The air was heavy, and as still as glass. Footfalls made no sound on thick red carpet; the light that slanted down from the stained-glass windows didn't move at all across the floor. Dust motes became visible as they passed through the light--the only proof that, in fact, Time did exist within the Castle.

The rooms and halls through which the party walked seemed somehow disconnected to reality--as if the laws of probability, of physics, of life itself had simply forgotten this one building and let it go on its way without benefit of sense. There was a lingering threat in the air, but an unconscious one--as if they were always just on the verge of falling, but couldn't see the cliff in the fog.

This room was different. It wasn't anything obvious--in fact, anyone would be hard-pressed to define it if they tried to--but it was something. It seemed to resonate from all walls with a life and will of its own, and no one who had stepped past the doorway could refrain from shuddering. It had been expertly concealed behind a false wall in the clocktower, hidden behind gears and shadows. It was a testament to Siren's--and, by extension, Quistis's--keen senses that they had been able to discover it.

After three minutes of investigation, however, it appeared that there was nothing of interest or use in the hidden room--until Zell stumbled against a tapestry opposite the entrance and tore it from the wall to reveal a wooden door, stained with age.

Selphie was the first to speak. "Whoa!" she said, rushing up to the door. "Some kind of secret passageway?"

"Let's check it out!" Zell rushed up to the door, grasping the handle and pulling as hard as he could. It barely budged.

Quistis approached, looking over the hinge carefully. "It may be a siege door," she said. "There'd be a mechanism on the other side that keys it. It's easier to open from there..."

"Well, Irvine said, "we're not there, so we might as well find a way to open it from here ." He moved up to the door, grabbing the handle and pulling along with Zell. "If anyone wants to help us out..."

Rinoa had picked up the tapestry from the floor, and was looking it over. "Maybe--"

Selphie came up beside her. "What? Is there some kind of secret in the pictures?"

"...I was just thinking. Id we put this through the handle, we could all pull..."

Quistis nodded, taking the tapestry and quickly looping it through the handle. The team gathered around, grabbing whatever they could. "Oh three!"

The door was stupendously heavy. It took the last bit of everyone's strength to open it, and it was barely possible to keep it open as Squall slipped through into the stairwell on the other side.

"What's the mechanism?" he asked, inspecting the hinges.

"It should be somewhere along that seam," Quistis said. "Something like a--"

There was an ominous creak--

--and the top three stairs collapsed, sending Squall hurtling into the darkness.

Someone called his name from the room above, the door slammed shut--

--and then he hit the ground, and wasn't aware of much of anything for quite some time.

-

It should have been dark in the room. One would have expected darkness, given that it was a musty-smelling secret room inside a door it took six people to open inside a castle whose only human resident had likely been sitting in a room for several days plotting the end of the world.

It wasn't dark. There were six or seven oil lamps in the room--probably not burning on any conventional oil--and the light level was high enough to make it livable. Cozy, even.

The room was cozy. It was a gentleman's sitting room, with armchairs whose legs were styles like claws and whose backs were elaborately carved to look like all sorts of flowers and vines and fancy abstract patterns. Everything was upholstered in red velvet, and the wood was fine mahogany.

Squall sat up, feeling the back of his head for bruises. He glanced up at the treacherous stairwell, glowering. For some reason, he couldn't quite remember why he was where he was... it seemed as if he needed to be getting to something, as if there might be people waiting for him... but what? And who?

He shook his head. It would probably come back to him in a few moments.

Hello.

He scrambled to some semblance of a ready position, one hand on the hilt of his gunblade. However, nothing in the room seemed intent on attacking him.

Nothing in the room seemed capable of attacking him.

Aside from himself, the only features of note in the room were three chairs, three ottomans, four end tables, a card table, and a mirror against the wall opposite the stairs. The mirror had the head of some old Centran god carved onto the top--and, due to some quirk in the carving, it seemed to be staring right at him.

Not many people come down here anymore, the voice said. Squall looked around again, rather convinced that he had finally gone insane.

Deciding to give his sanity the benefit of the doubt for the moment, he assumed the next more plausible thing. "Are you a GF?"

I'm a mirror.

Squall looked at the Mirror. A mirror-shaped GF would be among the strangest things he had even encountered. A talking, non-GF mirror would rank off the charts. "Really."

Don't be so surprised. Mirrors know more than you realize.

(It's sentient,) Squall recognized. (It's probably too much to ask for to hope it's helpful , but...) "How do you get out of this room?"

Look into the mirror, the Mirror said.

Acquiescing for the moment, Squall did so--and was startled to see someone who was decidedly not him staring inquisitively back at him.

She was... pretty, he decided, in the sort of clinical manner he might have used had she been a blonde or unusually tall or a Grat.

(What--?)

It is Possibility, the Mirror explained. Your possibility."What are you talking about?"

It is your possibility for happiness.

(I don't have time for this.) "Happiness."

When something tells us something about ourselves that we do not know, we call it a mirror. Do not turn away.

Squall had been about to turn away, but the imperative tone from the Mirror stopped him. "Why not?"

You can turn away, the Mirror acknowledged, but you must be ready for the consequences.

"Consequences." Repeating the last word the Mirror had said seemed like a good way to get more information.

You can turn away from anything.

"And...?"

And it will not be yours.

Squall stared at the face in the mirror. "So--"

She is your possibility for happiness, the Mirror reiterated. So if you accept her, you should reach out to her. If not, then you abandon her.

"And what happens then?" Squall crossed his arms.

Perhaps she will reach out to you. Then you will be here together.

(My possibility for happiness.) "And if she doesn't?"

Then you will not be together.

Squall considered.

You each must reach out to bring the other to you, the Mirror went on. It is an act of faith.

(Faith.) Squall began to turn away.

WAIT.

Squall paused.

Consider--

"You want me to accept that person as my best possibility for happiness. Make her exist on the offchance that it might make my life better." Squall shook his head. "I don't need to resort to some kind of... fairy-tale princess. ...no matter what happens, I have to accept reality." (It's the only thing I can trust to be what I think it is, in the end.)

Not allowing the Mirror another chance to convince him otherwise, Squall turned his back on it. There was a soft sigh--and then, clearly defined in the silence, a strangled sob.

Squall whirled around, half-expecting to see some kind of vengeful spirit behind him. Instead he saw the Mirror, now sending back a reflection of himself--in another room, looking around to find himself alone.

"What--?"

The Mirror said nothing. But his reflection looked up at him, with a lost expression that cut to the bone before Squall had a chance to think that the reflection might be accusing him for something.

Squall turned and walked for the stairs as fast as he could.

-

Zell helped him up as he struggled onto the ledge, pulling him to solid purchase. The rest of the team was staring at him--evidently, he gathered, he looked rather shaken.

He shook his head, grappling for his professionalism. "...are we all here?"

"Well, you make five," Irvine said, glancing around. "So, yeah. Seems like."

(...five?) Squall shook his head again. (Weren't there six...?)

He looked over his party, counting them over and over. Every time, he came up with the same answer--everyone was there, but the feeling that they were missing someone just wouldn't go away.

"Squall?" Selphie leaned forward. "...you okay? Sounded like you fell kinda hard--"

He shook his head once more, bringing a hand to his forehead. "...whatever. Let's get going."

Quistis looked concerned. "Squall? Are you sure you're all right?"

"No," Squall said, in an effort to deny things no one had brought up. "Let's go."

His team exchanged glances, but no one objected. Together, five people left the room.

The Mirror shattered below them.

-

-

AUTHOR'S NOTE :

The esteemed Luna Manar gave me the premise (and the permission) for this piece of fiction. She could probably have done a better job of it than I could have--but every moment she would have spent working on this would mean another moment she wasn't working on All For One , so I gladly accepted the challenge for her.