Quistis finished up her written report and looked across her desk at Seifer as he fiddled with a pencil. Closing her lap top and pushing class assignments aside, Quistis sauntered over to him and smiled as she ran her hands through his hair, drawing his attention back to her.
“How about we go see if they’ve got Gerald inside yet?” She suggested.
“I’d like to ram my fist into his face,” Seifer growled, “what a jerk.”
“That makes two of us,” Quistis nodded with a sigh, “I don’t know how men end up so twisted like that.”
“Bad home maybe,” Seifer echoed her sigh and stood up, taking her hand as they walked down the hallway in a gentle silence.
As they reached the elevator it opened up to reveal Morgan and his sister, Carrie, who held his arm in a tight grip. Morgan’s eyes were shut, perhaps never again to show their amber orbs behind their lids, and Carrie’s expression was solemn.
“Good afternoon Cadet Carrie,” Quistis said, stepping in with Seifer.
“Good afternoon Instructor Trepe,” Carrie replied shyly.
Morgan seemed off in his own world and Quistis gave him a sideways glance. She had heard that since the accident he had closed up drastically, which was affecting his sister in much the same way. She had lost a sparkle from her eye and seemed to have matured far beyond her years.
“Are you two heading towards the entrance?” Quistis asked.
“Yes,” Carrie said, looking troubled, “He wants to see Gerald,”
“I see,” Quistis whispered, looking at Morgan again, who was now smiling.
“I wish I could see his face,” The lithe man hissed, “He will not be pleased to see me alive. I’m glad we’re going to burn in hell together.”
“Shut the hell up,” Seifer snapped, “Don’t say those things in front of your sister!”
Carrie was looking away, a sad look crossing over her face before being masked. Morgan shrugged, feeling a little sorry but not by much. When the doors opened she led her brother out with the two SeeDs following quietly.
A massive white ferry was sitting outside of Balamb with a ramp extended out, holding it to the Garden. SeeDs were running all over the place as they dodged fire and responded with their own. Quistis ushered Carrie and her brother to a sideline where they could watch without being in danger as the last two remaining guards were shot down with tranquilizers.
The SeeDs charged but as soon as they broke into their run Seifer sensed there was something wrong. Gerald was just standing there firing at the limo.
“What the hell is he doing?” He hissed, squinting to see through the chaos.
A black dot, soon to be seen as Squall, suddenly broke away from the limo in an all-out run towards the wave of SeeDs coming at him. He was yelling but his voice was too faint for Seifer to hear.
“Something’s wrong,” Seifer elbowed Quistis and pointed.
“What is he yell…?” Quistis hesitated, “He’s telling them to go back, why does he want—”
There was a massive explosion. Fire washed over the deck in a wave, transforming the ferry to instant Hell. Squall was thrown ten feet into the air, crashing on the deck and lying still as SeeDs toppled down in a wave of their own.
Quistis screamed, Seifer grabbed her and sheltered her and Carrie from the heat that scalded through the air towards them. Cid and the rest of the SeeDs were running towards the ship, Selphie in the lead looking terrified.
“Squall! Squall! SQUALL!” She shrieked, fighting to get past the rest of the SeeDs who were trying to get away from the fire.
She nearly tripped over him when she finally found the commander, unconscious on the floor. Grabbing his arm the tiny brunette began to drag him over the hot ground, unable to lift him until Seifer came to assist her. He had pulled away from the sheltered entrance and fought to follow Selphie, protecting her from the rush of people until she had located Squall. Slinging the Commander over his shoulder and pulling Selphie by the arm he ran as fast as he could to get off the ship, which burned brightly in the background.
Quistis caught Selphie as she stumbled on to the ground, casting cure spells on Squall before Seifer had even put him down. Nida had come up with Irvine and Trianon and summoned Leviathan to send the gas-induced flames splashing back down into the ship instead of dripping into Garden.
“All SeeDs inside! Close the entrance! Prepare to move Garden!” Cid’s voice boomed over the intercom.
SeeDs groped for handholds as the massive ship lurched away from the fire. Cid didn’t know how to steer all that well, but both Nida and Selphie were on the main floor and unable to help. It had been all he could do to run back up to the top floor and kick the Garden into action.
Those who had been standing weren’t for long as Balamb rushed into the air and away. Selphie had curled up beside Squall, her eyes wide as she held him against her while Seifer sheltered them all and kept the majority of his companions upright.
“Well I guess that’s that.” Quistis whispered, peering over Seifer’s shoulder.
The walls of Balamb were closing but topaz flames still leapt up within view, turning Quistis’ eyes gold with their light. The burning carcass of Gerald would never be found; he’d probably sink to the depths of the ocean with the ferry. It was a sad defeat for all the hard work they had done.
Selphie hovered near Squall’s bed clutching a blue balloon with a “get well” card hanging off the string. The man had suffered some two-degree burns and a concussion as well as numerous bruising but the cure spells had done wonders and Kadowaki had woven some medical magic to speed up recovery.
Squall had been tossing lightly for the past few minutes, signalling to Selphie that he was about to wake up. She had grabbed a small white teddy bear and put it on his pillow beside him, bought the balloon and was waiting breathlessly for him to wake up.
It took a few minutes but the grey-blue eyes slid open and a confused look crossed the man’s face as he came eye-to-eye with the soft plushie. Squall stared at the beady little eyes watching him before noticing the beaming brunette just behind it.
“Selphie,” He said softly, beginning to sit up and smiling gently as she instantly helped him.
“How are ya feeling?” Selphie looked anxiously into his eyes and he could tell she had been worried about for awhile.
“A little stiff, a little sleepy,” Squall yawned and tried to tame his wild hair, “How is Garden?”
Selphie paused before launching into a full report that had Squall chuckling inside his head.
“Well, first the entrance is a little scorched and Cid is super-mad about that because of course we just HAD the entrance redone but oh, well, we’ll call the contractors in again I guess. Morgan was all upset because Gerald killed himself so he’s been detained and Carrie is looking after him again. Seifer had a few minor injuries when the ship exploded because he was sheltering the rest of us and actually carried you back into Garden after you got hit by the wave of fire. Quistis is fine but she’s stressed because she’s in charge of finding all the missing Cadets. The front of Garden is a little messed up because Cid crashed a little into the beach, it was his first time flying I guess, but that damage is more like a scratch. A Garden-sized scratch. You know what I mean. Zell and Kerei have been filing their reports, you have to do yours after you’ve rested up and ‘not a minute before young man’!…That last bit was told to me by Dr. Kadowaki. Oh Yeah!! Trianon found a new Guardian Force and they might give it to Michelle if she’s not too creeped out by the fact that it’s a gigantic spider…I think I’d be a little frightened, I mean spiders aren’t so bad but GIGANTIC spiders well that’s something else,” Selphie exhaled the rest of her breath and took in a new one, “Aaaaand that’s about it.”
“I haven’t been out too long have you?” Squall asked, pulling her close and resting his cheek on her shoulder.
“Nope! Just a few hours really,” Selphie grinned and kissed the top of his head, feeling bubbly and happy that he was awake.
“Good,” Squall sighed quietly, wishing he could spend a few more hours with the tiny woman, “I better go see where I can help.”
Selphie pouted, “You haven’t rested though!”
“I know but—”
Selphie pushed Squall back down on to the infirmary bed and snuggled up to his side. It was a narrow palette but she managed to stay balanced on the edge, throwing her arm around him to keep him down.
“Kadowaki’s orders, after all,” She grinned, kissing his cheek and cuddling up.
“And so, I would like to hold charges upon the act of criminal behaviour,” Quistis finished quietly, throwing a stack of photocopies from the book they had taken.
“One hundred and ninety-seven men and women are going to go to jail for being in contact and helping the late Gerald Clark in his acts of inhumanity and theft as well as other misdeeds,” The head of the justice council replied in a stern voice.
Quistis nodded, “Thank you Sir.”
The small justice meeting was over and she could go back to her comfortable dorm. She felt dead inside, knowing that no one was really getting punished for the massacre in the mansion. The relatives of the late Gerald Clark would now appreciate his death though, since they were the ones giving up their millions of gil in inheritance to pay the cost of the clean up crews and a massive amount of money was going in apology to the city of Deling. The massacre had made headlines after some rich neighbours caught sight of the corpses during a limousine ride to their house. As soon as that had come up the media had been all over it and Deling City had taken on a terrible reputation of housing criminals in their very best estates. The fact that many of Gerald’s fan club members also lived in Deling did not help matters whatsoever.
Quistis collected the evidence which would be stored in the Headmaster’s chambers and strode off to her dorm. She didn’t have long before her evening class, one that she was taking, not teaching. It was an advanced fighting class, instructed with speed in mind, where a disarmed SeeD might be able to find a stray weapon or object that he or she could pick up and use.
Taught in a large empty classroom, Quistis’ advanced fighting class was nearly full when she finally reached the room. Inside she spotted Irvine and jogged over to him with a small smile on her face. The cowboy had been grinning from ear to ear even before she got in and it seemed nothing would take his smile away.
Sliding up to him and awaiting the instructor, Quistis cast her cowboy friend a glance with raised eyebrows. He winked at her but didn’t answer as their teacher strode in with quickly gaze around the room to see who was there.
As the lesson droned on, Quistis found it hard to concentrate. Her disappointment from earlier still loomed in her heart and despite Irvine’s every attempt to cheer her up, she couldn’t get over the feeling that if they had tried harder they could have seen some real justice.
Michelle looked at the golden armlet somewhat warily. She had been warned by Trianon as to what it contained inside and now her spirit battled between the delight of her own guardian force, and her phobia of spiders.
Seated on her dorm bed with the armlet on the table beside her, Michelle brushed her long hair thoughtfully. She would be more useful with a Guardian Force, but the idea of memory loss did frighten her. Kerei hadn’t really batted an eye when she volunteered to take Psyche, and the raven-haired woman had never voiced any concerns or complaints either. Michelle and Kerei had been best friends for ages and Michelle hoped her friend’s judgement was safe.
“I guess…I could try…” Michelle grimaced, picking up the armlet and very slowly pushing it up her arm.
The jolt of power that slammed into her brain made Michelle’s body snap back against her wall. She coughed softly and placed a cool palm to her forehead, having never expected such a reaction. And there it was…the presence in her mind.
“H-Hello?” Michelle whispered, wide-eyed and looking around her room as if the creature would be there,
Squall yawned, blinked, and sat up slowly. A burst of laughter accompanied the movement and to his extreme embarrassment, Squall realized he had fallen asleep at his desk and a piece of paper was stuck to his forehead. As it fluttered back down to its rightful place Squall stared at a red-faced Selphie while she tried to hide her giggles behind a mug of coffee.
“I thought you’d still be tired so I brought you some coffee…guess I should’ve brought it earlier,” Selphie laughed as she set the steaming cup down, “How is the report going?”
Squall looked at the sheet that had drifted back to its proper place and sighed, running his hand through his hair. The report was boring and monotonous, just like they always were. Shoving it aside and growling quietly in reply he felt Selphie slide around his desk and stroke her fingers through his hair, combing it back into place. The gentle gesture calmed him down and he leaned into her touch.
“Most reports are, darling,” Selphie smiled softly, “Finish it soon though, I wanna do something!”
Squall arched an eyebrow at her in silent question.
“It’s raining, I wanna go for a walk!” Selphie chirped, giving him the pleading puppy dog eyes she always did when she wanted something from him.
‘She knows I can’t resist her when she does that…’ Squall cringed, “I’ll…finish.”
Squall blinked as water splashed against his leg, soaking him from the knee down. A giggling Selphie squealed as she hopped from puddle to puddle, raising the volume of her happy shrieks according to how big of a splash she made.
They were taking a very simple tour of the perimeter of Garden with Squall’s mind dwelling on other things. Like Quistis, he experienced disappointment in the lack of punishment given to Gerald. Selphie seemed oblivious to this as she danced along but Squall knew her well enough now that she was only trying to take his mind off things. The rain was misting down, coating her hair in tiny diamonds and casting a silvery sheen to everything around them. Being that the weather was cold and dreary no one else was outside and Squall took the time to appreciate the quietness. Yes, after the mansion, the ferry and the explosion, some quiet time was quite the beautiful thing.
“Selphie,” Squall called out, hailing the girl back.
She paused in mid-leap and bounded back to him with a silly grin on her face, grabbing his arm and twirling herself up to his chest and then engulfing him in a bear hug. Squall smiled into her hair and nuzzled her gently with affection.
“It’s cold, let’s go inside and get something hot to drink,” He said softly.
“Okay-kaaaay!” Selphie beamed and promptly dragged him back into Garden, fussing over the goose bumps on his arms.
Once inside the cafeteria they found Zell and Michelle at one of the larger tables and moved to join them. Zell was in the middle of some exaggerated tale with Michelle gazing at him with skeptical eyes. He stopped when he saw Selphie and Squall, poking Michelle and flicking his berry-blue eyes in the couple’s direction.
“Awww, you two look so cute. All wet and shiny,” Michelle grinned.
“Yay!” Selphie cheered and pushed Squall into a chair, “Sit! I’ll be back with drinks.”
“Thanks Seffie,” Squall smiled gently, bringing out another coo from Michelle.
“So Michelle, did you junction the new GF?” Squall asked, his stormy eyes shifting over to her and all love and affection gone.
Michelle nodded slowly and pushed her sleeve up to reveal the golden armlet. Her eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment but she shook her head and cleared the daze.
“I have. Serachnid…well…he spoke to me once but I haven’t used him yet.” Michelle smiled weakly, “I’m a little scared to.”
“Yeah, first-time summoning is a little rocky,” Zell patted her on the back, “You’ll be fine.”
Michelle gave the martial artist a grateful smile and then scooted her chair over for Selphie as the girl came back with a tray. Selphie gave Squall a tall mug of hot chocolate and then with a wicked grin slid her own closer to herself. Squall blinked and watched the mug, probably two thirds whip cream, jiggle as it moved.
“So Selphie. Want any hot chocolate with your cream?” Zell inquired his eyes wide.
“Nope! This is juuuust fine!” Selphie giggled and set to work on her ‘beverage’.
“Squall,” Michelle began slowly, “What are we going to do now? Do we have a new mission or…? I mean…the Gerald case is pretty much closed, we covered all the possible objectives of that mission but I haven’t heard Cid talk of a new one.”
“Man. Ever since Balamb went mercenary after the Sorceress wars I’ve been worried about what will happen when no one needs us,” Zell shook his head.
“If anything, Balamb can train soldiers for armies or just as guards,” Squall shrugged.
“But soldiers don’t think, we’re trained to think,” Zell argued.
Selphie tilted her head and wondered what they’d do next as well. There were always border skirmishes in some of the more tribal lands but whether or not one of them would have enough gil to hire SeeDs was another thing. She had her next assignment all laid out, making ships and new ground explorers.
“Maybe Balamb will become more academic,” She proposed.
“Academic? You mean more like a university and less as a militaristic institution?” Michelle blinked, “That would be good, only that as the Elite SeeDs we’re so close to graduation we’d have to leave and get jobs. I don’t know much else but fighting.”
“I’ll stay here as an instructor…I think most of us could do that. Besides Michelle, your marks in diplomatic history were off the chart,” Selphie smiled.
“I guess so,” Michelle grinned shyly, “Whatever Balamb decides to do I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Squall nodded absently and hoped Cid came with a new mission soon. As a commander he wouldn’t be useful to an Academic Balamb but perhaps he could take care of something else. Or he could go traveling with Selphie, maybe even transfer to Trabia.
Seifer jabbed at a creature in the Training Centre and watched it tumble to the ground. A small sigh of satisfaction escaped his lips and he looked around for the next battle. He was spending more and more time there, with and without Quistis.
“Come on, come on, let’s go!” He growled, his ocean-hued eyes darting back and forth,
“Mind if I join you?”
Seifer whirled around to see Michelle creeping in, she looked distinctly uncomfortable but with her short-sleeved shirt on Seifer could guess why. Serachnid’s armlet coiled around her upper arm glinted quietly in the dim light.
“Ready to try it out?” Seifer asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Michelle nodded, swallowing hard.
From the women’s locker room emerged Kerei, and at the sight of her spunky friend, Michelle relaxed a little. Kerei always wore Psyche’s circlet around her forehead, even when she slept, but Michelle had decided she wouldn’t wear the armlet all the time until she knew she was comfortable with the creature inside it.
“Ready Michelle?” Kerei asked.
Seifer stood back and watched with interest as Michelle lured out a creature and initiated battle. About halfway in she jumped back and posed on one leg, bringing her arms above her head and then slicing downwards as she screamed her summons’ name.
Kerei’s eyes widened in horror at the massive golden spider that suddenly dropped from the ceiling. She stumbled back into Seifer and shared a look of terror with him as Michelle shrieked and nearly lost her grip on the magic.
Serachnid was huge. A spider with the bulk of 15 feet vertical and about twelve horizontal with massive arching, spindly legs, spiked and dripping poison, he was no timid beast. Skittering across the ground towards the petrified creature he shot sticky webs across the ground, gluing the opponent where it stood, and promptly began to let off sparks.
Michelle watched, unable to tear her eyes away, as Serachnid burnt the small creature to a crisp with lightning attacks that shot forth from his two front legs. When the battle was over, Serachnid turned to her, staring down at the human with his eight glossy eyes, and gently lifted a leg towards her.
To Michelle’s credit she didn’t run away or even flinch when he brushed her arm. She was far too scared for that. It was only that touch, though, that Serachnid did, and he disappeared back inside her right after. Feeling a head rush of dizziness, Michelle slowly sank to her knees and prayed her heart would stop pounding so fast. Kerei rushed over to her and dropped beside her friend, wrapping her arms around the shaking girl while Seifer strode over more slowly.
“Are you all right?” Kerei asked worriedly.
“…Yeah…I think so…Trianon…Trianon didn’t say he was that big…” Michelle whispered, her eyes wide as saucers.
“Pretty impressive Guardian Force you’ve got there. Definitely wins on intimidation,” Seifer announced as he crouched beside Michelle, “Can you stand? Walk?”
“I…I think so,” Michelle rose with the help of Kerei and wavered for a moment.
“Here,” Seifer picked her up with ease, “Let’s get her to Kadowaki and make sure she summoned Serachnid properly.”
“Yeah,” Kerei gave Michelle a look of concern.
They took her to the good doctor who only smiled and patted Michelle’s arm. It was her first summon, and often casters felt a sense of vertigo. Michelle nodded slowly and drank some water, already feeling the dizziness recede and a sense of excitement come in.
“Serachnid…he’s gorgeous isn’t he,” She said with a quiet smile.
Kerei was rendered speechless and Seifer did a double take. Gorgeous? That hulking spider? Gorgeous! Recovering more quickly than Seifer, Kerei managed a nod.
“Yeah, he’s…uh…pretty,” She said haltingly, “A…a real fine… … spider.”