Vividarium Intervigilium Viator
cover the madness, cover the fear
no one will ever know you were here
a figure in the hallway light
returning like a ghost
something that was left behind-- something in a child's mind
a picture worth a thousand lies, a thousand words
a thousand eyes...
--"bury my lovely," october project
Quistis was staring at the painting for a long time, before she could even decipher just why she was so captivated. She’d taught art history courses, for Hyne’s sake, nothing special there. And the paint seemed so old, the colors not quite right-- or maybe that was just the antique air in the place, that you couldn’t breathe for more than a day without turning into an old master.
Or an old monster. She shivered. The monsters here were certainly old enough-- she got the impression they were some of the most ancient beasts in existence, called back to their Mistress through the years.
There had been triple sets of footprints in the age-touched dust around the room, so she knew the others had been through here-- and, from the chaos of their footprints inside, there had been a struggle.
She could only hope the boys were all right.
She should have been scouting, or guarding her own team... but they were so tired. Rinoa was sleeping fitfully, but at least she was finally getting some rest. Selphie was mending her boots and Rinoa’s torn overshirt, to the best of her ability, just for something to do, to pass the undawning hours. Their own last battle should have been nothing, but they were getting tired, and this castle was wearing on their nerves.
So why was she standing, useless, fascinated by a painting?
Vividarium Intervigilium Viator, it read, in ridiculously high-styled scrolling script.
In the garden, sleeps a-- messenger.
Hm. The spelling was a bit off.
Her Latin was her pride, or one of them, and perhaps it felt good to ponder such safe, familiar things as dead languages and grammar. Unconsciously, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, chewing her lip as she cocked her head up at the painting. It was massive, to say the least, taking up most of the wall. But it didn’t feel large in the museum sense; it felt as if it were broad enough to soak the sky right out of her world, to drink her in and--
She shook herself. Maybe it had something to do with time, or forgotten memories. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been so twitterpated with it.
A thin chill walked up her spine, and she was acutely and ludicrously afraid to turn around.
There’s nothing there, she chided herself. Nothing could have gotten in here without you hearing it. The silence was indeed absolute, except for the whisper-howl of the wind beyond the castle, that had become as uncannily anticipated as their own breathing.
So, just to prove to herself that she was being silly, she turned around.
Her heart forgot to beat.
With a very real sense that she shouldn’t have been seeing what she was seeing, she looked at the person standing in the doorway. Someone who could not have possibly been there, not remotely, no way, no-
But his long silver coat was not stirring in the draft that was swirling about her ankles; nor did his golden head turn to acknowledge her recognition.
He was staring at the painting, too.
Firmly she told herself that she was being ridiculous. Still the hair at the back of her neck stood on end, and her very bones ached with the cold. What sort of castle is haunted by the ghosts of my own past? Quistis thought frantically, watching with a fascinated sort of dread as the figure turned-- in agonizing slow motion-- toward her.
The face was drawn in pain, tired beyond the years that she remembered. But the eyes were the strangest of all, for they were certainly his eyes, pale and questioning.
He seemed not to see her, and when he spoke his words rasped like fallen leaves, blowing away. "In Garden sleeps a messenger?"
With a twisting pain, her heart understood, though her head ached to follow suit. Garden. Balamb Garden. Of course. The painting was so jarringly compelling because it was true-- it was her past coming to be, a prophecy fulfilled, a--
Seifer Almasy was walking away, moving swiftly through the dim corridors as if he knew them by heart.
"Wait!" she called out without thinking. She wondered if he had been there as long as they had. Was he trapped in time, too? Had Ultimecia called him? Was he-- How could she be thinking so rationally about this? Seifer had tried to kill them. But he seemed to understand-- something-- and she wanted desperately to ask him what he had learned, before it was too late, before the quicksand hourglass ran out.
Only dimly, as she fought the rising tide of confusion, did she realize that the floor she had been standing on was fashioned as a giant clock, and as she sprinted after him, she was literally running out of time.
The floor seemed to lurch beneath her boots as she ran, both the castle and herself unsteady. Seifer was only walking, but she was struggling to keep up, falling headlong through the breathing shadows after him. The walls were swimming and alive with the unnatural candlelight flickering across them, casting expressions on the stone-carved bearded dragons up in the alcoves, casting dancing fickle light on the threadbare royal carpet at her feet.
Her heart sank when she realized where he was going. The hallway she and the girls had discovered by accident, thinking it led to an exit-- the one with the ceiling torn away, exposed to the heavy pour of sky. An exit, all right, a sheer drop against the rockface castle exterior.
She was shivering without being aware of it, thinking of how the floor would fall away, how the wind would tear her from her precarious stance, carry her over, into the clouds and oblivion--
Swallowing hard, she forced herself to think rationally. Certainly, all insanity aside, the only thing it boiled down to was... heights.
Quistis really hated heights.
But that was where he was headed, the apparition that had been her student, her childhood-- she stumbled on 'friend,' Seifer had never really wanted to associate with anyone besides his jealously guarded toys, and his pet rival. Her childhood... companion.
If there was something there, she had to find out what it was. Whatever was at the end of that unsheltered hallway might be important to the other team. Squall was counting on her. Wasn’t he? Quistis suddenly felt very small indeed, stepping out into the hallway that felt like a bridge. Not even level, the stones beneath her feet slanted slightly upwards, like foundations long ago crumbled and uncertain. The sky beyond was a sickly sort of purple, regal and rich with gloom. Clouds scudded by her head, with a chill that had nothing to do with atmosphere.
Seifer stopped abruptly. Quistis, unconsciously echoing his movement, came to a halt some yards behind him, out of breath. His trenchcoat caught the wind, belling sharply out behind him. She had to swallow, feeling giddy and sick, just thinking of being so close to the edge, boot toes sticking out over the face of nothing.
She couldn't let him go without speaking to him. Just a month ago, she would have called his name in class, gotten a surly shrug for an answer. Or something sarcastic, a snide lift of his eyebrows. So much had changed since then, she barely felt the same person.
He started roughly, arms coming up for balance-- and Quistis would always remember the way he looked at that moment, silhouetted before the darkling clouds, a silver figure spread against the sky.
When he turned his head this time he saw her, recognition in his eyes. "Quisty?"
Time folded in on itself, and Quistis felt herself seven years old and terrified, reaching out her hand to a stubborn playmate. The memory was restored to her with such swiftness she felt she had never forgotten. Older than the rest by a year, the two of them had always gotten into scrapes first-- learning the hard way, for all of them.
"Seifer, don’t you dare." Both her hands were outstretched now, beckoning him back to solid ground.
"I'm not afraid of what Matron will say, Quistis-neechan." The nickname was mocking; it always had been.
"That doesn't matter and you know it," she snapped, feeling a seasalt wind tossing her boy-cut hair. Not much later, after her eighth birthday, she'd wanted to grow it longer; but that evening the blonde fringe blowing across her eyes wasn't much longer than the boy's she faced. "I don't want you to-- get hurt."
"Worried I'll skin my knees?" His young face was scowling, daring her to confront him. But now, past and future juxtaposed awkwardly on top of one another, Quistis could see something of bravery in his stance. "I told you, I'm not afraid." He turned back towards the sea, his footing growing unsteady in the wind-pushed sandbluff. "I want to dive."
"Fine," she'd said, stomping her foot with all the dignity and authority a seven-year-old could muster-- and not a little bit of bossiness. "I'm not going to pick up your pieces."
He tilted his head back to her one last time, winked at her. "You won't have to, Quisty. Watch me fly."
"Seifer," she shouted-- or, her child-self had shouted. Now, facing not the sea but an ocean of roiling sky, it came out as more of a whisper, perhaps understanding at last why he'd wanted to jump. Nothing so tempting as a moment of sky, an instant of being utterly free.
Oh, Seifer, she thought, moved oddly to sympathy. It was the only emotion that did not make her teeth chatter. Fully back to her senses, the blinding double-image was fading away. The cocky grin over that shoulder was older than it had been, but very much the same. She found herself smiling back. You do not belong here, Seifer. Go home. Please.
As if hearing a voice very, very far away, Seifer’s icepale eyes narrowed. His lips moved with what could have been her name.
And Quistis watched as he stepped off the leaning parapets into the darkening sky.
Even stranger than the compassion she had felt before was this sudden unexpected need to cry, shivery and warm. She had sworn she wouldn't cry though, not here. Not till this was all over with.
There was a noise behind her, and she twitched and spun around raggedly, whip at the ready.
"Hey, hey, is that any kind of welcome?" The tall sharpshooter was much closer than she had thought him; the clack of his boots gone unnoticed on the flagstones. She stumbled a little as she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eye.
She wondered if Irvine remembered finding her on the beach that night, sand in her hair and tears streaking her face. He had, she knew. A whole night's worth of memories were blooming to life behind her conscious mind. Seifer had jumped, all right, a clean dive right into the sea, and Quistis had been scared out of her mind.
Irvine had hugged her and promised to teach her how to swim.
Now he was grinning widely at her, concern flickering in his glassblue eyes. "Hey, gorgeous. You all right?"
"IrVINE!" she snapped, dizzy relief warring with annoyance and the fact that she couldn’t quite keep her knees from shaking.
He cupped her elbow in his gloved hand, gallantly allowing her to regain her composure. She took a ragged breath. "What were you thinking, sneaking up on me like that? You could give someone a heart attack." Her voice was entirely too wobbly for her approval, and she scowled. Belatedly realizing that Irvine was beaming down at her expectantly, her frown gentled. "I mean, hello, Irvine." She smoothed down the front of her vest, tucked a lock of hair back into place. "What news?"
He winked at her. "Rumor has it that three lovely ladies are marooned in this godforsaken castle, and I thought I’d--"
Easy enough to lapse back into the familiar role of instructor, with the wash of remembering ebbing like the undertow of a tide. "Kinneas, don’t be ridiculous. You shouldn’t be wandering by yourself--"
His eyes changed, and the hand on her elbow suddenly had a much firmer grip. "Neither should you, m’dear," he said, and there was no condescension in his voice. Sheepishly Quistis realized that Squall and Zell were climbing stairs beyond Irvine, already on their way. She was the one alone.
"Rinoa and Selphie were finally getting some rest; they’re well-hidden and I--"
Irvine shook his head, obviously not interested in her excuse. "Squall’s been seeing ghosts, so we thought we’d come back to you gals for the rest of the night." She thought she saw him shiver, but she couldn’t be sure. "None of us want to be alone."
"Ghosts," Zell’s voice reached them before he did, borne on the eerie high winds of that lonely hallway. "Are you sure you’re not seeing things, Squall?" He sounded worried. "I mean, we’ve not got a whole lot of sleep in the past few days, and the way those creepy old tapestries were blowing around, you never know--"
"Zell--" Squall began tiredly, but Quistis took a step towards them.
"Quistis?" Squall registered genuine surprise; he hadn’t seen her with Irvine standing in the way. "What are you--"
When their eyes met, winter blue and stormgrey, each knew what the other had seen. And Quistis realized something, feeling silly. Of course Seifer had done it-- a six-year old Squall had dared him to.
It had been his triumph, of course, another chapter in their ongoing rivalry-- tossing saltwater from his shining golden bangs, victorious in the moonlight.
"I’m not losing my mind." Squall sounded as if he were asking her a question.
She shook her head slowly, wondering how much or how little to say. "I saw him, too."
"Care to share with the group?" Irvine drawled. Zell blew up at his trailing bangs impatiently. "So now Instructor Trepe is nuts too?" he demanded.
An unaccustomed thin smile touched Squall’s lips, ignoring them. Though he stood taller than Quistis, the angle of his head was deferential, lapsing into the familiar attitude of a student to his sensei. "I never thought I’d be so glad to hear you say that, Instructor."
Quistis was surprised into a laugh. "Squall," she intoned, pretending to be much more professional than she was actually feeling, "Please-- don’t call me that." She lay a hand on his arm, reassuring herself that he was real.
His smile twitched, broadening a little, as he rested a gloved hand on top of her own. "All right, Quistis-neechan." He looked confused for an instant, as if wondering just why the childhood name had come back to him. But his gaze moved beyond her, seeing the broad open sky at the end of the hallway. She thought she saw him shiver, but his voice was remarkably calm. "Is he gone?"
She nodded. "I don't think Ultimecia could keep him here," she said, only the barest hesitation in her voice. "He's gone back home."
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