By Kate Lorraine
I fear, too early; for my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars
The sky had cleared over Ultimecia's castle. Sunlight had now resided in the fallen tower where the great battle had been fought. The echoing sound of bricks falling were the only sounds that disturbed the silence. Not even the mighty elnoyle dared to disturb the sacred graveyard of a great witch.
Yet today someone did dare. The being bravely walked the stone bridge connecting the clock tower and the forsaken tower where so many tonberries had once infested. They were gone now, dispersed throughout the castle. A small hand with long fragile fingers pushed open the massive crumbling door. The thin emaciated girl hopped gingerly over the rubble that littered the ground.
"Fairies, lambs, and butterflies," She sang under her breath, bending over to pick up the stuffed mog which had fallen from her grip. She brushed the dust off its white cotton head and continued moving forward dogging the precariously balanced beams.
"Sleepy clouds in summer skies." She whispered, sweeping cobwebs from her hair. Her voiced disappeared into the air but the patting sound of her slippers scratching the stone floor vibrated through the circular room.
"Sleep all night, in my sight, though you're off in dreamland." She continued, her tiny voice growing fainter as she neared the center. A beam crashed down in the back but she continued, undaunted.
"Then, tomorrow, with the sun," She muttered under her breath as she stepped into the sun. The bright rays of morning fondly explored the crevasses and creases of her long red hair as she lowered her oval face to shield her eyes from the sun. She was not used to being in the sun, it burned her eyes. She raised a hand to form a visor over her large dark eyes. The sun wasn't as pleasant as the all the songs made it sound.
She collapsed in front of the throne with her head resting against the seat.
"Back to mama, little one."
Part 1 -Inherit the Wind
Laguna Loire walked down the dirt path behind Winhill for the umpteenth time. Yet even the sight of the worn beaten path did not mollify the stone burden that weighed down his heart. Raine Loire, neglected, lonely Raine whom he had left to die alone. Raine who he had loved the most second to none, not even Julia Heartilly. But today was no ordinary visit to Raine, today he was bringing someone special, a young man whose life he had intercepted too late.
The duty of a father to his child, Laguna mused quietly to himself as was so unlike him to muse at all. He had failed to fulfill the duty of every father: to take care of his only son. Seventeen years he had abandoned the boy over the fear of one curse, one prophecy that cannot speak its name.
Laguna turned to his side at his stoic companion.
"It's just beyond that hill." Laguna offered helpfully.
The young man nodded and did not reply. His sour indifference had been replaced by a look curiosity which had dominated his face since his return from his last mission. Yet as much as he tried to open himself up to this new feeling of innocence, the vulnerability never reached his eyes. It was forced, all of it, even though these were changing times. The world around him was in a state of uproar. In a few months time he had saved the world, found a father named Laguna Loire and a lover named Rinoa Heartilly. He was supposed to have changed as well. He even smiled on the balcony that night of the celebration. Surely that meant that he had changed. He was no longer the stone hearted teen, seventeen years old in body, fifty decades in spirit.
Yet, the longest period of time spend with his friends were still too short to them. Today he had come here with his mock father, Laguna Loire to visit his deceased mother, one whom he had seen only through the other man's eyes in the dreamlike states Ellone had put him under. Although he did not attach any special meaning or importance to visiting a tombstone, it appeared that people usually did. He had agreed simply to placate Laguna. That was the way he had gone through most of his life, going through the actions and rituals that were so important to others. It was horribly tiresome. There was going to be no special resolution in visiting a stone with marked her grave, why couldn't Laguna Loire see that?
Squall realized then that he was thinking too much again, as Rinoa would point out. It was like a terrible addiction he was trying to kick. The question was of course, did he really want to kick this addiction? And become what? Just like her? Like all the rest of them?
"There it is." Laguna whispered with a touch of sadness as he approached the lone grave amid the tall grass. It was an elegant slab of rock with the words Raine Loire inscribed in the light stone. Sadness, Squall noted sarcastically to himself, how could this simplistic man feel anything close to genuine sorrow?
"So we are going to have our talk now?" Squall asked, referring to the comment Laguna made back in the Ragnarok, before they infiltrated Lunatic Pandora and destroyed the infamous Adel.
"Right down to business huh?" Laguna asked trying to inject some humor into the conversation. It took Laguna all of thirty seconds to realize that he had failed. Scratching his head nervously, Laguna began to speak apologetically.
"Well, I suppose that you've figured out by now that me and Raine are your parents. That you were sent to an orphanage with Ellone while I remained in Esthar because of my own selfish desire as well as practical necessity."
"Selfish desire?" Squall asked in jest. His tone reeked of sarcasm and it was making the elder man uncomfortable.
"I .. "
"Wanted to see the world," Squall finished for him, in disgust. "Didn't want to spend the rest of your life in a little town."
"Don't" Laguna ordered trying unsuccessfully to defend himself. "Don't use that against me. You've only see so little."
"But more than enough," the young man countered.
"Just say it," Laguna ordered in frustration. "Whatever it is you are holding back."
A moment of silence past, awkwardly quiet as words passed silently between them.
"I loved your mother, Squall. I always did love Raine." Laguna began nervously, his voice quivering in insecurity. He voice grew lighter suddenly as he began to change the subject. "You don't know how happy it makes me to see you and Rinoa together. Julia Heartilly I always admired her from a far."
"I didn't come to listen to you talk about your affairs, Laguna." Squall replied in his usual monotone voice.
"Then what did you come to hear? For Hyne's sake, I can't read your mind Squall."
"You're right, you can't"
"What?" Laguna asked in confusion.
"Are we done paying our respects here?" Squall asked looking up, momentarily loosening his frown. "I have some SeeD duties to attend to."
"A regular SeeD workaholic, I see." Laguna replied giving him a sarcastic smile. However, as Squall turned to leave, Laguna grabbed him by arm. " I hope we can have another talk one day A longer one than this."
"Yeah one day," Squall replied absently.
Rinoa Heartilly frowned deeply as she watched Zell and Irvine place their cards one by one on the Triple Triad Squares.
"You cheated!" Zell yelled at a smiling Irvine. "Yo, how is it possible that you have three face cards in your hand when we are going random?"
"Calm down Zell," Selphie said, in her usual cheery mood, sitting nearly with her legs folded under her. "We're not playing for real, just going through the actions to teach Rinoa a few things. She wants to be a worthy opponent for Squall remember? He's defeated the entire CC club I heard."
"The whole CC club?" Asked Irvine, sheepishly, as he reluctantly handed Zell back the Bahamut card which he had taken a few seconds ago. "I guess Squall has a few skills up his sleeve other than his ability to throw around that gunblade of his."
Rinoa shrugged. "He's pretty quick up here." She said tapping her temple. "I, on the other hand, am just the opposite. I still don't understand the plus rule, can you show it to me again?"
"Sure." Zell said eagerly, as he began to shuffle the cards. "When I am about to do a plus against Irvine, I'll call you right over Rinoa."
"That will take forever!" Selphie complained.
"No, it won't." Zell said with wink. "Watch my skills."
"Yeah right Chicken wuss," Irvine muttered under his breath,
"What? Did you call me?" Zell inquired angrily.
"Let's get out of here before the furniture become airborne," Selphie said as she pulled Rinoa out of the dorm. The two girls were walking down the hallway, toward the entrance as Rinoa spoke up.
"How is the second garden festival coming Selphie?"
"Not good. I need more volunteers. You would think that since the whole sorceress thing blew over, there would be more people who are willing to show some garden spirit."
Rinoa giggled "I'll be glad to help, even though I'm not officially part of garden. It looks like I'll be here for a while parasitizing off of the privileges of your leader. My father always told me to marry rich." She joked.
Both girls laughed as they crossed the doorway exiting the garden.
"I hope that doesn't mean that you are planning to marry me." A voice said in back of them.
Rinoa's heart jumped to her throat as she turned around and spotted a dark figure standing there behind them. He was holding his gunblade like a cane, with the tip making contact with the ground.
"Squall." She whispered, as she flowed toward him. The sight of him never ceased to shock her in magnificence and elegance. She wandered closer to him and a spontaneous smile began to spread across her face. Mine, she thought, that beautiful figure of a man was all mine . . . for now.
"I don't marry sorceresses," he replied "it doesn't bold well for my SeeD career."
She laughed and hugged him.
"Well, that's just too bad Squall. I guess you'll have to take up a job as a choco boy or something. That little brat makes plenty of Gil."
Their conversation was abruptly cut short when Quistis walked up to the trio. She was dressed in her casual clothing, unlike the rest, however, Quistis seldom acted casual and today was no different.
"Squall," She began "I have news for you Seifer, has resurfaced. He's been seen at a local bar at Fisherman's Horizon with Raijin and Fujin."
"Leave him alone." Squall replied, without hesitation. "As long as he's not causing trouble for us there is no cause for us to go after him."
"Yes, that is that I said as well, however, it happens that him and his group were last seen buying supplies for a long journey and heading in the direction of the current location of Lunatic Pandora. One of our spies even overheard Raijin asking a store manager is he carried detailed maps of the land south east of the great salt lakes. What do you make of this, Squall? Do you think that there is a chance Ultimecia is alive and that she is summoning him somehow?"
"No, that's impossible. I saw her pass on her powers with my own eyes. There is something else behind this."
"Maybe he's not heading for Lunatic Pandora at all." Selphie offered. "Maybe they are going shopping in Esthar. There are some great shopping malls there and Seifer did look like he needed a new trench coat."
Quisitis frowned and Squall shook his head.
"I don't believe that Seifer would turn on us again." Rinoa said quietly from her place behind Squall. "He learned his lesson from Ultimecia. Anyway, Raijin and Fujin would never go through that mess another time. No, I don't believe that is possible. Just let them be."
"He learned his lesson from Ultimecia not to be manipulated by witches anymore but that does not rule out the possibility that he will turn on us." Qusitis added. "Seifer can't live without power, he said so himself that he always needed to be doing something "important." Raijin and Fujin can't be trusted to think for themselves. We need to do something, Squall."
Squall shook his head, not entirely sure which way to turn.
"I agree with Quistis that Seifer needs supervision. He is a dangerous warrior with skills that are equal to that of my own. However, I cannot go on this mission. I have duties here. Quistis, take Irvine and Selphie with you and go after Seifer. Make sure that he is really harmless and then we can forget about him."
Quistis nodded "you are getting good at this leader thing, Squall. You are even faster learner then I thought." She smiled and walked away with Selphie to gather Irvine.
Rinoa watched them leave with a feeling of foreboding in her chest. She suddenly wanted to tell them not to go. She closed her eyes and felt a strange sensation in her head. She leaned weakly against Squall, who mistaken it for a gesture of affection.
Chapter 2 - Destinations
Seifer Almasy never did like walking and the long journey across the abandoned railroad to Esthar wasn't doing much to change that. He had always preferred to run, all the faster to get to his goal. Walking was for weak and idle, the filling of the mindless crowd who were put into existence to cheer on those like himself. Those like himself did important things, things that changed the world and would be remembered for ages to come. He would live forever in those actions and there will never be a time when his name was not uttered in respect and admiration.
"Can we take a break?" Raijin complained. "I'm tired, ya know. Been walking for hours."
Seifer frowned and glanced at Fujin who was showing signs of weariness as well. Raijin and Fujin were his posse, they had stuck by his side through his temporary insanity, bringing him back to his senses with their wisely planned desertion. Yet he just wished that it wasn't in front of Squall, his archrival, who he never liked to show weakness in front of.
"Alright, just for a little while, though. We need got there before sunset."
Raijin eagerly collapsed on the ground near the railing while Fujin slowly found herself a clean spot to rest upon. Seifer looking east in the direction of Esthar and felt all the more impatient. Something was waiting for him there, something dreadfully important.
"What's in Esthar anyway?" Raijin asked. "You're not going to go fruity on us again are you Seifer, ya know?"
"Quiet." Fujin snapped and glared at Raijin.
"I'm not going there to find momentos of my possession, if that's what you mean Raijin." Seifer stated sarcastically. "I'm sorry that we can't stay in FH forever and let you play footsie with your hoe."
"Eliza is not my hoe!" Raijin yelled with more loudness then malice.
Seifer smirked wickedly in that fashion which he was always so inclined to. Inside he admitted that Raijin's questions was legitimate. Why was he going to the eastern continent? The dreams of Ultimecia kept him awake at night. She possessed him with magic and mind games, twisting his dreams and making him a monster. His experiences under her control left a bad aftertaste in his mouth. He wanted to go to Esthar, to Tear's Point, to Lunatic Pandora, to destroy the memories that created his daily nightmares. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could see her influence gone from those places and then maybe it would leave him as well. He wanted to make new memories, memories in which he was in control of himself, his own future his own being.
He kept his eyes on the horizon and leaned against his gunblade. What type of future did he plan to make for himself anyway? He wanted to do something important, to be in the center of attention again. He just had to wait a little while, until the world forgot that he was once the evil sorceress's knight. But that would not be long. The mindless populace forgot quickly and with his charm and charisma he would make them forget even quicker.
"Let's get going." He said and motioned to his two sidekicks. He ignored the complains from Raijin and his threats of mutiny. Soon he heard the quiet obedient footsteps behind him once more, just the way it should be.
The dizziness came in waves and soon it was so strong that she needed to lean against the wall for support. Rinoa closed her eyes and waited for it to subside. She had told no one about the sudden onslaught of headaches she was having lately. Her head had always been fickle when she was little and she assumed that the stress of fighting Ultimecia had simply aggravated an existing condition. There was no need to make a big fuss about. Go away, she willed the misty feeling in her head. As soon as she was feeling slightly better she continued walking down the pastel well lite hallway of the third floor of Balamb garden, the floor which used to be headmaster Cid's office. From around the corner she could hear muffled voices, one of which she recognized to be Squall's. So he was here.
As she peeked around the corner, Nida caught her eye and waved. Darn, she was caught. She had intended to listen a bit longer but now Squall had turned around to see who Nida was gesturing to. She walked out from her place behind the pillar and waved to the group of SeeDs in the room, Quistis being noticeably absent.
"I'm sorry," she said, avoiding Squall's eye. "I didn't realize a meeting was in session. I'll be going now."
"No stay," Nida answered. "We were just adjourning, right commander Squall?"
Rinoa couldn't help but giggle as she saw Squall scowl from being called commander.
"Whatever," he answered in his usual trite fashion and gave an indifferent wave of his gloved hand. "I won't be gone long. Keep a look out, remember what the headmaster said about the new Galbaldian president."
With that he turned and walked out of the conference. Rinoa followed him into the elevator hoping that he wasn't in one of his moods.
"Are you going somewhere Squall?" She asked as the door closed before them.
" Deling City to meet with the new Galbaldian president." He answered, pausing briefly. "He wants to meet with the leader of SeeD," Squall added as the elevator doors opened to the first floor.
"Can I come along?" Rinoa inquired. "I guess I should stop by and let my father know that I am alright, despite the fact that I can't stand him. The trip will be brief right?"
"Very brief." Squall answered.
Rinoa bent over giggling once again, understanding why all of Squall's meetings were "brief."
"Did I say something funny?" He asked, slightly annoyed.
She clutched her stomach laughing as she stumbled after him towards the front entrance. She waved her hand, for him to keep walking as she struggled to stop giggling.
"It's nothing," she assured him as they boarded the Ragnarok which Squall had finally learned to pilot. It was a fitting method of transportation for the leader of SeeD and the son of the Estharian president. Yet as they stepped onto the second floor, Rinoa felt another wave of dizziness over take her. The dizziness was really coming too often now and it only seemed to be getting worse as the days went by. She felt his hand on her shoulder as she placed her hand to her forehead and leaned against a wall for support.
"Are you feeling ill?" He asked, annoyance rapidly changing to concern.
She waved her hand.
"I'm fine. I must have laughed too hard. Don't worry about me."
"But I do . . . worry . . . sometimes," he stated, quietly and a tad awkwardly.
Rinoa felt warm inside suddenly, seldom had anyone made her feel that way since her mother. She began to believe then that dizziness had a bright side after all.
"Don't let your little lady distract you from your duties now Mr. Commander." She said jokingly. "You better not keep the president waiting."
Chapter 3 - Love and War
Quistis Trepe had always wary of Seifer Almasy, her most capricious and unruly student. However, only recently had she come to believe that he was actually dangerous. He was always disillusioned and hopelessly ambitious but his recent escapades with the sorceress Ultimecia had proved that he was more than a simple troubled teenager. Quistis' thin brown brows arched as she watched the threesome creep out of Dr. Odine's laboratory. Raijin was rubbing his shoulder as though he had recently been abused by Fujin. Seifer was walking out front holding his gunblade in one hand.
"Do you think they stole something?" Selphie asked, squeezing her hands in her lap.
Quistis shook her head.
"I wouldn't be surprised," she whispered.
"I say, let's attack 'em first and ask questions later." Irvine added helpfully.
"But Seifer isn't with the sorceress anymore, is he?" Selphie stated, inquisitively.
"Hey sneaking into Odine's lab looks plenty suspicious to me. There is some plenty powerful stuff in there, how do we know they didn't take some ultra-Ultimecia-bringer-backer or something? You think commander Squally would want to have to deal with that again?"
Quistis noticed both parties looking toward her for a decision. They had been following Seifer for days now and there was no clue as to what the party was up to. To confront them would blow their cover, but Quistis knew that she and the others were needed back at the garden. In addition she too was as curious as Selphie as to Seifer's purpose.
"Alright, let's go." Quistis stated as she stepped out of the car and stretched her legs. Somehow, she knew in the back of her mind that this was a impulsive move, something completely unlike herself, yet somehow it just seemed like it was long overdue.
She waved to Selphie and Irvine to follow her as she began walking towards the trio. They lost the element of surprise as Irvine boldly called out "hey you Seifer!" as they came within visual distance.
Raijin jumped a foot off the ground as he heard Irvine, Fujin merely widened her eye but Seifer presented them with his predictable smirk.
"What a pleasant surprise Instructor, I didn't realize you would go to such lengths to look out for your favorite student," Seifer stated with his usual sarcasm.
"What were you doing in Odine's Laboratory, Seifer?" Quistis asked.
"Yeah, what did you take, you little imp." Irvine added.
"Take? As in steal? I'm shocked. I was just visiting an old friend."
"Enough with the games." Quistis snapped. "Do you want the Esthar government to be informed of this Seifer? Do you want an entire army after you? The objects in that lab are highly classified, you won't get away with it. Confess now, and we might consider letting you leave peacefully."
"Yeah, Seifer, you are nothing without the backing of the Galbaldian army. The Estharians will crush you like a bug," Irvine stated.
Seifer's face twisted in rage and he brought his gunblade up to Irvine's throat in one flashing motion but Irvine was no fool. He brought the trigger of his rifle up, pointing it at Seifer's chest.
Selphie was jumping nervously from foot to foot as the two eyed each other.
"Quistis .. . " She whispered helplessly.
"Stop it. Stop! Both of you." Quistis snapped, once again taking the role of the teacher.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Raijin and Fujin pulling out their weapons ready for a fight.
Selphie, meanwhile, had her Strange Vision out as well. No no no, it was terribly wrong. She had never intended for there to be a fight, much less for Irvine to face off with Seifer. Well, she secretly critiqued herself, what did you expect with a hothead like Seifer, some people never change.
Quistis reluctantly pulled out her Save the Queen, trying to keep an eye on both Raijin Fujin and Seifer at the same time.
However, much to her surprise, suddenly the expression on Seifer's face changed as he withdrew his gunblade.
"I'm sorry, I don't fight women," he stated with a smirk as he brushed his blond hair back. Irvine pushed forward but Quistis caught him just in time.
"Let it go." She said. Selphie rushed to her side to take Irvine's other arm.
"This isn't the end of it." He assured Seifer, as he threw the two women off.
Seifer and the others laughed and they retreated into their rented car and drove away leaving a pile swirling dust glowing in the moonlight.
"That was a close one," Selphie stated.
Quistis shook her head breathing quickly as her heart slowly began to calm. Turning to Irvine she glowered intently, "What got into you?"
"Extra trigger happy today huh?" Selphie asked.
"It's nothing," Irvine said brushing the comments off nonchalantly. "Hey Quistis your cell phone is ringing," he stated happily, eager to change the subject.
Looking down, Quistis realize that he was right.
Squall was waiting impatiently in the front parlor of the Caraway mansion impatiently. After leaving the Ragnarok they had been welcomed by a couple of ambassadors of President William Deling, the former Deling's younger brother. They were taken to a long conference in which Deling had apologized for the actions of his brother in a long verbose speech and swore never to form any alliances with any sorceresses in the future. That of course was preposterous since the only sorceress in existence was Rinoa who wasn't about to seek world domination in the near future. Squall had never liked politicians and being a dictator, Deling did not strike him as a man he would choose to be friendly to. In the short duration of his stay, Squall had already seen quite clearly that Deling did not have the support of his people, even less so than the former Deling. Galbaldia was on the brink of revolution and it was no wonder that Deling did want hostile feelings from SeeD. As a act of good will, Deling had agreed to liberate Timber, which had long been a thorn in the Deling family's side anyway.
There was supposed to be some sort of ball tonight, to celebrate Deling's new reign of hope, as he termed it. Squall had brought Rinoa to visit her father. On the doorstep to the mansion she had reminded him of his promise not to leave her. He had simply shook his head and muttered his usual "whatever." However, as they stepped in the front door, they were informed that General Caraway was not in. Rinoa's apprehension had immediately turned to giddiness as she told him to wait in the parlor as she went to retrieve something.
Squall looked up at the clock as the minutes ticked by. Somehow he was not enjoying his new position as SeeD's commander, as they called it. This was Cid's job, and it had been thrown upon him without choice. On thing he had learned over the course of the last few months was how important it was to question everything. He would not let other people make his choices for him anymore.
His train of thought was interrupted as the door swung open and Rinoa peeped in.
"Hurry, let's go before he shows up."
Squall wearily got to his feet as he walked across the room, towards her.
" I thought you came here to talk to him."
"Umm. . I'll talk to him later. Come on." She opened the door all the way and quickly grabbed his hand. He finally saw what she had gone to "retrieve." She was dressed in a deep blue gown with a see through shroud around her shoulders. As she walked, the material of the gown glittered as she tugged him towards the front door.
"You look . . . nice." He said, awkwardly. That was what she expected right?
She giggled, practically doubling over. "Don't even try it Squall. You sound silly. Don't worry, I know how you feel. I can tell by looking at your face."
He didn't like the sound of that.
As she placed her hand on the doorknob she was suddenly thrown backwards into his arms. General Caraway stepped into the room.
"Rinoa, . .. and the SeeD." He said, arching an eyebrow.
"Hello Mr Caraway," Rinoa said "I came to . . . visit you but you weren't here."
"Still won't call me father? Huh?"
"I thought you never noticed when I stopped."
He shook his head.
"So SeeD, I heard that you got promoted. Congratulations."
"Oh stop it, Caraway, don't pick your allies among my friends."
Caraway frowned at her.
"Overreacting? I might say, just like your mother."
"My mother was the perfect woman. It was you who destroyed her. I came here today to let you know that I'm alright, not that you would care. Well, I've informed you of it . .. so I'm leaving now. Come Squall, . . we are leaving. Come."
Rinoa grabbed his arm and tugged him out the front door which Caraway had been blocking. She hurried down the front steps nearly tripping over the high heels in her haste. Squall caught her a second time on sidewalk as she tripped over a crack.
He shook his head. "He's not chasing after you, Rinoa," Squall said.
"Squall, remember how you told me about how you felt strange around Laguna? Well multiply that by a thousand and you still won't know a thing about my feelings for that man."
"Forget it, if there is no way for me to understand than let's stop talking about it."
After a few moments of silence, Rinoa turned back towards Squall.
"Where was it again?"
"The Presidential Mansion. Over there." Squall pointed absently at the large structure a block away.
Rinoa nodded. "I see people going in. Let's go Squall, come on."
"What change is this? I thought you hated Deling's guts."
"Well it's a different Deling, and Timber has been liberated. It's been so long since we've last been to a party Squall." Rinoa's voice grew quiet, "anyway, I just have this feeling that tonight is special, that there won't be one like this ever again. You don't have to say anything, Squall."
Rinoa fixed her shroud. It rustled quietly, reflecting the glittering moonlight.
"No, actually Rinoa, you are special. I feel as though every night I spend with you is unique in some way, and these nights will never come again." He smiled subtly, "but don't tell anyone I said that okay?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"What do you mean?" He asked, perturbed.
"I can tell by your expression. You're hiding something from me. What is it? Are you uncomfortable being here with me, Squall?"
"No," he responded, even more irritated than before. However that could not change the fact that every word she said was entirely true.
"It's okay," she responded. "You don't need to tell me now, there is time, plenty of time."