It was a restless night for all. In the morning, rooms were re-assigned so that no one slept alone. Everyone had a partner, and that person came with them everywhere. Security monitors were set up and down every hall, and in every room so that no matter where you were there was always a camera watching. Students complained against the cameras in their rooms, but Cid told them that for now, it was a necessary precaution.
In the morning Quistis, Nida and Xu walked down to see Selphie. Irvine and Squall were already there waiting and soon enough Zell came with one of the junior students being dragged behind him.
“How’s Selphie?” He asked when he slowed down.
“She looks good, hasn’t woken up yet though,” Irvine replied soberly.
“Aw, man, what a creep, blasting Selphie like that,” Zell groaned, “If I catch him…”
“Yeah, we’d all like to give him what he deserves,” Irvine replied, “But let’s wait till we actually have the guy.”
No one mentioned what Squall had said earlier about how the stranger might not be human, but it was all on their minds. Quistis shook her head and then gave the walls of Balamb a cold look.
“We’ll get him,” She replied frostily.
After a week Selphie was right back on track to cheerfulness while Squall had subsided deeper into depression. They were all still under patrol, but it had become routine by now and even classes had re-commenced, while room cameras had been dismantled. Senior SeeDs took shifts, walking around Garden, armed and ready to blast anything that looked harmful to pieces. It wasn’t the greatest of schemes but so far no one else had been attacked.
Selphie toured the cafeteria slowly, eyeing the available tables and finding one large enough for her friends. Sitting down gingerly, for her wound was still troublesome, she sipped her drink and swirled a tuber slice in the small container of sauce. One by one the other SeeDs trickled in, all save Quistis who was on patrol duty with Xu.
“So Selphie, what class do you have next?” Zell asked, eyeing the brunette.
“Advanced mechanics,” Selphie piped up eagerly, her eyes flashing, “we are building the COOLEST ship ever. And it will fit right inside the Ragnarok! It’ll be like…like…the BABY ship!”
“Why another one?” Irvine asked, toying with his hair idly but looking intrigued.
“This one will be for stealth missions. The shielding will be made of a low-fuel energy, crystal-based, with recharge units inside them. Sustainable power source and not picked up on radars. Plus, the plating is completely armoured, nothing is getting through this without having to hammer on for a looooooong time! Not only that, but it’s going to have special painting applied that won’t reflect light! This thing is going to be a SHADOW!” Selphie gabbed excitedly, her hands making large gestures, the slice of food waving around madly.
“Who gets t’ fly that darlin’?” Irvine raised his eyebrows.
“Me, of course,” Selphie grinned wickedly, “Because I’m the one designing the engine.”
“I had no idea you were that good,” Zell stared in amazement.
“You better believe it,” Selphie winked.
Through this Squall had remained silent. A new stealth ship would be very useful. Of course, it would mean a whole new set of missions that could be carried out. New types of missions meant new training. New training meant new courses. Courses needed instructors and instructors needed to be paid. Squall wondered if Cid had thought this through completely or if he had neglected to tell Squall of some new financing.
“Yellow Alarm activated. All students proceed to the nearest safe hold. Repeat: Yellow Alarm activated. All students proceed to the nearest safe hold―”
Selphie’s green eyes met Squall’s and with Zell and Irvine they all lurched to their feet. Squall however, was thinking on a slightly different line than Selphie.
“Irvine, get Selphie somewhere safe, she can’t fight, Zell, you’re with me, we’re going to find Quistis, she’s with Xu, and they’re the only ones who can open that alarm other than Nida, Cid and I.” Squall ordered.
“Squall! I can TOO fight!” Selphie stamped her foot.
“Irvine, take her!” Squall shouted as he and Zell raced away.
“Come on Selphie,” Irvine grabbed her by the arm and began to tow her away, but the brunette had other ideas.
She twisted hard in his grasp and managed to pull away from him, stumbling at first, but then instantly building up into a run. Irvine swore and took chase after the fleeing girl in yellow, a scowl of worry etched on his face.
Quistis and Xu were idly cruising the hallways. Both chatted away about the normal instructor banter, despite the fact that Quistis didn’t technically have her job as a teacher anymore. They passed several sets of juniors, all walking around casually, though some were looking a bit wary still, but neither woman felt ill at ease.
“…He somehow managed to fail the class a third time. Honestly. He’d fail Breathing 101 if they offered it!” Xu sighed.
“Maybe you should offer it, kids with that little intelligence really shouldn’t be breathing,” Quistis smirked, “Kidding.”
“I’m not. His parents are rich, wanted their little boy to go to the prestigious school. They should have sent him to work on a farm. Pack hay or something,” Xu shrugged, “maybe he’ll do better once finals are up and he needs to pass to stay here.”
Quistis nodded and hooked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. She gave a small yawn and then winced as one of the students cracked their knuckles behind her. She hated that sound. Xu hadn’t noticed, still engrossed with her trouble students and Quistis had to smile. There was a perk to not having to teach anymore.
“…And his parents said that if I failed him they would―”
“…I just looked at them if they were crazy and told them to shut the―”
“…then Cid yelled at me, but once HE spoke to them he came back beet-red and―”
Quistis whirled around, “Could you please―”
Xu screamed, her gun falling into her hand instantly. Quistis tumbled backwards in shock and dimly saw Xu stand over her. Sparks lit the air as the bullets sprayed out incoherently. Rolling over on her shoulder Quistis fumbled to a stand and then let her whip stream through the air. It snagged on the black cloak of the figure, tearing it viciously, but the creature was already lurching away.
“This is Xu, command name Queen X84, signal a Yellow Alarm!” Xu cried, her fingers flashing over the intercom panel five feet from where they had stood.
Quistis was already running. The bullet had grazed her neck but hadn’t damaged her too badly. Her feet pounded over the floor as the black shape skittered in front of her. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled at the odd gaping run the figure had assumed. She tried again and again to hit it but it was lurching from side to side, making her every attack clatter helplessly by the side.
Nida. Quistis didn’t even have to point. The man let loose a volley of arrows from a longbow he was carrying. Three struck the blur of black. Two fell off, one stuck fast. There was no outcry from the thing though, which worried Quistis. Had it even felt the arrow sink in?
Quistis shrieked. She had been so immersed in her thoughts she hadn’t seen the figure stop moving. She crashed into him, falling down. Blood splashed over her stomach and she felt her head spin. There was another arrow, then more bullets, a flash of silver. Quistis looked up in confusion to see Squall staring down at her, his stormy eyes wide.
“Where is…?” She asked, her voice slurring.
Squall looked up, his bangs falling over his face chaotically. Zell was running down the hallway in pursuit while a breathless Xu and exhausted Nida stopped and gulped in air. Out of the blue Selphie screeched to a stop in the hallway, having launched out of an intersecting corridor. They were on the lower levels now, a virtual maze of connecting hallways.
She took a look at Quistis and then burst down a different hallway than the one Zell had taken. Irvine came careening in straight after and he and Squall raced after the girl. Alone with a ringing silence, Xu and Nida bent over Quistis and quickly surveyed the damage.
“Flesh wound, she’ll be fine. Probably just the shock,” Nida confirmed, peeling back the ripped edges of Quistis’ vest, “Weird bullet though, it…has barbs…”
Xu inched closer and squinted at it, “It’s…not even a bullet Nida, that’s something else,”
“An organic bullet?” Nida’s eyes widened, “It’s like a thorn but more like―”
“A seed.” They said together in confusion.