A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 13
By Kate Lorraine
"The only way into Esthar is through FH which is where we are now," Xu explained as they stood in the headmaster's office. "Since Ellone is in space, you need to pass through Esthar to get to the Lunar Gate, only there will you be able to get to the space station."
"Whose bright idea was it to send Ellone into space?" Irvine asked.
"Well," Cid said. "It seemed right at the time. Since the sorceress controlled Galbadia it seemed that the safest place to keep her would be somewhere off this planet."
"Dr. Odine agreed with us then but now .. . his superiors are putting pressure on him . ." Xu said.
"Pressure is not exactly the right word for it. But anyway, you need to get Ellone back to Garden so we can discuss our next course of action. But before then, Squall, you need to lead a small force to find Edea. She and Seifer were last seen on their way to Esthar. Should they make it to their destination, it could result in a complete collapse of our plan." Cid said.
Squall crossed his arms. "Why me? I don't understand."
"Well," Cid said. "You were the only one who could handle Seifer."
Squall looked away.
"Squall?" Cid asked.
Ignoring him, Squall walked out of the room. Cid shook his head.
"Should I go after him?" Xu asked.
"No," Cid said. "I'm sure he'll come around once we leave him alone for a while."
* * * * *
Squall stepped into the infirmary where Rinoa laid on the bed, her hands clasped on her chest as though she had shut her eyes to pray. Squall bent down beside her and watched her still form when a image flashed across his mind.
Flower petals brushed by his cheek across the Winhill bluff.
Don't ever forget
A glimpse of a pair of caramel eyes, red with tears.
what I show you now
Black hair as slick as an eel lifted and fluttered in the wind.
or it will end the same
Sobbing in the distance. Someone was crying out his name.
horrible way for you too.
But what had she shown him? He couldn't remember and if he didn't ever remember then would he now be walking straight into that same tragic end which she had so passionately warned him against?
Rinoa, I need to hear your voice.
I want to tell you about Winhill. About what happened fifteen years ago. This is a burden I can no longer bear alone.
Squall reached out and unclasped her hands from their place on her chest. For a moment he sat there in a daze and relished the irony that the first time he reached to hold her hand she could no longer hold his back. In an act of complete impulse he pulled her limp body to his side and placed her on his back.
Let's go Rinoa. Ellone will bring us together again.
He placed his hands under her thighs and supported her weight there. Her breasts pressed against his back as her chin found its place at the base of his neck. Her arms draped over his shoulders and her legs dangled at his side. He walked out of the Infirmary, avoiding the eyes of curious spectators as he made his way to the elevator. Her cheek brushed against his as he walked, warm and fleecy, as though she was nuzzling up against him in a lover's embrace.
Yet with every step he took, Squall realized that he was wandering farther and farther from his former ideal of goodness. Rinoa's loyalty might not have been completely sincere but in the end she was not the only one who wore a mask. It came to him, clearer and clearer as he walked that he was not the hero they took him to be. For so many years he had hid under a guise of goodness but in the end all it was, was a guise. Evil, blacker and thicker than hers lurked under the surface of his stony facade. Evil that was now about to be realized for the sake of selfish need.
To all those who are counting on me, I'm sorry.
When he stepped out of the elevator onto the second floor there were no more people. He was alone with his thoughts now, which could be more fearful than even the gossiping of the Garden students. For the last time he was disobeying Cid's orders. As a result of his actions there was a chance the world might be destroyed. It was a heavy decision that he made today, one which he had not decided based on careful thought but on sudden impulse.
The only sound was that of his heels clicking against the pastel floor and the gentle tap of her heel brushing against the side of his leg. He grew more resolved as he stepped out of Garden and into FH. What did the world mean to him anyway? He had no motive to save the blasphemous planet. Everything worth saving was either dead or dying. His mother, father, Quistis, Rinoa, not one of them would benefit from the living world should he succeed. Let the soldier with both parents, with the girl he loved waiting by his side, stretch his neck under the guillotine of heroism.
Meanwhile, on the other side of FH, Squall stepped onto the abandoned railroad. Cid's voice hung in his ear but he did not care. Like annoying fruit flies, he swatted them away. The world was full of problems and Cid's were but another sigh in the sea of groans. He would not be burdened with the world's troubles any longer.
"It's a bit far but we'll make it," Squall whispered into Rinoa's ear as he grew more resolved with each passing step. One day, not long from now, he wouldn't be alone anymore. For the first time in a long time, he began to hope for something better.
"Squall," someone called out behind him.
Squall turned, feeling Rinoa's legs swinging through the air at the sudden motion . She was truly nothing more than a ragged doll.
Xu took a few steps forward and clasped her hands in front of her.
"Are you leaving, Squall? Just like Seifer?"
"Why are you here Xu?" Squall asked suspiciously as he shifted Rinoa's weight on his back. He could feel her heart beating faintly as she pressed so tightly against him, as though she was secretly willing him to keep walking.
"I want to talk to you, Squall," Xu said. "Listen why don't you put her down and talk with me for a moment. We served together in SeeD for so long but you never said anything to me. There are things I've always wanted to tell you and I think this may be our last chance."
"I'm not going to stay for long," Squall replied bluntly.
"Squall, we've served on countless missions together. Like everyone else, I've always admired you, had faith in you. Now because I care, I just want you to think about what you are doing. If you walk out on Garden now there is a chance that you may never be allowed to return."
"There is nothing left here for me, Xu," Squall said as his tone grew slightly less malicious. "Garden has always been for me, just a means to an end."
"And this is the end?" Xu asked, desperately trying to win him back over. "Her? The sorceress? You should put some thought into this, Squall. We are all young and reckless at times. Squall, remember all the work we all put into Garden ."
"Go back to Cid, Xu," Squall replied curtly as he turned to leave.
Xu turned red as she suddenly grabbed his arm in anger.
"Why do you all say that? Cid, he is the headmaster, why is my loyalty to him so queer and strange to all of you? I want an answer from you Squall, now, because I know you."
"Know me?" he asked on the brink of fury.
She drew back in surprise and quickly rephrased her words.
"I know that you will not lie to me to protect my feelings. I want to know, now Squall. If you are going to abandon me at least give me this parting gift."
"Xu," Squall said, as he felt Rinoa's hair brushing against the back of his neck from the ocean's wind. It was comforting to have her here on his back. It was almost as though she was still standing behind him, ready, should he ever need her. Suddenly he was more resolved than ever to go to the Lunar Gate and this conversation with Xu was rapidly wearing down his patience.
"Xu, your loyalty to Cid is beyond what most of us would consider normal. What motive you may have for it I don't condemn because I've never cared."
Xu's lip trembled slightly. "I never had a father Squall. Cid was so kind to me. I wanted so badly for someone to love me but I was so afraid of falling in love with a man, a equal. I just wanted a father to stand over me and protect me from the rain. Do you understand Squall?"
"How do you manage Squall? Don't you ever wish you could find a substitute for the father you lost? Just as a confirmation that you can be loved. Our ideas of love between two equals stems from our impressions of that which our parents had with each other. I just needed to find a father who loved his wife unconditionally so that perhaps, I could believe that there was still such a thing as love. I wish you would say something Squall, anything at all."
"We all have our own problems, Xu." Squall replied finally. "I'm not the one for you to confide in."
Squall turned about and left. This time, Xu did not bid him to stay. She sat down beside the rail and stared blankly at the ocean, unable to believe that she had just tried to pour her heart out to him. But only then as she watched the salty sea ripple blue and green under the midday sun did she realize that it was all true.
She did not cry.
It was simply the way things were.
Getting up, Xu ran her sleeve over her eyes. They were wet. But she did not cry. Crying was for the weak, the feminine, the helpless. She was a SeeD. Her eyes were wet, but they were not tears. Her chest was burning but it was not sorrow. Her throat ached but it was not pain. She turned around and walked back to Garden, hugging herself, slouching over in a unconscious gesture of withdrawal. She had failed in her mission, Squall had gotten away, just like Seifer. The two most promising students of Garden both gone over to the other side. What a tragic irony. Garden did not only train SeeDs to fight sorceresses, it also trained knights to defend them.
Watching the sorceress Rinoa in Squall's arms she felt pity for him, for his sad delusion. It was not with envy which she felt this sensation in her chest, but sympathy. Not envy, not at all. That he had found the confirmation which she could not. That he had a purpose to his life whereas she had none. That he fought for a cause while she was the commander of dreamy nothingness.
She did not cry, did not feel anything, it was just a mission failed.
She felt nothing at all.
Reaching up, Xu wiped the warm salt water from her cheeks once more.
See? No tears.
* * * * * *
"They're gone!" Zell exclaimed as the small party entered Cid's office.
"Rinoa and Squall! both of them, kapoosh," Irvine said with a snap of his fingers.
Cid looked down and shook his head.
"I never thought that he would attempt something like this." Cid said with remorse.
"Should we go after them?" Zell asked. "C'mon we'd better hurry."
"No," Cid said. "He's taking her to the Lunar Base but they'll never make it to the space station. I am sure of it. There is no time for us to talk to Squall. Zell, take Irvine and Selphie to Esthar and defeat Seifer and Edea. Please, there is no time."
"Esthar?" Zell asked. "But it's like the 'silent country' no one has been in Esthar from the outside in ages."
"Yes yes," Cid said hastily. "But you'll find a way in, I'm sure. It's supposed to be huge."
Xu walked in then, slowly, as though she had been turned into wood.
"Hey Xu," Zell asked. "You okay? You look like you've been crying."
Xu turned to Cid.
"They got away, Squall and Rinoa. I couldn't stop him . .I failed."
Cid frowned and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"What's wrong Xu? Did someone say something cruel to you?"
Xu shook her head, vigorously. "No, I failed. . the mission .. .I'm a failure.. . that's all."
Cid hugged her than, the way a father embraces a grieving daughter.
"It's okay," he promised. "It's okay, my dear."
* * * *
Rinoa felt the sun on her face as Edea's spell began to weaken. The effects came and went, leaving her drifting in and out of sleep. Her limbs slept deeply, unmoving in a deathlike state, but her mind came and went. Dreams came, good and bad, drifting by her as she sailed past on the black river of unconsciousness. She heard his voice speaking to her as they walked, sometimes. The journey was long and she wondered where they were going, if he was really taking her where she needed to go. Yet somehow she didn't care.
At one point she felt the ground under her and the wind brushing past her throat. She was no longer on his back but that too was fine, although it was aberrant. For a moment she wondered if he had abandoned her, here, on some forsaken nomad's highway but soon it became clear that he was still nearby. Her head fell against the wall he had propped her against and she felt herself drifting beneath the dark sea once more. His voice came then, like light permeating her murky waters, a soft sound devoid of cynicism and malice.
"To tell you the truth I worry too much about what others think of me," he began. "I hate that side of myself."
Her wandering mind embraced his words, exploring every crease and crevasse. Her catatonic mind folded, tasted, pinched and pushed away the gentle sound that entered her ear. On the dark stage of her psyche, tingling with laced colors his words danced and bid her to follow. Through the bottomless sea his expressions brought her back and bid her to respond.
Squall, even through your joy I see your pain. I know that if I betray you this time, there will be no going back . . .because some things when broken, can never be whole again.
"Squall is an unfriendly introverted guy," he went on pouring out his heart to her, an adulterous wench, odious traitor, a sorceress incapable of mortal love.
You may be unfriendly Squall, but I am the Angel of Death, of destruction, of despair. I am Rinoa Heartilly, red eyed monster in the forest, the thing that goes bump in the night, the vampire with the long fangs
Rinoa felt her fingers ripple the silky surface of her black ocean. Her mind evaporated into the sky and was one with the rays of the sun. She wanted to go back into the recesses of her mind where her mother still sat at her piano and her father at his study. It was morning there, the smell of rose and wine in the air, where father's newspaper crinkled as he muttered under his breath about 'those damned rebels.' But Squall's voice pierced her illusion dragging her back into the present.
."It made it easy for me when people perceived me that way." He continued quietly.
How will you perceive me, Squall? When I betray you this time? Will you hate me when you finally see who I am behind my mask? Or worse yet, will you hate yourself for putting your sacred trust in me? Don't hate yourself Squall, I won't be able to live knowing that I shoved you back into the dark night for the last time.
"That's just a secret between you and me, got it?" He asked her.
Yes, just between you and me, my secret and yours.
* * * * *
"Zell! Look what you did!"Selphie exclaimed as she pointed at the sky. "You made a hole in the air."
"Whoa!" Irvine said as he scratched his head. "She's right Zell, how the hell did you do that?"
"Shut up!" Zell yelled, face reddening in embarrassment and fury. "I just reached over like this and - whoa!" Zell jumped back as a ladder suddenly flashed.
"There's something there," Antha muttered as she stepped forward and touched the same place Zell just had. A ladder to the hole in the sky appeared.
"Cool," Irvine said. "But where does it lead?"
"Well," Selphie said. "Since there is wasteland in front of us, in back of us, to the right of us . ."
"Okay! Okay!" Irvine exclaimed, shutting her up. "Let's climb the darn ladder already."
The group climbed the ladder and walked down the dark hallway. As they came out the other end a huge city appeared where the wasteland once was. It was the silent country, concealed cleverly by their advanced technology. However, by a stroke of luck, the group had stumbled upon it and thus revealed it to the world.
Looking over the huge city in awe, the four members stood frozen in place.
"How are we going to find Edea and Seifer here?" Irvine asked in disgust. "It will take forever!"
A futuristic ship suddenly appeared before them and an Estharian guard stepped out.
"You four will have to come with us," he stated.
* * * *
"Vat?" Odine asked. "You vant me to let ze boy and ze girl into space?"
Odine stood in the presidential office where the ruler of Esthar dwelled.
"Yes," her voice came from behind her seat near the window overlooking Esthar. "Let the sorceress Rinoa and her escort into space." Beside her right hand, a whip laid coiled upon her desk.
"I do not understand. If ze sorceress Rinoa gets to Ellone our plan . . . ."
"Silence!" Her voice came sharply. "You will do as I say, Odine."
Odine, scared speechless, nodded and left. As the door closed, the queen turned from her seat and stood up. She walked across the room to the set of security cameras hidden nicely by the folds of her wood cabinet. A smile grew across her lips as she tucked a strand of her blond hair behind her ear. Reaching up to the small screen she traced the fuzzy figure of Rinoa as she was carried into the Lunar Gate on the back of a dark haired boy.
"Sorceress Rinoa," the queen whispered. "Finally, I have you."
* * * *
Seifer watched his reflection in the window as he examined the large pastel city underneath him.
"I have a bad feeling about this," he whispered under his breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Edea sitting there with her eyes closed in quiet meditation.
"Who does he think he is keeping the sorceress Edea waiting?" Seifer muttered once more out of boredom and anger.
"A powerful sorceress," Edea replied. Seifer lifted his eyebrow in shock. He had not expected an answer.
"But you are the most powerful sorceress of all," Seifer replied.
"No," Edea said. "In my time I am the most powerful but here I am at the mercy of the sorceresses I inhabit. The weak ones come without a fight but the more powerful ones I can only possess with the permission of the possessed."
"So this president is the one you want to possess?" Seifer asked.
Edea chuckled. "Obedient knight, you must not ask too many questions."
"I don't understand," Seifer said as he turned from the window. "Why do we need his help? Rinoa will bring Ellone to us. What else is there to the plan?"
Edea opened her eyes and watched him. "Rinoa's loyalty may not last as long as you may believe."
"So why do you keep her around?" Seifer asked throwing his hands up. "Why make her your most prized companion when her loyalty is not sincere?:
"Because," Edea said. "Rinoa has my power. The power which I possess in my time. I passed it onto her fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago the mortal Rinoa defeated me with a boy named Loire. Rinoa's loyalty will only last until she finds this boy. Then I will no longer be able to control her."
Seifer chuckled. "What about Squall? So she will betray him too for this Loire boy?"
"As long as Squall Leonhart holds her interest she poses no threat to me. Or you for that matter." Edea said mockingly as though she knew Seifer no longer held Rinoa's heart.
"I don't understand, if this Loire kid is so dangerous why don't you find him and kill him?" Seifer asked.
"Why should I when he will show himself to Rinoa eventually?" Edea asked wearily. "What I know of the past I saw in her mind in Deling. I know no more, no less."
The door of the reception room opened suddenly and Seifer turned excepting to see a middle aged man walk in but to his surprise it was a girl, hardly older than himself. She wore a frown on her face as she walked in with two attendants. Edea stood up and nodded at her in greeting.
"The sorceress Quistis, a pleasure."
Quistis. Seifer could have sworn he had heard the name before . . somewhere.
Quistis eyed Edea with a mixture of contempt and haughtiness. She waved her hand and the attendants left her.
"You come seeking my help, Edea. It is not of my concern what your position in Deling is. I give my aid only to those whom I choose. This is my country, we are a peaceful people, we wish no alliance or conflict with Galbadia so state your mission and depart."
Edea frowned. She had not expected Quistis to be so hostile. The sorceress Rinoa had been easier to convert to her side.
"It is my understanding that a girl named Ellone is in your custody."
Quistis did not respond. She crossed her arms and was silent.
"That is not information which I can freely voice." Quistis said after a few moments.
"No," Edea said. "I know this for a fact. Thirteen years ago Adel unleashed a massive hunt for young girls in search of a successor. You were the successor she found but against Ellone you will always harbor a grudge because she was the one Adel really wanted."
"No," Quistis whispered bitterly. "You are wrong there Edea. I never wanted to be a sorceress. I do not begrudge Ellone. I will never allow her to fall into the hands of the likes of you. Although we are both sorceresses and we share a bond of amity, in my eyes my people come first and foremost. I will not allow you to have a weapon that will threaten the safety of those I rule over!"
Edea stared at Quistis with complete speechlessness. Finally her shock turned to malice as she began to speak once more.
"If you do not comply I shall destroy you and those you rule over when the time comes. You are a traitor to your own kind, Quistis. Adel was ten times the sorceress you are."
Quistis glared at Edea, her eyes flashing yellow but Edea was not frightened.
"Is that a threat Edea? Destroy me? With what? Your pathetic lapdog Rinoa Heartilly? I will crush her under my little finger. So send her if you wish. I will send her back to you in a urn."
"No," Edea whispered. "Rinoa Heartilly is nothing compared to the powers I shall use against you. Just wait, Quistis, you will be begging on your knees when your end comes."
Quistis threw back her head and laughed. She turned to the door where her attendants were waiting.
"Escort the sorceress Edea and her knight out of Esthar," she ordered. "Make sure they stay out."
* * * *
Quistis held her coiled whip at her side as she walked into her office. Sitting down at her desk, her attendant walked in. It was a Trepie, the nickname for one of those who were allowed in the presence of the President.
"Your Majesty," Daniel said bowing, "the bombs you ordered us to plant on Lunar space station number 1 are ready. The control panel has been activated. The sorceress Rinoa will be arriving on the station shortly."
Quistis sat down at her desk and nodded. She spun around and looked over Esthar. For a decade she had been hunting down powerful sorceresses and bringing about either a suppression of their powers or death if noncompliance was too great. Rinoa Heartilly had eluded her until a year ago when she became a menace to the world as Edea's assassin. As much as Quistis never planned to ally herself with the likes of the sorceress Edea, the sorceress's threats were not to be taken lightly. Her worries would be quieted after she eliminated Rinoa Heartilly and Ellone. Quistis nodded at her Trepie.
"Good work. Make sure our borders are protected from Galbadian attack should the sorceress become hostile. I will come to the control room as soon as Rinoa Heartilly boards the space station."
"Your Majesty, there are a group of SeeDs here .. from Garden. They are looking for the sorceress Edea."
Quistis frowned. "SeeDs? Well we might have some uses for them later. Occupy their time until the operation is over. If something goes wrong we might just need them."
Quistis folded her arms over her chest and pressed her back into the leather of her seat.
You are a traitor to your own kind.
Over the years she had made similar accusations to herself in her solitude yet now as she looked over Esthar, her grand empire, those words were but dim echoes in the recesses of her mind. She wondered what Adel would do, if she would have made a similar choice. But as she mulled over that scenario, Quistis realized that she could never be Adel. All that mattered right now were her people, they were like her children whom she had to shield from harm. Great powers are useless if they are used to contribute to death and destruction. No we have missiles and guns to kill just fine already, we don't need sorceresses to contribute to it.
Since she had received them, Quistis has used her abilities to help, heal and comfort. She wandered among her people in disguise so often, secretly rewarding the noble and helping the sick that she had been nicknamed the silent queen. Queen Quistis, the silent monarch of the silent country. It was fitting.
Yet Quistis always knew that deep within her laid an awesome potential for complete devastation. It was that part of herself that she channeled into this great hunt for sorceresses. She was no longer the silent queen as she flew over the shadow cloaked landscape in pursuit of the witches with wild hair that plagued others with suffering. She was something else - the red scorpion. She did not appreciate the nickname but like the silent queen, it stuck. They called her that for the way her rose colored dress appeared scarlet as she chased in hot pursuit and sometimes, how the blood of the dead witch dripped onto her dress coloring it red. It was hard to imagine sometimes as she killed that she was still the kind hearted Queen Quistis, the one that attended weddings and clapped as the newly wed couple danced the waltz, the one that placed flower garlands on the heads of angelic babies, the one that guarded her empire with increasing passion year by year.
No one in the empire admitted to knowing the features of her face yet every citizen knew her form. They knew it was her when a hand reached out in the winter frost to satisfy the needy, when a mysterious stranger stopped to sit beside the downcast, when a compassionate woman bent down beside an orphan child and asked him if he missed his mother.
Sometimes during celebrations she could be recognized by the coiled whip she carried at her side. The slave driving tyrant, she jokingly called herself yet that whip would decay from lack of use if she did not use it to dance. Sometimes, her citizens would humor her at parties as they begged the mysterious lady in red to step onto the stage and perform a ribbon dance with her slaying tail. With a blush on her face, the queen happily stepped into the spotlight and twirled with her swirling leather strip.
"Look at the talented young whipper snapper," the old men joked secretly knowing behind their twinkling eyes that it was the queen that entertained them.
To which other old men would reply,
"Kids these days. Got too much free time on their hands." then all the elders would burst out laughing at their secret joke as the rest of the audience shouted for an encore, to which Quistis usually agreed until she grew so weary she begged the audience to give another talented youngster a chance. As she stepped off the stage young teen boys, high on puppy love, always swamped her with roses. She made their hearts flutter in their chests as they laid their fond eyes upon the exquisite young queen. Although they would never break the unspoken pact shared by every citizen in the country and identify her as the queen, they always sent the roses out to 'her majesty' and signed it 'a closet Trepie always, love John' or Simon or Seymour.
To say that Quistis was loved by her people was the understatement of the century. Her wisdom, compassion, fairness was elevated to a godlike status as she played the role of a mother, mentor, idol, daughter, savior for every man women and child in her country. All of which she did if not in person then in symbol.
Yet today she was not the silent queen, she was the red scorpion. Her face was lit up by the eerie blue reflection of the monitor of her spying camera as she watched the launcher from Lunar Gate shoot the bullet shaped capsules up to the Lunar base. The sorceress Rinoa and Ellone were together, a push of a button and they would both perish. Two ogres taken down by one explosion. The silent queen's people would sleep through one more epic battle for their well being.
"The sorceress Rinoa has entered the Lunar base, your majesty." a Trepie informed her respectfully.
Quistis waved her hand, dismissing him.
* * * *
Squall Leonhart stirred as he began to wake from deep sleep. There was a light on somewhere, he turned over to reach for his jacket when he realized suddenly that he was not in his bed in the garden dorm. With a sudden surge of embarrassment he bolted upright and squinted in the bright room. It was the Lunar base, or so it seemed.
"You are awake, Mr Leonhart," someone said happily.
Squall turned his eyes, adjusting to the light as he saw a blond man in a white lab coat standing at the entrance of the room. The man smiled warmly and knelt down beside Rinoa who laid on her side, hair open behind her like a fan as she slept soundly on the cold floor.
"Wow she's a cute one. Young too. How old is she seventeen?" The man asked, "by the way, my name is Piet, this is the Lunar Dock."
Squall got to his feet feeling a bit woozy from the unnatural sleep. He gruffly picked Rinoa up and placed her on his back once more.
"Don't touch her," he ordered Pete or whatever his name was.
"Alright alright," Piet said in exasperation. "So possessive. Well come this way, the Med Lab is this way."
* * * * *
"The escape pods have been sealed." the young attendant informed Quistis as he gestured to the control panel. On the monitor was a display of cameras showing different angles of every inch of the Lunar pod. Quistis sat down and placed her whip by her side. She turned her eyes to the monitors, the one of the med lab catching her eye. She saw Rinoa Heartilly being placed in the casket like bed where she laid unmoving. The girl was young, Quistis noticed, almost the same age as herself.
"When you give the order, we'll detonate the bombs," the attendant continued. "There will be a half an hour countdown before the space station is blown to smithereens. There is no possibility of escape."
Quistis nodded as she sat back. She knew that if she wanted to give the order now would be the time. But there was something nagging her at the edge of her mind.
"Daniel," she said quietly. "What is the minimum number of people needed in the station for us to complete our plan?"
"Five," Daniel said. "But surely -"
"Evacuate all but five," Quistis ordered.
"But-" Daniel said.
Daniel nodded and left to report the latest update on her orders.
Quistis watched the screen wondering which five pitiful souls would be the ones to go down with the sorceress. Her eyes lingered on the face of the sorceress's dark haired escort. Was he the sorceress's knight? She wondered. He looked familiar yet she couldn't quite put her finger on where she had seen him before. She drew her eyes away and watched Rinoa some more.
Sorceress, you have only a few moments left to live.
* * * * *
Squall reluctantly left Rinoa in the Med Lab and he wandered through the space station, up the stairs to find Ellone. The space station, for some odd reason, had an amazingly spare number of personnel aboard.
"She's at the end of the hall, last room." one of the technicians told him as he gestured to the large sliding doors.
Squall nodded and continued to walk. He wondered if there was something he should say to Ellone. Something that a normal tactful person would say. Something that showed her that he was not full of malice
Anything he held in his mind vanished as he caught sight of Ellone sitting by her bed, green shawl wrapped around her bare shoulders, looking completely forlorn. He took a loud step so that she would notice that he was here.
"Squall," she said with a bittersweet smile. "I had no idea that you would come."
Squall shrugged nonchalantly, brushing off the greeting.
"Ellone, there is someone I want you to meet." He began, regurgitating the words like glass shards. "Perhaps you could be of some help."
"It's Rinoa Heartilly isn't it?" Ellone asked. "You brought her here so I could change the past and bring her back to you. You don't have to say anything, I know it all. Cid told me."
Squall scowled yet he kept his fury in check.
"Squall," Ellone began again. " I know you feel animosity for what the world did to you but is this the only way for you to find your peace?"
"Will you do it or not Ellone?" Squall snapped. "We are not here to study my motives. I'm just here to ask a favor, if you refuse, I will leave. Don't make it more complicated than it is already."
"Squall!" Ellone scolded. "Don't do this to me. You always leave me in the dark when it comes to your emotions. I just want to understand. Please. Does this have to do with Qusitis, Raine, Laguna? I just want to know."
Squall stood rigidly with his arms across his chest. All vows of tact were forgotten as he began to speak again.
"I'm not asking you to do anything Ellone. Just walk with me, down the stairs."
Ellone stood up and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
Squall opened the door for her.
"I'm sure Ellone that if you just come with me, things will turn out alright. This has nothing to do with your morals."
Ellone watched him for a moment. What was it that she felt? Fear? Fear for what? Him or herself? Or maybe it was for the entire space station as something felt completely aberrant. As she walked down the abandoned dim hall, watching the stars float in the black soup outside the window, she felt as though she saw the reflection of the grim reaper looking back at her in the glass.
"Squall," she whispered in one last desperate attempt to get him to open up to her.
He ignored her as he walked swiftly ahead.
When they stepped off the stairs, Ellone heard someone behind her.
"Wait Squall, come over here for a moment," Piet beckoned.
Squall saw Piet standing stiffly at the door to the control room, a look of desperation on his face. What did they want now? Glancing at Ellone he motioned for her to follow.
As he stepped into the room he saw a look of fear across the faces of the five crew members present.
"This timer," one of them said, "it just started ticking. You're part of SeeD right? Can you deactivate it?"
Squall knitted his brows as he walked over to the timer. There was less than twenty minutes left on it. He glanced around the room.
"Are you sure you didn't activate this by accident?" he asked.
Piet nodded. "None of us have any idea what that timer is for. I would ask the captain of the station but he mysteriously disappeared a few moments ago. I'm sure it's nothing important .. Probably by the time it comes to zero some alarm would go off or something . .but."
"Well," Squall said. "If you are sure it is nothing then why are you wasting my time with it?" he asked with malice twisted in his voice. Yet looking at Piet's face Squall knew he suspected that it was more than nothing but frankly at the moment Squall couldn't care less. He wanted to bring Ellone to Rinoa. Even if the damned timer triggered a damned bomb he didn't really give a damn.
"Come on Ellone, let's go to Rinoa." he said motioning for her to leave.
But that was when someone answered.
"No Squall, it won't be necessary to come to me . . .because I've come to you." Rinoa stepped out from her place behind Ellone at the door. She reached over and grabbed Ellone and dug her fingernails into Ellone's neck.
Rinoa knew that she would never forget the look on Squall's face as she said those words. The other people in the room saw a boy falling back a few steps and his mouth opening in surprise. But not Rinoa. She saw something break within him. She saw this thin candle of hope she had so carefully lite within him, snuffed out and stomped on. It was over. Everything.
You're the best looking guy here. Dance with me?
"I'm sorry Squall," Rinoa whispered as she pulled Ellone back, backing towards an escape pod. She raised her palm and cast Blizzara on the crew members in the room. They screamed in pain as the ice froze them in place but Squall didn't make a sound. He just stood there as the ice snaked up his legs. Stood there, staring. Unable to understand what was happening before his eyes.
Let me guess . . you will only dance with someone you like.
Rinoa felt tears of fury in her eyes. Stop it! Yell at me, curse at me, tell me that you despise me just stop looking at me that way. . .please stop. I can't stand it. She dug her fingers deeper into Ellone's soft neck, making her cry out in pain.
"If anyone tries to follow me they will die!" she declared in a loud voice. The crew members stared at her in fear as her eyes flashed yellow.
"A sorceress!" they gasped in terror.
Rinoa pulled Ellone onto the elevator to the escape pod. She looked at Squall only once more catching one last sight of his face. It was strange. He had exactly the same expression on his face that he had on the night of the dance, which was absolutely nothing. Complete blankness. Complete emptiness. Complete void.
Look into my eyes
Rinoa shoved Ellone onto her knees as the elevator descended into the depths of the base.
"Try to escape and I'll kill you, bitch." Rinoa admonished.
You're going to like me. You're going to like me.
Rinoa grabbed Ellone by a handful of her hair and pulled her back onto her feet as the elevator came to her destination. She dragged Ellone across the room and threw her into one of the escape pods. Rinoa stepped in and pulled the lever for the door to fuse to a close and for the pod to be released into space. As they began to drift through the endless darkness, Rinoa knelt down and ripped open the control panel for the pod. She began to rewire the communication system so that her pod could not be tracked by the mother ship. Yet as she worked she began to cry. Large watery tears slid down her cheeks without permission. Oh how she hated herself for being so weak. She was a sorceress. Sorceresses don't cry. Wasn't it how the old story went that witches couldn't cry because the water would dissolve their flesh and kill them? She felt her tears burn into her cheeks now. Perhaps the old stories were true. Oh how she wished they were true.
I can't dance.
"Rinoa," Ellone said with panic in her voice.
"Shut up!" Rinoa snapped. Yet as she looked at Ellone's face she saw a look of terror beyond comprehension. Rinoa turned her tear stained face to the window at the top of the pod where she could see the Lunar Space Station drifting peacefully.
Before her eyes, the mother ship exploded. It erupted in a fireball of colors as bright as the sun. Shrapnel scattered in every direction like in a ring of wheezing bullets. The Lunar Space station was nothing but glowing dust floating in space, now. All reduced to dazzling crystal shards that lingered in the darkness like tiny stars.
Squall, he was nothing more now than beautiful glitter.
Come on, you'll be fine.
But he wasn't.
She had broken her promise. He would never be fine again.
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