A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 16

The Princess and the Queen

By Kate Lorraine

"Commander Leonhart," Xu said as she walked into the Headmaster's office. "I have some starling news to report." She beamed at him showing him a row of white teeth. He grumbled slightly as he tore his eyes away from the sea.

"The Sorceress Quistis has just made a daring move. She has relocated to Lunatic Pandora."

He widened his eyes for a moment as he took in the news.

"Do you have any idea why?" Xu asked curiously.

"Did Cid say anything?" Squall asked absently.

"I have no idea," Cid answered as he appeared at the doorway. "It's baffling. I don't see how it serves her purpose. It is easier to place her base in the city then in that mountainous no man's region. How does she plan to mobilize her troops?"

"Xu," Squall said. "Where is Lunatic Pandora on the map?"

Xu walked over to the large full scale map of the planet mounted on the rightmost wall.

"Here," she said as she pointed to the tip of the Estharian continent. "It's a place called Tear's Point. Do you think Squall, that she might be trying to cause a Lunar Cry?"

"No," Squall said as he thoughtfully studied the region. "It's obvious why she chose to move to Lunatic Pandora, I'm amazed you two don't see it."

"Squall," Cid said mockingly. "Will you please enlighten us with your perceptive observations?"

Squall frowned as he pointed to the region with one gloved finger.

"Look, this place borders the ocean and is surrounded on all sides by mountains. It is impossible for the Galbaldian Garden or the Balamb Garden to penetrate that rugged terrain. It is also on the border of an ocean. Should she need to make a quick escape, Lunatic Pandora could easily go by way of the sea. The cliffs above the sea are so high that whereas the Lunatic Pandora can escape by that route it would be impossible for a Garden to enter."

Xu clapped her hands and Cid enthusiastically followed. Nida who was usually the disengaged pilot, turned and clapped as well. Squall scowled.

"Are you finished?" He asked with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

Xu smiled shamefully. "Yes."

"The prime reason why I believe she chose to relocate to Lunatic Pandora is to protect her people. She wants to draw the battle away from her empire."

Cid nodded. "I guess we have underestimated her."

"I'll lead a mission into Lunatic Pandora," Squall responded ignoring the headmaster. "I'll take a small group of SeeDs with me. That's all. The rest of Garden can remain in FH as to avoid suspicion."

"Squall," Xu implored as she looked down embarrassed, "may I be one of those SeeDs who will accompany you on this mission?"

Cid chuckled.

Squall shrugged as he picked up his gunblade, ready to leave the room.

"If you wish. Meet me at the Ragnarok in an hour."

He left the room. As Cid heard the elevator doors open with a bing, he reached over and patted Xu on the shoulder.

"You are fond of the boy aren't you?"

Xu blushed.

"No, I would never!"

The Headmaster laughed.

* * * * *

Zell looked into the distance one last time.

"Come on Zell," Irvine said with a wave of his hand. "Commander Hissy Fit isn't gonna wait forever you know."

"No," Zell said as he kept his ground. "She said that she would be here."

Irvine shook his head, "I'm going in."

"Fine." Zell said stubbornly.

Irvine shrugged and walked up the steps into the Ragnarok, his Exeter over one shoulder.

Zell squinted at the fog then as he saw a form emerge.

And she came, walking slowly, shoulders drawn, hair down from their pigtails. It was strange to see her this way, her wavy brown hair loose about her shoulders. She lifted her face to him, it was still her. He just needed to look more carefully. It was the same broad smile, dimpled cheek, gentle brown eyes.

"You're going Zell?" She asked, "you will come back safely won't you?"

Zell nodded and took a nonchalant stance, curling one leg behind the other.

"I'll be back, Antha." He told her. "Don't worry about me."

She nodded and withdrew a magazine from the nook of her arm.

"I wanted to bring you a gift, Zell, for you to remember me by. Maybe this will help you on your journey."

She held the glossy pages of the Combat King 003 in both hands and reluctantly placed onto Zell's sweaty palms.

"I'm sure it will be handy," Zell told her with a cocky smile.

Antha hugged herself and looked him over.

"You will see Rinoa soon won't you?"

Zell nodded. "Yeah, Squall just can't seem to leave her alone." He chose his words carefully.

She pressed her lips together in understanding.

"Will you wish her luck for me?"

Zell felt his bottom lip tremble slightly as he watched her looking so forlorn, standing alone.

"I'm sure she already knows." Zell answered as he gently reached out and took the girl by her arm.

"Take care of yourself Antha. Alright?" he asked as he lifted her chin with his other hand.

Her eyes were closed halfway and her lashes, he had never noticed that they were so long. For a moment she was indescribably beautiful in his eyes. The way her lips were open a slit, just so that he could see the seductive glisten of her teeth. Her lips were like a half opened rose, full of the promise of a full bloom.

"Antha," he whispered. The words were like a kiss.

He bent closer. The words became a kiss.

"Don't," she muttered desperately, like a wild animal on the verge of fleeing.

"Antha," Zell said said in surprise as he reached for her.

"Just go. Go and come back fast." She turned then, her hair twirling, buoyant momentarily in the wind. She ran from him then, as though he was a ruby dragon waiting to dig into her flesh with his claws. Standing there, holding the magazine, Zell watched her disappear, wondering what in the world was wrong.

* * * * *

"Beautiful dreamer," Irvine sang quietly as he tapped Selphie's shoulder to the beat of the melody. "Awake unto me."

The night rushed past the windows of the Ragnarok as the spaceship cut across the desert plains of Esthar. Selphie sat in front of him, steering, as she tilted her head forward, in deep concentration. Xu was beside her, a cup of tea in hand as the small party took the night shift. It didn't matter actually who did, since no one was sleeping that night.

"Tell me some more about Quistis," Xu coaxed as she wrapped her cold fingers around the steaming tea.

"Do you remember anything about Quistis, Selphie?" Irvine asked, trying to spark some sort of memory within her.

"Steering." she reminded him.

Irvine scratched the back of his hand as he studied the face of night.

"Quistis," he said chasing his memory. "I remember she used to be bossy. She was always telling me to do stuff. It was always Irvine clean up this mess or Irvine wash your hands or something like that. Funny, I don't remember her telling Squall to do anything like that."

Xu chuckled as she sipped her tea.

"Tell me, Irvine," she said with a faraway look in her eye. "What was Squall like back then?"

"Well, I don't really know. He kept to himself a lot. He was always sitting by himself in the garden somewhere playing triple triad with himself or talking to Ellone. Now and then he would do something with Seifer or Quistis but that was it. I never spoke to him."

"Seifer?" Xu asked laughing. "Are you sure the GFs haven't been messing with your memory too? The last time I checked Squall and Seifer were going for each other's throats like two rabid dogs."

Irvine shifted from foot to foot, "no," he said. "Squall and Seifer used to be friends. I know that for a fact. I remember once they built this raft out of wood and Seifer was telling everyone that he was going to sail to Trabia with Squall as his first mate to look for his parents. We envied them of course. We all wanted out of there, not too many of use understood that our parents were dead. It was pretty pathetic."

"What happened?" Xu asked quietly as she realized Irvine was serious.

Irvine shrugged in a unsuccessful gesture of indifference.

"I think something happened to the two of them after Quistis was taken. Something snapped. Suddenly instead of seeing the two of them ganging up to beat up Zell, they were beating up each other. It got so bad that Edea and Cid had to keep them in separate rooms and all."

"So that's the beginning of their great rivalry?" Selphie asked somberly from her seat.

There was silence in the room for a moment as the three reflected on the past.

"Well Selfie," Irvine suddenly began in a more cheerful tone. "How is the Garden Festival coming?"

"I'm going to bring in a elephant!" Selphie exclaimed happily. "It will be great, it can be a costume thing. I've got the sheet music. You will come back to play the electric guitar won't you?"

"Sure," Irvine said. "Anything for my Selfie."

As they continued to talk enthusiastically about the upcoming celebration, Xu quietly left the room. Walking down the hallway of the second floor she heard Squall practicing with his gunblade beneath her. Standing at the rail, trying not to make a sound, she watched him. A smile found its way to her lips as she peeked through the rails. Funny, at three in the morning he was out here doing strenuous exercise. What a workaholic.

Xu watched his naked forearms swing the blade through the air in a few well timed swipes. He had tossed his leather jacket in a pile in the corner, along with his gloves. Strangely in all the time she had worked with him she had never seen him with any article of clothing removed, the closest she had came was when he took his gloves off to examine the map of Dollet beach. .

She watched simply because it was forbidden to do so, taking secret pleasure in contemplating how mad he would be if he realized that he was not alone. She leaned her cheek against the cold metal rail and watched him leaning against his gunblade, in a resting position. With a quick swivel he turned and marched over to where he had dropped his clothing.

Everything about him was fast and instantaneous, just like his thought process. Xu remembered how eloquently he had presented his ideas back in FH. Somehow she was always attracted to intelligence not muscle. The man before her was indeed the end all of mental capability.

She had found her match but she had long accepted that he was never to be hers. That was not something that deterred her from standing beside him and admiring all his glory. So she could not have him forever, a little while on this lonely night was the next best thing.

He sat down in the corner, breathing hard. He reached into the pocket of his leather pants and pulled out a small object. She realized as he began to lay them out that they were cards, triple triad cards. What a contradictory picture he made then, a hardy tightly muscled warrior, bending over the fragile time worn cards as he laid them out delicately one by one at his feet.

He paused suddenly as one of the cards caught his eye. He sat there staring at it for a long time as though all the secrets of the world were written on the tiny picture. Xu wondered curiously what card it was to have absorbed him so. He placed it back into the deck finally with all the gentleness of a mother tending to a newborn child.

He got up lazily, slinging his jacket over one shoulder and trudged away. It was a good thing he did because she was getting tired of crouching there. She stood up and stretched when the coast was clear.

"Xu? What are you doing?"

Xu nearly jumped out of her skin as she looked over the rail. She clenched her chest in relief as she realized that it was just Zell.

"Nothing," she responded.

"C'mon," Zell said. "You look scared out of your wits."

"Nothing!" She insisted, unable to wipe the coy smirk off her face.

Zell shrugged.

"What are you doing up at this ungodly hour of the night?" Xu asked playfully.

Zell watched her suspiciously, unable to understand why she had slipped from her usual serious facade.

"I couldn't sleep. I keep seeing her whenever I close my eyes." Zell said despondently.

Xu nodded sympathetically.

" All I see is Antha, with her hair wild in the wind. I can't think of anything else."

"You poor lovesick puppy," Xu teased.

"What do you know?" Zell asked suddenly angry. "You've never been in love, Xu."

"How do you know that?" Xu asked with a flirtatious undertone to her voice.

"It's always Cid this and Cid that with you." Zell responded. "You and Cid are in your own safe little universe of duty and purpose. Ah!" Zell waved his hand at her with resignation. "Why do I even bother talking to you?"

Xu smiled sadly as he left her alone in the room.

* * * * * *

"Squall," Xu said as the group stood on the bridge. "The firearms are ready, just say when."

"Woohoo!" Selphie exclaimed as she raised a fist into the air. "We're going in!"

Irvine scratched his chin and watched the demonic structure floating in mid air. It was hard to imagine sweet mild mannered Quistis commanding that giant blocky structure but as his mind drifted back to the sharp lipped Queen, such was not so hard to see.

Distracted by a reverie, Irvine was startled when a storm of bullets came from the Ragnarok's interior. He smiled then since he always found such brutality fascinating. The Ragnarok reached out its arms. In a moment of incredulous beauty and terror, it ripped into the side of Lunatic Pandora. The force field crumbled as though it was made of gingerbread, and the Ragnarok's belly touched the floor within the laboratory.

"Whoa," Zell said recovering from his awe. "That was something."

"Let's do it again!" Selphie yelled with glee.

"There is no time to lose," Squall said urgently as he turned to leave.

The party exited the space ship and walked into the destroyed room which they had come careening into. Zell tightened his gloves nervously as Irvine patted his gun. The room was empty and quiet to such an extent it made them wish there were a few battles. The phrase walking straight into a trap crossed Irvine's mind.

Squall's thoughts were torn away from leadership for a moment when he notice a white object on the ground an inch from his toe. He bent down, disregarding what his teammates probably thought of him and picked up the piece of fluff.

A feather.

She was here already. She had left her trademark for him to find. A feather from an angel wing, bidding him to come find her. That was her style wasn't it? Placing all the clues by his feet and allowing him to choose whether he wanted to follow. Never doubt my love for you, she said. She didn't tell him never to doubt his love for her but hers for him. So even in the face of death she had left him that choice. Love me, don't love me, just don't make your decision based on the fear that I may not love you in return.


He squeezed the feather in his palm, crushing it against the leather.

"Squall?" Zell asked. "Hello, you awake?"

"I think he's dreaming," Irvine remarked.

"Whatever," he replied and began to lead the SeeDs across the ruins of the strange room.

"This place is creepy," Selphie said.

* * * * * *

"Child." The voice came within her head, softly at first, so soft that she thought it was only the silence playing tricks on her ears. It came louder and she could no longer claim it was not there.

"Child, sweet angel," the voice hissed once more.

"What do you want?" Rinoa asked the voice silently as she tugged the Odine bracelet on her wrist. It would not budge. She had tried every trick in the book on it. From grease to hidden switches to sharp cutting instruments, the bracelet was here to stay.

"You mother bids you to obey her," the voice continued.

"You are not my mother!" Rinoa replied throwing her voice loudly into the recesses of her mind. "My mother was Julia Heartilly!"

"Your mortal mother. . " the voice said. "Meaningless, pitiful, weak."

Rinoa pressed her hand against her head as though she was suffering from a migraine.

"Get out of my head!" she screamed.

The witch laughed.

"I no longer need to ask permission to enter."

"No!" Rinoa muttered out loud in bitter dismay. Unable to tolerate this hideous state of mind, she began to run. She fled in vain.

"Well well, look who's here," someone proclaimed behind her.

Rinoa turned in surprise to see Seifer standing behind her. His trench coat was filthy, there was dirt encrusted on his face, in his hair. His eyes burned with a demonic light of one who has wandered far from the safe reaches of humanity, yet truthfully, no matter how frightening he looked he could not compare to Squall's look of malicious irritation. No one could.

"Don't tell me, Ellone got away."

"I'm not helping you two anymore!" Rinoa answered. "Get out of my head!" she screamed but then proceeded to break down in a torrent of whimpers. "Get out, please get out."

"Awwww aren't you the poor suffering traitor. What was it that you told me that day on duel hill? Something about how when you join a sorceress you can't ever leave?"

Rinoa threw her hands away from their place at her ears and held his eyes with defiance.

"Where's the hissy boy huh? He left you for another whore?"

"Seifer," Rinoa finally responded with her old sadistic smile. "Would you like to know a secret?"

"What? That pansy boy is having an affair with chicken shit?"

"No, it's better than that." Rinoa allowed her wicked smile to grow wider. "You passed the SeeD exams, Seifer. Squall Leonhart passed you. It was I who failed you!"

She took to her heels and tried to run then, to take him by surprise but he caught her arm roughly and shook her.

"What did you say?!"

"I did it," she confessed boldly. "I spread that rumor about Garden that you failed. I fooled you. It was me! You are a SeeD right now, a SeeD and a knight. What a bloody fool you are."

"I don't believe you, bitch. You are just trying to protect him, your little pimp."

She laughed once more, in absolute glee.

"Ultimecia ordered it, Seifer. She wanted you to fail so that you would join us, so that we could use you for our dark purpose. Never were you closer to your dream than where Squall Leonhart placed and never are you farther now that you have choose to follow me instead!"

His face was frozen and his hand clamped down harder on the tender flesh of her arm. Harder and harder until she could hardly bear it. It was then however, that their solitude was interrupted.

"Why is this place all green?" a muffled voice came from across the divide. Selphie.

Seifer shoved her aside suddenly and with one last dark glare, he turned and left.

Rinoa stood there and for a moment in her head there was silence.

* * * *

"Squall, this place is deserted." Xu whispered as they wandered through the iridescent green tunnel.

"It's a trap," Irvine stated. "It has to be, I bet Quistis isn't even here."

"No," Squall mumbled under his breath. "She's here."

Squall glanced up to the shell like structure in the nook of the second floor. He raised his arm and point.


"In there?" Xu asked widening her eyes. "Are you sure?"

He scowled. "Of course not."

Forgetting his place as a leader, he bullheadedly began to head in the direction of the tiny doorway surrounded by glittering stones of a multitude of colors.

"It looks pretty," Selphie remarked and made a mental note to have something like that in the Garden Festival.

As the small group stepped inside they realized that it was deserted. The room was empty except for a modest throne sitting in the very back against the wall.

"I don't think anyone is here," Xu said.

"Guys do you hear something?" Selphie asked as she stopped in her tracks.

"Umm sorry that must be my stomach." Zell said sheepishly.

"No. . ." Selphie said, "that's not it. Something like metal against metal."

Selphie looked up curiously and wandered into the dark hallways. Her heels clicked loudly on the tiled floor, too loudly. She screamed suddenly as a giant robotic figure came crashing down upon her. Irvine, with cat like reflexes, shoved her out of harm's way as the needle sharp bottom of the Mobile Type 8 descended upon the congregation.

"It's a giant ugly robot!" Zell yelled as he took a few steps back in shock.

"So the queen has replaced men with machinery?" Xu asked in confusion.

"Shut up and fight," Squall grumbled as he attacked the machine with thundaga.

Thundaga ripped a hole in its broad metallic chest but it did not bring the monster down. The probes on its shoulders detached and spun around mid air.

Xu's eyes widened as she realized what was about to happen.

"Irvine! Selphie! Get out of the way now!!!" Xu yelled.

Irvine stumbled up and was about to pull Selphie with him when the Mobile Type 8 attacked with Corona. Lucky for them however, Zell had rushed forward and cast protect on the two.

The machine drew back then, preparing to use Medigo Flame when suddenly a black hole emerged behind it. The Mobile Type 8 began spinning wildly as it disappeared into the chasm.

"Whoa!" Zell exclaimed. "Did someone cast death or something?"

"No," Squall said. "That's not death."

"It's called degenerator." a voice said from the back of the room.

The group stood in silence as she turned. The woman stood there in a dress of pink. In one hand she held a gold whip, coiled elegantly in her slender fingers. Her hair, still the color of mid day sunshine the way it had been in her youth, was clipped to the back of her head. Two loose strands hugged her cheeks and came to a curling end just above her breast. Her vest complemented her figure as it hugged the slim curve of her waist, opening just above her stomach for a glimpse of her flat mid section. Around her arms were a pair of tight leather gloves the color of polished mahogany.

As much as the attire she wore was plain her presence was one of royalty. Her eyes glittered a fierce blue, revealing the fact that she was a woman who was used to having her orders followed. Her lips were pressed together in a authoritative frown as though nothing, not even a gift made from the moon in the sky, could please her.

"The sorceress Rinoa," she said calmly. "So you have come."

The congregation of SeeDs turned then as they realized that they were not alone.

The sorceress in blue stood quietly at the doorway, having followed them here all along. She radiated darkness whereas the queen was light. The artificial illumination from the outside streamed into her hair casting a eerie glow into her face. The shadows formed chasms beneath her eyes and darkness in her cheeks.

Her black hair curled around her cheeks and swept into her eyes in a cloak of darkness. Her arms hung loosely at her side, the feathery shooting star attached to one arm, Odine's bracelet attached to the other.

She stepped forward, keeping her malicious eyes on the queen. Her steps were light but the sound echoed resonantly throughout the tiny chamber. She was here, the serpent from the swamps, to meet the majestic queen who could only be compared to the phoenix of the sky.

"You will refuse me a honorable battle?" the dark witch asked, gesturing to the jewelry around her wrist.

The queen watched her intently.

"Honor?" the queen asked spitefully. "You dare to speak to me of honor? You who have slain babies in their cradles, mothers in their prayer, children begging for mercy? I cannot think of anything less honorable than to give you a fair chance at slaying another slew of innocents."

Rinoa nodded then in understanding.

"I won't go easily into the dark night."

"I know," the queen replied. "I never planned to allow you the mercy of going easily."

The queen lifted her hand and a giant ball of red appeared in her palm. For a moment the huge monstrosity was suspended in mid air, crackling with all the light of a burning star. Before Rinoa could lift her hands to shield herself, the queen hurled the sphere at the helpless girl, pitching her across the floor. The black witch however would not be so easily defeated. She got onto her knees and stumbled back up into a erect position. The queen's eyes flared into the same shade as her hair as she raised her hand to summon a string of Meteors.

Rinoa looked up with defiance but fear as the huge rocks crashed into her chest and shoulder. She fell backwards, finally, taken off her feet. Kneeling there on the ground, Rinoa clenched her stomach in pain as a string of blood dripped from her lips. Her shoulder was a mess of red where the rock had collided against her tender pale skin. She was bleeding from her right temple and the crimson river ran down the side of her face drenching her face in burning ruby.

It was then when Squall stepped before her, before Quistis could finish her off with one last Ultima.

Quistis placed her flaming eyes on the dark haired boy.

"Get out of the way," she ordered viciously.


Squall drew his gunblade and pointed it at her.

Her voice was touched by a tone of sorrow suddenly as she spoke to him.

"Get out of the way, Squall. I don't want to kill you but I will to get to her."

He flinched slightly as he heard her utter his name but maintained his air of defiance.

"I want to challenge you." He whispered.

She chuckled. "If you fight me Squall, the battle will not be long. Don't be foolish. I don't want step over your defeated body to get to her. Such embarrassment does not suit you."

He withdrew his gunblade suddenly and touched its tip to the ground in a gesture similar to surrender. His eyes, however, burned with a new zeal that was a world away from retreat.

"I challenge you to game of triple triad." He stated with a gesture of his hand. "If I am the victor you will spare her life, if you are, I will step back and allow you to do as you wish."

The queen watched him. Then a smile, almost whimsical in quality touched her face.

"But Squall, you've never beat me before."

He shrugged.

"Do you accept or not?"

She nodded, silent tears touching her eyes. Times long passed touched her mind as she silently roamed down forgotten paths of yesteryear.

"I accept."

She turned and walked to her throne where she reached into her flamboyant velvet cloak and pulled out a stack of time worn cards. She ran her thumb over them gently relishing the old feeling of content right before the vicious game began.

"Over there," she ordered Squall as she pointed to the center of the room. "On the floor, just like old times."

He followed obediently as he drew out his own cards from the pocket of his leather pants. He fingered them in his palm as he took a seat opposite from her on the ground.

Absorbed in her shuffling, she absently tucked a strand of gold hair behind a ear. When she realized that he was watching her she looked up and smiled mischievously.

"Shuffle your cards Squall," she ordered as she did so long ago. "We are playing random, closed, plus, wall, same, and elemental."

He nodded as he couldn't help but follow her orders. The child that had died within him fourteen years ago had awoken. It was just the two of them again, sitting on the steps of the orphanage, chattering mindlessly lost in their own world. The fact that they had spent fourteen years apart was forgotten. SeeD, sorceress, queen, such terms meant nothing to the two tiny innocents, absorbed in the wonder of their simple game.

He pulled off his gloves and shuffled the cards, his nicely manicured fingers cutting the deck and dealing out five cards. Quistis did the same with hers. Around them, the four SeeDs gathered although the two participants took no notice of their audience.

She frowned in dismay suddenly.

"The grid," she mumbled.

"Here," Irvine said kindly as he offered the queen a moon stone. "Use this I'm sure it's just like chalk."

"Thank you," Quistis said kindly as she took the stone from him and began to create the lines of the grid. She thoughtfully licked her lips as she worked, slipping into the role of the silent queen once more.

"I'll go first to give you an edge," Quistis said. "But that's the only edge I'm giving you."

He shrugged as he formed a fan with his cards before him careful to shield them from the eyes of those around him.


Quistis studied the grid intensely before she placed a Blue Dragon card in the top center square. She hesitated slightly but drew her hand back and placed it on her lap.

Squall placed a Gerogero card on the spot left of her dragon and flipped over her card.

She smiled. "You have gotten better. Hiding the bad numbers against the side I see."

"You learn a few things in fourteen years."

"I see your choice of women hasn't improved as much as your card skills."

"Let's just play the game," he ordered her gruffly.

She chuckled. "No one has talked to me with a tone like that in ages," she responded as she placed an Ochu card in the very center of the grid.

"Are you purposely letting him win?" Irvine asked as he studied her seemingly suicidal move.

Quistis ignored Irvine as she watched Squall contemplate her move. He walked straight into her trap as he placed a Krysta beneath her Ochu and flipped it over. It was 5 to 0 now in his favor.

She held a card up, teasing him as she rubbed it along its edge with her thumb and index finger. She smiled again, with the coyness of a weasel as she lowered her hand.

"I see you still don't understand the plus rule," she teased as she placed her Diablos card in the rightmost middle box. Smirking, she turned his Blitz card, the Ochu card he had captured and the Blue Dragon card. Finally it was 4 to 2, in her favor.

She nodded knowingly, not believing that it was possible now for her to lose since she still had a Minimog card.

Zell smacked his forehead.

"Squall!" He whined. "Stupid stupid."

"Shut up," Xu ordered. "It's okay if you lose Squall . . "

Squall shrugged as he lifted a card.

"Times have changed, Quistis."

He placed the Gilgamesh card in the box under the Diablos and worked a plus and a combo. He turned over the Krysta card, the Ochu and the Diablos. It was 5 to 2 now, in his favor. Quistis realized that she had already lost. It did not matter where she placed the Minimog card, whether it was beside the Ochu or beside the Krysta. It was only a matter of losing by how much now.

Wearily, she placed the Minimog under the Gerogero and turned it over.

The game was over, he placed his last card down but what that was no longer mattered.

Quistis stared at the grid, somewhat incredulously, with sorrow and joy that he had finally beat her. Joy because she had succeeded as a teacher. Sorrow because of what she now had to do.

"I can't let you take her." She whispered to Squall as she looked up.

"Why?" He asked her. "We had a deal, Quistis."

Sadly she reached over and picked up the Gilgamesh card with which he had used to beat her. She held the ancient paper in the fingers as she studied it for a moment.

"Our deal was that I would let her live. I never said that I would let her go," she replied.

Squall watched her for a moment, his eyes freezing over. He pressed his lips together as though he was trying to keep himself from saying he would regret but he didn't have to say anything.

A girl cried out from the doorway of the chamber.

All the eyes in the room turned to the door except Rinoa who leaned against the wall in a dazed state. She had watched their game of cards in a dreamlike way. Ultimecia was whispering sweet nothings in her ear,

Look at the mortal, he loves you? Ultimecia asked mockingly. Does he? Really?

I don't know! Rinoa answered back. Stop tormenting me. I won't be your slave anymore.

The witch laughed her cackling chuckle.

Poor child, my dear child. Look at him in the distance as the life bleeds out of you. A slave you never were to me, but a pitiful one now you are to him.

Shut up! Rinoa hissed as she pressed her bloody hands against her ears. I won't listen you Ultimecia. I won't!

But she could only try in vain to chase the voice from her ears. The more she resisted the stronger it grew. The voice grew louder and louder until she couldn't hear her own thoughts anymore. She was gone. Ultimecia stood up where Rinoa had fallen.

At the doorway stood Seifer, holding Ellone in his arms. He had a gunblade pressed to the girl's neck.

"Squall!" Ellone cried out as her face twisted in pain from the razor sharp edge of the blade.

Seifer pressed Ellone closer to himself and began to back away, closer to where Rinoa had fallen. As he came within a few feet of the dark sorceress he shook Ellone roughly.

"Use your power on her!" he ordered. "Or I'll slit your throat from ear to ear!"

"No!" Quistis yelled as Squall grabbed her arm before she could use her power to destroy all three of them.

"I'll take care of this," he growled.

Quistis glared at him but her defiance subsided momentarily. Squall watched in confusion as Rinoa got to her feet. Her eyes flashed yellow even though she was wearing the bracelet. She reached out to Ellone with a wicked smirk on her face, an expression that he had never seen before coloring her face.

"Do it now," the witch ordered.

"No! I won't" Ellone screamed with tears in her eyes.

"Ultimecia," Seifer said as he was barely able to hold the girl in his arms.

"Ellone," Squall suddenly said surprising the best of them. "Do as he asks."

Ellone stared at him with a completely blank look on her face.

"What?" She choked out.

Seifer was equally surprised by Squall's sudden request.

"Do it, send the sorceress back in time." Squall said.

"Are you insane!!" Quistis asked as she grabbed him roughly. "I won't tolerate this anymore."

But nothing the others said really mattered. Squall looked into Ellone's face and a silent conversation passed between them. Between brother and sister, a conversation more intimate than any of words had been for a decade.

And Ellone did as he asked.

A green wave of power passed from her body into Rinoa's possessed flesh. Rinoa collapsed on the floor, in the small puddle of blood which she had bled. She laid still in a death state. Behind Rinoa and Seifer, the wall dissolved as time compression began its course.

Seifer smiled cunningly at Squall.

"You're an idiot." he said as he shoved Ellone into Squall's arms. Seifer reached down and picked up Rinoa's limp body before he entered the portal of time compression.

Squall helped Ellone back onto her feet.

"Thank you Ellone," he whispered to her as they stood close to each other. "For Winhill, for Rinoa and finally for this. This is goodbye."

Ellone stared into his eyes for a moment and smiled through her tears.

"So you've finally forgiven me for the decade of silence? So you are my brother again?"

"Ellone," he said, "I never stopped being your brother."

She nodded joyfully as she hugged him ferociously.

"Squall," she said as she held him at an arm's length, "Don't make your peace with me because you think you are walking to your death. I don't want to believe that it will end the same way it had before. I will see you when this is over. Go rescue Rinoa, beat the sorceress and complete fate. I know this time, in Winhill, you will not fail. This time there will be a happy ending."

He shrugged. "You were always the optimist."

Ellone looked to Quistis and nodded.

"It was always you." Ellone said simply.

"What?" Quistis asked in confusion.

"You were his lost childhood. Now that you have returned, Squall can go back to normal. He wouldn't be so cold and distant anymore. Right Squall? You've waited fourteen years."

"Whatever," he said although there was truth in her words that he did not want to admit. Avoiding the subject, Squall looked to Xu.

"Will you Xu?" he asked. "Take Ellone back to Garden?"

Xu saluted him.

"Yes commander. Just one request."

"What?" he asked.

"Take care of yourself okay?" She asked as she reached over to take Ellone by arm. She beamed at Squall once more and to her surprise, Squall saluted her back.

Reluctantly, Xu led Ellone out of the room.

"Squall . . " Zell asked. "Are we going to be jumping into that hole thingie?"

He was ignored as always.

Squall reached over and grabbed Quistis's arm.

"Come on."

"Where?" she asked in a irritated tone, "where are we going?"

"To fight the sorceress and save your people."

She paused then as she met Squall's smiling eyes.

"You know Squall I care for all people equally but sometimes there are some, two actually, who are more . . .. .. Do you understand?"

"Yes," he said as he pulled her closer to him. "I always knew that."

She smiled tenderly. "Good, let's go then. What are we waiting for?"

She looked back at the ignored members of the party.

"Irvine," she said without hesitation.

"Zell" she named with a little more thought.

"And you .. ." Quistis said with a frown on her face. "I'm sorry . ."

"Selphie!" Selphie exclaimed. "Don't you remember me Quistis?"

"I'm sorry . . yeah I think I do. Well, guys let's go. Any tips for your followers Squall?" Quistis asked.

"Love, Courage and Friendship," he muttered choking up the words from the dreamworld. "Remember that and you should be okay."

Quistis grinned, "Squall you're lucky I'm here or you would lead us all to our deaths. Everyone, you need to believe in yourselves and each other. In the time compressed world the only way to survive is through love friendship and courage. If you believe in the existence of each other than you will exist. The only other path is death."

Irvine nodded. "Yeah I can't imagine Squall saying that. Good thing you're here Quistis."

"Whatever," Squall said.

Turning and taking Quistis's hand in his own, he led her into the portal.

The last battle had begun.


Author's note:

Yes, if you set up a grid and recorded the cards and laid them out the way Squall and Quistis did in this chapter there would be two pluses. I spent half a day *ugh* planning out this triple triad match. Theses are NOT just random cards I pulled out of thin air.



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