The Orphan Chapter 24

Dueling for a Haunted Lady

By Kate Lorraine

Squall walked down the dark hallway holding his gunblade in one hand. The only sound he heard was the clicking of his heels against the wood floor. Even through his thick jacket he was beginning to feel the cold. He flexed his injured hand again, trying to drive away the pain. This final fight with Seifer was inevitable from first day Seifer picked him out as a rival. It didn't matter to him anymore if he won or lost. Alexandra was right, he had strayed too far from his dream. All his life he wanted the love of one person, not the adoration of many. There was no point in being the hero of Garden when he only wanted the understanding of one. He realized then that he had never been further from his dream, and never more alone.

**You wanted that because your thoughts brought you so much pain so you choose not to think at all, just like Seifer.**

He was beginning to see the truth in Alexandra's words. Squall walked closer to the double doors at the end of hall. It was night of discovery for the children of fate. Destiny had not brought him here. It was his choice this time. He had never meant to be on this side of the fight, on the side of the sorceress. But he had never liked destiny anyway, it was the sloppy scriptwriter that fired off one event after another never caring how the insignificant puppets walking through the roles liked it. Well, tonight he walked out of that role.

Squall stepped up to the double doors and paused before he stepped in.

**If you ever want me to understand, it is not I that must change but you.**

Rinoa, he thought, I think I'm beginning to understand..

Squall stepped inside, closing the door quietly behind him. There stood Alexandra beside the window. She was leaning against it quietly, mournfully, pensively. She was dressed all in black but the moonlight made her glow in white. She raised a hand to cheek and leaned against it.

"So you've come, Squall, I knew you would."

Squall took a few steps into the room, walking from one spotlight of light to another.

"You know I came for Maniac Athena, Alex, not you."

Alex nodded. "You are here. That's all that matters. You were meant to be here, fate decreed that you should be here at this place at this time. Yet the choice remains up to you what to do when your friends step through that door."

Squall looked away from her, allowing his eyes to run over the dismal decorations of the room. He had been here before, the throne room.

"You lied to me Alexandra. Everything you told me was a lie."

Alexandra finally looked up from that window. She met his eye and she looked more sorrowful than ever. Her purple lips were pressed together tightly as though she was trying to keep herself from saying something awful.

"You are taking over the world now, Alexandra. That was your intention all along wasn't it?" Squall asked her.

She looked back out the window as though her fury had passed. She spoke calmly then, in a voice of resignation.

"Seifer told you that did he? It sounds like something he would say."

"Then why are you here, Alexandra?" Squall asked exasperated.

"I came here to save your Garden. It was for you that I killed Deling. You asked Raine for help didn't you? Well I did what she could no longer do. That day in the Balamb meadow, Deling wanted to killed you all, Balamb Garden or Neo, he did not care."

Squall frowned. "Deling is dead now Alexandra, why are you still here? My Garden is safe, the fight is won. Nothing you say makes any sense."

"Remember Squall, what you said once? That you didn't want to die because you were afraid of becoming just another memory. That people would speak of you and say what they want, using the past tense and twist your deeds to their own interpretation."

"What does that have to do with our situation now Alexandra?" Squall asked with increasing weariness.

"Well." she looked back over at him and gestured to the large city that stretched across the landscape under the large oval window. "I offer you this. This will be your immortality. Think about it Squall, you can rule the world, make them all think what you want. And when you die, you will be remembered as the greatest king that ever lived. No one will twist your deeds, you will be a legend. I can give you this, the world, the moon, the sea. It will all belong to you and all I ask in return is that you cross the stars."

"I don't want any of that." Squall said. "I want for you to stop this nonsense Alexandra."

She shrugged. "Think on it Squall, what kind of future do you see for yourself? You are no warrior, not like Seifer Almasy. Warriors see in black and white, it's just to kill or not to kill. You see the gray that hides in between. The very fact you are having this conversation with me now proves my point. Garden was never meant for the likes of you. You were born to rule."

"No!" Squall said. "Stop it, stop using my thoughts against me."

She closed her eyes than, as though she was listening to the whispering wind.

"I hear her Squall, Raine, she's here. She wants to tell you that you are in danger. That you should leave."

Alexandra opened her eyes and looked at him. "But she is wrong, you are not in danger, my prince, I will protect you."

She walked away from the window, her legs pushing the material of the black velvet forward as she walked. She walked with her hands clasped over her chest as though she was praying.

"They are coming Squall, I can feel them. I can't fight them, Squall. My powers have dwindled. I can't protect myself from them should they attack, not until midnight."

"What happens at midnight?" Squall asked.

She smiled. "It's the season of passage. You will see what will happen. You will be surprised."

Squall shook his head. "I'm not going to let them use Maniac Athena on you Alexandra. That I promise. But I make no bond of loyalty to you, remember that."

Alexandra picked up something limp and furry from the ground. "It doesn't matter anymore Squall. After the season of passage nothing you believe will matter." Alexandra walked over to her throne and sat down with the bundle of fur in her lap. Squall merely frowned at her cryptical statement and walked to the wall. He stood there in the corner adjacent to the door, in the darkness. He needed some time to think. With that Alexandra opened her mouth and began to sing quietly to the fur in her lap.

"Baby dear, Mama's here," Alexandra sang gently stroking the object in her lap.

Squall leaned against the wall and said nothing.

Rinoa, I think I'm finally beginning to understand what you were trying to tell me.

"Watching o'er your slumber," Alexandra continued.

**Even as I see your eyes watching me, you don't see me anymore.**

Rinoa. Squall thought. He saw her now even as he looked at Alexandra.

Rinoa, no matter what happens tonight, I will save you.

* *

"Dream, my child, until the dawn" Rinoa felt her lips moving, singing softly. She looked out of Alexandra's eyes, at Squall who was standing there, leaning against the wall, gunblade in hand. He was holding it in his left hand. Funny, she always thought he was right handed. He was frowning, making that scar on his forehead stand out crimson against his pale skin. It seemed as though that scar was the manifestation of all his troubles instead of a slash of a gunblade.

Take a good look, Alexander told her, it may just be your last sight of him.

Rinoa tried to ignore Alexandra to the best of her ability. She suddenly sent a burst of strength into her fingers making them flex to her will. Alexandra was irritated. Stop it, she ordered. Rinoa felt a tiny degree of satisfaction. She was getting better at resisting Alexandra and now in her weakened state, Rinoa found that she was able to jerk her limbs now and then. In fact, it was easiest when Alexandra's attention was elsewhere. It was pretty useless but her sudden acts of control irritated Alexandra to no end.

You won't be in this body anymore, Rinoa after midnight.

Rinoa tried to keep her mind clean. I don't care, she forced herself to think. I won't show fear in front of you Alexandra.

"Wake the daisies on the lawn," her lips moved again.

Rinoa turned her attention back to Squall who was staring at the dark corner as though it was the most fascinating thing in the world. What are you thinking, my love? She wondered. In Alexandra's ever increasing weakness their minds had become intermingled into one. Seeing then from Alex's eyes, Rinoa knew that Alex could no longer read Squall's mind. However, Rinoa did begin to notice a shade that followed Squall around. Raine.

Her mouth continued to sing as Rinoa felt that shade wandering about the room. Squall looked down and appeared to close his eyes in quiet meditation. From down the hallway, Rinoa could feel something coming.

* *

Squall lifted his head as Alexandra neared the end of her song. The door to the room had opened. It didn't surprise him when Seifer Almasy stepped into the room. Behind him followed Quistis, walking in fearfully behind him, then Seifer's posse came followed by the rest. Squall did not move, they took no notice of him. They all stared at Alexandra in shock. Squall did find it amusing how she was able to throughly terrify them with her glowing eyes. The little bundle of fur on her lap suddenly stepped onto the floor and began to walk.

"Prepare to meet your doom Alexandra." Seifer yelled suddenly.

Squall stood up and tightened his grip on his gunblade. It is time Seifer. You have taken her from me for the last time. Alexandra looked over at Squall. Yes it is time, she said with her eyes. Suddenly she broke into a smile.

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

Squall watched the surprise on their faces as they saw him, standing there, weapon in one hand hanging by his side. Why were they so surprised? How could they know him so well and yet be unable to understand his decision. He was willing to pursue his dream to the same extreme that Seifer was willing to pursue his. Unlike Seifer, his dream was not for fame, titles or power. He just wanted the love of one. In the end, no friends, enemies or rivals, were going to stand in the way of this dream. Squall walked over to Alexandra. He held his gunblade in both hands, in front of him, ready to defend her should they attack.

" I'm sorry," he said to them. They were all in shock, unable to move, but Seifer stepped forward gunblade held out like a fencer.

"I knew it," Seifer said viciously. "You are her knight," he chuckled sarcastically. "I was right all along."

"Squall!" Quistis said as she reached out her right hand to him in futile gesture.

"Stop it Squall! She's got you under mind control!" Selphie yelled at him.

"Shut up!" Seifer said. "It's useless to reason with him. He's under her power." In a blur of white Seifer spun around and sent his gunblade into Squall who blocked his blow. Seifer pressed his gunblade against Squall's and they stood face to face.

"You will fall, black knight." Seifer growled at him as Squall shoved him back.

Seifer jumped back his white coat flaring out like a cape. He chuckled and fixed his grip on his gunblade as he swung it forth aiming for Squall's head. Squall raised his own blade blocking the blow. There was loud smash like the sound of glass shattering as the two blades met.

Squall shoved Seifer back once more as he charged forth and attacked mercilessly letting out a torrent of blows which Seifer narrowly blocked. Finally Seifer swung his blade around and pulled the trigger slashing Squall's shoulder. Squall jumped back and in his wrath sent his blade over Seifer's chest, cutting him across his breast. Seifer stumbled back, momentarily stunned. He glanced at the bloody staining his white shirt red but quickly cast Curaga on himself. Squall pressed his hand against the wound on his shoulder. Unlike Seifer he did not have the benefit of magic. He had not one GF on him.

Seifer realized his advantage quickly and commenced to attack Squall.

Quistis watched the fight from the doorway. Squall's blood was staining his shirt red as he blocked blow after blow from Seifer. She wanted desperately to help him but he was the sorceress's knight. There was nothing she could do. One man's life and a billion innocents. Which was more important? That was not a decision she could easily make. A world of strangers for the life of her professed younger brother. She remembered Squall's last words to her, what he had made her promise before he sent her on this mission to hell.

**please, remember she is evil. All those who defend her must be destroyed. No matter what else happens don't forget what I say to you now**

Yes Squall, but that was so much easier to swallow when the enemy we fought against was not you.

Quistis stood there without moving. She could not decide.

"Had enough Squall?" Seifer asked as he watched Squall stumble back from his numerous blows. Squall pulled his hand tighter around the blade. In a act of pure fury, he lunged at Seifer and slashed at his chest so viciously and so fast that Seifer fell backwards in effort to block it.

Seifer was on his back now as Squall stood in front of him. Squall merely stood there for a moment. Seifer was fighting for him fame, he for Rinoa. This was the way it always should have been. Squall raised his gunblade when suddenly a light burst of out no where and picked him off his feet and threw him against the wall. Seifer laughed and got up.

"Eternal Breath, Squall. How do you like your own medicine?"

Alexandra's eyes flared in yellow as she watched Squall try to get back on his feet. The wall was imprinted in red where Squall had violently clashed against it. Squall was on his knees now, grimacing as he coughed up a mouthful of blood.

"We need to help him!" Quistis yelled. Zell agreed, broken from his thoughts. They went in the direction of Squall but was restrained by Raijin and Fujin.

"No." Fujin said with a deadly look in her eye.

Alexandra ignored them all as she glared at Seifer. Squall was using his gunblade as a cane as he clumsily got to his feet. He fell against the wall as soon as he managed to stand up.

Alexandra raised her clawed hand. She watched Seifer then, the pupils of her eyes gone as her eyes shown like two spotlights. Her hair was crackling with red currents as her black wings flapped once behind her. She cast Ultima on him, tripled. The green explosion left Seifer on his knees as well. Fujin's eyes widened as she left Quistis and ran over to Seifer. She bent down beside him as Quistis, and Selphie broke from Raijin and ran over to Squall.

Selphie cast full cure on him while Quistis used Curaga. As the wounds on his body closed Squall got back onto his feet and shoved Quistis aside roughly. He walked over to center of room and glared at them all. In his hands he raised his gunblade.

"Who is carrying Maniac Athena?" he asked his royal eyes jumping from one to another.

"Maniac Athena?!" Zell yelled in surprise.

Seifer stood up from where he had fallen, Fujin by his side.

"What are you talking about?!" Irvine asked, equally surprised.

"I am, Squall." a voice called out suddenly. Squall turned to his left to see Quistis stepped forward.

"You?" he asked genuinely surprised as he stared at his former instructor.

She nodded and walked closer to him. "I knew all along. They know nothing. I came to kill your Rinoa. It is my fault entirely."

Squall stared her, it was his turn to be shocked now, so shocked that he didn't see Seifer making a mad dash for Alexandra. Squall turned around too late as Fujin cast a fire spell on him throwing him off his feet. Seifer shoved Alexandra onto the throne as he raised his other hand with Maniac Athena.

"Seifer!" she yelled suddenly. It was Rinoa's voice that erupted from those purple lips as she cringed in the throne trying to block herself from his crystal bearing hand.

"Seifer no!" Zell yelled.

Seifer was not deterred. "Sorry Rinoa," he said as he grabbed her roughly by her throat and pressed her against the back of the throne. Yet Seifer stared at Rinoa's tear filled eyes and hesitated, for a second. But a second was all Alexandra needed as she filled Rinoa once more and drew her legs back and kicked Seifer squarely in the stomach. Seifer opened his mouth in surprise as he fell onto his back, his head knocking against the wooden floor. Maniac Athena was knocked out of his hand and it rolled across the floor to Squall's feet.

No one said a word as Squall reached over and picked it up. Standing there, with her hair in disarray, dress torn, wings ruffled Alexandra smiled.

She reached out her clawed hand, "Give it to me, Squall."

"Squall don't!" Irvine yelled as he stepped forward.

"Don't be an idiot." Seifer yelled as he got back on his feet.

Squall said nothing. He looked at Alexandra. His gloved hand squeezed the blue globe tightly. He took a few steps forward and hesitated.

"Squall." Quistis begged but was promptly ignored.

"I want to talk to Rinoa, Alexandra." Squall said. "I'll give Maniac Athena to her and her alone."

Alexandra watched him sadly. "Why?" she asked.

Squall frowned at her. "Do it, Alexandra."

Alexandra stared at his unwavering sapphire eyes that glowed as brightly as the globe he held in his hand. Finally, she nodded and looked down. There was not a sound in the room. Suddenly she leapt forward and shoved Squall back. He fell back in surprise but quickly regained his balance as he grabbed her by the arm. He shook her roughly.

"Stop playing with me Alexandra!" he scolded.

She pouted at him and wrenched her arm from his gripe. She picked up her dress and stepped back to the throne. There she stood and suddenly smiled. She had stalled long enough.

The clock struck twelve.


Go To Chapter 25

Return To FF8 Fanfic