Crimson Lies Chapter 36
Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to
No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of love ones left behind;
No vision of morrow's strife
The warrior's dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.
The rays of the sun glistened against the city roofs. Steams of light made their way through every crevasse, lighting up normally darkened alleyways. If ever the group had wished for rain, or an overcast sky, it would have been today. But as if celebrating life, Mother Nature had shown all her glorious and vibrant colors.
Deling had never looked so beautiful, or so deadly.
Seifer and Alex divided from the main group, meeting with his contact behind the rental shop, while the others tried not to look too suspicious which in and of itself was a difficulty. Quistis and Zell sat on a bench, both avoiding awkward conversation. Squall stood positioned leaning against a light post, eyes fixated on the presidential palace.
As the sky seemed to brighten with the rising sun, Squall squinted to keep his eyes open, but then gave into the natural reaction of shading his vision. The Commander's mind drifted back to another time when he, along with Irvine, went to rescue Rinoa in the presidential palace one that seemed to be a decade ago. Images of that day also danced within his mind: Edea, the Iguion, and the first time he ever feared losing her. Something that still haunted him to this very day, even though at the time he tried to think of her as nothing more than a client.
Matron's words from that night rang in his head he never knew how cruel a sorceress could be.
" I will let you live a fantasy beyond your imagination. Let us end this ceremony with a sacrifice."
The feeling of Irvine elbowing him never fully registered, as he watched the scene before him.
"Hey, hey, hey, she's in trouble big-time! We've gotta go help Rinoa."
"The parade hasn't started yet. The gate's not open." His answer so noncommittal and void of emotion it was easier back then.
"What are you waiting for!? Rinoa might die!"
Rinoa she was so innocent back then, so childlike in her ways so optimistic about life itself. But that changed, over time being with him. Many thought that her carefree ways would rub off on Squall, and maybe a few did maybe. But nobody would have guessed that his disheartening attitude would end up transforming her. Maybe in time two people are bound to change each other, but not always for the best. He just didn't know anymore.
That evening when Vinzer Deling was murdered, he thought Rinoa would be nothing more than a footnote in history a sacrifice forgotten. He had loved her back then, but didn't know what love felt like he wouldn't know for a very long time. And an even longer time would go by before he had the inner strength to admit it to himself. That night back in Deling, so long ago, he let the smallest hint of concern slip through his walls. He had hoped that she hadn't seen the relief on his face when he knew she was safe, but she noticed it.
"I was scared I was really, really scared."
"You're used to battles, aren't you?"
"I couldn't I just couldn't. I couldn't fight alone "
"I haven't forgotten your order. Just stay close to me."
" Just stay close to me," he repeated the words trying to find the memories. SeeDs were always taught to distance themselves but it was easier to teach than to do.
Was theirs love at first sight? No, not really, it's easier to think back now and say it was love that very first dance, if one wants to look for the fairytale answer lust, attraction maybe. Something definitely drew them together, but love takes time, it grows from the heart into the soul. Love controls emotions and thoughts until one day it becomes a part of you. A part you can never lose, a part that is always there, a part that you will sacrifice everything for.
The calling of his name drew him back into his present surroundings. As a soldier, Squall knew he was in danger. Emotion was controlling his actions, and making him lose perspective on everything including his environment. For failing in the training he had so strived for, he felt regret. He turned away from the palace, trying to convince himself this was just like any other mission.
Zell knew better than to push the issue, as the Commander's withdrawn expression spoke volumes. "Seifer has been trying to contact you on your radio, Alex is with the television crew they'll be inside the palace in approximately fifteen minutes."
"I go alone from here."
"I understand." The martial artist looked at the ground, feeling slightly tongue-tied in the situation. "Um Squall we all wish you the best." Zell wasn't very good at saying these things, and the Commander wasn't good at receiving them. "Just be careful .kay?"
Squall nodded once to the man as words eluded him, they often did.
"We love her too and never mind " Zell turned, slowly walking back to the bench where Quistis sat patiently waiting.
"Zell " replied the Commander, his voice unsteady and hoarse. "Thank you."
Alexandra looked down at her forged union-identification tag, wondering what exactly a 'grip' did. She remembered the man saying something involving different positions, but it was all so vague. Key grip, dolly grip, and company grip she did know one from the other, but was positive her position had something to do with lighting. She also half-heartily joked that her pay scale was slightly higher than when she worked for Richard Bennett and all she had to do for this was change the angle of the lights.
"Name," asked the Galbadian security inspector, looking her directly in the eyes.
"Elise," she answered, trying not to act evasive. She handed him her credentials, as she held long cables in other arm.
"Full name," he demanded with a little more annoyance.
She suddenly remembered that it was one of those fancy-sounding names. One that reminded her of her old gynecologist Van Vander
"Elise Vandermere member of Local 80," she said triumphantly. The name seemed to slip off her tongue, as if someone else guiding her words.
The man looked her up and down, "Where's Darrius? According to the records he is supposed to be the Key Grip at the telecast." The guard stared at his clipboard ruffling through papers. Alexandra looked at him with a slight moment of fear. Fortunately for her, he seemed to still be lost within the realm of bureaucratic tape.
"Darrius is with his wife," she answered without hesitation. "Went into early labor last night but last time we called, everything was going smoothly. That reminds me, do you have access to an outside line? Somehow I've been put in charge of the welcoming committee, hoping I could call see if I need to buy pink or blue balloons."
"Ms. Vandermere, place your index finger against this." He motioned to a small computer pad lying on the desk. "We need to run print identification through Central Processing, and then we can worry about your social calendar."
Smiling weakly she accommodated the request, placing her finger on the electronic pad. Looking up, she noticed that the guard seemed to be taking little interest in his job. She tried not to act nervous, hoping Selphie had managed to get her new identity into the Galbadian database. It wasn't that she had little faith in Selphie's computer hacking capabilities, but rather that she just had no faith in Galbadia's technological abilities. He punched a few keys then waited; finally, a green light appeared above the security monitor.
"Ms. Vandermere we just need you to step through the metal detector, you may set your cables down on the far table." Following the guard's instructions, she waited patiently as he ran a hand-held machine over the length of her body. "You may proceed into the press area, please make sure that you follow the guidelines as outlined in your briefing manual."
"Thank you," she said sighing inwardly that she made it this far.
As he approached the palace, Squall Leonhart felt as if his heart was being ripped from his chest and literally handed to him. The cheers in the streets, each one stung like a thousand burrs in his soul. It was all he could to keep his temper from the joyous mobs lining the sidewalks. Part of him wanted to strike every one of them to their knees, showing no mercy in the process but then he would be no better than Mitchell. He knew the people faithfully believed their salvation had arrived, when in truth their damnation was just starting.
President Mitchell's plan for today's events was outlined publicly on every broadcast station and print media alike. According to the reports, Galbadian officials had silently worked closely with Dr. Odine on inventing a machine that would harness the power of a sorceress. This would allow society to live without fear of tyranny; the device itself would be sealed in Esthar and launched into orbit.
Squall knew what the world didn't.
Because of the careful timing of the article, Estharian officials would have no chance of rebuking the fabricated facts on time. Once Esthar heard Galbadia's version of the story though, it was certain that they would publicly deny such knowledge. President Mitchell would then accuse Esthar of backing out of the contract, and harboring the power for themselves. This would in all eventuality lead into a war, one that Esthar surely wasn't prepared for, but that Galbadia had spent years planning.
Yet, with history weighing heavily on their side, neighboring countries would tend to lean toward that of Galbadia. After all, it was Esthar that caused the first Sorceress War, and allowed Rinoa leave the safety of memorial confinement. The fictional 'breaking of the contract' would be another bullet in the armor of Esthar, further damaging its credibility.
Furthermore, Mitchell, by outward appearances, looked as he led his country justly and with dignity, his popularity growing by the minute. Soldiers would willfully follow him into battle, believing that the enemy had made the first move. The World Council would be in control during any time of martial law; Mitchell's role would only be fortified with his obvious resolve blissfully unaware of the real motives he was keeping from them.
And all for what? Power? What more could Jefferson Mitchell gain? If he truly managed to rule the world, what would be next? Once you reach the top of the mountain, there is no way to go but down or into the sky above if given wings, and Mitchell was no angel. His craving for power would only grow. When he ruled governments, cities, and armies what would be the next conquest? For a moment, a vision of Ultimecia passed through Squall's mind. What if in her time she held all worldly power, then realized that there was nothing left to conquer, but a place where all time and space could be compressed? She would rule in not only her era, but also every one before and after totally supremacy.
Before his mind could register the consequences of such action, he came back into his reality. A small boy had crashed into him, and the Commander looked down to the child, seeing the excitement upon the youngster's face.
"Sorry sir!" The lad apologized wide-eyed, while holding a banner in his hand.
The celebration had begun for all of Galbadia's citizens, and for them the dawning of a new age had begun, an era that promised to be sorceress-free. Vocally Squall could not react to the child, only stared at the hope within his eyes. A mere innocent celebrated the death of the sorceress, and he knew that the child wasn't to blame. It was what he had been taught, the fears instilled upon him by his parents and society. The child celebrated not out of deliberate hatred, but from beliefs taught since birth. The very thing that Squall Leonhart, and every other child, had been taught at Garden. The very fear that he had taught to a new generation. He indeed was just as responsible for the actions today, as they all were. Every SeeD that came before and every student that ever passed through the halls all intended for one purpose. This very day.
He moved quickly up the steps of the palace, pushing his way through the throngs that cluttered the entranceway. It was as if all Rinoa's humanity died the day that she inherited the powers, only her shell remaining. He lost most sense of politeness as he neared the gate, becoming more aggressive with every step. His mind drifted back and forth between Rinoa and the scene in front of him, the whole thing surreal. Somehow, he felt as if he would awake from the nightmare. He only hoped that if he woke up, she would still be next to him.
One sentry stood posted at the main gate, and three more inside the Palace were working crowd-control. The Commander reached the one who looked like he was in charge. The guard saw Squall approaching, and seemed to let nervousness get the better of him. He immediately called someone on his headset, trying to hide his words as he spoke into the receiver He seemed to be having trouble, feeling nervous, or both as Squall stood before him.
"Can I help you sir?" The guard tried to act casual, but the Commander knew better he could sense the fear.
"I'm with the Balamb Delegation of the World Council."
"Commander Leonhart, you do not appear to be on the approved guest list." The man stated calmly never perusing through the hundreds of names.
Squall took a step closer, well within the man's personal boundaries. Looking him directly in the eye, the demand came out almost as a growl. "I guess you are the only person on this whole goddamned planet who didn't read the newspaper. I am the one credited with her capture, aren't I? Why wouldn't I want to be here on such a historic event? Check your list again."
"Sir, I am sorry there is nothing I can do." The guard tried to hold his ground, but his resolve was slowly fading, and his weak nature starting to show through.
"Look," hissed Squall, grabbing the soldier by the neck. "We can do this one of two ways .easy or hard either is fine with me. Get on your headset and speak with your supervisor, tell him that I am here. Let him personally know that Mitchell invited me to today's festivities. Or I will get on the headset myself, after I recover it from your lifeless body. Do you know how to rip someone's throat out just before snapping their neck? I do." He flicked the man on the neck with index finger, emphasizing the point. It was obvious his threats were having their desired effect. The soldier gulped reaching for his neck, as he motioning for two others to open the barred gates.
"You still have to pass a security check, weapons will be confiscated." Somehow the guard had meant it a threat, but the words fell flat, as did meaning in the delivery.
"Fine, I don't have any weapons," he growled while raising an eyebrow at the man. Squall took one last look back at the crowd, watching them celebrate among themselves. He took pity on their foolishness. "Hyne have mercy on all of you if we fail," he whispered, his silent prayer drifted into the gentle breeze.
As he entered the secondary set of gates of the palace, an entire garrison greeted him. It was evident that Mr. Clipboard out there had already alerted the others. It was a logical assumption that Jefferson Mitchell was fully aware of his arrival, and by the look on the faces of his men, the Galbadians were caught off-guard as planned Now the true battle would rage, not with their weapons, but with their minds.
Alexandra fumbled around with cords and wires, not exactly sure what went where. She tried to act as if she was familiar with what was going on around her, but was desperately trying to find the perfect time to escape, and have this nightmare over with either way. Earlier, after she had left Seifer alone in the alleyway, she met up with his inside contact, Robert, the Grip Boss for the telecast. She was told in no uncertain terms to follow his instructions completely, and he was the only one aware that she was not sent as a fill-in from the union. If she was discovered, he would deny any knowledge pertaining to her and she would be on her own Alex understood the risks. She was willing to take them and accept any consequences...even losing her life.
" transponder," a stern sounding voice echoed beside her. She turned trying to act as if her wits were about her, as the angry-sounding man handed her a clipboard. "Can you please go set the transponder to the station feed or do you just plan on standing there all day? I know technically this isn't your job but "
"Sure Robert yeah, transponder, no problem," she replied confidently, understanding this was her chance to make her break. Taking a few steps into the main corridor, she abruptly stopped when she noticed a familiar sight one that made her skin crawl. President Mitchell was walking toward the press waiting-area, surrounded by four guards. By the look on his face, she could see the distress that he was experiencing She smiled outwardly knowing that only one thing could cause such a reaction in that man Squall Leonhart. The Commander must have made it into the building, which was an immense relief. Now it was her duty to get the others through the courtyard door unnoticed.
She turned, walking down a secondary hallway with clipboard in hand, acting as if she was studying its contents. Alex stopped when she reached the side door, checking to see if anyone else was in the general proximity. Just when she thought it was clear, two Galbadian soldiers came around the corner. Leaning against the wall casually, she acted as if she was skimming through paperwork.
"Seriously 6:1 odds that she survives for ten minutes?"
"Ten minutes!? Are you serious, nobody has ever made it past five, and they were a hell of a lot stronger than that scrawny little thing I'll put a hundred Gil on three minutes tops."
She closed her eyes, trying to distance herself from their conversation these men, to use the term lightly, were betting on how long it would take to murder an innocent human being. Her best friend. She tried not act disgusted as they stopped in front of her.
"Is there something we can help you with?" The first guard looked at her with suspicion, while the other looked her up and down grinning slyly.
"Looking for the satellite room according to the map it should have been right here." She pointed across the corridor to the nearest inside door.
"And you're going there for ?" The soldier looked Alex directly in the eyes trying to intimidate her. When she didn't answer immediately, he rested a hand on her hip, getting well within personal boundaries. "Well, hon ?"
She quickly pushed him off, giving a look of pure malevolence. "I'm going there to do my job if that is all right with you. I need to set the transponder to the correct satellite. If you don't want to help me, you can explain to President Mitchell why this was not broadcasted on all television and radio frequencies he requested. Plus I'm sure you can explain to the millions of voting Galbadian citizens, why they will miss this historic event just because your testosterone level is too high not to harass a female employee. I'm sure when the president finds out that you two caused this not to be televised, you'll be the next given lethal injections And on a side note, I bet a hundred Gil that neither of you lasts more than two minutes tops."
The two both looked at each other, containing their anger but realizing that they would be killed if they were found responsible for messing the broadcast up. Finally, the second guard answered with disgust. "Go down the hall turn right, first door on your left. You better hurry, they are going to be activating the anti-magic field any moment once that happens, only the president or his security advisor can gain entrance into that area."
The words he said hit her; right now there was no anti-magic field in place. Something in her hesitation must have lead them to question her cover, as the first guard looked at her simply stating, "All hail Galbadia "
"What?" she replied in momentary confusion.
"I thought so bitch " The soldier started to reach for his weapon and the second man followed his lead. "Any true Galbadian would know the national anthem."
"Shit! Okay Quezacotl, let's hope he's right about the barrier." Alex raised her palm swiftly up toward them, "Stop!!!" She managed to move quickly enough that both were put under the spell. Fortunately for her, Galbadian soldiers still were a little slow in the intelligence department.
"Well that is just freaky looking " She eyed the soldiers stopped in mid-sentence, being suspended in time. Giving up on any sense of indiscretion, she grabbed the weapons out of their hands tossing them onto the floor. "Hail Galbadia my ass "
Alexandra opened the door next to her and looked out into the courtyard for the others. At first she saw nothing but the blue sky, but then Seifer seemed to drop out of nowhere. He startled her for a moment, but she quickly regained her composure. The other two were descending the building from grappling hooks. "Hurry, there are two guards I used Stop on them they found out Im sorry I tried but "
"Magic field?" Seifer questioned opening the door.
"Not yet, any second. I'm sorry "
"It's fine," he snapped. "We'll just have to take care of them before they unfreeze, or we kiss our butts goodbye Zell grab that one, Quistis get the door."
"Who made you God?" mumbled the martial artist, as he reluctantly followed orders.
"You're not going to kill them, are you?" Alex looked at her comrades as they were dragging the frozen men into the courtyard.
Seifer glared at her, shaking his head, "No, we are going to have a tea party with them of course we are going to "
"Stand back." Quistis motioned for Zell and Seifer to move away. "Petrify!" she cast the spell separately to each soldier. Slowly, flesh was replaced with gray-stone, and the two figures appeared to be almost identical statues of one another. She looked into Seifer's eyes, placing a hand upon his shoulder. "We try not to kill anyone, unless it's our only option. Nobody else needs to die over our mistakes."
"Guys we got a problem," called Zell from inside. "Doors on a delayed timer, we need a code in about twenty seconds or so all of Galbadia will know we are here."
They ran over to the numerical keypad. "Why wasn't Garden aware of this? None of our information mentioned the courtyard was supposed to be the only way. Of course, Mitchell added security precautions." Quistis looked at the keypad shaking her head in frustration, "We get one shot at this guys anybody care to guess?"
"Who the hell would put one of these on the outside?" snarled Seifer. "It doesn't say much for the intelligence of the Galbadian society, does it? And the clever red number count down is so original."
"What?" Alex grabbed Seifer's arm. "What did you just say?"
"What in the freakin' hell is your problem? We are about to be caught not a time to reminisce about what I said."
Alex looked Zell deep in the eyes, and in one moment the solution passed between them. Could it be that simple? The nightmares they shared for too long, always awaking to the digital numbers, the red numbers that Seifer just spoke of. In the stillness of so many nights, the glowing digits that offered some relief from the visions, knowing they would end for another day. The answers Ellone was sending them, to questions that they never knew they would ask.
"4-2-7?" she questioned, looking to the man staring into her soul.
"Yeah," he answered just as softly, before he faintly smiled. "I bet it is "
Quistis held her breath as she entered the numbers, not sure of exactly what her two companions were talking about. But she had learned to trust her instincts, and right now her gut feeling was telling her that they knew something that she didn't. And she was right the countdown stopped with four seconds remaining. Alex closed her eyes in a brief moment of relief, but Seifer could only shake his head.
"You two are just freaky."
"Yeah," answered Zell as he reached for Alexandra's hand, leading her into the building. "We know."
She could feel herself being escorted down a long walkway. The last thing Rinoa remembered seeing was the large gray bricks that formed the prison walls, and then she was led into a dimly lit room. In the holding cell they had blindfolded her; she gathered they didn't want her getting her bearings on the palace layout. A guard had then led the rest of the distance, pulling her as if she were nothing more than a dog on leash. At last, she was brought into a room; the smell of pipe tobacco filled the air. She knew that odor well from years of growing up at her father's mansion. A man forcefully pushed her down into a chair, ordering her to sit and not make a sound.
The sorceress tried holding back a gasp when the man grabbed her near the collarbone. Her shoulder stung from the deep bite into her flesh, and her entire body ached from the sleeping arrangements of the night before. The door shut behind her, and for a momentary nirvana, Rinoa thought she was alone. Hoped she was alone. But then like a knife cutting through the fabric of time, she felt the presence of another stab at her solitude. All suspicions were confirmed when the sound of chair-wheels gliding, meeting with the mat below, and the squeaking of a chair, shattered the air.
She could feel someone untying the blindfold, someone whose hands felt very feminine. The fingers touched her with a certain delicacy, one not usually demonstrated by males. Floral perfume filled her senses and momentary took her back into the fields. In the darkness she could imagine herself anywhere, and right now she could picture no place more tranquil than their meadow.
When the cloth barrier was lifted, it took a second for her vision to focus in the bright contrast. Glancing around she could tell that she was in an office; her first assumption was that it was Mitchell's, until she got a better look. It had a more feminine feel, save for the cigar odor, but an air of professionalism all the same. She felt a hand caressing her hair, long fingernails gently tracing their way down her head. It was much like a mother would do to sooth a crying child. She looked up toward the sensation, noticing a tall dark-haired woman smiling condescendingly at her.
"So you are the almighty sorceress, huh? You seem kind of pitiful if you ask me."
"Excuse me?" She stammered, trying to determine whom she was speaking to and why, and what part of the puzzle she played in her life.
"So you are the great Rinoa Heartilly The almighty Sorceress Heartilly. The one involved with the Commander of Balamb Garden, son of the President of Esthar?"
The woman laughed at the sound of the name, leaning against the desk, she looked back at Rinoa with disgust. "Yeah, who else I met him once, seemed like kind of a waste to me, but hell if you like the arrogant-self-absorbed-bastard type."
"Where am I?" her voice reflected the confusion of her thoughts. Rinoa squinted her eyes focusing on the woman in front of her, she thought she saw something but then wondered if it was just the reflections of the light.
The woman didn't take too kindly to the interrogating look of the young sorceress. "On behalf of the citizens of Deling City, I welcome you to your last moments upon this world. I'm Kimberly Thatch, your replacement."
The words caught her off guard, but Mitchell's words from earlier sank in. "You you are the one that the President wants me to pass the powers onto?"
"God, and they said you were a complete ditz." The ebony-haired lady stared at Rinoa with irritation. "No, I am the person your powers will be passed onto there is a difference."
Being visibly infuriated, the woman reached back to the desk pulling out an emery board. Kimberley sighed in exasperation as Rinoa stared motionless, and angrily started filing her nails. She was wearing a burgundy evening gown, which snuggly fit her emphasizing her curves. She was extremely stunning and had an elegant aura surrounding her. Her hair was dark, much like Rinoa's and there was something else about her something that stood out more than any other defining feature. Rinoa's eyes had not been playing tricks on her earlier
"Your hair is "
The woman tossed her emery board with aggravation onto the desk, "Yes, my hair is like yours used to be." She emphasized the point by pointing to her two lightened streaks on either side. "You know Ms. Heartilly, this is absolutely the lowest thing I have ever done. Dye my hair with two blonde streaks I feel no better than a two-bit whore."
"We do what we have to do," spoke Rinoa with malice in the statement. "So you are only doing this to inherit the powers, aren't you?"
"Something like that men are so gullible, the president no exception. He only saw what he wanted to see in me, you see quite another don't you?"
"A cold-hearted bitch?"
"Very good Sorceress Heartilly, I only learn from the best." Kimberley leaned over placing Rinoa's hair behind her ears. "You are so young, so ill-advised You could have been so much, but it was not in your stars. Do you even remember me?"
Thoughts raced through Rinoa's mind, trying to place the woman standing in front of her. "I I the party in Deling, the pictures " Rinoa tried hard to think of past events, when the image appeared out of nowhere. "You were the one who asked for a picture of President Mitchell and me at the party...you sent the pictures to Squall."
"Yes, and I was the one who took the pictures of Jefferson and Lauren in bed . How does that make you feel that your own boyfriend couldn't tell you from a hired-whore in a picture? Says something doesn't it?"
She turned her head not to answer the leading questions; nothing she could say would be correct. "Kimberley President Mitchell has no idea what you are planning, does he?" Her voice gaining a slight bit of conviction. "You are going to betray him arent you?"
A realization finally dawned upon Rinoa, one that could now be her only salvation. "She doesn't love him and everything she is doing is to become me? Who I used to be? Kimberley, Lauren they both look like... Oh my god, his weakness is me."
"Squall, do you copy? Squall come in "
The radio remained silent as Zell spoke with a forceful whisper into the microphone. He felt someone slap the back of his head. "Ouch What the hell Seifer?"
"Look moron, he is in a room full of people. Radio silence is exactly that radio and silence. Do you need a dictionary?"
Zell rolled his eyes, wanting to come back with some clever retort, except for the fact that Seifer was right. Pride alone would never let him admit that to his adversary though. Leaning his head against the wall, Zell squatted to the floor in defeat. "Squall, I understand you can't respond. Just wanted to let you know, we're now inside the palace. We also have some high-powered weaponry, courtesy of two guards now serving the useful purpose of letting pigeons roust upon them. Alex was able to use a stop spell and Ouch!?"
Seifer leaned down taking the communicator out of his hand. "Zell, I know you want to tell about your girlfriend's little accomplishment, but leave out the life story. Simple, make it simple trust me, the Commander is only going to pick-up on half of what you say. He has one person on his mind right now, and it isn't you. Lesson number one make it short."
"Squall, it's Seifer. We're in, anti-magic field still down, heading to second floor she's most likely in his office." Seifer heard a forged cough sounding from the other end. It was the Commander's way of acknowledging the message. All were relieved to know that the earpiece hidden in Squall's cufflink was operational, and not confiscated by Galbadian security. Seifer handed back the radio back to the martial artist, offering a reassuring grin.
"Look Zell, I know you don't like me and I don't blame you one bit. Heck, I don't like me too much either, but trust me when I tell you I want us all to get out of here - that includes you. So no matter what you think, there is nobody I would rather have fighting beside me than you guys."
Behind them, Alexandra and Quistis exchanged looks, although it was a very uncomfortable situation for both. Somehow, they all believed in each other right now, no matter what had happened in the past. Personal issues were set aside, and friends could fight next to enemies for the greater good.
Knowing the history of the two men, Quistis expected no response from Zell. She knew the feuding and degradation extended well past two decades. She was shocked, and truly humbled, to see that the martial artist placed a hand on Seifer's shoulder saying the words, "You too man." It wasn't the world's most poetic moment, or one that history would remember, but for the first time she saw two long-time rivals make amends. Sometimes it was the little things in Quistis Trepe's life that kept her going hope, faith, and knowing that now and again good does win even when the cards are stacked against it.
"Guys, I really think we need to get out of here." Alex looked through a crack in the door, seeing the reflection of the steel and blue uniforms outside. She didn't dare speak another word as the figures moved closer to their position. Pointing, she motioned to a door on the opposite side of the room; it was obvious they weren't going to get out the same way they came in.
The four hurried through the length of the room. By its looks, the room was used for teaching purposes, as several desks and chairs were scattered about. They headed toward the exit and Quistis noticed a micro-tape recorder. She remembered many of her students using them over past years to tape various lectures. She ran back after to the device after originally passing it. Verifying it had a cassette within, she then placed it into her pocket. The instructor wasn't sure of what made her see the recorder, nor why she would risk the precious seconds to reach it; yet she found herself drawn to it like a magnet. She hurried back to the others who were standing at the doorway.
"It's locked." Zell pointed toward the door in disgust. "Now what? Seems like our rescue operation isn't working out quite like planned."
"Look," replied Quistis calmly. "Remember the blueprints? According to them, this is another way up to Mitchell's office."
Seifer shook his head. "No, this door wasn't on the plans." He pointed across the room, to a corner another exit. "That one was."
"So what the hell is this one?" snapped the martial artist. "I'm guessing that with my luck, it's the janitorial closet. Before we turn the next guards to stone, let's take their uniforms so we can walk around a little more freely. Trust me, it worked last time at the missile base."
"Thanks chicken-wuss we could have used your input ten minutes ago." Seifer scratched his head looking at Quistis and Zell. "Always wondered how you guys managed to get those outfits that was pretty impressive."
Without looking at one another, the two SeeD's replied in unison, "Selphie."
"Oh got it."
"Guys " Alex pulled on the arm of Seifer's coat. "I know you were headed down memory lane again, but let's get moving. I think they're coming in."
"Stand back," ordered Seifer. "Give me a sec."
The outer door to the room started to open slowly, and voices could be heard on the other side. "C'mon." Seifer opened the door, pushing the three inside. He made sure they were safely on the other side before following.
"Impressive." Alex raised an eyebrow as the man was herding her into the dark room. "I suppose I don't want to know where you picked up that useful trade."
"Not really," answered Seifer as he locked the door behind. "This seems to be a hallway, come on don't think we are going back out that way."
Out of his trench coat pocket, Seifer pulled a small flashlight. He used the beam to guide them down the rest of the corridor. No light sifted through cracks on the walls, and the hall seemed to be made of stone, with wooden supports offering extra protection. It was apparent it had not been traversed in some time, as Quistis walked in front removing cobwebs from their path.
"What is this?" Alex asked while holding closely onto Zell's arm. "Why have a passage like this in the palace?"
"They are all over Deling." Quistis answered never missing a step or slowing down in the darkened way. She walked next to Seifer's holding his hand, as the other removed the years of neglect from their way. She could have let his hand go, but somehow she felt reassurance in his presence. And truth be told, she was never fond of the dark not that she would admit that weakness to another living soul. Yet today, she was finding strength like she had never known before. "When the city was originally built, it was on a labyrinth of sewers and channels. The founding fathers had plans for a subway system installed within the tunnels, but construction was halted during the First Sorceress War. Then the passages were used as bomb shelters and ways to transport illicit goods. Not positive how they came in individual buildings, there was also an entrance in Caraway's mansion. My guess is that most of the larger structures are connected."
"Now they just remain a catacomb system, and many of the city's vagrant's live within the bowels they create. For many it is where they are born, where they live, and where they die," added Seifer.
He could feel Quistis' eyes upon him, and he momentary flashed the light in her direction, making her blue eyes shine like that of a cat within the darkness. "Yes, I said I spent time underground and I meant it literally. Where else would we have to go? But don't worry, this isn't part of the normal tour. I'm guessing the palace is blockaded from the rest of the city. Mitchell isn't stupid, and neither was Vinzer Deling, they knew about these. So wherever we end up, it should still be within the Palace and "
His words where cut short when he fell forward onto a set of stairs leading upward. He hit the unexpected structure with a thud, and dropped the flashlight. Reaching down to pick it up he shined it behind him, looking at his companions' startled faces. "Guess, I should have been paying more attention, huh?"
Shaking her head, Alex winced at the contrast in illumination. She buried her head into Zell's shoulder. "You know, I'm not sure how you manage to get anything done. I've been around SeeDs for five days, and wonder how you guys made it through training."
She could feel her companion tense up at her words. "Hey Alex," replied the martial artist, trying to remain as sensitive as possible. "You must understand this is what we do. I know to you it seems like we are bickering, and to a point we are. But make no mistake, when it comes to the job at hand we will succeed. I haven't had this feeling in two years. While I dont like Seifer, I even admit it is more than welcome relief to fall back into old patterns."
In the darkness, Quistis could feel a strong arm encircling her waist. She gave into her weakness, placing her head on Seifer's shoulder. "Alexandra, you have no reason to listen to me, or to believe me. Not one of us has forgotten the seriousness of this mission. Never once has Mitchell left our thoughts, and the living hell that Rinoa is facing. I swear we will get her back."
The four continued in silence up the circular, winding stairway. They reached another locked door at the landing, and Seifer once again used his lock picking expertise on it. With only the small beam from the flashlight, the task became increasingly more difficult.
He fumbled around until finally hearing the click of the inner lock giving way. Seifer opened the door slowly, checking for guards on the other side. When he was sure that the room was clear, he opened the door. His eyes widened in disbelief and the only words he could mutter were, "Oh my God "
No matter how much he looked at his watch, each minute seemed to be an eternity unto itself. With every breath, he had to remind himself of the sheer task of exhaling. Squall knew that emotional distance and this mission would be a near impossibility. Somehow, he wasn't sure anymore if it was the guilt or fear consuming his soul. He watched as others entered the room, jovial and smiling. There was no lack of excitement between press and other council members, and nobody even tried to conceal their enthusiasm.
Behind him, he heard two male voices discussing whether Caraway would have the audacity to show up at the execution. He sincerely hoped that wherever the General's spirit was, it was far away from this moment in time. The general public had no idea of his gruesome murder, still speaking as if Caraway committed treason against Galbadia.
People entering the room noticed the Commander sitting by himself. Some looked upon him with disgust, others with shock, and a few with pity he hated the latter the most. Squall didn't want pity from one person it sickened him. Now he understood how Rinoa felt every time she heard the phrase 'I'm sorry' from his mouth. The words were empty and without meaning to her, just like every syllable out of the mouths of these people were to him.
Waiting was the hardest part, knowing he just had to sit there and bid his time. He knew his part was vital, the simple act of distracting Mitchell, and he would do his job. Even if his role wouldn't be the hero's one today, he didn't care who physically saved her as long as she was safe. Whatever he did was for her, and God-forbid, if she did get this far into the room. He wouldn't sit idly by as they killed an innocent human being, even if it meant death for him. He wouldn't let her leave without as so much as a fight
Squall thought he heard static on the earpiece, but it faded out before he could determine if it was his comrades. The reception had been crystal-clear earlier, and he figured the last to be some sort of interference. He cracked his knuckles as a small distraction, while his eyes seemed to be transfixed on the stage before him.
A small commotion drew his attention, as he saw half-a-dozen guards appear from side doorway. From behind the men, the devil himself emerged. President Mitchell pushed his way through his the soldiers, seemingly scanning the crowd with uneasiness about him, one that the Commander easily sensed. Their eyes locked, like that of a lion with its kill. At that moment, there were only two enemies in the room and Squall had never felt such unbearable hate.
Mitchell starting walking forward, his anger was evident, kicking a folding chair to the side. When the metal landed with a crash, all the people in the room became aware of the president's arrival. Scattered applause and cheers turned into full-blown congratulations. Jefferson Mitchell, knowing that the most import dignitaries were watching him, immediately changed his expression like an emotional chameleon. He gave a triumphant wave and smile to the crowd, as they gave him a standing ovation. All but one person stood he wouldn't degrade himself further by honoring that man, Squall knew better.
And soon, so would the entire world
For a minute, he wondered if the anti-magic barrier was still disabled. He could just summon Bahamut and use mega-flare on this entire place, incinerating the room and all its inhabitants to the ground. Then it hit him why? Why was the anti-magic barrier down? Mitchell would not be stupid enough to leave it down on accident, something didn't feel right with that fact. He defiantly glared at the President as he hoodwinked the entire world population, with his double-talking speeches and empty promises.
Momentarily, the Commander lost visual contact when someone walked between him and the podium. He had reveled in the simple fact that earlier no one dared sit near him. Right now, he was still not in the mood for small talk or any talk for that matter. Fortunately, the person remained silent taking the chair next to his and Squall didn't acknowledge the man's presence.
" sh...n Ri wi be ad "
This time he could definitely make out Zell's voice, and deciphered the alarm in his tone - Something was wrong. He felt an uneasy, sickening sensation enter his body; he needed out of here now. Magic, could he really use his spells? He couldn't help worrying about anti-magic barrier, and kept trying to think of any logical reason for it to be disarmed. The Commander tapped on the earpiece, as he scanned the exits. There seemed to be guards stationed at every door, and every one had their sights on him.
" will not be public transfer power field."
This time the words came in with more clarity, and then it hit him. Of course, they couldn't have the anti-magic field up when she transferred the embodiment. They weren't going to execute her publicly, that was just a ploy it would be too dangerous. This way, in a restricted setting, they could control her actions and to whom she passed her powers. In this setting, she could have passed them to any female. Galbadia never intended to have it broadcast live they were going to kill Rinoa before she ever reached this room.
Squall knew that her minutes were numbered, and by far less than he thought, if he wasn't already too late. He had to get out of here, he had to go find her and right now he was severely out numbered. By the tone of Zell's message, they were in no position to help. He closed his eyes at another failure, his inability to foresee this move. Now he wished that he had marched in with an army of SeeDs, but at what cost their lives for hers? No matter how he looked at it, Squall Leonhart was going to fail again.
He heard Quistis' voice this time, echoing through his receiver, but figured he had misunderstood the cry. That was until an explosion shook the room, and white smoke billowed in from the southern doors. He stood quickly, as everyone in the room began to scream with panic, felt someone grab his shoulder, and pushed the hand off him forcefully. Again, someone tried to get his attention, and in his frustration, he turned angrily to the source of the annoyance.
"Get the fu " He was shocked when he saw whom he was dealing with, as the man handed him a gasmask. Without hesitating, he covered his face as the other person mirrored his action. Both kneeled down to the ground avoiding detection. When the guards left their post, the man tugged at Squall's jacket signaling to the north door.
He wanted to say something, he wanted to thank him, but instead the Commander just nodded, and then he began crawling across the smoke-filled room. As an afterthought he turned around to the man, the words echoed in the hollowness of the mask.
"Ward, tell my father thank you."
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic