Disclaimer: The songs "Evening Falls" and "Exile" belong to Enya. The characters of FF8 belong to Square.
A/N: This fic will be split into two parts titled Exile and Evening Falls respectively. All of the lyrics preceding chapters are from these two songs by Enya, both of which can be found on her Watermark album. Setting is post game.
Cold as the northern winds
In December mornings.
Cold is the cry that rings
From this far distant shore.
Chapter 1: Far Distant Shore
The snow was just starting to fall as the sun crept fearfully over the rocky horizon. It was always coldest right before dawn, impending sunlight only making the chill sharper and more penetrating. In the hazy gloom, the valley yawned, puffing out a foggy breath into the crystallized air that filtered down from the heavens. The populace of the tiny mountain town of White Pine were called from their beds, rising like zombies out of the mists of the netherworld. Each arose from dream, some never to be remembered, and others vivid as the morning sun. They yawned, stretched, and grumbled accordingly. Dogs barked, waiting to be walked, completely unaware of how the brisk air made their masters suck in their breath and shudder. The morning had, as the local weather man had become fond of calling it, a booger freezing potency.
Slumber slipped away, consciousness gained hold once again in the life long struggle between wakefulness and passing. Another day with no sense of particular singularity. Fuzzy socks were pulled on one foot at a time, pants zipped. Coffee began to brew, percolating through filters and dropping into stained receptacles. Everything seemed to be in order, a seamless launching pad for a peaceful existence.
Such was the morning that stood to be broken -- utterly and seamlessly.
At the corner of Fifth and Tabriz Avenue, a white ranch style home rested in dark quiet. It was the style of small towns such as this one to build on a block pattern, mimicking the supreme organization of a chess board, and name the streets from east to west following the sun through the sky. First Street West, all the way to Twelfth Street West; all of which were intersected by a nearly equal number of streets that were named without any sort of rhyme or reason. This home, set on Fifth rested near the heart of the town, only a stone's throw away from the church and a block from the general store which was, naturally, on Main Street.
The discovery was made early on in the morning when Patricia Marin didn't show up for work in a neighboring town where she was a nurse. Patricia's sister, Alana, received a call from the clinic that her sister hadn't shown up that morning (and a rather impatient demand as to where she was). Alana crossed the street to see for herself, only to have a non-response to her knock on the door.
Local officials jimmied the lock and discovered her body in the bathroom.
Blood was smeared across the linoleum tiles, turned to the consistency of a rich acrylic paint. Her white bathtub was dented, presumably from the impact of Patricia's head. The officer in charge of the investigation had only been at the scene of a few other murders in his life, but there was still no doubt in his mind that there was foul play involved.
He dipped a gloved finger into the small dent, noting the strength of the hybrid plastic material and the damage done to her skull. Still wrapped in her white terrycloth robe, she was sprawled on her stomach with bits of hair and blood laying all around her. Her mat of blonde hair was caked with fluids of all sorts from the attack, and her back was a study in stab wounds. Slashed, shredded...rage and fury, he could hardly imagine the motivation behind such a brutal attack.
White Pine recoiled under the news, which spread like a grass fire through the town. Alana Marin was frantic and inconsolable, and by the time any forensic investigators arrived from distant Esthar a dark air had sunk over the yawning, blissful day.
Patricia Marin was dead. One of their own.
White Pine braced itself for the worst.
And far up in the hills, under the cover of a large white pine for which the town was named, yellow eyes watched over the proceedings with rapt interest.
Quistis rolled over in bed and listened to the rain slapping against her window. There was hardly any good news in the sound of water trickling through Garden's water shed system. She yawned and rubbed her eyes, not quite ready to get up yet. Her night had been filled with tossing and turning as she struggled to find sleep amidst the haze of darkness that filled her hot room. She'd kicked off the covers an innumerable amount of times only to drag them back over herself and roll over to try sleeping on her other side. Nothing had seemed to work, and in the light of morning she felt uncertain as to whether she had slept at all.
December always brought her mixed feelings. The unceasing rain was one thing, and the sugary, tinkling essence of the holiday season was another. It reminded her of too much that she wasn't willing to relive. The drizzle and the lights, the cookies and the colors all blurred into one amateur finger painting that she was eager to throw out but knew she couldn't. So it hung there like a festering wound on her metaphorical fridge, haunting her.
A groan erupted unbidden from her as she stretched the sleep out of her muscles and got out of bed.
Her legs (perfect legs, as she'd once been told) had crease marks from her sheets being twisted around them and the pink nail polish on her toes seemed suddenly tacky. Sighing, she vowed to replace it with a more inconspicuous hue before going to bed again.
Quistis Trepe: feminine, smart, and strong. That was her engineered persona. Quistis Trepe was the person she worked on at night, perfecting the guise and keeping track of the lies. There was so much she'd never said, things she locked away. Communicating some things wasn't very easy, especially to those who might not be inclined to listen, and her unmatched drive managed to convince everyone that she was firmly on the ground.
"Morning," she muttered to her reflection in the mirror. Her other self said nothing in return, her lips moving in a mime but no sound coming out.
Mirrors obscured the world they were meant to reflect. Standing in her bathroom, Quistis had a difficult time remembering that what she was seeing didn't exist as a whole other room. Had someone thought to take the mirror down, she would have been shocked at the cramped quarters her toilet and shower existed in.
Brushed teeth and brushed hair, she stepped out into the noisy Garden hallways. Her SeeD uniform was spotless and a rich black. The elevator came to the ground floor with a soft ding just as she arrived as if she alone commanded it. Her office waited, as did duty. She would smile and do her job, and she'd do it well. And nobody would know the difference. Not a soul.
Lieutenant Commander, it had a nice ring to it. Very military, she reflected. With such a title, she would be privy to secret documents and intrigue. Her life would be a blockbuster movie of shootouts, spies, computer hackers, and various hot disguises. None of these, however, were forthcoming as she stepped into her pristine office on the third floor.
A red light on her phone was blinking angrily, and she checked her watch. Eleven past ten, she'd slept in far too late for someone in her position.
Picking up the phone, she pressed a series of buttons to check her voice mail.
"Message one," came the automated voice, followed by a pause. She sat back and pressed the button for speaker phone.
"Ms. Trepe," a male voice erupted from the black phone's little speaker. "This is Soren Montgomery with the DCMRU. We received a call last night concerning one of your SeeDs. A Mr. Jackson was found engaged with another individual under the Deling City Arch at approximately 2:41 AM. Both are in our custody for breaking our new law concerning concealed weapons and - "
Quistis sighed and skipped ahead to the nest message, tired of receiving bitchy complaints from the DCMRU. The Deling City Mobile Response Unit was a new division of their local law enforcement agency, one that seemed to specialize in making a SeeD's life difficult. They certainly seemed to be targeting anyone they suspecting of being with Garden, sending them to jail without preamble. She would send a note to the headmaster to get Jackson's bail posted.
"Message two," the computer voice announced.
"Hello," a woman this time. "I understand that Garden contracts out to civilian parties? If this is the case, then I would like to hire two SeeDs to follow my husband and confirm that he is having an affair. I would like his accomplice identified and taken into custody."
Quistis didn't wait to hear the woman's name. She would come back to her request later.
"This is Patrick Lee with the Esthar Police Department," said a tired voice. "We would like to contract out two available SeeDs to investigate some recent murders that have occurred in Trabia just north of here. We don't have the man power or the jurisdiction to handle them. The small town of White Pine has been the site of the most recent homicide, although evidence there has lead us to believe that the woman was in fact attacked by an animal." He paused and then continued. "The contract would be to find the animal involved. Please phone me back at the EPD."
That sounded interesting. He'd hinted to murders and animal attacks in the same space of words. Curious enough to spike Quistis' waning interest with the day in general. She would send two SeeDs to check it out. As fascinating as the White Pine assignment could turn out to be, people would be jumping at it.
In the meantime...she needed some coffee.
She looked around the office, reminded again that she had no secretary. That was really an issue she needed to bring up at the next faculty meeting. The paperwork was getting to take up as much of her time as what she was supposed to be doing, handing the incoming and outgoing missions for the Garden.
Banging her blue, white, and black Garden issue cup against her desk for good measure, she pushed herself up out of her chair and out the door to retrieve some of the brew from the lounge. A healthy dose of sugar dissolved into the liquid with her stiff stirring until her taste buds were satisfied.
Now, finally, she could get to work.
Flipping through SeeD profiles on her computer, she searched for two qualified SeeDs ready to take a trip out to White Pine. She'd never been there, but she'd heard it was lovely.
Even beauty could breed evil, it seemed.
Sweat and blood and so much more than just a little fear.
Twisted, gnarled...snarling, slobbering, wet: he screamed. Long, howling, haunting screams.
The day dissolved him, working through memories of the woman. The woman he had torn to pieces, his claws working against her bathroom tile as his teeth worked at her back. It was a symphony. A rattling thunderstorm complete with sticky rain -- the blood that he could still smell and taste. She hadn't seen him coming. They never did.
The snow didn't feel cold under him, although he knew that it should.
Sniffing, searching, paranoid.
They were here, he knew they were. They were following him, always in his steps. They slid through the snow and trees the same way fish darted through the sea with only a flash of silver to mark their passing. So close behind him. Too close.
Go away. Go away.
He howled. More...were those echoes?
Swallowed up by the snow, the monster fled with a blind cry into the nameless forest of trees that crept up the mountain side toward the point where the cold was too harsh and air too thin for them to live. Patricia Marin's blood still wet his tongue. And following his tracks was the ever looming amber gaze that had so recently come to haunt the beast's existence.