Authors Note: I'm so sorry about the delay! I really hope I still have some fans of this piece--if not, I'm screwed!
Because of the long delay, why don't we just get right to the point, eh?...
Truth Be Told
Chapter 3: The Coast Is Never Clear
Waves rolled across the white sands and sediment of Balamb's famous beachfront real-estate. Years of erosion had chipped away at the middle continent's crust, forming it into the perfect tropical paradise with its curving coastlines and sloping cliffs that sunk deep into the ocean below.
Midday beach dwellers swarmed the soft sands to bathe within the renowned warm waters. Bikini-clad sunbathers lined the long shoreline, their backs soaking up the Sun's intense heat, and male volleyball players paused every so often to admire the row of beach bathing beauties.
Rinoa casually walked along the sandy boardwalk, occasionally adjusting the pure-white sarong that was tied around her waist by a large tropical blossom. She sighed and lowered the binoculars she had been using, letting them hang from the strap around her neck. She had come to Balamb for a purpose, but now it seemed like she was following a dead lead.
The tide is high, but I'm holding on!
"What? I am dealing with this just fine Selphie." Rinoa explained harshly to her friend.
Selphie and Rinoa stood clustered within their kitchen that was currently being destroyed by Rinoa's newly founded baking hobby. Rinoa was trying her best to ignore what Selphie had said as she stirred the homemade brownie mixture.
"Really? I hardly think so. I haven't seen you yet to be in a state of mourning. You barely said anything at the funeral. It's like… It's like you don't even care that Seifer is dead." Selphie knew she had hit a nerve, and although she felt guilty for using such a straightforward approach, there was no mistaking that Rinoa had been acting abnormally secluded, keeping her feelings to herself.
Rinoa could do nothing but stare at the floor and accept her best friend's verbal onslaught. The words had stung, but she tried her best to push away the shameful feelings that were building up. Contrary to what Selphie knew, Rinoa had grieved substantially over Seifer's death, but that wasn't the reason for her recent isolation. An unhealthy combination of self-blame and insecurity was weighing down upon her, and instead of opening up to these emotions she waited patiently for time to heal all her emotional wounds.
"Zone, I know you agree with me here." Selphie exclaimed, placing her hands onto her waist commandingly; she was determined to use Zone's help in getting Rinoa to open up.
Zone, who had been sitting at the kitchen counter throughout the entire exchange, quickly spooned the rest of his morning cereal into his mouth, and motioned innocently with his hands that his mouth was full, silently hoping that his plan worked. He knew Selphie had meant well, but her approaches tended to become overly dramatic.
"Selphie, don't scare the poor boy." Rinoa teased as she peeled off her apron and set the dirty dishes into the sink. "I'm fine you guys, I'm just dealing with a few other things right now. Don't worry about it." She pushed the brownie tray into the oven and grabbed the timer before slipping into the hallway that led to her room.
"I'll be back in thirty to forty-five minutes, or until the brownies are slightly crispy on the outside."
Selphie sighed as she watched her leave before narrowing her eyes dangerously at Zone. "You could have helped, you know."
Fortunately, the doorbell sounded and Selphie pranced off to answer it, effectively saving Zone from her wrath yet again.
"Okay, you've got to try these!" Rinoa cheerfully sang to her friends, remarkably self-assured with her baking talents as she lifted out the tray of warm, baked goodies from their burning prison.
"Uhh…" A hesitant reply came from Selphie and Zone. They stared blankly at the crusted concoction, their noses assaulted with the unpleasant aroma of burned brownies.
"I followed the directions this time!" She said as she forcefully cut into the rock-hard slab of chocolate with a butcher's knife.
Selphie watched Rinoa chisel into the cemented chocolate, wedging out individual portions for Zone and her to taste test. The entire bottom half of the brownies were rock-hard and scorched like a black briquette. This was the price of friendship, Selphie reassured herself as she took the slice into her 'willing' hands.
"So, how do they taste?" Rinoa smiled triumphantly, her hands locked behind her, as she swayed back and forth onto her tiptoes. The scene was far too innocent for Selphie to criticize her companion, but apparently Zone wasn't as sensitive…
"They taste like--"
"Oh, I almost forgot!" Selphie squealed interrupting the nasty comment Zone was sure to have made. She crossed the kitchenette, making sure to silently berate Zone with a kick to his shin before snatching the pile of mail she had left on the dining room table. "Once again our mail was delivered next door; here's your share."
"Bills, bills, bills, refinance my mortgage?..." The list went on as Rinoa shuffled through the miscellaneous pile of junk mail, finding nothing of importance. Amongst the remaining mundane mail, was a peculiar unmarked envelope, her fingers brushed across the cover before hesitantly ripping it open, and sliding out the small note what was placed inside.
"Another sympathy card? Who is it from?" Rinoa vaguely heard Selphie's voice somewhere far off, but the words were muted by the sound of blood drumming against her ears as it eagerly rushed to her brain.
The vein continued to throb against her skull as she read the note carefully; upon reading the last word, her pupils began to fog over with unshed tears. The message was clear to her now, even as the script faded away behind watery eyes.
Rinoa quickly wiped the slight moisture that had gathered at her eyes, hoping that neither of her roommates had noticed the brief escape of her emotions, and wordlessly ran to her bedroom.
"Rinoa, where are you going?" Selphie exclaimed, but her friend tore down the hallway and straight out the door without a single explanation. She agitatedly turned towards Zone, her foot within shin-striking distance. "I told you not to insult her brownies!"
'You'll find the truth in Balamb.'
Rinoa was sprawled out across her beach chair, watching as tourists played within the ocean's warm waters. Although she watched intently, her mind had wandered elsewhere as she reflected on the mysterious letter she had found nestled within her regular morning mail. It had been two months since Seifer's death, and while she had come to deal with it on her own accord, her roommate, Selphie, still felt she was in denial.
A month of baking was all Rinoa needed, or at least she thought it would, but Seifer's death still plagued her thoughts; not because she thought she had loved him or because she had convinced herself recently that that was definitely not true about her feelings, but because the letter had shed some light on the mysterious nature that was Seifer's death--and the horrifying truth that she was somehow connected to it. That truth is what brought her to Balamb; that truth was supposedly to be found in Balamb.
So much for finding the so-called truth.
Rinoa adjusted the rim on her oversized sunglasses, pushing them back up the bridge of her sweaty nose. Nothing of interest had yet to appease her: there were no leads to go by, no mysterious messages for her to seek out an undisclosed location--only her beach chair and a pair of binoculars assisted her Balamb excursion, and those were proving quite useless as she had no clues to hunt down. She was grasping at straws!
Afternoon humidity began to coat her skin, becoming an unnatural nuisance compared to the temperate climate that was Deling. She fanned herself, letting her hands cool her face with a satisfying breeze, and absentmindedly prayed for the swift conclusion of this now-seemingly meaningless and excruciatingly hot trip.
That's when the next prospect of hope unexpectedly came to her, and quite humorously in the form of a six gil, jumbo-sized peach daiquiri:
"Ma'am, your drink, as requested." The foreign beach attendant announced; his accent was deep, and quixotic like most of the male natives of Balamb.
"But I didn't…"
"It's on the house." The attendant replied, cutting her off as he flipped out a small, business-like card that was previously concealed beneath his tray.
"Oh…" Was all Rinoa could muster. Her eyes nervously darted left and right, searching for the possible source of the unidentified card before taking it into her raised hand. An ironic mixture of satisfaction and discomfort clashed within her stomach as the possibility of a distant watcher both perplexed and unnerved her. She wasn't naïve to the tricks, lies and manipulation that could plague most agents in a time of desperate resolutions. Exhausted of two months and only questions left unsolved, she curiously turned the card over to reveal bold, times new roman script, and a single phrase:
'Find the man at 747'
That phrase could certainly be misleading to anybody, regardless of their ability to solve such ambiguous riddles, but Rinoa had a definite clue brewing within her tactical brain. Sure she was no detective, but glancing out into the ocean's waters only confirmed her suspicions as an expensive yacht floated steadily within the calm waters; the most expensive yacht in all of Balamb--Yacht 747, owned by smut enthusiast, and commercial tycoon, President Shinra. Sometimes known simply as 'The Yacht,' for it was also home to midnight raves that would occur more than twenty five miles off the coast. Subsequently, it was rumored that because of President Shinra's exploitation of the International Coastal Policy, that many illegal business sessions concluded in the private corroders of the extravagant vessel, including many expensive underground weapon deals.
Tonight, she would infiltrate President Shinra's Yacht, and find the answers burning within her. She clasped her drink, the tension in her fingers so strong that in threatened to crack the thin glass, and took a giant gulp. She eyed the floating ship in the distance through her shades, dark eyebrows furrowing with something a little more complex than determination--wrath and vengeance.
"Selphie, I need a vacation!" Rinoa slurred out as she threw her text book and note cards across the living room floor. Sighing, she lifted her legs and slammed her feet onto the expensive coffee table before her. They were both drooping against the back of their cozy red couch like discarded marionette dolls. Selphie, was next to her, browsing through her professor's footnotes while savagely stabbing at a tub of rocky road ice-cream.
"Agreed. We should both go to Balamb! We totally need the vacation after finals week!" Selphie wiped her mouth clean with the back of her sleeve and continued with her extensive studying.
"No, I mean. I need a vacation for myself. I already have tickets at a day spa in Timber to relax. I leave tomorrow; I just thought you should know."
"What about classes this week? It's not stop day until Friday, and then you have finals the next week. And the bank actually let you off?" Selphie retorted, finally letting go of her halfway-devoured dessert to question her friend. She was slightly disappointed with Rinoa's job, but even more upset that Rinoa hadn't even considered planning their Summer Break together, although she would never let on that she was upset with Rinoa, so instead she decided to focus her verbal onslaught towards Rinoa's tedious job and the constant hours Rinoa had to maintain to work as just a lowly accountant.
"Actually, the bank is sending me there on a trip this weekend; I thought I would go a few days early to catch a little break from everything." Rinoa sat up, retrieving her thick textbook to resume studying.
"Ah, I knew there had to be a catch! You know, you should quit. Let them find somebody else to be their errand dog--boy--girl--you know what I mean! That horrible job of yours has you running off at their leisure. I've even heard them calling you late at night, and even past two in the morning you will run off to fetch whatever it is they need. My point is, quit! The stress from Seifer, your job….and your schooling--" Selphie jabbed at Rinoa's textbook with her dirty spoon for emphasis. "--has got you overly stressed out. I implore you to quit! Immediately! Today! Right now! It's time for you to get a life and move on!"
Rinoa shook her head and laughed slightly, wiping the melted ice-cream that had splattered across the front cover of her book.
"You know I can't quit. I have bills to pay, and once I graduate--if I graduate--I'll need the job to pay off my student loans, and of course I won't find a job immediately after Graduate School. So, thank you for your constant and vigilant concern, but my job will have to remain a part of my stressful life for the time being."
Selphie sighed at her stubborn roommate. "Whatever. Don't come crying to me when your face and tits are saggy because you've been stressing yourself into growing older."
"I'll remember that for future reference, but for now I'm a mindless drone to the accounting masses, and you, my dear, are giving me a ride to Deling City International Airport at six o'clock tomorrow morning." Rinoa satisfyingly replied as she bounced off the couch, practically skipping her way to her bedroom. It was time to pack everything that she would need for her awaiting adventure, which included miscellaneous spy gear, and a tiny, baby blue bikini.
Isolated thunder clouds hung in the night's humid air, the occasional rumble combining with the sound of the joyful revelers that made their way up the steep ramp and into the waiting vessel. The crowd was packed in tightly for the celebration, dressed in the most elaborate of outfits. Most of the bikini-clad females wore tiny pieces of jewelry to match their intricate headdresses which were richly decorated in an infinite rainbow of sequence and pearls to fit President Shinra's theme for the evening--Carnival de Balamb!
Zell made his way up the steep incline that led to the ship, bumping into a random partygoer that was wearing so many yellow feathers he thought she looked like a life-size chocobo. His inattentiveness towards the chicken-like-female caused him to knock over one of the male wait-staff, a mix of the most expensive champagne spilling all over his newly bought attire. His version of festival apparel had included a buttoned up shirt that unfortunately had a vivid tropical flora pattern. He finished off the hideous outfit with a plain pair of cargo pants and ratty sandals; it screamed more of beach bum than it did sophisticated syndicate member enjoying a night of carnival!
"Man, I just bought this!" He screamed over the rustling crowd, while trying his best to diminish the stain from his shirt.
"Stop fussing with your shirt, Dincht. You need to keep your eyes open." His companion, Squall, commented, coming up the ramp behind him in a simple pair of black slacks and a shirt. He casually sipped from the bottle of imported beer in his hand, blending well with the rest of the drunken passengers.
"How are we supposed to find the people responsible for the Estherian Ball attack here?" Zell asked, not waiting for an answer before he boarded the ship to start searching the crowd. It was a rhetorical question anyways.
The ship was taking off into the ocean now, the boisterous yell of the crowd signaling their departure. Champagne bottles were immediately uncorked and festive confetti covered the crowd in a blanket of colors. Squall only grimaced, brushing off the offending confetti that had annoyingly fallen onto his shoulder.
"Sake! Sake! Sake! Oi! Oi! Oi!"
Chanting was heard inside the main room of the yacht as passengers urged their drunken comrades into chugging more of the offensive fluids, furthering their intoxication. Rinoa, currently an unfortunate player in a never-ending game of 'sake-bombs,' was stuck between two very drunk, high level syndicate members of President Shinra's. She slammed her empty glass down with the rest of the crowd, wiping away the foam that had drizzled onto her chin.
"You sure are a pretty thing, miss!"
The flabby arm of one of the syndicate members sloppily linked around her tiny midsection and pulled her into his chest. The rancid smell of rice wine and tobacco coated his breath as he whispered drunken mumblings into her ear.
"I always did have a thing for little blonde girls…"
Rinoa squirmed against his relaxed hold, her face tinting faintly with a growing hue of crimson; most likely a result from the mix of alcohol in her system. With little difficulty, she finally broke free of his hold, stumbling away from him on her high stiletto heels before adjusting the baby blue bikini, and platinum shoulder length wig that concealed her natural color.
A few quick, awkward steps sent her out of the main cabin and into the damp night air where she bent face first over the metal railing that protected her from the churning waters below. She was never that coordinated in heels to begin with, she reasoned. Her mind wavered, focusing all her attention on maintaining a constant center point in the jagged ocean waves, but the restless rolling motion of the ship only agitated her insides.
"What am I doing?"
Rinoa groaned audibly, leaning more heavily over the railing. She felt defeated and useless; all the running around Balamb was for nothing, but a few 'kicks' at a lavish social gathering. What was she even thinking when she decided to participate in a few drinking games? Did she really believe that becoming chummy with a few rotten criminals would reveal the next clue into her investigation? Whatever she had been thinking then didn't matter now; her mind was only focusing on two things: keeping balance and preparing a strategy that would take her away from this event, and possibly unravel a little more of the mystery--if that was even possible at this point.
A sharp dance of lightning in the clouds flashed over her, the darkened sky opening up to a sudden rainstorm; Mother Nature was, in essence, completing her misery.
"Great. Just great!"
Squall roamed the outdoor hallway where it was safely secluded from the main crowd. His partner, Zell, had run off to investigate on his own, and he was happy for the distraction, it meant that Zell would not be bugging him incessantly for the entire evening. After all, Squall had already grown quite nauseous from the social event. The intenseness of the noise level had driven him away; the noise, almost completely muffled by the sturdy white walls of the vessel, was being replaced by a strong headache, annoyingly placed in the small space between his eyes. Looking out into the sea, Squall surveyed the increasing volume of the storm as it approached; the wind had picked up speed while dropping the temperature a foreign few degrees. The heat that was so native of Balamb was retreating to make way for the coming storm. As if on cue, lightning split the sky open, and small droplets of water began falling, pelting against the ship's smooth surface.
With the threat of the storm turning in the distance, the mob of party-goers had abandoned the outer decks leaving Rinoa drenched and alone. She blinked, trying to wipe away the drops of rain that had fallen between her ashen eye lashes. Chilled and wet fingertips grasped the slick railing until her knees finally gave way, hitting the floor with a resounding thud. She rested there for a few moments, soaked completely, her body weight pressing down on her sore knees, and one fist still clenched firmly to the railing like it was her last prospect of hope; Rinoa was crushed completely. She dared not move, enduring the freezing rain as it coated her skin, and only tilted her head sideways when she heard light footsteps breaking through the soundless barrier that had engulfed her.
Squall kept his head low, his gaze remaining on his feet which sloshed through the gathering puddles. The rain was finally becoming an unnecessary nuisance. He unknowingly approached the kneeling figure, his gaze finally lifting to stare at the strange passenger.
With the lack of any visible light, Rinoa could scarcely make out the man's features as he drew nearer to her position. The man looked up sharply, as if finally sensing her presence, the force of his dark stare was almost tangible. Her eyes moved over him to take in what she saw; this man, he was something eerily familiar.
Lightning stroked the sky, bathing them in a streak of faint luminosity, just a bright enough flash to bring their features into focus for the briefest of moments. Rinoa caught sight of his face, her breath catching deep within her throat as she identified the scarred man instantaneously. A burning sensation enveloped her senses as memory seeped back into her mind:
Sounds and sensations.
An explosion, impossibly loud to be mistaken as lightning.
And finally, a ripping pain in the back of her head.
Quickly she jumped to her feet, and reached for his arm, her fingernails digging into the man's flesh like daggers into a spleen. He reacted to her swiftly, his short steps throwing her backwards from him; though her nails still managed to firmly grasp the limb. Her minor victory, however, was soon shattered as the man's hand, unyielding as steel, grasped her wrist, twisting it painfully to the side.
She had no time to struggle or even be concerned over her injured wrist, as the man grabbed her shoulders, spinning her around, and pinned her against the wall. Rinoa didn't flinch beyond the initial surprise of his counter-attack, her anger quickly turning into anxiety when she realized that he held her silently in his hold, unyielding and unmoving.
"Did you kill him?" Rinoa turned her head as she spoke awfully low, her voice lethal as her chocolate colored eyes bored into his, but the man gave no indication he would respond, only twisting her arms tighter behind her back to restrain her further.
"You must be the man, and--"
She ran her tongue along the inside of her cheek, her hot steely eyes refusing to leave his. "You killed him." She said again, her voice harder.
It almost made her laugh, the pain from his hold becoming increasingly stronger. Rinoa noticed how he had finally managed to make her wince, but she wouldn't show just how badly his hold hurt, it wasn't something she could let herself do at the moment. She was in too deep, as they say; too deep in some sort of twisted conspiracy where she believed this man was responsible for all the death around her: Seifer, Esther, and probably even more numerous accounts of murder were attached to this man's record. Her profiling skills as an agent were vastly mediocre compared to Irvine's, but at the present moment she believed in her misguided judgment. After all, he was currently her only link, and if she ended up being correct and he was responsible for Seifer's death than he would have to be held accountable.
Squall scowled at his present predicament; for once wishing that Zell was pestering him like usual and not doing exactly what he was being told. He tightened his grip, constraining the young woman against the wall using his obvious physical advantage.
He was certain this woman was crazy, suffering from drunken hallucinations, but he had no time to fuss around with the nonsensical girl, he was only concerned with apprehending his own criminal, who he had yet to discover. Squall sighed in frustration, his headache becoming more painful with every moment that he held the girl captive. For once in his life, Squall was at a loss for his next move.
Two can play that game, Rinoa thought. She suddenly catapulted from his hold, a muffled scream hissing between her teeth as the back of her head collided with his nose.
"Damn it!" Pain resonated throughout his entire skull; his headache, now an unbearable throbbing.
Rinoa's heart jack-hammered in her breast as she grappled with panic, the man was bent forward, cupping his sore nose. She chose that moment to turn towards him; her hands gripped his shoulders while her knee shot out to strike him where everyman was vulnerable.
Squall recovered quickly from her assault and parried with his right arm, blocking what was sure to have been an excruciating blow to his manhood. He grabbed her roughly by her ankle and swung her across the hallway where she landed in a perfected crouching position, her legs aching with the unaccustomed strain. She was so weak compared to him, her once powerful body refusing to recover from his depredated defense. She felt frail and dried out, like an old autumn oak tree left to wither in the chill of winter. She wanted to be strong again--strong as her convictions.
Rage pushed through Squall with surprising force, like an electrical surge. His arm shot out to grab for the girl again, but she slipped past him easily, her sharp stilettos puncturing the toe of his shoe with such force that the entire heel broke off. Without glancing back once, Rinoa hurriedly hobbled away across the slick floor, balancing unsteadily on the tip of her toes.
'Bravo Rinoa, you really thought that one through.' She chided herself silently, slipping back inside to blend with the drunken crowd, which wasn't an easy feat considering that she was soaked to the bone, her thick mascara running like sinister veins across her face. The platinum wig atop her head had been forgotten as it was a mess of tangles like an old discarded rag.
Maybe the drunken crowd wouldn't notice?
Rinoa still dared not to look behind her for fear that the man was there, waiting for her to turn around and resume what she had thoughtlessly started. She would have to figure out a way to end this predicament. Her goal was to seek retribution for the people responsible for Seifer's untimely death, but the alcohol had dulled her senses, making her act on pure irrationality. Well thought out plans were instantly discarded in place of cold, hard revenge and stupidity.
She rounded the corner, cowering behind the built-in bar where a few syndicate members were gaily downing their shots of top-shelf tequila, too drunk to take notice of her presence, or so she thought. A familiar flabby arm shot down to yank her up from her hiding spot behind the bar, twirling her into the sloppy embrace.
"My little blonde vixen is all wet!" He murmured into her soaking flaxen wig as he held her petite body against his comparably chubby one. His thick thumb was stroking her bare shoulders, and his head tilted forward causing his calloused lips to move dangerously close to her own.
Rinoa's blood suddenly froze in her veins; a disgusted murmur sounded deep inside the back of her throat. Her heart felt like it was freefalling towards a bottomless sea, unable to escape and drowning from its own blood supply.
With out warning her tiny frame was suddenly pulled apart from the plump man by a strength that was not her own. She staggered backwards, faintly catching a glimpse of the strong arm that connected with the drunk's repulsive face.
In that instant, the music and noise within the main room instantly halted, the crowd's focal point centering on Rinoa, and the current ironic circumstance that unfolded before her; a situation that she also found to be helplessly trapped in.
"Squall!" It was the first thing anybody in the room dared to say. It was as if the whole assembly was waiting anxiously for the outcome of the drama, their eyes fixated as if it would motivate the mystery to unravel.
Again the voice was heard, this time coming from the blonde man who eagerly pushed through the packed crowd.
"Whoa! Squall! What did you do?"
Rinoa finally looked up, breaking her concentration on the collapsed hefty man, to the newest member of the twisted scenario. She catalogued his features, awareness starting to settle in as she noted the blonde's slightly taller stature, and how the wide and brawny build of his torso gave him an aggressive edge. The dark tattoo decorating the side of his face was what finally triggered her memory. It was the same man from the Esthar Ball, his identifiable tattoo unmistakable; he was definitely the comrade of the scarred man.
"And what happened to your nose? Did this guy punch you first?"
Squall looked up as well, his fist still clenched and stinging from the impact it had made on the man's sturdy jaw. He was utterly confused by his actions, if anybody had known Squall well enough they would have called him distraught; he had reacted without even thinking about the larger implications of his actions.
A few of the more sober syndicate members moved to the front of the crowd towards Squall and Rinoa. Their eyes were narrowed like savage beasts that swarmed in to protect what was rightfully their prey. Both Squall and Rinoa noticed the considerable change in their surroundings, the atmosphere of the party had suddenly turned hostile. It was like an annoyingly persistent warning sign that spelled out a single word: Trouble.
Rinoa's eyes skimmed over the crowd, a calculated escape plan running in the back of her mind. It wasn't the most effective of plans; she wasn't exactly acquainted with her present surroundings, and there were far too many unknown variables, including the many civilians that were lingering around the boat, but any plan was better than nothing, she reasoned.
Frowning at what seemed to be a trap of men, Rinoa quietly sought out a decoy, something simple, yet productive!--Her defective stiletto slipped then, misplacing her footing upon the granite flooring, but her mind was as quick as her inventive (and quite deliberate) actions. As soon as she fell, Rinoa was swiftly picking herself up off the ground, the fat syndicate member's pistol now clutched within her shaking hands and pointed at the scarred man.
None of the men moved to disarm her, their hands only resting casually, yet firmly on their holsters ready to make a move, but none dared to argue or entice the ill tempered female. She threw a look over at the bewildered Zell, the expression of panic on his face verifying that he would not become an immediate threat.
Silent prayers swept off her lips that her aim was well, and that the syndicate members would have forgiveness for her murdering one of their own in the middle of their party. Subduing, her nervousness with the final ounce of inner strength she possessed, she cocked the pistol, her index finger hesitating before pulling tight against the trigger.
Once again, had she been sober enough, she would have reflected on how she rarely thinks situations through.
The pain that resonated through the core of Squall's body and the force of the bullet that tore into his shoulder caused him to grunt softly, eyes closing for the briefest of moments before opening to stare icily at Rinoa's shaken figure.
Rinoa found she was unable to tear away from his piercing stare of solid, azure eyes. A passing afterthought stirred within the recesses of her mind--something along the lines of disappointment or possibly regret--but the crowd's panic stirred her out of her daze, and Rinoa reluctantly turned away, letting the hysteria paint her escape to flee outside to the stormy night.
Armed syndicate members instantly swarmed the injured man, Squall. One hand fell upon each of his arms, but before they could get a hold of him to drag him away the shrill sound of electrical fuses misfiring engulfed the room causing the lights to slowly flicker before burning out into complete darkness.
Shrill screams of terror were followed by the penetrating sound of the alarm system activating; the red emergency lights blinked rapidly, giving the entire vessel it's only source of light. Looking down at their intended victim, they found only an innocent, panic-stricken passenger in place of the injured man--Squall had disappeared on the heels of his shooter.
Outside Rinoa pushed herself onward in no particular direction. Turning the corner, she spotted the remaining life boats being filled with civilian passengers. She would have hopped on the first one available had they not been heavily guarded, but the mechanical drive towards freedom overpowered her anxiety. Willing her feet to move forward through the next hallway, she searched for an easy outlet, hoping to escape the troubled vessel, and at the same time, making due to somehow avoid the nagging fear tugging at her chest.
She was just about to round the corner into the next passageway when the wooden panel just above her right ear splintered into tiny pieces. Her heart leapt forward as she turned around just in time to hear the assailants second bullet shatter another hole into the hallow sheet-rock of the wall beside her.
Squall cursed to himself as he missed his target for a second time. He assumed the injury to his shoulder was the cause of his faltering marksmanship. The proficiency of his aim, combined with years of exceptional combat expertise, made him the most instinctual of soldiers; one with a celebrated success rate that would drive any aggressor to flee in fear.
Rinoa spun around the corner, her heart still floundering somewhere within her chest cavity; close calls, much like this one, always sent her entire body into panic mode. She sought to seize an ounce of self-control from her trembling body as she angled her head to peak back at her shooter. The immediate shatter of more wooden specks hurling into the air resulted in the instant she glimpsed the gun-wielding form of her opponent. Not keen on being the target of a fourth shot, she heaved herself safely against the wall, and began to fight back the tears tempting to descend from her eyes.
Leaning her head to the right, Rinoa looked out through the space between her and the hallway's next intersection. Running right would leave her assailant a large clearing to fire off his fourth bullet, a shot Rinoa was sure would hit its mark. However, the area to her left had infinitely more drawbacks; the hallway turned into stairs that descended down into the lower decks of the vessel, an area where she was more likely to get caught up in a dead end, but the first, and foremost, hazard of retreating to the left would be the obstacle of running past the hallway's opening, and becoming a clear, defenseless target.
Perhaps sobriety was overrated at this point.
Authors Note: Okay, here is where I will try to say whatever it is I need to say…
I would like to give a huge thanks to both Tsukino Kaze and my beta-wife Devy Qui-ti, without them I would probably end up picking my nose in front of the computer. Or perhaps just have really bad gas--those girls are like a cure for all my nasty bodily functions. Let me tell you! Ahem…
And now to finally do what I have yet to do--thank the reviewers! Stardust Ray, Luissquall, Ashbear, higher than sky high, Cerulean Crystal, Babigirl2246, Lady-Rinoa14, 4ngelique, Leonblade, Ayato, and Elle the Brat.
Thanks for reviewing guys!
Finally, I won't ever abandon this story. In fact, I had most of this chapter written right after posting the previous one. Fall Break is next week, and I intend to write another chapter by the end of it! So, wish me luck!