Chapter Three: A Bit Deeper In Hell
Prologue: Last Breath Of The Survivor
The ghosts didn't lower their voices. Quite the contrary, they made their voices go even higher.
I was in this dead-end back alley. Rain was still falling down. It was odd how the truth within the world reflected itself into the sub-conscienceness of myself.
A hollow image of me.
The place wasn't crowded at all. It was rather empty. They were standing in the edges of my vision, providing me a thrill with their ghostly appereances. Their eyes of doom and betrayal were onto me like the bullets and the haunting questions that never left me alone.
My thoughts couldn't arrange themselves in a dream. In a nightmare, the odds were always the same. It was to take the fall into your own grave again, and lie down there with a single white tulip on your chest, kissed by the bloody lips of your murderer.
Ellone was on the corner, crying. I had to gather some strength to walk up to her.
”Why, Squall, why!?” she asked me.
”Why what?” I asked.
”WHY DID YOU LET THIS ALL HAPPEN TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!?”
The screams rose one more time and shook the place in a huge earthquake. I held on to the wall as Ellone charged at me with a gunblade in her hand. I held out my palm and caught it, but the blade dug deep into the bone, and my blood became red bats to fly around us.
”It wasn't my fault! It wasn't!”
The people in the street were laughing at my patheticness. They had appeared out of thin air in a second; the avarage time for your life to crash down with a whistling knife.
Their accusing fingers turned to me, and I fell down. My faults, my mistakes were all coming back.
”WHY!?” Rinoa asked, and she dragged Leia with her, they came onto me and ripped open the arm of my trenchcoat.
”WHY!?” Zell demanded as he took the other arm.
”WHY!?” Seifer asked, as he took the hem and the necklace.
”WHY!?” Irvine screamed as he took off the t-shirt by ripping it.
”WHY!?” Selphie asked as she ripped off my pants and the remaining amount of the trenchcoat.
”WHY!?” the word echoed through the place, and blasted my brain, but couldn't drown the choking sobs of Ellone.
”WHY!?” I asked to them, as tears fell out of my eyes, ”WHY!? BECAUSE I HAD TO!!! BECAUSE I HAD TO SEARCH! I HAD TO KNOW!!!”
The cries of a young woman came to my ears, as my enemies all screamed in a mocking, horrifying laughter rising from the graves.
And Ellone's gunblade entered my chest.
I gave away my breath...
...The last breath of the survivor.
Part One: The Whispers Within
As my vision slowly and reluctantly spun back to where it belonged, I saw the grey, dull walls of a dimly-lit room.
The world whispered to my ear; it was a mantra of the dead, they were seductively inviting me underneath the soil.
The whispers within were telling me to give it up, and I had already lost the battle. I wanted to fall. Because it was too hard for me to get up. But I had to. I couldn't forget Ellone's last words, they were screaming in my head... Alongside with other screams.
I tried to push the ground, but the darkness on the floor was pulling me down like cement shoes on my feet when I went swimming in River Styx. My aching arms were enough to push the ground off, it was harder than finding freedom from an adamantine leash.
”Ugh!” I managed to exclaim, as I crawled back onto my knees. My head was still spinning and my heart, once was dead, was now pounding machine guns against my temples.
I looked around. For a moment, the room was my grave. And the other moment killed the previous one, revealing a dull, grey, empty room.
I checked myself. My palm had been bandaged, my other wounds either stitched or patched up. The bandages were bloodstained, like everything else in my life.
Suddenly, I heard a door open. I searched for my gunblade, but it wasn't there. I went down, acting as if I was asleep. The ground laughed and let out a soft moan, as the soil had acquired me once again.
”He's still knocked out?” came a voice. It was rather familiar, and I knew that I knew this person talking. But my brain insisting on keeping the info from me.
”Guess so, Sir.” Came another voice. I heard footsteps. My fingers were grasping the knife tight. I touched the dry blood of Ellone. Her death flashed before my eyes, as I got up like lightning.
The first move was straight and hard- a vertical slash opened up a C.O.N.C.E.A.L. agent's throat open, leaving him choking. Even in my woundedness, I could still fight a few of them.
Squall... came a whisper.
I had to stop.
Time and space flew away from the window, and as the pendilum kept on swinging, the whispers brought back the corpses of old... My memories.
Decayed and mutilated, they were still in my head. I wasn't in a grey room. I wasn't at the tip of that Valiant pointed at my head either.
I was drowning in a sea of memories.
”Drop the knife or I'll blow ya head off!” came the warning, but the mumbles of that useless agent blew away into the darkness.
They all died. They all died again, their throats slit, their chests swarming with shrukiens... Their minds and souls killed by the ghosts.
But the scars and the heartbreaks, wounds and the cuts, bruises and gashes could wait for me. They weren't likely to go away.
”Where am I?” I asked, as I pointed at him, threateningly.
”A classified location.”
That pulled the trigger within my head.
I punched the rifle aside, and got to his backside, and the knife was already at the soft, piercable skin of his throat.
”Where... am... I!?” I repeated the question, and the echoes sent sparkles up my nerves. My voice was shaking. And I didn't notice that the knife had been cutting through his throat until his blood stained my hands. I dropped the knife, and my other hand grasped the wrist of my shaking hand.
It was my wounded hand. The muscles were convulsing of all the action I had put it through.
As it ceased, the door opened again, and revealed light. For a moment, I looked at it as if it was heaven. The heaven that was a lie.
I decided to follow the whisper. The triggers were being pulled inside my head. The guns blasted off, setting of a chain reaction of bombs. The questions were inside my head. The how, the why what, when and where were roaming my mind.
I followed the faint, ghostly whisper to out of the room.
And that's when a C.O.N.C.E.A.L. agent said, ”Squall Leonhart! Stop! Or I'll shoot!”
We were in another grey room. It was as dull as the previous one, but the table and the tray on it made it look a bit more full.
”Drop the knife, Mr.Leonhart.” said the agent, as he took off the mask, ”So we can have a little chat.” it was a man with black hair and blue eyes.
”A little chat? Why should I trust you?”
”We thought an old name... I mean, something from your past may help you.”
Saladin? Why was Saladin still in my life? My life which had been utterly wasted in retaliations?
”Talk.” I said, without dropping the knife.
”I can't.” He replied, ”Not while you're standing there. But I can introduce myself.”
”I'm Squall Leonhart.” I said, as the quarter-bit-of-a-smile worked it's way across my eternal frown.
”I'm Floré.” He replied, ”It's nice to meet you.”
”And it's not nice to meet you too. Can you tell your trained Hellhounds to drop the guns so I can drop the knife?”
”Drop your weapons, men!” he said.
And they all obeyed him. He showed me the tray which was full of food. The food my empty stomach now screamed to get.
”Come, you can eat while I give you a briefing on the current situation.”
”What situation?” I asked.
”The place you're standing.”
Between a rock and a hard place... came the whisper of a dead enemy.
”Between a rock and a hard place.” Floré said.
Part Two: Dead End Exit
I gorged onto the meal like it was a ”feast to the kings”.
”Mr. Leonhart, the thing is, there's a lot that's still uncovered about Saladin, Project SeeD, and the rest of the whole Operation Deep Eyes.”
”Operation Deep Eyes?”
”Yes. The operation was about observing a sorceress, her growth and the acquiring of her powers, and the path she took. It was lead by an agent named Hope. Operation Deep Eyes includes Project SeeD, and the rest.”
”The rest? What rest? Like all of my friends being murdered?”
My sudden calmness was drowned underneath the large glass of water I was gulping down. The meal had finished in 10 minutes... So much for a dead man. The water was feeding my body as I felt the soothing waves of a cool material run through me.
But my hand started to shake again, and the glass fell down and broke.
”Damn.” I exclaimed, my lips still searching for the wetness.
I jumped up.
The whispers from my past weren't leaving me alone. This time, my mind had to be broken down, because it was Ellone's voice. I looked around paranoidly, searching for a bloodthristy smile, a piece of her white shawl even.
But there was nothing.
”Are you okay, Mr. Leonhart?” Floré asked me.
”I'm fine. Just tell me what Operation Deep Eyes is all about.”
”I cannot give you that piece of information. I told you all there was to know.”
”Where's the gunblade?”
”We have it. Here.” He handed me Raine.
I took it and almost embraced it. My tool of justice? Of revenge? What kind of a sick joke was that? Who was laughing at the sick jokes that made my path but the ghosts?
”So, where's the part where you offer me a deal.” I asked.
”Straight is killing me.” I said, seriously, ”And now, get to the point. I'm not gonna waste my time when a continent-wide ATP has been put on me. Tell me the deal.”
”Kill Evan Agiore.”
The sense crawled back into the picture, and shot the nonsense dead as it did. Inside my mind, a few, rusted gears started to work. But still, the nonsense wasn't dead. The paranoid feeling was a hungry ghost, behind my back with a flashing dagger in it's hand.
This was about me.
I had hit a dead end exit, and C.O.N.C.E.A.L. was dragged along with me up the wall. We had hit hard, and I managed to get out with the wreckage of my own making. My own work of damage on myself.
And C.O.N.C.E.A.L.'s dead end exit was to use me to get rid of the mobster cycles they had been trying to end once and for all.
”Why? So that the media Death Claws will think I really am up to a vendetta against the mafia around Galbadia?”
Zell could've laughed at the rhyme in my sentence... But his laughters now were the morbid, horrific laughters of the inhumane demons.
”Yeah.” Floré replied.
”One last question; Why should I trust C.O.N.C.E.A.L.?”
They had broken me out of my mosoleoum, and then Ellone got killed... Just thinking about her, it got me going to the next step in this hell.
”Because, we still have your case, and we might wipe it clean.”
”Might? 'Might' is a shaky expression to base a deal on.”
”You got yourself a deal.”
After leaving the ”classified location”, I saw that my car had been modified, adamantine bullets already in the chambers, the knife wasn't clean, but it was good. My clothes mended and ready to go.
Ready to hit a dead end exit.
I started to make my way into plains, and I was like a headless Chicobo who only knew the square it was on. Not the square it was going to; but it had to move because it was time to make a move.
The one who made the swift and smart move would live. The rest would die, and I couldn't care less about them.
The snow fastened up, got mixed with rain, and the wind started pound against the windows of the only grave I could take along with me. The wind opened up some space in the night, and it was no different than going into your own grave.
But when you had hit a dead end exit, then it was time to take action.
Something landed on the car, I felt it and heard it. The gunblade was too big to swing in a car. I had the knife. I knew they were coming. They knew that I knew they were coming. Soon, we were all going to have one last party together, and then, Death would take us all.
To reach our salvation? To find whatever peace we can find in our graves? And even after we die, we say to ourselves, hey, I died for a purpose? With honor.
I knew that was a lie. Everything was subjective. Personal apocalypses, personal happiness, personal sorrow, a personal revenge, a personal grave.
The ninjas burst in from the windows of the car, with their battle shrukiens in hand. I spun the wheel and opened up the side doors of the car from the control panel on the speed meter. Two ninjas fell down. But the ninja that was still standing was on my back. The shrukien was about to hit my throat as I rose the knife to stop it.
The car was going out of my control, I could feel it. I looked to the glass, and the reflection of the ninja came back at me.
”Who... are you?” I asked, and the ninja with the eyepatch replied as;
The car made a flip in mid-air, and both me, and Fujin were thrown off the windows, and our bodies were digging into the snows...
...As fate had took us up from the places we chose to die, and brought us back to the arena.
Part Three: Hollowed Ground
”RAGE!!!” she screeched and hurled shrukiens at me. The car was a useless wreck. And I still had some way until I had reached the Surinel manor.
I threw myself sideways to avoid the deadly kiss of the tiny little stars. But I couldn't believe the nature of it all, because whom once was dead, was now coming back to me.
You know it's true...
The whispers had to be pushed aside. Because Fujin, the old and dead enemy was coming at me with a katana. I rose Raine to reply. And my trenchcoat flew around us, and surrounded us like the graceful arms of the night. The whispers told me that it was true, and the wind rose up in a chorus, accompanied by the snow and the rain.
”WHY!?” I asked, as I managed to strike. Fujin replied. She wasn't her. She couldn't be her. The only thing that made me think it actually was her was that she was fighting the way she used to fight like.
And just when you thought they were dead, they would surprise you. Because even if they were dead, it wasn't something that kept them from hunting you down.
From haunting you, and pushing your face down to the ground.
A horizontal slash, a vertical slash and there, I had made an opening in her defenses. It was easy. I remembered her making the same mistake whenever someone challenged her.
The knife appeared in my hand, and flashed in the crashing lightning. I stuck it in her chest, and pushed it deep inside to find her rotting heart.
She fell down, and I managed to stand. For a moment, the corners of my vision went black, and it all seemed so tempting- to fall down. But I had to move on. I looked around and saw the car.
But something kept me.
Was it curiosity? Curiosity killed the cat... Even more, curiosity could kill me before I had seen this through.
My shaking, bloodstained hand was like a candle light in the wind, as I bent down to unmask the assassin. I took of the mask to reveal the answer...
...Which gave birth to all sorts of questions.
It was Fujin. She was now dead, but the face belonged to her. It was her face... After so much hatred I had felt against her when she had killed my friends, I still came to feel sorry for her. It wasn't her fault.
Because one couldn't live when love was denied.
In my own sorrow, I stood there as the wind whipped my trenchcoat. The snow rose in the air and brought the faint laughters, but all of the joy and the sense of humour was lost. They were now the laughters of the expectant, dead audience.
They wanted me to put up a fight.
Feeling like an old executioner, I wasn't afraid to die. Misery was what my sandcastles were made of. Misery made me alive, pain kept me awake. I hated life. I hated death. I was sick of it all.
I don't know how I found the car, but before I knew, I had three self-inflicted gashes up my left arm. The pain gave me the calmness to move on. It made me stay cold-blooded like the stone-cold killers that had murdered my loved ones.
I got into the car again, my mind still in confusion, the questions still dead underneath the bloody bed sheets of my dead love.
I got the car to working, and started to make my way to Deling City, because the little ”location-displayer” said it was ”Deling Plains”.
I drove away, and the wind matched up to my speed. The snow had completely turned into rain, and the sorrowful weather wasn't helping my own personal misery much.
As the road came to me, I found time to stop. But I couldn't stop, because the sirens were screaming after me again. I stomped on the gas pedal and went even faster, lunged into the darkness with the determination of a ghost behind a single man.
The gaping hole of the night took me inside itself, and absorbed my whole being into the darkness.
”Squall Leonhart! GLE! Stop the car! Stop the car, now!”
My hand turned on the radio.
”Tonight, C.O.N.C.E.A.L. lost even more agents, including the leader of a force named 'Grievers'. Agent Floré was found dead, alongside with ten or more C.O.N.C.E.A.L. agents, all murdered with a gunblade. The traces of the gunblade matched perfectly, to the gunblade that Squall Leonhart, the greatest criminal of the last ten years has with him. A Continent-Wide ATP has been put on Squall Leonhart as GLE has taken an oath to bring him, to justice.”
My deal was off. I had been walking on a hollowed ground, and it wasn't too supportive to keep my dead weight on it. It was falling down, like the bridges I had spent my entire life building.
The phone in the car rang, and GLE cars approached to me like a pack of Grand Mantis closing in for the kill.
They opened fire at me. The windows shattered, and the broken image of a man fell down with the windows made of broken glass shards.
”What!?” I shouted at the phone.
”Is this Mr. Leonhart?”
”Sure!” I replied, as the bullets flew every which way, and the whispers turned to whistling bullets of my wishes.
Every single bullet was a wish of mine. Love. Death. Rinoa back. Sun. My friends. The ”good old days” I might've had. All of the things a man could want...
...Because the things you would include in your last three wishes as you landed hard on hollowed ground, were the things you had wished away.
”I'm Lagoon A. Hurry. GLE is after you. Reach the Surinel manor before C.O.N.C.E.A.L. does, if you want answers.”
”Look, you clasless moron, who the hell are you!?”
”I will contact you again.”
Then the phone line went dead. And the bullets of my wishes continued to come at me.
The wild ghost chase was on again. And the sick, grey fingers of the ghosts were at the sides of the road, waiting.
Waiting for a broken man to make a move.
Part Four: Never Forgive, Never Forget
I had to act fast to get out of this death trap.
The bullets were still flying at me like the rain slapping on the hood of the car. I was driving as fast as I could, but I was too tired to do some tricks to shake them off my tail.
”Squall Leonhart! Freeze! Stop the car or we'll shoot!”
Their threats were the empty threats of my enemies who were still alive. The dead had more spine to their threats than they did. Their words were still in my ears.
I tried to shake off the paranoia. That whispering voice again. It was hard to shake off that old and familiar feeling coming on to me, like pain or tiredness, the dosage of the drugs wanting to swim in my veins. The whispers of the dead, and their words.
The bullets kept flying, but the whispers weren't muted down with the sound of breaking glass and the sirens. They didn't drown the voices. They didn't drown the overcoming sense of paranoia, schitzophrenia, fear, doubt and disbelief. Quite the contrary, they added to the voices.
I knew what they meant. I knew why they were whispering to me now, if not before, loud enough for my ears to hear it. Their meanings and intentions were carved in my head like the carvings on a gravestone:
Never forgive, never forget.
But I had to move on. I was riding this car in a straight road. No matter how much turning it included, there was no way out of the main road. Just like fate, it was going straight to one place I was destined to go.
The Surinel manor. The grave of many people. The domain of the enemy. As GLE started to slow down, I managed to take my hand out of the window and point at one car. ”Flare!” I said, and luckily, the spell worked. The dead screamed in my ears, making me shudder. That old familiar feeling was coming on to me faster and more powerful than before.
I rode out of the Deling Plains into the woods where I had figured GLE would lose track of me, now that they were missing a car. The rain was falling faster than my life had fallen down.
As I thought, they lost my track, and I was left alone again. When the chase had came to an end, the adrenaline rush had ceased. And here I was, still fighting against the paranoia and the emptyness I had found myself in. I had to move on.
The phone in the car rang.
”I see you have made it out of the GLE pursuit. Good.”
”Who the hell is this!?”
”It's Lagoon A. Go to the Surinel Manor, but be careful. Evan Agiore has been informed of your arrival. He will be expecting you.”
Then he hung up on me.
I turned the direction of the car which was a real wreck now to the Surinel Manor. GLE was nowhere to be seen. For a man who had been hunted down inside a battle he couldn't win, I was doing well.
I was doing all I could. But the people who had done all they could were dead for a long time. Six feet under was the depth of their current locations.
I stomped on the gas pedal to the Surinel manor. The more the speed, the more the unintentional adrenaline that swam through me like my drugs- pain.
And on my way, the road approached to me, and the thoughts kept racing within my head again.
Was there a heaven? Was there a hell? All of the rhetorical questions were my conscience, desperate to put a meaning to this endless struggle to die. In the end, I knew I couldn't win. I was the man with his back to a wall for a long time, still holding out.
About to give in.
Because nobody could blame me if I gave in. Even if they did, I would be as brave as a dead man walking, and go up there to recieve the blame like I recieved the pain.
The car came to an eternal halt near the manor. I had to walk up to there. But first, I preferred to look around a little bit. Stopping right before lunging into another carnage would keep my head straight for a few moments before bloodlust took over.
Never forgive, never forget...
...Just like I would do.
As I got to the corner of a tree, like a dead, ghostly shadow in the night itself, a voice came to my ear.
For the first time in the last seventy two hours, I was feeling the hunger in my stomach. The hunger in my soul. The hunger all around me. The tiredness swept over me as I felt her absence.
Who was ”her”? Ellone? Rinoa? Leia? More than all of them... I had missed Rinoa.
As I walked up to the gates and to the two thugs waiting for me, I found out that, I had missed Rinoa above all. It was like re-opening the greatest wound and picking myself apart again. The feeling was a hurting emptyness, the feeling of something raped away from me.
And they had to die. As I rose Raine and the knife, and the two thugs charged at me, and other thugs joined in, my trenchcoat flew around. And I was fixated on the thought.
They had to die.
I was fighting as my trenchcoat flew around me like my fallen wings. I was slashing them, stabbing them, killing them mercilessly, and blood was falling down like raindrops.
They all had to die for what they had done to me. I felt the satisfaction of my dead friends. Rinoa was feeling a little above melancholic about them dying.
I could feel her misery. I could feel Rinoa's pain and Leia's anger. I searched around for Sis as I killed them.
But she wasn't there.
The thugs were still coming. An army was lying down dead at my feet. And Rinoa whispered to me.
I continued to attack. My tears were falling down like the blood and the rain.
Never forgive, never forget.
Part Five: Those Who Had Failed
I jumped over the fences like I had done the last time I had visited this old, decaying place.
I was walking towards the manor which had been built right back on in the year I was in prison, waiting for my own execution and hoping it would arrive on time. Just on time to save me from being decieved again.
The lights were on.
The lights inside the manor were on, and they provided me with the light to see the path ahead of me a little bit more clear. Following the path of the light, I embraced the shadows as they embraced me back with claws.
I came at the manor doors. I tried to take a peek inside, but there wasn't a window I could peek in through without being seen at all.
I got to the pitch-black corner of a shadow, and approached the door.
The whispers told me to walk on. They knew where I was going. I was going to find a man who knew the answers all too well. Who knew the question I should've asked in the very beginning of the afterpiece.
I dug deep inside my pocked to take two things; the knife and a Phoenix Pinion someone had put in my pocket. I kissed the Pinion and threw it.
The door exploded and set off an inferno inside the manor, throwing white-hot, flaming pieces everywhere. The pieces were the smiling faces of the ghosts, and the fires that had started inside the place were them as well, walking along with me.
I didn't run. I took my time. This had to be far more personal than anyone had ever intended it to be. I was literally unstoppable. Sure as a knife cuts through the victim's flesh as it slit the throat of your love, you could walk in from a flaming door and just tell someone that, you had warned him to get away before you found him again.
I walked in from the doors.
The whispers all came in in a loud chorus. I didn't care. The molten fingers of the ghosts were whipping my trenchcoat as I walked in. Half of the thugs were dead at the sides, the bodycount math could make a mass murderer a poor kitten. An army was lying down, either dead or dying in the most terrible way; by burning.
The flames inside were hotter than the flames outside.
”EVAN!!!” I shouted, as I walked on with Raine and the knife in my hands. Ellone was dead because of him and his knives. There was a price tag on his life, put there by me.
They say every man has a price. Evan had one too. The tip of a gunblade.
”Who the hell!?” Evan showed up in his expensive combat outfit, and a trenchcoat to match mine. He was carrying a machine gun.
”You have my answers.” I said.
”Leonhart, not you!” he exclaimed, almost hopeless, ”Why do you keep following me!?”
Those who had accomlished failure would ask such questions as ”why” or ”why you” or ”why me”. But I knew better.
”Cause you are the one that knows where those knives are coming from, Agiore.”
”C.O.N.C.E.A.L., you fool!”
”Who in C.O.N.C.E.A.L.?” I asked, ”Glow?”
”Hope.” He replied.
I knew the answer before he told me.
I threw the knife. I wasn't an expert, but maybe because of the blood debt the knife had, it always hit the target. The ghosts smiled at my move, and the knife whistled in the air, as it shattered the image of the person who had thrown it.
It entered Evan's palm and the machine gun fell. The bullets came at me, but I dodged sideways to avoid them. In mid-air, I pointed at the little balcony Evan was on and said, ”Firaga!”
The fireball blasted half of the balcony and Evan fell. I approached him slowly.
I was his angel of death.
I was the harbinger of his doom, the drifter, the stormcrow and the core of the bad news.
”No...” Evan was begging, without the honour among us, killers, ”Please, no... Don't... I beg of you, please, leave me alone!..”
”Evan, do you remember what I told you?” I asked, as the windows were broken. I didn't turn to look. I knew. The dead had whispered me it was C.O.N.C.E.A.L.
”Wh-what? I don't... Please, don't...”
I got closer to him.
”I told you to get away before I found you again.”
The gunblade slowly rose onto the air, like the sword of justice, or the scythe of Grim Reaper. It shone in the flames, and the smiling skulls of the ones who had broken my life glared back at me from the blade.
”I got news for you.” I said.
My grip tightened on the handle.
The gyotine went down, and pierced through Evan to hungrily hunt for his sold soul. Someone smashed a handle at the back of my head, and my conscience started to slip away.
As I fell down, I managed to hear a sentence.
”We're done here. Take me back to The Crystal Dome.”
The dead took me over and allowed me to sleep in their warm arms.