Chapter IX: Open

The night air was refreshing, and Squall needed the slight boost to his spirit after that blunt end to the dance. He leaned against the stone balcony overlooking the east side of the Garden, and shook his head, wondering why he'd bothered indulging that girl just to have her walk away. She was like everyone else, really; transient, unpredictable, unreliable.

It was probably a good thing she'd left at that moment, because if she hadn't, he might have started enjoying her presence more, and that would have made her inevitable departure even worse. Now that he was alone, he could stop and think rationally, and remember why he kept everyone at arm's length, avoided alcohol, and didn't let his hormones dominate his thinking. Still, it was hard to feel rational when he was so angry, mostly at himself for being stupid enough to let himself feel that way toward the girl.

Squall peered over the eastern grounds, thoughts drifting, when he heard footsteps on the stone balcony. He could tell who she was simply from the way she was walking and the hard soles clacking on the tiles.

"You really are an excellent student, you know," Quistis said, her voice echoing approval. "Even that dance was perfect."

Squall considered the quickest way to get her out of his hair before she started lecturing him on something, or worse, tried to chat with him.

"Thank you," he replied after a moment, settling on a delaying tactic until he could come up with an excuse to get away. She had him cornered on the balcony, so he would have to find a way to withdraw before the conversation turned to the blunt and one-sided affair it usually ended up being. That, in turn, would get her upset, and have her start complaining at him - the last thing he wanted to hear.

The seconds passed, and he kept looking over the grounds below. If he had his junctions, he could jump off the side of the balcony, though that was grandstanding on the same level Seifer would have done. As the moments passed, Quistis remained silent, and he wondered why she had come out here. Was she expecting him to start talking?

"Yes?" he asked, in the curt tone of a soldier who had been summoned and was awaiting orders.

"So, you'll dance with someone you don't even know, but won't talk with me?" Quistis asked, and Squall frowned. She sounded hurt, but that really wasn't his problem.

"You're an Instructor," he explained. "And I am . . . I was your student. Its awkward when you don't say anything."

Quistis was silent for a few moments, considering what he had to say, and he finally heard her chuckle quietly, and looked back at her.

"Its true," she remarked, nodding. "I was like that myself, and that was only a couple of years ago. Speaking of which, I almost forgot something." Squall caught the faint shift in her tone, to something much more serious.

"I have an order for you," she explained. "The last order I'll be able to give you, really." Squall frowned, wondering if she was pulling rank on him. It was true that she was several grades above him, but those last words intrigued him.

"Last order?" he echoed, and she nodded.

"Get your weapons and meet me in front of the Training Center," she explained. "We're going to go to the 'secret area.'"

"Why?" Squall asked, confused. The "secret area" was the nickname given to a balcony at the far end of the indoor jungle, which overlooked most of the forest and served as a safe spot for students to hide and talk, or do other, more scandalous things after curfew.

"Are we going there to tell everyone they're breaking curfew?" he muttered, checking his watch. It was only an hour until midnight, when curfew began, so doing that now would be something only an asshole like Seifer would enjoy.

"No," Quistis replied with a smile. "Just meet me there. I'll explain later." With that, she turned and walked back inside, leaving Squall alone. He looked back up at the night sky, shook his head, and turned, heading back indoors as well. At least it would be a good excuse to get away from the damned party, and maybe he could take out his frustration on a Grat.

Besides, he mused, she had saved his life today.


Squall's return to his dorm room was uneventful, and he quickly changed into his working outfit: leather jacket, fatigue pants, white shirt, combat boots. Not one to go into a dangerous area underarmed, he checked and holstered his sidearm as well as his gunblade, and his knives went in their usual sheaths.

Twenty minutes after the meeting on the balcony, Squall was walking down the main lobby, circling around the elevators, and spotted Quistis waiting on the walkway that led to the eastern end of the Garden. She had changed into same casual peach outfit she'd worn that morning, apparently deciding to not bother ruining perfectly fine clothes.

"There you are," she said, smiling. Squall noticed that she was wearing her rante on her belt, but that was the only weapon she'd brought. He frowned for a moment, before reverting back to his usual impassive stare. It wouldn't do to have an underarmed squadmate, but Quistis was his superior, and her loadout was her choice.

Squall didn't reply, and after a moment, Quistis gestured over her shoulder, toward the corridor beyond.

"Let's go, its almost midnight," she said, and they started down the passage. Squall frowned as they walked, the Instructor leading the way. Why was midnight so important? The Training Center was open at all hours.

Squall felt the temperate air of the Garden interior slowly shift as they headed up the passage, replaced by a damp warmth and a wild scent of plant life. The passage ended with a wide opening leading into an enormous dome on the east side of the Garden, the ceramic tiles replaced by thick, moist dirt under their feet. The shifting temperature and moist air turned into clouds of foggy mist hanging in an oppressive, dank jungle heat. Verdant plants sprouted from the ground and loomed around them, ferns and small trees flanking the entrance to the Training Center.

"Low-level or high?" Squall asked as they moved through the outer, secure section of the miniature ecosystem. The Training Center was divided into several distinct areas containing specific monsters, each region serving as a different challenge level for students and SeeDs.

"We're not here for exercise, are we?" Quistis replied, and started toward the south end of the secured section. Squall shrugged as they headed toward the gates running to the low-level survival and combat sector. Within a few minutes they reached the large, heavily reinforced electrical fences walling off that part of the dome, and passed through the main gates. Wordlessly, they started west.

The training facility stretched on for a while; though less than a quarter of a mile across all told, it was difficult terrain to move through. If Squall was an ordinary soldier he would have regretting carrying so much gear in the oppressive heat and tangled undergrowth, but his junctions made the weight a trivial concern, and he shifted his enhanced defenses while moving, junctioning fire magic to armor his skin against the temperature.

Thy had been inside the complex for about ten minutes when Squall, in the lead, held up a hand. Quistis came to a halt and put a hand on her whip, ready to draw at any sign of movement.

"Granaldo nest," Squall hissed, and she nodded. The last thing they wanted tonight was to disturb a nest full of those particularly unpleasant predators. They opted to back up and give the mound of orange and black carapace ahead of them plenty of room. The things were mostly there to keep the weaker monster population under control or to serve as a challenge for the better students, but they were vicious predators no one wanted to tangle with when they weren't ready.

Within fifteen minutes, they had cut through most of the lower-level parts of the facility, without encountering any of the more rapidly breeding denizens of the jungle. The Grats were the most common monsters, a spore-breeding plant-like creature that grew fast and provided a moderate challenge for most combat students. There weren't very many in the facility nowadays, as the end of the semester brought a lot more students in to train and thin their numbers. That would change when the fall semester started, as the Grats would have had plenty of time to grow back and replenish their numbers over the summer.

On the far west wall there was a doorway that led to a series of maintenance tunnels and a couple of observation balconies on the interior of the dome, as well as one that was set up outside, on the Training Center's roof. It was unlocked, a safety measure for students who wanted somewhere safe to rest, heal, or hide during training sessions. Since these tunnels weren't monitored and the Training Center was open at all hours, it became a common place for students to sneak out for some unsupervised R&R.

Quistis and Squall headed up the tunnels that circled around the dome, and paused outside the doorway leading to the exterior balcony. As Quistis moved to open the door, she noticed that her companion had slid of her left, on the other side of the door. She smirked as she understood his body language; he was considering the other side to be an unsecured area, and was moving into room-clearing position without even thinking about it. She wondered if he ever relaxed.

Cooler air drifted inward as Quistis opened the door, and she peered through, checking to make sure she wasn't interrupting anything. The balcony was large, and a few couples were nestled into corners, but there wasn't anything more illicit than some hands holding and hugs. She glanced back to Squall.

"Clear," she said, and offered a smile as they moved through the portal. She wondered if he caught the joke referring to his body language, but couldn't tell. His face remained the impassive mask it had been since she'd met him outside.

She walked over to the edge of the balcony, overlooking the grounds of the Garden, and the enormous specter of the main building itself. At nighttime, the Garden shone like a beacon, the spinning ring overhead lazily rotating around the main structure and casting ghostly illumination over the plains surrounding it. Behind her, Squall wandered toward the balcony and leaned on the cool metal railing.

He was no stranger to this balcony, though he usually only came here early in the evening, just after sundown, before most of the students snuck off to fraternize. It was quiet, it was distant, and at night, it was beautiful. He could appreciate beauty, though most people in Garden would have been shocked to hear that he felt anything about anything. Tonight, however, he didn't really want to be out here; the most beautiful thing for Squall Leonhart right now would be his own bed.

There was a long period of silence, and he made the best of it by appreciating the view. Still, he suspected that Quistis had dragged him out here to do more than just look at the pretty lights, and he wasn't surprised when she spoke up.

"What time is it?" she asked. He blinked, surprised at how low and quiet her voice was, and then checked his watch. 00:12.

"After midnight," he replied. He saw Quistis shoulders slump, and she sighed deeply.

"Well, that's it then," she murmured. "As of now, I'm no longer an Instructor."

Squall blinked again, surprised, but not terribly so. There had been signs the faculty had not been satisfied with her methods. There were rumors she was trying to fraternize with students, though he suspected that was just idle gossip, and some reports that she lacked leadership capabilities. He honestly wasn't surprised at that; though she was a qualified SeeD, she didn't have a whole lot of combat experience.

"I'm just a SeeD now, like you," she added, and smirked. "Maybe we'll end up working together?" He nodded. She was a higher rank than him, meaning she'd probably end up being a mission, platoon, or squad leader. There were worse COs he could have.

"Really?" he asked after mulling it over, and looking back toward the shining Garden.

"Is that all you're going to say?" she asked, her accusing tone catching him off guard. He glanced back at Quistis, who seemed just as surprised, probably as much from her tone as his off-hand question. For a moment, he felt guilty, but dismissed it. She should be expecting him to be this way, dragging him out here like this. Just because he was indulging her for saving his life didn't mean he had to be nice about it.

"If that's what the faculty decided, you have to follow it," he replied with a shrug. He'd seen too many people promoted past their ability anyway; it was good that someone unqualified would get busted back down to where they belonged.

A deafening barrage of silence returned as they both looked over the grounds. Squall could see people moving here and there, as the inauguration party started dying down. He wouldn't be surprised if at least one couple tried sneaking out here for some fun, and he wanted to be gone by the time they started filtering in.

"They said I failed as an Instructor," Quistis muttered, and Squall found himself being forced to pay attention to her again. "I lacked leadership abilities and experience." She looked up toward the sky. "I made SeeD at fifteen, Instructor at seventeen. Its only been a year since I earned it . . . ." She looked at Squall, to find he was intently studying the pitting on the metal wall behind her.

"Aren't you listening to me?" she asked, and he closed his eyes. He seemed to mull over his response for a moment.

"I don't want to talk about it," he stated after a second, concluding his mental debate and opting for blunt directness. "What am I supposed to say about other people's problems?"

"I don't want you to say anything," Quistis said, almost pleading. "I just want you to listen."

Squall didn't want to listen. He wanted to go to sleep. He been almost killed four times today already, and he didn't want to be bored to death by Quistis' ramblings. He didn't care about her problems.

"Then go talk to a wall," he replied. He'd had enough of this, and if Quistis didn't get the hint-

"Don't you ever want to talk to someone else?" she asked. Something about her tone made him halt for a moment; she wanted an explanation, was practically begging for one. He understood what else she wanted, but he didn't let anyone inside. Too dangerous. His problems were his, and her problems were hers.

"Everyone has to take care of themselves," he replied, without looking back. "I don't want to carry anyone else's burden." Didn't she get that by now? Five years of stonewalling her should have shown her what he thought about her constant, unending intrusions.

He disappeared through the door, leaving Quistis standing at the balcony, with nothing to say.

She turned around, looking back up at the stars, and sighed again.

No leadership qualities . . . failed instructor . . . maybe they're right . . . .

She turned around and started to leave, resigning herself to a long walk in the hot jungle before getting back to her dorm. Quistis asked herself where she'd gone wrong, and why he wouldn't listen to her. What had made Squall into the statue he was? He'd told her to go talk to a wall, when that was precisely what Squall himself was.

Quistis stepped out of the maintenance tunnel, but pulled herself up short as she passed through the doorway.

Squall was leaning against a tree in front of the door, his arms crossed, staring at the dirt at his feet. He glanced up as she emerged, and straightened, before gesturing that she take the lead again. Quistis nodded, and started leading the way, doing her best to hide the small smile on her face. She wasn't sure if waiting for her was his way of apologizing or simply him making sure she wasn't on her own in dangerous territory.

Either way, she appreciated it.


The heat was getting troubling. Sweat was running down his brow, and that just aggravated him more. If he didn't have a utilitarian use for the jacket and its ammunition and supply pouches on the inside, he would have doffed it already.

They paused from time to time as they heard rustlings in the brush around them, but no monsters emerged to try and attack them. the Grats had enough problems with Granaldo predators, and had enough basic wits about them to know when their numbers weren't enough to threaten the humans.

After one such alert pause, Quistis glanced back toward Squall, who stood behind her, tense, one hand on his gunblade handle. She needed to talk to him about what happened on the balcony, and why had he been so cold to her. Was it simply combat fatigue or just his intolerable selfishness? She and opened her mouth to ask him.

A scream lanced through the Training Center, and both of them whipped around toward the direction it had originated from. It had been human, female, and pitched with a terrified timbre. Both SeeDs bolted forward at the same time, Quistis uncoiling her rante and wrapping it around her arm, ready to snap out. She heard the hiss of metal on leather, and caught a glimmer of light reflected off the polished steel of Squall's blade.

They heard the scream again, and over it was a harsh, powerful roar, screeching and vicious. That made the two SeeDs' legs pump even harder, and they blasted through the brush as they recognized the monster: a Granaldo.

The plants were smashed out of their way as they burst through the underbrush and entered a clearing, in time to see a massive beast with an orange and black carapace and beating dragonfly wings swooping down toward a young woman. She screamed again as the monster dove upon her-

-and the creature broke off, screeching in agony as Squall's gunblade tumbled end over end before burying into its torso. The creature whirled as it dropped to the ground, baleful eyes glaring at the newcomers beneath the armored plating that covered its head. The creature vaguely resembled a mixture of insect and dragon, with its deceptively delicate wings and chitinous outer plating, covering a serpentine body. The claws of its forearms clicked and snapped in rage, and it hurled itself at the intruders, completely ignoring the girl it had been chasing.

Quistis came to a halt as she called up her junctioned magic, but Squall didn't bother slowing down. He dashed straight into the clearing, leaping at the Granaldo and crashing into its chest. The beast was nearly twice his size, but the impact sent the monster tumbling back, and SeeD and fiend rolled across the grass in a tangle of limbs and chitin. A moment later, they disengaged with a shuddering squeal from the monster, and Squall rolled away, his gunblade torn free and in his hands. Blood dripped off the weapon as he slid into a balanced guard.

Energy swept through Quistis' body and out of her fingers, lancing into the predator's back as it faced Squall. Jets of fire seared through the monster's carapace, and it reeled, stumbling forward and to the ground. Squall leapt at the beast as it was momentarily stunned, the gunblade arcing back over his shoulder and coming down in a momentous sweep of heavy steel. The blade bit into hardened carapace that would deflect bullets, and the SeeD's boosted strength sent the weapon straight through. Squall pulled the trigger as he cleaved into the monster's torso, and the Granaldo was blasted backward, blood and armor plating flying from the shock.

Squall stalked forward, gunblade tight in his hands as the Granaldo retreated, hissing and snarling. Quistis quickly sent a second surge of power into the beast's flank, a crackling burst of lightning. The fiend jerked and twitched, and Squall lashed out again, another cleave biting into the monster's torso. This time, however, the creature saw it coming, and was hopping backward as Squall swung. The gunblade barely nicked its armor, and the Granaldo shot ahead as the weapon flew pas,. the claws snapped down at Squall's head and chest.

He was ducking and diving aside as the beast's talons cut in. The claws slashed at the dodging SeeD, who snapped back up as they passed, gunblade cutting across in a swift parry. Sharpened talons screeched against the metal, and he kicked backward, leaping away a from the monster before it could use its bulk and momentum against him. Quistis struck again, another blast of flame that scorched the armored hide and had the monster turning to face her. With a vicious hiss, the Granaldo took to the air, its wings beating as it flew up out of Squall's reach.

Or at least, it thought itself out of Squall's reach. Without slowing, the SeeD snapped an arm up, and energy blazed off his fingertips at the same time that Quistis released a bolt of her own. Fire and lightning raged through the air, hammering the enormous monster from two directions. It keeled over, screeching and thrashing, and dove toward the ground, its eyes fixing Quistis where she stood.

She snapped out her whip, clutching the chain's handle tightly as it descended, claws extended. She noted the arc of its dive, and realized that the monster was diving into a-

She rolled aside, her whip scything up into the Granaldo's flank as it tried to slashed her with a passing swoop. The rante blade skipped off the beast's armor plating, and it whirled as it passed, coming to a dead halt in mid-air and turning on the female SeeD. Quistis began summoning another burst of energy to strike the monster, but the fiend was close, too close, and even as she felt the magic pour into her hands, it was diving at her anew.

She stepped into its dive as she released her magic, blasting it point-blank with a gout of raging fire. The carapace boiled and charred where she hit it, and then the Granaldo slammed into the former Instructor, smashing her to the ground. They rolled away, Quistis bearing a vicious bruising from the impact and the fiend snarling and hissing as it rose.

Squall's gunblade plunged into its back, and he fired off a shot as it cracked through the weakened chitin. Armor plating and flesh erupted from the concussive impact, and the creature stumbled forward, keening in agony. That bestial wail redoubled as Quistis rose to her feet and snapped her rante across, the curving blade stabbing into the Granaldo's eye. It recoiled, waving its arms in the air and somehow still alive with the half-meter of curved steel buried in its head, and Quistis sent forth another surge of magic. Frigid cold rolled off her fingers and poured into the monster's chest, striking the half-molten chest armor and freezing the chitin.

"Squall, breach, torso!" Quistis yelled as she ripped her blade free, and almost before she'd finished, he was dashing around the side of the wounded, reeling creature. He spotted the snap-frozen chitin plating, and his gunblade rose, sweeping across in a mighty swing Quistis swore she'd seen in one of those bad fantasy movies made decades ago.

The gunblade crashed through the armor, made weak and brittle by both the constant assault and the frost magic, and the Revolver plunged deep. Squall pulled the weapon's trigger again, and a concussive blast roared into the Granaldo's torso. Internal organs were liquefied and flesh burst back out of the wound, and the monster tumbled away. The SeeD ripped his weapon free and stalked after it, but both of the warriors present knew the battle was over.

The fiend pumped its wings once, then twice, and managed to get a meter into the air before it flopped to the grass. It let out one last wail of pain, struggled for a couple of seconds, and went still.

Squall walked over to the dead beast to make sure it was really, really dead, while Quistis hurried to the girl who it had been pursuing.

"Are you alright?" she asked as she got closer. The girl had taken cover behind a tree at the edge of the clearing, and she emerged, her clothes dirty and her breathing heavy. She had to have been fleeing the creature for some time.

"Yes, I'm fine," she said, starting to dust herself off. She had short brown hair, and as Quistis got closer, something about her seemed familiar. Her eyes widened as she looked up into the SeeD's face.

"Quistis," she said, smiling, and the familiar features suddenly came back to her. This was the same girl she'd met outside the infirmary.

"Yes, that's me," Quistis replied, and their heads turned at the roar of a gunshot. By the beast's corpse, Squall was firing his M1911 into the Granaldo's head. He fired two more shots, just to be sure.

"I'm surprised," the girl said after a moment. "I thought you and Squall would have been heading out for . . . longer." Quistis wasn't certain what she meant for a moment, but then the girl's meaning hit her, and her features colored a bit.

"No, that's not why I was going out with - I mean, not taking him there for . . . ."

The girl smiled and laughed a bit, disarming and kindly, and Quistis made the connection between her presence at the infirmary and Squall's questions earlier. Was this the girl he had been asking about? It was almost annoying, seeing him first asking about this person and then dancing with a complete stranger, but Quistis recognized the seed of jealousy and quickly squashed it.

There was crashing in the underbrush, and Quistis reached for her weapon, but then relaxed when she caught sight of human forms moving through the trees. Three white-clad men, their uniforms rugged and utilitarian, emerged from the foliage and hurried toward the group, weapons drawn.

"Ma'am," their leader called, a man Quistis recognized as Trent. She'd seen him in the past at Balamb, and he'd been at the ball that night.

"Captain," the girl replied, nodding to the approaching figures.

"Are you injured?" Trent asked, to which she shook her head.

"Just a bit dirtied up, sorry," she replied, and he frowned, though his body language spoke of immense relief.

"You gave us a scare, slipping away like that," he said, his tone reproved, to which she gave a sheepish shrug as a sign of apology.

"I came to see someone," she offered, glancing back toward Squall, who was walking towards them, cleaning his gunblade while apparently watching the conversation.

"Well, its not safe here, especially away from your escorts," Trent admonished. "Please stay with us. The Headmaster has your quarters ready."

"Thank you," she said, nodding, and glanced back to Quistis. "I, well, I appreciate you helping me."

"It wasn't a problem," Quistis replied, and the girl nodded. She let her bodyguards lead her away, the white-clad troops forming up around her in a protective triangle and moving off at a brisk pace back to the entrance of the jungle.

"Who was that?" Squall asked as he got close, and Quistis shrugged. She was familiar, but she couldn't place where she'd seen the girl.

"Was she from the infirmary this morning?" the older SeeD asked. Squall's only response was a frown and an undirected scowl, before he stepped around her.

"Let's go," he said, and started off. Quistis sighed at her exasperating student - no, colleague now - and plunged into the jungle after him.

She did note, however, that his gaze lingered on the edge of the clearing where the group had disappeared, and stayed that way until they were back under the jungle canopy.


The cool air of the main Garden facility was a welcome return to normalcy, and brightened Squall's sour mood. The bruises were acting up, the cuts were stinging with the salt of his sweat - especially that damn scar Seifer gave him - and now fresh injuries were making themselves known. His headache was back, he had to take a piss, and to top it off, Quistis managed to squeeze in another nattering bit of whatever as they walked up the corridor.

"You know, Squall," she said as they walked up the passage, "Its not like everyone can get by on their own."

Didn't she take her cue to shut up back when he left her on the balcony? He'd indulged her this long because she'd saved his ass, but now Quistis was getting excessively tiresome.

"Says who?" he replied, in his best "leave me alone" tone. Quistis' face screwed up at that, and she sighed explosively before walking away. Good. Maybe now she'd stop bothering him.

The trip back to his dorm room was mercifully quiet and abundant in its utter lack of anyone else.

The dorm complex featured a lot of noise from some areas, particularly behind closed doors as the party and the alcohol resulted in late-night liaisons. Squall shut the noise out with ease practiced over the twelve years he'd spent growing up in this place, and found his own dorms. The rooms were dark and quiet; Selphie was apparently still out and probably enjoying the party. He noticed her bags weren't even unpacked, save for some clothes laid out on her bed.

First things first; Squall went to the bathroom, and spent a couple of minutes addressing the porcelain throne. That done, he stepped back outside and tossed a MRE into the microwave in the common room outside and stripped off his sweat-soaked undershirt while it was cooking. Squall took off his gunblade and ammo belts, removed his handgun and knives, and grabbed the package of pre-prepared food after it was done heating. He ate quick, inhaling the high-calorie food; the day had left him famished.

Finally, he stepped into the shower for the second time in a few hours. The day rolled off him once more, and he managed a groan of satisfaction as the hot water ran down his battered body. As he cleansed himself again, Squall reflected on the sheer insanity of that day.

A savage duel with a lunatic, followed by a running battle with a living god. A full-scale battle, complete with urban combat and happy round of disobeying orders, followed by a thorough education on what happened when one deviated from the battle plan without decent cause. A nice, brutal fight with an angry top-tier predator in the Training Center, and a balls-out run down a mountain with unstoppable mechanical death chasing him on his heels. A prolonged series of annoyances at Quistis' hands - which he only tolerated by virtue of her saving his life - and a strange girl whose face was too familiar but whose name lurked at the edges of his mind, mocking him. A lifetime's work achieved, symbolized in that set of rank pins sitting on the desk by his bed.

Most trivial of all, but standing out the most in his head, that dance with that strange girl whose face he couldn't forget.

Squall stepped outside the shower stall, toweled off, and flopped into his bed after turning out the lights.

Those mysterious, playful brown eyes, lit by fireworks and faux candlelight, lingered in his head as welcome blackness claimed him.

-


Author's Notes: Holy balls, that took waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to write.

The main reason why it took me this long to update this story is simple. I got tired of writing FFVIII. Really tired. So, I took a break, branched out to other fandoms, and finally got an itch to get back to this story, bringing what skills I've developed elsehwere - especially what I've learned writing Firefly and Zelda stories.

As with 99 of what I write, about a third of this story - specifically, the balcony scene - was written out well beforehand, and then I came back to it over the course of a couple of days and finished the rest of the chapter. The Granaldo fight was the real killer, as I haven't written a good swordfight in a long while, mostly focusing on gunplay and modern warfare in my writing. But I'm getting back into my fantasy groove now.

Its good to be back in one of my favorite settings, retelling my favorite story.

Until next chapter . . . .