Crimson Lies Chapter 37
Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to Square.
That double-headed monster
of damnation and salvation-Time.
When they first entered, no words could express the barefaced shock each felt. Four comrades stood in awe, in horror, at the memorial that they stumbled upon. The room was barely lit by recessed lighting illuminating a makeshift altar, which was draped in a velvety cloth the deepest color of scarlet. The room, from floor to ceiling, contained photographs of various stages of Rinoa Heartilly's life some with her mother, some as a teenager, and a few later ones taken with Squall.
Framed newspaper articles lined the sidewalls, while the far wall seemed to contain various paintings and sketches. A large, oil-based portrait of Rinoa hung over as a centerpiece, and fresh white roses adorned the sides draping the frame as if an arrangement found at a funeral service.
"You know Quistis, when I first joked about Squall having a shrine to Rinoa, I was just kidding. This is " Seifer trailed at his own words, as the appalling reality of the fetish sank in.
"Disturbing," whispered the instructor, a coldness contained in her voice.
"Yeah, that is one word for it," replied Alex, still in obvious shock. "I can think of a few others psychotic, obsessive, demented, and just plain sicko."
Seifer walked to the altar, where a perfect replica of Lionheart lay cradled in an ornately carved holder. He ran a finger along the gunblade handle, checking the quality of the craftsmanship. To his disbelief, it seemed to be not only a detailed replica, but also a duplicate down to its ability to fire off live rounds. He glanced beside the weapon, seeing a series of pictures containing Rinoa and Squall. From their appearance, they seemed to be taken before she went into hiding, during her three years at Garden. The Commander's head had been cut out in some, while scratched off in others. Fingernail marks left white trails over the pictures, almost appearing to be the claw marks of a beast but not one smudge mangled the image of Rinoa.
On either side of the main portrait were two tables, each clothed in identical velvet as the altar. Candles covered the back portions, and various mementos were placed closer to the front. Seifer reached down picking up a delicate wine-goblet, on the rim was the distinct imprint of a dark shade of lipstick. He spun the tumbler around, looking through as the room distorted in the clear glass. Trying to imagine how deranged the President truly was, Seifer grasped that for two decades Mitchell's lunacy had been kept shadowed within the realm of sanity all in the name of power. Setting the chalice back, he moved down the table examining other of its illicit contents. The collection contained more than any human would have found sane: photocopied birth certificate, hair-cuttings, undergarments, pressed-flowers, and hundreds of other ill-gotten keepsakes.
Quistis wrapped her arms around herself, as a cold chill ran down her spine. There was something so sadistic about this place it made her skin crawl. She gathered enough wits about her to walk over glancing at a section of the wall. She stared at what appeared to be the earliest grouping of photographs; they contained many of Rinoa's baby-pictures and toddler years. From photos of Julia leaving the hospital, to pictures of mother and daughter flying a kite in the park, each seemingly everyday events all embossed on film. Now they formed a neurotic mural of a madman, paying tribute to every rite-of-passage in Rinoa Heartilly's life.
"So now we know that he has 'a little thing' for Rinoa," Seifer replied sarcastically, trying to hide how uneasy he genuinely felt.
Moving around the darkened room, Alex quickly examined the different groupings of pictures ending at the section put up most recently. All the photos had been taken after Rinoa and Allison's return to Garden including some of Rinoa in Deling. Several security video stills had been printed out, as all times on the lower corners dated within the last twelve hours. The newer ones contained pictures of her sleeping on the prison floor, and a series Mitchell forcing himself upon her kissing her lips and placing his hands in far too personal areas. Alexandra could tell it was not by any choice of Rinoa's, the panic and confusion in her friend's expression said it all. She was glad to see there were no other pictures depicting anything more intimate but these were ghastly enough. She was only glad that Squall was not here to see them
She walked a few steps further, examining the next cluster. These were the ones taken at Balamb Garden, containing several snapshots of Allison as Rinoa held her tightly. Thinking back, Alex figured that Lauren had more than one opportunity to take pictures without anyone taking special notice. The one that her eyes fixated upon was a close-up of Allison smiling innocently for the camera. It must have been taken right before Mitchell's attack, and subsequent capturing of his dear sorceress.
Alexandra closed her eyes in guilt, remembering how she and Zell had left the toddler with Lauren, feeling foolish for falling for such trickery. If they had just taken Allison to the office with them that day, Rinoa would have never been forced to make such a choice this would have never happened. She wanted to look away, but the pain was overwhelming and she could only focus on one defining detail The eyes of Allison staring back at her, the eyes that would haunt her forever if Rinoa didn't survive this ordeal. Alex finally had to look away, covering her head with her hands. And as the darkness took over the image of those eyes was all she could see
"Alex, put that psychology minor to good use tell us how does a fifty year old man become obsessed with a twenty-two year old from birth?"
The sound of Zell's voice made her force herself to confront the lair in which she was standing. Looking toward him, she noticed he was holding a picture drawn by a child of a boat sailing on the ocean waves. As he flipped it over, his expression showed a lack of surprise noticing a certain name written on the back.
"It's by Rinoa, dated seventeen years ago."
Alexandra thought for a moment, and then headed back over to the first montage of photos, the ones that were the oldest in age. And then it hit her
"Because," answered Alexandra, as she looked at the group from the hospital. "The baby isn't the focal point of these pictures. It wasn't Rinoa at first it was her mother." She pointed to the photographs, emphasizing that Julia was the central figure in every one of them. "General Caraway isn't in any of them. His fascination started with Julia and passed onto Rinoa after her death. The fact she is a sorceress isn't the reason he wants her that just made the excuse convenient."
Seifer digested the idea, for in a pathetic way that theory made sense. If you can't have the mother, you take the daughter the obsession just grew beyond all rational boundaries. "So what does this mean?" Picking up a framed photograph of Squall and Rinoa, he noticed that Mitchell had cut out his head from another photo, placing it over the Commander's. Rinoa stood in a sequined evening dress, as the mismatched figure next to her stood in formal SeeD uniform with Jefferson Mitchell's head. Showing the bizarre picture to Quistis he commented, "This just isn't right."
"No this is beyond wrong. But it is a weakness, and it may be a way to distract him." Quistis took the frame from Seifer's hand, placing it facedown on one of the tables.
"Squall was right about one thing, that the attack wasn't to kill Rinoa two years ago it was to kill Squall." Zell held up a hand-written letter to show the instructor, it outlined a few details of the attack, and then the words 'die Leonhart' filling up the remainder of the page.
"But then when Rinoa ran, he needed Squall alive. He might have been the only way to get her out of hiding." Quistis hid her eyes as the words escaped her mouth. She shuffled through a stack of pictures on the table, coming across one taken on her wedding day. President Mitchell had been there, he had taken pictures of her and Squall standing in front of the small gathering. She choked back a sob when she saw the photo. "Oh Hyne what have I done?"
Seifer took it from her hand, placing it back into the middle of the pile. "Well, right now I would say if anything you bought Squall some time. Just don't think about that right now, let's get Rinoa and get the hell out of here."
"So if he can't have her nobody can." Alex looked transfixed by the large portrait centered in the room. "He knows she will never love him so killing her is his way of getting her back for the pain, he'll take a sadistic pleasure out of her suffering. The power of controlling a sorceress will be a fringe benefit of his obsession."
"So," the martial artist asked in confusion. "Does he want Rinoa or Julia?"
"Both the lines became blurred long ago to him, so they are the same person in his mind. It started with the mother, but transferred onto the child If I would have to guess, from his level of psychosis, he wouldn't know one from the other if confronted directly about the subject. But if he can differentiate between mother and daughter, since his fixation started with Julia she may have the stronger influence on him."
"Oh my God," Quistis held a piece of paper scanning it thoroughly. "If I'm reading this shorthand correctly, this is a summary of how to transfer the powers. According to this, Mitchell is planning to kill her in his office."
"Wait, one of the technicians set up a camera at another location when we got here. It was my understanding that he would address the nation from there after the ceremony "
Seifer looked at the group in realization. "No, they are going to kill her there and have a tape to broadcast later. That is why the magic barrier is down right now .they can't do the transfer with it up. Mitchell won't chance killing her in public If what Alex said is true, he'll want this to be an intimate thing His views of passion are blurred it will be him, Rinoa, and whoever is inheriting the embodiment. It's the ultimate form of control killing his obsession; it is both a revenge and pleasure for him. Zell get on the radio and tell Squall what we found now."
"Commander, we found some sort of shrine Mitchell has to Rinoa, she will be dead before the scheduled execution Hurry to his office! Get out of there now, she has no time!"
"Guys, I can't seem to get a steady signal Think there is some kind of interference from this location. I have no idea if he is receiving anything; the other end is just dead air."
"Give it a sec and try again. Zell just stay calm," answered Seifer, as he studied the paper with the shorthand scribbled over it. "Why is it the bad guys always outline their plans?"
"Because they like to think themselves invulnerable they think they can outsmart anyone with their intelligence it's that show of emotion, that pride that usually gets them caught."
"Thanks Alex, although it was a rhetorical question Zell try again."
"Commander the execution will not be public; they are going to transfer her powers before they enact the magic field. Please Squall please get this message."
When Zell finished the short broadcast, a commotion was heard from outside the other exit door.
"We have to get out of this place; Rinoa might not have much time left. I'm guessing that on the other side is Mitchell's office or personal bedroom he would want to be close to his temple." Alex nodded toward the lone visible door. The one from which they had emerged was hidden within the vast montage, as many of the secret-passages were hidden to onlookers. Mitchell had concealed its existence well with photographs, so to the visible eye it was just a wall covered in an unholy shrine.
"Well, I say we run in full force and see what's behind door number two." Seifer's comment came out a little more enthusiastic than it meant to be.
"No," disagreed Quistis, more level headed than her counterpart. "If we do that we risk all of us being captured. I say we break off into two groups."
Alex moved toward the visible door, placing her palm against the cool wood. A deep-cutting sensation ran through her abdomen, and she quickly grabbed her stomach. Her vision blurred for a moment as a flash of Rinoa entered her mind. "It doesn't matter; she isn't in there yet." The others turned to her with looks of utter confusion.
"And since when has x-ray vision been among your unique, yet freaky, skills?" Seifer queried, raising an eyebrow in her general direction.
"Don't ask, I just can feel she's not in there yet call it a hunch. She will be though it's a matter of time." She removed her hand from her midriff, looking down at the same time, and for a second she thought her hand covered in dripping blood. When she blinked the hallucination quickly faded, and her palm was free of any stains. A chill ran through her, as she prayed to Hyne this wasn't an indication of foreboding, but she couldn't shake that awareness.
Before Alex had time to reflect any further on the incident, she felt a sting slowly start radiating from her upper-neck. Falling to her knees, the pain took over her entire head. Zell ran over, placing his hands on her back for support, the scene looked eerily familiar but that would be an impossibility. Unlike their encounters in the past, Alexandra retained consciousness during what appeared to be all too familiar. Removing her hands from her temples, she spoke the single word 'Esthar.' The tone seemed to be almost inhuman, not of her voice. She looked around for a second before regaining equanimity, and then repeated the word in a more hurried tone.
"What?" Zell looked with concern, aiding her to her feet. "Alex what are you saying?"
Before she could clarify, a loud explosion shook the foundation of the palace. They could hear the muffled cries coming from the hallway, and what appeared to be the low engine-roar of jets flying above. "Esthar's attacking; we have to get out of this room immediately!" She stumbled toward the veiled entrance, not to the one leading to what they supposed was Mitchell's office. "Inform Squall that it is Esthar, they are here to help."
Quistis grabbed the communication radio from Zell's belt, as he continued helping Alexandra toward the exit. "Squall it is Esthar! Repeat that is Esthar outside!"
They made it through the door, closing it securely before anyone could sense their presence. Standing in the pitch-black room on the other side, the yells inside the Palace were almost completely masked within the confines, and the stale air of many years filled their senses.
"Did he copy?" Seifer asked, placing his arms around Quistis' waist and pulling her tightly to his body.
"I don't know Why did we come back in here?" She kept her eyes open, although it truly made no difference in the abyss, looking in the general direction she believed the other couple to be standing in.
"Because they will be in there soon." Alexandra's whisper cut through the darkness.
"Did you go to the past?" Zell questioned, still supporting most of her weight.
" No, I went to the future."
"Um Ellone can't do that."
"She can now." He felt Alex shiver through her statement, there was something she was holding back; he could sense it.
"What concern is it of yours Rinoa, what I do? I can betray whomever or whatever I please...you will be long-since dead," spat the angry woman standing in front of her. "Which reminds me, it's just about time we go up to Mitchell's office. Think of it as your last chance to see well, anything."
Rinoa snapped out of her trance as the older woman spoke, their brown eyes locked in an intense game of cat-and-mouse. "What do you mean? I thought that this was going to be televised? So the fair citizens of Deling, and the world, could get the immense satisfaction of watching me suffer at the President's hands."
"Sadly, no Oh don't worry we won't deprive them of the satisfaction; it just won't be a live telecast. But watching a tape can be just as gratifying, huh?"
"Yeah, sure You guys aren't going to chance having the execution in the open, are you is someone afraid?"
"Never!" Kimberley hit the desk with her hand, sending a hollow echo through the room. "We are not afraid of anything I am not afraid of anything, especially something as pitiful as you."
"I never said it was me you are scared of," Rinoa answered smugly, short yet to the point.
The older woman never had a chance to respond as an explosion rocked the lower level, sending a tremor throughout the entire foundation. Kimberley quickly secured handcuffs around Rinoa's wrist, trying not to show any outward fear. "Don't even think of it dear it's just a precaution. The injections should hamper your magic casting, but we like to err on the side of caution. A little extra insurance never hurt anyone."
Two guards quickly entered the room, positioning themselves on either side of the doorframe. "We're under attack and are under orders to get the sorceress up to the chambers immediately, so the transference can take place."
"Damn it all!" Kimberley angrily pulled Rinoa by her tender shoulder, seeming to get some sort of demented pleasure out of watching the younger girl suffer. She walked in the lead, clearly aggregated by the guards, acting as if they had been responsible for the unplanned change. They quickly followed her out into the main hallway, but always staying a few steps behind.
"Don't tell me that fucking Leonhart and SeeD are behind this?" She demanded, never breaking stride and dragging her hostage along at a rapid pace.
"Initial reports indicate that Esthar is responsible for the attack."
"Esthar? What brilliant minds didn't consider the possibility of them striking first? What do you guys do all day, plan strategy and counter-attacks probability, or stick your hands up your asses?"
"President Mitchell never figured Esthar would risk getting involved. It's political suicide."
"This country is run by imbeciles," snarled Kimberly as they headed up a circular staircase.
When they reached the second floor, they found themselves in a smaller corridor before it merged into a larger passage. Guards were running in every direction, and several uniformed officials stopped only to stare as the sorceress was being escorted by. Even during the attack, they had to look it was like going by a car-wreck, with Rinoa being the fatality. In the distance, the captive woman caught sight of a mirror positioned at the end of the walkway. Somehow, in all the confusion, the reflection of herself seemed to call to her. As they grew closer, she continued to ignore all the commotion around her, fixated only upon her image.
Kimberley pulled out a key, unlocking a nearby door. When it opened, she dragged her prisoner into the room. But before Rinoa was hauled inside, she swore the image in the mirror morphed into the appearance of another. At first, she thought it was a side effect of the drugs coursing through her body, but she couldn't shake the feeling the feeling of seeing the dead walk. The image in the mirror was not her own in the last few seconds; it was Ellone
He made it out of the restricted area for invited guests, as smoke continued billowing through many of the ventilation shafts. Squall knew it to be a form of teargas, and that the effects would be harmless to any innocents within the Palace. Although with the exception of his friends, he wasn't sure how innocent any person in that building could be.
Scattered clouds of smoke in the hall vaguely reminded him of the misty covered mornings of his youth. How many times he had looked out into the plains of Balamb, to be greeted with the familiar covering rolling off the ocean. Right now, he could hear people running and yelling all around, yet nobody seemed to notice as he passed by. He thought it strange, but under the circumstances, he didn't have the time to worry about what they weren't doing - only what they were. He was just thankful for the small miracle; maybe something was going to go right Hell, that would be too much to ask.
He made his way to where he knew the stairwell to be, but as he rounded the corner, it wasn't there. In the confusion, he must have missed a turn, and he inwardly cursed himself so much for good luck. As he was about to retrace his steps, he saw a shadowy figure standing in the distance. When he moved closer, a certain familiarity surrounded the person, one he couldn't put a finger on. Watching the being move smoothly along, he didn't even know when his legs started running toward it. Everything a blur in his mind, he didn't even know what part of his consciousness was controlling his actions. The figure almost seemed to fade in-and-out of the smoke, and at other times it seemed almost transparent.
"Wait!" he called aloud, although the attempt in the mask was a little more than futile. He turned another corner, and for a moment froze in place. The gas must have been seeping through his mask, and making him delusional.
That was his only logical explanation.
"Ellone?" the Commander gasped, unsure of his breath. "No, no it can't be." Their eyes meet for the briefest of seconds, and in his heart he was certain. The apparition seemed to weaken as he neared, but he could make out the figure slowly enter a nearby room. He hurried following the path, no longer counting on his ability to reason. Opening the door, he wasn't shocked to see that she wasn't on the other side Someone was there, just not who his mind was hoping. Instead, a lone Galbadian soldier leaned against the wall, looking startled as the door flew open.
"Shit," he mumbled realizing that he didn't have a weapon on his person. This was going from bad to worse Before he had time to react, or come up with a spur-of-the-moment plan, he was more than shaken when the soldier identified him by name.
Moving slightly forward, he tried to focus on the uniformed man. Gas from the attack had stung his eyes momentarily blurring his vision gas and the emotion that the Commander felt when he had followed 'his imagination' into the room.
"Who is there?" His voice sounded hollow and apprehensive through the mask. The soldier took of his helmet, but his protective mask remained on, covering his nose and mouth. "Kiros?"
"Good to see you made it this far," spoke the man sincerely. "Laguna will be pleased."
"Yeah, but this will all be in vain if I don't save her." Squall walked over to his father's aid, a sudden fear striking him. "Tell me that Laguna isn't here please."
The older man saw a tinge of compassion coming from the person questioning him. In all his years knowing Squall, he had never seen him show any concern about his father's well-being. It was a strange comfort for Kiros to witness this moment, many years all coming to a dramatic conclusion in one simple statement. Maybe, just maybe Laguna finally had done something that his son would accept
"No Squall, he didn't come. Don't get me wrong, he wanted to more than you could possibly imagine. But he knew that if you didn't make it well he had made you a promise. By the Gods, he wasn't going to break it."
That simple, he understood. He had been faced with the same situation, yet he couldn't keep his promise to Rinoa. He had to go after her, he had to try. The simple act of staying in Esthar did more for Laguna than twenty-two years of regret, more than five years of trying to make things right between them.
"If something happens to me, to Rinoa. Please, make sure that Allison make sure that Allison grows up safe and loved."
"I will Squall, I promise."
Laguna Loire had promised something to his son, and he meant it. For the first time, Squall Leonhart was proud to have such a man as his father.
"Squall, listen he really wanted "
"I know," the Commander cut off his friend, knowing that he had misinterpreted the silence. "Kiros, I know."
Catching a movement out of the corner of his eye made Squall look away. He again swore he saw something something that he wasn't really willing to admit to anyone, let alone himself. He pointed toward a door, the direction of which had come the motion that had attracted his attention.
"What's behind that door?"
"I don't know Squall, it doesn't appear on our maps, and it can't be of much importance. This area is used for daily briefing of Palace security. I only came in here to get away from the rest of the chaos out there. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts and contact the others. It may look like Esthar dispatched a large group of soldiers, but it's really just a carefully timed series of explosions. Most of our units are outside, basically these people are chasing ghosts."
"What!?" The tone was harsher than Squall meant it to be, but after the last few minutes nothing was as it appeared.
"We only had time to gather a few planes and supplies. Esthar wasn't prepared for a large-scale strike nor did we want to risk your lives in the process."
"I'm sorry, I know thank you."
Squall moved walking toward the door and Kiros followed his lead. Opening it, the Commander looked into a dark corridor. There was stillness in the air, and he felt a familiar chill run though his body.
"You have a flashlight?"
Kiros handed him the helmet he was holding in his hand. "The Galbadians are nothing if efficient. There is a built in flashlight feature in the uniform."
Squall took the helmet, sliding a small switch on the left side. Kiros was right, this was a clever idea chalk one up for Mitchell. It made a small beam, not nearly as bright as the hardhat of a miner, but followed the same basic principle. In all his recent years of traveling to Deling, this small detail in their dress had eluded him.
"Im going in." The Commander's statement wasn't a request, wasn't a question, it was a certainty. Something was leading him down this path, and right now who was he to question all the things that happened in the last few days? Things he couldn't explain, things he left up to fate or destiny or whoever was in control.
"Kiros, are you coming?"
"No, I have to go back. Take the helmet Squall I'll take my chances."
"Thank you." A brief salute passed between the two, but no other formalities in the goodbye Squall hated goodbyes, and wasn't going to face the very real possibility that this may be the end for one or both of them. In the last two days, he had said enough goodbye's for a lifetime or more.
"How long are we going to stay in here?" Seifer's inquired in an annoyed tone. "This is not my idea of rescuing Rinoa plus I swear there's a spider crawling on me somewhere. I can just feel it staring at me with its beady little eyes all hundred or so of them."
"Soon," replied Alexandra. "He will be here soon."
"Who Mitchell?" Zell asked, wondering exactly why they were waiting for so long.
A light suddenly cut through the darkness like a knife, everyone jumped in apprehension with the exception of Alex. "No, him."
"Who the Diablo's is 'him'?" Seifer demanded as both he and Quistis raised their guns into the blackness toward the stream of light.
"Squall?" Alex called out into obscurity, her voice not quite that of a yell but well above anything she had used thus far in their hiding.
The shock that someone was at the other end scared the hell out of him. Let alone that whoever it was called out his name, as if they were expecting his arrival. This day was just becoming more dreamlike, and he hated things that were beyond his comprehension. He liked facts, evidence, not going on faith alone and whose faith he was going on was one of the questions that he feared the most.
"It's the four of us." Alexandra spoke gaining confidence. Nobody else in the dark corridor seemed to believe her statement, Quistis and Seifer never once lowered their weapons.
"Alex?" His voice came deep and unsure.
"Oh Hyne," Quistis gasped. "It is him."
"You gotta cut that shit out Alex," growled Seifer as he placed the gun down to his side. "Or at least warn us beforehand...so we don't accidentally shoot the wrong person."
"I wasn't sure myself until I saw the light I don't know what is happening to me, but I just feel strange. Trust me, except for the dreams, nothing like this has ever happened in the past."
The door to the office flew open as the President rushed in, slamming it behind. "Damn it! He's out there somewhere!!!"
"Who?" Kimberley questioned as she looked at Mitchell. "I was under the impression that Esthar is attacking."
"They are, but somebody's boyfriend is also out there."
"Leonhart? How the hell did he get in here?"
"The front gates don't ask. The guard who let him in is now disposed of bastard."
Kimberley stood, pulling out a handgun from the desk drawer. "So fine, we kill her just a little ahead of schedule."
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic