Seifer burst into the remains of the ballroom, after meandering through the half fallen Royal House. He looked around and found Irvine leaning against the wall with blood coming out of his temple. Zell was curled up on his side, not moving, and Quistis was sprawled on her stomach, her head buried into the side of her arm.
The ex-knight rushed over and realized that Irvine wasn’t even conscious, he was only propped up. Seifer rolled Zell and Quistis to their backs and then stared in horror at their black and blue faces. Zell had a piece of red talon embedded in his thigh, and it was still leaking poison into his body. With the poison in them magic casting was impossible. If they had lost their weapons they would have been defenceless. Seifer looked around more and saw Irvine’s gun with shells around it, all empty. Quistis no longer had her whip, and one of Zell’s gloves had been torn off, his knuckles were scraped raw.
Nida rushed to his side and looked dizzy at the sight of the three fallen heroes. He called for help and then he and Seifer watched helplessly as they were carted away on stretchers. Nida moved some of the debris out of the way and then paled when he saw people buried beneath it.
“Dead, all of them, civilians and personal friends of the royal family I’m gathering,” Nida looked down with disgust.
“Squall isn’t here, let’s find him,” Seifer growled, trudging off through the chalky ceiling stones and ash.
They found him outside face down in a field of scorched grass. Two dead cloaked men were also found there, stripped, and revealed to be human as Seifer had surmised. Their claws were fitted gauntlets with capsules of poison tucked into the tips, and their faces were painted black.
Squall had been bleeding profusely from the arm but when they moved him he groaned at once and his eyes flickered open.
“Selphie,” he stared at them blearily.
“We haven’t found her yet,” Nida whispered softly, crouched down.
“Took her,” Squall hissed, his eyes becoming dark, “Bastard.”
“Who took her?” Nida asked carefully.
Squall shrugged and closed his eyes, “Quistis? Irvine? Zell?”
“Safe,” Nida informed which brought some colour to Squall’s cheeks.
“Let her down.”
“Selphie?” Nida asked, confused.
“Yeah…she looked at me…” Squall sucked in a few deep breathes, wincing from the pain in his arm, “she looked…she looked sad…”
“We’ll find Selphie after we get this place cleared of injured,” Nida replied quickly.
“Who’s that?” Seifer frowned as a woman with long blue hair came running up.
Nida glanced at her and then waved her forward, “Instructor Trianon, Seifer Almasy, etc, where’s Selphie?”
“I haven’t seen her. I stayed with the Royal Family, and the House of Crescent Knights, they are all fine,” Trianon’s tone was musical yet she sounded strict, and it reminded Seifer of Quistis.
“What happened?” Nida asked, breathless from stressful exhaustion.
“The dance was underway until dinner, when most departed. A man with long black hair, tied back, asked SeeD Tilmitt to the dance floor, which she consented to. During the dance he fired a shot at the left corner of the ceiling, it exploded, there must have been a bomb planted already, and from there the rest of the ceiling went up in flames. The people panicked and ran out, creating enough chaos to mask the entrance of those men in cloaks. By then I was trying to round up the royals and wasn’t paying attention to the state of the other SeeDs. When I left the building there was fire everywhere, I went to a shelter over there—” Trianon pointed to the edge of the field where a small gardener’s shed could be seen, “—and remained. While I was inside two summons were cast, Quezacotl and Ifrit.”
Seifer didn’t even ask how she knew summons had been cast from inside a shed. He felt too sick about the entire mission. He had known, if only he had returned sooner perhaps he could have stopped it. At least given them warning. He knelt down and ran a hand through his hair, clenching the strands and pulling tightly. The pain was a soft awakening but it failed to release him from the nightmare.
“They took Selphie, they’ll keep her alive though, they need her for the Aries,” Nida muttered, “That gives us time.”
“Does it?” Trianon asked, her cold calculating eyes frosty, “What if they torture information out of—”
“Don’t say that,” Squall suddenly looked very conscious and alert, “Don’t even say it.”
"So what you're telling me is the mission was a failure, seven juniors were injured, two are missing, Instructor Trepe, and SeeDs Zell Dincht and Irvine Kinneas were injured, as well as the disappearance of Seed Selphie Tilmitt,” Cid glared at Squall who shifted uncomfortably.
“Permission to speak,” Trianon glided into the room with the grace of a cat.
As much of a worry Trianon was to Quistis she was even more so one to Squall. The new weapons’ instructor didn’t care for personal relationships during missions; she was there to do a job. If a rule was broken she didn’t care why she wanted to set things straight, and Squall had the feeling that her report might make them look worse. Her eyes had hardened to chips of stone and her uniform was so tight and prim that Squall thought she looked more like a prison commander than an instructor. He felt sorry for her class.
“Headmaster, Commander Squall forgot to mention an important event in the mission,” Trianon’s tone betrayed her, it was always musical and light, even when she was serious.
“And that is?” Cid asked wearily.
‘Here it comes,’ Squall thought dismally, his grey eyes settling on the floor.
“The youngest daughter and son of the two quarrelling families have agreed to marry each other and seem to be very happily in love, they also described this terrorist attack as a trial to their sudden joining and believe they can overcome it with ease. The two Royal families are very pleased and the nations have decided to end all hostilities,” Trianon looked as if she just might smile…she didn’t though.
Cid looked surprised at this, Squall was, at least, and the frustration cleared from his face, “Very well then, you were lucky this time. I want detectives on the site of the mishap, new missions will be handed out later this evening for the rescue of Tilmitt and restoration of the Royal House in Qun’sho.”
“Sir!” Squall and Trianon both saluted and then marched out in unison. As they descended the elevator in silence Squall had a chance to study Trianon’s reflection in the control panel.
Her spine was straight, eyes facing the door without blinking, though her iris shifted in their colours as light filtered down on them. She looked much like Quistis in her posture and outward attitude, yet, ageless.
As the door opened an anxious-looking junior caught sight of them and darted up the stairs where he grabbed Trianon’s hand and tugged on it while she gazed down at him solemnly.
“Instructor Elvelyn! Scott just killed this HUGE monster coming back from the forest outside and he’s hurt I can’t lift him can you help?”
“Of course,” Trianon shocked Squall again by smiling and then striding outside with the boy in tow.
Squall let her to it, he didn’t know her well and didn’t want to get in her way. Besides, he had bigger issues to deal with, namely Selphie. What would they do to her? Who was they anyhow? They had found three more of the strange seed bullets being used by the cloaked men from the injuries to the SeeDs and that had provided a little information but not enough to give them a significant lead that could take them to Selphie’s location.
Apparently the seeds used as bullets were made that way so they couldn’t be detected. The outside shell of the seed would break on contact, sending seed ‘shrapnel’ into the skin to break it and then let the poison inside seep through. The poison via the bullets was much stronger than the poison that leaked from the claws of the men, but either way Squall didn’t want to come in contact with it.
Tomorrow he’d see that their uniforms were re-made with more armour that would help them avoid the nasty claws. It helped now that they knew a little bit more about their opponents, at least they were human. So far the motive of this men was still in the dark though, and that disturbed Squall greatly.
When Selphie woke up she wished she had kept her eyes shut. The ground below her was greasy with dust and in the sliver of light she was granted she could see skeleton spider corpses crumpled up and scattered everywhere. Cobwebs laced the air and she thought she heard something moving in the far corner of whatever room or cell she was in.
Shivering in her revulsion she sat up slowly, hissing at the pain the movements caused her. The light coming in was from the bars in the door that she had been tossed in front of. Selphie inched her way to them and clung to them to pull herself up. The oily dust coated her hands and her gown which had once been beautiful, now it was ripped, dirty, and covered in the dust.
Her head was pounding but she was forced to ignore it as she looked out between the bars to see a dark empty room with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. It cast a small cone of light down, hazy and showing more filtering dust, but neglected to alert her as to where she was. The floor looked like cement, the walls were too distant to be seen, Selphie sighed and watched more dust scatter off the ledge of the bars. It was depressing.
So far she couldn’t see or hear anyone, and it bothered her tremendously. Had they left her here to rot and die? Starve? Suffocate in the musty air? She shifted, her large dress swishing as it brushed up against the door. The slight noise seemed impossibly loud in that small chamber and the outside room. Selphie cringed and hoped no one had heard but it seemed to her that she was completely and utterly alone.
Tears welled in her eyes when she remembered the last time she had seen Squall, struggling, bleeding, staring at her with surprise in his eyes. She turned around, her back to the door, and gently slid down back to the floor where shamelessly she began to cry. It was her fault, for accepting the dance. If anything happened to her friends it would be her fault.
It was hours before she heard a door open in the main room. Her eyes were red-rimmed but Selphie’s determination to escape had already won through. Standing up she looked out of the bars and saw a man dripping with black cloaks slide in, hunched over like an old man. Quietly Selphie eased herself into the darkness of the room where she could still see him while remaining in the shadows herself.
She watched the man take off the hood he wore and then peel off a black mask. His face was pale and he had long dark hair…Selphie gritted her teeth, it was the guy who had asked her to dance. She watched him look around, his eyes resting on her cell, and then flip the hood back up. Puzzled Selphie squinted to see better but nearly let out a squeak when he turned off the light plunging them into darkness. Panicking, Selphie pressed herself up to the bars and tried to look out.
Selphie screamed and fell backwards as fire flared at the bars of her door revealing a ghoulish face grinning maniacally at her. She slipped on the layers of dust and then managed to get back to her feet, her slender arm reaching out and clawing at him from through the bars. The man laughed and then held the lighter up once more.
“Welcome to paradise,” He laughed.
“Right, for what? The dead spiders?” Selphie hissed in anger, “Let me out!”
“Not a chance darling, we need you a bit longer,” The man smiled brightly.
His grin was akin to Seifer’s but his amber eyes were what frightened Selphie. The last time she had seen amber eyes that bright she was looking into Edea’s face as the sorceress prepared to destroy them. Swallowing, Selphie clenched her teeth and wrapped her fingers around the bars until her knuckles were white.
“Let me out. At least out of this room, it’s disgusting.” Selphie shivered at the thought of what was lurking behind her.
“It is pretty old in here, oh well, you win some you lose some, right doll?” the man sneered, “Get used to it princes.”
He stalked off, leaving her in darkness. Selphie swore quietly and wondered how she would escape. Her nunchakus had been much too big to bring, and her gun was gone, and she hadn’t even brought one of her mechanical tools with her. She had a pin in her hair but she couldn’t see what type of lock she was dealing with. Her shoulders slumped. This wasn’t paradise, this was hell.
“Good to see you in that uniform, Trepe,” A brassy-voiced man commented with a royal smile as Quistis Trepe entered the Instructor’s Lounge.
She wasn’t coming as an elite SeeD that day, no, she was back as a teacher. New classes needed to be taught and so the professors and instructors who new anything about stealth missions and hand-to-hand combat were being bumped up into new classes, making room for Trepe to take over the juniors.
Quistis smiled at the man warmly, his name was Shea and he was in the political history department, teaching Diplomacy to students of all ages and ranks. His hair was long and bright red, clasped back in a ponytail only slightly shorter than Irvine’s. Beside him was an owlish woman marking a pile of papers with strict efficiency, and then the last member of the couch was Trianon.
“Instructor Elvelyn,” Quistis said, eager to get to the end of this, “I’m interested in how you found this opening for a job, you...have studied weapons at another school perhaps?”
Quistis walked over and sat adjacent to the cerulean-haired woman and waited, her sapphire eyes boring into the forehead of Trianon as she stared into a cup of tea. Finally Trianon looked up, but she didn’t appear guilty, or panicking, as Quistis would have thought, she looked perfectly calm.
“I studied the art of fighting in a Temple belonging to the old ancients.” Trianon smiled.
“Really.” Quistis frowned, “What temple?”
“It has long been destroyed,” Trianon looked sad, “Pushed away for the building of new towns, they even cut down the forest I used to run through as a child.”
“I’m…sorry,” Quistis blinked in surprise, how was it that she could feel a sudden sorrow in her chest?
“You are worried about me, aren’t you?” Trianon’s eyes snapped up, suddenly clear and dark.
“I found no record of you, you don’t exist,” Quistis blurted out, making Shea raise his eyebrows and the owlish woman tear a hole in her marking paper.
Trianon only laughed, “The people I lived with are not so technologically advanced as you are! We don’t use paper, computers, electronically powered devices, everything is done by memory.”
Quistis nodded, wondering if she should feel stupid or not, “I see.”
Trianon’s jovial expression faded again, “Instructor Trepe, in times like these it is important to trust your co-workers.”
She stood up and gave a small wave to them before slipping from the room. Quistis bit her lip and looked at Shea who shrugged, looking as bewildered as she did. Sighing softly, Quistis rose and found a list of her new students that she would have to orientate to Garden. There was one list of juniors, and another of failed SeeDs that she would retrain. Both lists were fairly long but…
Seifer paced. Then he paced a little bit more. He turned around to see if anyone was looking for a moment, and then pivoted to return to pacing.
“Wearing down the carpet are we? You were never good for anything useful while you were here,” Zell snickered.
“Shut it chicken-wuss,” Seifer snapped, “I’m busy,”
Zell’s grin died away, “Seriously now, are you staying in Garden?”
“I’m going to…for a little while,” Seifer lost his defiant look and calmed down, “I’m going to become a SeeD as fast as possible and try and help save Selphie.”
Zell was taken aback by the quiet tones in Seifer’s voice, “Why the sudden change?”
Seifer shifted, “We all started as orphans, I don’t want to be that way forever,” he shrugged.
Zell nodded, suddenly aware of how quiet the hallway was. It felt awkward to not be fighting with Seifer, and to see him with his walls down. Seifer seemed to feel the same way because he straightened and his eyes narrowed.
“Are you going to stand there gaping at me forever Chicken wuss?”
“Er…no?” Zell blinked and backed up, “Eh…see ya Seifer…good luck with the SeeD exam… … in order to pass, my advice is… … don’t be yourself!”
Zell took off down the hall laughing while Seifer rolled his eyes.
Seifer was soon sitting in a classroom with a scattering of other students. When Trepe walked in it was like an electrical current shocking the entire room, drawing spines into straight lines, eyes up to the holoscreen, chairs tipping forward from their reclined position and a silence to crackle in the air.
Damn did the woman have power.
“If you are not here to re-take the SeeD exams then please leave, for those who are in the right room…I am Instructor Trepe, your teacher for this course.”
Even though everyone knew Trepe on some personal level the woman acted as if she knew none of them. There would be no favouritism in this class, Seifer noted with interest. She threw up some rotating images of various creatures on the holoscreen and pointed to them with a laser, asking questions about weak spots, strategies and so on. Seifer answered a few questions but it was all evenly dispersed except for some complete dunces in the back.
The hour was going well until Quistis drilled them quickly on magical attacks. Every student who got a question wrong was made to answer another until they got something right. One of the losers in the back, after standing for 15 minutes finally snapped at Quistis.
“Listen bitch! You’re humiliating me—”
Seifer groaned, bowing his head with his hands in his hair as Quistis’ eyes darkened to black. He used to say stupid things like that, looking back on his life, Seifer didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Why are you here?” Quistis asked.
“To become a SeeD OBVIOUSLY!”
“Then why don’t you know your lesson material? It was organized for you in your student account days ago,” Quistis fired back, her teeth clenched.
“Look Trepie, we don’t have as much time as you to sift through all that garbage—”
“That garbage will keep you alive in battle cadet,” Instructor Trepe narrowed her eyes.
“I know how to fight! Just let me take the bloody test already!” The student shouted, standing up,
“All right then.”
Quistis’ eyes flared and she whirled around as Instructor Elvelyn came into the classroom. She was leaning against the wall serenely with her hair tied up at the top of her head, cascading down her back, her uniform pressed and ready.
“Excuse me?” Quistis asked, feeling faint.
“This student believes he can take the test and fight in battle. With the absence of Ifrit due to SeeD Tilmitt’s capture the test has been changed,” Trianon smiled without warmth.
Quistis could sense what she was getting at already, “Well then, what good timing, Cadet Johnson, please follow Instructor Elvelyn to commence your test.”
The student looked stunned, and the rest of them felt the same way. He slowly eased himself into the aisle and then looked a little embarrassed.
“What’s the new test? I don’t have my weapons,”
Trianon looked disapprovingly at him, “In battle you will not know what to expect at all times, and you may not have your weapon. You stated you can fight, that is all you will need for this test.”
“But wait, I have to fight with no weapons?” The boy panicked.
“Listen, you’ve kept the rest of us waiting long enough, get out of here,” Seifer snarled, “Pay attention to the instructors…dumbass.”
Quistis hid her smirk, though she thought Seifer had worded his retort perfectly. She watched the student leave with Trianon and then the classroom fell to silence.
“For homework please read the following excerpts as they appear on the screen, practice your techniques in the Training Room and outside Garden but for external voyages it would be best to travel in pairs lest you get hurt. Any questions?”
There were none and Quistis stepped back behind her desk to mark assignments done in class as the students filtered out. She noticed Seifer hovering but he apparently decided whatever had to say wasn’t necessary because the tall blonde left soon after. Quistis looked around the empty classroom and smiled softly. It was good to know the ex-Knight was finally on her side.