Chapter Eleven

By Scarlet Fever

I slowly reached for the phone on the end table beside my elbow as it noisily rang. I averted my eyes from the movie that I was sort of watching. It wasn’t that interesting.

"Hello?" I asked, my voice seeping boredom.

"Would Squall be there?"


"This is Quistis. Would it be at all possible for you all to come to the Garden right now?"

I looked at my wristwatch. "Sure."

"Great." Quistis didn’t even bother saying goodbye.

I sighed, hanging up the phone.

"Who was that?" Zell asked from his position on the floor. He looked over his shoulder at me.

"Quistis. She wants us to go to the Garden. Probably a mission." Quistis was now the Headmaster of Balamb Garden. Cid had retired a couple of years back, and she had taken his place, and was actually doing a very, very good job.

Selphie groaned, getting off the couch, turning of the movie. "That movie sucked. That’s the last time Zell gets to choose."

Zell scoffed at his girlfriend. I got up silently, getting my coat. I had gotten Seifer’s trenchcoat tailored a few years ago so that it now fit me. Zell opened the door, waiting patiently for Selphie and me. It had been five years since Zell, Selphie and myself had lived at the Garden. We figured that we were getting too old for that dorm lifestyle, and had gotten a three-bedroom apartment in Balamb. Also, six months of living at the Garden without Seifer was too much. There were too many things that had reminded me of him. Our third bedroom had been unoccupied for just over two years, seeing as how Selphie and Zell finally got together. It was about fucking time.

As for my love life, well, it didn’t exist. I had remained celibate, alone since Seifer’s death. I wasn’t really lonely, it was just that I didn’t want anyone else. Our apartment wasn’t that far from the Balamb cemetery, where Seifer was buried, and I actually still visited his grave almost every day. At least I could think about him now without total pain. It still hurt, but not as much.

"Hopefully this will be at least somewhat interesting…" Selphie trailed off as she lazily grabbed Zell’s hand. She ran her free hand through her hair, which was now down to her shoulder blades. It was no longer flipped up, and her roots were growing in. She had dyed her hair black, and half her hair was brown again, so it looked like she had dipped her hair in motor oil.

"I just hope that Irvine doesn’t choke if he’s working with us…" Zell muttered. Things had never been the same between Irvine and our core group. There was especially a lot of bad blood left between him and Selphie. The small woman had never let go of her anger, and still sneered when either Irvine or Rinoa was mentioned. Rinoa and Irvine were still together. I think they were planning to get married, but I wasn’t really sure, because I didn’t really talk to either of them anymore.

"Squall?" I heard Zell ask. He tilted his head at me. He hadn’t really changed over the years, still looking the same, younger than his years, something that I enjoyed. At least something hadn’t changed.

"Huh?" I asked, snapping my attention to him.

Zell made a rude noise. "You’re not even listening…."

I just shrugged, slipping back into my internal world, something that I had become very good at. I was getting called ‘Squall Leonheartless’ again, because I was as disenchanted with everything around me as I was before, maybe even more so. I found the nickname particularly funny, because I had changed my name about three years ago. I had changed it to Squall Almasy, and the fact that people still used my old surname made me laugh. God, people were stupid. The time that had passed had also rendered a hatred for most humans that I really hadn’t had before. When I was a kid, I just didn’t really give a rat’s ass, but now, most people I met didn’t mean shit to me, and I would just as soon see them under a bus than say hello.

"That movie wasn’t that bad…." Zell muttered. "I’ve chosen some decent ones. Remember that porno I found with the guy who looked like Irvine?"

Selphie laughed wickedly. "Okay, that was a good one."

"You’re allowed a couple of bad choices," I stated. "We’ve all had them."

Zell nodded. "Yeah, like when you rented Surf Nazis Must Die."

I scoffed as we approached Balamb Garden. "You didn’t like that?? It was great!"

"No, it wasn’t!"

Selphie laughed. "I actually kind of liked it. It had a grade B charm to it."

"That’s not really the grade I would have given it."

I snorted. "This from a man who watches Dawson’s Creek."

"I fell asleep. It was on when I woke up!!"

Selphie laughed as we passed through the front gates. Quistis was coming down the stairs to meet us. If I had had any sexual desire for anyone, or if I was interested in women, Quistis would have been at the top of the list. The past five years had been very kind to her. She was one of the most beautiful women around. She had always been lovely, but she had grown into her twenty-five year old body with flourish. She was the epitome of sophistication and regal elegance. Her loose, honey hair swung around her hips as she approached us. We all smiled, seeing as how we were still really good friends with her.

She ran a hand through her hair, causing her pale blue, tailored blouse to stretch over her chest. I saw Zell look appreciatively. Selphie didn’t seem to mind, like she had with Irvine. Probably because Zell was just looking, and he wasn’t a prick.

"Hi, guys. Thanks for getting here so fast. Let’s go to my office."

Quistis and I walked beside each other as Zell and Selphie sauntered ahead of us, chatting about something that I didn’t really care about.

"So, what is it this time? It better not be as boring as our last mission…." I trailed off.

Quistis frowned slightly. "Some of our assignments may be boring, but we have to do them, nonetheless."

I shrugged.

The lithe blonde scoffed. "Shit, Squall. Don’t act so enthusiastic. Well, I guess you can feel boredom, which is a good thing."

I narrowed my eyes at her. Quistis always seemed to get me with barbs about my highly inverted personality. But she meant well.

"Quistis…." I trailed off, a warning tone in my voice.

She nodded, backing off. I guess I had grown some intimidation over the years. People seemed to avoid me, except for my friends, which I couldn’t say disappointed me. We walked in silence the rest of the way to Quistis’s office.

"Okay," she began as we all sat.

"Is Irvine in on this one, too?" Zell asked. I knew he was really hoping that the answer was no.

Quistis shook her head, which caused Zell to smile widely.

"Okay, this assignment is in Trabia. There’s a contact in Kaisei whom you will meet with…"

"Kaisei?" I asked, interrupting her. I got a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach. Kaisei is where my life had begun to fall apart, where Seifer died. In the past five years, Kaisei had become quite the thriving city, despite the cold climate. It wasn’t yet a Deling or Esthar, but it was now bigger than Dollet.

Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Yes. But it’s not for the same thing as last time." Her voice had a gentle note to it, and I could tell that she was trying to reassure me.

I just nodded, waiting for her to continue.

"Okay. Squall, you’ll be in command. The address of the client is in this folder, along with some basic information. I know it’s not a lot, but I assume that something confidential is involved, and the client might want to tell you in person."

"Isn’t the benefactor for the Garden in Kaisei?" Selphie asked. The Garden had sort of been without a benefactor after NORG died, but about four and a half years ago, a mystery group of people infused a huge amount of money into all of the Gardens, Balamb in particular. Nobody really knew much about them, except that a stout representative came around every couple of months to make sure everything was okay.

Quistis nodded. "Yes, but I don’t know much about them. That’s beside the point, though, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the mission."

"Are we the only ones who are going?"

Quistis nodded again. "It doesn’t seem like that big of an assignment, actually. I think it’s the fact that the client is some sort of big shot as far as Kaisei goes. It’s all in the file. You can make what you want out of it. Now, you three should go. I don’t want to make you miss the boat. You can take one of the cars. It’s already waiting for you in the parking lot."

I nodded, standing. "How long is this planned for?"

"It’s hard to say. You’re actually at the client’s total disposal. They set up accommodations for you and everything."

I gave Quistis a mock salute. She wasn’t much for the formalities, or maybe it was just with us. Quistis had been surprised that I didn’t want to be the Headmaster, because the job was actually offered to me, but I turned it down. I didn’t want that much responsibility anymore. I may have been the Garden leader, so to speak, at one time, but that was a long time ago. I sighed, running my hands through my bangs. My hair was now cut so that my bangs hung across my forehead, instead of at the sides of my face. It was still shaggy, hanging in my eyes, but slightly shorter than before. The back was still kept short. The long bangs now hid the scar that Seifer had given me all those years ago. I just walked slowly, my disinterest in this mission staggering. Zell turned around, walking backwards so he could look at me.

"You don’t seem that excited…."

"Probably because I’m not that excited," I answered calmly as we entered the cool, concrete confines of the parking garage.

"Who knows, it might pan out into something worthwhile." Selphie’s voice had a hint of hope in it. Her nunchucks jangled as they hit her slender thigh.

I just shrugged, opening one of the car doors. As we drove, I closed my eyes, pressing my forehead against the cool glass of the window. I began to smell something metallic, wonderful. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but it smelled heavenly. I didn’t even bother bringing it up to Zell and Selphie, because this wasn’t the first time I had smelled this mystery scent. Over the past few years, I would smell it, not all the time, but every once and a while, it would assault me. At first, I thought that it was the detergent I was using in my wash, but it wasn’t. I wished that I knew what it was, because it smelled great. Zell and Selphie couldn’t smell it, and thought that I was crazy, so now whenever it was around, I didn’t even bother mentioning it.

I was surprised when we reached Balamb Harbor. I must have really zoned out, because it seemed that we got there very fast. Before I got out of the car, I put on my sunglasses. I found that my eyes hurt from the sun. It was probably because I rarely went outside in the daytime, unless I had to. We were taking a small cruiser to Trabia, instead of the large ship we had ridden on for the last Trabian mission. Once on board, I pulled out the folder that Quistis had given me. She had been right, there wasn’t much information in it. From what the documents told me, our clients were basically the true powers behind Trabia. Probably the people that pulled the strings behind the Mayor’s back. There weren’t any names, except for one: Vincent Valentine. Supposedly, he would meet us when we docked, and give us more information.

I silently sighed, handing the folder to Zell so he could look over it. After he had glanced at it, he asked, "Do you think it’s just a fact of wanting a bodyguard? Maybe someone’s trying to assassinate them?"

I shrugged. "If that’s the case, this will be easy."

"Glad to see your ego is in check…" Selphie muttered. "Okay, if these people are such big shots, maybe it’s the Mayor or something. Some people don’t like being figureheads…"

"Actually, lots of people like being figureheads," I pointed out. "There’s lots of security in it."

Zell groaned, leaning back in his seat. "It will probably be night when we get there, so we won’t be able to really do much…"

I nodded absently, thinking for a moment about the night that Seifer died. I shoved it out of my mind, pulling out a novel. I found that I carried books around with me all the time, and read whenever I had a spare moment. It kept my mind off my life, which wasn’t all that great. In the past five years, I had read more books than I had ever read in my entire life.

"Squall?" Selphie asked, some time later.

I looked up. "What?"

"We’re here."

I stretched, looking at my watch. Quite a bit of time had passed. I yawned, standing. God, I knew that this was going to be boring. I followed Zell and Selphie out of the ship, feeling strange as I stepped on dry land. I waited for my bearings to return before proceeding down the dock. I realized that I could hear noises coming from the dark. It was subtle, but it was as if I could hear things that I never could before. I stopped for a second, holding my arm out to stop Zell and Selphie. I saw a tall, slender man standing under the pale light of a streetlight. He had his arms folded across his slender chest. He looked almost sickly, but I had a sense that he wasn’t, that he was much more than he appeared to be. He noticed us, looking up. I couldn’t see his gaze, but I felt sort of sick, like the wind had been knocked out of me. I regained my composure, making my way to the man.

"Vincent Valentine?" I asked.

He nodded, smiling. It was friendly, but there was a sort of sadness behind it. He ran a hand through his long black hair, giving me a once over. It sort of felt like he was stripping off both my clothes and my skin. His eyes were a deep crimson colour, an unnatural red. They didn’t have that ruddy, brown quality that Fujin’s had. Vincent’s eyes looked like pools of blood.

"We’re the SeeDs that were asked to come. This is Zell Dincht, Selphie Tilmitt," I stated, introducing my friends, "and I’m Squall Almasy."

Some of his muscles seemed to flinch as I said my name, and I wondered how I could have seen it. He just simply said, "Hello. There is a car waiting for us. I will explain further on the way."

"On the way to where?" Zell asked.

Vincent smiled. "The mansion." I found his voice very melodic, almost pretty. It had a lovely soothing quality to it.

"Mansion?" Selphie asked. She seemed as entranced with Vincent as I was. He was actually very attractive, and I felt embarrassed when I felt a twinge in my groin. I shoved it out of my mind and followed him to a black limousine. Zell and Selphie sat beside me, across from Vincent.

"Okay," Zell commanded when the car had begun driving. "Why are we here?"

Vincent sighed, creating a steeple with his long fingers. "Alright, let’s get to business. You have been called here because my employers have a slight problem that they need assistance with."

"Such as?" I asked.

Vincent gave me a look. It was one of surprise. It seemed that he didn’t know what to make of me. "Well, they seem to be being persecuted by certain individuals in Kaisei. You see, Kaisei is a new power, and a lot of people want to jump at the chance of being in charge of it, to be able to play with the likes of Deling and Esthar. Kaisei doesn’t have a President yet, and there’s somewhat of a power struggle, but it’s all beneath the surface…." Vincent paused, looking at me. "Are you related to President Loire? You bear a striking resemblance to him."

"He is my father."

"But your last name isn’t Loire?"

"It never was," I stated. I didn’t really want to discuss this with him. "My name is Almasy."

"Almasy…." Vincent repeated, almost dreamily, thoughtfully. He snapped back to the conversation. "Anyway, I digress. In Kaisei, the Mayor has no real power…"

"Is he the problem?" Selphie asked.

Vincent laughed. It was a charming sound. "Hardly. Mayor Otaki likes the position he has. No, there are two major ‘players’, if you will. There are my employers, who hold the true power of office, and the Church. My employers like to be anonymous, not really looking for much as far as glory goes. They appointed Otaki about five years ago. It was my Mas… Boss’s idea. They are extremely rich, and can afford to run a city, or country, if it leads to that….."

"So, is the Church the persecution you were speaking of?" Zell asked. We all were engrossed by Vincent’s speaking, so when Zell spoke, it sounded sort of strange.

Vincent winked. "Very clever, my boy, very clever."

I could sense that Zell was slightly blushing from the compliment.

"The Church feels that my employers are Heretics, and that them having any sort of power over the people of Kaisei would be hurtful. Probably only hurtful to the Church’s stranglehold."

"You don’t seem very fond of organized religion…" I noted.

Vincent smirked. "I don’t appreciate their deception, and use of people’s deepest beliefs in order to gain them power. They use ‘God’ as a pawn."

I couldn’t help but smile. Vincent seemed to vocalize the feelings I had about religion.

"So, the Church wants to oust the people you work for…" Selphie began.

"In a manner of speaking, yes." Vincent cut her off, but not rudely. "The ‘good’ Reverent Esemono feels that a purging of the Heathens will be beneficial…."

"Esemono?!" I asked loudly.

Vincent raised an eyebrow. "You’ve heard of him?" He tilted his head, his black hair falling down the front of his long velvet coat. At first, I had thought that the fabric had been black, but now realized that it was a deep crimson. I almost wanted to run my palms along the fabric, along his chest. I blinked a few times, noticing that Vincent was looking at me, almost with awe. I couldn’t figure out why he would.

"Esemono was a client of ours five years ago. He left out a lot of information pertaining to our mission, and because of it, we were ill prepared, and……" I explained, trailing off.

"And?" Vincent asked. He seemed intrigued in the matters of his enemy.

"It cause one of our comrades to die," Selphie finished.

Vincent nodded sadly, looking over at me. He noticed that I had become distant. "Were you close with this person?"

Zell looked over at me, concerned.

I breathed deeply. "It’s my fault that he’s dead. I was in charge, and I said to split up…" I trailed off, feeling a tear slide down my cheek. I wiped it away hastily, flushing with embarrassment.

"The Reverend has a way of destroying people." Vincent’s voice became harsh.

"It’s not Esemono’s fault that Seifer died…." I muttered.

Vincent’s eyes widened slightly, the red seeming endless. "I doubt that… Seifer feels that you are to blame."

Zell sighed. "It just seems kind of strange that Esemono is back in the picture…"

"Not really," Vincent replied. "Esemono’s everywhere." He looked out the window as the car stopped. "Well, we’ve arrived." Vincent got out of the car, offering his hand to me to help me out. I took it. His fingers were cold, so cold, but also felt strangely warm. I noticed that Vincent was staring at me. His emotions were so hard to read. It was almost as if I confused him. He then looked down at the sleeves of my jacket, raising his eyebrows. "You don’t seem to be a stranger to the Church…"

I looked down, seeing the red crosses. "They aren’t religious in context." I wasn’t in the mood to explain anything about myself, or my past life to him.

Vincent must have caught on to my tone. "I don’t mean to pry."

"So," Zell began, "Is Esemono hiring assassins? Is that why we’ve been called for?"

"Esemono couldn’t hire assassins directly, because then his standing in the community would be put in jeopardy," I explained. "Correct?"

Vincent raised his eyebrows. "Very correct, Mister Almasy. We really want to stop this before it gets out of control, gain an upper hand."

"We aren’t private assassins, you know…" I trailed off.

"I am well aware of that. A little firepower on one’s side doesn’t hurt, now does it?" Vincent smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly warm. We began to walk down a gravel path, surrounded by pruned hedges on either side.

I looked around, lagging slightly behind the others. Selphie was making chitchat with Vincent, while Zell stopped, waiting for me to catch up.

"Thinking about that night, aren’t you?" He asked, concerned.

I nodded absently, admiring the front gardens. They were lavishly kept with ferns and foliage that would keep in the cold air. I looked as I noticed a trampled down path, forking off the main walkway. It led to a garden in the back. I stopped in my tracks, bathed in the pale moonlight and lampposts that lit the path.

"What?" Zell asked, looking around.

I squinted my eyes, looking into the slightly illuminated darkness. There was a wrought iron gate at the end of the grass path, and it looked familiar. I thought for a few moments, trying to remember where I had seen it before. I closed my eyes, picturing my hands running along its cool metal bars, pressing my cheek to the curved filigree, feeling the sun on my skin, hearing birds chirping. I couldn’t help but gasp as I remembered. It was from a dream I had had almost six years ago. I remembered Seifer, smiling at me from the other side of the bars, remembered going through the gate, being met by cold wind and a sunless sky, remembered Seifer, in the same black coat he had been wearing at the funeral, that he had been wearing when he had visited me in a dream after his death.

"Squall?" Zell asked, looking at me.


"What’s wrong?" He placed a hand on my shoulder.

"….Nothing." I knew that it was sort of stupid, to get worked up over a gate that resembled one that I had dreamed about. I shook my head, smiling weakly at him. We continued to walk up to the house, which was mostly hidden by large trees, which gently swayed in the chilly breeze. I was glad that it wasn’t winter, for it would have been much colder.

The top of the house looked impressive, sitting stoically against the starry sky. It was three storeys high, a cobblestone masterpiece of architecture. I would have said that it was very old, but Kaisei hadn’t been around very long. Maybe it was a relic from a long dead civilization. On the floor that was visible above the trees, there was a balcony, that looked over the entire front of the property. The heavy looking glass doors were closed, the thick curtains only showing a sliver of light. I then wondered if there were people watching us from the large widow. That’s when I noticed that there weren’t really that many windows, that the large doors were the only ones that I could see. As we got closer, I noticed that the first and second floors also had an absence of windows, that there were only a few. I raised an eyebrow, thinking it sort of strange that the residents wouldn’t want to look out at the beautiful grounds on a crisp morning. When we finally reached the front door, I looked at the imposing wooden entry. The doors looked like something more for a castle than for a house.

"When was this house built?" Selphie asked. "I know Kaisei hasn’t been around for that long, and this house looks very old…."

Vincent smiled. "Such smart SeeDs you are. This house was from a great Empire that founded Trabia, even before the Centra Empire existed. But not much is known about them…"

"Really?" I asked. "I haven’t come across any information about a Trabian Empire. That’s something I’d actually like to look into."

Vincent tilted his head at me. "It seems that you have many talents, Squall Almasy."

I furrowed my brow at his statement. It seemed very veiled in meaning, meaning that I couldn’t understand. I looked up as a servant opened the heavy doors. It almost surprised me that he could open them by himself. Vincent waited until we had all passed through the threshold before coming in. The servant stopped us in the large foyer.

"May I take your coats?" He asked, eyeing me in particular.

I shrugged, pulling off the soft gray fabric. I smoothed the front of my black dress shirt over my chest, looking over at Vincent. He was looking at me again, but not at my face. He was looking at my neck, which was highly exposed. The first two buttons of my shirt were undone, revealing the top of my white tank top, and much of my collarbone and throat.

He seemed to snap out of a slight trance. "This way." He made a motion with one of his graceful hands. Before I followed everyone, I looked around, craning my neck to drink in my surroundings. It was like a beautiful museum, but with more warmth. However, there was an ominous air about everything, so cold, so forbidden somehow, like we were the first living souls to gaze upon anything in this house. I couldn’t help but admire the chandelier and the paintings. They looked so expensive, but without trying to be so. I stopped, looking at one of the paintings. It was a girl in a red dress. I gaped, whispering, "My God."

It looked so familiar. I placed gentle fingers on its frame, looking at the detail. I then knew where it was from. The name Xerampelinae repeated in my head. It had been in the gallery of Ultimecia’s Castle. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why it was in this house’s foyer. I turned when I heard someone behind me. Vincent was standing, staring at me. He seemed surprised that I noticed him.

"Are you coming?" He asked.

I said nothing, still shocked that a painting from Ultimecia’s was here. I then thought rationally, realizing that Ultimecia had been in the future and this Xerampelinae painting was probably stolen from these people or something. I nodded at him, following dutifully behind. He led me into a lavish study, where Zell and Selphie were already seated. My footsteps were melting into the soft carpet. The design was obviously ancient, with dragons woven into it. I perched on the arm of a large, antique looking chair. I didn’t really feel like making myself comfortable. I wondered if all the rooms in this massive place were decorated in the same lush, rich manner. If they were, these mystery people must have been fucking loaded up the ass.

Vincent slightly bowed at the waist. "If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get someone who can assist you better." He went out a side door, closing it behind him.

I sighed, wandering around the room. I stopped in front of a tall oak bookcase. All the books looked so old. I smiled, appreciating the rare titles.

"What’s wrong, Squall?" Selphie asked, leaning against the back of the burgundy velvet covered couch she was sitting in. "Why did it take so long for you to follow us?"

"Do you guys remember the art gallery in Ultimecia’s Castle?" I asked, still looking at the titles. As I got closer to the door that Vincent had disappeared through, I heard low talking, which I found strange. The door looked thick. Maybe there was a vent….

"Yeah, what about it?" Zell asked.

"There was a painting in it. It was called Xerampelinae, it was a woman in a red dress?"

"I remember it. Why?" Selphie cocked her head.

"It was hanging in the foyer."

"What?!" Zell asked. I could tell that he was as surprised as I had been.

"Ultimecia was in the future, so maybe she got her hands on it somehow…" I trailed off. "But it’s just a strange coincidence…." I trailed off, the voiced becoming clearer. I ignored Zell and Selphie’s conversation as I heard my name mentioned. I knew I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but I wanted to know what was going on. I pretended to look at the books as I listened. I knew that one of the voices was Vincent’s, and the other was female, and sounded sort of familiar.

"Squall…Almasy?" The female asked.

There was silence. "I can’t sense him…..What…..do?"

I furrowed my brow as some of the words were muffled. What did Vincent mean? Sensing me?

"Couldn’t sense him?!" The woman sounded shocked.

"He was sitting right across from me, and I wouldn’t have known he was there unless I was looking right at him…."

"Almasy?" The female asked again. "What about…. I …… weak."

Weak? I mentally asked, trying to listen more as the voices became a little more muted.

"It’s safely in the closet. You all will be fine. What about Squall?"

Yes, what about me?

"I… something…… ask…. Others…." The woman’s voice became very muffled. I couldn’t hear anything else.


I turned. "Yeah?"

Zell was looking at me. "Are you okay?"

I shrugged. "I guess so. This place….. There’s something about it…"

Selphie sighed. "Yeah, I know."

We remained silent for a few moments, not really knowing what to say. I was mentally intrigued with Vincent and the mystery woman’s conversation about me, but didn’t want to talk about it with Selphie or Zell, mainly because I didn’t know what to make of it. I decided to sit in one of the chairs, sighing at how soft it was. I was just getting comfortable when I heard someone enter. I noticed that Zell’s jaw dropped and Selphie just stared. I slowly turned in my chair, my eyes resting on the owner of the second voice I had heard: Tifa Lockheart.

"Well, I’m so glad that you could come." She walked fluidly across the room, sitting on the large desk in front of us. She crossed her lean legs, the slit of her form fitting black skirt slipping, giving more view of her thigh. Her tailored crimson blouse also seemed to shift, showing ample cleavage. Her hair was worn loose, pooling dark brown around her hips, snaking onto the mahogany surface of the desk.

"Tifa?!" I exclaimed, shocked.

"Holy fuck, not this again…." Zell muttered. "Why should we listen to you? The last assignment we were on for you turned into a disaster!"

Tifa scoffed mockingly. "Please. Can you at least be objective?" Her coffee brown eyes pleaded with me, with Zell.

I then noticed that she looked exactly the same as she had all those years ago, having not aged in the least. "Why didn’t you just tell us that it was you?"

Tifa sighed. "Would you have taken the mission then?"

"I guess she has a point…." Selphie pointed out.

"Okay, let’s get down to business." Tifa folded her arms across her full breasts. "Now, Vincent gave you the basic information. The fact is, that we can’t really trust the Church at this point…"

"Why are you considered Heathens?" Selphie asked.

Tifa rolled her eyes. "Darling, anyone who doesn’t agree with the good Reverend is pegged as a Heretic."

"Is Sephiroth with you?" I asked.

Tifa was silent for a moment. "Yes."

"There has to be something that you’ve done to piss Esemono off…" Zell began.

"Personal differences. Seeing as how we’re in somewhat high standing in the community, I suppose Esemono wants to make examples out of us."

I remained silent, thinking of the conversation I overheard. I then took my breath in sharply, smelling that same metallic smell that drove me crazy.

"I can see Sephiroth and Esemono both being hard headed," Selphie observed. "Well, I also can’t see Sephiroth being made an example of just because he runs everything…"

"Who said he ran everything?" Tifa asked. "Even Sephiroth has to answer to someone."

"Well, then, why aren’t we talking to this person?" Zell asked, somewhat impatiently.

Tifa smiled. "You will."

Suddenly, a door opened. We all turned, seeing Sephiroth sauntering into the room. He still had his long silver hair, which was brushing against a long, black leather coat. "So glad that both of you could come…." He trailed off looking at me. His jaw actually dropped in surprise. He quickly regained his composure. "I’m sorry, all three of you…"

I narrowed my eyes, saying nothing.

"Hello, again. So glad to see all of you." Sephiroth leaned against the desk, patting Tifa’s hand. I couldn’t tell if it aroused or disgusted her.

"Esemono likes to start rumors," Sephiroth began, looking straight at me. "If we’re anything other than what he expects us to be, well, we’re obviously wrong…."

"Okay, sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt," I began, "but I for one would actually like to get started on this mission. What do you want us to do?"

Sephiroth smirked. "I like initiative in a man. We would actually like you to go to Esemono’s church. You see, if we go, well, you can imagine that he wouldn’t be too pleased…."

"He’ll recognize us," Selphie pointed out.

"But not as hired hand for us…." Sephiroth said. "Here’s the address."

I took the piece of paper he handed to me.

Sephiroth continued. "By the time that you get back, your rooms will be all ready. You will be staying here, of course. Strict orders."

"From your boss?" Zell asked.

Sephiroth nodded. There was a hint of a smile on his lips, a genuine smile.

We stood, leaving the lavish study. A servant motioned for us to follow him, closing the study door behind me. As we walked away, I could hear the low voices of Tifa and Sephiroth.

"Why…..Sense him?"

I narrowed my eyes further. What was going on. As we walked through the foyer, I frowned as we passed Xerampelinae again. This place was so strange. I was relieved as my coat was handed to me. I put in on, feeling safe for some reason, feeling close to Seifer, even if it was just his coat. The servant opened the large doors, again by himself, and again I was surprised that he could.

"What the fuck is going on?" Zell asked as we made our way down the gravel path, towards Kaisei.

I shrugged, not knowing myself. I gave one last look back to the house, noticing that the curtains on the third floor balcony moved, the sliver of light flickering back and forth. I tilted my head, wondering who was watching us.

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