Returning to the ballroom a shade more nervous than she had been before, Trianon turned her cat’s eyes on every individual in the room. No one seemed disturbed or overly curious about another’s whereabouts, which made Trianon wonder if the man had been alone or if everyone else was a good actor. As she finished her circuit around the room she spotted Irvine standing near the door, talking to a guest. The cowboy was smiling, and even though he looked casual, she could tell he was just as stiff as she was. Something had happened to make him on his guard, which gave the instructor an uneasy feeling. Historically, the SeeDs did not have much luck with ballrooms.
Gliding away for a third round, Trianon watched glasses of champagne be lifted off her tray and empty ones replace them. The guests were all speaking loudly, influenced by all the alcohol they were drinking. Gestures became more flamboyant and Trianon watched the guests cluster around each other and laugh outrageously at one another's jokes. She saw also Michelle several more times, sifting through the crowds, scanning the guests, before something quite odd happened.
Gerald Clark strode in with a smirk and stood at the doorway. He held the slumped robber in his hand with a ring of guards around him, including Kerei and Zell. The two SeeDs were blending in beautifully, faces masks of stone like the rest of the guards around them.
“It seems a few of my enemies have trickled in here!” He proclaimed to the crowds.
Worried whispers snaked around the room as people began to shift around with narrowed eyes. Gerald Clark watched them for a moment, his eyes glittering and a smile crossing his face.
“So we’re going to play…a game!”
Trianon slipped closer to Michelle and the two maids glanced warily at each other.
“This mansion is going to be locked up completely. My allies will be escorted out, and anyone whom I’m not so sure of…will stay here and die in any manner of ways, I assure you this mansion is full of little delightful traps.”
Michelle trembled and nearly dropped her tray. Trianon brushed her shoulder against the younger SeeDs and shot her a look.
“We’re staff, hopefully that’ll mean something.” Trianon said under her breath.
Gerald Clark produced a list and began to rattle off names. Bodyguards fetched those listed, guests who looked calm and were even smiling as they were taken away while everyone else stood quite still. Gunshots rang out behind the closed Ballroom doors. Trianon’s eyes slid shut. This was not good at all.
Irvine felt his blood run cold as the men taken beyond were murdered. He stood just behind the ring of guards and could see Trianon and Michelle in the crowd, staring at Gerald and locked into place.
“Now then, I’ll just leave you all! Good luck getting through the gardens, the main driveway will be sealed off.”
Gerald tipped his hat and left the room. For a moment no one moved, all of them feeling cold and full of dread as the hollow sound of doors shutting rang out one by one. Some of the guests were too drunk to realize what was going on and they laughed uncertainly. For the majority of the guests, however, a quiet soberness had fallen over the crowd.
“Defence mode: Activated”
“What’s that?” Michelle squeaked,
“Our cue to get the hell out of here,” Trianon grabbed Michelle’s free hand and tugged the girl across the polished floor.
All at once people began to swarm everywhere. Racing for the doors on all sides there were horrified screams as massive blades crashed down from the doorframe, guillotines, hacking those who had reached there first. Others didn’t hesitate; they simply began to climb over the blades. Stumbling as someone launched into her, Trianon lost Michelle in the crowd and fell to her knees. Up in a second, the assassin’s eyes narrowed to slits and she threw a hailstorm of empty champagne glasses at anyone who came near her.
Using her tray as a shield, Michelle shrieked as she lost Trianon and ended up near the eastern doorway, instead of the northern one that her and Trianon had been aiming for. Flashy dresses and pressed suits swam all around her, disorienting the SeeD.
“We’ve got to get out of here!”
“How could you bring me here?”
“Glenn! Glenn! No!”
Michelle’s ears burned as screams shattered her mind. Pushing her way through the people she climbed over two mortally wounded guests and fell into the hallway. Dead bodies were everywhere, impaled; burnt, poisoned…it was like a horror show. Eyes filling full of tears, Michelle stumbled over them and ran to the foyer. She nearly screamed in joy when she saw Trianon and Irvine, both holding hands and pushing through the crowd.
The women linked arms and then huddled together as people ran all around, hysterical and afraid.
‘Where the hell do we go now? Everything has a trap on it!” Irvine swore.
“We have to get to Instructor Trepe, and hope that SeeDs Zell and Kerei are all right,” Trianon decided.
“Trepe! That’s right, she’s the secretary and might be able to find what we need before we can get the hell out of here,” Irvine nodded, eyes alight, “She’s up the stairs though, no one’s gone up there yet,”
“We’ll set off every trap,” Michelle whispered.
“We have to, come on,” Trianon growled, pulling them with her.
Deciding that she hadn’t reached her age just to die in some creep’s mansion, the Guardian Force used her heated anger and malicious control to elbow, punch, scratch, and kick her way to the stairs. She grabbed a random man and pulled him close.
“You! Get up the stairs.” She pushed him roughly.
One foot on the lowest step send a volley of spiked balls raining down the staircase. The man screamed as they dug into his flesh while Trianon and Michelle used their trays and Irvine ducked behind them.
“One down, cover me.”
Trianon ran up the staircase, sucking in her breath as little arrows shot back and forth across the steps. Feeling a line of pain slash across her calf, the woman hissed but kept going.
“Esuna!” Michelle called behind her.
Trianon breathed a sigh of relief. No poisoning for her.
“Hey! They have magic!”
“They can get out!”
Trianon stopped at the landing, whirling around in horror. Michelle and Irvine were bolting up the stairs as the masses began to run after them. The three SeeDs ran as fast as they could, screaming and yelling as they set off traps, and often relying on their magic to get them out of it.
“Good thinking Michelle,” Irvine breathed as they ran above the ground, letting the traps wait for the horde behind them.
“Trepe’s office,” Trianon pulled them around a corner and opened the door quickly, hustling them all in before either could say anything, and shutting the door behind them.
Quistis looked up to see her companions floating a foot off the ground and breathing heavily. As Trianon locked the door she leaned against it and sighed.
“Trapped?” Quistis stood up and then halted as a roar of pounding footsteps ran by.
“Gerald Clark left, he activated a defence mode on the house, the entire place is trapped,” Michelle announced.
“Damnit,” Trepe growled, folding her arms over her chest, “I’ve located several hidden compartments in the mansion, it’ll be a harder task to check them out now though.”
“A man tried to sneak into Gerald Clark’s room today, there’s a compartment above his bed,” Trianon announced, “I struck him down.”
Trepe’s eyes narrowed and she walked back to her desk, “If we can get rid of these people, and turn off the traps, we can search out the compartments, I don’t want to risk just checking one when there might be more valuable things in the others.”
“Well the float spells seem to have gotten us through most of the traps,” Michelle began, “Why don’t we split up into groups and look around?”
“Good idea, I’ll team up with you, Trianon and Irvine, you two go together since if anything, Irvine can junction you,” Quistis cast a look at the two SeeDs.
Trianon nodded and self-consciously rubbed the sapphire hanging from her neck. The four of them waited while men and women screamed outside, pounding on the door at times but not really sure where the magic-users had gone.
“Do you think this room is trapped?” Michelle asked, biting her lip.
“I don’t think so,” Quistis frowned, “I’ve been working in here for awhile, and nothing has happened. I think Clark can’t afford to have his files destroyed. The traps outside would probably do.”
“Aw man, look outside, it’s a massacre out there,” Irvine groaned, “This place will be a cemetery soon. No one’s going to make it out of here without some sort of injury if we don’t turn this defence system off.”
“If Selphie were here she’d know where it was,” Michelle offered.
“Yes! Let’s phone Selphie and send her the floor plans of this monster, and in the mean time sit tight,” Quistis grinned and pulled her laptop out.
“What about Zell, Kerei, and Squall?” Irvine asked, “Do you think they’ll capture Clark?”
“We have proof now, even if it isn’t for past crimes this little stunt will get him for sure,” Quistis murmured.
Irvine sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He missed his cowboy hat because this would have been a perfect time to tilt it over his eyes and take a nap. Looking equally exhausted, Trianon slid over to him and rested her forehead against his shoulder. A flood of warmth coursed through his body and he wrapped her in an embrace.
Michelle perched herself on the corner of Quistis’ desk while the blonde chatted quietly to Selphie and Nida, asking them if there was anything they could do to help the situation. Playing with a pigtail Michelle silently hoped her other friends were all right. They had all known it wouldn’t be a simple task to perform this mission but never would she have thought it could go so wrong. The cries outside and dimmed to soft moans as the majority of the traps had gone off. A shiver crept up her spine, thinking about the horrors Gerald Clark had done to those people. Michelle had joined SeeD to become an advocate for peace, not to end up in a mansion of dead and dying people and be locked in a secretary’s office.
Kerei bit her lip but kept her posture rigid. Wisps of her inky black bangs fluttered over her face as her aqua eyes flicked left and right. Zell was somewhere behind her in the ring of guards and all of them had been very quiet since Gerald’s little stunt.
Droplets of blood oozed down her uniform as the young SeeD surveyed the carnage from outside. No one had made it to the gardens at this point but from inside the mansion they could hear the screams. Clark had built himself a funhouse of horrific proportions. Her spine tingled with the memories of only seconds before as smug men and women filtered out, thinking they were safe, only to be shot to the floor. Pools of blood had leaked all over the carpet, making a sea of crimson for the guards to step through.
Zell had been pale as a sheet as he walked out, following the rest of them, his eyes glassy with shock as he and Kerei tried to keep their wits about them. All the guards seemed on edge now, no doubt they were all mercenaries of some sort, and hadn’t taken this job for anything but the pay. The short blonde was now fidgeting in place, feeling jumpy and eager to move. He’d do just about anything to get far away from this place.
A soft rain had started and the droplets clung to their hair like precious diamonds strung along on spider webs. Gerald Clark didn’t seem to have noticed the dampness, he was gazing out at the mansion with a twisted smirk on his face. Kerei’s eyes were downcast and Zell could tell she was getting unnerved by the stillness. All at once, making them all jump, Gerald laughed and thrust his arm out.
“To the limo!” He ordered loudly, smirking even more as he watched his bodyguards fumble with their weapons having drawn them out so quickly.
They surrounded him and began to walk closely around the man until he reached the sleek black car. The window rolled down to reveal the driver whose hat shaded the entire top of his face, providing only a glimpse of creamy skin and chestnut hair. The door opened automatically and two guards followed by Clark stepped inside, Zell and Kerei followed, and then two guards brought up the rear. The inside of the automobile was warmer than outside and it seemed an odd contrast to all the terrifying scenery. Both Zell and Kerei were mentally calculating if they could take out the guards and capture Gerald right in the limo, but now they knew he had tricks up his sleeve.
Squall, to his credit, was icy cool and just as apathetic and unresponsive as he always was. He had quietly watched people falling from windows and crawling over spiked grounds despite cuts that were dripping blood over their hands. He lowered the visor of his hat and patiently waited for the destination. Gerald seemed to be musing over something but eventually he decided they would head to.
“Driver, have us head to Fisherman’s Horizon, and you, have a ship waiting for us,” Gerald ordered, a smile playing on his lips.
One of the bodyguards grabbed his radiophone and ordered a cruiser to meet the limousine at the port after taking a brief ferry over. As soon as the plans had been made the three SeeDs knew what to do. Balamb could intercept the ferry and the SeeD’s could rush the criminal and sweep him behind bars. Now all they had to do was contact Balamb.
“Yes, thanks Selphie, remember, be careful, good, good, thanks,” Quistis put the communicator down and sighed softly.
“All right, Trianon with me, Michelle with Quistis, keep lots of floats stocked and good luck. Here’s a copy of the floor plans, coming in now, all the red lines are places of interest.” Irvine quickly distributed the sheaths of paper.
“All right…” Michelle nodded, recasting the float spell and feeling somewhat more comfortable.
Trianon calmly sauntered to the door, opening it without hesitation and only blinking at the man impaled to the door before she stepped out and looked around. The stench of blood wafted in, making the SeeDs grimace in turn. They had been in the room for hours, and Quistis had a feeling that it was a new day. They should have been out a long time ago. Seifer would be in knots by now.
“This way!” Trianon called in as she began to lightly sprint above the floor littered with bodies.
Irvine walked out and caught up with her quickly, trying not to look at the dead below him. His violet eyes became fixated on the skirt of the woman in front of him. The frills bobbed up and down with every step, but never high enough for the rogue. Trianon had tied her hair up in a tall ponytail that swayed back and forth, sending curls bouncing down her back, pooling over the fabric of her costume and completely mesmerizing the man.
He was crushed about their date-to-be and how it was cancelled. Knowing her schedule he wouldn’t get another chance for months. He sighed quietly and looked at the papers clutched tightly in his hand, Exeter in the other. Focus on the mission, Kinneas.
“We’re going to search the three connecting hidden rooms that exist between the attic and the top floor,” Trianon announced, giving another glance at her own maps, “I think we can find some useful treasures in there.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be lookin’ for clues?” Irvine asked, raising his eyebrows.
Trianon turned her face back to him and gave the cowboy a roguish grin with a wink, “Never hurts to take home some souvenirs.”
“Can’t argue with that logic, we’ve gotta get something good for being in this fun house.”
Trianon nodded and they returned to looking around the hallway with wary eyes. She would give anything for her scaled suit, and her swords, a shield would be lovely about now as well. She might as well wish for the Aries to come over with an army of a thousand SeeDs. She sighed anxiously.
“I feel like a sitting duck,” Irvine whispered into the silence.
“As do I,” Trianon smiled; glad she wasn’t alone in the feeling.
They turned up a staircase where one dead body lay crumpled at the bottom and pierced by long shafted arrows. Taking a deep breath the tall woman began to ascend, watching her feet hover above the staircase. Without their weight on the steps no traps were being set off, much to their relief. As she paused in the middle, Trianon turned around to face Irvine.
“There will probably be traps that are set off by lasers and other sensors in the doorways of the treasure vaults, we should cast some security spells before we go inside. Do you have shell equipped?”
“I do, only 5 though, so we better use them sparingly.” Irvine told her softly.
“We'll set off traps from a distance if we have to,” Trianon decided after a moment.
A careful frown had crossed her face as they stood contemplating their options. Trianon’s frown soon grew though, making Irvine nervous,
Trianon’s eyes widened and she began to run down the stairs. Not even two steps into her frantic descent did the float spell flicker and die. Irvine shouted and then realized he had to get down himself. Taking a chance he jumped on to the railing and slid down it, watching in sick, horrified fascination as Trianon hit a step and convulsed in pain as a cloud of darts impaled her through and through.
“Uhh…” Trianon moaned as blood trickled all over her costume, her legs and arms.
With a dry mouth Irvine cautiously took the beginning steps towards her. The previous victim had cleared the area enough that he didn’t trigger anything, and when he reached the woman tears sparked to his eyes.
“Trianon, Hyne,” Irvine choked.
Her glassy eyes watched him quietly as a trickle of blood seeped out of her mouth. Her blood was bright red and he noticed it sparkled with a clear fluid. Liquid magic.
“Hold on, I have a potion,” Irvine rummaged around his belt pouch and withdrew the soft blue vial,
Trianon tried to speak but nothing came out. Irvine dropped the potion’s fluid down her throat and waited but there was no magic sparkle and no indication that it had worked.
“Wha-? Why didn’t it work?” Irvine nearly shrieked in hysteria, “Trianon! Why didn’t it work?”
Again she tried to speak but she ended up coughing up blood. As her body curled upwards she winced, rocking arrows lodged in her body and making a whimper escape her lips. Her fingers shakily took hold of her sapphire and she presented it as best she could.
“Damn it I forgot,” Irvine searched his pouch again and found the Guardian Force potion he had kept with him for months.
After that was dribbled down her throat he saw her cheeks become less pale. He only had three potions but he used them all on her. Weak, and still bleeding, the woman flinched every time an arrow was removed. They used her under skirts as bandages when they ran out of the custom-made swaths of cloth they all carried. In a considerable amount of pain, Trianon was in no shape to even move. Worried sick, and trying hard to remain calm, Irvine scooted closer and began to lift her up.
“No!” She croaked.
“What? Why not?”
“Trianon, I can’t complete the mission without you.”
“No! You make all the plans!”
“Check rooms, come back for me,” Trianon managed softly, her brows drawn together and tears budding at the corners of her eyes.
Irvine was surprised she wasn’t bawling. She still had 7 arrows lodged inside her tiny body that Irvine was too scared to move. Blood, glossy and smooth, was pooling down the stairs.
“It’ll…be better…more shell,” Trianon whispered.
“Yeah…” Irvine nodded stiffly and gently pushed a ringlet of blue away from her face, “Trianon…you’re in a lot of danger I...I just can’t leave ya like this!”
“Be fine…go,” Her voice slurred in a musical ripple.
A tear fell from Irvine’s eyes as Trianon took a shaky breath but let her facial expression fade to nothing. She wouldn’t take no for an answer now. He had to leave her. Both of his hands were stained in her blood, but to his amazement, and great concern, it was absorbing into his body. He flinched as a cooling sensation flooded over him and pooled in the centre of his body. Violet eyes widened as minor bruises and cuts healed over and felt…better…than new.
Blinking at this new discovery the man took a last look at Trianon before re-casting his float and running away from his dying love. It burned him to leave a companion down but as an Instructor she out-ranked him, and he couldn’t say no to her, whatever the case be. If he hurried he could get to her on time, and if he couldn’t…
Irvine didn’t want to think about that.