A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 15
By Kate Lorraine
The fairies brought her ev'ry gift,
'Cept one who told a tragic doom
None could lift.
When fifteen summers she had passed,
This wicked witch a deep, deep sleep
O'er her cast.
-Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose)
Written By: Winifred M. Stevens
Music By: Unknown
Adapted By: Terry Kluytmans
"Seifer!" Raijin called out as he and Fujin ran after the blond boy.
"What do you want?" Seifer asked, glaring viciously as he turned around. He threw his short hair back but it only served to sent a small sprinkle of dust from his blond locks. Dirt, it covered him all over.
"Don't do this Seifer," Raijin said. "It's over, ya know. This is just wrong."
"Shut up!" Seifer exclaimed as he slashed the air wildly. "Don't tell me what to do. I'm no one's slave!"
"Seifer," Fujin finally spoke up, and stepped forward despite being dangerously close to his zone of attack. "You are being her slave right now and you can't even see it. If you do this the world will end."
"This is my dream," Seifer replied. "This is it. What do you know about me?" he asked with wild fire in his eyes.
"You told me before Seifer that you wanted a posse," Fuijin continued undeterred. "Well I'm trying to do that for you now, you will regret this Seifer, the same way you regretted Rinoa Heartilly. Listen to me, please."
He laughed sarcastically.
"Squall Leonhart, I want his blood. That's my dream."
Fujin sighed and shook her head.
"What a petty dream for the likes of you."
"It's been fun," Seifer replied with a bitter wave of his hand as he left for Lunatic Pandora. Finally they would have Ellone. Finally, time compression will begin. Finally he will have revenge.
"It's no use," Raijin muttered as he tugged at Fujin's arm. "Let's go."
She shook him away and stood still, waiting, for a man who would never return.
* * * * *
Rinoa woke up when she felt sunlight on her face. She smiled as she opened her eyes and pulled her cheek from its nook on the shoulder of the seat. Looking over she saw Squall piloting the Ragnarok. She placed her hands on her hips and stretched all while yawning. Drowsily she leaned toward Squall.
"It's nice waking up beside you," she remarked. She looked out the window and saw miles of glittering sea pass below. Somehow the ocean never looked so blue, so beautiful, so pure. The sunlight reflected off the window of the Ragnarok into a thousand colors glowing brilliantly like the shards of a rainbow. So many colors she had never seen before.
He frowned but she had grown so used to such that it almost looked like a grin.
"You should put your seat belt on," he said quietly. "We'll be there soon."
"You can't smile can you?" She asked playfully.
"What?" he asked as though he didn't hear her right.
"I dare you," she said leaning over and tugging him gingerly on his loose leather belt. "Just once, smile. I don't believe you are capable of it."
He shrugged. "I'm not."
Rinoa pouted and sat back into her seat in a gesture of frolicsome dejection.
"How about it Squall?" She asked, suddenly regaining some of her good humor. "I bet I can get you to smile . .someday."
"Whatever," he said without looking at her.
"And if I do, you have to kiss me."
"And if you fail?" he asked wearily playing along.
"Then I'll kiss you." She said mockingly.
"Sounds like I lose either way." He said under his breath.
She giggled cheerfully for a few moments before she grew serious she saw the first sight of land. Reaching up, she clasped her hand around the double rings at her throat and thought back to her father's words.
"Do you think, Squall that perhaps once upon a time, my mother sang Eyes on Me thinking of your father? Maybe he even heard her play the piano before he died. And maybe, just maybe she enjoyed playing it for him as much as I enjoy playing it for you."
"I doubt it," he replied.
Rinoa shrugged. "It's just a thought Squall." As she allowed her imagination to wander she felt a measure of peace. It was strange how one could change so much overnight.
"I haven't been in Winhill for fifteen years," he remarked quietly as he prepared to land on the grassy bluffs. "I've seen it in my dreams but this is . .. ." he trailed off as his eyes wandered along the wide stretch of the empty grass as though he saw a drama playing out where she saw only wind.
"Squall," Rinoa asked. "What exactly happened here fifteen years ago?"
After a moments hesitation he spoke.
* * * *
Zell stood in the reception room in Esthar pacing back and forth. He jammed his hands deep into his back pockets as Antha sat nearby frowning wearily as though she was about to fall asleep. Selphie sat near the window, looking out over the expanse of Esthar, she smiled wistfully now and then as though she was dreaming of a better place. Irvine drifted in and out of sleep under his wide hat. They had been waiting here for hours with no sign of anyone.
"Stop pacing, Zell," Antha begged softly.
"Are they going to keep us waiting up here forever?" He asked angrily.
"Guys," Selphie interrupted suddenly "I hear something . .footsteps?"
Irvine chuckled as he lifted his hat. "Lookie here, Sefie is hallucinating."
Just then the door to the room opened. Selphie gave Irvine a cocky look.
It was Dr.Odine that walked in, with two attendants by his side.
"You SeeDs vant ze sorceress Edea?" he asked. "Ze Sorceress Edea iz in Galbadia," he said.
"Damn!" Zell yelled as he slammed his fist into the floor.
"We've waited here forever and that's all you give us?" Antha said in equal fury.
"Vait! Vait!" Odine yelled as he held up his hands in defense. "I have news on your friends."
"Squall and Rinoa?" Irvine asked as he sat up looking interested.
Odine looked utterly frustrated and began stuttering uncontrollably as one of the attendants stepped forward.
"The sorceress Rinoa has taken your friend," he said. "My name is Daniel, attendant to the President. She is concerned about the welfare of Garden. So she sent me to -"
"Wait a second!" Zell interrupted. "Rinoa has Squall? That means Rinoa is out of her coma right?"
The attendant scowled. "Yes. The sorceress has taken your friend hostage. She stole the spaceship Ragnarok and she has disappeared. The president wants me to inform you that the sorceress has deceived you all. We have already contacted your superiors at Garden."
"What? Deceived us?" Antha asked in surprise.
The attendant shook his head, "would you please let me speak?"
"No!" Antha exclaimed as she suddenly grew assertive. "I don't believe you. You are a liar. Rinoa would never deceive us. She's on our side."
Zell nodded affectionately at Antha.
"Do you have any proof of what you say?" Irvine asked.
"You don't believe me?" Daniel asked in shock. "You SeeDs are hopeless, this is a act of courtesy on part of the president. You ungrateful imbeciles!" he scolded but promptly stopped as he saw Zell shaking with fury. Irvine looked like he was about to grab him by the throat as well.
"Wait," someone said at the doorway.
The group turned their eyes to the feminine voice.
"Perhaps you would be more willing to believe what I say," she said as she walked in with her regal gown trailing after her. The group was silent as they watched the queen walk in. Her face was powdered white, hair done up into a crown on her head with a heavy jeweled headpiece weighing it down. Holding a gold whip in her hand, she gracefully walked in and motioned for Daniel to step aside.
"The sorceress has clouded your eyes with her lies," the queen said emotionlessly. "She feigned a coma so that your friend would foolishly bring her to Ellone. She wants Ellone to achieve time compression so that she can aid her mistress the sorceress Edea to take over the world. The whereabouts of Ellone are not known as of now but as long as the sorceress remains at large we are all in danger."
"No," Antha whispered as tears came into her eyes. "How could she?"
Zell was about to speak up in rebuttal but was silenced by a glance from the queen's commanding eyes. There was not a word in the room as the party took in the words of the queen. Her voice was so authoritative that they had no choice but to believe every syllable that slipped past her sharp pale lips.
The queen turned, allowing her flamboyant cape to arch the floor as she stepped in front of Daniel. Daniel looked up from his position on one knee as he raised the bracelet he held in his right hand up to her fingers.
The queen handed the jeweled bracelet to Irvine. She did not meet his eyes as she did so. The queen never looked into the eyes of her subjects, she was far too high and mighty to suffer such an insult.
"Take this back to Garden and place it on the sorceress Rinoa. Only after you place this upon her will this precarious situation pass."
She turned and left, with her attendants following hastily behind her. All except for Odine who looked at the SeeDs with a frustrated expression.
"Ze sorceress, ze SeeD, it's all von mess."
Then he left too.
Zell wrapped his arms around Antha who was crying. She buried her face into his strong shoulder as he whispered some sweet nonsense into her ear.
"Don't cry," he bid her. "I'm sure we'll find them."
"Antha," Irvine said as he pocketed the bracelet. "The important thing is that they are okay and that Rinoa's back. I'm sure they just went somewhere to hide from that bitch of a queen."
Antha smiled at his use of profanity and sniffed, swallowing her tears.
"Yeah," she whispered. "Let's go find them."
Zell squeezed her shoulders and the four teens slowly walked out of the reception room to be escorted out of Esthar by the guards at the door.
* * * * * *
It was like a vision from a dream. He stepped out of the Ragnarok and breathed in the familiar scent of his dreamworld. Beside him Rinoa stood patiently laying her eyes on the field of grass. So this the place that destiny took place. She took a few steps forward and glanced back at him. He was watching the bluffs without moving, frozen in place by both his nocturnal acquaintance as well as the alien quality.
"Come on, Squall," Rinoa whispered. "Let's go."
He ignored her so she smiled playfully and grabbed his hand.
She tugged him with her onto the bluffs until the Ragnarok was the size of a grasshopper in the distance and they stood surrounded by grass all around. He walked about absently kicking a few tufts of grass with the tip of his boot.
"I don't know what I came here to find, Rinoa."
"It doesn't matter. Perhaps we came here to find out what we are to be looking for," she said.
He scanned the horizon. "I always saw my father's grave in my flashbacks. I don't see it anywhere."
"Well let's go find it, it must be here somewhere." She said with an unusual lightness to her voice.
Squall squinted his eyes. Was it just the sun that was making him dizzy? The world begin to spin before his eyes and he heard a ringing in his ears. He stumbled forward and fell onto his side.
"Squall?!"Rinoa asked with fear in her voice and she bent down beside him and turned him over, cradling his upper torso in her lap. "Are you in your dreamworld again Squall?" she asked trying to mask the alarm in her words. As soon as she asked the question she realized how utterly ridiculous it was. If he was in the dreamworld he surely wasn't going to answer. That was when she felt it too. Dizziness. The fields were spinning round and round like a merry-go-round.
"No," she whispered as she collapsed on top of him.
* * * * *
* * * * *
"Hi, I'm Julia Heartilly," the dark haired woman beside him said. She gestured to him " my husband and my daughter." Squall looked and saw his mother standing in front of him. In her arms was a tiny two year old boy who was eyeing the curious couple with interested blue eyes.
(It's another flashback) Squall thought to himself as he caught sight of the little girl in his arms. She was sucking her thumb making tiny sounds as she contentedly rested her cheek against her father's chest.
(I'm general Caraway) Squall realized in alarm.
"Who's the little gentleman?" Julia asked smiling.
Rinoa felt her mouth move as she watched her mother lean towards her.
(What is happening?!) She wondered in dismay. Yet she felt a measure of comfort as she saw her father standing before her with her younger self in his arms. Her mouth started moving and she realized that she had no control over the body she inhabited.
"This is my son, Squall. Squall, say hello."
Rinoa realized that her arms were moving as she altered her grip on the tiny warm body pressed against her side.
"Hello," a tiny voice said beside her. Rinoa felt a tickling sensation in the back of her neck as his tiny fingers tugged at the collar of her sweater.
(Stop it Squall!) But of course he did not hear her.
Across the way, Rinoa watched her mother grab the dark haired girl from her husband's arms.
"Rinoa, say something,"
"Mommy, his eyes are on me." the little girl replied. Rinoa could feel herself trying to suppress a chuckle, not that she could have laughed even if she wanted. She realized that she was in Squall's mother's body. How odd.
Squall felt his arms move as General Caraway reached over to receive baby Rinoa from Julia. General Caraway began to walk away towards the horizon as he held Rinoa close to him. He hummed a tune under his breathe as he walked.
A purple cloud appeared on the bluff. It just seemed so wrong it was surrealistic. The general froze with shock as a witch attacked him. Baby Rinoa screamed and began to holler. From across the bluff, Julia began to run towards them.
"Get away from her witch!!" Caraway yelled as he shoved the sorceress back. Inside of the general, Squall felt the man's desperation as he shoved the fiery sorceress away from the soft bundle in his arms. Rinoa continued to scream making her difficult to hold. In irritation, the sorceress raised her clawed hand at the general and lifted him off his feet without touching him. He was thrown onto his back on the bluff but he held tight to his daughter.
The sorceress walked closer. A frown on her lips as the long tentacles slithering off her crown blew in the wind. She was stumbling, dying, slowly, ready to pass on her power but she needed to pry the child away first.
She raised her arm once more and suddenly Squall felt a sharp stab of pain in his chest, the general's chest. It was as though someone had grabbed a handful of his heart and was squeezing the living life out of it. The general choked in pain but pressed his daughter to himself tighter still.
"Stop it! Stop!" Julia yelled as she tried to attack the sorceress but she was promptly knocked off her feet and dropped a few feet away. She moaned, trying to recover from the harsh fall. Squall felt his head twist to Julia as the general watched his wife across the bluff. Someone was choking his heart, ripping the flesh off of it.
Squall felt as though he was about to breathe his last when suddenly an entity came to his rescue. A blue flash across the meadow as a young girl with dark hair rammed herself into the sorceress, knocking her back, releasing the general from death's claws.
Rinoa from the future.
* * * *
Across the bluff, Raine turned to go after Julia when a figure grabbed her arm. Inside Raine, Rinoa desperately scanned the horizon searching for her father. She was as shocked as Raine when the figure grabbed her. Fearing a similar fate for herself and her child, Raine instinctively drew back and prepared to run.
"Mother," he said as he frowned at her. Raine hugged her infant son against her breast as she stared at the mysterious figure who looked so very familiar. Although Raine did not recognize him, the Rinoa inside her did. It was the Squall from the future. Funny he looked just like her Squall - exactly the same, scar and all.
"Squall?" Raine asked suddenly as the realization came to her. She stepped forward, trying to calm her child into desisting his cries. "Squall," she whispered as she stepped closer. "It really is you."
She reached out to touch him when he turned his eyes away from her and to the horizon.
"A girl, mother," he said breathlessly. "Did you see a girl in blue?"
Raine shook her head.
* * * * *
The Rinoa from the future attacked the sorceress in red.
"But we defeated you .. " Rinoa said in disbelief as the sorceress cast holy on her, throwing her back.
"A sorceress, must pass on her powers." The sorceress whispered as she collapsed to her knees. Her crown of tentacles slipped her head as she reached for the infant girl.
"No!" Rinoa yelled as she placed herself in between her father and the sorceress. "You will not pass on your powers to me. It's Edea whom you must find . .you can't change the past this way!" Rinoa yelled in fury.
The sorceress smirked wickedly underneath her frightful exterior.
"This time, Rinoa," she hissed. "This time he will never find you. A sorceress I will make you. A sorceress you shall be when he meets you, a sorceress forever onto death. Will he love you now? Will you defeat me this time?"
"NO!" Rinoa screamed as she held her weapon up ready to shoot it at the sorceress. It was like the pinwheel, except covered in white feathers like a circle of angel wings.
"I won't let you change the past," Rinoa said as she scanned the horizon for Squall. He was nowhere to be seen.
Holding his chest in pain, Caraway crawled back onto his feet. Trying his best to quiet the sobbing infant Rinoa, he ran over to Julia.
The sorceress chuckled wickedly falling into a laughing fit. "Where is he, Rinoa? Gone like feathers in the wind. Kurse you and your worthless ideals of love."
"He's here!" Rinoa yelled in effort to convince herself that he would come to her rescue. "He will come. I know he will. He'll know what to do."
The sorceress laughed and in a sudden motion lunged for Caraway. Rinoa was slow to react and once she turned she came face to face with Hell's Judgement which left her barely on the brink of consciousness.
"Rinoa!" Caraway hollered in concern as he watched the older version of his daughter lie limp on the ground. "You bitch!" Caraway swore as he attacked the sorceress with his fists. She swatted them away like flies and yanked the infant from his arms. Finally across the plain, a dark figure appeared. Squall. Too late.
The red energy from the sorceress went like a pulsing stream of flames into the infant girl. She screamed at the top of her lungs as the power burned her innards, changing her permanently from mortal to witch. The child screamed and screamed, the sound vibrating across time to the present because even as the screams stopped pouring forth from her mouth, there was always something deep inside of her hollering.
"Witch," Squall swore as he lifted his gunblade to the sorceress's throat.
"Too late," she said laughing. "Too late SeeD, you kame too late."
Squall turned his eyes to the tiny girl, as she cried herself to sleep. Her hair flared with red energy as her hands clenched in rage. She was a sorceress all right, a damned powerful one too. She was right .. .he had come too late. Far too late.
"You failed her, SeeD." The sorceress said, mocking him. "Lookk at your handiworkk. I have won even though I lost. Bekause love . .. it's nothing but poppykokk in the end." she laid down and laughed one final time as she drifted onto death. Her body turned into mist, the mist that spread over Winhill.
"Squall?" Rinoa whispered as she got to her feet from across the way. "Squall what happened?" she asked with desperation in her voice as she caught sight of his face. She batted away some of the mist across her face and reached out trying to touch him. He looked as though he was staring death in the eye. He stared at her with complete and utter surrender like he had finally been beaten.
"I failed you .. " he said as he looked down at the infant . .the sorceress infant.
"Squall . ." Rinoa moaned as she reached over to him. "I don't understand. .what do you mean?"
"I'm sorry." He whispered. The light faded from his eyes as he fell to his knees and then flat onto the ground. He landed with a gentle thud, hand across his chest, in the grass never to rise again. In complete and utter shock, Rinoa knelt down beside him. She cradled his limp body in her lap and bursted out in tears.
"No. Wake up, Squall. I forgive you . . .I forgive . ." She buried her face in his chest but he did not respond. The mist wrapped them in an envelope of white as the general scrambled to Rinoa's side. He stood there, watching his daughter mourn over the boy, standing in respective silence as Julia came to his and ..finally Raine.
Raine crumbled beside the body of her son and opened her mouth in shock. Tears came to her eyes within seconds.
"Is he dead?" she breathed incredulously, unable to accept that she had just watched her son die, that it was written in the stars for him to live such a short life and die for such a futile purpose. Oh surely this could not be. A mother should never outlive her child and at that moment her sorrow knew no bound. She reached over and clutched his hand, the alien hand of a stranger who was once her child and still was.
"How?" Raine asked but the real question was Why? And there was no answer to that question. Nothing which words could satisfy.
"Love. ." Rinoa whispered as she wiped her eyes. "Courage and friendship. To live you need all three. To go home . . .you can't fall into doubt .. "
"Rinoa," Caraway implored as he placed his hand on her slender shoulder but she swatted him away as though his touch contained the venom of a snake. She stood up, gravely, emotionlessly as though she had suddenly turned into a being of gears and screws instead of tears and anguish.
"Perhaps . ." she whispered. "There is still a way . . ."
Raine hugged Squall's body and pulled him onto her lap.
"What are you saying Rinoa?" Julia asked as she reached over to take her daughter's arm. Rinoa didn't shove her away like she did Caraway but her face still showed no emotion as she calmly watched the death before her.
"Maybe . .I can still . .save him . ." she uttered under her breath. Suddenly, she yanked her arm out of her mother's grasp and ran into the bluff. The two adults stared at her departure in confusion as the third slowly finished mourning over the motionless flesh of her child.
Yet inside Caraway, Squall watched her disappear into the mist. Only he knew where she had gone and how she planned to change the future. It was such a sad, pitiful attempt but she was obviously past desperation.
"Rinoa!" Caraway yelled as he say her reappearing in the mist. There was a tiny figure behind her, following her which the rest of the adults did not see, one which watched her as she stepped up to Squall's body.
"Rinoa," Caraway, implored once more as he reached over and grabbed her. "You know how to get back don't you. Will you be okay?"
Almost in a trace, she turned her eyes to him yet still she did not see him.
"I have nothing to return to .. no one to bring me back. He was all I had."
"Rinoa!" Julia snapped as she tried to scold some sense into her daughter but Rinoa ignored the both of them and knelt down once more beside Squall. She stroked his hair in a serene manner as she stared into his face.
"My love," she whispered as she kissed his cold lips. "Your doubt must claim my life as well as your own." Laying her cheek against his chest, she breathed her last and embraced death with both arms. The two lovers melted into air as Rinoa slipped out of life. Caraway reached down to grab her, to shake her back to life but all he caught was a handful of mist.
The silent mist over Winhill.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
The three SeeDs saluted as they walked into the Headmaster's office where Cid was standing beside Xu and Nida, the pilot.
"We have bad news," Irvine said.
Cid sighed and sat down. "I know, the sorceress Edea got away."
"Yes and,"Zell said as he looked down in shame. "Rinoa . .. she pulled a fast one on us, the queen claims. She was out to get Ellone all along." Zell looked away then, in complete dejection.
"But we don't know that until we find her," Irvine countered. "Squall and Rinoa are gone."
"Rinoa. . "Cid muttered and shook his head.
"Headmaster . . "Irvine began with uncertainty. "The Queen of Esthar she gave us something to restrain Rinoa with .. "
"Queen Quistis," Cid corrected, finally revealing the dark secret he had harbored for so many years.
He did not lift his head to see the shock on the faces of his students. Instead he kept his head down, watching the floor because he knew by the silence alone that there was no going back.
"Quistis has Ellone," Cid answered. "She will attempt time compression when the time is right. The sorceress Edea is doing the same. We need to prevent either of them from using Ellone for that dark purpose."
"Time compression?" Selphie asked. "What is that?"
"I'll explain later," Cid answered. "You need to find Squall first. Xu, tell them what Ellone told you."
"They're in Winhill," Xu answered softly. "The southernmost town on the Galbadian continent."
"I don't understand," Irvine said finally recovering from Cid's revelation. "Quistis . .that woman was Qusitis?"
"Yes," Cid answered. "We've been working with Odine for a long time but it turns out that his loyalty was not to be trusted. We handed Ellone right into the sorceress Quistis's fingers. You need to find Squall now."
The group understood by their headmaster's change in tone that this was urgent business.
They filed out grimly leaving Cid alone with Xu.
Just as Cid didn't believe that things could get much worse, Xu interrupted the silence.
"Headmaster, I want to resign from the position of commander."
* * * * * *
Squall woke up first from the dreamworld. He sat up from his lumpy bed on the bluffs surprised to find Rinoa's head against his chest. Strange, they were almost lying in the same position as their future selves or perhaps that was no longer the future but the present. He shifted her unmoving body and turned her so that she could lie face up in his lap. He looked up and scanned the endless bluffs that stretched to meet the sky in the distance like a grassy sea. He almost expected to see his mother and Julia standing there, still grieving over his pitiful mistake.
"Squall?" She asked.
He looked down and saw her waking from her unnatural sleep. Sitting up, she was in a daze from what she had just seen.
"I just had the strangest dream," she muttered. "I dreamed I saw myself as a useless twit."
"Was it here in Winhill?" he asked although he already knew the answer. "With our parents?"
She nodded and her mouth fell open. "You had the same dream? Wait, don't tell me that was the past!"
"It was," he replied tritely. Rinoa, I think I know now who killed your father. But he did not say a word. He reached over and took her by her slender wrist.
"I'm sorry . .. Rinoa . . for what happened to you."
She laughed bitterly and sarcastically. "Sorry? For the sins of your future self? That's ridiculous."
Although she laughed he saw the fear in her eyes. The truth was that he felt a similar terror in his own heart. He had always better at disguising fear than most. How soon was that future? A day? Two days? A week? The thing with destiny was that it was inevitable and immutable. He took his hand off her wrist suddenly as he felt the blood of her death staining his fingers.
"The future is now the present, Rinoa." he muttered as he looked away.
"No," Rinoa reached over with her hand and gently turned him by his cheek. He reached up with one hand trying unsuccessfully, unwillingly to push her away. "Squall, that's not our future. It's their's. I refuse to believe that it's the way things have to be for us as well."
He stood up and brushed himself off. Reaching over he pulled her to her feet. He squeezed her by the wrist and forced her to look into his face.
"The reason you couldn't find me," he began trying his best to comfort her. "Was because we hadn't made our promise yet."
"Our promise?" she asked brushing back a few strands of her dark hair.
" I'll be waiting here."
"Why?" she asked frowning, wondering what purpose he had in mind.
"I'll be 'waiting' here" he continued awkwardly tasting the unfamiliar words on his tongue.
"For what?" She smiled faintly as she began to realize what he meant. Yet she prodded him on because she wanted to hear it, needed to hear it.
"I'll be waiting . . . for you . . . so." But suddenly he felt a burst of resolve as he spoke. She was willingly to die for him so why was he so afraid of muttering a few tender words of support? The words were unfamiliar because he had never spoken them out loud before but surely she had heard them already, in the silent speeches that passed so often between them.
"If you come here you will find me."
"I promise." He said, sealing their pact.
She nodded knowingly.
"Alright, and in return I promise the same."
She leaned over and hugged him suddenly. Melting slightly he shyly drew his arms around her as well. He hoped she wasn't getting used to these spontaneous embraces, they made him uncomfortable . . . although not entirely in a bad way.
"We need to be getting back," he mumbled into her ear. She drew back and looked into his face.
"I'm afraid," she confessed unwillingly. "I like it better here," she said glancing around once more. "It's so quiet and peaceful. I could spend my whole life here."
"We'll come back." He agreed. "When this is over."
He tugged at her arm and motioned for her to follow him back to the Ragnarok.
They walked together back toward the Ragnaroak nd for once he did not walk in front while she followed. This time, he waited for her, and allowed her to walk beside him.
When they came closer to the dragon ship, Rinoa frowned into the distance and grabbed Squall's arm.
"There's something wrong." She said and wrinkled her nose.
"What?" He asked looking over the ship, seeing nothing suspicious.
"We're not alone. I feel people close by."
He nodded and drew his gunblade. The two walked closer cautiously fearing the worst. For a moment he expected to see the purple cloud appear and replay the tragedy upon the bluff.
He was wrong. As they came closer he caught sight of four teens standing in confusion, watching the ship.
Rinoa must have seen it too because she ducked behind him, as though she was trying to hide herself behind him.
Selphie was the first to catch sight of him.
"Squall!!" She hollered in glee and began to jump up and down clapping. Irvine smiled as Zell punched the air.
Squall came closer with Rinoa trailing reluctantly behind.
"How did you find us?" He asked, eyeing the SeeDs.
"Ellone," Irvine replied. "She managed to contact Xu who told us to come here to find you. Ellone's in trouble Squall."
Squall shook his head, "Ellone's always in trouble."
"Rinoa?" Antha asked but trailed off.
"Yo Rinoa," Zell said finishing the sentence for his lady love. "What's this we hear about what happened up in the space station?"
"A misunderstanding," Squall replied, speaking up for her for once, perhaps for the first time. "It's nothing."
"No," Rinoa said as she stepped forward unwilling to allow him to smooth over this gorge of shame for her. "I betrayed you all. I've been lying since the day you met me. I'm Ultimecia's spy.
It was all a plot to get Ellone. I was never really in a coma."
There was complete silence within the group. Antha stood with her arm frozen in midair as her face turned to stone. Selphie frowned and mulled over her words. Irvine merely tightened his gripe on his gun as he contemplated how badly he was fooled. Zell meanwhile appeared to recover the fastest as he had recovered in FH when he first found out she was a sorceress.
"Yo Squall," he said. "I'm sorry."
Squall shrugged, realizing suddenly that Zell was looking at him with sympathy for Rinoa's betrayal.
"It was just a matter of time before she came to." He said trailing off, realizing what a love sick fool this made him look like in their eyes. "You won't understand even if I told you," he said after a few moments. "She's not a threat to us, she never was." He continued in broken speech as it was completely alien to him to explain such personal matters to his coworkers.
The group appeared to relax a little as time brushed away their shock.
"You need to come back to Garden," Irvine finally responded. "Xu and Cid need to talk to you."
"I left Garden," Squall replied. "I committed treason just like Seifer. What do they want with the likes of me?"
Zell shook his head, "Yo Squall, don't talk like that. You know that's not true. We need you. You are our leader."
Squall scowled at them as he felt Rinoa's slender fingers snake into his hand.
"It doesn't matter what you consider me. I'm not leaving Rinoa to go back to Garden. If that's what you have in mind you can forget it."
"Well," Irvine said as he stepped forward. "Actually Rinoa can come with us."
Squall glared at him sharply. "Is this the headmaster's order or just your idea Kinneas?" he asked.
"Here," Irvine took the jeweled bracelet out of his pocket and offered it to Rinoa. "This will suppress your powers Rinoa. I doubt anyone will have a problem with your presence as long as you wear it."
Rinoa took the bracelet from him and saw it glitter beautifully in the morning light. It was one of Odine's products, she realized immediately. It was a particularly strong one. This would render her helpless.
"Don't put it on Rinoa," Squall admonished as he eyed the SeeDs suspiciously. They looked away as he surveyed them. Although he was not older in age, his authority among them was undebatable. The air of command which surrounded his words was unlike that of Esthar's regal Queen.
"No Squall," Rinoa said as she fingered the bracelet one last time. "I'll wear this . .for you."
There was a silent sigh of relief among the four teens as Rinoa slipped the bracelet over her fingers and fitted it snugly around her wrist. It clicked as she put it on and she wondered if she would ever be able to take it off.
But she did not have the chance to speculate for long because immediately her senses became distorted. She stumbled back as the world started swirling before her. She lifted her hand to her head trying to clear her eyes but she couldn't. The entire world was a blur.
"Rinoa?" Irvine asked but the sound felt like it came from under water. She felt someone grab her, Squall no doubt, but even his touch was strange, duller. She leaned against him and closed her eyes trying to get used to her new senses one at a time. She tried to walk where he led her but her feet wouldn't move. Slower, she had to get used to the fact that everything was much slower. Her feet couldn't move as swiftly as before and with the first step she took, she tripped miserably. She would have fallen flat on her face had he not caught her. She did not see him scowl before he glared at the other SeeDs with a look of utmost fury.
Irvine looked away shamefully as Antha stared at Rinoa with complete sadness and pity written on her face. The great sorceress was no more. She was barely an infant now, learning to walk again.
"Maybe you should pick her up . . " Zell said as he watched the dark haired girl with equal sympathy. "She looks kind of out of it. . ."
"Don't tell me what to do," Squall snapped as he reached down and followed Zell's advice. He lifted the slender girl and held her against his chest, reminiscent of her comatose state. Pale as a piece of paper, she leaned against him in complete submission. Her eyes remained closed as her arms flopped limply in space while he carried her up the stairs into the Ragnarok.
"The bracelet did that to her?" Antha asked nervously.
Irvine shrugged. "Don't fret Antha. It's just a matter of getting used to. Sorceresses have stronger senses that's all. She sees things like you and me now."
"Oh," Antha whispered.
Selphie stared into nothingness and followed the group into the Ragnarok.
* * * * *
It was a big swirl like a child's water painting. She squinted and moved her eyes but it was all she saw. Soon things began to clear and she realized that there was darkness nearby too. Darkness and light, danced about her blind eyes, molding into shapes. Drifting, she was in space drifting endlessly again but this time there was no one to call her back. She had not felt it when he picked her up and placed her on a seat in the passenger room of the Ragnarok. She did not realize that Antha was nearby, sitting by her watching in concern. All she was aware of was that she was lying against something, something firm that prevented her from floating in watery emptiness.
The room stopped spinning and she began to make out objects. She sat up in the chair trembling like a drunk.
"Rinoa," someone whispered. She squinted.
"Antha?" she asked. Her voice . .it was so soft. Everything was so much softer than it used to be. She couldn't hear anything in the next room anymore, nor could she hear the mortal heart beating within Antha's chest. So many sounds were gone. How did they live this way?
"Antha?" she asked raising her voice to its normal caliber.
"Don't shout, Rinoa." Antha said with fear in her voice.
"I'm sorry," Rinoa said as she stumbled to her feet. Antha reached out to help her and Rinoa was glad that she was able to catch sight of Antha's eyes as she came closer. Yes, her sight was clearing, it could never be as clean as it used to be but now she was functioning again.
"How do you get used to this?" Rinoa asked as she began to walk, moving one sluggish foot in front of the other.
"We usually get used to it by the age of two," someone else said humorously from the back of the room.
Rinoa looked up, funny she had not heard him coming. Not the way she would have in the past.
"Irvine." She said, identifying him by the blurry features of his trench coat.
"Feeling better Rinoa?" He asked walking closer. Rinoa took a few steps without Antha's help but promptly started stumbling again.
"It's hard," she whispered under her breath. Well it sounded like a whisper to her ears but to them it might have been something else.
He placed a hand on her shoulder. His head moved. After a brief moment of hesitation, she identified it as a nod.
"You'll get used to it. We'll be landing soon are you sure you're up to walking?"
"I'm a fast learner," Rinoa answered.
"Don't worry Rinoa," Antha chipped in as she helped Rinoa back into one of the seats. "We'll take care of you. Zell will, he's real good at that type of thing."
Rinoa raised her hand up to her head and closed her eyes once more. Somehow she saw everything clearer with the images in her memory than the swirling colors before her.
"How are things going with Zell?" Rinoa asked directing the conversation away from herself.
"He's taking me to duel hill for a picnic ," Antha replied gleefully. "Maybe you and Squall can come."
Naw I think Squall might be more into going for another funeral on the bluffs.
"Maybe," Rinoa replied.
Irvine chuckled. "Did I tell you guys? Selphie, she's already planning a party to celebrate the defeat of the sorceress."
"Already?!" Antha asked in surprise.
"Yup. She's going to hold it in the ballroom where ya guys had the graduation dance. What do you say Rinoa?"
Perhaps being reduced to a fog will make it a little hard for you to accommodate me.
The Ragnarok bumped suddenly as it landed in FH. They forgot about the question as they prepared to leave. Irvine grabbed Rinoa's hand and pulled her to her feet.
"It's okay Rinoa if you feel like falling into me. I have girls doing that all the time," Irvine whispered happily. But perhaps it only sounded like a whisper to her because everything did.
"I'll keep that in mind," Rinoa answered as she began to walk toward the door.
Zell appeared suddenly with a package under one arm. He scratched his neck nervously as he handed it to Rinoa.
"Here ya go, open it, Rinoa."
She took the box reluctantly.
"What is it?"
"A gift," Antha said giggling.
Lifting the top of the box, Rinoa realized that they had given her a new weapon. The shooting star. Feeling the fear forming like a layer of ice underneath her skin, she realized that the future was truly upon them. All the props, costumes and lines had been doled out. The drama on the bluffs was about to begin.
* * * * *
"Cid is waiting," Xu urged as the grouped stepped off the Ragnarok. Squall stood at the entrance of the ship with Selphie and Irvine behind him. His expression was stony, irritated, malignant but truthfully he was relieved to be home. Xu lifted her hand and nodded courteously motioning for them to keep walking.
"Selphie, Irvine, please report to Headmaster's office immediately," Xu ordered. With a look of surprise across their faces, they left, following the commander's decree. They left their leader unwillingly, as they had hoped to accompany him to the Headmaster as before, however, as reluctantly as they left, they did.
Squall realized once again that he was in the awkward position of being alone with Xu.
"Let's go," he said gruffly as he began walking in the direction of the dock.
"Wait," Xu reached out with the intention of grabbing him but instead hesitated and withdrew her hand.
"I have something to say to you." She began.
Impatiently, Squall stood uncomfortably before her, waiting for her to scold him for abandoning her on the docks before. However, instead she smiled.
"You were right Squall." She said taking a breath as the amicable expression melted from her face. "Garden . .is just a means for an end."
"What?" He asked her in surprise, as the scowling expression was jarred from his face for once in a long time.
She nodded wearily in the look of one who has surrendered.
"I was thinking, Squall, after you left about a lot of things. About this position, about Cid, about my life in general and I came to a realization."
"Don't you want to know what that realization was?" she asked him curiously as she widened her brown eyes at him like a shy puppy dog.
"Whatever," he replied with a wave of his hand.
"This position of commander was never meant to be mine."
She continued however, speaking to him even if he was as deaf as a wall.
" I was fighting a war which I had no part in. I made a very important discovery, Squall, one which I know you can relate to. I realized that being commander was not the means that would bring me to my end."
"I didn't mean that, Xu." Squall finally spoke up as he tried to salvage her lost purpose.
"I know you didn't, Squall. I know that when you reached into the fire to save Selphie in The Tempest you didn't mean to take over the role of the leader. I know that in the Galbadia war you didn't fight where the fighting was the worst for glory. You were always the leader even though you refused all the spoils. You gave us all light but wanted none of the credit. I think I am finally beginning to understand who you are Squall and in the process, finally understand myself."
"What are you talking about?" He asked in utter confusion.
"You were always the leader Squall, even when I had the title. You were the commander even when I was the chosen one. This is your battle even though I'm the figurehead. Now I want to ask you to take back what is yours."
"Don't," he began, finally raising his voice. "This is stupid."
"Squall," Xu finally said sadly. "The ruler of Esthar is Quistis. The sorceress Edea is your Matron, her knight is your rival and the sorceress Rinoa is your confidant. This is your destiny, not mine. Perhaps I will find my own end one day but today I have no right to be here."
"Xu," Squall replied wearily. "I'm not who you think I am. You have me up on a pedestal, this is ridiculous."
"It doesn't matter," Xu said as she smiled once more sadly. "I resigned an hour ago. You need to talk to Cid, perhaps it's not too late to bring things back to the way it was meant to be."
Squall shook his head in sorrow and rage before he gave up.
"Why me?" he snapped at Xu as he turned. "Why is it always my destiny?"
As he left Xu stood there holding her right arm in her left in effort to hug herself.
She stood watching his form disappear in the distance and realized that there was only one answer for the question he asked. Only one honest answer.
Because Squall, I care about you.
* * * * *
"You're back," the headmaster said as Squall stepped into the second floor balcony.
Squall stood there beside the old man as they looked over the ocean. In a way, he knew that what Xu said had some truth. He too had looked at Cid as a father figure since he was taken to the orphanage fourteen years ago.
"We are going to fight one last battle against the sorceress," Cid responded half -heartedly. "I think you know already why I told you on the day of the SeeD exam that this was your destiny."
"Quistis," Squall answered. "You want me to win her over to our side. Is that it?"
"Yes," Cid responded. "There are only two people in this world capable of forcing Quistis into submission."
"Me and Seifer," Squall responded as his eyes glowed with a new understanding, of his past and of the future. "You were right," Squall responded as he turned his eyes back to the horizon. "This is my mission and mine alone."
"Xu has resigned from her position," Cid answered wearily.
"You were my first choice, Squall, to lead Garden. But I didn't choose you out of fear. What would I look like if I choose a seventeen year old to lead an army? Me and my mid-life crisis." Cid said with a chuckle. "So I choose Xu, three years your senior to lead us but I realized soon enough that I had made a mistake and so did she, the sweet child."
"I can fight this battle alone," Squall responded absently. "I don't need your titles and your forces to help me through. This is the battle I've been fighting since the day I was born."
"Still unwilling, Squall, to take the credit?" Cid asked with a familiar coyness to his voice.
"Funny you don't mention how I eluded the blame as well thirteen years ago."
"Squall" Cid said as he reached out trying to touch and comfort the young man but Squall drew back as though he was afraid of human contact.
"Don't. . " Cid continued. "You need to stop tormenting yourself with your guilt." Cid shook his head. "But I guess you won't listen to me anyway. You need the force of Garden behind you. Galbadia is preparing to attack Esthar. This could get as bad as the sorceress's war two decades ago."
Squall kept staring at the horizon, east, in the direction of Esthar.
"No, it won't" he responded. Quistis won't allow it.
"I know it won't."
"It doesn't matter, we have bigger problems on our hands. Ever heard of time compression?"
". . . ."
"It's when past present and future are all combined into one. That's why Ellone is and always has been such a lethal weapon. The sorceress wants Ellone to send her back in time. In such a world no one but the sorceress will be able to exist."
"So the sorceress is out to destroy the planet?" Squall asked.
"Yes," Cid replied. "If you don't succeed all this will be dead."
* * * * *
"Beautiful dreamer," Selphie sang under her breath as she walked hand in hand with Irvine down the FH street. "Wake unto me," she wrinkled her nose as she saw him winking at a passing lady.
"Starlight and dewdrops, are waiting for thee," she continued as she hopped by Irvine's side.
"I think I've finally got it!" Selphie exclaimed as she jumped up and down. "Tee hee!"
"Good, good Selphie," Irvine said as he patted her head, mockingly.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
"It's such a pretty song!"
Irvine shrugged. "But are you sure it doesn't sound familiar? Like you are rediscovering something that you already know?"
"You really don't remember anything of our times together as children Selphie?" Irvine asked perturbed.
Selphie rubbed her right foot against her left.
"Well, not really. I think I remember bits and pieces of playing with ya."
"Try harder. Try as you sing this song. Maybe it will help."
She frowned. "Are the two connected?"
Irvine smiled at her. "That's for you to figure out."
She folded her arms across her chest. "I think they are. What? Did we sing this song as children?"
"More than that," Irvine replied. "I want you to remember Selphie."
I want you to remember because I want you to be the Selphie I used to know. I want be able to look at you and see my past and know that there is something still alive that could tell me that my childhood really did happen. Other people have parents, pictures, toys, to remind them that they were once children. I just have these phantom memories that no one, nothing can confirm. I want to know that it wasn't all imagination and dream.
"Irvine," Selphie continued. "I'll try my best."
"Alright," Irvine said rubbing his palms together. "Let's go back."
"Wait, Irvy, are you sure you don't want to talk to me about Quistis some more?" Selphie asked.
Irvine tipped his hat back.
"I loved Quistis just like everyone at the orphanage. She was like an older sister to all of us. She always had special feelings for Squall but I think she had feelings for someone else too."
Selphie "but why does this bother you?"
"I don't know," Irvine said as he scratched his head. "I think the Headmaster is trying to play on her love for Squall to bring her to defeat but I think there is someone else who could do it more surely."
"Who?" Selphie asked eagerly.
Irvine looked away with reluctance.
"Irvine!" Selphie implored.
"Seifer." He replied.
Selphie raised her fingers to her lips.
"If Seifer gets to her first. . ."
"We're screwed," Irvine finished for her.
* * * * * *
"Commander Leonhart! Commander Leonhart!" The young girl yelled furiously as she ran to Squall's side. She flicked a pigtail behind her as she beamed at the stone hearted man.
"Don't call me that," he admonished gently, weakly.
"But that's your new title!" Antha said happily as she ran to keep up with his fast stride.
He scowled but kept walking, in the direction of the Ragnarok.
"How come you never talk?" Antha asked innocently.
" . . ."
They walked silently for a few moments before Antha broke the awkward silence.
"Do you think, Commander Leonhart, that I would have a good chance at SeeD?" she asked changing the subject.
He sighed and gave her the same speech he gave Selphie a long time ago.
"Follow the directions, pay attention. That's all there is to it."
Antha chuckled. "All there is to it for you, you mean, Commander Leonhart. Some of us are not as gifted."
Entering the room however, Antha frowned in surprise.
"What do you mean?" Squall asked indignantly.
"Rinoa, we left her here a few moments ago. She's not here anymore."
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