then she remembered, something she had forsaken…with her knight around her powers multiplied, and she became stronger. She hadn't known her own abilities, nor that her magic would multiply tenfold when used upon him. When he continued to lay there not moving, she finally thought the unthinkable…she might have actually just killed him.
~ Chapter Forty: Hatred~
When the fight begins within himself,
a man is worth something.
There were no words to articulate how confused each felt, the three stared at the closet in complete shock. It wasn't as if they were insane, they had all been in that hallway…even Seifer and Squall had been within its depths. Maybe there was some elaborate holographic projector protecting the existence of the passage, one that had been damaged when the Estharian attack occurred. Maybe the illusion had something to do with the anti-magic field, although none had heard of such a thing, it wasn't an impossibility, right? Quistis held the doorknob tighter, her grasp increasing as more possible solutions ran through her mind.
The sound of a key being inserted into the far door made them temporarily forget about the question they couldn't answer. In unison, all jumped back into the closet, although each felt uncomfortable at doing so. When Zell first entered, his feet caught on a mop that was lying on the floor, which completely blew Quistis' projector theory. Whatever was in there was definitely solid objects, and not holographic projected ones.
Four soldiers entered the classroom, shutting the door behind them. Quistis could see through the keyhole just a bit, enough to tell that they were not in there on official business. One pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and then passed it around to the others. Three sat on the tabletops, and the fourth seemed to be acting as lookout to the main hallway door. It was obvious by their demeanor, they weren't supposed to be on this smoking break. If years of training had taught the young SeeD anything, it was that this time-off was certainly unauthorized. It had been an almost everyday occurrence being a teacher; whether it was students at Garden, or members of the Galbadian Army didn't seem to make much difference, basic human behavior was universal.
The three stood silent as the soldiers conversation seemed to echo through the vacant class. It wasn't as if they were speaking in a loud tone, their voices carried a great distance within the hollowness.
"This is just fucking unbelievable, first we spend two years looking for her, now we are taking orders from her?"
"You know, I heard rumors from some of Mitchell's personal guards that he's completely obsessed with her…in a downright freaky way."
"My brother works up in Alpha-Blue unit, and he said the creep even has some shrine to her or something…but it's supposed to be 'eyes only.' Even talking about it could get you shot."
"I heard about that once, figured it was another one of the baseless rumors around here."
"Oh and what about that Almasy guy they're going to execute? Jason, didn't you used to work for him?"
At the sounding of Seifer's name, Quistis tensed up as her heart momentarily stopped in mid-beat. It was only a split-second later that the word 'execute' registered, and suddenly her world sank. "No," was the only word that ran repeatedly through her mind. The closet they were standing in, unlike the hall, wasn't completely within the dark. Streams of light entered from around the doorframe, allowing their silhouettes to be seen to one another.
Quistis paused as she felt someone coming up next to her, and even more surprise when the figure placed an arm around. She could tell by the touch it was feminine, and was surprised as Alex crouched next to her offering silent emotional support. Alexandra truly had been Rinoa's only friend during the entire ordeal, and had no earthly reason to comfort her figurative enemy, but that's exactly what she did.
And in that moment, the instructor first noticed the similarities that Alexandra shared with an older sister she had never known. She wasn't the outspoken, sometimes coarse person who all but ignored Quistis the last few days. The human heart could only handle so much before it wanted to reach out, Ellone would have been proud. It is hard to think about losing someone you love, that language was universal, even to someone whose acquaintance goes no further than sharing oxygen hiding in a closet. Alex never said a word, or offered more than the comfort of letting Quistis know she wasn't alone…but it was enough. Fighting back the tears, she listened as the soldiers continued to speak to one another.
Her attention turned back toward the outward scene with a slight bit more urgency. She watched as the guard seemed to linger on his last drag of the cigarette before answering.
"Work for him? That's a far cry from reality; he was just some puppet on a string. That's when the last sorceress claimed power. I was first assigned security detail under Vinzer Deling, until Edea clipped his sorry ass. Don't you think these guys will ever learn…get in bed with a sorceress and you die? Ten bucks says this one does Mitchell in within twenty-four hours. Does history not teach these morons anything?"
"So Almasy was in bed with that other sorceress, huh? Kinda kinky."
"Don't know about that…hell wouldn't even want to know about that! Just know that the guy came from nowhere acting as if he were Hyne himself…personally I was rooting for Leonhart at the parade. Shit, you know how long it took to put that one float together? It took us three goddamned weeks to build. One float…for an entire parade, you would think these guys would at least get a clue."
The guard at the door had remained quiet, but bringing up the subject of their former leader and Knight, he couldn't help but add his two-cents worth.
"I worked with Almasy too, fought under him when Balamb attacked Galbadia, guy had me jumping a freakin motorcycle between two flying Gardens…idiot. I'm not upset to see him killed, he was a complete asshole, hell I'd actually pay to get a front row ticket…kinda going to miss that other chick though she was a looker."
"Heard she was doing it with the President's entire staff…guess that's why she is being executed first huh?"
"Kind of funny that they are going to be killed at the Palace jail in front of everyone. He probably pissed half of them off and she probably did the rest of them."
The door flew open as the position of lookout had been momentarily abandoned. All four jumped to attention tossing away evidence of their habit. It didn't work. They all received a severe reprimand, followed by a formal reciting of Galbadian rules of conduct for military personal. After what seemed like a hundred articles and sections were read, the superior handed them paper, informing each they were going to copy the rules verbatim onto paper.
It seemed like they were going to have their fate sealed in a closet, and Seifer in the prison cell.
"Damn it!" Zell's voice rose a little more than he meant to. He was going to be the last to admit it to anyone, but somehow the idea of Seifer being killed wasn't as enticing as it was four days ago.
"Damn it!" Zell's voice rose a little more than he meant to. He was going to be the last to admit it to anyone, but somehow the idea of Seifer being killed wasn't as enticing as it was four days ago.
"Hey that birdie-lighting guy in my head seems to be making a lot of noise all of a sudden." Alex grabbed her temples at the unfamiliar sensation, and the annoyance of the Guardian still speaking a foreign dialect.
"I don't feel anything different."
"Wait Zell, we've grown accustom to the feeling, maybe the anti-magic field is down again."
"So why can't Ifrit just say that then?"
"They're here to support us on our journeys, not tell us everything. Some things we must still learn or discover on our own."
Back in the classroom, the four guards sat the table as they were going through the agony of copying the doctrine word-for-word. Not one heard the slight creak of the door, or the word "Sleep" until it was far too late…
If Selphie had one thing going for her, it was that her ideas were timeless…such as stealing three Galbadian uniforms. Unlike earlier when they turned the guards granite, this time they worked together keeping the men indisposed…and in no condition to retaliate. Now three of the four troops were wearing nothing more than t-shirts and boxer shorts…the fourth still kept his uniform, and his dignity, intact…sort of. All four bound and gagged, and then carefully placed in the supply closet. A final sleep spell was cast for good measure, and then the fake soldiers were free to walk blindly out into the hallway.
The trip to the cell could have taken ten minutes, but in their state of urgency they made the long trek in under three. Although the immediate threat of danger receded for the moment, Deling officials seemed to be more cautious about a second wave of attacks from either Esthar or Balamb. So seeing scattered troops running down the corridors was commonplace, so their haste fit among the masses.
He never figured his final moments of life to come down to this…maybe something more grand or at least not ending in a rat-filled prison. Seifer sat on the hard brick surface that was both a bench and a bed for most of the life-long prisoners. He had his share of cells, but this was by far the worst. Because it was hidden within the walls of the Palace, no civil liberties applied or were completely ignored, and it by any other standards was a no more than a medieval dungeon. It was the place that time forgot and in a few moments, he would be a memory contained within its walls.
He ran his hand through his hair, and then rested his head on the emptiness of the brick wall. Was his end really supposed to be like this? He promised himself one thing, he would not fight…if this is was what fate decided, he would forever abide by it. He had given all he could in the last few days, more than he even knew ever lay in is cold-hearted exterior.
He wondered if Rinoa was safe, he wondered if Squall had reached her. Would they have the storybook ending she had often dreamed while spending their summer days sitting on the beach? Even if Seifer wasn't her soul mate, he was glad he had met her, he became a better person in just knowing her. Somehow he figured, whatever those two would have would never be storybook, but something much more passionate with highest-highs, and deepest-lows, that would try the test of any human soul… Yet, they would make it down the road in the end…if the fates would allow.
He wondered about Alexandra, he wondered if Zell would ever be able to handle her strong mind-set. He laughed inwardly when he realized that he and Alex almost shared the same sardonic humor, bet that would truly kill the martial artist to hear that comparison. Hell, the guy took a bullet for her the first day; it took him almost eighteen years to come to that point with anyone. He might have teased him a lot, but in the end Seifer only had the greatest admiration for the man, and somehow wished he could have been more free-spirited like him…
He wondered of all those left behind, not by choice, but by circumstance. Would Garden grant the pardon for both Fujin and Raijin? Even in his darkest hours, the ex-Knight believed in Cid. As much as he and the headmaster had fought through the years, when it came down to it, he believed the man in his word - maybe those two thought too much alike on some accounts, where rules held Cid back, compared to where Seifer walked blindly. He believed Cid and Edea would make it through these events, just as they always had…maybe not completely intact, but they were survivors.
He thought of Selphie, the little messenger girl he had hardly known in their latter years, and of Irvine, the Galbadian man who filled his place at Garden when the tides had turned. Those two had something special between them also, but their passions never seemed to be worn on their sleeves like him or Leonhart. They were more stable, but by no means less zealous than the others. He could understand why Squall trusted in them, if destiny was cruel and Allison was left an orphan.
Then he thought of the countless, nameless masses that he had encountered over the years…some he killed, some were spared, and some no more than specs in his memory. This was the legacy he left, the failure, the deceit, and the myriad of heartache.
He did everything…but think of her.
His eyes opened out of their weary state when a loud bang thundered through the room. Two men stood at his cell door, opening the lock. They grabbed him, knocking him down to the floor, the first man kicked his ribcage several times, as the other stood by door laughing. Finally they grabbed him, dragging him to his feet. In handcuffs, he was escorted into a central room in the upper regions of the prison. These cells seemed to be holding more than long term, as several men were jammed into each one.
He glanced down to the floor, noticing a drain where a river of scarlet blood ran through. He followed the flow with his eyes, until they landed upon the source. A female body was being dragged away, and the blood spilled freely from her temple. The head no longer identifiable, but the dress he had known to be as the woman upstairs with Mitchell. Is this how is life was to end, dragged away like yesterdays trash?
They bound his hands behind his back, not with cuffs this time, but with rope…rope that they pulled tight until it had fused within his skin. They took him to his knees and then blindfolded him, for what reason he didn't know...but maybe in the darkness he would find solitude.
But in the darkness he couldn't help but think of her.
His mind raced like a projector running the movie of his life. It was true what they said about your life passing before your very eyes, maybe that is done so your final moments you can truly know what kind of person you were…even if the answer isn't the one you want. But for all the evil, she would always remain the good. Her hair flowing in the sea-breeze in Balamb a week ago, their time aboard the boat, their endless conversations, the things they wouldn't dare speak to another, their heartbeats dancing together in Dollet, and nothing more memorable than the feeling of her skin upon his.
"Do you have any final requests?" The executioner asked, not that he cared about the answer, it didn't matter to him either way.
He wanted to come up with a witty retort, a snappy comeback, so they would always remember him…but he didn't. He shook his head once to signify 'no' and that was it… He wanted to leave this world in peaceful silence, thinking of the one good thing he found in it…Quistis.
"It's your dying right buddy, just don't make a huge mess of my floor, okay?" He heard the man take a few paces back, and then he heard the cock of the gun…
"Hold on!" Another voice called from behind him. "You're not going to believe this shit, Mitchell wants this guy back."
"What the hell? What's going through his fucking mind now? Hope he doesn't want his chick back either, but knowing that sicko, he wouldn't care if she wasn't breathing."
"Look, we just have orders to bring him back up…don't ask me. If we don't we'll be the next on Mitchell's ever-changing hit list."
Seifer felt someone pull him to his feet, yanking off the blindfold. Until that point, never had a jail cell looked like heaven. His mind raced, trying to comprehend all the events that transpired, but they were beyond comprehension…even he knew that. What had changed Mitchell's mind? What had Rinoa done? He hoped that whatever it was, would be forgiven by the others.
They led him just out of the confines of the prison area, and the guard yelled to three other soldiers passing by. "Hey you, I need you to escort this prisoner up to the President's office. Take the long way…he has other 'official business' he is seeing to right this second."
The men saluted as the transfer of the prisoner was made. Seifer saw this as his chance to escape, now the only thing bound were his wrists. As if the guard could sense his thoughts, he turned to the prisoner stating, "Don't be a freakin' chicken-wuss and try to escape."
No other time in his life had Zell's voice sounded so comforting, and judging by the size of the other two guards, he had a fairly good idea of their identities. They walked the distance of the corridor, heading up a flight of stairs, never breaking the illusion that all around believed. The four ducked into a vacant room, closing the door tightly behind them.
Quistis was the first to take off her helmet, sweaty hair matted to her face. It was as if she couldn't control her own actions as she threw down her helmet grabbing him tightly, bringing his body next to hers. Their lips met and the sensation of being alive ran throughout Seifer's entire being. When they parted, they just stared deeply into one another's eyes.
"Just so you know it, I've never kissed anyone in a Galbadian uniform before," Seifer smirked raising an eyebrow to her.
"I guess I should be happy about that," she whispered running her hand along his jawbone. "God I thought that…" her words trailed as she leaned her head against his chest.
"I know…me too." He wanted to hold her, to put his arms around her, but still they were still bound by the ropes. "Um, think one of you guys could untie me?"
"Oh Hyne Squall!" The words escaped her mouth, as she tried to push Mitchell off her. "NO!!!!"
She managed to snake out from underneath him, running toward the fallen Knight. With immense force, she was quickly yanked back by the wrist. She felt a snap in her shoulder, but ignored the pain. Before the realization struck, Mitchell had placed one handcuff around her wrist. While she tried to physically fight him off, her magically abilities were once again dormant, and mental fatigue and exhaustion were taking their toll.
"Squall!!! I need you!"
"I thought you needed me? Damn you lying bitch…now what am I supposed to do?"
"Die," she gasped between tears, "just die."
He slapped her across the face, leaving a blemish that covered an entire side of her jaw. She didn't even wince in pain, nothing else registered at that moment but Squall. "Thanks to you the one person who could have handled your powers is now dead. What do you expect me to do? I have to find someone who will follow my command, someone these imbeciles will follow into power."
He looked at her as he forcefully locked the second cuff around her wrist. "You…it will be you. I can destroy you yet, I will kill everyone you love or have ever cared about one-by-one. Remember I know them all, from your Forest Owl friends to your daughter Rinoa…each will die until you serve me. You know me, you know what I am capable of…remember your joke of a husband I killed at Balamb Garden? I went about this the wrong way before…I will have you. You will be mine."
"I'm Rinoa, damn it!" Her words were more to reassure herself right now, afraid of losing her own reality. In between sobs she cried, "Julia was my mother, Allison is my daughter, and Squall is my…oh God…what have I done?"
At the words, he swung her around and tossed her onto his desk. Her head hit the hard surface with force, and she momentarily lost surroundings as her vision darkened from the blow. Mitchell grabbed her forearm tightly, leaving reddened bruises with every abrasive touch. This, this had happened before…too many times. She knew this, she knew what was about to happen. She lived it before, but not now. Her vision once again came into focus, and tried to turn her head from him, but he quickly grabbed her jaw making her look him in the eyes. With his other hand, he tore the thin strap, ripping the material completely off her shoulder. Finally he released the vigorous hold on her jaw, and used that hand to gather up the material from below, lifting it past her knees. She tried to kick, but it was no use, as he was more powerful and dominating in the situation. She turned her head away this time, without his objection, as he was worried about other things.
Then she saw them, the slight metallic reflection out of the corner of her eye. Her thoughts went back to Deling, to the corner drug store…to where she stole a pair of scissors. She had thought, at the time it was the closest thing to a weapon she could find, in a pinch they would work, and right now, they could be her only salvation. Her hands still remained handcuffed in front of her, but while he was busy ripping at her gown, she took that second to raise her arms over her head.
She tried to roll to her side, as they were just out of fingertips reach. Whether it was miracle or fate, would always elude her. Rinoa didn't know how, she managed to grab the circular handles. The tailor's scissors were far more dangerous than the ones she had taken, with a sharpness that could rival a knife. She closed her eyes, as she clasped the cool metal rings in her hand.
"Forgive me," she prayed to gods or anyone who would listen. Rinoa opened her eyes, jamming one knee into his groin. He gasped at the pain, liberating his restraint for just one moment. One moment is all she needed. She looked deep into his eyes, into his darkened soul. "I will never be yours!" With power unknown, she plunged the scissors into his chest. She felt the instruments dive deep into muscles and through his ribcage…and then she plunged them in deeper.
The crimson blood spilled out, leaving trails of her sin down her white robe.
She had killed, not as a sorceress, as any other mortal would. Their eyes never parted, and try as she might, she couldn't feel the slightest remorse. A shiver ran through her when she realized how indifferent she felt right now...how much hatred was clouding her very soul.
As Mitchell grabbed at the metal instrument protruding from his chest, the door was knocked with tremendous force. Rinoa turned from the dying man, as the blood was still covering her hands. Quistis was the first to walk in, followed by the other three. The two women momentary looked at one another spell bound, the evidence of guilt clearly shrouded on Rinoa's stained robes.
Turning her attention, Rinoa watched her victim as he struggled for his last standing breaths. Jefferson Mitchell collapsed to the ground, before his eyes slowly shut. She watched every second, every breath he took. It was a fascination from which she could not break, completely still, completely unmoved, and completely void of emotion.
"Hyne…" She heard Alex plea from amid the silence. "Squall…does anyone have some strong cure spells?"
The words brought Rinoa back into her surroundings. "Squall," she softly whispered, before calling it more frantically, "Squall!?" She ran over to his side, falling onto her knees beside her knight. She gathered him into her arms, much in the same fashion she had done after time compression. The cuffs made it more difficult this time around, but she wouldn't let him go…not now, not ever.
"I killed him, I killed him." She rocked back and forth cradling his body chanting the manta aloud.
"No," Seifer said placing his forefinger to the commander's throat. "Looks like you knocked him out a little…or a lot…but he'll be okay. Just give him a moment. Do you know if the magic barrier is up again?"
"No…it's down," she said as tears fell onto his face, tracing a path on his skin. The excess blood that once covered her body was now soaking into the dark uniform jacket Squall had been wearing. Seifer reached down, casting a Curaga spell, slowly it radiated out of his hands with vibrant hues of lavender.
"Give him a minute." Seifer looked at Rinoa, tucking some stray hair behind her ears. "How, how did you get Mitchell to stop my execution…one more second and I would be…" The words trailed off as he had a hard time accepting them, or maybe the consequences that led to his release.
"I did what I had to do," she whispered. He remained silent accepting her words. He knew that whatever she had done almost cost Squall his life.
"We have the audio-tape of Kimberley and Mitchell hopefully there will be enough evidence on here," offered Quistis. She had gone to Seifer's coat, picked it up, and pulled out the recorder. Hitting the stop button, she walked back, handing the coat back to its rightful owner.
Alex kneeled down and placed her arm around Rinoa trying to offer whatever comfort she could. Silently, the younger girl laid her head upon her friends shoulder, accepting the gesture for all it was worth.
"Rinoa there is a press conference in about thirty minutes, and thanks to Seifer's contacts, they will have a new top story. By morning, the entire world will know of his plan concerning your power, and what he did to you…and to your father, maybe then there can be some closure, and Galbadia can start the process of moving on."
"Hey you." Rinoa looked down in shock to the now conscious person in her arms. "That wasn't very nice…" He managed an uncharacteristic grin, one only meant for her, he brought one hand to his face and rubbed his eyes. "Next time I use Quezacotl, I'll think twice."
"You're welcome to have the Guardian back…he's driving me insane," quipped Alexandra looking down at the SeeD Commander. "Glad to have you among the conscious, Squall."
"Don't you know it," added Zell, bending down contributing his opinion. Squall waved his hand, acknowledging the statement before looking back at the person holding him securely.
"Love you," he whispered. Then for the first time he tried to stare into Rinoa's eyes, but she turned and the realization hit. "You….you killed him." She bit her bottom lip, as she nodded her head, shamefully hiding her face from his. He reached up, trying to wipe some blood from her face, but only managing to spread it around her cheek. "It's okay…you did what you had to do."
She snickered at the irony of the same words she just told Seifer, thinking she thought the same phrase two years ago when she ran. She did what she had to do, she always did what she had to do… For a minute, she was glad that Squall never witnessed the bloody sin, or the hideous act that almost transpired that lead up to it. He may never have forgiven himself if he knew the whole truth, but then again, maybe he did know…
"Rinoa, look at me," he pleaded with such sincerity she couldn't refuse him. "It doesn't matter to me. I would have done the same…anything done is forgiven. I love you." He moved his hand through her hair, pulling her down to his lips. She took comfort in the embrace and the emotion that passed between them, something unknown to most. He felt her cringe as he ran his fingers over her arm. "You're hurt." He pulled away slightly tracing the bruises on her jaw.
"I'll be alright, it will heal."
"May I?" The words…everything…just like their first encounter in the cabin days ago, when he had asked to cure her broken rib. Everything seemed to be repeating itself in some strange ironic circle. And again, just like that snow-filled night they shared, she gave him permission. He laid his hands upon her and softly uttered the words to heal her…but nothing happened.
She tilted her head slightly shocked that he was unable to use a simple cure spell. "Squall, are you sure you're feeling all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." He couldn't figure out why the spell wasn't working or his sudden inability to cast magic.
If for one second, any of them had put the pieces together. If for one second, they would have logically thought about magical backfire. If for one second, they had not let their emotions control their actions. If for one second, they had thought that someone had re-activated the anti-magic barrier, from within that very room. But in their haste, they forgot the most basic of battle objectives…
Make sure your enemy is truly down.
In all their warnings, all their visions, everything leading up to this day…they already knew the outcome. Fate cannot be changed, only the clues leading up to it could be discovered. The answer always remained the same, no matter how many times they had dreamed it to be different.
If for one second, any of them had seen Mitchell holding up the replica of Lionheart, before he used his last breaths of life…
If for one second, they could have warned Rinoa…
If for just one second…
~ Chapter Forty-One: Peace ~
Love is the emblem of eternity:
it confounds all notion of time:
effaces all memory of the beginning,
all fear of the end.
--Germaine De Stael
Our lives are mere specks upon the shadows of the earth; we are travelers amongst the stars, if only for a brief period of time. Very few legends are passed from generations but those that are, are truly extraordinary. Not only do they keep alive a culture that may no longer exist, but they also keep alive the ideals and morals of a nation. If history is bound to repeat itself, maybe our best defense is the knowledge of the past. We are helpless to stop it, but maybe with some chance, and some fate, we will be aware of its coming.
Every war from those civil among countries, to those raged within our minds, must have two opposing sides. What is right, what is wrong? Two different viewpoints; two sides never meeting eye to eye. Is this world, and too many others, so filled with politics that we forget the simplest necessities of life? From the basic of survival…food, water, shelter…to those more secondary? Need, want…love? Is it our right as human beings to have love? Such eternal feelings that we are overwhelmed with all reasonable senses?
We are but passengers upon this world, into the heavens we soar everyday. But when we take our final breaths, does our soul have to also fight a war between two sides? Between right and wrong, good and evil, salvation or damnation? In our final moments, do the politics that have become the norm fade into happenstance? If given an eternity of questions, may we never find the answers?
Legends, wars, politics, life…love…what are they to us in our final moments?
Some sounds will forever be etched into memory… waves crashing against rocky shoals, a twig cracking under toe on an autumn's day, the first cry of a newborn child. None so haunting to Squall Leonhart as one he had heard a thousand times before… the sound of metal meeting flesh. In one instant the dreams and hopes of two souls would forever change destiny. Neither could have known the outcome, but it was always written within their stars… their shooting, magnificent, and truly dynamic stars.
The sound penetrated the room as if magnified a million times over. It was sharp, piercing, and cut through her very bone. He still lay cradled in her arms, as it the tip of the gunblade emerged from her abdomen. When the metal and flesh collided, a radiating light emitted from her body, temporarily blinding all those around. Her blood now covered him far more than that of Mitchell's, yet she never seemed to show outward signs of pain. It was if her final resolve was to go with dignity, making the suffering her own, and not that of those around. Her angelic smile tried not to weaken, their eyes locked in an emotional bond that went beyond mere words.
"Squall, sure…you feel…all right?" she gasped between broken breaths. Her only concern remained his health, still riddled with guilt from the earlier attack. Her mind was in denial of the pain, trying to stay focused only on him. He reached to her face, as the weight of her body started to slowly descend upon him. And as she fell, so did his heart, this couldn't be happening…it had to be some gruesome nightmare.
The others watched in horror as Mitchell used his last moments of life to end hers, before he fell into a darkened pool of his own blood. Seifer was the first to move letting go of Quistis, who stood motionless from the shock. He left her side only long enough to make sure the beast was really gone. Hyne only knew where his soul resided, because this time Mitchell truly was down…
The words still escaped as Squall managed to get to his knees, now mirroring her position a moment ago as he cradled Rinoa's weakened body. He wanted to say something to make it better, to take away the pain…anything…but the words never came. He could feel her heartbeat resonate through his body, one forged of an unsteady rhythm.
How in the hell could he be all right? The torture inside was almost easier to endure when he thought she betrayed him, then he could lay blame on her. Now he felt nothing but hatred toward his own inabilities, his own failures - as a SeeD, a knight, and as a human being. He was nothing, nothing without her. If he could do something, say something, make the pain she felt inside just go away. Still he sat there holding her tightly, feeling her dying heartbeat…and could say nothing. He felt a slight convulsion and for the first time, she broke their eye contact. They didn't close, but instead they focused on something…something that the others could not see…a ghost.
"Ellone…" she muttered with a certain peace, as a freezing wind swept through the room.
It was hard to watch the unfolding scene; it was her greatest moment of failure. She had tried so hard, sent so many messages…but somehow they still ended up at the future she attempted to prevent. When Ellone left this world, she believed that the afterlife would be different…a final, an end. She never knew of the purgatory she alone would have to face. Two years of watching, waiting, caught in an existence between two planes…not dead, but far from alive.
Her abilities had grown stronger in the latter days and had been able to do so much more…but still they ended up here. Now Ellone's spirit stood silently in the same room as her adoptive family, seeing them all together for the first time. Their images became clear, not just the amber and cerulean hues their auras once projected. Never had she seen the face of her biological half-sister, born to her mother and the man that now lay slain by his own desires. It was both strange and unnerving, the resemblance between herself and Alexandra, not in their physical appearance but in their inner character.
She watched as Zell stood holding Alex, still in shock of what they had witnessed. She watched as Seifer tried to comfort Quistis, who had now fallen to her knees. They were two people she never envision finding comfort within each other. After watching them together, she couldn't imagine them apart. Brought together by betrayal and redemption, she now realized that their strength grew when their souls combined as one.
But in the center of the room lay the most horrific sight imaginable. Her heart reached out in sorrow to her brother, in watching her failure now become his. Ellone had done everything in her power, and things far beyond, to try to warn them of this moment. She watched as Squall embraced the woman that he would give his eternal salvation for, even as a ghost she could shed silent tears.
Rinoa's body was barely conscious after the trauma. Her dark-hair matted with sweat and blood as her pale face grew dimmer by the second. Ellone wondered how much time her friend would have left on the mortal plane. She let out a small gasp unconsciously, as she was trying to be the strong older sister even in death. A sudden chill ran through her, when she realized that Rinoa had heard the sound. No living person should have that ability, yet maybe with a sorceress it was different, or maybe she was closer to that side now, than the world of the living.
Their eyes met for a brief second before Rinoa whispered her name aloud. This was Ellone's judgment, her time in between realms would end, but the younger girl's torment would just begin…she wished this hell upon no one. Ellone turned as the guilt started to overwhelm, she had to turn her face from the humiliation. She alone took the guilt of all, taking it as her own.
There was a full-length mirror attached prominently on the wall behind her. When she turned, Ellone expected to see no reflection…but was shocked when a younger version of herself looked back upon her with innocent eyes. The image was from about the same time-period as leaving the orphanage. The very one she now blamed for scarring Squall so deeply the first time. She could have never known how hard the young boy would take her leaving…but now she hated the reflection in the mirror.
Edea had sacrificed so much to keep her hidden from the world, the white SeeDs who gave their lives…so many countless others had suffered because of her. In the loneliness of the solitude, Ellone found innumerable ways that she had altered others lives. Too many hours in the dark had passed contemplating the outcome if she had never been born. She had tried to change the past before, so Laguna could be there with Raine…but it wasn't possible, she learned that fact all too well.
Ellone shook herself out of the delusions as she felt a presence behind her and guilt was momentary put aside. She found the resolve to turn back around, and was shocked to see Rinoa's spirit holding out her hand. It was a transparent figure that did not speak. Even though her mortal body was still alive, with the power of a sorceress she was able to leave her body…if only for a moment. Moving closer the two apparitions touched fingers, and in an instant Ellone's spirit was transferred into that of Rinoa's human form.
Opening her eyes, Ellone was shocked to be seeing out of those of a living being. She realized that Rinoa had sacrificed her last minutes of life, to give Ellone the opportunity to say goodbye to the family she left behind. With this gift she also felt the suffering of the host, and the pain growing in her lungs with every breath. Yet she was grateful for this opportunity, to do what she couldn't so long ago.
He shivered as the cold breeze hit his skin. It was as if a thousand chilled raindrops had fallen on him all at once. He looked at his arm as the hair stood on its end with the sudden change in temperature. Zell remembered looking at his arm another time like this, but in the visions it wasn't from the cold it was from the raindrops of blood. Suddenly he felt an overwhelming sensation they were not alone. He let go of Alex, quickly scanning the room for what he didn't know. Then he saw it, the mirror. At first, he had looked past the reflection thinking nothing different of it, and then he grasped who Squall was holding…it was no longer Rinoa's image in the reflection.
Zell was the first to go toward her, so many feelings clouding his thoughts. His visions, his dreams, all leading to this one moment, somehow in a blink of his mind's eye everything made sense. Ellone had been among them, watching and acting as a guardian angel. In his dreams, she had always said goodbye…
Squall still clung to Rinoa tightly, not allowing those around too near them. Zell moved in, gently tapping him on the shoulder. Squall would break from the moment ignoring any silent request made. The martial artist finally pointed toward the mirror, and the others followed his lead. The gasps of those around made the commander break eye contact with Rinoa for one moment. Squall froze with shock at the different image; he had to reassure himself by looking back down into his arms…he could only see Rinoa's face. Reluctantly he loosened his grip, no longer holding her completely for himself, but for his family to say goodbye to the sister they lost over two years ago.
"Ellone…Sis?" Zell was the first to speak, although the words were hard to say as he gazed into Rinoa's eyes. "We did it, you did it. Ally is back at Garden safe with Selphie and Irvine." He paused shaking his head at thought of Irvine, and to the myth he had told back on a stormy Dollet evening. "Great, now I'm going to have to tell Irvine his stupid legend was true… That guy just loves hearing he is right. Hell, they are never going to forgive themselves for missing you."
Zell watched the reflection of his Sis in the mirror, no longer controlling the tears running down his face. He continued smiling through the grief. For in reality, it was not tears of sadness but of joy, the opportunity to speak with her one last time. "Your visions led us here; we all owe you our lives and gratitude. I'll always love you Elle."
She wanted to speak, but her host too weak using all the energy just to breathe. The words made her feel ill. Zell was thankful the visions had led them here, they were meant to lead anywhere but here. One thing was right, they had managed to save Allison, for that she was eternally indebted to them.
"Hey Elle its me, Quisty…remember at the orphanage when every evening I would go outside to the flower fields and try chasing the sunset with a butterfly net? Every night you asked me if I had managed to capture it, yet you knew that would never happen… but you always were there giving me encouragement. I understand now, it was the dream that made the chase worthwhile… Sis I finally caught the sunset, it's more beautiful than either of us could have imagined. I'm…so…sor-"
She couldn't continue, the guilt of looking into Rinoa's eyes and speaking to the very one she had accused of killing was too much to bear. Seifer held her tight, as she buried her head into his chest. She did not want Ellone to see the tears; Quistis was always the strong one… That's how she wanted Ellone to remember her, and not as the person she had become the last few years.
Seifer looked down at Rinoa's form still bleeding within Squall's arms, and then looked at the mirror as if reassuring himself the vision he was witnessing. Two images… the same but different. He was the one to always question; he was the one always full of doubt. However, he too could feel Ellone's presence in the fragile body that lay in front of him. Just as he could also sense the host quickly fading. Rinoa had sacrificed a chance to say goodbye to her friends, so that Ellone may see her family… He had to accept the gift, the miracle, before him.
"Um…Ellone…Sis," he hesitated with tears in the corner of his eyes. The words felt strange after so long, much longer than the rest of them. It was only five years ago he led Galbadia's search for her, eventually leading her to the Lunatic Pandora. Back then, he would have sold her to the highest bidder. Hell if it wasn't for Fujin and Raijin, she would have been turned over to Ultimecia, just has he had Rinoa to Adel. "I know that I've done a lot in the past. I was wrong…God I was wrong. I promise you that I will always watch out for my family…your family. Thank you for this chance at redemption, thank you for the chance at my life."
He didn't know what else to say as he still felt the stranger among them. With every hour, those feelings were fading, but he still couldn't help feel this was their time with Ellone. He hadn't even earned the right to say goodbye…to her or Rinoa for that matter. Seifer returned the embrace from Quistis, hiding his face in her long strands of hair. It was because of Ellone and her dreams that led him back to Garden, he felt whole and part of a family he had once forsaken. More important than that, he felt loved in return…a feeling so foreign.
Alexandra slowly appeared from behind Zell, more at a loss of what to say than the others. This was the sister she only learned about through her own nightmares… the sister she would only meet one time through another's body. One who died too young, one who's eternal future was now going to be decided by the acts that brought them all here.
"Ellone…it's me Alexandra. I'm glad to finally meet you." Tears trailed down her face as she looked at their reflection in the mirror. Ellone was beautiful; the pictures she saw never did her justice. Maybe the beauty lied more within, a soul of pure splendor…one who would sacrifice all for her family.
"I'll never forget you. I'll never forget what you have brought each one of us. The best gift in life I ever received was knowing that someone as wonderful as you was…is my sister. The tides of fate brought us together, now they will carry you on to a better place, I love you. For now, forever, you will be my sister."
This left Squall. Again, just like so often in his life, he felt alone. Surrounded by all that loved him, by the ghost of the sister he mourned for the last two years. Yet he was alone…without her. Goodbyes were never easy for him, down right impossible. He owed it to her as a testament to the life they shared with her. After his minutes of silence, he finally found the courage to speak.
"Ellone…I miss… Hyne, if she's in there with you, somewhere, tell her that I will…always...."
He closed his eyes unable to say anything else coherently. Returning Rinoa's body to him, he prayed that the sound of his heart could reach her no matter where her spirit was. He watched what signs of life remained from both the soul mate within his arms, and the reflection shinning in the mirror of the sister lost long ago. Emptiness was drowning him inside, fear, hate, every negative emotion known to man all embodied into one horrible ocean of trepidation; his soul was slowly drowning on dry land. Nothing could save him, but having her spirit return into its own vessel.
"I can't… I'm scared. I just found her… I can't lose her. Sis, I love her, I always have. Allison alone… Please Sis… if she's there don't let her leave me."
It was like he was pleading to Ellone, begging of her to make everything 'okay'. She looked up to see the sadness clouding his eyes. The same eyes that she had seen during his childhood, the same eyes she had seen in space, but now so much more hurt. It was something that her soul couldn't fathom, to see her reflection in his eyes again… She had helped him once back then, but now at what price?
She didn't care… those eyes….
For two years and seven days, I existed within a plane of two realities… not of this earth, not of the afterlife. I watched fragments of my loved ones lives as their souls tormented in anguish. I was only a mere observer into their world, yet I found answers there that I did not seek.
A blood relation, neither of us knew of the others existence until I found this realm, my biological sister. The child was a result of a lascivious, deplorable act against my mother during times of war. Alexandra, raised by one of many I held responsible for the murder of our mother. Yet that doctor and his family sought repentance for Esthar's crimes by never hiding the truths they knew from her. They hid her from a father who ordered her execution as a mere infant, when she was found not to contain the same powers I had possessed.
Through the aura of my sister, I found means to communicate to my other family, warn them, and finally bring them to this place. I used her as a beacon into their world, until at least I was strong enough to use my own abilities.
Through it all, I never lost sight of the simple fact: I had other siblings not of blood, but bound together by our childhood and our destines. My family came in many forms, many faces. I love each one the same, no matter the trials they were put through. Each found a way to gain redemption, to gain the peace they sought. The bond of Knight and Sorceress brought two together; circumstances united the others. The last years served as proving grounds to them, to the ultimate sacrifices they would have to face...
That day two years ago would forever change history, not of just my family, but of nations. With my last ounce of strength, I brought Rinoa into this realm for a few brief seconds. I showed her what destiny had planned.
One constant remains, they had to go through this torment. To each it was a growing experience; life would forever change. Had things remained the same, simple pleasures in life such as love would have gone astray. Over time all would have drifted apart, it was destines cruel adversary, fate, which decided that.
It was a test of their will and all passed…but me. Had I been stronger, had I been able to warn them more, if for one second I could let them know the beast was still alive, but even in death…I failed.
It is too hard for me to speak within this body, yet they know I'm listening. I see each one as they appear today, yet each still holds a unique spark from our time together at the orphanage. It is like my reflection in the mirror, and I can see their images from all those years ago, time has been so cruel to them on more than one occasion. I have heard all their words today, and forever will hold on to their memories.
But most of all, I can see his pain; I hear his heartbeat. I feel her try and reach to him. My host body starts to heavily convulse. The stress is weighing too much on her. I have to leave… leave this plane and return to the one I have been in trapped… I finally gather enough energy to speak one solitary word to them, the one that both Alexandra and Zell already knew was going to be said, the one that I told them so many months ago. Just like their dreams I say "goodbye" and then, I smile.
A vile feeling envelops my body, and my worst fear comes to light. Rinoa can no longer hold on, her internal damage too much for any mortal person to survive. I can see the dread in Squall's childlike eyes. It is not fear, it is something far worse than that… it is the end of his existence, for he too is dying with every shallow breath. She gave her final moments in life for me to see my family once again… I close my eyes, which are now hers… together we are falling into strangled darkness.
But that was then…
Rinoa opened her eyes, she was standing on vast barren land. A tempest raged around her, lighting bolts tracing streams of silvery fire into the ground. It took her a while to focus, as the wind vigorously blew her hair. She pulled strands clinging to her lips back, as the tips whipped with force stinging her face. There was something almost eerily familiar about this place, one found only in the most horrific nightmares.
"Rinoa…" Ellone's voice sounded over thundering gale in the background.
She turned to meet the face, still in shock of the environment she was standing within. "Ellone?" The voice questioned the speaker, although it never needed to…maybe it was to believe in the reality she was facing, maybe it was to end the fantasy she had dreamed.
As the older girl walked toward her, the winds died down leaving a calming on the horizon. So quickly the backdrop changed, as if trying to ease the young girl's fear. She had weathered this storm, just like so many others in her life. Ellone embraced her hugging Rinoa tightly. "I can never repay you for those final moments…you will never know how grateful I am."
The confused girl looked down embarrassed from the words. Forcing away the feeling of regret, she tried not to ponder on the loss of never saying goodbye herself. She focused her energy on the still almost translucent figure in front of her. "Ellone, where am I?"
"Between two planes, a place my spirit has been imprisoned for years. From here, you can see into the mortal realm, portholes really. Ones you can witness bits, pieces, and fragments of the lives of the living."
"A ghost…" Rinoa whispered looking to the soil, as the barren earth seemed to be cracking under her feet. She reached down at the sight of stray white feather. Picking it up, she ran the soft tips over the ends of her fingers. "I'm a ghost, a memory…I'm dead?"
"No… you're not dead."
Rinoa lifted her attention from the feather, looking at the woman in front of her. There had been too many strange coincidences… Too many things that no one could explain, but this place held many mysteries within, even the young sorceress could sense this.
"You're wondering how," Ellone looked at her smiling, she always had a way of calming a person…that hadn't faded even in her passing. "Rinoa, when I first arrived…my soul was as lost as yours, but I never had the power of a sorceress. I had a power almost greater in this realm…one that not even Hyne could control. Over the years I learned to use that ability, not just as I had on the earth, but I could foresee certain events of your future."
"But you saw it? You saw my future…and somehow you changed it?"
Ellone looked away not sure how to answer. There was no peaceable answer. "I can't say if it was destiny, fate, or… I only know that your future is to raise your daughter. You have faced the true test of any sorceress, or human being, you fought between the two sides within. It hasn't always been that way, nor will it be in the future…but you survived."
Rinoa looked into the far off distance, trying not to let the mourning show on her face. Somehow this is not how she pictured death, it wasn't of clouds and cities of gold, it was a barren wasteland. Not that she would depict eternity often, but somehow when she allowed her mind to venture into the mystery it never seemed this…lonely.
She stammered as Ellone's words sank in, "You just said…'know that your future is to raise your daughter'…not past tense."
Turning quickly the younger girl grabbed Ellone's arm trying to remain composed. "What, what is going on here? There is something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
She couldn't look the fearful girl in the eyes. Yes, there was something she was hiding, something that would devastate the younger one if she ever figured it out. But that was not to be for now, it was a future that she didn't need to know about… There was one thing that Ellone was sure, that Rinoa's story wouldn't end here…it would go on for decades.
"What…what are you not telling me? Is it about who I pass my powers onto…who?" This time the questions came out as begging, obviously afraid of the answer.
Ellone took a deep breath, inhaling the arid atmosphere before answering the question. "You don't, not yet." With that she reached out her hand tears in her eyes, knowing there was one thing she could do…one thing that would change her soul forever. A destiny Ellone would have never guessed, but now the pieces of her life seemed to fall into place…maybe she knew the final outcome since her childhood…maybe that is why she sought it out. She pushed Rinoa backwards with surprising force, knocking her to the ground…and into history.
When Rinoa sat up, she was no longer in the desolate wasteland but standing in Garden two years ago. She felt someone brush beside her and turned quickly surprised as long hair caught in her collar. In that instance she froze, when the moment she had lived so many times in her mind played itself out. This time she already knew her part, like an actress portraying a role. A blurry form of Quistis ran in front yelling toward a now collapsed figure in Balamb Garden.
"Ellone…" The dark-haired sorceress whispered under her breath. As if by magic, the instructor yelled the same exact word, only with much more urgency. Rinoa knew…Rinoa knew every line by heart.
"Rinoa, please can you help her?" The instructor's words rang just as grave now as they had two years ago, the same desperate look covering the blonde woman's face.
The younger girl spoke the same 'lines' as she did that day, not with the same emotion…but with a certain monotone voice, trying to figure exactly what was happening. "I don't have a GF or any magic junctioned…Quistis…I can't help…I can't help her…I'm sorry."
Folding her arms to her chest, Rinoa tried not to let the vision take over. She had to get through this for some reason, like it was some kind of un-sacramental test from Hyne.
"It's all right." The fallen girl echoed the script as Rinoa remembered the events. And just like back then, the Ellone held her hand out… The sorceress looked around, remembering everything just as back then…everything up to this moment when she lost consciousness. It had always been a blur, but she remembered she was told to run…to run away to save them. She hesitantly reenacted the scene, leaning toward Ellone and then a bright light radiated enveloping both bodies. A darkness overtook them, as she felt herself falling to the hardened concrete ground.
"Rinoa? Can you hear me?"
"Yes…" This she did not remember, this did not happen…did it?
"You have enough power to save me…"
"No…I'm not strong enough."
"You are now…you have to try for Squall, for Allison."
"Allison? How do you know about Allison? Ellone where am I? When am I?"
"Rinoa you can do it…don't just lay there, get up! Use your strongest healing spell now you…I…don't have much time left!"
"Oh Hyne no…I…can't…I'm not strong enough…" The guilt from the failure clouded her mind, just as it had done in her nightmares for the last two years…if only she had been strong enough. Ashen light passed in front of Rinoa and she used all her strength to stand, it felt as if she had a dagger in her chest. She tried to cover her mouth in pain, but blood surged through her lungs. She spat out what seemed to be rivers of the scarlet liquid trailing down her body.
"Ellone…I can barely see you…" Her vision clouded with mist within her memories and the fog of the reality she was facing.
"You can do it…now!"
The scream echoed in her head, it was the only words that she could hear. With her shaking hand, Rinoa lifted it skyward to the heavens calling on all her inner strength, emotions past, present and future. She had to do this…she had to save Ellone this time and end the eternal nightmare. She called out the spell in between hurried gasps of air. Lighting traced around her fingers dancing on the tips like flames to a fire. With a surge of energy, they quickly radiated forth calling a force beyond all known comprehension.
Within the summoning, Rinoa had momentarily lost sight of her intended target. She had never seen Ellone cast a counter spell with quickness, nor had she ever seen her even use any magic. Especially with a speed unknown to any sorceress, as if she had the spell ready for centuries. She had cast reflect upon herself, acting as a power transmitter, making the spell rebound tenfold. The force came back to Rinoa with intensity unspeakable. In her weakened state, it again knocked her to the floor as she screamed with unfathomable pain.
Her mind a blanket of pure white and every moment of her life passed before her eyes. It was as if the good was trying to outweigh the writhing pain; it was as if muscle in her body was being torn apart and every bone was shattering at once. At last, she no longer had the strength to scream nor cry as the torment continued for what seemed an infinity. Yet it wasn't. She soon choked on a breath of fresh air, not met with the flavor of blood. The realization dawned upon her it wasn't breaking the layers of bone and muscles, but mending them past any known medical or magical abilities.
"Oh Hyne, Ellone what have you done!?" Her mind cried out, but the words never left her mouth. The scene around her faded from the familiar silhouettes of Garden to the stormy realm she had found herself in earlier.
The older girl fell, lying on the broken ground, looking completely different from before. It wasn't in appearance, as much as the aura surrounding her…one of agony and unspeakable torture. It was only then that the streaks of crimson started to trickle from her abdomen. "I did what I had to do."
"No…Ellone…what did you do? You can't go on…your soul…it will be trapped in this damnation forever. You will lose yourself in this place…you will…"
"I know." She smiled weakly. "I couldn't let him suffer anymore, he had suffered enough. He can't wait this time; I saw my reflection in his eyes…his childhood…mine…"
"Where am I?" Rinoa screamed afraid of the answer, she looked down at the feather in her hand now seeming more matured than the freshly detached one she had grabbed. "Oh my God…"
"You weren't strong enough back then to save me, but I am now strong enough to save you."
"Ellone…I…I wasn't trying to… How long has passed since I arrived here?"
"For you, just seconds…for me generations… I had to convince her it would work, she never knew who I really was when I suggested..."
"But…Elle no…all for…how many lives were sacrificed? Ellone it's not worth it! You never could see the future, could you? It was always your past… If he knew what you have done, it would kill him…"
"No Rinoa, if he lost you that would kill him. I did it, I finally did it…I changed what couldn't be changed…Rinoa you must run from here. He loves you and always will…" Rinoa saw the once young woman stand with her last ounce of strength. Reaching out, Ellone again pushed her off a ledge that seemed to magically appear. She lost the feather she had been clutching tightly in her left hand, and it floated gracefully up into a sudden gale.
And then darkness…
Squall still held on to Rinoa's delicate body, refusing to let go. The ex-commander, ex-SeeD, and now ex-knight, reached to his own neck, feeling for the chain that was a phantom of his memory. Their daughter was once Rinoa's only salvation; now she would be his. He would continue in this world not for him, but for the child they both created.
He flashed back to their night at the cabin, their first night together in two years. Never would he forget that, never had he felt such tranquility in the days that followed. Their relationship grew deeper than ever before, his soul would follow that bond anywhere.
Looking down, he smoothed the hair behind her ears as gravity let the tears run their natural course. Everything that he had ever been or ever would be, turned to frost in the bitter torment of those moments, all reasoning forsaking rational thinking. He tried to thaw his heart as a frigid chill ran through his veins, never realizing all within the room felt the cooling temperature once again.
Against the wall Zell held Alexandra tight, as tried to fight back the flood of tears. He looked into the mirror afraid of what he might see. The reflection back was only what he saw in front of him…nothing more, nothing less. He closed his eyes as the pain was becoming too great. If only he had interpreted the clues sooner, if only he had stopped Squall from grabbing the gunblade...if only. The signs had always been in front of him, but even he couldn't see the writing on the wall.
He shut his eyes only to have the vision haunt him, but something didn't feel right. The cold breeze hit the martial artist, at that moment. Somehow, around here it had become the norm to feel unexpected climate changes. He looked back into the mirror rubbing his eyes. Maybe through the sting of tears his vision blurred, but it looked as if beautiful iridescent streams of light were radiated from the blood-covered woman. He looked back to his friend, and the scene in his arms hadn't changed to the blind eye.
Squall remembered the poem Rinoa read to him that night before she gave her life to save their daughter. The way she read each word aloud, the way her hair fell gracefully highlighting her face, the very essence of life she breathed. It was the only true night they were a family. The one night that all the truths were known and they could look upon each other with unadulterated eyes. The words forever etched on his mind, on his soul.
Through his tears, he choked out the verse, "Feel my heart, you'll see the truth. And my last thoughts …"
Squall grasped lowering his head upon hers. Only to his surprise, a sudden jolt of electricity surged through his heart into hers…
"And my last thoughts, will be of forever…with you," a voice rasped from below.
Squall released his hopeless grasp, just enough to search her soft face for signs of life. To his astonishment, her intense brown eyes were staring back through the crimson stains.
"Squall…I always loved you, better than you knew."
She reached up placing her hand on his face, each covered in blood but never looking more at peace. He smiled gently back at her leaning down to meet her lips. So much emotion passed between the two with one simple act. They knew they would never be apart.
"How?" The word escaped his lips, although somehow still kissing her.
She parted slightly as her eyes closed for a moment. Was it a dream, was it fantasy? Had she ever been stabbed? The blood covering her told one story, the freshly healed wound told quite another. If for one second her dreams had come to pass, had Ellone sacrificed her soul, her sanity and loyalty, to save Rinoa? Had Ellone scarified so much more than could ever be spoken? Could one moment in time have crossed generations, have spanned lifetimes? Was it truly possible to turn back time…and if so, at what cost? Were the visions of the future truly the past?
"I don't know," she cried looking back at him. "I…don't know." It wasn't a lie, but was it the truth?
He didn't care.
Quistis buried her head in Seifer's chest. Somehow, her life was like a phoenix rising from the ashes, watching a miracle that none of them should ever question. Somehow, somewhere they must have done something right. She felt as the man that supported her started to rise to his feet, helping her up with him. There were no words needed to be spoken…they had so much left to look for, a lifetime to make up for the mistakes they had made in youth. Maybe it wasn't a fairytale ending, but it was as close as she could hope. She had to find herself, something she had never done before. There was nothing left for her at Garden, only something left within its prison walls…someone who she would be waiting for…no matter how long it took.
Seifer released Quistis to aid Squall into getting back onto his feet. They were far from out of the clear, they still had to leave this place unnoticed…but together he would be sure as hell they found a way. He didn't make it this far only to fail…not again.
Alex watched as the sorceress was locked tightly in the arms of the man who completed her. For in that instance, she knew what Rinoa wasn't sure about…she could sense it and so much more. It was far greater a sacrifice than one should have to face, but some secrets had to remain even from her best friend…sometimes lies are best. However she knew one thing, Ellone would forever be a part of her.
Looking to the corpse covering the ground, Alex felt not the slightest ounce of remorse. "Goodbye Dad," the words ran cynically off her tongue. Maybe the voices of dead could finally find the justice they long desired. Maybe now, there would be peace to her mother's memory; Jefferson Mitchell's trial and judgment decided out in that very room…now his soul would face a sentence of perpetual damnation. To the countless lives he destroyed, to the countless masses he renounced his verdict a fitting reflection to his life. He was only a man…only a monster.
Zell led the way, attempting to scan the hallway. He quickly opened the door, as Squall gently carried Rinoa in his arms.
The man still shaken from the events looked down in his arms for reassurance. She smiled in return, and then gently closed her eyes. "Rinoa let's go get our daughter."
Laying her head upon his chest, she listened to his heart…now knowing exactly how precious of gift each beat was. A gift neither would ever take for granted again, a gift that nobody in that room would ever forsake. Maybe to the world she would be dead, and that would finally bring her peace…maybe history could write what they wanted to about her…she didn't care. Betrayer, warlord, dictator, cold-blooded murdered….she was dead to them, all of them. She would find someone else to be…yet again. Forever her stories would be told in legend, the lies would live on… but the truths only to a privileged few.
She was tired, but had no will to sleep. For right now, she wanted every second of life…to enjoy each and every precious one. She knew they would have many more seconds, and many years of them, but something was special about these. Something magical, something spiritual…something that neither of them could ever describe to another living soul.
As they were about to leave, two Galbadian soldiers came around the corner looking at what they thought to be the final appalling act of Sorceress Heartilly. They looked on in horror as the dead Pesident lay on the ground covered in his own blood. Finally, one spoke up demanding an answer.
"Did the sorceress do this?"
Everyone stared in disbelief, as the soldiers seemed to echo a nightmare begun two years ago. Nobody dared move a muscle. Nobody dared to breathe. Nobody dared tell the truth.
Irony is a fickle creature…redemption for one's mistakes comes in many forms.
Quistis approached the soldier daring to look him directly in the eyes, saying one simple word. One that she should have answered two years ago…
Our lives are mere specks upon the shadows of the earth; we are travelers amongst the stars, if only for a brief period of time. If given the chance to have your dreams fulfilled with a simple yes or no question, could one always make the right choice? Are the dreams you dream, reality or fantasy?