Y'know, I'm a tad ill of writing blooming disclaimers every time I post something. It's getting a bit ridiculous, if you ask me. So this time, I'm not going to add one. Not even the slightest hint. Everyone knows the characters belong to Squaresoft. Why must I repeat it? My fellow readers aren't daft. That's it! *hold up picket sign and march in front of ff.net.* No more disclaimers! Sue me and rot!

This collection is dedicated to my sister. Without her, I could never have come up with the idea, or the brilliance that is five-year-old Zell. Thanks a million.

Symphony No. 8

This story is a bit different from my usual style. Four scenes in four movements of four moments in time. There is no romance or action or drama. There is no plot. Just people, going through life. Growing up in a world foreign to any we've known. Based loosely on my favourite symphonic masterpiece, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. I hope you enjoy. Sláinte!

e con brio

Unknown to tourists, the privately owned beach on the Cape of Good Hope did not exist on any map. Therefore the small peninsula was saved from adventurers hoping to meet the ultimate challenge in Centra's great desert, and from wandering soldiers searching for enemy camps. If not for the lighthouse on the very tip, even the most weathered sailor would not be aware of its secluded locale. Even the destruction of the most recent Lunar Cry had spared the small inlet. Hence, the area remained lush, isolated, and utopian in nature.

The only inhabitants of the stone house were young children and their matron, orphaned in the latest skirmish. They were safe there, away from the fire of war and the toils of reality. Protected from those who may wish them harm. Raising them was a lovely woman who chose to spend the prime of her life away from society. She preferred the beach with its caves and flowers to the concrete halls of the urban world. She was willing to give up the comforts of the city in order to devote all her time to the children. Her children. Warriors of the future. Firmly believing in destiny and purpose, she knew this was to be hers.

Life was simple in southeast Centra. Simple, predictable, and honeyed. Warm, sunny days were followed by warm, moonlit nights. It rained a little in winter but the temperatures rarely decreased past mild. It was a place where children could run freely. A kind of idyllic setting they would look back on with fond memories. The only dangers came from the drowning ocean and the unending desert that lay behind the cottage. Their matron ruled with a gentle but firm hand, and they knew to stay away.

"C'mon, Squall." Six-year old Quistis urged her companion as she dragged him down the beach by a gangly arm. "We're gonna play House."

The girl came to an abrupt halt where two other children sat playing with buckets and shovels. The young boy almost tripped over her feet. His large eyes were downcast. Plunking himself in the golden sand, he rubbed at his arm. The routine was familiar and he knew resistance to her would be pointless. It was easier to go along with her direct orders than stand against them.

"This is where we live," she declared, hands on hips. "I'm the mother and Squall is my husband. Selphie," she directed her attention to the girl sitting cross-legged in front of her, attacking the sand with a green plastic shovel. "You can be the baby."

The younger female scrunched up her nose. "I don't wanna. House is boring." Tiny hands gripped the tool and she dug with greater fervour. "Me and Irvy are lookin' for pirate treasure."

"That's right!" On her right, a small boy with reddish brown hair nodded animatedly. He scratched at a scab on his knee with one hand and held up a pail with the other. "Look what we've found already! Captain Gigamelt's gold!"

Blond brows drove together on Quistis' face, creating a tiny grove above her nose. Her mouth formed into a pout. "That's Gilgamesh, Irvine. And he wasn't a pirate, he was a heroic swordsman. He didn't have any gold to bury." As she spoke she enunciated her words carefully, doing her best to sound like her beloved matron. "Besides, there's no such thing as pirates anyway. Everyone knows that." At that she rolled her eyes. Sometimes she felt the gap between their ages was much larger than eleven months.

Wide-eyed, Irvine looked to Selphie for help. "Is that true?"

"I don't know, maybe." The little girl shrugged and dropped her shovel carelessly, obviously losing interest. She squinted up at Quistis, her tangled bangs covering part of her vision. "Can I be a fighter jet instead?"

With a long suffering sigh, the blonde shook her head. She told herself to be patient for Selphie was too young to really understand. "No. There are no wars in House. You have to be the baby."

"Why?"

"Because." Quistis held firm, folding her arms over her chest.

"Well, that's stupid. I don't want to play anymore. Me and Irvy are gonna play war." Selphie jumped up, scattering sand all over Squall who had been doodling in the grains with a finger. The sullen boy barely glanced over.

After tightening the sloppy ponytail on the top of her head, causing russet tuffs to stick out on all sides of her round face, she flung out her arms and held them straight. "Look, Irvy, I'm a fighter jet." Off she went, running over the lumps in the sand, almost tripping over the laces of her untied sneakers. "Piyu! Piyu! Piyu!" She mimicked the sound of bombs dropping on unsuspecting villages. Her best friend leapt to his feet to run after her, making his own battle sounds.

"I'm a pear-cutter!" He wasn't quite sure what that was but he'd heard it in a movie and it sounded dangerous.

"Paratrooper!" Quistis corrected him, watching the chaos with distaste. Upset that her game had been spoiled by the children's immaturity she stamped her foot. "And you're not playing it properly! Irvine, you're s'posed to be the dog, remember?" She yelled, forgetting grammar in her fury.

"Piyu! Piyu! Piyu!" Selphie ran around the beach in circles, laughing and stomping over the small dunes. Catching sight of another boy in the middle of constructing a castle a ways down, she quickly changed directions.

"Enemy sighted up ahead. Lay siege!" Or something like that. It sounded good anyway. Her feet picked up speed and she lowered her head as if she were an actual plane, diving over enemy territory. "Charge!"

The boy looked up from his labour just as she was about to run right over top of his fortress. "Hey! Stop!"

But it was too late. Selphie's tiny feet pounded the castle walls to dust.

"Piyu! Piyu!" She continued to race ahead without turning around.

Irvine followed loyally behind, crushing the last of Zell's hard work into the ground. "Hey Sefie! Wait up! I'm coming!"

Zell turned from the two children to look back at his castle. Which was now nothing but a few piles of wet clay, one splotched with the print of a well-worn shoe.

"Wah! My fort!" He threw his red pail in the direction they ran off. His lower lip wobbled and his eyes filled, threatening tears. "I'm telling on you! Meanies! Matron!" He pounded his fists on the ground in rage. Temper tears streaked his sand dusted face.

However, the all too familiar sound of snickering instantaneously distracted him from his plight. Wiping his eyes he looked over to see another boy grinning and pointing at him.

"Hahahahaha!" Seifer began to laugh wildly, poking fun at Zell's misfortune. He dropped his arm to clutch his stomach that had begun to ache in his bout of mockery. "I didn't even hav'ta do it! Your fort sucked!"

"Shut up Seifer!" Grabbing a handful of sand in his pudgey grasp, Zell snapped back his arm to throw it at the boy who lived to torment him. It landed futilely four inches in front of him. This, of course, only made the other boy laugh harder.

Seifer fell to the ground and rolled on his back, almost heaving with his mirth. "What a wimp. Why don't ya go play dollies with the girls?"

On a wail, Zell scrambled to his feet. "You take that back!"

Before the other boy could react, Zell was on top of him, aiming a tiny fist at his face. Instinctively, he dodged. Seifer was not only older, but a great deal taller. His longer arms had no difficulty shoving him off and away.

Zell had not been expecting the force of Seifer's push and he rolled right into the waves of high tide. They weren't nearly high enough to cover the child's head but the cold shock of it had him squalling. He now sat with his bum in the water, kicking his feet and fists against the shallow water. Tiny splashes rose up with each hit. His freckled face went red with exertion.

There was no way Seifer could resist such a display. His guffaws were louder than ever.

"Seifer Almasy! You are a bully. Stop picking on people weaker than you!" Annoyed at the way her game had turned out, Quistis had been distracted by the six-year-old's cackles. Considering it her duty to look after everyone in Matron's absence, she did not hesitate to interfere. Now she stood above the laughing boy, hands on hips and disapproving frown twisting her young features.

"Yeah!" Zell chimed in. "Stop—Hey! I'm not weaker." He straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin in an effort to look tough. The sniffles belied his attempts, however.

"Face it, Zell, you are." She turned her attention back to Seifer who had continued to snicker, laying on his back. "That's no reason for you to make fun, Seifer."

With one hand, he shaded his eyes to scowl up at her. "Who should I pick on then? You?"

"You can't make fun of me." The girl's eyes narrowed in challenge. "You wouldn't dare."

"Oh yeah?" Incensed, Seifer sat up and slowly got to his feet. Though Quistis was older, he was taller. He stood next to her with his arms crossed in hopes of intimidation. "Why not?"

"Matron." Quistis' tone was smug. "'Member what happened last time you picked on a girl?"

He did. A little too clearly. The bruise on the shell of his ear had only just recently faded. "I ain't scared of Matron."

Raising her eyebrows doubtfully, Quistis gave him the once-over. A smile bloomed on her face and her shoulders started to shake with laughter. His brows lowered, unimpressed, as she broke into a fit of giggles.

"What's so funny?"

She pointed a small finger at him, covering her mouth with her other hand. Her nose twitched with amusement. "Your fly's undone."

His face flamed and his fists clenched as he glanced down. Then his mouth fell open. "It is not!" If he wasn't terrified of the inevitable punishment he would have punched her in the face.

Quistis titled her head. "Nope. But you fell for it!" She spoke sweetly before sticking out her tongue. "That makes you stupid. C'mon Zell, I'll help you build a new castle. Even better than your other one." Turning from Seifer she held out a hand to help the other boy up.

Zell ignored the aid and crawled out of the water himself, only stumbling once. Assured that Seifer would leave him alone, he felt secure enough to come out with his own wobbly smirk. He snickered with all the bravado he could muster.

"Yeah, you're a real dummy, Seifer," he taunted, "I'm gonna tell Matron you pushed me in the water." With that as a parting shot he scurried over to the piles of wet sand where Quistis now stood. While he had the advantage now, he didn't want to risk giving the other boy a chance to tease him again.

Suffering in silence, Seifer watched the two children as they peacefully played in the sand under Quistis' explicit instruction. The rage boiled in the pit of his stomach, bubbling into a large mass that demanded release. Like any bully, there was nothing he hated more than being made a fool of. His eyes scoured the beach for someone to take his aggression out on.

Squall remained in his former position, now idly flipping Selphie's abandoned shovel around in his hands, oblivious to the activities of the others. When Seifer caught sight of him, he immediately stormed over, destroying his isolation. Warily, Squall looked up at his approach. Their eyes met and Seifer growled.

"Hey! Gimme that!" He snatched the spade out of the seated boy's hold. "It's mine. Get your own toys."

Accustomed to Seifer, Squall didn't bother to react. Instead, he picked up the stick laying next to his leg and poked it in the sand.

This frustrated his harasser to no end. Desperate for a response, Seifer seized the stick as well.

"Matron!" Zell hollered from behind him. "Seifer's snatching Squall's stuff!"

"I am not!" Seifer swung around, eyes darting erratically. "Who would want such a baby toy? It's stupid anyway!"

He looked down at the shovel in his hand then over at the cottage. Knowing he had to get rid of the evidence, he threw it the first place that came into his mind. The ocean. Four pairs of eyes watched as the green plastic arced through the air and hit the water several metres into the restless waves. Proud of the distance he'd achieved, Seifer's self-esteem returned. He brushed off his hands and laughed, looking back to take in the other children's expressions. However, the only person still paying him any attention was Zell - who quickly turned away.

"Piyu! Piyu!" Selphie reached the edge of the sand and lowered her tired arms. She watched the reconstruction effort for a while, nibbling at her lip. "Whatcha doin'? Can I help?"

Zell opened his mouth to tell her off but Quistis spoke first. "Of course. We're building an enchanted palace." Sitting back on her heels, she gave the other girl the grand tour. "This is the turret where the princess lives, this is the great hall, and now we're building a moat where there's gonna be a real live dragon."

"Really?" Artlessly, Selphie fell to the ground. "Heeeey! Can we build a dungeon, too? With armour and everything?"

"I guess," Quistis approved, feeling very magnanimous. "You can put that over here and we'll pretend it's under ground."

"What about the skating rink? Where's that?"

Wrinkling her nose, Quistis shook her head and went back to shaping a tower. "There are no skating rinks in enchanted palaces."

Selphie puzzled over that for a moment. "How do you know? If I had one, I'd put a skating rink in it."

"They didn't have them back then." She was beginning to regret ever allowing the younger girl to play.

"Sefie! Lookit!" Irvine charged up to the group, clutching a handful of posies. Managing to stop just before crashing into Quistis' prized turret. He rubbed the back of his neck guiltily at her severe frown.

"I brought you some flowers." Eyes twinkling, he held the blossoms out to the object of his esteem.

"Ooh. Thanks, Irvy. They're pretty." Selphie took them and pushed them against her nose. Giggling, she leapt up and twirled around, scattering the plants all over the area. "It's raining!"

Bored, Seifer walked up behind them, sneering. "Stupid cry-baby, Zell. Playing with the girls. Why don't ya just go put on a dress?"

"Ignore him," Quistis told Zell when she noticed his face had started to crumple. "What does he know, anyway?"

"Hey, Quistis. Did you know there was a giant bug in your hair?"

"I don't believe you, Seifer." Sniffing, she packed more sand. "We don't care what you say."

Ceasing her spinning, Selphie pursed her lips. Her eyes lit up in delight. "There is a bug, Quisty! A real big one! Cool!" Leaning forward to look at it more closely, she was almost knocked over onto the castle when Quistis shot up like a bolt.

"Get it off!" She shrieked out the words, violently shaking her body all over. "That is so gross. Get it off!"

Deciding he could be kind, Seifer picked the insect out of the blond strands of her ponytail. Though, the task was prolonged by her fretful shudders.

"Jeez, it's just a spider. See?" He held out his palm to show her how harmless the creature was but before he could it slipped from his fingers. "Oops."

"What do you mean oops? Where did it go?" Quistis was on the brink of going ballistic.

"On your neck. Right here." He gave the area of her skin a light pinch, grinning all the way.

"Seifer!" It was a scream of primal horror. He knew it was time he got out of the way. The two children went speeding down the beach, Quistis in pursuit and Seifer laughing wickedly.

"Can't catch me!"

"Flood!" Selphie overturned a bucket of water onto Zell's castle, drowning the sand and causing rivulets of water to run from the beach into the ocean.

Squall listened to the ensuing argument with half an ear, staring out at the endless sea.

"Sis," he whispered to the breeze. "Where are you?"