A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 1
Song of the Siren
By Kate Lorraine
Seifer Almasy was never one to fear Duel Hill, as some of the Garden students called it. He had always walked this path eagerly, itching to slit open someone's pride with his flashing gunblade. Today however, he felt nervous. He clenched his right hand around the reassuring weight of his gunblade. It felt different, walking this rugged path up to the clearing at the top of the mountain today. For once he began to feel a measure of doubt. Maybe he would be better off if he turned back and went to the safety of the Garden.
Seifer stalled for a while, dusting his pants free of the nonexistent dust. He looked back at the rocky path down. He had never retreated before. Why was it so hard to keep pressing forward? Yet, it was pointless to try and fool himself into thinking of it as another duel. This was a meeting he had put a lot of thought into. The outcome could change his life forever. One dream, one chance.
Seifer stepped courageous over the rocky divide into the crater where he had won so many duels in the past. Yet today his opponent was not armed.
"Rinoa, you're early." He said.
She got up lazily from the place where she was crouching. She tossed her hair back and straightened her dress. She looked up at him with a expression of absolute seriousness. "So, have you made your decision, Seifer? Edea and I are not about to wait forever." She pressed her lips together and placed her hands on her hips.
Seifer scratched his head. "The SeeD exams . . ." he began.
Rinoa sighed and threw her hands up in disgust. " Seifer, you will never be a member of SeeD. They will never let you. Can't you see that they've sabotaged your future since the moment you stepped foot in Garden? You are a gifted warrior, you have never lost a duel, never stepped down from a fight. Yet, year after year, idiots, one group each more dull-witted than the one before are recruited into SeeD. Give up on SeeD, Seifer, you are just wasting your time." Rinoa suddenly quieted down as she bit her lower lip in a look of sadness.
"Think back to the summer we spent together, Seifer. Remember your dream? I always told you that I knew that if anyone deserved the love of the world it would be you. Well, now the opportunity is banging at your door. If you turn your back on me now the door will be closed. Silent forever."
Seifer said nothing. He turned to her, seeing her standing there, innocent, pure as virgin snow. No wonder she was Edea's most prized companion. She truly earned her title as the Angel of Death. Just as well as he knew, that as much as he hated being manipulated by her, that he really did love her.
Seifer said nothing for a moment before he finally spoke again, sounding more like himself.
"Rinoa, two days is all I ask. Will you give me two days to make this decision while will alter my future forever?"
Rinoa drew back and nodded. "Yes Seifer, you should take your time and think. Remember that you can never turn your back on Edea. No one is allowed into the confidence of a sorceress and allowed to leave afterwards." She smiled suddenly. "But look on the bright side, you'll be with me forever." She reached over and took him by the arm, caressing him gently with her fingertips as a playful smile played on her pale lips. "That is what you want isn't it? Summer after summer, together forever."
Seifer tried to draw his arm back but found that she held him tight. He smirked at her, trying his best to appear as confident as he always used to be.
"I'm not doing this for you, Rinoa. This is for my dream remember?"
She laughed as though he had said something utterly hilarious. Reaching over, she kissed him running her fingers through his short golden hair. When he finally pulled back she kept him close, his lips an inch away from hers.
"Meanie," she said.
"Two days," she reminded him.
* * * *
Squall Leonhart walked down the quiet somber hallways of Balamb Garden. Outside, soft needles of rain splattered against the windows where lazy students sat studying or talking. As he walked he could hear the gentle murmuring of teachers from within the classrooms where instruction was taking place. He glanced into one of the rooms and remembered how only a year ago he was one of them. He was a SeeD now, he would never have to attend one of those simplistic tiresome lectures again. Now that he was free from that shackle he found it hard to imagine how he ever endured it.
He had believed a year ago that when he became a SeeD he would finally be at peace with the memory of his mother. He wanted to fulfill her expectations of greatness. Of how she had told him his father had once been. Still, no matter how much he tried, since her death, he simply could not shake the fact that he couldn't. His father had given his life to protect his sister Ellone, and for that his memory would always be gilded in gold, encased in marble preserved like some eerie perversion of reality. It wasn't what he wanted for himself.
"Squall? Where are you going?" Xu asked, coming up to him from behind.
Squall turned to her, annoyed that he was suddenly forced to participate in a conversation.
"Nowhere." He said as tritely as he could.
"Squall," Xu said, hesitating as though she regretted what she was about to say. "Ellone wants to talk to you. Perhaps, you should stop avoiding her."
He felt violated suddenly. What right did Ellone have to bring a stranger into their own private feud?
Xu spoke up again as he did not reply. "Squall, maybe you should attend the dance at the end of the week. It will be good for you. You seem so down all the time."
"I'm not." He replied.
Xu giggled nervously. "Yes you are. Please Squall? You never do anything with the rest of us."
Squall said nothing but was suddenly relieved of his obligation to respond when a student, running down the hall, crashed into him. She fell back onto her bottom as a few of the books she had slid across the floor. Xu reached over to gather the books for her as she clumsily got to her feet. She scratched her head and looked at Squall.
"I'm sorry for crashing into you. I'm new here."
"Here," Xu said, handing her the books she dropped. "Maybe Squall can show you around, you don't have anywhere important to go, right Squall?"
Squall scowled, realizing that he was trapped
"Alright, come on." Squall said with a gesture of his hand.
Xu rolled her eyes as she watched Squall lead the girl away.
* * * *
"This is the directory," Squall said as he showed her to the computer at the entrance of Garden. "You'll find everything you need here." The girl with the curling brown hair nodded, her hair bouncing as she moved.
"I'm taking the SeeD exam tomorrow and I feel like such a klutz. This probably isn't good for me. Do you know anything about what the field tests are like?"
Squall shrugged, turning his attention back to the directory. "They're not easy. Pay attention to the orders you are given. That's all."
She watched him. Her lips turning into a mock frown. "You don't talk much do you?"
Squall turned his eyes back to her. "Here, I've shown you how to use it already. I trust that you will have no problems. I need to meet someone at the front gate so I'll be going."
She nodded, somewhat shocked by his sudden departure. "Alright. I'm sure I'll figure it out. Thanks for the help."
Squall gave her a nod as he turned his back and left. At the front gate he saw Cid standing there. The old headmaster motioned for him to come closer as he caught sight of Squall. "Squall, come walk with me. We have some things to talk about." Squall began to walk beside him as they casually stroll about the perimeter of Garden.
The headmaster looked over to the east and nodded. "The SeeD field tests start today. A few of the students have already gone to Ifrit's cavern. I'm sure you remember how that was like. It was only a year ago, right?" Squall frowned as he placed his hands into his pockets, impatiently waiting for Cid to get to his point.
"Yes." He said.
"You've really achieved a lot in a year Squall. The people here admire you. I admire you. You should be very proud." Cid said with a smile.
" . . . . . "
"Alright, let me get to my point. I think Galbadia is up to something suspicious. They have taken over Dollet, a small seaside town which can't be of any benefit to them. I want you to lead a few SeeD candidates to investigate."
"SeeD candidates?" Squall asked, somewhat insulted.
Cid smiled fondly, the few wrinkles on his ancient skin showing as he formed his amiable expression. "They're pretty promising ones. I trust they will be as good as any SeeD member. Anyway, with you as a leader I know it wouldn't matter if I sent a batch of chocobos. You always get the job done to perfection."
Squall did not respond. He contemplated Cid's proposal. He had never led a SeeD exam before. It would be a nice change from the mundane missions he always embarked on.
"I'll do it, but just this once." Squall said crossing his arms over his chest.
"Great!" Cid said happily as he reached over and patted Squall on the shoulder. "I just want you to know that you should be careful. We have no idea what the Galbadians are up to. No backing out now." Cid warned with a coy look on his age weary face.
"What do you mean? Do you have something in store for me?" Squall asked suspiciously.
"No it's nothing. Be at the entrance of Garden tomorrow morning." Cid said as he walked away as fast as he could.
Squall stood there watching the old man leave. Somehow, he was beginning to regret his decision.
* * * *
Rinoa nervously walked into the room of Edea's residence in Deling City. She stood there respectfully as Edea brushed her hair in front of the mirror. As Rinoa watched her hair flare with red strands of energy, she felt a degree of security. Rinoa had been the only sorceress in Deling until Edea arrived. Her father had succeeded in keeping it a secret from the public but she had failed to keep it a secret from herself. Her loneliness had been horrible as she bore the curse of her kind each and every day.
Edea had found her a year ago, and the secret had been out since then. Rinoa knew that she owed a lot to the powerful sorceress. Her father had been the general of the Galbadian army but his position had been on thin ice as his health began degrading. Ever since she was two he had developed some heart problems. Their origins were unknown to her, he never spoke about it. She had grown apart from him since her mother, Julia, died but she could not leave him. She was afraid each time she saw him that it might be her last. Yet lately, since the sorceress came, his health had improved.
It was an ordinary day when that extraordinary incident happened to her. She remembered nothing of it except of the moment when she came to the presidential mansion to fetch her father. It was late at night. He always stayed later than his health or her patience allowed. Yet that day as she happily pushed him to the door in his wheelchair someone stopped her.
"There is something different about you," Edea had remarked as she stepped past president Deling and walked over to survey her. Rinoa had kept her eyes down. Her father reached up and took her hand.
"I know she's different." He said in complete seriousness. "She's really an angel in disguise."
Rinoa had smiled then, despite her fear. She glanced up at Edea and realized that she was no ordinary woman. Edea's hair was hidden inside of a crown of sorts. There were two gold plates which covered her ears and a large curling horn that emerged from the right side. Her feather collar shifted as she walked closer. Rinoa glanced at her low neckline, at the pale tight skin at the base of her throat. Her earring clicked quietly as she tilted her head. With one gloved hand she reached out and lifted Rinoa's face by gently placing pressure on her chin. Rinoa looked into her eyes then. They were yellow like the newly bloomed daffodil in the garden behind her father's emerald mansion. Edea smiled, revealing a row of white teeth.
"Child, you are a sorceress." She said simply and bluntly.
Rinoa felt as though she had just been thrown into a river of ice. She froze unable to say a word.
"Edea-" the general began but was interrupted when Edea began to laugh.
"You hide it as though being a sorceress was a terrible affliction." Edea hugged her then, a gesture Rinoa was completely unprepared for.
"Child, poor mislead child who has lost her mother, I'll show you what a sorceress is truly capable of."
Since then things had changed. Instead of hiding in the shadows, Rinoa became the sorceress's angel. She was finally with her own kind. Her father disapproved of it at first, but reluctantly agreed when he finally saw her flushed with excitement at her newly found freedom.
The Angel of Death, they called her that behind her back. Pitiful humans, with one swing of her arm she could put them in ground, silenced forever. Nothing anyone thought mattered anymore.
"Almasy is not here. Has he declined?" Edea asked as she placed her brush down on her vanity table. In the oval mirror Rinoa saw her own reflection, standing by the door behind the sorceress.
"No," Rinoa said trying to project her soft voice across the room so that she would sound assertive. "He wants to take his chances with the SeeD exam." When Edea did not reply she quickly began to elaborate. "He failed two years in a row already. He won't make it this time. His cockiness forbids it."
Edea looked straight into the mirror and Rinoa felt a chill snake down her spine as she caught the reflection of the yellow eyes in the mirror.
"Make sure he fails that exam, Rinoa. I will not have him a SeeD." Rinoa nodded as she heard Edea's voice grow soft as she began to fiddle with a few random objects on her vanity table. "After he fails, test him. Take him to Balamb Garden, order him to kidnap the headmaster. Make sure you are not recognized. Make them believe he acted alone . . .with a couple of worthless associates which I will supply." Rinoa nodded obediently, once more. "Oh and one more thing, Rinoa. While he is completing his task, keep an eye on a certain SeeD. He is a threat to our plans. Make sure he stays out of Almasy's way."
"A SeeD?" Rinoa asked slightly insulted. So she was left to court soldiers now. She was a sorceress not a concubine.
Edea turned then to meet Rinoa's eye.
"This is no ordinary mission." Edea assured her.
Rinoa decided not to argue. "I would never seek to question your judgement, Edea."
"His name is Squall Leonhart."
"I understand." Rinoa said. She cocked her head to one side as the name echoed through her head.
The name had a nice ring to it. She wondered who he was, what he looked like, what terrible crime he had committed for Edea to send her after him. She caught herself then, pondering the mystery of this name, and realized how utterly ridiculous it was. She hated SeeDs, the SeeDs were a group of mercenaries that pillaged and plundered the world without regards to right or wrong. For all the fuss around her being the Angel of Death, Rinoa did not believe that she was more ruthless than the SeeDs. At least when she killed it was for a cause. They killed to be paid in blood drenched gil. Squall Leonhart, he too would probably shoot a wide eyed orphan if someone paid him.
Yet somehow that just seemed so wrong. Looking at her confusion ridden eyes, Edea began to speak again.
"He must be treated with caution, Rinoa." Edea continued. "Eventually we will eliminate him but as for now, befriend him, flirt with him, make him trust you. Remember Rinoa, what I said to you a year ago. We are sorceresses, all we have is each other. Mortals are inferior, they are simple narrowed minded beings unable to see past their own need gratification. You have grown up among them, that's why you feel such sympathy towards their lot, but Rinoa, never forget that deep beneath their smooth golden facade lies a heart of darkness. You are a sorceress, chosen by the Great Hyne to stand beside her and be her raging angel. The savage ruthless mortal will never be your equal and for that he will always seek your destruction."
"Why are you reminding me of this, Edea?" Rinoa asked. "What have I done to lead you to believe that I think otherwise? I feel no compassion for Squall Leonhart or Seifer Almasy. A word from your lips and I will rip either one's heart from his chest without hesitation. I am your angel, your puppeteer, your unwavering protector. I will never be anything else."
Edea raised her eyebrow and pressed her lips together in a look of curiosity. "Be sure of that Rinoa. The mortal's friendship is the burning sun that will waste your vampiric heart to ash. I can't save you from what is within yourself."
"There will never be any need for that," Rinoa assured her.
There was silence for an eternity before Edea waved her hand and dismissed her. Rinoa, stepping out of the shadow carpeted room. The darkness was so thick she could feel its layers underneath her feet. She lifted her hand and cupped her palm around the silver band on her necklace. Her mother's ring was covered by the hand of the black browed night. Walking back across the dismal hallway, Rinoa began to wonder what her mother would have said. Standing there at the threshold of the grand staircase, Rinoa remembered that she needed to visit her father once more before she left for Balamb.
* * * *
"Good evening Ms. Heartilly," the guard said as she came upon the emerald mansion where she had grown up. She smiled and nodded at the old guard.
"Has my father been well?" Rinoa asked as she stepped up to him.
The guard frowned deeply.
"The general has fallen ill since you left, you better go see him."
Rinoa felt her pulse quicken. Her heart felt like a stone in her bosom as she walked down the long pathway to her front door. Her mother had died twelve years ago, swallowed by a wreckage of twisted metal. Her father's heart condition was like a manifestation of his broken heart. It made her wonder if he loved her enough to stay here beside her on top of the earth instead of below it.
She opened the front door and stepped into the dark house. This was her home, her prison for most of her life as a hated sorceress. Now, like Rapunzel from her tower, she had broken free. Her father however was still trapped here, chained by his own frail body. For all her sorceress's power, she could not heal the one she loved most. What good was all the power in the world if it would not prevent the heavens from snatching from her side the only man who had ever accepted her as a sorceress?
Stepping up to the top of the stairs, Rinoa slowly began to walk towards his bedroom. She was the criminal walking to his execution. At his doorway she paused for a moment and looked in. Her father was lying on the bed a IV connected to his wrist. His wheelchair was in the corner like a visiting ghost. The maid who was sitting in the chair beside his sleeping form looked up as she caught sight of Rinoa standing mournfully at the door.
"Miss Heartilly -" she began but Rinoa raised her hand for silence.
"Don't wake him," Rinoa ordered. Reaching over to take the maid by arm Rinoa directed her to the door.
"I'll sit beside him. Your job here is done."
The maid nodded respectfully and left. Rinoa closed the door behind her and walked over to the chair beside her father. She took his hand in hers. He did not stir. Is this what death would be like? Rinoa watched his limp hand, at the tiny curls of hair that dotted his wrist. The watch he wore sat there amidst the hair, and for a moment she felt a profound sense of sorrow. Perhaps he was really dead and he would never put that watch on his wrist again. The thought that her father would never look down glancing at the face of the tiny clock to check the time made her heart burst with unbearable grief. She felt tears in her eyes but the hand in her grasp began to move. Her father turned his face over and opened his eyes.
"Rinoa," he whispered through his pale lips. A sheet of paper had more color than his face.
"Ssssh," she whispered. "I'm here daddy, I won't go. Go to sleep."
Rinoa knew then as she watched him close his eyes that she would never make it to Balamb.
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