The Orphan Chapter 23

City Closest to Hell

By Kate Lorraine

Squall Leonhart landed the Ragnarok near the Tomb of the Unknown King and continued to walk to Deling City. From the Ragnarok he could see Deling covered in a mist of red. The seventh day of the eighth night, was tonight.

At the entrance of Deling he saw a mass of soldiers guarding the entrance. Squall pulled out his gunblade and held it ready in his right hand. He grimaced in pain as he tightened his grip around the handle. He had given all his GFs to his friends. If he got into a fight he would only be able to attack. There must be another way in than through battle.

"Hey who goes there?" a young soldier yelled as Squall walked out of the shadows.

It was only one soldier, Squall decided that he could probably take him out.

"Mr. Leonhart!" The young man yelled suddenly, removing his helmet. "Imagine seeing you here, Mr Leonhart. Wow, remember me? Well of course you don't, I'm sure you have far more important things on your mind. I'm Clay Stripe!"

Squall frowned and loosened his grip on the blade. So Alexandra had idiots guarding her gates. What happened to the real soldiers?

The young man removed his helmet, letting loose his mass of spiky blond hair. He smiled at Squall and raised hand in effort to coax a hand shake out of Squall. Squall stood his ground and did not raise his hand.

Slightly embarrassed, the young man took back his hand.

"Where you going, Mr. Leonhart, can I help you with anything? Are you going on some really important mission to save the world? I really want to help you, you know since you were so nice to me at the Deling party. I'm involved now, you know what they say about the train."

Squall narrowed his eyes at the young man. He was about sixteen years of age, Squall estimated, yet he seemed ages younger than his seventeen. The man's huge blue eyes were downright frightening and his arms were huge in comparison to his body.

"No, I don't know," Squall replied. "What do they say about the train?" Squall asked trying to be friendly.

"There ain't no getting off the train once you get on it, Mr Leonhart. That's what my friends told me. The train we are on makes no stops."

Squall frowned and slowed his pace to speak to the blond boy. "A word of advice, Mr Stripe, if you want people to respect you maybe you should start using proper grammar and not words like 'ain't' you sound like a hillbilly from a tiny town near the mountains."

Clay nodded, quite ashamed. "I'm sorry Mr. Leonhart." The boy all the more eager to help now that he had throughly made a fool of himself in front of his idol. "Are you trying to get into the city, Mr. Leonhart? I can help you get in. I know a way nearby. Come follow me!" the boy said waving for him to follow. Squall sighed and followed him.

* *

Quistis got off of the train in Deling. She didn't need to be reminded by Irvine this time to head for the sewers. Beside her, Seifer was standing frowning at the Deling guards.

"Does she have them under mind control?" Quistis asked.

Seifer shrugged. "Perhaps, some of them are just plain stupid. They don't really need mind control."

Quistis watched her friends climb down into the sewers and she followed. As she stepped off the ladder they were attacked by a group of Creeps. The long fingered shadow creatures came in a group of five. Seifer raised his gunblade and slashed one of them across its middle. Selphie stocked up on some thunder spells while Irvine shot one with some Dark Ammo. Zell was zapped with a lightening spell but he countered with a Holy spell. Quistis frowned at him.

"Don't waste the strong spells."

Zell ignored her. "Yo, those bolts hurt."

Fujin took down the last one with a Aero.

"The enemies down here are a piece of cake," Raijin said.

That was when they heard a rumbling from the depth of the dark sewers.

"What was that?!" Selphie exclaimed.

"It doesn't matter," Quistis said."Whatever comes, comes. We need to get going. We need to get to the sorceress before midnight."

The group nodded as they continued walking following Quistis's lead.

* *

Squall stepped out of the tiny tunnel Clay had led him through. He made a face as he brushed cobwebs out of his hair. Clay shrugged sheepishly as he watched Squall brush himself off.

"I'm sorry, it's probably not fitting for big heros like you to crawl through abandoned pipes." Clay looked even more ashamed as he looked at Squall's frowning face.

"No," Squall said, coughing from the dust. "It's fine. Which way is it to the presidential mansion?"

Clay pointed at the distance. Squall shook his head as he saw the distant building surrounded by red lights. It was going to be a long walk. He turned to leave when Clay grabbed him suddenly by the arm.

"Wait, here, you might need this. It's not much but it should help you on your way." Clay handed Squall a bag of Ultima stones. Squall took them from the young man and for a moment Squall was touched by the man's gesture. He looked at Clay and patted him on the shoulder.

"Thank you Clay, I misjudged you."

Clay smiled. "I'm going to be like you one day Mr Leonhart. I'm going to be a hero, I'll have women galore just like you and the entire world will love me."

Squall looked at the young man sadly. "All that comes with a price Clay. In the end you might wish you never gave up what you have now."

Clay shrugged. "You are really something Mr. Leonhart, you're going to go rescue your lady now aren't you? Big time heroes like you always save the lady from the evil villain. Only the second rate counterfeit heroes ever have their lady dying on them. You have nothing to worry about." Clay waved to Squall as he turned to enter the pipes once more.

Squall turned toward the city and watched the magnificent city before him. If only it was really so simple. But in reality there were no real villains or any real heroes. Only those like Seifer Almasy divided others into black and white, endings into happy and sad, emotions into love and hate. Because in the end no matter who you choose to fight or who you saved from harm, both sides had already lost something by waging war.

What is it really that you want, Alexandra? Squall wondered.

* *

Quistis turned left again for the fourth time.

"Are you sure we are not lost Quistis?" Zell asked.

"No, I've been down here a dozen times already." Quistis reminded him.

Irvine chuckled. "They should make this the official SeeD doorway."

Raijin stopped in his tracks. "Did you hear that?" he asked.

"What?" Selphie asked. She looked around. "I don't see anything."

Something growled in the distance. The entire group turned around in the direction of the sound. Seifer walked forward slashing the air with his gunblade.

"Come out, damn it. Stop being a coward. Come out you fool and fight me!"

"Calm down Seifer," Selphie said. "It probably can't understand what you are saying anyway."

Seifer stood there and frowned. Zell walked over to him and squinted in the dim light trying to make out a shape.

"Nothing." He said.

That was when he was suddenly hurled backwards by a huge claw. He fell against the wall and collapsed in a heap. The monster walked out of the shadows, his green eyes glittering with menace. It was a huge thing made of slime and mud. He growled at them, unleashing a bad breath attack. Selphie went to Zell's aid while Quistis immediately used a mega elixir to undo the status affects on Raijin, Irvine. Seifer ran forward fearlessly and slashed the monster across its face. But the monster just melted back together.

"What is this?" Seifer asked as he cast a Bizzarga on the creature. Part of its face froze but new slime just replaced that which was frozen.

Quistis whipped the monster with her Save the Queen but her whip was stuck in the middle of it. She tried to tug it out but the monster refused to let go.

"Irvine! Help me!" She yelled at him but he was on the floor fast asleep. Quistis growled and continued to tug.

Fujin drew Aura from Seifer and cast it upon him. Seifer nodded in her direction and began to use the Fire Cross on the demon. Quistis was still holding onto her Save the Queen. It was stuck good.

Fire Cross did no good. The monster just melted back together. Raijin came over and began to help Quistis pull her Save the Queen. Finally Zell got back on his feet. He then called Leviathan. "Get out of the way, Quistis!" yelled as he, a sleepy Irvine and Selphie began to run down the tunnel. Seifer slashed at the monster one last time, then he and Fujin began running as well.

Finally Quistis gave up as she turned around with Raijin and began to run. Behind them, Leviathan's waterfall obliterated the monster.

Quistis shook her head and fixed her wet hair.

"I guess it's up to you guys to attack the sorceress now, " she said.

* *

Squall crept through the trees, doing his best to avoid the sight of the guards as he neared the archway. His gunblade caught a ray of light and glittered like gold in the street light. Seeing a guard in front of him, Squall took him out with one good stab and emerged from the tiny forest. He crept along the archway, with his back against the yellow stone, as he looked over at the Presidential Mansion down the street he frowned at the long open distance he had to pass to get there. It was impossible. That was when someone caught him roughly by the shoulder and slammed him flat against the stone wall.

The man pressed Squall's mouth closed with his gloved hand.

"Don't make a sound," he ordered and took his hand off.

Squall rubbed the salty taste off his lips with the back of his hand.

General Caraway poked his neck out to scan for guards then, seeing the coast was clear, he turned his sight back to Squall.

"Listen, Leonhart, you did a pathetic job of taking care of my daughter. She's in that Presidential Mansion trapped inside the sorceress. You better rescue her."

Squall glared at him. "What do you think I'm doing Caraway. I don't see you putting out any effort to help Rinoa."

Caraway looked remorseful. "Because . . I can't. I can't help her, Leonhart. I'm an old man there is only so much I can do. You will . . bring her back safely to me, will you?"

Squall's tone decreased in malice. "I'm going to do that now. Seifer Almasy is there. He's planning to harm her. I'm going to defend her from him. Will you help me get to her?"

Caraway nodded. "Seifer Almasy, I only wish I could help you kill that bastard. He's going to try to harm Rinoa? Well I'm not surprised. Come Leonhart, I'll help you into that mansion. If I see Seifer Almasy I'll shoot him on sight."

* *

"Carbuncle is cold, hey look he's shivering!" Selphie squealed as she hugged the GF in her arms.

"Put him back in his hole them," Seifer said, throughly irritated.

"No!" Selphie said. "He hates his hole. Squall kept him in his hole all the time. "

"I can see why," Seifer replied with disgust.

"Light." Fujin said as she pointed to the room with a ladder in the distance.

` "We're out of here!" Zell yelled happily.

Quistis rubbed her wet arms. She could see why the little animal was cold. She was freezing as well. It was middle of August too. But Deling City appeared to have frozen over.

It's the day that hell froze over.

Irvine walked over to her and handed her his coat.

It's cold because Alexandra has sucked all the energy from the air. She is harboring that energy ready to use it to destroy the world, Quistis thought to herself.

"Here, Quistis," he said. "Put it on, you are going to catch something nasty."

"Hey!" Raijin said, "I'm wet too. Why did chicken wuss have to call Leviathan while were still tugging at the whip anyway. It's just plain stupid, ya know."

Zell growled and lunged at him but was restrained by Selphie.

"Stop it!" she ordered.

Quistis shrugged and wrapped Irvine's coat around herself. "Let's go," she said. "We don't have much more time."

The group climbed up the narrow ladder into the Deling Archway.

"Look," Seifer said. "The Presidential Mansion is right there. Let's get going."

"Yeah but how?" Zell asked. "The guards just might notice a group of armed SeeDs walking down the open street."

Quistis pointed at the clock. "Look, we only have three hours before midnight. We need to get there now."

Seifer kicked the stone wall in frustration. "I don't care, let's just take out all our firepower and make a run for it. We have enough ammo to take down a small town, anyway."

Fujin nodded at Seifer's words. Raijin shrugged. Irvine scratched his head. Selphie frowned.

"It is the fastest way to get there, ya know." Raijin said in support for his leader.

Irvine, Zell and Selphie all looked to Quistis for a decision. She merely threw her hands aside. "I give up Seifer, do what you wish." Quistis finally said.

"Hey!" Zell said. "I'm through with this. Quistis why have you been on Seifer's side all this time?" He inquired. Quistis just looked at him sadly and followed a cocky Seifer out from under the arch. She whispered something as she turned her head around. It sounded something like "because he's our only hope."

* *

Quistis walked over to Seifer's side as they stepped out from under the arch. She did not believe that this was the best course of action but frankly she was too exhausted and too pressed for time to care. Seifer looked over at her and shrugged.

"It's not far, we'll just make a dash for it."

Quistis pressed her lips together and did not respond but suddenly her eyes widened in surprise as she saw a form emerge on the other side of the arch. It was the shape of a man, with a gun. A sense of deja vu shoot through her. Caraway. In an act of reflex, she shoved Seifer to one side out of the line of fire from the man with the gun.

"He-" Seifer exclaimed as she pressed her gloved hand over his mouth.

"Sssh," she said as she glanced over to make sure the others were still loitering behind but it was too late. Selphie had ostentatiously stepped up to the threshold of the arch with Irvine beside her. They were walking together quietly, taking no notice of the danger before them. Quistis felt every muscle in her body tense.

Please, she thought to herself, please don't shoot.

But suddenly, instead of a shot, she heard Selphie squeal in joy.

"Sir Laguna!!!" Selphie yelled and she ran over and hugged him.

Beside him stood an embarrassed Kiros and a nervous looking Ward.

Quistis took her hand off Seifer's mouth as she looked over in surprise.

* *

Irvine scratched his neck as he watched Selphie embrace Laguna, Kiros then Ward.

"Are you here to get the sorceress too?" Selphie asked.

"Carbuncle!" Carbuncle said happily from her shoulder.

Laguna nodded. "Is Squall here?" he asked.

"Nope!" Selphie said. "Squall is at Garden. He told us to go save Rinoey for him."

Laguna breathed a sigh of relief. "That's great. I thought he might have come here to fight the sorceress."

"Naww," Irvine said with a wave of his hand. "Squall has had too much action in the past few days. It's just us here. Leave it to us. We'll get her like we got Ultimecia." He assured Laguna.

"Hey who goes there!" A Galbadian soldier yelled as he caught sight of the party.

"Oh no!" Selphie exclaimed. "Looks like we have some company." She took out her Strange Vision and held it ready.

"Stand back, Laguna, we'll take care of them, right Quistis? Zell?" Irvine suddenly looked around in surprise. "Zell? Quistis?" He asked in shock as he realized that he and Selphie were all that was left of their party.

The Galbadian Soldiers started closing in.

"Ha ha," Kiros said. "It looks like they left you in their hurry to get to the sorceress."

Laguna stepped forward and readied his machine gun. "Selphie, Irvine, go after your friends. We'll take care of these soldiers. Back up from Esthar is just around the corner. Go."

"Are you sure?" Selphie asked.

"Yeah, go. Kill that bloody sorceress and her knight, for me and for Squall. Go!" Laguna urged.

Selphie and Irvine nodded as they began running in the direction of the Presidential mansion.

* *

"I see them coming!" Zell said as he held the giant oak door ajar. Quistis watched with concern at Selphie and Irvine who were nearing the mansion. They had narrowly avoided a time consuming fight with the Galbadians. They were even luckier, perhaps, that Laguna did not see Seifer. Quistis didn't want to contemplate the complications that would resulted should Laguna realize that they were going to use Maniac Athena on Rinoa.

"Hey you left us!" Selphie exclaimed as she slipped through the door with Carbuncle held tightly in her arms.

"It was necessary, ya know." Raijin told her. "We couldn't wait for ya guys to chit chat."

"We need to get going," Quistis reminded them all as Zell shut the door tightly behind Irvine.

"Yo," Zell said. "Would anyone might explaining to me why there are no guards at all here?"

"The same reason, chicken wuss, this place is fifty degrees lower in temperature than the outside," Seifer answered him.

Zell growled at him.

"Shut up," Quistis said. "Listen, the sorceress is here. Remember when we went to fight Ultimecia how mature you guys acted for the sake of saving the world? Well I want you to act like that again and stop the bloody bickering!"

"Sheesh," Zell said. "Seifer started it."

"You guys, please, let's stop." Selphie said speaking up finally. "I don't like this place. It's eerie. Let's get this done and leave, please." Held tightly in her arms, Carbuncled agreed eagerly.

Irvine pointed down the main hallway, "I think it is this way, up those stairs in back. That should lead us to the main room."

"Proceed," Fujin said.

The group followed Irvine's lead as he began walking down the long dark hallway. The room appeared to be getting darker as they walked, as though some vampire was sucking the light and heat from the air. They came to a stairway moments later. Irvine shrugged as he bravely lead the way up the stairs followed closely by Seifer and Quistis. Behind Seifer and Quistis was Fujin and Raijin who were followed by Selphie and Zell. Zell was slowed down by his recent injury by the sewer monster, Selphie just didn't really understand what they were planning enough to take any sort of leadership role.

"The throne room is down there." Irvine whispered.

Quistis nodded as she watched Seifer step into the lead. That was when she heard music. It sounded like some sort of flute but then she realized that it was the wind. The skies were singing. It was a low song with the noted drawn out almost as soulful as the voice of the violin. It was so sad and poignant that it made her heart fell heavy in her chest. How evil would a sorceress have to be to make the sky cry in pain?

"We are ready right?" Seifer asked in a low voice. There was no mocking tone this time, no smirk. It was a genuine question.

"She's alone in there." Seifer reminded them. "She's just one women. We can take her out, just leave it all up to me."

Fujin, Quistis, Raijin and Selphie nodded. Irvine shrugged and Zell said nothing.

Seifer turned to begin walking down the long eerie hallway when he heard a voice, singing. They all heard it, although no one said anything about it. Someone was singing.

"Fairies, lambs, and butterflies," a voice sang in the distance.

Seifer felt his muscles tense as he heard the voice. It was her. He could almost feel her neck in his hands. She was his. She was sitting there, the embodiment of all his nightmares, of all his internal torture. Ultimecia's spawn. Squall had never allowed him the opportunity to seek his vengeance on Ultimecia but now he would have it on Alexandra. He would never be mockingly called the sorceress's knight, he would be the one to save the world this time. Squall's moment of glory had passed. That pathetic excuse of a rival would be obliterated forever from his playing field when, he, the rightful heir, took all of the sorceress's power. In his hand Seifer squeezed the hard bulb of Maniac Athena, he could almost feel the power flowing into him like ichor. That wonderful nectar which would wash away all his guilt, sin and helplessness.

"Sleepy clouds in summer skies." the voice continued.

Quistis clenched her fists tight at her side. Rinoa, that poor child. She never understood the danger they were in. It always a game to her. Quistis just hoped that she would not feel it when Seifer pressed that crystal to her forehead. Did she even understand what it mean to die? She was always the innocent one, the foolish child that believed that any problem could be solved by calling the other a "meanie." Poor Squall had tried so hard to preserve her innocence. However, in the end she will have to grow up and find out that you can't elude death by calling it a meanie. Quistis just hoped that Squall would understand why she had to take this course of action. That unlike Zell and Selphie she did not find Rinoa's life more important than that of a billion. Perhaps Squall knew that too and had sent her to complete a mission he could not bear to suffer through. Quistis knew that he had placed the success of this mission on her shoulders and that regardless of what happens she had to complete it for him even if it meant Rinoa's life or that of her own.

I'm doing this for you, Squall.

From the depths of the hallway the singing continued, unhurried and calm.

"Sleepy clouds in summer skies."

Fujin kept her eyes on Seifer as they continued down the hall. She watched him swinging his gunblade casually as he walked. That tiny gesture made her feel better, as though there was still sanity in this ghoul's home. He was her pillar of strength. In the end as long as he still stood there with that devil-may-care smirk on his face, she knew that nothing in the world could go wrong. It would always be a long continuous pursuit of Seifer's dream, as capricious and fickle as that dream may be. There in the darkness, underneath the screaming sky outside, in the freezing mid August night, Fujin was not afraid.

"Sleep all night, in my sight,"

Irvine rubbed two of his gun powder stained fingers together as the distance between him and the sorceress shortened. The sorceress was singing, it was funny. He turned and winked at Selphie who had a serious look on her face. The future may never come, the past is gone, all that exists is now, those were Stella's words. The future might bring death. The world might end tonight. These might be his last moments alive, why spend them being afraid? What a bizarre night, the skies appeared to be screaming. It was a miraculous show to see. With a smile on his face he reached over and hugged Selphie one last time.

I can't die. What will all these women do without me?

"Though you're off in dreamland."

Zell squeezed his fists tight. He was mad at Quistis, for not trusting him with her plans. He could not understand why Quistis choose to discuss her plans with Seifer before she would discuss them with him. Was he really as useless as they said he was? It reminded him of when Squall had chosen to team up with Seifer during the Dollet exam rather than him. Squall would rather be with his enemy rather than befriend him. All his life he had tried to cover his own insecurity using his fists, yet now he began to come to the painful realization that perhaps it was all just illusion, not any better than Seifer's mockery of a dream. Fifi, he thought of his lovely Fifi but the thought did not give him any comfort. Rinoa's life was in danger, of that he was sure. Seifer who hated her and Quistis who did not care. They were the leaders of the operation. What sort of a fool was Squall to do this? If he was really the wonder of a man that all of garden praised why was he not here to save his Rinoa?

Zell frowned. I'll protect you Rinoa, even if Squall won't.

"Then, tomorrow, with the sun,"

Selphie held her whimpering Carbuncle in her arms. She forced a smile on her face as Irvine hugged her. He looked genuinely happy.

He's trying to comfort me

She watched Quistis and Seifer nearing the huge lavishly designed door at the end of the hall. It glowed in the dim light. She remembered a long time ago when it was Squall and Quistis standing at Ultimecia's door. "Let's get it over with," Squall had said as they stood there in a circle back then. As cold and impersonal as Squall was, Selphie had felt safe being led through that fight by him, their leader.

Now, that leader was Seifer.

Somehow it just wasn't the same.

Quistis closed her eyes as Seifer went through the door. She was next. She forced her eyes open as she followed behind. What kind of instructor was she to let her student in first? But it did not matter. She had too many memories of Ultimecia to want to be the first one.

She had expected a great golden throne. She had expected to see an open blue sky eerie in its artificial quality, expected a great ostentatious witch sitting there in her flaming red dress with rainbow spirals across her skin.

But there was nothing like that.

On the small throne where Edea had once sat was Rinoa.

She was bent over something which she was holding lovingly in her lap.

. Her hair on top of her head in a black crown of thick coils lavishly decorated with pearls and jewels. From her back were two magnificent black wings, as dark as those of the raven perched on the bust uttering "nevermore." She wore a black dress of velvet, one which had a small V neck. One of the few dim lights in the room fell upon her, illuminating her in a cylinder of yellow. Her smooth skin was as white as virgin snow, as though no blood ran underneath that emaciated flesh.

In her arms she held a bundle of fur. As the group formed stood in front of her she bent over and planted a kiss on the raccoon on her lap.

"Back to mama, little one," she whispered and looked up. Her eyes were as yellow as the mid day sun and her cheeks wrapped with a layer of vein. She smiled then.

"So you've come for me, SeeDs."

The raccoon on her lap her perked up. Quistis watched the little animal crawl off her lap. It slipped clumsily off the folds of her dress and fell onto the carpeted floor. As it pushed itself back into a standing position, its neck twisted around almost a hundred and eighty degrees. Nothing alive can twist its neck like that, Quistis realized in horror. The raccoon was dead, long dead. Yet it kept walking towards them, pulling itself along desperately on its crumpling legs.

Halfway across, the raccoon's back legs gave out. It dragged its self on its front paws until those two gave out. It was a while later before the head collapsed and the animal fell dead.

Alexandra looked sad.

"That always happens. They are so fragile."

Quistis felt such nausea then as she had never felt in Ultimecia's presence. This woman was evil. She was evil beyond rational perception. It didn't matter whose body she was in. Alexandra must die. Quistis would have strangled her with her bare hands if she could.

Seifer's voice burst out as he stepped forward. "Prepare to meet your doom Alexandra."

Quistis nodded in consent as she stepped forward as well.

Alexandra smiled more deeply as she kept her gold eyes on Seifer.

"Turn around, Seifer, and meet my knight."

The entire group was shocked into silence as they turned to come face to face with Squall.


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