A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 18
Heart of Valor
By Kate Lorraine
"I see them!" Selphie exclaimed as she jumped up and down with glee.
"Where?" Zell asked.
"There! There!" She said pointing.
Irvine lazily got up from where he was sitting as he followed his friends to meet Rinoa and Squall.
"Are okay?" Zell asked with concern as he watched her leaning weakly in the nook of Squall's arm.
"Have you finished the job?" Squall asked turning the conversation away.
"Yup, except one." Irvine said as he leaned his gun on his shoulder. "We can't find the servant who sealed our magic. He's hidden real good."
"Where's Quistis?" Squall suddenly interrupted.
"Wasn't she with you?"
"Whoa!" Zell exclaimed. "She's wandering around the castle alone without her magic? That's like suicide."
"Shut up," Squall snapped.
"Let's just go find her," Rinoa implored gently as she attempted to take on the role of a peacemaker.
* * * * *
Quistis cautiously opened the large oak door. She poked her head in and glanced about to make sure there were no nasty surprises awaiting for her inside. It was empty. She slipped through the narrow gape between the slabs of oak and ambled in.
The room was beautiful. She gasped softly as she saw the walls decorated with marvelous renaissance paintings with Latin inscriptions. For a moment she forgot about the quest and all of its futility as she wandered from picture to picture. The first one was of a woman in scarlet, in fact the inscription said XERAMPELINAE, or "red clothes." Quistis began to wonder what a particular art collector the sorceress must be to point out that the woman was dressed in red. Who was the woman in the painting with the mouse face and sharp eyes. Was she the sorceress's mother? Sister? Daughter?
Quistis quieted the questions in her mind and wandered to the next work which was of a garden in the twilight. Flaming crimson flowers bloomed near the lush hedges in a perfect landscape of peace. Was this a place the sorceress had seen before or was it just here as a reminder of a place beyond the rough? It was so out of place here in this deary castle, this tiny room of magnificent artistic expression. Perhaps the sorceress kept this place as a monument to a lover lost.
Ultimecia, Quistis wondered, was there once a time when a lover whispered sweet nothings in your ear? Did a mother ever hold you in her embrace and sing a moonlit lullaby? What kind of life you must have led to wish complete devastation upon the world. How could you have so many exquisite paintings glorifying nature and man when you want to see it crumble in your palm?
She was a mess of complexes, Quistis finally concluded. Maybe she too had a weakness, some hidden pain that could be used against her to save the world, to save the subjects of all these extravagant scenes.
Her eyes led her to the large work in the center of the room. She knew that she needed to be going, to find Squall but she could not leave. Her eyes were gorging themselves with beauty as they wandered from glorious landscape to magnificent spectacle.
There was only one inscription which she could not decipher. It was underneath the largest work in the room portraying a sunrise over lush emerald hills. It was the type of place found in one's collective unconscious that left a feeling of nostalgia to all those who saw it.
In the garden there slept a messenger. She smiled. What a strange name to give to such a brilliant work of art.
"Vividarium et Invtervigilium et Viator." She said out loud, playing the Greek on her tongue. That was when she heard a creak behind her, a sound of metal squeaking. She whirled around barely avoiding being grabbed around the neck. There was a huge metallic monster behind her, glittering in the finest gold.
She raised her whip and lashed it across its mid section. She realized with horror that her magic had not yet been returned to her. She jumped aside and swung her whip at it in rapid succession but she soon realized that physical attacks did little good. She turned to run when it grabbed her by the ankle by its massive hand and hurled her onto the unforgiving ground.
She rolled over in a daze as her opponent prepared to use its mega pulse canon. Desperately, she tried to drag herself back to her feet. What happened next was a blur. A figure in white suddenly ambushed the monster and with one virtuoso slash, cut through Trauma's left arm. Before it could raise it's other metallic limb, a gunblade went through that one too. Floating there, helpless, the machine shook furiously, about to explode. Sparks flew, electricity snaked through its naked circuits, and it finally gave in to eruption. Quistis covered her eyes trying to protect herself from the shards when he grabbed her and pulled her behind the stairwell. As the dust settled, he got up and began to walk away.
"Seifer, wait!" Quistis interrupted as she got to her feet. She ran after him and stepped in front of him forcing him to look at her.
"Thank you," she said.
"Your majesty," he said mockingly, "you shouldn't be wandering about the castle alone."
"You were following me," she said with a smile.
"No I was watching you. Ultimecia's orders, I'm supposed to keep an eye on you guys."
"Oh? Did she order you to save us from monsters as well?"
"Shut up," he muttered as he turned to leave.
"Don't I tell you not to say that to me?" she asked in anger as she glared at him.
"Oh really? What is the proper way to respond?" he asked.
"Yes, your majesty." She replied.
"I see." He said unbelievingly.
"You don't have to call me 'majesty' it's only when I am playing the role of the queen."
"Yes, your majesty." He said sarcastically.
"Yes, your majesty."
"Join Squall's team." She ordered catching onto his pattern.
"In your dreams, your majesty."
She punched him playfully on the arm of his filthy trench coat.
"Please?" She asked. He looked so beautiful then, in the golden room. The dirt encrusted on the tails of his coat could not mar his glorious image. He was truly the white knight, the one which came riding on the noble steed over twilight's eye. Whereas Squall was a defiance of darkness Seifer was the embodiment of light. To love Squall for his beauty was an acquired taste but to love Seifer was natural to every woman's hot blooded heart.
The two of them stood amidst the antique scenery like two marble statues carved faced to face, standing beside each other for all the rest of time. Quistis felt his hand moving over her cheek, his rough work toughened fingers brushing her hair away from her royal face. She looked very young suddenly as she placed her hand onto his and clasped it gently.
"Be my knight, Seifer," she whispered as she closed her eyes.
He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. It was a just a sudden touch yet it sent a twinge of excitement into her lustful heart. She wanted nothing more than to embrace him, to hold him for the rest of her life and never let go. Fourteen years, it had been too long.
"Please?" She implored gently. He nodded then, slightly, so slight that only she could see it, here an inch away from his face. He kissed her suddenly and the solitude passed between them. Yet he pulled back suddenly and the moment was broken. Footsteps, coming from the hall. Quistis caught him by the arm before he could leave. She held him fast, fearful that he would disappear like a phantom should she let go.
"Stand by me," she implored. And finally with a look of surrender he nodded. He looked to the door with a true heart of valor because at this moment he was about to face what even the bravest hero crumbled against- admitting that he was wrong.
* * * * *
Following Squall into the bright room, Irvine saw him stop dead in his tracks. For a moment he raised his Exeter, fully expecting the young warrior to break into battle mode. So the last servant was here after all. However, a few steps in and Irvine realized that it was something else completely. There, standing under the golden light was Quistis and Seifer.
Glancing over at Squall's face, Irvine did not see surprise. Funny, his face appeared to radiate a number of subtle emotions but shock was not one of them. Squall walked forward toward the couple, leaving Rinoa where she was.
Watching Squall stroll toward Seifer and Quistis, Irvine almost felt a smile come to his lips. There was something so poignant about that picture, even if it would not last. Sometimes in life there are just some sights that defy artistic expression, that made being alive worthwhile.
"The hell .. " Zell muttered under his breath.
"Squall," Quistis whispered, in a pleading tone. For the first time in her reign the young queen was in a situation where she had to beg. Squall there casually, a foot away from Quistis and her paramour. His hand was placed almost arrogantly on his hip as he frowned at Seifer.
Smirk. Seifer delivered one of his renowned twisted grins. The two boys appeared to be engaging in unspoken contest to see who could appear the most cold and uncaring. The competition when on for a few seconds more before Squall spoke up and ended the combat of indifference.
"What's going on?" He asked.
"Nothing, pansy boy," Seifer replied. "I was just-"
"Going to apologize for my mistakes," Quistis finished for him.
"No!" Zell suddenly exclaimed as he appeared before Squall's side. "Don't listen to him Squall. He's a liar!"
Squall ignored him and watched Seifer. They were talking again, silently. An unspoken truth passed between them as Squall's death formed a cloud of urgency between the two boys. Resolution if it should ever come must come now.
"Are you listening to me?" Zell inquired in fury.
"Shut up chicken wuss," Irvine called out as he too walked to Squall's side. "This isn't any of your business."
"What?!" Zell asked. "He betrayed us. He tried to kill everyone in Garden. He's the sorceress's knight! Squall!" Zell threw his hands up in frustration.
"What's going on?" Selphie asked curiously. "Why aren't we fighting?"
"Squall, say something!" Zell ordered. "You are the leader, tell him what he deserves to hear!"
"Seifer, I accept your apology."
"What?!" Zell exclaimed in disbelief. There was silence in the room as the spectators waited for Seifer to respond. Silence, willingly or unwillingly.
"I never asked you to pass me, Squall" Seifer responded suddenly. "I didn't want that favor from you. It's always guilt with you, everything with you is about guilt isn't it?"
"You passed the SeeD exam Seifer," Squall finally said in a low voice, "because of your own ability. It wasn't a favor on my part."
Seifer's smirk was gone and was replaced by disbelief.
"No, you passed me out of guilt. You were trying to make up for the past. I despise you. I would never accept such a gift because you can't make up for fourteen years with one title!"
Squall was taken back by his words. He looked dazed as Seifer continued speaking.
"For fourteen years I suffered all of your abuses. You were always the one in need, sitting in the corner as though the world screwed you over. Well Squall, guess what? You are not the only one whose childhood ended that day in Edea's Orphanage."
"I know," Squall replied as shame touched his eyes. "I always knew that you were more than just a rival. It was never as simple as hate because through your granite exterior you were watching out for me."
Seifer paused, unable to believe what he had just heard. At his side he felt Quistis press up against him as though she was trying to pull him back from the black ocean of his own stubborn pride.
"I hate you," Seifer said finally. "I will always hate you."
"But," Seifer continued before Squall was about to leave. "But it wasn't just hate. It was also friendship. Underneath all the bitter rage, you were always my friend."
Seifer turned his eyes away from him as he glanced once more at Quistis's pleased face.
"I've found a new sorceress to defend," he said softly. "Beside me now I have the core motivation of my heated spite returned to me. I'll go with you, Squall to fight Ultimecia. I've finally found something in this world still worth saving."
* * * * *
"So the old trinity is back together again," Irvine muttered to Selphie as the group paused near the back entrance of the clock tower. Morning had come softly over the dark castle pulling the blanket of darkness away from the sleeping world.
"You mean posse," Zell corrected bitterly. He had moved himself as far from Seifer as humanly possible.
"No," Irvine said with a wave of his hand. "I mean trinity. A posse is a group united for a common purpose. A trinity is a group of closely related people. It's not interchangeable."
Selphie chuckled nervously. "You sound like Squall, Zell."
"At least one of us still does," Zell muttered.
"Don't be so bitter, Zell." Irvine said as he patted him roughly on the back.
"Rinoa agrees with me," Zell said as he looked to her. She was sitting silently close by, avoiding both Seifer and Quistis. "Yo Rinoa, don't you agree that Squall is acting weird?"
She sighed wearily as though she had finally come to a decision.
"Sometimes, Zell, right before you die, you want to make your peace with the past," she answered.
"What are you talking about?" Zell asked almost angrily.
Ignoring him, she stood up and left. She ambled toward Squall who was eyeing the clock tower in the middle of the walkway. She took his hand.
"There is something I need to tell you before we fight her," Rinoa muttered.
"What?" He asked placing his gentle eyes back on her. There was something in his face which she had not seen before - warmth, his eyes were smiling at her. She squeezed his hand and looked into his face without fear of his harsh glaze.
"The sorceress . ..Ultimecia, she knows about Winhill. She knows everything we know."
"How?" He asked.
Someone cleared his throat. Rinoa turned her eyes to see Seifer standing behind them with Quistis by his side. Rinoa felt herself recoil for a moment but she decided to hold her ground. She would not let him intimidate her.
"When Ultimecia possessed you in Lunatic Pandora she saw everything in your mind, Rinoa." Seifer said. "You two died on the Winhill Bluffs the last time you fought her."
"Last time?" Quistis asked in confusion.
"The last turn of the wheel of time," Seifer corrected. "Love courage friendship, you need all three to survive."
"This time things will be different," Rinoa said once more telling the comforting lies which she herself did not believe. "They had their story, this is ours. There will be no tragedy on the bluffs this time."
"Because he can follow you where no one else can go," Seifer said sarcastically as he glared at the sorceress.
She bit her lip and was silent.
"We'll meet in the orphanage," Quistis said, "just like before. We'll all meet there. Forget about Winhill, Squall."
Squall shrugged as he looked down the walkway to the giant oak door in the distance. Ultimecia was waiting. His days were already numbered and the last seconds were ticking away.
"It's time to finish it." Squall said quietly.
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