A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 12

To Take His Ring

By Kate Lorraine

"Xu," Nida said as the Garden neared the Cape of Good Hope "Maybe you should take a look at this."

Xu walked over and took the binoculars from Nida. Glancing through them she saw the flaming Galbadian Garden hoovering in mid air. She felt a sinking feeling in her chest as she realized that this was an unavoidable war.

"Alright," Xu said as she stepped up to the loudspeaker. "We are going in."

* * * * * *

"Rinoa, where are you going?" Antha asked, running up to her.

"This isn't my war, Antha," Rinoa replied, she tossed her hair over her shoulder casually and glanced down the deserted hallway. So all the students have gathered at the front gate or the Quad, how nice. The dorms were empty for her to wait the war through in.

"Oh," Antha said quietly. "But I feel better knowing you are nearby, you are so powerful the Galbadian scum won't stand a chance. I know I'm a SeeD candidate but sometimes I get scared when I fight. I'm afraid that when the fight is over someone I love might be dead."

Rinoa looked at the young girl with a degree of sympathy. She reached over and touched the girl's cold hands. "Listen Antha, if anyone you love gets into serious trouble come find me. I'll be in the second dorm to the right down the last hall."

Antha nodded her head vigorously. "Okay, thank you Rinoa, you're like my older sister!"

Rinoa patted her hand one last time. "Remember, only if it is an emergency. I don't want Garden to become furious with me for interfering with their war."

* * * * * *

"Where is Squall?" Xu asked as she stepped down from the elevator.

"He's in the Quad," Irvine said as he ran toward the entrance. "He has a even ID number right? Isn't that what you said?" he asked Xu who flung her hands down in annoyance.

"No, I meant for him to come meet me in the Headmaster's office. . .oh never mind!" Xu exclaimed as she ran in the direction of the Quad. Xu felt the Garden shake under her feet as she skid down the smooth floor of the hallway. Getting back up she continued to run however as she entered the Quad she quickly realized her mistake. The Galbadians had entered, they rode in on motorcycles which went over the oval surfaces of the Balamb Garden. One of the rider swiped his sword at her but she ducked, avoiding a painful decapitation.

Xu bolted past the students brandishing their weapons and brawling with the Galbadians that had dismounted from their motorcycles but there was no sign of Squall. It was just her luck that he was the type who would be attracted to fighting where the it was the most intense. Xu pushed her way past some more soldiers and shouldered her way into the center of the Quad. She stretched her neck, looking for any sign of Squall's glittering gunblade. She heard a horrible blood curling scream around the corner and when she found her way over to the deck she saw a ground littered with fallen soldiers, Galbadian and Garden alike.

"Squall!" Xu suddenly exclaimed as she caught sight of the snowy collar of his leather jacket. She rushed over to his side, narrowly dodging a blow from a Galbadian's spear. She kept to his side, drawing out her weapon in preparation but ducked to one side as Squall swung his arm and slashed a Galbadian across the midsection spilling his guts onto the dusty floor of the pastel deck.

"What is it?" Squall asked without turning his eyes. There was a smudge of blood adorning his cheek like a red badge of courage. His eyes were aglow with fury as he attacked wildly taking down a dozen men in a brief period of aristae.

"I want you to lead the attack into their Garden!" Xu yelled, trying to be heard above the desperate screams of fallen warriors. She dodged a fire spell from a trooper when Squall suddenly yanked her behind him in a gesture more of frustration than camaraderie. Xu decided to give up attacking and talking at the same time as she hid behind Squall.

"We won't be able to stand much more of this Squall," Xu said. "Please, I need you to lead some SeeD in there and attack their leader. That's our only chance for victory."

"Watch out!" a Garden student suddenly yelled as the wiser students retreated to the Quad. Looking up too late, Xu saw the Galbadian Garden slam into the deck. The ground under them crumbled like ash.

"Squall!" Xu yelled as she began to plummet through air. She waved her arms desperately trying to find something to hold to latch onto when she felt a sudden jerk on her sleeve. Looking up, she realized that Squall had caught her by the cloth of her SeeD uniform. He too was hanging off the side of the jaggered ledge of the Quad.

"Hold on!" he yelled as he began to pull her up to give her a hold on the edge of the cliff as well. Xu felt a shiver run through her body as a shower of bullets riddled the rockface a few feet away.

"We're not going to make it!" Xu yelled in fear as she held tight onto the ledge. The bullets were coming closer.

"Get up!" Squall shouted as he turned his eyes to the airborn Galbadian soldier. Xu was scrambling up as she dragged herself up onto the deck up to her waist.

"Squall!" She yelled as a bullet struck the rocks an inch away from his left side.

"Go!" Squall said as he looked up at her. Then to her utter amazement, he jumped onto one of the vehicles of the Galbadian paratrooper. Climbing onto steady ground, Xu watched as Squall punched the paratrooper in the face in effort to loosen his grip. She breathed a sigh of relief as Squall finished the Galbadian off with a kick to the stomach.

"Do you know how to land that thing?!" she yelled.

He looked up with a vexed expression on his face when suddenly the top of the green vehicle exploded. He hung fast to the rope as the machine went out of control. It swivelled to the right and began to plummet. Squall jumped from the piece of junk right before it went crashing into the blade like rings of the base of the Balamb Garden. Xu looked down and saw Squall hanging onto the cliff a long way down. There was no way for her to reach him.

"Xu!" A SeeD yelled from behind her. "You are needed in the Headmaster's office!"

Reluctantly, Xu left her place at the edge of the deck. There were other people she needed to attend to, Squall would just have to wait.

"Zell!" Xu yelled as she ran to the elevator. "Listen you need to do me a favor."

Zell nodded at Xu as he pressed Antha to his side. "Yes commander," he said standing at attention.

"Squall fell off the side of Garden. You need to lead the attack into the Galbadia Garden."

"The side of Garden!?" Zell yelled. "Shouldn't we be trying to save him?"

"I'll send someone else to try, later. We need to attack Galbadia Garden now or we will all die. Take Irvine, and Selphie with you!" Xu screamed over the ruckus as she entered the elevator.

Zell glanced at Antha. "Let's go find Irvine and Selphie." However, Antha drew away from him.

"No." She said. "I need to go."

"Huh?" Zell asked in surprise as Antha ran from him as fast as she could . .to the dorms.

* * * * *

"What is she doing here?" Xu asked as Rinoa stepped into the Headmaster's office with Antha by her side. Zell, Selphie and Irvine were all gathered there. They looked up in alarm as Rinoa took a few steps closer to Xu in a threatening manner.

"Where is Squall?" she asked quietly, forcefully.

Xu glared at her. "This is Headmaster's office, only SeeDs are allowing in here."

"Xu!" Antha said. "Please."

"I am the commander!" Xu said desperately trying to take control of the situation. "As long as I am in charge there will be order here!"

"You are not my commander," Rinoa reminded her as she stepped closer to Xu. Her eyes started flashing a yellowish white which instantly frightened Xu out of her wits.

"You are a sorceress!" Xu suddenly hissed as she fell back.

"Rinoa!" Zell yelled as he tried to grab her by the arm but Rinoa easily shook him off. She reached out with one hand and grabbed Xu by the throat and lifted Xu a few feet into the air.

"Where is he?" Rinoa asked again, her voice calm still.

"The Quad . ." Xu whispered.

* * * * *

"What are you doing Rinoa?" Selphie asked as she watched Rinoa glancing out the window of the second floor classroom. Suddenly, Rinoa found what she was looking for as she caught sight of the abandoned paratrooper vehicles which the Galbadian soldiers had used to attack the classroom. With one hand she reached out and caught the dangling rope of the one in the center.

"Rinoa!" Selphie exclaimed suddenly. "Do you have any idea how to fly one of those?"

Rinoa shrugged as she tugged on the rope to make sure it held strong.

"I'm sure I'll figure it out. My father was the general of the Galbadian army after all."

"You're insane!" Selphie said. "You're going to get yourself killed."

Rinoa climbed up to the edge of the window and wrapped herself around the rope.

"Then it'll be just one less sorceress for you to worry about, Selphie." She replied as she began to climb the rope. Selphie ran over to the window and stuck her head out. In a moment of impulse she suddenly cried out,

"Good luck! We'll be waiting at the entrance to Galbadia Garden for the two of you."

Rinoa nodded in gratitude as she finally reached the green body of the vehicle. She opened the flap for the control panel and began to push a few of the buttons in the hope that by chance they would be the correct ones. The luck which Selphie wished her must have been a keeper because at that moment, the vehicle flared to life and loosened its gripe on the exterior of Balamb Garden.

In the distance she saw the blaze of magic spells and the clash of weapons as the war raged on. The wind swept her dark locks away from her face as she flew over the side of the on her way to the Quad. She smiled suddenly as she him hanging onto the rocky face of the nether regions of what had once been the deck of the Quad. He reached over and caught the rope as she swept by him. She wanted to laugh again as she felt his weigh on her machine. It was just one of those moments where you are filled to the brim with relief, joy, good humor and a appreciation of the utter ridiculousness of the situation that you just want to throw back your head and give in to maniacal mirth. But she didn't, instead she swallowed it and struggled to keep the frown on her face as the contraption brushed against the ground. He jumped off first, then she followed, allowing him to catch her by the waist as she barely avoided tripping. She was never very adept at diving from high places.

"Come on," he ordered as he began to run in the direction of Galbadia Garden. She followed him, ducking instinctively as a bomb shook the earth beneath them. As they finally broke free of the fighting front he turned to her.

"No don't" she said suddenly as she saw the expression on his face that he was about to say something that wasn't easy, especially for him. "I understand you don't need to say it."

"Alright," he said in relief. "I'm going in," he said gesturing to the Galbadian Garden. "You don't have to come if you don't want to. Chances are we are going to be fighting Edea and Seifer. You should think this over carefully."

Rinoa shook her head vigorously. "No are you joking? Of course I'm coming. I'm scared to death but that's not going to stop me from standing by you during this last battle."

"If that is what you want." He glanced away, seemingly about to leave when he suddenly looked back and spoke again, in a tone of utter seriousness. "Zell told me that you admire my ring."

Rinoa felt her face turn crimson. "I'll have to kill him," she whispered in part jest, part mortification.

"I really like this ring," he informed her with a look of disapproval on his face as though she had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

"I know," Rinoa replied quickly. "I'm sorry, we were just talking in a friendly way that night and it just kind of slipped out. . . .I don't plan to steal it or anything."

"Really?" he asked lifting an eyebrow. "Because I was considering giving it to you."

She stood silent for a moment.

"Are you insane?" She breathed. "This isn't for the cliff thing is it? Because if it is I won't take it. I want to stand beside you as an equal, not a pretty accessory for you to take care of. We'll help each other in times of need, because one day I may the one in need of rescuing."

"Why do you have to be so difficult? It's just a simple ring. Do you want it or not?"

Rinoa shrugged. "I kind of thought it would look better on you." She said mockingly.

He looked disgusted and turned to leave when she suddenly caught him.

"I was just joking, Squall. I'll take it. I'll take it. Hand it over, the evil sorceress wills it so."

Looking completely vexed still, he tugged the ring off his finger. She felt like she was a robber baron asking him to give up his wallet instead of a lady being offered a token of affection. Then she remembered that this was Squall she was with. He was probably absent from class the day Garden had the lesson on courtship and chivalry. All of which wasn't necessarily a bad thing since she had spent the last year with the one who knew enough about the ways of the opposite sex to fill the deep sea research center with books.

Taking the ring from him, her bare finger tips brushed against the soft firm tips of his leather gloves. It sparked a traitorous longing in her chest as she began to wonder how it would feel to have those leather clad hands on her skin. But she turned her mind away and began to concentrate on more innocent thoughts.

She chuckled as she admired the ring and the intricate carvings on it.

"What is it? Is it a lion?"

"Yeah, lions are known for their great strength and pride. I call it Griever."

"Great strength and pride kinda like you, Squall."

Rinoa tried to fit it on her finger but found that it was far too large. She unclasped the necklace around her throat and slide the ring in beside her mother's wedding band. The two rings clicked against each other happily. As she looked down upon them she felt a stab of guilt. Both were given to her in a gesture of good faith, of hope. They simmered against her filth stained skin, glittering like two north stars.

"Let's go, Rinoa." he said as he began to walk in the direction of the entrance.

Reluctantly, she followed.

* * * * *

"Rinoa! Squall! You're okay!!" Selphie yelled in glee as she rushed over and hugged them both.

"Rinoa!" Antha exclaimed as she came over as well. Squall eyed her disapprovingly.

"Isn't this a mission for SeeDs only?" he asked under his breath.

"Yeah," Irvine said. "Chicken wuss brought her."

"Why you!"Zell hollered and jerked his fists up in a fighting stance but was calmed by Antha as she placed her hands on his shoulders. She hid behind him, fearing the wrath of the SeeDs. "I wasn't about to leave her there where all the fighting was. Don't you guys worry about her. Antha can hold her own ground right?"

Antha nodded shyly. "I'm a SeeD candidate."

Squall knitted his brows. "This isn't a game."

"Hey Squall! C'mon," Zell said. "You're bringing a sorceress, I'm bringing a future SeeD, what's the big deal?"

A look of fury crossed Squall's face as he turned and walked away.

"Now look at what you did!" Irvine said as he slapped Zell in the back of the head. "Squall's probably going to throw a hissy fit on us again."

Zell looked sheepish as he rubbed the back of his head. "As long as he doesn't faint."

* * * * *

"Whatcha thinking Selphie?" Irvine asked as the small band moved through the lobby of Galbadia Garden. Selphie glanced around at the familiar surroundings about her. The group crept quietly through the Garden trying their best to avoid any lengthy battles.

"This is your home isn't it Irvy? How do you feel about all this?" Selphie asked.

"Well, Sefie," Irvine said, "I'm not too happy that we will be fighting matron. I think out of all of us my memories of her are the most vivid."

"But you need to put that aside. We can't fight her thinking she's matron."

Irvine's eyes traveled to Rinoa who was by Squall's side, she had always been by his side since Irvine had first seen her. Even Zell had found himself a lady as Antha walked hand in hand with him down the dark hallway. It was just he and Selphie who have yet to really discover love. He wished there was something he could do to make her believe that she wasn't just another pretty girl passing the length of his eye and then careening into oblivion the day after.

"Sefie, do you think maybe we could ya know. . . "

Selphie placed her nunchakus under one arm and scratched her arm.

"Pretend she's not matron?" Selphie asked. "Yeah that's a good idea. She's the evil sorceress now, not our matron anymore really. . . "

Irvine nodded and smiled, wondering how she could be so completely right and yet so completely misunderstanding at the same time.

* * * * * *

"She's up there," Rinoa whispered as they stood before the elevator to the right of the reception room. The group hesitated and they watched her. Rinoa frowned, understanding what was on each of their minds even though they did not say one word.

"I won't do anything stupid," Rinoa assured them. "As long as I am with you, all of my friends, I won't . . . ."

"It's okay Rinoa," Irvine said. "You don't need to say that, we already know." he rubbed his hands together. "Let's go get that sorceress now, what do ya guys say?"

"Yeah Irvy," Selphie said cheerfully. "Let's go get that meany."

Zell reached over and pressed the button for the elevator, while Antha held onto his other hand. Antha smiled nervously as she looked up.

"There's nothing for us to worry about. We've got Zell here with us. He's the best."

Zell blushed slightly, patting Antha on her shoulder affectionately.

The elevator door opened with a bing. The group filed in but Squall caught Rinoa's hand before she could follow.

"Are you sure, Rinoa, there isn't something you want to tell me?" he asked her. There was something in his voice, what was it? Suspicion?

She bit her lip. " . . .no. Nothing."

"Hey ya guys c'mon!" Zell yelled.

Squall gave her one last look before he stepped into the elevator. Rinoa crossed her right arm over her stomach and held her left one tightly.

The rings around her neck twinkled.

* * * *

The elevator door opened to a dark room, the only light came from behind the throne where the great witch sat. Beside her, was her white knight, who smiled in sadistic glee as the party stepped out of the elevator. Like a horde of lambs walking into a slaughterhouse, the band walked up to the demonic duo that sat across the small room.

"Oh you guys shouldn't have, " Seifer said, "I was gonna come visit you at my old home."he turned his eyes to Rinoa then who stood quietly, unobtrusively behind Squall.

"Ah, I see you have brought the black mercenary back, Angel. Well done Rinoa, you've just won the award for the most obnoxious backstabbing twit on the western continent."

"Shut up, Seifer!" Zell suddenly exclaimed.

"Why look it's the chicken shit. Looks like all of my old friends are here. I have a playmate for you and your friends." Seifer smiled as there came a sudden growl from the shadows. A monster with three heads appeared in the light. Antha screamed and ducked behind Zell. Looking over at Rinoa, Zell saw her firmly holding her ground.

"It's my guardian force, Cerberus, he's rather fond of thunder. Why don't you show them a few of your tricks, Cerberus?" Seifer said in a mocking tone.

Zell backed away as Cerberus suddenly lunged forward. Squall was about to go to his aid when Seifer attacked him.

"Would you like to see my new move Squall?" Seifer asked as he spun around sending a whirlwind of white wind shooting out of his gunblade. Rinoa raised her arm preparing to fight beside Squall when Edea suddenly caught her off guard with Maelstrom. It send Rinoa pivoting backwards and left her flat on her back. Squall raised his gunblade and blocked Seifer's attack, narrowly escaping the powerful Demon Slice.

Antha and Zell backed away from Cerberus as Irvine began to pump it full of bullets. Only a slight discomfort for such a powerful GF, Cerberus tripled himself and used thundaga.

"Show me what you've got!" Cerberus suddenly exclaimed from the head in the center.

"Dammit! It can talk?" Irvine said as he continue to riddle the thing with bullets.

Squall stashed Seifer across the chest with his gunblade drawing a shallow wound but it infuriated Seifer as he countered with a storm of blows.

Catching Seifer in a state of sloppy rage, Squall in a series of well timed attacks, managed to throw the blond warrior off his feet. Squall pricked Seifer in the throat with the end of his blade, seeing the battle was won until he heard something behind him.

"I see into your heart now, Rinoa and you are no longer mine. What is not mine must be destroyed."

"Noo!!! Edea please!" Rinoa screamed in fear as she brought her hands up to her face.

Edea had her right arm raised and floating above her fingertips was a huge icicle. There was no expression on Edea face as she launched the deadly glacier straight into Rinoa's chest. It impaled the dark haired sorceress and sent her careening across the floor, coming to a stop in a limp pile as she collided against the wall. Edea smiled suddenly.

"Odious traitor, adulterous wench, your weakness for mortal love was always your fatal flaw."

Squall ignored Seifer as he glared at Rinoa's limp body. The sorceress laughed her evil crackle as the floor opened and swallowed her up. Seifer disappeared into the shadows as he retreated. Cerberus vanished as well when his master abandoned the battle.

Selphie reached over to Rinoa's face and slapped her gently.

"Squall," Selphie said looking up sadly, "something is wrong, she's not waking up."

* * * *

Cid stood on the outskirts of Galbadia Garden when he saw the small party emerge from the entrance. The fog over the forest had settled after the long arduous battle. He had stood there anxiously awaiting the news of his wife and of his students for what seemed like hours. He rushed over to them as he caught sight of the band of warriors, returning from the battlefield.

As Cid came closer he saw Rinoa in Squall's arms. She laid unmoving, limp and still.

"Is she dead?" Cid asked as he looked at Squall's stone features.

"The sorceress got away," Squall reported with no emotion in his voice. "We failed." Holding Rinoa still he turned from the headmaster and began to walk away. Cid scanned the faces of his group members and saw them all look away as though not one of them knew what to say. Cid reached over and grabbed Squall's arm once more.

"Listen Squall, don't worry about the sorceress Edea we have more important matters to tend to. The sorceress Quistis is seeking out Ellone. We need to stop her."

Squall chuckled under his breath in a sound brimming with bitterness. "I don't even know where Ellone is. You won't even trust me with that. Well, if Quistis wants Ellone let her have Ellone. I don't give a damn."

"Get a hold of yourself Squall!" Cid said as he reached out to the boy. "Listen Squall, if Quistis gets her hands on Ellone there will be devastating consequences. You need to find Ellone then you must defeat Quistis. Only you can do this, only you alone."

Squall kept his eyes on Rinoa's serene face as he stood in silent contemplation.

"Leave me alone, headmaster. I never asked to have the burden of a world on my shoulders."

"Squall!" Cid yelled as he glanced down at Rinoa's sleeping form. "Squall," he said changing his tone. "Take her, Rinoa Heartilly, to Ellone, maybe Ellone can do something for her, change the past, undo whatever was done to her." After a moment of silence Cid spoke up again, in a grave remorseful tone, "I was wrong about the girl, Squall, Xu told me about how she came to your rescue when you were in trouble. I guess I misjudged her. Take her to Ellone, I'm sure things will turn out for the best."

After a period of perfect silence, finally Squall gave in.

"I'll take her to Ellone."


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