A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 17
The Meaning of Friendship
By Kate Lorraine
Rinoa's eyes fluttered open as she smelled a musky scent underneath her nose. She jerked up in bed suddenly and realized that she was not in her father's mansion. She moaned in pain as her shoulder sent a bolt of agony into her chest. The memory came back her then, of fighting Quistis, of watching Squall play triple triad for her life. She reached over and placed her hand over her shoulder and was surprised to find that the wound had closed. It was still sore but no longer serious. She stumbled out of bed, trying her best to walk on her unsteady legs. Her head was pounding with a terrible headache from the blow she took to her temple. However that too had stopped bleeding. Laid out on the chair was her blue frock, cleaned and dried. The blood stains were gone. She gently slipped it over her festering shoulder and clasped the button in the front with shaky fingers. Every inch of her was aching, from her toes to the root of her hair.
"Where am I?" she wandered as she glanced around the room. The walls were dark and lite alight with a multitude of candles. She stumbled back to the bed and found her way to a window. She pushed back the velvet drapery and realized that she was in a fortress of some sort. Outside, storm clouds surrounded the castle in a demonic halo. There was no escape by window she noted as she studied the jaggared precipice.
"You're awake." a masculine voice said behind her.
Rinoa jumped in fear as she turned to see Seifer standing by the door. The candles threw shadows onto his face making him look less than human. Yet she was glad to see him, a familiar face in the light of all this diabolic scenery.
"What am I doing here?" She asked trying to keep her old confidence and deceit but that was beyond resurrection.
"Ultimecia told me that I could have you for whatever purpose I wish." He walked closer to her and grabbed her roughly by the wrist. "Whatever purpose."
She chuckled bitterly trying to maintain her air of confidence.
"What are you going to do Seifer rape me?"
He shoved her roughly onto the bed with blazing fury coloring his cheeks.
"You're lucky I don't want you. Never wanted you."
She nodded with the ends of her smile trembling. She would not be able to maintain it for long.
"What do you want then?" she asked feeling a lump in her throat.
"The truth. Tell me the truth for once."
She looked away.
"You've been lying to me for too long." he continued with a sorrowful undertone to his voice. "You owe me this Rinoa."
"I did it, me and Ultimecia. You made it into SeeD, Seifer, I'm sorry."
"No," he said taking a step back. "No, that's not what I want to know."
"Then what is it?" she asked.
"Why Squall? Why would you risk your life for him when you won't even so much as smile for me. Don't tell me it's love or some sentimental crap. Give me the truth for once."
"Because Seifer I couldn't stand you and your empty ambition. You never really knew what you wanted so anyone could tell you what you it was that you desired. Adolescent whims, Seifer, that's all your dreams were."
"No they were not!" he ordered with force.
She laughed bitterly.
"You wanted to be a hero, Seifer, did you? Yet only one trying to help you achieve that goal was the one you designated as the villain. I was the monster, Seifer. It was me all along."
"Squall Leonhart is no hero," Seifer replied spitefully. "He's just a coward refusing to take the blame for his own actions. But why am I bothering to tell you this? You're a heartless witch."
Seifer turned his glaze away and looked elsewhere. He appeared very vulnerable suddenly, very much like a child. She suddenly wanted to embrace him to take his hand and lead him back to the apple orchards. It was all a dream, she would tell him. A nightmare dreamt on a lazy Sunday afternoon lying in the meadow counting the clouds.
Yet she knew that those days would never come again.
In life there are lines that divide people. There are some boundaries that when crossed can never be uncrossed. When you ventured into places where others can't go. Those unfortunates that do are doomed to spent eternity searching for a way back to the past. That's what he was to her, the bygone yesteryear.
"I hate you." he told her casually
"I know." she said as she looked at him. "I know."
"I hate you so much right now, I could kill you with my bare hands," he muttered nonchalantly as he looked away. "But I'm not. I know about Winhill, I know that your days are already numbered. I could only pity you."
"I don't need your pity," Rinoa answered. "I have too much of it already. . self pity. Seifer, I just wish things didn't have to be this way."
"No," he said as his voice gained in malice. "You don't. Don't give me that crap. You know love it this way, witch."
"I guess it's too late for me to convince you otherwise."
He turned his eyes to her then, with a devilish light filtering into his face.
"I'm through with goodness, Rinoa. I am evil. My inner corruption is all consuming. How the tables have turned on you, sorceress." he reached out in a flash and grabbed her by her chin. His stone hand squeezed her jaw with all his strength and anger. She moaned and dug her nails into his arm but he would not budge. He pressed her back against the wooden post of the bed and breathed into her face.
"No one is allowed into the confidence of a sorceress and allowed to leave," he hissed into her face, repeating the very same words which she had said to him that day on duel hill. "But look on the bright side, you'll be with me forever," he continued mockingly, twisting the words into a horrific travesty of their meaning. He threw her onto the bed like a ragged doll. Sitting down beside her, he traced a path from her lip to her breast while she watched helplessly.
"I've changed too," he told her mocking as he firmly grasped the two sides of her frock and ripped it open. "Maybe I'll just take you after all. Atrocious, isn't it? I am the devil."
"No," she said. "I don't believe you!"
He slapped her roughly.
He kissed her with all the tenderness of a rape and pressed himself against her. She squirmed under his weigh beating her fists against him but that only served to bring a smile onto his face as he relished her agony. Suddenly her teeth clamped down on his lip and bit him so hard as to draw blood. He drew back in rage, his eyes glowing with a psychotic light. There was fear on her face as she watched him wipe the blood from his mouth.
Scowling, he smacked her hard across the face. Rinoa's head jerked back from the blow and she was out cold. He sat there for a moment, wearily, watching her. After a brief period of hesitation, he spat onto the carpet, trying to rid his mouth of the venom of her kiss.
"You fool," he told her limp body. "I wouldn't have taken you even if you begged me."
Walking over to the piano, Seifer stood in contemplation. It was better this way, he assured himself. Would he really have wanted to spend the rest of his life owing Squall Leonhart this great favor? Squall Leonhart was his sworn enemy, in the end perhaps, this path was indeed the one better fitting of his stubborn pride.
The queen of Esthar, but she entered into the picture. Quistis. His long lost childhood friend. Somehow, he knew as he tapped the ancient piano and turned it on, that her presence had just changed everything.
* * * * *
"I think we still have some time to finish the job," Squall muttered under his breath as the congregation stepped out of Edea's Orphanage. In the distance the huge formidable stone fortress of Ultimecia loomed in mid air, connected to the ground only with a series of thick chains.
"So the is the future," Quistis said in awe as she allowed her eyes to explore the bleak surroundings. "This is where the sorceress rules. It's terrible."
"Whoa," Zell said plainly as he watched in awe.
"Selphie," Irvine asked, somewhat disconnected. "Why do you look so confused?"
"This is Edea's orphanage?" She asked as she looked about herself at the crumbled mess. "This is where we grew up?"
"Yeah." Irvine replied as he gestured to the bedroom. "That's where we slept. Over there in the garden we used to play. And the ocean, there used to be an ocean here. . "
Selphie shook her head.
"I don't remember. I don't remember any of it Irvine."
Irvine scratched his head as a sickening feeling began to fester in his chest.
"I'm sure .. it will just take some time, Selphie." He assured her as they walked faster to catch up with the rest of the group which was already climbing the chains.
"What are we going to do now?" Quistis asked as they stood before the large mansion.
"I guess we'll see when we enter." Squall replied as he examined his group of comrades. "This is the last battle." He assured them. "It will be over after this."
Zell nodded vigorously as he slammed his fist into his palm.
"C'mon, let's go get that witch."
"This is the creepiest place I've ever seen," Selphie said as she moved closer to Irvine.
"Do'cha worry Selphie," Irvine assured her. "I'll take care of ya."
"Squall, will destroying the witch in the future end all of this? Time compression and all?"
Squall shrugged. "We can only hope. There is no other way."
She nodded. "Just one thing Squall . . when you go to find Rinoa, will you take me with you? There are a few things I need to say to Seifer, just a few things."
Squall studied her in her sudden embarrassment and began to realize something which he had not seen before.
"Alright," he promised.
He turned and walked up the stairs, leading his troops to the door. Upon opening it, a heavy layer of mist came swirling about their legs. It was freezing, like stepping into a frozen pond. Inside the castle it was cold as the bitter winter's ice. He heard music, faintly somewhere in the castle. The virtuoso ability of a pianist, rolling out crescendo after crescendo.
"Squall," Zell suddenly remarked. "Something's wrong, I don't think my junctions are working anymore."
"What?" he asked frowning, drawing his eyes away from the gothic interior of the castle.
"Yeah," Selphie said, "my GFs are gone too."
"What is that?" Irvine suddenly interrupted as they saw a pair of eyes approaching them in the darkness.
"A lion!" Selphie suddenly exclaimed as the thing stepped into the light.
Squall drew his gunblade.
"A sphinx," he corrected.
"I am Ultimecia's servant," he spoke in a brittle voice like stone rubbing against stone. "How dare you trespass on my territory to seek your powers."
Into the light appeared a monstrous claw thick with curling black nails as he swiped at Quistis. She jumped back and tried to cast a spell on him using her fearsome sorceress's power but nothing came.
Before the paw could descend on the blond queen, Squall attacked with his blade, digging it deep into the monster's glowing face. The monster grew infuriated as he lashed his claws out madly at the boy but a shot wheezed through the air and embedded itself between the Sphinx's eyes. He collapsed on the floor dead.
Irvine gave Squall a cocky look.
"Blades are outdated, man, get yourself a gun."
"Shut up," Squall grumbled.
Quistis got back to her feet and dusted herself off, her eyes were glowing even though her powers were not functioning.
"We need to split into two parties," she said entering the role of the queen once more. "Selphie, Irvine, Zell, seek out the other servants and unseal our powers. I for one am not eager to fight the sorceress without my magic."
"Alright" Irvine said with a tip of his hat, "if they're all like this guy it should take no time."
"You just got lucky," Zell complained.
"Luck had nothing to do with it, it's skills I tell you." Irvine said happily.
Quistis ignored him.
"Squall and I will go to find Rinoa, we'll meet back here when the jobs are done."
Irvine bowed gracefully, still basking in his glory then he turned and led Selphie and Zell up the grand staircase.
"Don't keep up waiting too long," Irvine said with a playful smirk on his face.
After they were gone Quistis turned to Squall.
"Where do you want to start looking?" she asked.
"The music," he said. "I wonder where it's coming from."
"You believe the music will lead us to them?"
"It's worth a try," he remarked.
And so they began to walk from the front foyer following the hall to the left.
"Squall," Quistis asked as they wandered deeper into the haunted castle. "What happened after I left, between you and Seifer?"
"I don't know," Squall replied as a hint of sorrow appeared on his enigmatic features. "After they took you, Ellone was sent away. I was alone in the orphanage for a long time. Things happened, but I just didn't care anymore."
Quistis nodded as she reached out touch him with her willowy fingers.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't there. I wish I could have been with you when you were alone."
He gently removed her hand from his shoulder and continued to walk. The music was growing louder, closer.
"I have Rinoa now," he muttered to her. "I think she needs me but she's afraid of you. She's afraid that your radiance will draw me back to you."
Quistis paused as she held her whip in both hands and twisted it nervously. There was a moment of silence between them as the draperies were blown back from the wind that swept through the ruined windows. Outside, lightening cracked open the skies and lite up the halls in sporadic fits of anger.
"Do you want to come back to me, Squall?" Quistis asked tentatively.
"I don't think I can, Quistis," he responded. "Ellone was right, I've searched for you because you were my lost childhood but in the end I think I always knew that such a thing was illusion. I can't go back not from where I am now."
"I see," Quistis replied. "So you believe that Rinoa can give you the understanding you desire. That she could stand beside you and the two of you would find contentment in darkness."
"No," he said as he continued to walk. "Rinoa still isn't sure what she wants but maybe one day I can love her as an equal. I guess that's what she gave me, hope."
"I see," Quistis said in understanding. "Squall, I think I'm finally beginning to understand your affection for her. Despite her greed, her villainy and her gaping faults, I think I am beginning to see how you could care for her. Because I . . ." She trailed off then as she realized that he was no longer paying attention to her.
"Over there," he pointed out, "it's coming from that room."
"Seifer's in there. I know he is. Let me talk to him. He'll listen to me."
Squall decided wisely not to argue.
* * * * *
Quistis glanced into the dark chamber, her eyes found the piano first, playing in the corner by phantom fingers. Her eyes found Rinoa next, a speck of white laying on the dusty ancient bed. She absorbed all this before she brazenly stepped into the room. She looked about her, reminding herself that she was still queen, that even without powers she had nothing to fear.
Her heart was pounding so rapidly she could hear it in her ears.
Clenching her whip tightly in her fingers, she was taken back for a moment when she saw a figure in white standing in the corner, his back to her.
"So you've come for her. ." he began.
"No, Seifer," Quistis said stumbling over her words at first, "I've come for you."
Lifting an eyebrow, he turned. His face was a mass of shadows as he watched her. He was irritated that she was here but at the same time curious.
"Quistis," he said, tasting the dormant word on his lips, "so bossy little Quistis has become a queen."
"But you Seifer," she began "what happened to-"
"Shut up" he snapped, interrupting her.
Any other woman would have swallowed such an insult but not her. Her brows knitted suddenly as she slipped back into the role of the queen.
"Where I come from Seifer, people listen when I speak. So now, you will not interrupt me when I am talking!"
He was taken back for a moment by her sharp response. He shrugged submissively as though he was purposely humoring her.
"The Seifer I knew was full of dreams and good intentions. He was my hero. Do you know how hard it is for me to accept that this is what you've become?"
"You mean full of childish whims and unrealistic expectations."
"Who told you that? Rinoa Heartilly?" Quistis asked. "That sounds like something she would say, not you."
"It doesn't matter because the old Seifer is dead, Quistis." he snapped at her. "He died when you abandoned him for that worthless ungrateful little brat. I'm the face of evil. Don't talk to me like you know me. Things change in fourteen years."
"Really?" she asked. "When you spared Ellone's life in Lunatic Pandora was that a part of your 'evil' plan? When you saved Rinoa from my wrath in Esthar was that 'evil' too? How about now as you leave the piano playing waiting for her friends to come, is that 'evil' as well?"
He turned away.
"Seifer," she continued. "Stop this nonsense. I remember a time when we were friends, the three of us. Squall, I was his sister before he found himself a sorceress and became my enemy. If I can find it in my heart to forgive him then surely you can as well. You were his friend, Seifer before you were his rival. Remember that."
"No," he stated flatly. "I was never his friend."
"Are you calling me a liar, Seifer? I am a queen, in fourteen years no one has dared to accuse me that."
He chuckled half in good humor, half in ridicule.
"Go away, Quistis," he muttered weakly.
"No, I won't until you listen."
"It's too late," he said glaring at her. He stormed over and held her eye in his. For moment, there stood together staring, until she looked away in submission. He spoke again impatiently. "Can't you see that it's too late for me?"
"It might be too late for you to go back to Garden," she whispered softly, "but it's never too late for you to come back to me."
He took a few steps back and laughed weakly, as though he was trying to infuriate her by finding humor in her sincere words. He failed.
Seeing no other possible course of action, he left.
She stood there silently for a moment, her arms crossed as she hunched over in quiet contemplation. She was interrupted in a few moments when Squall walked in.
"I see you've succeeded," he muttered as he strolled over to the bed and lifted the covers off of Rinoa.
"I failed."She said, conveying to him her distaste.
"You did more than what anyone else ever could," he mumbled as he lifted Rinoa from her place in the sheets. He slapped her gently across the face, trying to wake her from her slumber.
"You would have said the same things if he would only listen," she said as she fiddled with her whip.
Squall picked Rinoa up. He gave upon his efforts to wake her. She stirred suddenly when he tried to lift her. She moaned lightly and twisted in his arms. Rinoa's eyes opened halfway as she realized that her cheek was resting peacefully against the breast of his jacket. That soft perfume of leather woke her from her nightmare and she sat up unbelievingly.
"Are you okay?" he asked as he eyed her disheveled hair and ripped frock.
Squall stood up and realized that the place where Quistis had been standing was empty. She was gone. It was perhaps for the best. He looked down at the fragile girl who was weakly maintaining a sitting position.
"Can you walk?" He asked as he reached for her hand.
She reached over to the bedpost for support and pulled herself into a standing position.
"I'm sorry, Squall." She apologized once more. "For everything."
"It doesn't matter," he responded as he wrapped a arm around her waist. "Let's go find the others. I think -"
"You don't want me to explain why I disappeared?"
"Only if you want to," he replied, seemingly nonchalant.
"Ultimecia's voice in my head forced me to leave, that was the first and foremost reason. But Squall, the shameful truth is that I can't stand being near Garden or SeeD. I just can't . . .do you understand?"
"SeeD's purpose is to fight the sorceress. I think it's understandable why it would make you uncomfortable."
She nodded and looked away.
"You and I, Squall, we were never meant to be and when this is all over, perhaps we both ought to return to our respective worlds."
"We'll decide that when this is over." He paused for a moment but then continued. "You shouldn't wander off like that. You are no longer as powerful as you were before. You could have gotten yourself killed."
"Would you care if I did?" She asked playfully.
"Whatever," he replied unwillingly blushing slightly.
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