I am home, I know the way.
I am home, feeling oh so far away.
Chapter 17: The Way Home
Seifer sat on a bench near the docks watching the birds fly over the early morning waves scooping up a breakfast of gnats and flies. Nothing was wrong with the scene – the birds were doing as they always had and the sailors were cursing the ballsy gulls as they always would. Still, something felt different.
He hadn't slept since he'd left Quistis the night before. He'd walked slowly back to Balamb, savoring his solitude in the cozy darkness, and had spent the night on the bench looking out to sea. He could hardly remember the last time that he'd found himself completely alone and peaceful. Ultimecia had been a constant presence ever since he'd fallen out of time compression and onto the Balamb beach. He couldn't close his eyes without feeling her dark wings around him or hearing her voice whispering in his ear. Every day he'd relived the moment when she'd leaned into him, a phantom from the future, and gave him his first dream.
On the bench, Seifer closed his eyes and sighed.
Maybe, he mused hopefully, the world felt different because Ultimecia was finally out of it. She had lingered far beyond her time. He'd gotten used to her. And now, at last, she was gone.
He ran a hand through his hair which was stiff with salt and sand. From the looks he was getting from people walking by, he knew that he looked more like a bum than a man who'd spent the previous day in the company of Quistis Trepe. She still had a reputation in and around Balamb Garden -- he'd heard people talking about her -- as the world's most eligible bachelorette. More and more, it seemed, everyone was wondering when she would find a man. If anyone had noticed her walking around town with him the day before they weren't talking about it.
He found himself wondering whether she had started work yet for the day and whether, if he walked out to Garden, anyone would allow him in to see her.
Seifer was considering finally going back to his hotel to shower when he noticed someone approaching him. His spirit jumped for a moment before he realized that it wasn't Quistis. Not hardly.
Finn Dincht sat down on the bench beside him.
Seifer looked over at the old man but didn't say anything. Finn, squinting out from under a corduroy cap, buried his hands in his overall pockets and let out a long sigh.
"You know, I know all about you," he said. "How you treated my grandson in school. What happened during the war. And after."
"What? Are you going to chew me out or something?" Seifer grunted.
"No," Finn shook his head. "Just saying...I know all about you. And I remember you...from the orphanage."
Seifer looked away quickly, embarrassed.
"My daughter...when she adopted Zell I went with her to Centra to get him. And I remember you from the orphanage there. Quistis and Squall, too."
"I don't know why you're telling me this," Seifer said.
"None of you ever got a family," Finn replied. "Times were hard. After the war everyone was struggling to put themselves back together. And you...you are were just forgotten. Shuffled off to some military academy to be raised as soldiers."
He sighed and crossed his arms.
"I'm just saying...you all found ways of dealing. But I remember you from that orphanage. And seeing you yesterday with Quistis...well...you all made your own family, didn't you? You see, we thought about adopting you and Quistis instead of Zell. We considered it. You probably don't remember, but you were close as kids. You were the same age, everyone else was younger...which doesn't mean much now, but it did then. But we couldn't afford you both, and Zell needed someone so much more."
Seifer frowned, unable to imagine the life that had brushed by him. Living in Balamb with Ma Dincht? Quistis and Seifer Dincht? He couldn't suppress a little shudder.
"I'm sorry," Finn said. "And I'm glad that you've finally found your way home."
Finn cast Seifer an apologetic smile, then stood up and walked away.
Home? Seifer hadn't felt like he'd had a home his entire life. And he certainly didn't feel as if he'd found one now. Balamb didn't want him back and had never really wanted him in the first place. He'd been dumped there along with the whiney and un-adoptable Squall -- the unwanted and unloved given away to the government, trained to serve a purpose if even just in death.
Was that Seifer's home? Was Balamb Garden and everything that it represented the place where his heart and soul could find peace?
Suddenly, with the knowledge that his life could have been different and the hindsight of past possibility, Seifer felt a surge of fatalistic resignation and doubt. It wasn't just that life had been hard for everyone his age, that no one got adopted. It was just that no one had wanted him.
No one had ever wanted or needed him. Not until Ultimecia, who'd asked him to be her hand upon the earth.
With that thought, somewhere deep inside, Seifer felt something move.
His back straightened with the unfamiliar feeling, an unnatural rolling and pulsing in his body. Something folding over, stretching out.
And then, with stark horror, he felt her presence in his head. He heard her laugh, saw her eyes, felt the feathery brush of her wings on his skin.
Ultimecia. The monster. His curse.
He sat still for a long moment, able to feel the monster rumbling inside but unable to do anything about it. His brain ceased to function as he struggled to comprehend his reality. Some primal defense wouldn't allow the truth to fully sink in right away -- it was more than he could handle. He'd been so sure that he'd beaten the monster within, and he'd finally found a peaceful place within himself. But his moment of rest wasn't meant to last. Now, with the ground snatched out from underneath him, he felt like he was free-falling.
In the dark of his mind, only Ultimecia waited in the gloom to catch him. She would ensnare him forever.
Suddenly, he was sure of it. This was his destiny. The unwanted child fulfilling his only function in this world, to preserve the dark witch into the cyclical future in which he would always and eternally be condemned all over again.
No one could change that fate.
Seifer stood up, his uncertain legs hardly supporting him. Choking back the beast like so much rising vomit, he stumbled toward the edge of town and the forest where, he knew, the wolves would be waiting for him.
Quistis couldn't shake the feeling all morning that something important was happening. As she'd showered that morning her scalp had contracted and tingled. And now, sitting in her office and going over a back-log of paperwork, she couldn't stop the nervous tapping of her toe. She felt uneasy and tight, but no matter what she did could not get the tension to unwind. She'd sipped some of her favorite tea, listened to calming music, and even borrowed her secretary's cheesy desktop fountain shaped like a mini terraced mountainside. None of it helped.
Turning in her chair, she peered out the window where a bright, sunny day was cheerfully passing by.
Things hardly felt sunny or cheerful to her.
She remembered, or simply knew as if the message had been delivered directly into her brain, what the wolves had told her the night before. Seifer's curse was at the top of her mind although, while it contributed to her mood, wasn't wholly responsible for her restlessness. Rather, she felt like something had shifted. Like some critical turning point was quickly approaching. The world was preparing for some kind of dramatic, personal cataclysm.
Quistis went back to work, trying to think peaceful thoughts.
By the time lunch came around, she had already rotated through her repertoire of happy places twice -- thoughts of the waves on the beach, the fields around Edea's house, fireworks, freshly baked cake still warm and spongy, a good book, a good kiss, and newborn babies all failed to relieve her anxiety. But where the realm of thought had failed, she figured real action would suffice and resolved to visit Seifer in Balamb over her lunch hour.
On her way through town, Quistis bought two turkey sandwiches at a deli, one for her and one for Seifer. She was feeling good about her act of kindness when she got to the hotel, but her spirits quickly dropped again when she discovered he wasn't there. For a man with as few friends as Seifer, his absence was bizarre and boded ill in Quistis' mind.
For the rest of her lunch hour, Quistis wandered around town searching for any sign of him, slowly devouring her sandwich but stubbornly holding onto his. Perhaps he'd just been unable to stay in his hotel room all day and had gone out for some fresh air. Maybe he was fishing, he'd always spent time fishing with Raijin although he never seemed to enjoy it. She searched the docks, the beach, and all the restaurants before she had to go back to work.
Walking back into Garden, she finally allowed herself to wonder if he'd left. Knowing Seifer, he'd probably hopped on the first boat out of town the night before. Into and back out of her life in the blink of an eye. She wanted to be angry about it but couldn't help feeling relief. The burden of carrying the fate of another person's immortal soul was certainly beyond her will to contend with. She was glad to let it go.
The rest of her workday went by more quickly than the morning had. The rhythm of phones, meetings, emails, and interruptions provided a quick cadence to carry away the hours. It seemed she'd only just returned from Balamb when she looked up and found the sun beginning to set upon the short day. She stood up from her desk, stretched out her back, and thought about dinner.
Strangely, when the elevator stopped on the first floor Quistis found herself walking toward the front gate rather than the cafeteria. She was going against the flood of young cadets returning from missions, classes, and training to eat and go to bed. All of them were bright faced and sweaty, in the prime of their lives and breathing in each sweet moment with gusto. Quistis, meanwhile, felt her early morning sense of foreboding beginning to return. As the walls of Garden closed in around her, she knew she had to get out and into the fresh air.
She burst forth from Garden and stumbled into the already dewy grass. Night was newly fallen and still fresh. Crouching down for a moment, she breathed in the air and brought herself back to her senses.
"Quistis." A whisper from the shadows.
Oh no. She groaned inwardly and looked up, unsurprised to see a pair of gleaming yellow eyes peering at her from a distance.
"Follow you where?" she asked. "Seifer's gone. I went and looked for him at lunch. He's left."
"He's not gone quite yet," the wolf replied. "Follow me."
This is crazy. You're going crazy.
But, Quistis followed the wolf anyway, having no distinct reason to disbelieve. The wolf padded softly across the grass in front of her, it's tail held straight out at attention. Every once and a while, the creature looked back at her as if to be sure she was still following. They reached the border of the woods together, and the wolf turned around, more clear in the moonlight now. It was the same silver female that had appeared to her before.
She lowered her head and spoke delicately: "Stay close. We'll protect you."
The wolf turned back around and headed into the trees. Quistis followed a mere two paces behind, vaguely aware of the other wolf haunting her heels. They were keeping a close eye on her, whether for her safety or just to make sure she didn't turn and run, she wasn't sure. Whatever was happening, they seemed concerned.
They had been walking into the trees for perhaps twenty minutes when the silver wolf stopped and crouched down into the tall grass.
The black wolf approached Quistis from behind and, much to her astonishment, touched her hand with his nose. She pulled away, rubbing at the damp spot with her fingers, and stared down at him. She hadn't expected them to be so real and so solid.
I'm crazier than I thought.
"Don't make a sound," the black wolf instructed her. "Crouch here, between us, and look."
"Look where?" she whispered.
She didn't have to wonder long. As she dutifully hid between the two who crowded her on either side, a snorting sound approached through the dark. Something was moving just ahead of them, sniffing and grumbling. It didn't sound like anything Quistis had heard in the woods before -- definitely not a bite bug and not even a T-Rexaur. The creature continued to move toward them, unaware of their presence as the wind blew into their faces.
When it appeared in the moonlight, lit in shades of silver and black, Quistis had to stifle a gasp.
It was slightly larger than a man, gangly limbed but with large menacing claws. It's thick fur was smooth and short except for a great sheaf of lightly colored hair at the top of it's head where large ears waved back and forth. From the beast's back sprouted wraith-like wings that didn't appear to be large enough to actually carry the monster. They were boney, bat-like, and slowly shuddering. The monster's face was somewhere in between that of a cat and a dog, with a deep scar down the middle running from between its eyes and across its nose.
The monster went down on all fours, it's dark wings in the air, and made a keening sound that chilled the blood in Quistis' veins.
"What is that?" she asked breathlessly.
The silver wolf looked up at her with a strange expression of sympathy.
"Ohhhh..." Quistis recoiled. "Oh my god."
The monster -- Seifer -- made the hollow wailing sound again and his wings made a sharp rattling as they shook.
"He's been taken by the beast," the black wolf explained. "Transformed by the curse. That's his inner demon."
Quistis could hardly breathe as everything came crashing down around her and sudden realization rocked the ground underneath her feet.
"He killed those people in Trabia. And Darshan...and the hotel worker..." She remembered the things she had said to him, taking him around town searching for the monster whose capture would earn him a place back in Garden. "Oh my god. He's the monster."
"He is overcome by the monster," the silver wolf said. "They're not one and the same. It consumes him."
Seifer stood back up, his ears waving suspiciously. His large claws flexed against his palms as he surveyed the area. Quistis crouched further into the safe area between the two wolves' bodies.
"If we don't save him, he'll be this way forever?"
"No. The beast will consume his soul, and when it dies he will become nothing."
Quistis felt overwhelmed. Seifer had lived with this curse since time compression, perhaps even before, and somehow no one ever knew. He'd spent the last few months ranging bitter cold Trabia trying to keep this monster at bay while it fed on every dark thought his situation produced. She couldn't imagine such a bleak, hopeless existence.
"He does have hope," the black wolf whispered to her, mirroring her thoughts. "He has you."
"What can I do?" she asked. "Look at him. He's...he's lost."
The black wolf looked at her with a blank face. "You're his family. He loves you. And that is a redeeming thing."
"You just have to be there for him," the silver wolf added. "That's all he needs. Hope and absolution."
"I can't give him either of those. Seifer's not my family...he's Seifer." She scrambled for words. "He's never loved anyone. And we've never been involved."
"We can't go to him, so you must," the silver wolf replied. "It's simple."
None of it seemed simple to Quistis who now was being physically urged by both of the wolves to step out of her safe hiding spot and confront this monstrously transformed Seifer. Even in his human form, Quistis would have felt wary of approaching him with such a goal. Equipped with claws and gnashing teeth, he was even more forbidding. She couldn't save him, not from something this big.
"Go," the black wolf barked. "You're all he has. This is his one moment, and he needs you."
Quistis was shoved out of the bushes, scraping her knees and palms on the rocky ground. Seifer turned quickly toward her and let loose a deafening roar that wasn't as hearty as a big cat's but high and shrill like the wailing of Estharan women at funerals. She cowered and looked up at him as he approached, smelling death on him.
His green eyes were piercing from the halo of light hair around his face but empty of recognition.
Quistis scrambled to get up. She knew she had to defend herself or he would kill her just like he'd killed so many before. But she was unarmed and still dressed in her tight fitting Garden uniform with high boots and a long restrictive skirt. She felt naked, thrown into this battle with no way to defend herself. And Seifer, consumed by this monstrous curse, would never know her or what he had done.
"Seifer..." she ventured, holding her hands out. "Seifer. It's Quistis."
The beast began to circle around behind her.
Quistis cast a longing glance toward the trees where the wolves were still crouching, watching the proceedings. It's simple, they'd told her. She just had to be there for him, the one who he loved.
"I know that you're in there somewhere," she said. "And I know what's happened to you. But the curse isn't you, Seifer."
The beast growled low, all of it's muscles twitching and salivating out of control. His wings were making the rattling sound again, poised starchily behind him. Try as she might, Quistis couldn't see any semblance of Seifer in the creature. Maybe he was already gone. Maybe she was too late. She remembered her unease that morning and wondered if that had been the moment in which the beast had took control and devoured his soul. Had the world seemed so unbalanced because she was now alone in it? The once upon a time companion of her youth, the only brother she had ever known, and the man she had made it her personal mission to redeem was gone.
"Oh God," she clutched at her chest, looking at the monster and the dark secret he'd been keeping. "Someone should have been there for you. I should have done something sooner. I'm so sorry."
The beast grew more and more agitated as she talked. When the apology slipped from her lips, it lunged at her, knocking her to the ground with it's bulk. She landed with a hard thud, the air pushed out of her lungs. Her eyes closed involuntarily from the pain and so she caught just a short glimpse of the monster raising it's great paw to hook it's claws under her ribs and tear her open.
Her eyes opened when a human hand hit her hard on the side and someone collapsed on top of her. Still unable to breathe, she opened her blurry eyes to see a half transformed Seifer gasping on top of her. Tears ran down his ruddy face which now looked wholly like his own. His cries, however, were still the haunted ones of the monster. He seemed to cough them out in great spasms, each one sounding a little more human than the last.
Finally, she found herself looking at the man she knew; naked, sweaty, and scarred.
"Seifer," she choked out, looking up at him.
He looked down at her, seeming to only half comprehend what he was seeing and what she was saying.
He wasn't gone yet. It wasn't over. She could still save him.
He crawled off of her, coiling up until his knees touched his chest. His hair was damp with sweat, his body was shaking.
She sat up, her heart breaking for him, and held out her hand. He was looking at her proffered hand when she noticed the wolves approaching on either side from the trees. They were gleaming in the moonlight, ethereal and much less solid than they had seemed only moments before when they'd been seated warmly on either side of Quistis' frightened body. Now they appeared much more angelic, and the silver one spoke in a smooth, calming voice.
"Come with us now, Seifer, and leave this thing behind you," she said.
Seifer acted as if he couldn't see them, still staring at Quistis' hand. He blinked slowly, then looked up at her face.
"Have faith," the black wolf said.
Seifer swallowed visibly, and then slowly reached out for Quistis' hand.
She felt his fingers grip hers, firm and solid. For a moment, she held firmly to his warm hand and felt all the love that she possessed for him well up in her heart. For good or ill, he was her brother and without conditions or reason, she loved him.
And then, the two wolves tilted their heads toward the sky and howled, startling Quistis' hand away from Seifer's. Their voices rang over the woods in a great lamentation.
When it was done and the howl had rang off into the distance, Quistis found herself alone. The two massive wolves had vanished, leaving behind only a feeling of intense relief. And Seifer, laying utterly spent in the grass with his eyes open staring toward the sky, was finally at peace.
From the Encyclopedia Mythica: "In ancient Persian (Zoroastrian) religion, the Fravashis (singular: Fravartin) are guardian angels or protecting spirits. They guide the souls of the deceased to heaven. Each family or clan has its own spirit, which guards and looks after only them. The Fravashis assisted Ahura Mazda in the creation of the world and, as riders armed with spears, are the defenders of heaven. In Zoroastrianism, the Fravashi are the ancestral spirits of true believers." Everything else about Fravashis in the fic I've made up.
I locate the wolves in Delos in this fic because Delos is the traditional birth place of Apollo, who I've always associated with Seifer (Apollo is occasionally, for some reason, associated with Hyperion). Incidentally, Delos means "brilliant" and so is an appropriate name nonetheless.
And, once again (just in case it's been forgotten by now), all of the lyrics at the beginning of each chapter from two songs by Enya, "Exile" and "Evening Falls." Find them on her Watermark album. I conceived of this story while listening to these two songs ("Evening Falls" especially) and felt it would be interesting to show the process and structure the whole story on top of them.