Chapter VIII; "The Unforgettable Fire / Squall's Story"

Chapter VIII; "The Unforgettable Fire / Squall's Story"

Your only rivers run cold
These city lights - they shine as silver and gold
Dug from the night - your eyes as black as coal

Walk on by - walk on through
Walk till you run and don't look back
For here I am

– U2


Yeah, it sure was quiet in Kalm town. A far cry away from the sprawling technological polluted nightmare that was Midgar, that was for sure. It was a charming, idyllic town with a distinctly Dutch appearance.

Zell rested back in the comfortable leather chair and placed his feet up on the ornate wooden coffee table with a criss-cross of brilliant sunlight thrown upon it. Quistis's shadow indicated her presence, sitting right in front of the window with her elbows rested on the sill. She had been there for ages, with a serene smile permanently pasted on her face, looking out the window across the grassy roving green and blue fields, and the blazing summer sun that shone down upon them.

Sitting opposite from Zell, Edea surveyed her cards quizzically. "Let me see if I understand this correctly." she said, brushing a strand of her waist-long jet-black hair out of her eyes. "Because we've entered another region, the Plus rule comes into effect, and the Open rule is negated?"

"Uh-huh, sure!" said Zell, still clutching four of his own, tightly. "There's no point in having a world-famous card game where the rules stay the same in every corner of the globe. You've gotta have style, you've gotta have finesse ....individuality, that's the word."

"But you are the only one who knows all the rules of how to play the game." said Edea, confused.

"Well, we're travelling the world now, aren't we? I'll have plenty of opportunities to introduce it to new places and people, trust me. And besides, that ain't true, Rinoa knows how to play." Zell replied, scratching the bridge of his nose.

"I was faking it." Rinoa called from the kitchen.

Zell blinked a couple of times. "No wonder I always won..." he said to himself. Come to think of it, he had never been beaten at this game once. It was a Herculean effort, inventing a card game all by yourself, then trying to spread it to the world. It didn't seem to help the fact that most people rated it as too confusing.

"Where did you even get the idea for this, anyway?" Edea asked.

Zell grinned. "Would you believe it came to me in a dream? Now, c'mon, shuffle or boogie."

Edea sighed and placed one of her badly chosen cards down on the Triple Triad grid. Zell chuckled quietly to himself and picked out an easily stronger card and flipped Edea's over.

Quistis looked back, smiled, then turned back and continued to look out the window, out across the vast world. After a few seconds, she was lost again, immersing herself only in the beautiful summer's day, not even hearing Edea and Zell's Triple Triad match, or Rinoa clattering around in the kitchen.

It was a rented house. At first, they had thought about a room at an inn, but Squall had pointed out that they were going to need a day or two to prepare for the long journey ahead. They were going to need provisions, supplies, weapon upgrades, and a map of the world. Zell had cursed himself when Squall had mentioned it, letting slip that there had been a Shin-Ra road map in the back of the jeep they had left back in Midgar. Returning to Midgar was out of the question however, which meant that they were limited to whatever supplies the small town of Kalm had. Rinoa may have been the team leader, but Squall knew the shopping list. While they sorted out accommodation, he said he'd handle the supplies.

So, that morning, when he'd gone off looking around the town, they had talked to one of the local landlords about renting a house for a day or two. For a fair price, they had leased a two-storey house on the far western side of the town, which had formerly been an inn in its day. Rinoa had paid for it, one of the benefits of coming from a rich family.

So now they were just taking it easy, waiting on Squall to return with the supplies. Zell was trying to educate Edea and anyone who would listen about the card game he had invented, while Quistis was admiring the lush green landscape. It had been years since she had been able to find a picture worth drawing. She had never actually given up on her art, she had just ran out of subjects. Midgar was that kind of place. It was hard to imagine Midgar breeding any kind of artist. Non-suicidal ones, anyway.

And Rinoa was in the kitchen, adamant that if they were going to be on the road for the next few months, they should at least all have a decent meal before setting out. Zell had of course suggested hot dogs, and then found out that few things in the world were more premptorial and domineering as Rinoa in the kitchen.

What everyone was really interested in, however, was just what Squall was going to tell them tonight. They had managed to force him to tell them his story. Admittedly, Rinoa had done most of the forcing. Squall had finally reluctantly agreed to tell it, but first he was going to look around the town for more supplies, get his head straight about all the facts, then come in and tell them.

Right now he was the Weapons Store, scanning his eyes over the fine displays of swords, guns and other assorted weapons that were on offer. Squall, of course, knew them all. He'd been trained in the use of every weapon there was to be known. When other children were being taught to learn the alphabet off by heart, Squall was learning how to disassemble and reassemble a semi-automatic rifle with speed and precision in record-breaking time.

Squall ran a gloved hand along barrel of a 40. gauge pump-action shotgun with a silver finish to the design. Displayed behind a sealed case was a twin pair of a Desert Eagle .50. They had a mahogany finish to the handle and a gold trim on the barrel and along the casing.

"You certainly got an eye for this stuff." said the storeowner, feeling somewhat proud to have a customer of such calibre in his shop. Pun intended. "Yeah, I got a lot of stuff here that's only worthy for a collector's eye. I travelled the world when I was your age, you see. Was a collector, myself. But now, well, you gotta feed the family, you know?"

Squall nodded and looked at a case of daggers. He passed by them quickly. He didn't much care for daggers. Sure, he'd been trained to use them, but they weren't his style. For one thing, they made you too close to your enemy for comfort. That made you a much easier target.

Out of a sense of security, he squeezed the handle of his gunblade faintly. He looked down at the blade. It was scratched and blunted slightly from coming into contact with the road surface back in Midgar. "I need to remodel." he said to the storeowner.

The owner looked at the gunblade. "Well, that's certainly an ....interesting weapon." he said, looking at the supplies on the wall behind him. "I don't think I've got much in remodelling tools for something like that."

"I'll need four Dragon Fangs, twelve rounds of Pulse Ammo and an Adamantine." said Squall quickly.

"Huh?" said the storeowner. "Hey pal, just what you see."

Squall sighed quietly and settled for a sharpening blade. "Anything else?" the storeowner asked. Squall just shook his head and walked out of the store. He stepped out into the daylight and wondered where to go next. Where he could find a world map was particularly challenging. Food wouldn't be a problem, though. He had found no shortage of Inns when he was out in the world, and even if he couldn't, he could still hunt and cook a wild animal if needs be. Although there was a chance Rinoa and Quistis would balk at the idea. Zell, on the other hand would happily eat the whole thing just to try and impress Squall. That guy really needed a role model...

Squall was jarred from his thinking as a figure in yellow came racing around the corner and slammed into him. Squall staggered back but held onto his balance as the young girl fell to the ground, landing hard and comically on her bottom and her shopping and supplies fell all around her.

Squall glared at her. She was his age, or maybe even a year younger. She wore a yellow sundress and a pair of knee-high leather boots, and an interesting chain around her neck and a blue ribbon around her left wrist. She had well combed light-brown hair that came to an almost vertical curve behind and on either side of her head. She opened her eyes, a sparkling Gaelic emerald green, and grinned up at him sheepishly.

Squall silently stuck a hand out and helped her up. "You ok?" he asked. The girl straightened her dress and started to pick up her supplies. When she spoke it was in an unmistakable Irish/Scots accent. She obviously came from one of the towns up on the frozen Northern Continent. What she was doing this far south and seemingly all alone was anyone's guess.

"Sorry." she said. "I didn't look where I was going. But I'm okay, thanks. I didn't hurt you, did I? I'm real sorry. Darn it, this is all a big mess. I'm sorry, this is all just waaaay too out there for me. I'm just not cut out for all this planning and supplies stuff, you know? You ever have one of those days where you tell yourself you just should have stayed in bed? I have whole weeks like that."

Squall said nothing, but bent to pick up some of her fallen items. He noticed a pair of Shinobou sticking out of a travel bag. He handed it to her. She took it gratefully in one hand and shook his hand with the other. "Thank you, she said. Hey, you're a real nice guy." Squall shrugged and just began to walk away when he stopped and saw the girl fumbling around in her travel bag and then he backpack for something, moaning "Oh no....oh no..."

"Did you lose something?" Squall asked, sounding like he cared.

"Ick, my map, my mind...." the girl groaned. "I thought that life in Midgar would be tough when I left home but I never imagined life on the open road could be this bad without even starting!" As she talked, Squall looked around and saw a large sheet of paper trapped in the gutter. It was a world map. As the girl continued to talk, he bent down, picked it up and handed it to her. "Oh thank you!" she cried.

"Where can I buy one of those?" Squall asked.

"Huh?" she said. "Oh, sorry, man. I got this one from a store back in Midgar. I don't think there's anywhere you can buy one here. I'm sorry."

Squall just waved it away with a sweep of his hand. "Don't worry about it." He stepped away again, then sighed, stopped and turned as he heard her fumbling with her bags and supplies again. Without her even asking, he took the heaviest one from her and held it easily in his hand.

"Thanks." she said, gratefully.

"Do you need a hand with this somewhere?" he asked, not even sure why the hell he was doing this. Maybe his pest of a conscience was back with a vengeance today.

"Huh?" said the girl, unused to this kind of generosity, especially from a badass looking person like Squall. "Oh yeah, I'm sure you'd just love that." she giggled. "Helping to haul my luggage across land, sea and air, all around the world, battling monsters and traversing mountains, valleys and cliffs, encountering danger, your whole life flashing before your eyes. ....I've obviously had way to much coffee."

Squall hid a grin. The girl wasn't annoying or simple at all. She was just innocent. In fact, she kind of reminded him of Rinoa a little. Come to think of it, he'd been thinking about Rinoa a lot for some reason.

"No, it's okay." said the girl. "I've got a room booked at an inn. Thanks anyway." Squall handed her back her bag when she finally managed to balance all her supplies. "Well," she said. "I gotta go make a phone call. But hey, I'm going on a journey around the world. Maybe we'll bump into each other again, huh?"

Squall nodded to her and walked away for the last time. "...Whatever."

She watched him go. Man alive, he was good-looking. That scar between his cold blue eyes was soooooo cool, and the way he dressed made him look like he was a Rock Star or something. Give him a pair of shades and a microphone and let him keep the long hair and he could be the next big thing. Although, he was a bit on the quiet side.

She sighed and kicking the pavement with her heels, she walked off in the opposite direction he had gone. "Man," she said to herself. "Whoever snags that guy must be some classy babe."

* * * *

Rinoa belched and blushed as Zell and Edea stared at her. "Excuse me." she apologised and pressed her fingers to her lips while Quistis grinned. Squall didn't even seem to notice, finishing off the last of a steak.

"That was fantastic!" Zell exclaimed. "My compliments to the chef, Rin."

"You can thank me by getting Squall to finally tell his story." she said, smiling. All eyes turned to Squall. He stood up and looked at them. "So you're not giving up, are you?"

They nodded at him.

"And let me guess, you're not going to go on until I tell you all about it?"

They all nodded again.

"Fine." he said, scowling and walking to the back of the room. "Just don't anyone talk while I'm telling it, or I'll stop altogether." They all nodded yet again. He picked up his chair, turned it around and down, his legs open either side and his arms crossed and rested on the back on the chair. He was never used to talking more than a few sentences, and now they wanted his life story. As long as they kept quiet, he could shut his eyes, pretend they weren't there and imagine he was saying it just for himself.

"My name is Squall Leonhart." he began, closing his eyes and letting as much memories as he could come flooding back. "I'm a former SeeD, a member and a product of SeeD's Generation; NeXus project. It was started by Hojo, Gast and Odine for a purpose I never found out and was never to question. They took children from all over the world and trained them to be soldiers since the earliest possible age. We learned techniques and skills other SeeDs were never to be taught. I was taken by them from a place, I don't remember where but I know Adel and Edea lived there, along with my childhood friends Quistis Trepe and Seifer Almasy, as well as someone very close to me. Her name was Ellone, and she was older than the rest of us. Seifer and I were taken to be SeeDs. Quistis and Ellone were taken for ....different purposes. One day, Adel tried to help us escape. We failed. Seifer, Ellone and I were recaptured, but Quistis and Adel managed to escape. Hojo wiped some of our memories to prevent us from escaping again. I don't know what became of Ellone...

Seifer and I were always rivals in Generation; NeXus. We two always came out on top with the highest marks. It was always either him or me that scored first in all the training and exams. Seifer, however, was the one who graduated first. I came second. Despite that, they called me a failure. I had all the training and skills, but I lacked both the killer instinct and moral flexibility that Seifer and the others had. For this, I was made an outcast among the only people I had ever known.

Despite the failure of myself, Generation; NeXus were secretly deployed around the world on missions. Sometimes with regular SeeDs and sometimes alone.

Then, last year, in the late summer, I was sixteen and Seifer seventeen, we had our first, and last, solo mission together.."


Squall's Story, Part I; "An Cat Dubh"

Say goodnight
She waits for me to put out the light
When I'm still
She waits to break my will

"This weather stinks." said Seifer, and popped a fresh wad of chewing gum into his mouth.

Squall said nothing and continued to load the ammo into his gunblade.

They were in the back of a military truck, on a bumpy ride along an old, almost-forgotten road. The windshield wipers did little to defend against the pounding rain and the driver was doing his best to keep to the road. Boxes and crates were strewn about the cab. Seifer stood near the back of the truck, his gunblade slung over his shoulder. Squall sat on a crate, seemingly oblivious to the world around him.

"We should be getting hazard pay for having to travel in this hunk of junk." said Seifer. "What do you think?"


"Huh. Quieter than a mouse's fart. As usual."

Squall said nothing. There was silence for a few minutes more, until he turned to the driver. "How far is it now?"

"Not far, sir." said the driver.

Seifer looked at them and grinned. "Heh. Sounds a bit like 'Are we there yet?' to me, Squall."


"Gods, you're frustrating." said Seifer, darkly. "At least pay attention, sometime. It's bad enough that I was given an autistic moron like you for company for the next few days, but you better not do anything to mess this up. This is MY mission, and I'm not going to have you foul it up. You were paying attention as to what the mission is, right?"

"...Of course." said Squall, barely paying attention.

"Then refresh my memory." said Seifer. Squall rolled his eyes. "That's an order." said Seifer.

"We're to investigate the area around a town called Nibeheim. The Mako Reactor there has been malfunctioning, and townspeople have reported seeing an increase of monsters in the area." said Squall. "Satisfied?"

"Not really." said Seifer, sitting down. "I can't believe that a warrior of my skill is being sent to investigate some brain-dead hick town where everyone probably plays the banjo and the only people who don't marry their cousin are the ones who already married their sister."

Squall didn't even care about the mission. At this point in his life, all he was was a soldier. If they gave him a target, he shot it. If they told him to kill, he killed. If they said jump, he didn't say how high, he just jumped. It was all he knew in life. All he was was a soldier. It was all he could ever be.

But sometimes, he'd catch himself wondering if ever could have been something else. And then remembered that that was what the others said made him a failure.

Suddenly, the driver yelled out, honked the horn and the truck swerved violently. Squall and Seifer were thrown around in the back as the truck careened out of control, spun off the road, fell on its side and smashed into a dead tree.

Squall got back on his feet first, Seifer followed suit. The crates and boxes were strewn all over the place, and the van was resting on its side. Squall tried the back door, but it was jammed into the frame. Finding his gunblade, Seifer cut an oval man-sized hole in the top of the cab, now a wall, and kicked it away. The cut left a ring of glowing hot metal around the hole. Squall and Seifer stepped out into the pouring rain and walked around to the front to see if the driver could be saved.

As Seifer pulled him out, Squall took a look around. The mountain road was dark but barren. He couldn't see anything large enough that the driver might have swerved to avoid like a monster or a fallen tree. He wiped some of the heavy rain from his face and pulled the soaking streaks of his long hair from his eyes. He walked back to the van to find Seifer standing over the driver's body.

"He said he saw a woman standing in the middle of the road in his headlights." said Seifer.

"A woman?" Squall echoed.

"Yeah. Said she was tall. Weird, grey hair. Said she looked like a witch, and she didn't even move or anything. He said he thinks the truck may have passed right through her. Did you see anything?"

"No, there's nothing out there."

"Okay." said Seifer. "Let's get going, I don't think the town's far." As he stepped away, Squall stopped him by grabbing his shoulder. "We should bury him." he said.

Seifer looked at the driver's body, then back at Squall. "Fine." he said. "You stay here and bury him, and have a good bout of pneumonia while you're at it."

Squall glared at him.

"We'll call Shin-Ra when we get to the town and get them to take care of it, now come on! I'm soaking and this is my best coat!"

Without another word, Seifer set off, spitting out his gum and walking into the storm. Squall followed him, not saying a word. Behind them, a black cat leapt down from the top of the overturned truck, landed on the driver's body and fixed its moonlight-glowing eyes upon them.

* * * *

Squall stood on top of the well, clutching the cellular phone to his ear, but getting nothing but static. "Get anything?" Seifer asked. Squall shook his head, seeing "No Signal" on the readout.

"Not surprised." Seifer growled. "Those damn mountains. You'll never get anything through with them."

The mountains were like torn and ragged skeletons of what a mountain should be. In fact, in some ways, they resembled bones. Like the gigantic gnarled and twisted skeletons of gigantic vile creatures that must have been painful to look at. There was an old expression that if the mountains could talk, imagine the stories they would tell. If the Nibel Mountains could talk, it would probably sound like dark threats and demonic curses. They whole place just had an air of wickedness, as if something at the very heart of the land was sucking and choking up all the life in the mountains.

For the moment, though, all Seifer Almasy was pissed about how he was unable to make that call to the Shin-Ra. It was the day after, and last night's storm had put out the phone lines. So there was no way to call Shin-Ra until the lines were repaired. Squall had tried the cell phone, but the mountains were blocking the signal. So for the time being, they were trapped in the hick town. There wasn't even a car they could take when the mission was over. For the time being, they weren't going anywhere.

Seifer didn't like this town. They had taken a room at the inn, but all the people ever did who lived here was just look at them suspiciously and talk as little as possible. They reminded him of Squall that way.

The cold mountain air was constant, and the whole town itself was too quiet for comfort. The houses in the town had bolted doors, shuttered windows and the people tried to avoid going out as much as possible. It was like one of the those poor shat upon towns in the horror movies with the vampire's castle dominating the landscape above it. Seifer half-expected some elderly superstitious woman to force him to take a religious symbol with him before venturing up to the Mako Reactor.

These people were idiots and the place was as creepy as hell, but he couldn't wait to get the mission over and done with.

"Let's head up to the Mako Reactor." Seifer ordered. "See what all the fuss is about."

Squall nodded and they set off. They passed by what the locals called "Shin-Ra Mansion" as they made their way out of the town. It had probably been fantastic in its youth, but now it was run-down and dilapidated, not used in years. It probably should have been condemned.

"Wouldn't stay there if you paid me." said Seifer as they passed the gates. Squall nodded. "Let's go." he said. "The sooner we sort this out, the sooner we can report back."

Seifer grinned. "My, aren't you in a rush? Well, I don't blame you. I wanna get out of here too. This whole area sucks, and I want to get home soon. Got a girl waiting for me back home."

Seifer didn't see Squall roll his eyes. Here it comes, yet more bragging.

"Yeah, a real looker she is." Seifer went on. "And classy too. Good-looking, smart, and more importantly, rich. Okay, go ahead. Say you're jealous. In fact, I order you to tell me you're jealous. Hang on, I've got a photograph here somewhere."

Squall didn't bother to look at Seifer's stupid photograph. Already the guy's personal life was out of his head. He quickened his pace, stepping ahead, eager to get up into the mountains and finish the mission as soon as possible.

* * * *

"Man, why've they gotta build these things so damn far away from the town?" Seifer moaned. They had been walking for nearly half an hour. They'd encountered several monsters, but even a gigantic Ruby Dragon had been no match for the two greatest soldiers the world had ever known.

"Security." Squall said by way of an answer.

"Security." Seifer spat it like it was a dirty word.

"They have to build them far from the town for safety reasons." Squall explained. Squall and Seifer had been trained to take in and remember every fact they were exposed to. When Hojo had wiped their childhood memories, it was believed that a side effect would be to give them a more enhanced and heightened short-term memory, sort of like freeing up space on a computer's hard disk.

"If there's a Mako leak or the reactor explodes, having the reactor close to the town would be an intolerable disaster." Squall continued.

"My friend the walking encyclopaedia." Seifer mused. Squall reflected on the fact that this was the first time Seifer had ever called him 'friend'. "But what about Midgar?" Seifer asked as they slid down a stony embankment. "They got eight reactors in a ring around the whole city."

"Then you better hope nobody tries to blow one up then." Squall said sarcastically. If there's one thing Fate loves, it's irony. In spades.

"Whatever." said Seifer, stealing a catchphrase.

They came to a rickety old rope bridge. The other side loomed far in the distance, shrouded in a veil of mist. Peering over the edge, Squall could barely make out a rushing stony river, deep below a thin lair of mist. Seifer tested one of the wooden planks with his foot, placing his full weight down on it. It creaked ominously. The mountains on the other side were shadowy, as if taunting them to dare to try to make it over.

"Well, this isn't foreboding." sighed Seifer. "No siree."

"If we try to spread our weight when we cross, we should be safe." said Squall, holstering his gunblade. "Also, we should cross one at a time, to lessen the stress on the bridge."

Seifer nodded and just stood there. Squall glared at him, knowing what it meant. "After you." said Seifer. "Ladies first, after all." Squall scowled and stepped onto the first plank, keeping his legs spread on opposite ends of the old wood. Most of the time, the bridge held perfectly, but a few times the wood had creaked threateningly under him. One time, a plank snapped right under his feet. Squall had plummeted but caught the rope that held the bridge and pulled himself back up. Seifer was about to run for it and rescue him, but Squall was glad that he'd been able to save himself in time. If Seifer had ran across the whole bridge surely would have snapped and they'd both be dead.

Slowly but surely, Squall made it to the other side. Satisfied, Seifer began to cross it, making sure to stick to the same movements Squall had. Seifer was halfway across when suddenly, there was a drawn-out cracking sound that made them both stare at each other in horror. Squall's weight had already put too much stress on the bridge, and now it was finally giving. Seifer was too far across now to run back, so he started racing for the other side. Planks snapped behind him as the ropes unwound themselves. The rope in the centre of the bridge was unwinding and snapping at an alarming rate.

"He's not gonna make it." Squall hissed to himself. Rushing as fast as he could, Squall cut a long length of excess rope from one of the bridge's tethers and tied it to his belts quickly as possible with as strong a knot as he could make, then ran across the bridge towards Seifer.

Seifer wondered what the hell Squall was doing running towards him but still kept sprinting. Finally when they were just several yards from each other, the bridge finally snapped in the middle and fell away from their feet. They both leaped towards each other in that instant and caught each other in mid-air. As the bridge fell away, the rope holding Squall held and they swung down in an arc before hitting the mountain wall hard.

Seifer looked up at Squall as Squall looked right back down at him. It was hard work being rivals when you both secretly respected each other's abilities, were jealous of some things the other had, and were indebted to each other several times over. Seifer had saved Squall's life numerous times before, and vice versa. It didn't mean they had to be happy about it, though.

Using the length of rope, they began to climb back up.

Seifer looked across the bridgeless chasm. "Getting back to the town is going to prove interesting." Seifer sighed in frustration.

"I think there's another path to the town." Squall said. "There's got to be."

"What makes you so damn sure?" Seifer wondered, still looking at the chasm.

"It takes a lot of heavy machinery, equipment and manpower to build a Mako Reactor." said Squall. "You think that bridge held all the weight of Shin-Ra's construction equipment and personnel? Unless they built it in Midgar and just dropped it here from a helicopter, then there must be another path to the town." he finished with a dose of sarcasm.

You had to hand it to Squall, he was smart. The kind of guy who could learn to see what's not there. He'd learned that a clue to something wasn't something that was staring at you right in the face. In some cases, the absence of something was as vital a clue as possible. Squall was a master of lateral thinking, something Seifer's cocky and headstrong personality lacked.

"Alright." said Seifer, not wanting to sound impressed. "Let's do what we came here for. The reactor can't be far. It'll be dark soon, so let's make it quick, I don't wanna get lost in these mountains at night."

They hurried on, this time at a leisurely jog. On the other side of the canyon, a black cat squatted atop where half the bridge was now vertical. It watched Seifer and Squall go, looking at them intently, as if judging them.

* * * *

The reactor looked little like the ones they had seen in Midgar. It was pretty much the same basically, but on a much smaller scale. They were walking around the outside of it, just looking around for anything out of the ordinary.

"Hey, Squall, we're supposed to investigate this thing because it's malfunctioning, producing monsters and all that, right?" Seifer said, giving lateral thinking a shot.

"Yeah." said Squall. "What's your point?"

"Well, I don't see any monsters round here, do you?"

Squall looked around. Seifer was right. Not a single monster, nor any sign of life around. Not a tree, nor even a single blade of grass was on this side of the Nibel mountains. Come to think of it, they hadn't fought a single monster on this side of the canyon. There weren't even any birds flying over it. It was like the animals and monsters were deliberately avoiding this place. And there was absolutely no life to be seen around. The land was completely dead.

Squall and Seifer looked at each other, noticing how the entire place had suddenly gone quiet, save for the quiet humming of the reactor and the hissing of the cold wind. "It's cold here too." said Seifer. He was right, the temperature was considerably cooler here than the rest of the areas they had crossed.

"It's too dark to head back to the village now." Squall said. "It'll be warmer inside the reactor. We can do our job and get some rest in there."

Seifer nodded and began to walk up the steps to the reactor's doorway. As he watched him go, Squall knelt down on one knee and removed one of his gloves, pressing his bare hand to the ground. He raised an eyebrow quizzically, then stood up and replaced the glove.

If it's so cold then why is the ground still warm to touch?

Squall found Seifer looking at the reactor's entrance. "What is it?" he asked.

"Squall, how often do people come here?" Seifer asked. There was something different about his voice. Before he'd been cynical, condescending, but still a bit jolly. But now he sounded annoyed. Another person would have been freaked out by all the strange things happening, but Seifer was just annoyed. But that was the way he was. As long as Squall had known him, Seifer had never been afraid of anything. Say what you will about Seifer, but you could never say that the guy feared anything.

"Just about never." said Squall. "Only authorised people are allowed in, and nobody in the village works for Shin-Ra. A maintenance team comes by once every two years, because the technology in the reactor is self-sustaining. It runs off a percentage of the power it generates, and this stuff breaks down next to never. But it looks like nobody's been here in years. Why, something the matter?"

Seifer pointed with his gunblade. "Nobody been here in years." echoed Seifer. Squall's gaze followed Hyperion's point. "So why a new lock?"

Squall looked around behind them. He had that feeling you get when you're sure you're being watched. Seifer swiped his gunblade angrily. "Dammit, somebody's just trying to mess with our heads." he growled. "It's those redneck locals! Think they can have a bunch of fun messing around with SeeDs and having a good laugh back at the inn, huh? Soon as I find out who's idea it was, I'll cut 'em a new–"

"There's nothing we can do about that right now." Squall cut him off. "Let's just do the mission, then when we get back to the town we can sort this out."

Seifer looked at him. "You wanna raise a little ruckus too, huh?"

"I don't like being played for a fool any more than you do, Seifer."

Seifer shrugged and broke the lock off the reactor's doorway with his gunblade. They stepped inside, out of the cold and into the warming radiance from the Mako furnace of the reactor.

Around them, gears turned, levers turned automatically, steam pipes hisses and machinery hummed. The whole thing seemed to be working completely fine.

"This is nuts." said Seifer. "The whole place is working fine! Who even reported that this bloody thing was malfunctioning?!?"

Squall shrugged. "Maintenance at Shin-Ra HQ received a call from this town. Someone called Lenore Mephist reported it."

Frustrated, Seifer kicked an old spanner someone had left lying around, then sat down against a wall with his gunblade slung over his shoulder. Squall did the same, holding his gunblade steadily and toying with it mindlessly.

Outside, the wind howled.

"At least it's not a total loss." Seifer sighed. "We had one or two decent battles on the way over here. What do you think?"

"...I don't know." Squall didn't raise his head. "I try not to think about it."

Seifer continued. "I love battles. I fear nothing. The way I look at it, as long as you make it out of battle alive, you're one step closer to fulfilling your dream."

Squall blinked and looked up. "What!? Your dream?"

Seifer looked at him, interested. "You have one too, don't you?"

"...Sorry, but I'm gonna pass on that subject." Squall replied, lowering his head again.

Seifer chuckled. "One of these days, I'm gonna tell ya 'bout my romantic dream!"

Silence for a few minutes more. Eventually, Seifer looked over at a doorway to another part of the reactor. "Wonder what's in there?" he said, curious. Squall looked towards the black doorway. "...Whatever."

"Come on, let's go take a look. Anything's better than sitting here on our backsides." said Seifer, starting for the doorway. Eventually, Squall got up and followed him through.

* * * *

The humming machinery was much louder in here. It didn't look like this part of the reactor had been part of the original design. There were exposed sections of cave wall behind the rows and rows strange machinery that led upwards on a slope. A stairway in the middle bisected them.

"These machines don't look a damn thing like they're for generating energy." said Seifer.

Squall examined one, looking at the dials and readouts and trying to figure out which part of the machinery did what. "You're right." he said. "These aren't for generating electricity from Mako at all. It looks more like they're redirecting the energy flow towards..."

Squall and Seifer looked up the stairs towards a large strange-looking red doorway at the top. It didn't look anything like the rest of the reactor. It looked old and ancient. Above it the words were carved into the rock;

"Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec"

"What does it mean?" Squall wondered.

"Hell if I know." said Seifer. "I speak four languages, not one of which is complete gibberish."

"Whatever's behind that door." Squall began. "Is where all this energy is flowing towards."

Seifer bounded up the steps two at a time, his trenchcoat flapping behind him. "So what are we waiting for? Let's check it out."

Reluctantly, Squall followed him up. Seifer struggled with the door, only to find it sealed. He kicked it in frustration. "Blow it open, Squall!" he ordered. Squall raised his gunblade, unsure. Making up his mind, he spun it around in his hand and rammed it into the doorway. It didn't go in very far, though. Squall squeezed the trigger and a rush of energy shot into the blade. Instead of being blown to cinders, the door held. It was as if it had absorbed the energy from the blade, along with the energy the machines were supplying.

"Damn." Seifer hissed. "Alright then, let's cut it."

Squall nodded and the two jammed their gunblades into the door on opposites sides. Then, working simultaneously they began to cut the door right out of the frame with each man cutting his half of the door. They started in the bottom and finally, after what seemed like years cutting, met at the top. The door was still standing, but there was a ring of molten-hot metal in it. Together, Squall and Seifer raised their combat-booted feet and kicked it out of its frame.

"Finally." said Seifer, and stepped inside.

Squall followed. Something was wrong. He could feel it in the air. Indeed, the air was thin in this chamber. It was thin and vapid, undisturbed for years. Neon blue lights pulsed over cold metallic machinery. Who on earth had created this place?

Then, Squall looked at what Seifer was standing in front of.

It looked like a tomb. Or rather, a strange ancient alien version of a tomb. Covering it was a strange armour that looked like an angel, only the angel had been given demon's wings. It looked at them with its hollow soulless unseeing eyes. The machines all ran to this armoured tomb, and whatever it was protecting.

"What the hell is it?" Squall gasped. Seifer shook his head, lost for words.

"What's it hiding?" he said finally, examining the tomb. "What's it's secret?"

"Seifer..." Squall began, then stood back in surprise as Seifer began to slash at the figure of the angel with his gunblade. The metal was so ancient it had practically become stone, but crumbled to dust easily under Seifer's assault. He pulled the debris off it to reveal a glass tube. Inside, bathed in an eerie dark glow, was a woman. Squall and Seifer stared at her in wonder.

She was tall, even lying down. Her arms were crossed across her chest and perfectly feminine figure. Given the age of this place, she had to have been in that sealed tomb for centuries, but she only looked like she was in her mid-thirties. Long trails of unnaturally silver hair cascaded from her head. Facially, she was beautiful. Streaks of purple colour curled artistically from her temples past her sleeping yes. Her skin was pale and her lips as blood red as the figure-hugging robes that wrapped her body tightly. On her back, however, contradicting her angelic appearance were a pair of demonic black crow-wings.

"Is she dead?" Seifer wondered aloud. Squall leaned in close and looked at her face. There was a slight flickering under her eyes. "She ain't dead." said Squall. She was in REM sleep. She was looking at things in her dreams.

"We gotta wake her." stated Seifer.

"What?! No!"

"Why the hell not?" Seifer said, not taking his eyes off the woman. "Do you know what she is? She's a Sorceress! An honest-to-gods Sorceress, Squall!"

"I......don't believe in Sorceresses." Squall said. Before this it would have been about as embarrassing as saying he didn't believe in the bogeyman, but it is hard to say you don't believe in something when it's staring you right in the face. There was something about the woman in the tube.

Okay, he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself, he was scared. The woman terrified him, and Squall was not used to fear like this. He was doing a great job of keeping it hidden, but his heart was thumping in his chest. The woman should be dead but she was alive somehow. She looked the woman the driver had described before he died. All of the weird stuff that had been happening was caused by her. Somehow, despite her imprisonment, she had used her power to lure them him here.

She wanted them here, and it was so.

"We should report this to Shin-Ra at once." Squall said, falling back on what he did know, what he was comfortable and familiar with. Rules. Regulations. Procedure.

"Get a clue, Squall." Seifer snorted. "Of course they already know about her! Who do you think provided all this fancy equipment for her? What do you think's been sucking up all the life in these mountains? Shin-Ra aren't using the reactor to power Nibelheim, they're using it to feed her with energy."

"But still..." Squall trailed off. "We've got guidelines to follow. Standard Operating Procedure. We're supposed to investigate to find anything out of the ordinary and report it back to Shin-Ra."

"Hell with that." Seifer dismissed. "I'm waking her up."

"No you are not!"

"You giving me orders now, Squall?"

Squall said nothing but continued staring at him. Seifer looked at the tomb for a release mechanism. "I'm freeing her."

"You've been asked by your old comrade-in-arms." Squall said.

"There's gotta be a catch or a release or something..."

"You've been reminded of guidelines and SOP and ordered by your mission partner." Squall continued.

"Maybe if I break the casing it'll wake her automatically. I don't see a switch." Seifer said, ignoring him.

"Now you're being given your last chance by a man with a gunblade, step away from the tomb!!" Squall ordered, drawing his gunblade up to Seifer's throat. Finally, Seifer paid attention. He stepped back, a superior smile on his face as he looked at the end of the gunblade and the hilariously sincere look in Squall's eyes.

"You gonna kill me to stop me, Squall?" he asked, raising his hands in a comic gesture.

"You gonna force me to?" Squall asked. Their eyes met. Seifer could be as jovial and cavalier as he liked, but Squall was deathly serious.

"Alright, alright." Seifer said finally, waving his arms around in frustration. "Have it your way, cry-baby. We'll go back to the town and call Shin-Ra, happy?!?"

Squall lowered the gunblade. "Very much so." he hissed darkly.

Seifer cursed and began to walk out of the reactor. Squall followed, walking behind him just in case Seifer tried anything. They left the reactor behind and looked for the second path back to the town.

Back in the tomb, the Sorceress's eyes continued to twitch about under her eyelids.

Her lips turned at the corner to form a cruel yet contented smile.


"We managed to find our way back to Nibelheim through a second path." explained Squall. Nobody in the room said anything. Edea and Quistis were listening intently, hungry for more. Rinoa was sitting the same way Squall was, her head rested on her arms and listening to every detail as it came. Zell was staring with his eyes wide and his mouth agape.

Squall continued, glad that nobody wanted to ask questions. "Seifer didn't say anything all the way back to the village. I didn't even try to talk to him. When we got back to the town, we were informed that the telephone lines had been fixed while we were away. I put in a call to Shin-Ra and explained the whole situation and what we had found. They told me to sit tight, and not to go anywhere near the reactor until back-up arrived. They were scrambling three entire SeeD units aided by some of Shin-Ra's best scientists and technicians. They had already taken off from Junon Air Base and would arrive at Nibelheim within a few hours. Until then, we were to make sure nobody entered or left the town.'

'I went to tell the news to Seifer, who as it turns out wasn't in the Inn at all, where he said he would be. I found him in the basement of the Shin-Ra mansion..."

Squall's Story, Part 2; "I Will Follow"

I was on the outside when you said
You said you needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see

A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by his hand
If he stops to think he starts to cry
Oh why?

If you walkaway, walkaway
I walkaway, walkaway...

...I will follow

It was a hidden room. Squall had only found it by sheer luck, when he saw a secret door in the fireplace, wide open. He followed the secret passage down a long spiral staircase, and through a dark cave. He reached a secret library and found Seifer sitting at a desk reading a leather-bound volume.

He looked up at Squall as he entered, grinned mischievously for a second and returned to his engrossing reading. Give him a fez hat, a pipe and a smoking jacket and he could have looked a veritable Noel Coward in that library.

"Seifer, what are you..."

"Listen here." said Seifer, interrupting him and pointing to a passage in front of his eyes. "X Year, X Month, X Day. Subject confirmed to be a Sorceress... X Year, X Month, X Day. Project; 'Promised Land' approved. The use of Nibel Mako Reactor approved for use..."

Squall didn't know what to make of it. Seifer, however, looked like he had struck gold. "The dates are crossed out, so we can't tell when all this was, but some of these books are pretty old. I'd say they go back to before when we were kids. Some of these books have been censored to the extreme, but this place is still a treasure chest for info about the Sorceress. They've been researching her here for years, Squall."

"I made the call." Squall announced, deliberately avoiding a conversation. "Our back-up will be arriving in a few hours. Until they arrive, we're to secure this town. No-one goes in or out."

Seifer looked at him, containing his rage. "Those bastards. They want her for themselves..."


"It's no wonder she summoned the two greatest soldiers in the world here." said Seifer, his joyful laugher mixing with his bitterness to create an odd emotion. "She wants us to protect her, to save her from Shin-Ra. Whaddya say, Squall? Want to join me and be the Sorceress' Knight?"

Squall took a step back. "You don't know that's what she wants." he said, noticing he was being sucked into talking about the very thing he was trying to avoid. "She's in stasis. She's comatose. She's not aware of anything. She can't even hear your voice."

Seifer shook his head, disappointed. His eyes fell on a passage from yet another book wide open in front of him. He picked it up and read it for Squall to hear. "Check this out." he began. "This planet originally belonged to the Cetra. They looked a lot like us. In fact, they were exactly like us, only they all had incredible magical powers and abilities."


"Then, one day, long, long, ago, a disaster struck our power. According to the legend, a creature named Jenova fell from the skies. It was a monstrous alien bent on wiping out all life. The Cetra began a massive war to fight it, but couldn't defeat it. So, instead of concentrating all their power into the planet to fight Jenova, they distilled their entire magic power into one person. Hyne, who because of this power became a supreme being, akin to a god. Hyne and Jenova fought, and Hyne destroyed her. After the battle, the Cetra found they had become us. They were human. They elected Hyne to serve as their leader, who did for many years. Then, one day, she decided to divide up her power and gave it to an order of women who worshipped her. Hyne vanished, and these women, the 'Descendant's of Hyne', became the first Sorceresses."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Squall dismissed. "Seifer, we're to–"

"After many hundreds of years, one Sorceress emerged who was different to the other. Other Sorceresses avoided Dark Magic to keep themselves pure, but she embraced it, and became much stronger than other Sorceresses. She was the ultimate Sorceress, and gave herself the name 'Ultimecia'. The other Sorceresses were far weaker, and Ultimecia began her quest to rule the world by reuniting the power of Hyne into one Sorceress. Herself. She waged war on the other Sorceresses, who united and fought back. They found her too strong, and unable to destroy her, they sealed her away in a geological stratum forever."

Seifer let the book drop to the desk with a heavy dusty thud. "Don't you get it, Squall? Ultimecia is the Sorceress in the tomb. She wants to be set free. She needs a Knight."

"...We need sleep. Let's go back to the Inn." Squall ordered, and was both surprised and relieved to find Seifer co-operating.

* * * *

They took it in turns to guard the town. One of them stayed outside while the other slept. Squall was starting to worry a little about Seifer. He hoped that back-up would arrive soon.

He leaned against the well and tried to think things over. He glanced up at the top window of the Inn where Seifer was sleeping. For the first time, Squall found himself wishing he was back in Midgar. This town was officially giving him the creeps.

He slumped against the well, resting his gunblade against his shoulder and hung his head. Okay, so there was all this stuff about Sorceresses, but that didn't matter, right? Shin-Ra and SeeD would show up soon enough and contain the scene, and Seifer and Squall would be sent home to await another mission.

A least, that's what Squall hoped.

Before he noticed it, he was falling asleep...

* * * * * * *


* * * * *

He was in a desert.

It looked like the plains went on forever.

Squall looked around himself and realized that he would be walking for a long time. He sighed and began walking.

Time passed and it felt like he'd been walking forever. After a lot of aimless walking, Squall's pace became slower and his steps became shorter. There was no way out of this desert. Yellow sand stretched four sides out, going on forever, and a blue sky hung overhead, completely unbroken.

He continued his aimless wandering through the shimmering heat haze, until he dropped to his knees, realizing how tired and thirsty he was. He looked ahead, across the shimmering sand, and saw a woman come walking out of the heat haze towards him.

It was the Sorceress.

Squall tried to run, but couldn't rise to his feet. He drew his gunblade, but it crumbled to sand between his fingers. The Sorceress smiled and helped him to his feet without a word. She grinned and kissed him with her blood-red lips. Squall felt his mouth fill with the taste of death. Disgust filled him, the bile rising from his insides to the tip of his throat adding to the wave of nausea's sudden onslaught. She tasted of rotten fruit, and of dead animals and insects rotting in a desert sun.

Somehow, he was able to pull away. He staggered back, suppressing the urge to vomit. She looked at him and laughed, and he felt the warm thick liquid on his lips. He touched it with a black-gloved hand and looked at it.

It was blood.

He spat it out onto the desert floor. She had filled his mouth with blood and the taste of taste. He looked over at her, still no words passing between the two. She grinned like a Cheshire cat, sucked some blood off of one of her fingers and smiled. He could see the red stain of blood in her mouth. Squall had no idea what to do. He couldn't run and he couldn't attack. He was trapped in this desert with a devil in Sorceress's clothing.

Suddenly, she made a movement with her arms, and the desert around them sped past in a blur. When the world stopped rushing past, Squall found himself standing at the very edge of a cliff, next to the Sorceress. She spread her arms wide, and he looked out across the view.

Cities and kingdoms from thousands of worlds were spread out below them. Squall recognized a few, like Midgar, but most he did not. He crouched down and looked at them closely. He could see Midgar, for sure, but other places he had never seen before but somehow knew the names of. Timber, Galbadia, Esthar...

He could see other cities, some bizarre and alien, some familiar but out-of-time, and others just plain strange. One city he could see was enormous. It was a cluster of about five or so islands, all packed to bursting point with tall buildings and skyscrapers. A city populated by millions. He looked to his left. There was a city dominated by a beautiful and extravagant castle, over a quaint city that looked like something out of a fairytale. A large reflective obelisk dominated the castle itself, and the people in the city seemed to be living happily enough. Some were human, others were not. Far off in the distance, he could see a collection of islands, though not much in the way of cities or kingdoms. It looked like the whole place was flooded.

Why was the Sorceress showing him all this?!?

He looked at her, and she smiled like a devil. "I'll give you all this." she offered, speaking for the first time. It was with a strange accent, like someone trying to get accustomed to a local lingo they'd only learned to speak by hearing others say it.

Squall looked at the hundreds of cities and kingdoms, and back at the Sorceress again. "Why?" he asked. Nothing comes without a price, he knew that.

"I will give you all these kingdoms and worlds to kontrol as you see fit." she offered again. "And all I ask is that you fall to your knees, and worship and serve me as my knight."

Squall immediately thought of backing away, then realized that being on the edge of a cliff, it was the last thing he should do.

"I will only offer once." said the Sorceress. "Make no mistakes, I will have one of you serve me."

Squall looked at her offer again. All this to rule and all he had to do was be her knight? But she had made a mistake in asking Squall to rule. He was not a born leader. He was a soldier. He only believed in two things; his orders and his missions. Personal goals and quests were irrelevant. Dreams were irrelevant.

"One of you will serve me." urged the Sorceress. "To resist me is futility!"

Squall raised his head and glared at her. No way. She was a demon. He was a soldier. He couldn't be bought. "Whatever." Squall said to the Sorceress. "It won't be me."

The Sorceress snarled and lunged at him. Before she could attack him, Squall felt himself spirited away from the cliff. The kingdoms and cities of temptations melted away beneath his feet, and the Sorceress scowled at him and vanished.

He turned around, trying to see where he was going. He saw waves rolling onto a smooth, yellow beach. Then, he began to fly, crossing the ocean.

"I'll be here..."

A voice? It sounded familiar to Squall, and at the same time, he couldn't place it.


The sea beneath him became a rocky, dry sun-cracked desert.

"I'll be 'waiting'"

For a brief instance, he saw a figure in blue standing in a flower field. She was distant and far away, and he couldn't see her face. As quickly as the figure and the flower field appeared the image returned to a desert.

"For what?"

He had no idea where he was being taken in this dream, nor what was happening to him. Again, he saw the flower field, only this time the vision stayed, and by heavens it was a beautiful sight.

"I'll be waiting...for"

Someone else was here, Squall could feel their presence.

"If you come here..."

Yes, someone else was here alright. But did that mean that he could just feel a person standing the flower field with him, or that someone else was sharing this dream?

"You'll find me."

The wind picked up and caught the hundreds of flower petals, whirling them around in the air.

"I promise."

Then, Squall felt himself falling away from the dream. Reality was a distant light on the horizon, sucking him in like a black hole.

Back in the flower field, a hand reached out to pluck a flower petal from the wind. The hand grasped the petal for a second, before opening and revealing a glowing. The hand released it, and the bearer watched it float away out and freely into the darkening sky...

* * * * *

~Dreamworld End~

* * * * *

Lightning split the sky overhead, and Squall awoke with a jolt. He hurriedly got to his feet, the strange dream still fresh in his mind. Thunder bellowed so loud it shook the ground beneath his feet. Squall turned and looked at the sky. There was something about the way the storm was rolling in. It wasn't right. It was unnatural.

The sudden horrible reminder of what the Sorceress had said to him immediately snapped into his mind, coupled with what Seifer had tried to convince him.

"Ultimecia is the Sorceress in the tomb. She wants to be set free. She needs a Knight."

"Make no mistakes, I will have one of you serve me."

He decided it best to wake Seifer and tell him about the dream. He'd probably laugh at him and tell him to lay off eating his own cooking before sleep, but it would have calmed Squall no end just to simply tell him, no matter the result.

As he hurried towards the Inn, the stormclouds continued to gather.

"Seifer!" he called as he entered the Inn, ignored the strangely terrified Innkeeper and bounded up the stairs two at a time. "Seifer!" he shouted again over the rumble of thunder. He pushed open the door to their room and tried the light switch, only to find it wasn't working.

"Seifer." he said, and walked through the darkness to Seifer's bed. He stopped, squinting in the darkness. A brief, brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the room in an instant, throwing evil shadows around. For Squall, however, it just illuminated the last thing Squall wanted to see.

Seifer's bed was empty.

Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec

Squall rushed over to the window and saw Seifer walking casually across the town square, past the well. "Seifer!" Squall yelled but got no result. He rushed down the stairs and out of the Inn to catch up with Seifer. The wind was really starting to pick up now. It rushed and whipped around Squall as he ran up to Seifer. He called his name one more time. Seifer stopped and turned around. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Seifer, what are you doing?" Squall asked, raising his voice above the wind.

Seifer looked around, seeing the cowering peasants hiding in their little homes, terrified of what was to come. It seemed like there was something big about to happen, and Squall was the only one who hadn't been told.

"I had a dream, Squall." Seifer called out. "A little dream, sure, but it will lead me to fulfilling my biggest dream of all."

Squall felt the hairs rise on the beck of neck, and felt the gunblade handle for a sense of comfort.

Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec

"I'm handing in my notice, Squall." Seifer chuckled. "I've had it with SeeD, it's for beginners. I've graduated. Got myself a career now."

Squall drew his gunblade from his belts, holding it one hand, making sure to keep slow, steady movements so as not to startle Seifer.

"I'm the Sorceress' Knight."

Lightning cracked the sky wide open as a thunderclap exploded directly overhead. An icy wind blew between Seifer and Squall as they stared at each other. At one point the breeze became so powerful, Squall had to re-adjust his balance.

Seifer cocked his head to one side, as if seeing something both curious and entertaining. "There's a storm coming." he announced, then pointed up the hill behind Squall. "Her storm!"

Lightning flashed as Squall turned and looked up the hill. In the instant the lightning illuminated, Squall could see the Sorceress standing there, her eyes glowing like lamps. Almost as quickly as she appeared, she vanished. Squall turned back and looked at Seifer, who grinned.

Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec

"Let's get this show on the road!" Seifer yelled, and to Squall's surpise, levitated in mid-air in front of the well. He concentrated and let loose a burst of Firaga at the well, which exploded in a gigantic mushroom of flame. Squall was thrown back against the Inn wall and slumped down. Seifer yelled out in delight at his newly endowed power and proceeded to unleash dozens of fire blasts at the houses before landing back on his feet. He looked at Squall, who stared at him incredulous. Seifer flew a number of fire spells at him. Squall cried out as he flung himself out of the way before hitting the ground hard.

The world was on it's side. Squall watched, trying to shake off concussion, as Seifer drew his gunblade and slashed wildly at the foolish locals who tried to overpower him.

As the town began to burn, Seifer lowered his gunblade and stared at the destruction. "Now I've got an appointment to make." he said to nobody in particular. "You know the old saying. If you love something, set it free."

With that, he began to walk up the hill, heading for the reactor.

Struggling, Squall got to his feet, using his gunblade like an old man's cane.

He'd taken the Sorceress's offer, Squall knew it instantly. And she had provided him with power beyond his dreams. Squall grasped his side, sure one or two of his ribs were cracked. He surveyed the carnage around him, standing in the middle of Nibelheim as it burned.

Seifer had left him to die, and that made Squall mad. Only hours before he'd called Squall 'friend', and now the lure of power made him want to incinerate a town, unleash the most powerful Sorceress in history and leave his comrade-in-arms for dead, turning his back on everything.

And Squall was the only one who could stop him.

Fighting the pain and allowing his anger to fuel him, Squall took off, running out of the burning town in hot pursuit of Seifer.

Excitate vos e somno, liberi mei (Arise from your sleep, my children)
Cunae non sunt (Your cradles shall no longer exist)

Squall came to the fallen rope bridge. Somehow, Seifer had managed to cross the chasm safely to the other side. It was no wonder, really. The Sorceress was supplying him with power. Squall couldn't afford to waste a second. If Seifer made it to the reactor, he'd awaken her and there would be no telling what kind of havoc they'd wreak on the world.

Squall took a running start, throwing all his energy into his legs. He was an accomplished gymnast, he just hoped some of those skills would finally pay off. He reached the cliff edge and jumped, soaring across the chasm. As he fell the cliffs on the other side came rushing towards him. Squall flipped, straightening his body out and collided with the cliff wall, clinging to the precious section of rope from the fallen bridge that had already saved him and Seifer before.

Ignoring the pain, Squall climbed up the rope, arm over arm before hauling himself over the side of the cliff. Getting to his feet, he broke into a run, heading down the beaten path towards the reactor.

Excitate vos e somno, Liberi Fatali (Arise from your sleep, Children of Fate)
Somnus non eat. (Abandon your cradles)

"Seifer!" he yelled, bursting into the Sorceress chamber with his gunblade drawn. Seifer was ignoring him, down on one knee in front of the entombed Sorceress. "My lady..." he began. "This world is yours by right. I shall stand by your side and defend you as you take it back."

"Seifer!" Squall bellowed. "I've had enough of this madness! Step outside! Let's finish this now!"

Seifer chuckled hollowly. "Yes, my lady, he was always a reject." Seifer stood up, turned round and looked at Squall. "With her superior power, knowledge, and magic, Lady Ultimecia was destined to become the ruler of this Planet."

Squall tightened his grip on his gunblade, ready to swing. Suddenly, his hand began to tremble involuntarily. Against his will, his fingers were prised from the gunblade's handle. The gunblade floated out of his grip and shot up through the ceiling, already lost among the clouds.

Squall looked at Seifer, who grinned and turned back to Ultimecia's tomb. "But they........Shin-Ra.... those worthless bastards, want to steal the planet from her. Well, that's not gonna happen...... because she's free at last!"

Drawing his bloodstained gunblade, Seifer began to slash away at Ultimecia's tomb. Sparks flew, wires cut and gases spewed out. The entire cavern was filled with mist. Squall coughed blindly, trying to fight his way through the luminous blue gas. A gloved hand reached out and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off his feet.

"So you wanna take this outside, huh?" Seifer said with a malevolent sneer. "Fine then, let's duel, Squall"

Squall was lifted and thrown out of the chamber. He was pulled out of the reactor by unseen hands and hurled onto the ground outside, dumped unceremoniously like a drunk kicked out by a bouncer.

"Our lady will be joining us shortly." Seifer announced, appearing in the doorway. "But first, I'd like to take you up on your offer. Let's finish this."

Squall got to his feet with a struggle. He was injured pretty badly. He reached under his white shirt and felt a trickle of blood there. "You're out of your mind, Seifer." he panted.

"Yeah." Seifer replied with a manic grin. "Ain't it cool?"

"I'm serious." Squall said. "Your mind is taking a long walk off a short pier. You've got a head full of bad wiring and all this is giving you a short circuit."

"I don't think so." mused Seifer, strolling down the gangplank. Blue mist poured out behind him. "I think I'm more awake and aware than I've ever been in my life. This is my destiny, Squall. I've woken into a dream."

"What about all you've got back home?" Squall asked. "SeeD? Your career? Your girl?"

Seifer feigned thinking about it for a second. "Fuck 'em." he announced abruptly. "You got any idea what Ultimecia's promised me?"

Yes, I do Squall thought.

"Enough chat, I don't have a lot of time." said Seifer, raising his gunblade and pointing it at Squall. "Let's do this."

Squall stood there, glaring at him. He opened his palms, showing he had no weapon. Lightning cracked the sky overhead, and his gunblade came falling down, twisting end over end, and crashing noisily into the ground. It buried its blade in the ground, leaving the handle pointed towards Squall.

Squall looked at the swirling clouds. For a sheer instant, he thought he could almost see an image of Ultimecia illuminated against the lightning clouds, as if eager to see the duel herself.

Lightning flashed three times consecutively. Squall looked at his gunblade, his opponent, and felt his necklace for a second.

He grabbed his gunblade by the hilt and charged at Seifer. He swung it round in a full arc at his target, preparing to strike...

Surgite (Arise)
Inventite hortum veritatis (Discover the garden of Truth)

Seifer and Squall rushed toward each other, a smile etched on Seifer's face, a sense of worry locked on Squall's. Seifer spun around and swung his gunblade. Squall raised his and blocked it. Seifer pulled away as the two continued to try and knock the other's weapon away.

Ardente veritate (Brilliant truth)
Urite mala mundi (Burn the heavens of evil)

Squall swung, but missed Seifer who dodged easily. Seifer smiled superiorly and used his free hand to beckon Squall, taunting him and showing utter disdain for his opponent's abilities. Squall ignored this, continuing the fight, blood still drawn from neither. Sparks flew when the blades collided.

Ardente veritate (Burning truth)
Incendite tenebras mundi (Set ablaze the heavens of darkness)

They began to fight more wildly than before. Squall viciously attacked Seifer four consecutive times, and though Seifer managed to block all four of them, he staggered back, unprepared for the onslaught. Squall was fighting injured, and Seifer at least ten times more powerful than he had ever been. Any other man would have surely been dead by now, but Squall continued to fight.

Seifer knocked Squall's gunblade away and tried to hit him. Squall ducked back out of harm's way and grabbed his weapon. He spun it coolly over and over in one hand and then charged forward, left hand first.

Valete, liberi (Prevail, children)

Diebus fatalibus (Fated day)

Seifer had had enough of this. He had expected to run Squall through for his insolence right after he had taunted him, but the undaunting bastard still kept on coming. He concentrated and held out his hand, drawing a Firaga spell, which he then unleashed, full-blast on the charging Squall.

Having fire Junctioned to his Elemental defense was the only thing that saved Squall from becoming a pile of still-smoking ashes on the ground, but the blast flung him back. He crashed onto the ground, landing hard on his back. As he struggled to shake the blast off, he tried to rise groggily to his feet.

He saw Seifer standing over him, sneering. Everything suddenly started to go slow motion.

Fithos lusec wecos vinosec
Fithos lusec wecos vinosec
Fithos lusec wecos vinosec
Fithos lusec wecos vinosec

Seifer raised the gunblade, ready to strike, ready to sever Squall's head permanently from his neck. Time slowed down for Squall. Images from his life flashed before his eyes, the first of long-sealed memories exploding briefly into his mind. Quistis, his childhood, another Sorceress, a place far away, and the flower fields he had seen in his dream earlier.

Seifer's blade came down...

And the figure, clutching a ring, standing in the flower field.

Squall ducked his head back in time to avoid it being sliced off by Seifer's blade, but didn't move quick enough to avoid all of it. An explosion of pain concentrated on a pinpoint right between his eyes. Flesh tore in a second, and a spatter of hot blood cascaded down his face and splattered on the ground in a crescent shape. Unable to believe what had just happened, he looked up in anger at Seifer. Blood poured down his face, his vision in his left eye a sea of red.

Squall snarled and stood up, sliding his foot out beside him for balance. He'd reached his limit's breaking point. He pulled his gunblade out behind him, leaving a sparking trail along the ground. He swung it upwards, and the tip slashed Seifer right between the eyes, leaving a mirror image of his own wound.

Seifer staggered back, incredulous. He had never seen his own blood before.

The two of them screamed battle cries and lunged at each other one last time. They swung their gunblades at each other, completely unexpected for the sudden feeling of time slowing down around them. The air seemed to grow tense and hard, and they hung there, lunged at each other in mid-air, weapons akimbo for what seemed like hours. The world moved around them, as if paused.

Then, beside them, the reactor exploded. Ultimecia emerged from the explosion, triumphant.

They were torn from each other and sent hurtling in opposite directions. Squall rolled down an embankment, continuing to plummet down a hillside, over and over, rocks beat and stabbed at his body. He came crashing to a halt into a riverbed, and felt a sickening snap as his leg twisted. The water rushed over him, and he pulled himself up onto the dry land. He struggled to move, but the pain was too great and he was exhausted. Fighting with every last ounce of strength he could muster, only to find it wasn't enough, he collapsed and passed out on the dry stony ground.

* * * *

He awoke to the sounds of birds nearby.

Squall opened his eyes and groaned. He sat up, and then was painfully reminded of his injuries. He tried to stand, and counted his blessings that at least his leg wasn't broken, only sprained, he guessed. Using his gunblade as a cane, he began to climb the hilltop, back towards the reactor to see if he could find what had happened after he blacked out.

Seifer had awakened the Sorceress, and she had taken him as his knight.

Sure enough, the reactor was in ruins. All there was left was a crater and rubble. The smoke had long dissipated. Squall looked up into the sky. The storm had long cleared, and the sun had come out. He could see birds in the sky and animal's in the distance. The life was slowly coming back to this place. Because the reactor and the Sorceress were gone.

Knowing that there was going to be no way he could swing across the chasm in this state, Squall began to take the second path, the longer one, limping back towards the town.

...Which, he found when he got there, was in ashes. Only the shells of houses remained. There were no sounds in the dead town, not even the wind. The only sound to be heard was Squall's footsteps on ashes. Bodies were strewn about the place, most of which were not complete. An arm here, a leg there. A torso...

Squall looked away and retched loudly. He'd seen some terrible things on a battlefield in his time, but this was no battlefield. This was a massacre. Seifer and the Sorceress had come into the town and cut the people asunder. SeeD and Shin-Ra had offered little resistance...

Squall noticed them for the first time. A lot of the dead were wearing SeeD uniforms, and there was quite a number of Shin-Ra soldiers with them. And quite a few dead Shin-Ra scientists.

Not looking the dead SeeD in the eyes, Squall searched a body and found the SeeD's mission orders. "Sortie to Nibelheim immediately." he read quietly to himself. "Seize the town and detain population. Two SeeDs already at location, may be aware of crippling information. Find out all they know about the situation. If they know too much, execute them on site. Second team to be deployed into the reactor and verify that the Sorceress is still contained and machines have not been tampered with. Upon confirmation..."

Squall stopped reading and scrunched up the paper in disgust. So he and Seifer had been considered expendable? Seifer was right, they had only wanted the Sorceress for their own ends. There was no way either of them could go back to Shin-Ra now. Seifer was now in league with the devil, and Squall, well, as soon as a rescue team arrived and found him sitting amongst the wreckage, it would only be a matter of seconds before somebody ordered him shot.

But that was the thing. If they didn't find him amongst the dead, they'd assume he was the only survivor and hunt him down like a dog. They'd listen to all he had to tell them about Seifer, and then execute him like he was nothing.

Well, hell with them Squall thought. He was through with SeeD and Shin-Ra. He was going solo. But first, he'd have to make sure Shin-Ra weren't going to follow him.

He walked over to a deep pool of water, were some of the stored water from the well had fallen from it's container. He found the shattered overturned container, stuck his face in and began to wash the dried blood off his face.

Finding a medical kit, he began to dress his wounds himself. Not an enviable task. He treated and dressed the wound between his eyes, sure as certain that it would leave a scar. For the time being, the dressing kept his left eye masked.

Then he set about erasing his existence from Shin-Ra's all-seeing eyes. One corpse that was burned beyond recognition practically lay stretched in front of him. Squall searched the dead SeeD, finding his ID card and a cigarette lighter. Squall removed the ID card and replaced it with his own, making sure to burn it slightly with the lighter so it would be inconspicuous, but made sure it was his picture and details that were still visible. He switched his own dog tags with the dead SeeDs. Seifer's Firaga blast had left most of him completely unscathed, but his tags had been scarred from the heat.

Finished, Squall stood up and looked around. I guess that's all he thought. He then realised he was absent-mindedly toying with his Griever chain. True, planting it on the dead SeeD would have helped him bury his past forever, but he didn't want to part with it. He'd had it for longer than he could remember. He couldn't even remember where he had gotten it from.

There was a lot things about his early childhood he couldn't remember, he realised. Maybe it was time for some answers?

Taking one last look at the smouldering remains of the town, Squall decided it was best to leave quickly, before the Search & Rescue teams came looking. And with that, Squall strode out of the dead town, and wandered out into the wide world.

* * * *

It was such a strange thing for him. He'd never seen the world outside of battlefields and missions before. Sure. He'd been sent to a lot of places, but when it was over, he just returned to the Shin-Ra HQ and kept in training until his next mission. Now he had nowhere to go, and nobody to turn to.

After wandering through the mountains and across fields for hours, he came to an old run-down abandoned shack. It was here Squall stayed for some time. He built a fire and waited for his wounds to heal. He trained extensively and built up his strength as much as he could. There would be no point in letting his skills go to waste. He could use them to survive in the harsh world.

After about a month or so, Squall left the shack and continued on his way. He was mostly fully healed by now, and didn't have to use his gunblade anymore. He stood in front of the mirror one day and peeled off his dressing strip by strip. His left eye was still a little sore, but the wound Seifer had made was completely healed, save for a prominent scar, a diagonal slash between his eyes. Seifer probably had a mirror image of the scar himself. The Sorceress surely would have healed him instantly, but nowhere near quick enough to stop a scar being formed.

After many days journey, Squall came to a small town on the other side of the mountains. He seeked food and shelter, only he had no money. The townspeople said he could work for food and board. Using his skills, Squall hunted monsters and defended the town in exchange for shelter. He was exceptionally good at it, and some of the people wondered how such a young person could have the skill and demeanour of a hardened old battle soldier.

The people thanked Squall for defending the town, and gave him food and provisions. Squall was a little taken aback. He was only carrying out his missions for payment. Why would people show a soldier an act of kindness? The outside world was strange indeed.

After making enough money to continue his journey, Squall left the town. Strange that they seemed sad to see him go. What was a soldier to anyone?

He could have stayed, he knew that, but it wouldn't have been right. Seifer and the Sorceress were out there somewhere, ready to wreak havoc upon the world. Shin-Ra wouldn't stop them. Seifer they would try to destroy, but not Ultimecia. They would just try to harness her power again. That meant that Squall was the only one who could stop them. He was the only person who had ever even survived an encounter with them. It was solely up to him. He had to find them and stop them.

And then what?

Then ........then................he would.......he didn't know, he'd worry about finding them and stopping them first. So, he became a mercenary, travelling from town to town, city to city, looking for Seifer and Ultimecia. Always one step behind, he was. Sometimes he'd find a monster, slashed open by a gunblade, other times he'd only find a farmer saying he'd seen someone matching Seifer's description. The closest he usually came was hearing ghost stories about the Sorceress in some Inn in a backwater town whenever he asked. It was becoming a sad but true fact that he was much better at being a mercenary then he was at tracking Seifer. He was always one step behind.

He ended up living his life on the road for a whole year. He was stronger than he was before, and knew the ways of the land better now. Only seventeen and here he was, crossing fields and valleys with the sun on his back, or running along the hilltops of highland mountains like he was their king. In secret, he was beginning to really like the outside world. Things like the way the sun would burst out from behind the clouds, and in an instant the shade of green on the grass beneath his feet would change. He soon became an accomplished mountaineer. He couldn't explain it, but it was a thrilling sensation when he finally scaled a large mountain, and found himself looking down into a lush green pasture and lake, hidden from human eyes for who knew how long. He knew the beaten pathways of the mountains, the best spots to hunt deer, fish and all sorts. He crossed deserts and slept under the stars. He scaled mountains, ran through fields, but he still could never find Seifer and Ultimecia. He had no idea what they were up to, but wherever they went, he would follow them.

His journey one day brought him back to Midgar. Making it a point to avoid Shin-Ra, he stayed in the slums. He found out how Shin-Ra had covered up the events in Nibelheim. There wasn't even a scrap of information about it in any of the newspaper archives. There weren't even obituaries for the people that had died. Understandable why he wasn't there. Generation; NeXus didn't even officially exist. He did, however, manage to break into Shin-Ra's mainframe. All information regarding Nibelheim was restricted. When he looked under personnel files, he found his name, and next to it, in chillingly bold red letters;


Well, at least Shin-Ra believed he was dead. He'd succeeded in making sure they didn't come looking. It had been a full year since the events in Nibelheim now, and he had found barely any leads on Seifer and Ultimecia. Shin-Ra had SeeD looking for them too, so it was still a race against time to see who got to them first. He needed to take another job as soon as possible, one that paid good money. He needed to be out of the city and ahead on his way quick as he could.

He remembered the resistance groups based in the slums. His unit had never been deployed against them, but he had been briefed on them. They were self-proclaimed eco-warriors, but most of the rebel bands just had four or five members, and were always on the lookout for others to enlist in the fight against Shin-Ra.

He didn't have to think long and hard about it. Use his skills against Shin-Ra? Why the hell not? They'd considered him expendable, after all. They lived on an empire of lies. It was only right that their dirty little secrets should come back to haunt them.

And so, it came to pass that a few days before the Sector #8 Mako Reactor bombing, Squall Leonhart was sitting in slum bar when he was approached by a girl, slightly older than him with trim brown hair, who introduced herself as Xu.

"...We hear you're looking for a job..." she began.


"...And that's it." Squall finished.

The room was completely silent. Edea and Quistis were fascinated. Rinoa looked like she had a lot on her mind. Zell was just staring wide-eyed. It was a while before anyone spoke.

"And that's it?" Zell parroted.

"You were expecting more?" Squall asked.

"Nah, just it was a little short, but wonderfully told, good character narrative, and incredible special effects. Two thumbs up." Zell chuckled away the creeps Squall's story had given him.

"So it's true..." murmured Edea. "Ultimecia, the ultimate Sorceress, has been freed from her sleep."

"That's right." said Squall. "It was her and Seifer who ransacked the Shin-Ra building, I'm sure of it. And I think they were trying to get at us that night."

"I can't believe it." said Quistis. "Seifer, our childhood friend."

"He probably doesn't remember our pasts together." replied Squall. "I didn't until I met you back in the church."

"Well, whoever they are, they're both bad news for the planet." Zell stated. "I don't care how powerful they are, Squall's right, they gotta be stopped."

"Quistis is the only other Sorceress." announced Edea. "We have to make sure Ultimecia doesn't claim her power, or all will be lost."

"Well, if we wipe out this Ultimecia before she gets a chance to, it shouldn't be a problem, right?" said Zell, placing a hand on his hips and crossing one leg behind the other.

"Their assault on Shin-Ra is the first lead I've had on them in a long time." said Squall. "I don't know what they've been doing all this time, and I don't care. I have to stop them. It's my ....responsibility."

"Shin-Ra are looking for them too." Quistis stated. "And us. It'll be a race against time."

"Then let's not waste any more time!" Zell exclaimed.

"Right." said Quistis. "We should ask around town, see if anyone's heard about or spotted Seifer and Ultimecia. We've got all the supplies we need, save a map, so let's look around and meet back in front of the town in half an hour. Agreed?"

Everyone nodded and began to leave, until there was just Squall and Rinoa. When Squall began to step toward the door, Rinoa spoke for the first time.

"...It's me..." she said softly.

Squall stopped and looked at her. "What?"

"The girl in the photograph Seifer tried to show you." Rinoa whispered. "It's me. I was the girl he had waiting back in Midgar."

"Seifer was that first boyfriend of yours you told me about..." Squall said, understanding, not sure how he felt about this.

"He went away on a mission that summer and never came back." Rinoa said, looking Squall in the eyes. "I thought he just dumped me and found someone else, but I can't believe..."

"I know, I couldn't believe he turned so easily too." Squall murmured.

"If you catch Seifer, will you kill him?" Rinoa asked.

"I don't know." answered Squall, looking out the window. "I hope it doesn't come to that, but he may leave me no choice."

"I hope it doesn't come to that too." Rinoa said, standing up. "Maybe if we defeat Ultimecia, we can release Seifer from her influence?"

"Maybe." Squall mulled it over. "But we'll have to go through Seifer to get to Ultimecia. She's increased his power ten times over. He'll be pretty tough to defeat."

"I'm prepared."

Squall nodded. He liked that about Rinoa, the way she always evaluated the emotional cost of a mission beforehand, and prepared herself. Squall had been trained to just do the mission. Point, shoot and kill. But Rinoa was......she was more.......she was human. She wasn't a soldier, caught up in this. She was just a normal person, trying to cope with the situation. It was something that fascinated him right out. Would that be what he could have been like if he hadn't been a soldier?

She had innocence, it fascinated him. She fascinated him.

* * * *

The smooth, clear grassy plains soon gave way to gently sloping hills. After meeting up outside the town, Zell and Quistis reported that someone had seen a guy with blonde hair and a grey trenchcoat heading East across the plains towards the marshlands.

After walking for about forty minutes or so, they heard a shout behind them.

"There you are!"

Everyone stopped and turned to see a light-brown haired girl in a yellow sundress and a pair of knee-high leather boots standing atop some rocks. She tried to walk down them, but tripped and stumbled. She landed on her knees and looked up at. She then grinned, poking out her tongue and winking one of her deep-green eyes.

Squall recognized her instantly as the girl he had met back in Kalm.

"Wait a minute..." she said, standing up and looking at Squall. "You're the guy who helped me back in town, right!? Thanks! You really are a nice guy!"

There was some confusion. Hoe anyone could think that about Squall was certainly pause for thought. "...Yeah, I remember you...." Squall said coldly. Rinoa stifled a grin.

"Who are you?" Quistis asked.

"Oh right!" exclaimed the girl, as if noticing the others for the first time. "Which one of you is Rinoa Heartilly?"

"I am." said Rinoa, just as curious as the others.

"Hiya!" said the girl, taking Rinoa's hand and shaking it. Then, she stood up straight and saluted Rinoa. "Selphie Tilmit of the Mako Hawks resistance faction, ma'am."

"The Mako Hawks?" Rinoa echoed.

"Yeah." said Selphie.

"What are you doing here?" Zell asked.

"My whole team, the Mako Hawks were attacked and wiped out by Shin-Ra the night the Sector 7 plate fell. I was the only one who managed to get away. I remembered one of the rules that if returning to your own team is no longer an option, you're to report to the closest possible team, in which case it was the Midgar Owls. When I arrived, though, Sector 7 was already flattened, and your team was long gone. I thought all the rebel groups had been defeated, so I decided to flee Midgar and made it to Kalm."

Everyone listened as the new girl, Selphie, continued her story. "I was planning to return home, back to the Northern Continent, and when I was buying supplies in Kalm, I overheard your name, Rinoa, and realized the Midgar Owls must have escaped too. I still want to return home, but I don't fancy travelling alone. There's safety in numbers, right?"

Rinoa scratched her eyebrow and frowned in thought. "Mako Hawks...." she said, trying to remember. "Oh, right! Selphie! I've heard of you. You were their messenger, right!"

"Right!" said Selphie, glad Rinoa remembered. "So, what do you say? Can I travel with you guys 'til we get to my hometown?"

"I dunno." said Zell, as if the decision was his. "We don't even know where we're going for sure, and it could be a long journey."

"My home in Midgar was destroyed." said Selphie. "I've got nowhere else to go."

"Well, I don't think anybody has any objections." said Rinoa. "We're all going to try to find an evil Sorceress and stop her. Things could get dangerous."

"Hey, don't go thinking I'm just some little girl here." said Selphie, drawing and swinging her shinobou with expert ease, then sheathing them just as quickly. "I was a resistance fighter too, you know? I can well defend myself, and I've got some kick-ass Materia."

"Well, we could always use an extra pair of hands." mused Rinoa. "And you're right, there's safety in numbers. Welcome aboard!"

"Thanks!" said Selphie, happily.

"Let me introduce everyone." Rinoa began. "I'm Rinoa, you know me. This guy here is Squall..."

"We've met." Selphie giggled.


"This is Quistis. She's a Sorceress."

"Pleasure to meet you." said Quistis, smiling and shaking her hand.

"Wow, I never met a Sorceress before." exclaimed Selphie. " I didn't even think they existed. It's nice to meet you too."

"And this is Edea." Rinoa introduced her to the eldest of the group. Selphie blinked at the sight of her. There was something familiar about her. Something warm, comfortable....maternal, about her. Edea had the look of recognition too. "Have we met?" Edea asked.

"I'm not sure..." Selphie trailed off, shaking her hand slowly.

"Um, Edea's a former Sorceress." Rinoa explained. "She's recently lost some of her memories, but before she did she claimed to have known us from somewhere. Um, I guess that's everyone."

Zell coughed.

"Oh." Rinoa began, grinning. "Except for the Chicken-wuss."

"WHAT DID YOU SAYYYYY!!!?" Zell bellowed, practically exploding.

Selphie seemed to see him for the first time. "...Hm? Since you're so angry, I guess you're the Chicken-wuss."

Zell was dumbfounded. "What the...!!!" he stuttered. "WHY IS EVERYONE...? I am not a CHICKEN!!!" Selphie stifled a laugh as Rinoa chuckled. Quistis raised a hand to her lips to hide her laughter. "Well...If you don't like chicken, how 'bout...a PIG!" Selphie giggled. "Oh, but you look more like a chicken, anyway."

"Chicken, pig, whatever..." Zell huffed. "Call me what you want!!! I don't care anymore!!!"

"Don't take it personally, Zell." Rinoa offered.

"He's always taking it personally, isn't he, Squall?" Rinoa asked. "Squall?"

She turned around. Squall was already halfway towards the next field. "Hey!" Rinoa yelled and took off after him. Selphie grinned, hoisted her supplies and began walking. Quistis laughed and she and Edea followed. That left just Zell standing there, hands on hips, glowering slightly.

"I'm not a Chicken-wuss." he hissed to himself, and followed.

* * *