Phase XVI: All Fall Down
"There you are!"
Squall raised his brows, not used to seeing the usually relaxed Naperic leader so tense. Angelus hastily shoved Squall into the men's restroom; his eyes darted around to make sure nobody else could hear.
"What the hell happened to you?" Squall asked him in a hushed tone.
"Caraway." Angelus replied, "He knows, man. He fucking knows!"
He scowled, "Start making sense, Angelus!"
"He knows I'm part of the resistance. This is not good." The galbadian rubbed his face, nervously pacing up and down the marble tiled white floor. "Rinoa must have said something."
"Or Seifer." Squall said, "Selphie and Zell ran into him. He was on his way out of the country wearing the same combat uniform those soldiers wore near Jenkins' shack."
Angelus leaned against the bathroom counter, locking eyes with his own reflection, "You talk to Rinoa?"
"Didn't get much out of her besides her whereabouts during the Timber attack." Squall shrugged, "She claimed she was here with her father. Rinoa also asked about Zone as if I knew where he was."
"What did you say? You didn't tell her anything, did you!?"
Squall retorted, "Obviously not!"
He sighed, trying to ease the tension, "Okay. We need to get outta here and go back to base. C'mon."
"Father!" Rinoa's voice boomed down the hallway from the other side of the bathroom door. Squall stopped just short of grabbing its golden knob, exchanging a wide-eyed look with Angelus. "Why was Seifer sent away?"
"Rinoa, this isn't the time to-" Caraway protested.
"You always say that!" She continued to shout.
"I'll meet with you up front." He murmured to his entourage of military personnel. "Rinoa, please behave yourself."
"What is he doing for you?"
"Let's discuss this in the car. We're going home." He spoke firmly, he tried to guide her away, but Rinoa refused to let him touch her.
"Going home!?" Angelus backed up, alarmed. "Riki's still in the mansion!"
Riki shot up from behind the desk to the sound of the door threatening to dislodge from its lock and quickly shoved her prize into her pack. Heart rate increasing and sweat collecting at the base of her neck, she desperately searched the room for a way out. Her eyes fell upon on a statue in the corner, similar to the painting of that lady holding a wine glass on the wall next to it. Riki then did a double take, noticing that both women held wine glasses and looked identical.
When her hand snatched the glass, the statue revolved around to reveal a dark passageway, just like in the movies. The door flung open at that very moment, and a Galbadian soldier stumbled into the room with his rifle drawn.
"Hey you!" He shouted at her, aiming his gun.
Grinning, Riki flipped him off before jumping into the tunnel. "See ya buddy!"
She could hear shouting and gunfire going off in the room above. Her black combat boots hit the concrete floor of the water canals below. They held secret passageways, corridors, and other mysteries that led to different parts of the city. Sweat adhered her black bangs to her forehead, despite the coolness radiating from the murky water next to her.
Shots fired from behind, getting lost in the water or sinking into the concrete walls around her. Taking a sharp left and then three rights, the sound of gunfire soon began to fade, indicating that she was on her way to safety.
Around another corner, Riki's boots skidded to a full stop when she came face to face with two other blue clad galbadian soldiers with guns trained on her vitals. Riki quickly readied her weapon, clicking a magazine into place.
These guys weren't going to take her prize without a fight.
"Can this thing go any faster!?" Angelus yelled at Squall who gripped onto the steering wheel tightly, taking a left down Garnard Street towards the mansion.
"If I go any faster, we'll get pulled over! We get pulled over, we can't get to Riki and the others in time!"
"Angelus," Selene spoke with urgency, "It's Zone!"
Angelus scoffed bitterly, shaking his head, "That idiot is the last thing I need to worry about right now!"
"Can this honestly wait!?"
"Angelus, shut up!" Squall snapped, "What's wrong, Selene?"
"Zone killed himself."
The boys went silent.
Rinoa and her father had just arrived home when they witnessed the unbelievable scene in his study. Someone had made it past security and broken in, stealing files from his desk, and left the passage way that lead to the canals wide open. Rinoa's heart sank to the sight of her mother's painting on the wall shot right in the chest.
"Block off every exit in the city! Shut the it down if you have to!" Caraway demanded of his men, and they saluted their understanding marching off and out the door.
"Father." Rinoa addressed him firmly. "What did they take?"
Her father disregarded the question, "You should go to sleep. Let my men and I will deal with this."
"No." She protested.
"This is no place for a girl. You will go to bed-"
Rinoa hated the way he talked to her. Like she was still some kind of incompetent child. Seifer and herself started this new life hoping to be free. Caraway, relieved to have his daughter back, promised to treat her like an adult and value her ideals in hopes to mend the strained relationship they had since her mother was killed in that accident years ago.
She was a fool. It was all a lie.
"You were never going to free Timber." She cut him off.
"Rinoa, please." He scoffed.
"You weren't, were you!?" She yelled. Rinoa almost didn't notice the rise in temperature grow into an unbearable heat or the objects in the room started to rattle uncontrollably.
For the first time in her life, she saw fear in an otherwise fearless man. He took a step back, uncertain as to what was happening to his daughter.
Caraway was aware that she was a sorceress. That was why he agreed to keep Almasy around. Odine had versed him well on the connection between a sorceresses her knight. Now he was regretting sending Almasy off to tend to affairs abroad.
Rinoa stepped closer to her father. "When I came here, you promised me that Timber would be independent! You promised to cut political ties with Timber to set them free under your new administration!"
"Rinoa, listen to me-" He was backed up against the desk, watching her loose ringlets start to levitate above her shoulders.
"You made me believe that sending my best friend behind enemy lines would sever Galbadian-Timber ties. You made him work with SeeD!" She cried, "And you know what happened!? They were planning to revolt anyway…against you and your administration."
She paced away from him and continued, "…But no, SeeD didn't believe in your promises. And they were too smart, they knew…They knew! Then… and then they took him."
"R-Rinoa," He tried desperately, reaching out to her, "Honey…"
She turned on her father again, slapping his hand away, burning his forearm with her touch. She took pleasure in her fathers pained frown, trying to still act all tough while she held all the power. "And then they killed him."
"…And you send my knight away to do your dirty work." She whispered, brown eyes looking deep into cold steel.
A prolonged, suspenseful silence that seemed to last a lifetime. The heat grew more powerful until her emotion ran in tandem with her magic until it burst out, "We're not your puppets anymore!"
Rinoa's anger reached its peak; a burning fire grew in her chest and expanded outwards. The feeling of her powers caressing her senses and traveled down her limbs strangely soothed her.
Her vision was becoming spotted and unclear like her soul was being pulled out of her body. The fire was becoming too much, and finally she let out a breath allowing it to escape. Her world went black for a few moments.
When she came to, Rinoa opened her eyes to find herself standing upright. She looked towards her father again, but he wasn't pinned up against the desk anymore. His body was on the floor bleeding out now. The room was charred and riddled with debris. She wasn't sure what kind of spell that was or what it actually did, but whatever caused this left her alone with her own devastation.
When someone is beside their dead parent, they would plead and weep hysterically, begging them to open their eyes. They transform into a younger version of themselves, becoming a child, regardless of the hardships that grew them to adulthood. Rinoa didn't. She didn't need to prove to this man in life or in death that she was that little perfect girl he tried to model her into being.
Rinoa was powerful. She was a sorceress.
And now she was free.
"Hold up!" One of the galbadians said, raising his arms. "We ain't here to fight ya."
"Yeah, man." The other said, "Cesar sent us."
Riki raised a brow, "Wait a sec…Rodney? Echo?"
They nodded, "We're here to get ya out."
The stampede of boots growing louder from behind Riki alerted the three of them, turning their guns on the two Galbadian soldiers who came to meet them. Rodney and Echo aimed one at each of them, stepping forward to be in line with Riki. She stood in her own starting combat position ready to attack.
"It's me!" Zell's muffled voice announced from behind his helmet, raising his arms in surrender.
Selphie, the shorter soldier, waved her hand in the air while the other held her gun. "We took care of the guys that barged into the study, but Caraway and Rinoa must've made it to the mansion by now!"
"Then let's go!" Riki shouted, she jabbed a thumb in the direction of Rodney and Echo, "Meet our escape team!"
"Wait- How about Squall and the others?" Selphie asked, concern very evident in her voice. "We can't leave without them!"
"We wont." Echo smirked, "Cesar's on it."
"You guys are to divert your path." Selene ordered. "We need to abort this mission now!"
"The others are still at the mansion!" Squall protested.
"Squall, listen to me." Selene told him carefully, "The mansion's-"
"On fire!?" Angelus yelled. The possibility of Riki being trapped in there terrified him to the point of overwhelming nausea. From the front gate, they could tell Selphie and Zell had long abandoned their post. Fire trucks came blaring down the street to tend to the roaring flames and black smoke drifting to the sky.
Zell, Selphie! Squall mentally panicked, quickly taking his hand away from the stick shift and pressed the button of his comm. link to her channel. "Selphie, where the hell are you!?"
Static greeted him, which didn't stop the thundering of his heart and his racing thoughts. As Angelus desperately tried Riki's channel again, Squall tried for Zell's. They weren't answering, either.
"Squall, Angelus," Cesar's voice came onto their channels, "Listen ta me carefully. Drive towards the Gateway. A few blocks down, ditch the car. There ya'll find a door inside the gate ta the right. There's a ladder that leads ta the sewers. I'll be there."
Squall glared at Angelus unsure of what to do at this point; Angelus gave him the same expression back. Slowly, he finally replied, "Roger that."
"What the fuck!?" Squall snapped, slapping the steering wheel.
Angelus just smirked. Squall was so aggravated he was just about to punch him in the face; he didn't find this amusing at all. "Don't worry, Leonhart. Cesar's got a plan."
Once they ditched the car, they could spot the prominence of the iconic golden Gateway up ahead. As he ran, Squall noted the ratio between galbadian soldiers and civilians was drastically uneven. Galbadian blue marched everywhere like these guys were going to war.
"Hold on." Squall stopped, abruptly, "What's with all these soldiers?"
"No time for that."
"No seriously." Squall grabbed Angelus by his black dress shirt, "What happened at the mansion? What did Riki do?"
"We'll figure that out later." Angelus insisted, "We blend in with civilians right now, and have to get to our next checkpoint undetected."
As per Cesar's instructions, they found the door to the right. Inside the room, there was a ladder that descended down into the canals. The two rushed down its rusty rungs, coming face to face with the galbadian resistance general himself.
"That was quick." Cesar crossed his arms, and Selene offered a relieved smile.
"What's the plan?" Squall asked him immediately.
"No," Angelus interrupted him, "What the fuck happened back there?"
"Is Zone actually dead?" Squall cut in, heatedly.
"One fuckin' thing at a time, boys! Zone was found a few hours ago, used broken pieces of glass from a mirror ta slit his writs. That shit head didn't even last a day. Can't explain right now how the fire started, but we do know everyone's safe."
Squall and Angelus allowed the pent up air and anxiety to rush out of them. The brunette's thoughts immediately went to Selphie and Zell, inwardly relieved that they were okay.
"Hey guys!" Riki's voice called out to them from down the corridor. Her jogging figure was followed by four galbadian soldiers, but didn't seem threatened by them in the least.
Angelus broke out into a huge grin, scooping Riki's small body up into a bear hug. "You scared the shit outta me, kid!"
"I'm not a kid!" She laughed, hugging him tightly.
"Squall!" Zell called his name, gruffly grabbing him by the shoulder and into a brotherly embrace. Squall patted him on the back, happy to see his best friend alive and well.
Selphie came up from behind Zell. Squall didn't hesitate in that moment to grab her by the forearm and invite her into the hug, too.
Cesar cleared his throat, "Ya'll are gonna leave this city, and not come back for a while until all this shit has blown over, ya got that?"
"Where we gonna go?" Riki asked, placing a hand to her hip. "Any ideas?"
"I gotta place." Squall spoke up, and everyone looked to him expectantly.
"And where's that?" Cesar asked him, raising a brow.
It would take a few days by car, but it would have to do for now. Squall's eyes shifted to everyone in the group, "Winhill. It's farther south and rural. Nobody will look there."
"Fine, whatever." Angelus agreed, waving his arm, "Let's go to Winhill."
"Any plans how to get outta the city?" Selphie asked.
Cesar looked towards Rodney and Echo.
The tunnels lead to another door made of steel that required a palm print scan to bypass. As they all stepped through it, spotlights lining the edges of the floor and ceiling turned on, opening up to a giant room, and leaving everyone in awe.
An underground armoury.
Black military convoys were parked along the walls. There were sections of weapons hung up and on elaborate displays categorized by combat class. It made Squall wonder why the Underground Association needed all this artillery to begin with. Selphie eyed the rifles in particular, taking a moment to examine the selection. She felt a larger hand slide into hers, pulling her away from it.
"Another time, perhaps." Squall gave her a small knowing smile, despite everything that was going on.
At the very end of the room, there were a few other cars parked. They couldn't travel by Humvee, as that would attract too much attention, so they opted for another SUV. Cesar stopped his gait to regard the group. "The way outta here is through the train tunnels. Ya can get there through this hatch behind me. Take one of these SUV's to Winhill with ya. When ya get there, for fuck sakes blend in as much as ya can."
"So, were gonna be sittin' ducks?" Zell asked.
From the no nonsense glare in Cesar's eyes, Zell took the hint and shut up, "The whole city is on lockdown lookin' for yer asses. I'll send ya a message when shit simmers for ya'll to come back. Just don't do anything stupid while yer down there."
"Thanks, Cesar." Angelus smiled genuinely, and the man grunted in return.
"Ya got no idea how much work I'm gonna have ta do because of ya'll." Cesar said, "But I got yer backs."
"So, this is goodbye?" Selene asked.
"Yeah, now get outta here."
"Thanks, man." Zell nodded, jumping into the black SUV first, and the rest quickly followed behind.
Cesar moved towards the control panel by the large steel hatch. With Angelus at the wheel, they all watched the large doors open and reveal another dark tunnel. The car rumbled to life and disappeared into the darkness.
Squall took the back seat to lean his head against the window when he felt a body press against his own. Selphie snuggled close, looking just as exhausted. Her hair was a sticky mess from the helmet she had to wear and skin still dewy with sweat. Squall didn't care though, pulling her close to him into a one-arm embrace.
Just before Selphie could drift to sleep, she felt his breath brush against her hair, "I'm glad you're okay." Her eyes shut, sighing contently before falling asleep.
Caraway Penthouse Suite
October 22nd, 2009. 0005 hrs
She stood in front of a large window overlooking Deling City. Rinoa had changed into a silk gown for the night. She wrapped herself in a throw blanket to shield her body from the coolness of the room. She was still coming down from the spell that set her father's entire mansion on fire.
In her reflection, she was reminded that she wasn't alone. Standing behind her, three black clad galbadian soldiers were all at attention for her next order. Rinoa's eyes examined the image in her hand that Watts had given to her at the ball.
In it two men were dragging the body of her friend out of the trunk of a black car dated from the previous night. The image was slightly pixilated, but she knew their identities well. Two men she had never thought would work together, let alone meet.
It wasn't so much the black haired one that she was interested in. No. It was the man who was once responsible for her captivity in Garden. The one she once loved dearly, but chose his duty before herself; the ex-commander of the men and women who wanted her dead…the ones who killed Zone.
SeeD were going to pay for ruining everything and taking Zone away. Rinoa vowed that they would all be dead by the end of this war.
"My lady." A soldier called her. Rinoa looked up, stone-faced expression looking back at her from the window's glass. When she assumed political power earlier that evening, Rinoa's first order was to be addressed this way.
"SeeD." She spoke, "I want them hunted down. Every last one of them."
Watts, who felt the same way Rinoa did about losing their friend, came forward, "I heard Esthar is housing the largest population of SeeDs in the world behind their hex-shield."
Rinoa smirked, knowing the very man that held presidential power in that country. She wasn't like her father. He would have set up a meeting with Loire to discuss terms and possible sanctions regarding his protection of his son's men. Rinoa wasn't her father though. She'd rather have instantaneous results.
This war had started when Timber had succumbed to Galbadia's iron fist when Intel had leaked about a potential revolt. During this time, Dollet had unknowingly gotten involved by refusing to disable their communication towers in the area and tried to interfere. This had jeopardized their mission to keep this incident controlled and contained, to prevent this from getting out to the public. They sought to reduce the amount of worry and chaos between the civilians of the country and internationally, so they controlled the media and various means of travel to prevent these issues from coming to light.
Just moments after claiming political power, she was informed of her father's true intentions. About this plan he had all along.
This wasn't about politics anymore.
So, her next order of business wasn't to set that meeting up with Loire. She didn't even need to talk to him, because frankly, she didn't give a damn what the repercussions were going to be politically.
Because this war just got personal.
"Then that will be our next target."