A Mist Over Winhill Chapter 8

Garden's Folly

By Kate Lorraine

On the outskirts of the Desert Prison, Xu turned her face towards the sky and saw the white tails of a dozen missiles streaking across the blue dawn.

"Galbadia has ordered an attack on Garden," she informed the rest of the group with her voice trembling. "We need to get back and warn them, now!"

"How are we going to do that?" Zell asked. "We are in the middle of a desert with nothing except junk and sand."

"Wait," Rinoa said. "I think I know a railroad station nearby. It's Galbadian but I think we can sneak on." There was a moment of silence as the group watched her. Rinoa shrugged and clasped her left elbow with her right hand.

"Who are you anyway?" Xu asked with a touch of suspicion in her voice.

"My name is Circe, Rinoa Circe," she said. "I'm part of a resistance group called the Timber Owls. I was here as a spy but I guess I was found out." Rinoa glanced at Squall but he had looked away pretending not to hear her lies.

Xu nodded. "I'm sorry, Garden is very particular about whom they allow into their midst. I guess if you are part of a resistance group it's alright. I'm sorry this might be my imagination but have you two met before?" Xu glanced from Squall to Rinoa.

"No," Rinoa said immediately. "Never."

Xu looked slightly embarrassed. "All right, let's hurry and get to Garden before the missiles do."

A few moments later the party high jacked Galbadian freight train from the station. Zell stood at the window as he saw a couple of Galbadian soldiers chasing after the train.

"It's no use, give up!" Zell yelled.

"That's our train."

"You sure are dense," Zell remarked.

Rinoa walked up to his side and threw a copy of Occult fan into the wind. It hit the soldier smack in the face. He tripped and rolled off the side of the road.

Rinoa clapped her hands together. "Those are useless anyway," she commented.

Zell laughed. "Hey you're pretty cool."

Rinoa gave him a shy smile.

"I don't think your friends like me," she remarked sadly.

Zell shook his head passionately. "Xu is a bit obsessed with Cid and Garden, she doesn't like anyone much. Selphie likes everybody. She'll love you as soon as things get back to normal. Squall, well Squall is Squall. Don't worry too much about him, he's cold to everyone."

"Anything else I should know?"

"Garden serves great hot dogs." Zell said rubbing his hands together. "Once you taste them you'll never want to leave."

* * *

When the party of SeeDs arrived at Balamb the Garden was in disarray. Chaos was running rampant. Students were running to a fro aimlessly guided by the Garden Masters who were even more hostile than usual. At first sight, Xu gasped in horror and left the party, heading straight for the headmaster's office. Zell and Selphie were looking about in confusion. Rinoa looked to Squall.

"So this is how you run things at Garden?" she asked. "I've seen war zones that were more organized."

He drew out his gunblade and ignored her sarcastic comments. "Stay close to me," he ordered and walked up to the Garden master.

Selphie looked at Rinoa in surprise. "Stay close to me?! That doesn't sound like Squall at all." She giggled. "What's gotten into you, Squall? And a girl you don't even know too .. "

"Are you with the Headmaster?" The Garden Master ordered as he stood firmly before Squall.

"I don't understand," Squall repeated. "What's going on?"

The Garden Master took a step forward and shoved Squall roughly. "If you are not with us then you are against us. Attack!" he ordered his minions.

Rinoa took a step back as she watched Zell and Selphie rush into battle beside Squall. She smiled as she observed them battle.

* * * *

A few battles later they met Xu on the second floor.

"The headmaster is not here!" Xu exclaimed in surprise.

"Calm down," Selphie said. "Maybe he and Irvine aren't here yet. We took the train thanks to Rinoa that's why we got here first."

"But the missiles!" Zell said. "What are we going to do? By the time Cid gets here Garden will be in smithereens."

Squall shook his head and looked away, a trouble expression on his face. The group was looking to him to think up something. Xu was on the verge of hysterics, unable to maintain her role as a leader.

What do they expect from me? Squall wondered. Am I to wave my hand and make things right? Why can't they think for themselves?

It was then that the one which they all had ignored up to the moment stepped forward.

"I have a plan," Rinoa said.

They looked to her in surprise. "What?!" Zell asked.

"Huh?" Selphie asked in shock as well. Xu looked away in disbelief.

Rinoa ignored them. She turned her eyes to Squall, speaking to him alone. "I know about the Centra. From their civilization came the technology of the Gardens. The Gardens were once used as movable shelters for the Centra after their civilization was destroyed by the Lunar Cry. If my speculations are correct, on the MD level of the Garden there should be a way to make the Garden mobile again."

"How do you know so much about the Centra?" Xu asked suspiciously. "Is that required knowledge for resistance groups?"

No but it is for a sorceress. Rinoa thought.

Before Xu can see Rinoa's eyes flare yellow in anger, Squall stepped in front of her.

"Let's not argue over trivial matters. Me and Rinoa will go to the MD level. Zell, Selphie, evacuate the Garden. Xu, wait for Cid to return and make sure the Garden Masters don't get their hands on him."

"You and Rinoa?!" Xu asked. "I have objections with placing an outsider on this mission. Are we going to trust the fate of Garden to a girl we don't even know?"

"Do you have a better suggestion?" Squall asked.

Rinoa stepped forward nudging Squall aside to inform him that she could fight her own battles. She looked Xu directly in the eye, spell bounding her.

I am the right choice.

"She is the right choice," Xu repeated. She smiled then, in a idiotic way as those under the sorceress's influence are prone to. "Good luck Squall," Xu said before she turned and stumbled away.

Zell and Selphie were left in shock. Squall shook his head in disgust. Reaching out with one hand he pulled Rinoa away with him.

* * * *

"How could you do that?" Squall demanded as soon as they were in the elevator. Rinoa ignored him, she began to fiddle with the buttons. She placed her finger where the key was supposed to go, sending a slight shock into the lock, it turned and clicked. Perfect.

"I'm sorry Squall, if you consider her petty distrust more important than the lives of your classmates. That was the first good deed I did this year and here you are scolding me. Maybe, it would be easier if I went back to being evil."

"You are the most frustrating girl I've ever met," Squall commented.

She punched him playfully. "You don't deserve any better."

He grew serious. "Promise me you will never do that again."

"To any more of your friends," she said, standing her ground. The elevator jarred to a stop suddenly and refused to start moving again.

She tossed the back of her dress aside and knelt down to the access panel. "Come on, looks like the elevator isn't going to take us much further."

The heels of her boots clicked on the metal rungs of the ancient site as they descended deeper into the heart of Garden. She felt a slight tug on the back of her dress as Squall swatted the blue material out of his face. She felt like laughing again suddenly. She had felt this way before as she ran beside Seifer through the streets of Timber away from the cross farmers that condemned them for trespassing through the apple orchards. Timber always had the most beautiful orchards, especially underneath the midnight moon. They had giggled and squealed as the owner ran in hot pursuit. Sometimes, Seifer would duck into an alley and yank her in with him. There he would kiss her and whisper gently of the wonderful days to come. However, even then she knew, those days would never be.

Rinoa was broken from her daydream when far above her the elevator began to tremble. So it had decided to come down after all. She looked up with fear in her eyes and began to scramble down. Squall took a precarious jump but somehow managed to land on his feet on the inch of space not cluttered by broken machinery.

"Jump," he ordered her as the elevator shook with wrath.

"No!" she said as she looked down. Beside him laid the torn shrapnel of the ancient machinery, abandoned, broken, deadly. She had no intention of getting impaled. She hurried down but in her rush a boot slipped on the slime of the ancient rung. A scream erupted from her lips as she fell. She flung her right arm wildly in effort to grab the rung but failed. The air rushed past her face as she came careening towards the unforgiving earth but no impact came to meet her. She fell into something soft and firm. It took her a moment to realize that Squall had caught her. By the time the recognition came about the elevator had crashed to the ground behind them and Squall was standing at the entrance of the tunnel to their destination.

He let her down slowly, embarrassed by the excessive relief written on her face. She untangled her arms from his neck.

"I guess the big bad sorceress needs some help sometimes," she said shamefully.

"Come on, we don't have much time," he said as he continued to walk down the tunnel. Although his words were harsh, his voice betrayed a tenderness she had not heard before and she knew that he did care.

* * * *

Zell scratched his head nervously. There she was, her index finger twirling a pigtail as she stood talking to a SeeD member. Oh she was so lovely what would she want to do with the likes of him?

"Whatcha staring at Zell?" Selphie asked as she broke him from his reverie. She was breathing hard from running throughout the Garden informing people of the coming crisis.

"Umm nothing," he replied.

"Hey why don't you go tell that girl with the pigtails over there that we need to get out? I'll go tell those guys over there. Come on Zell, we have no time to stand around."

Zell gulped and looked over at her. He had never been so afraid in his life, not even in The Tempest. Boldly he walked over.

"Umm . .excuse me," he said. For that moment he saw perfection in her and she saw it in him.

"Err . .. need . .. out .. . . .get." Zell said.

She smiled and heard poetry.

Such was delusion.

Such was naivete.

Such was love

* * * *

Rinoa pointed across the bridge.

"I have a feeling it's over there," she said.

Squall lifted his chin and glanced at the bridge suspiciously. He nudged her behind him and began to walk across the bridge. Rinoa frowned once more, unable to understand why he insisted on protecting her.

"I hear something, do you?" Rinoa asked. "It sounds like bubbles."

Squall looked down and before his eyes the oily waters parted and two Oilboyles emerged. They splattered the oily fluid onto the bridge as they parted their muck covered fins preparing to attack. Rinoa raised her Cardinal and shot it in a flaming streak straight into the Oilboyles' head. It made a sickening smack and her weapon remained impaled inside the monster. Moaning in pain, the monster vomited a storm of oil onto her. Squall tried to stab the other one with his blade and a fountain of oil shot from the wound and covered him in black muck as well.

Rinoa shook herself in disgust. Her eyes blazed gold and she raised her arm.

"Get out of the way, Squall," she ordered. Knowing what was good for him, Squall retreated from the Oilboyles. From her fingers came an explosion of fire. It consumed the Oilboyle whole and Squall shielded his eyes from the glare. Staring at her conflagration, Rinoa's eyes faded back to brown as the fire slowly died. There was nothing left but ashes.

She walked over and picked up her ruined Cardinal.

"Bastards," she cursed. "This was a gift from my father."

Squall made a quick mental note never to touch gifts from her father.

"Let's hurry," he said.

* * * *

Selphie squinted at the horizon. There were two people coming. Was it too much to hope for that she thought she saw Irvine? In back she motioned for two members to escape. She turned her eyes to the two figures once more. A smile suddenly bursted onto her lips as she saw one of them waving to her.

"Irvine!!" She yelled and started running. He met her halfway and they stopped a few feet from each other.

"Hey Selph," he said. "Nice to see ya."

She nodded, keeping her distance. "I have your hat."

Irvine smiled. "I left it for you."

"Here," she said, handing it back to him. "I kept it on my head so it wouldn't get dirty or crushed."

"Naw, why don't you wear it? It looks pretty cute on ya." Irvine said.

Selphie pouted at him then she twirled around in a happy circle but was broken from her coy games when Cid finally caught up with Irvine.

"Is everything alright, Selphie?" he asked.

Selphie turned serious. "No there are missiles headed this way! Squall is trying to make the Garden mobile in the MD level but so far there's been no sign of him."

"Squall went down to the MD level alone?" Cid asked with a worried expression on his face. He did not wait for Selphie's response as he quickly began running towards Garden.

"No he went with a girl," Selphie said but trailed off as she realized that Cid was out of range.

Irvine whistled. "That dog!" he said laughing. Selphie slapped him on his arm.

"Come on we need to follow Cid. He doesn't know about the Garden Masters."

Irvine and Selphie caught up to Cid in his office. He was standing before his desk searching for the key to the MD level when suddenly the floor underneath them opened. Light poured from every crevasse and crack as the a platform rose high above the headmaster's office to the very top of the Garden structure. Cid looked about him in shook as he had fallen onto his knees in amazement. At that moment, the missiles came to meet their target but the Garden threw soil into the air for miles around in a massive tornado as it began to glide away from its niche in the meadow.

The missiles came to meet with nothingness.

When the smoke cleared, Cid stood up and his mouth opened in surprise as he saw Rinoa Heartilly getting to her feet beside Squall.

"What is this?" Cid demanded. Rinoa looked at him with an expression of apprehension. Squall stepped before her in a gesture of defense the same way she had placed her hand upon him before in the desert prison.

"I brought her here," he told the headmaster. "She's responsible for the fact that Garden's still here right now."

Cid stood there with his mouth agape, trying to recover. He was completely pale at first, then his face twisted in a look of rage, he took a few deep breathes.

"You can't be serious, Squall." the headmaster said. "This is insane. You know they call her the Angel of Death for a reason. How do you know she's not a spy?"

Squall grabbed Rinoa's arm tightly, motioning for her to stay silent.

"I know. I don't doubt her." Squall said quietly, the promise he had made that day in Winhill replaying in his mind. "I'll take complete responsibility for everything she does."

Cid sighed looking defeated. "Squall, Squall, I told you once before that I wanted you to lead this mission against the sorceress. How can I ask that of you now that you have brought this girl here?"

Squall frowned. "I never asked to be the one to lead this mission."

"No Squall," Cid said under his breath. "If you are not the one to lead this mission there will be no chance of victory for us. There are things about your past that you don't know. Only you can lead this mission."

"Don't talk about this as though I was born for it," Squall said with malice in his voice.

Cid shook his head in a weary fashion. "Alright Squall, keep her here. Think about your decision. I won't interfere in your business for the time being. She .. is your responsibility, remember that."


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