PART III: faint blaze
"You have got to be kidding me."
(My life is over, Elle.
What? Don't believe me. Fine.)
"Selphie," Squall explained patiently. "We can't risk one of our best SeeD members on a venture like this, especially––"
Oh no you don't, Mr. Commander-boy.
"Hey!" I protested. "So that means you can hop-skip over to sort out these Galbadians, but suddenly I'm incapacitated? You're the commander; you're supposed to order other people to do the work, not do it yourself! It's a Garden regulation!" I paused. "And, y'know, you're not the only one who cares about Rinoa here. It's not fair. Right, Elle?"
"It is a little unfair, Squall, although––"
"Nu-uh, no 'buts', 'althoughs' or 'stills'. I'm a SeeD, Squall Leonhart, and if you don't put me on this mission, then I will quit and go myself, regardless! I don't care about protocol or GFs or the no-weapon rule, I will just go! Who cares if I get arrested for it? At least I'll have had a shot at rescuing Rinny, whether you give me the chance or not!"
Silence. Somewhere I'm mildly sure a cricket chirps. Oh, and the infamous tumbleweed rolls past.
(Metaphorically, of course.)
Squall seems surprised I even dared to question his authority––haha, right, like I was just gonna let someone a few months younger than me boss me around––and Elle seems pleased that she was not the one who had to defy him. Although we all know that Elle secretly harbours a nice anger streak there.
"Selphie Tilmitt…" and I'm prepared for the shout-match. Vocal chords: check. "You will accompany me and Quistis Trepe on this investigation mission to run reconnaissance on the southern area of Galbadia, where we suspect Rinoa Heartilly has been kidnapped and held hostage."
Squally has a soft side! For people who aren't Rinoa. Although, looking at it logically, the focus is on Rinoa. And of course he will take the help he can get.
Besides, I'm the Selphie Tilmitt! I single-handedly organise gatherings for the entire cadet and SeeD body. The entire populace of Balamb Garden owes their annual entertainment parties to me. Who would be better than me at this?
I also realise, Elle, that parties and things don't even compare.)
"Selphie," Squall addressed me in his usual monosyllabic manner. Well, for usual, I mean receding-into-emotionally-misunderstood-seventeen-year-old-again usual. Which, from Rinoa's perspective, isn't very usual at all. "We're leaving tomorrow at 800 hours. Be prepared and armed," he paused, then noticed my expression and added; "And Junctioned."
"Whatever you say, Commander," I saluted him and exited, feeling very proud of myself for winning him over in such a short amount of time. I'm getting better at this.
(I just hoped it was enough).
There have always been two main things I've wanted to achieve in my life before I turned twenty. Neither of them have exactly been achieved yet, mostly because I forget about them if I think about it too much, but I figure that if I just do them while I'm twenty it'll be good enough.
Anyways, these things were:
1. Flashing Galbadian soldiers to be ironic and also to see their reaction (as in; in Deling City it's illegal to 'expose vulgar body parts'––how rude! No part of me is vulgar, you stupid bastards! Especially my boobs––but these soldiers, I wager, wouldn't mind so much. When Irvine was still around, of course, I never told him about this, because he would probably make a point of pretending to join the Galbadian army.)
2. Going on an investigation mission which involves telling Martine he's a stupid asshole who should be castrated and then hung out to dry on a clothesline that is preferably inside steel walls at D-District. Because of what happened way back when; so what if I don't seem like the vengeful type?
And okay, so Squall didn't say that Martine was directly involved, or he'd found any reason to incriminate him, but it's Martine––you know, the guy who Irvine hates and who sent us on a mission to kill the sorceress only to set us up to get us arrested? And Trabia blown up, you self-righteous little––!
(Okay, okay. I remember your lessons, Elle. Calm, deep breaths, relax…)
Squall inferred that Martine and the other Galbadian members of the Peace Council might be involved because they feel uncomfortable with a sorceress on the committee. Excuse me, the sorceress on the committee.
(This was how the conversation went before my refusal to be stuck on the sidelines):
Squall: "I believe that Martine and the others at G-Garden have reason to aid the kidnapping of Rinoa because of political purposes. If the Sorceress is out of action, then they have no reason to be wary of us and will therefore have the power."
(Whenever Squall says 'sorceress', it always sounds capitalised. He's so noble and knightly.)
Me: "Well? Is he gonna hurt Rinoa? Because if he does––"
Squall (slightly impatient): "Selphie, you're not listening. I never said Martine did kidnap Rinoa––"
(At the time, this confused me.)
Me: "What are you talking about, then?"
(I was frantic, tired, stressed, annoyed and basically hyper, okay? The part of my brain that stores SeeD training––evaluation of situations and connecting the dots efficiently––was not on my mind. Elle, I was just angry.)
Squall: "He may have known the plan was afoot, and kept attention away from it. Remember how he's making a huge debate out of Matron's want for a settlement near the Orphanage? If he draws publicity to that, then the kidnapping will be quiet. As Garden, we're not going to enlist the help of the police or the government or even the media. He knows that."
Me: "Okay, okay, I get it … but all you have information-wise is a truck driving in the desert near G-Garden. How are you supposed to know when you've struck gold, if the entrance is probably gonna be hidden? Aren't you gonna question Martine first?"
Squall: "No. He might not know about it, but as Martine isn't an official ally to us, it could bring trouble. Even if he did know, it's not as if we have any legal methods of getting the information from him, and if we tried illegal, the Peace Council would be on us faster than we could blink." He paused here, and sounded tired. "Selphie, you know all this already."
Me: "I know I do! I know! I studied it since I was a kid! But … but this is Rinoa, Squall. I mean, you're the type of person that can maintain the SeeD-ly façade, but I can't at the moment because there's no point. I'm worried about her, and after Elle's visions…"
(I'm the girl who was out of place at a military academy, remember?)
Elle interjected timidly at this point: "I'm sorry about that, really I am, but we couldn't get the same precision with Squall or Quistis, so––"
Squall and me: "Don't worry, Elle."
Then Squall continued: "We're all worrying, Selphie. I'm not going to lie. But if you don't remain calm and assess the situation, you're not going to get anywhere. This is why we have the SeeD training: for progress."
I grumpily responded: "I know that, too…"
Elle: "So, when are you guys leaving?"
Squall: "We are not. Quistis and I are."
…and then you all know what happens after that. I spit the dummy.
(I'm not letting Squall get away with blocking me out of this just cuz he's in love.)
I personally recommend asking Martine. Of course he's not gonna say 'Oh, sure, Rinoa? Yeah, I got my people to spirit her away from your Garden … a few weeks back, wasn't it?'. No, a more typical-of-Martine response is:
"Preposterous! Why in the world would I do something like that? It goes against all Garden code, and … blah, blah, blah … further blah … stuff about honour … me gagging myself due to his talk of honour and dignity … blah … and finally, BLAH."
Yes, that's the gist of it.
But that part doesn't exactly matter now, because my protests negated Squall's reluctance to post me on the mission! Cha-ching. I'm used to danger and blood falling out all over the place. I'm used to death and bombs and Galbadians. Really, I am. You don't get into my line of work if you get queasy at the sight of gore.
But this is the first time, since Matron and Elle and Rinny and Ultimecia, that it's been personal.
(Elle, have you ever asked yourself 'Why did I do it?'. Why did you put yourself through all that, when it would've been easier just to back out at the beginning?
That was my mistake, I think. Being so adamant.
Why? Why, why, why?)
Quisty greeted me the next morning by almost banging the door down.
When I rolled over to groan at her about it only being three am in the morning or something, I found that it was actually seven thirty. And … I still had to––
"Selphie Tilmitt, I don't even want to hear the word unprepared," the Ice Princess told me primly from the other side of a slab of wood. For the wood, I was thankful. Her glare almost rivals Squall's.
"Well, then, I'm just delightfully ill-equipped," I replied, quoting some of the words from the five-billion-hour lectures I've had to sit in on before––believe me, you don't know boring until you've withstood one of Quistis Trepe's tutorials.
(At least you can definitely pass if she's your teacher, Elle. She's an eternal fountain of knowledge, even if she sometimes doesn't use it well. Although she's got much more of a grip on this leadership thing than me.)
"Selphie, you need Quezacotl and Doomtrain Junctioned, now," Quisty commanded in her no-nonsense, obey-me-now voice.
"I'm doing it, geez!" I snapped back, despite myself.
(I was reaching my breaking point.
I was, Elle.)
Fact: I've never really snapped before. Sure, I've been annoyed. I'm not a saint. But it's different. Snapping opens up a whole new world of meanness, and I don't like it.
"It's okay, Selphie," and Quisty makes me feel like it's going to be all right.
(And she lied.)
Galbadia sort of changes every time I visit it.
Quisty says it's my mood. The first time G-Garden looked like a monstrosity of coolness, being all red and retro and just plain awesome. The second time 'round, we knew it housed an evil sorceress and it had just been ramming into our Garden and killing people, so I thought it looked more like a prison.
The third time was with Irvy, after Ultimecia. And I wasn't scared.
"Aren't we going inside?" I asked Squall, as we rounded a corner and started to drive away from G-Garden.
"I told you, Selphie, it's not going to help," he explained again. Okay, I won't accept defeat. But I want to tell Martine––I want to tell him––
I wanted to ask him if he knew where Irvy was.
Quisty must've picked up on it having something to do with that, because she leaned over and whispered: "Now isn't the time, but if you want to come back later, then I'll go with you. You know that, don't you?"
(I love my friends. But …
It didn't help. Not in the end.)
I stuck my head out of the window to stop the tears from being noticeable. I remember Irvy telling me about this thing called 'desert fever', when the hot air against your skin makes you all clammy and feverish––but right now, it felt like the best thing in the world.
It reminded me of better times––or maybe worse. But we were all together then. At least we had each other, you know? I try to think of the bad things that happened, but all I remember is us dragging Rinny out of her sleeping bag in the early morning, and Quisty screeching at Zell for messing up the Junctions, and Squall smirking slightly as I tried to steal Irvy's hat.
There were the parts that nobody tells the press. Like Rinny breaking down and bursting into tears sometime after she became a sorceress, and not even Squall being able to calm her down. Like Zell getting the hugest gash across the face, and lying there almost dead, and us with no magic or items that could heal him. Like the eeriness of Bahamut's roar, and all the grossness we witnessed. The war. The death.
But if you remember that, does that obscure your vision of fast-made friends?
I've been in Garden since before I can remember.
And I never really fitted. I wasn't a bad student and I got good grades and I liked it. But I saw it like I see the Ultimecia Affair. I had good friends and good times and Trabia was a nice place. I didn't see it for what it was. I never really thought about actually becoming a SeeD, actually going on missions, actually killing people.
I never thought about the reality of SeeD.
(And this was when I realised it. With Rinoa gone, every chance she might die––)
Back when I was seventeen, I was too naïve to think that one of us would most probably die. Wouldn't come back from Time Compression. Would just be gone.
We were together. That was enough for me. What else was I gonna think? 'Oh, woo, we're all in a veeery life-threatening situation. Time for me to write a will!'.
(I had nothing to give, anyway.)
(Elle, I was scared. I was scared. I'm not supposed to be. I'm a SeeD. It's why I don't deserve it, why I never did––and Rinny's so strong, but I'm––)
I looked up. "Huh, what?"
Squall glanced back at me from driver seat. "Shiva is telling me that she can feel energy patterns coming from nearby. Is Quezacotl saying the same?"
For anyone wanting to know, Quezacotl at this point, said: ahead is Her.
What I've always wanted to know is how GF's speak our language. They are divine god-like beings from a different dimension. And how come they don't speak slang? Why specifically all proper and formal? Maybe Quistis tutorial-ed them.
(I won't think about it. I won't.)
"Rinny's near here," I said.
"I know," Squall stared hard at the steering wheel, and I felt the most sympathetic I've ever been in my whole life ever.
Quistis, the expert-Squall-reader, noticed too. "She'll be fine, Squall."
"She's strong, is our Rinny," I agreed.
But what if…?
You could tell that's what he wanted to say. What he really wanted to articulate. But Squall was Squall and the day he is even remotely open in an emotional sense to us when Rinoa's not there is the day Hell freezes over. Or Ifrit asks Shiva on a date.
(Which will be never.)
"We're SeeDs," I continued and it felt like my throat had blistered. "Just think of it as a normal mission. And you've succeeded on all your missions, Squall––" except for that first one, but it's okay, cuz it worked out in the end–– "So you have nothing to worry about."––right?
"Right," Squall replied, silent, morose, determined.
Gods, I wish I had a boyfriend as good as him.
We found it.
(And I was so scared.)
We found it.
There had been part of me that wanted to find it because Rinoa was there. There had been part of me that wanted to run and hide because of what Quezacotl said as we arrived:
And there is Someone Else.
Just like that. Capitalised. Important. Familiar.
And that was what scared me the most.
Quisty was checking everyone's magic stocks, because she's good like that. Some people describe her as serious to a fault, but it's more of an instinct from past experiences; such as, bad foster families and a drive to be better.
"Selphie, you've got hardly any elemental magic," she scolded lightly. "Here."
She removed her glove and touched my hand briefly. It burned hot for a moment before cooling, and I felt Quezacotl shifting the new magic around suitably. I squeezed my eyes shut. I hated Junctioning and changing the magic. It felt so uncomfortable, and––
(I promised Irvy I'd try to remember.)
"Let's move," Squall had his gunblade at the ready, all commander-y with a side dish of overprotective knight. If Quisty and I hadn't been here, Squall just would've gone to hell with it and stormed the place, I reckon.
The entrance wasn't really what you could call an entrance.
There was some shrubbery, and cacti's growing around a manhole sort of thing, and it was fastened shut. There was also an access code needed.
"Oh, this is my sorta thing," I plopped down unto the sand and fiddled around with the circuitry. Quisty gave me a Look and Squall was too busy hacking away at the fastenings to really bother with what I was doing. When he's determined, he's determined.
Do you remember when he trekked all the way to Esthar to find you?)
"Done!" the code flashed red at me and winked out of existence, the manhole cover dissipating and revealing a ladder that stretched into the dark depths below.
"I'm going first," the commander affirmed.
"Squall––" Quisty began.
"I'm the squad leader and the commander, Quistis."
(He was so strict.)
He disappeared before either of us could object to his bout of machismo. Quisty went immediately after him, most probably to lecture him under her breath the whole way down, and I went last. Quezacotl was chatting incessantly. The same thing over and over.
She's here. And there is Someone Else.
(Did I ever want to find out, Elle?)
All I could see were the ladder rungs in front of me, and it seemed to go on forever. Sometimes I could hear the scraping of Squall's belt against the steel of the ladder, and other times the slight squelching noise of Quisty's leather boots.
After I felt like my hands were gonna vacation from the rest of my body, cuz they were so numb, my feet hit solid ground and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not even the ladder in Ultimecia's castle had seemed that long––or maybe I just didn't remember.
(That was magic. This is reality.)
I turned and heard Squall's sharp intake of breath, and Quisty's none-too-concealed gasp.
"Guys?" I questioned, and time seemed to stop––
(Elle, I don't want to write this, but––)
––and the both of them were frozen like statues––
(––I have to because––)
––staring at the figure currently pointing his gun at us––
(––it was Irvy.)
––and I screamed.
(At first, I didn't want to forgive you, Elle.
Because I thought you would've known.
I was surprised, and I didn't comprehend anything but fiery hot anger and––
Did you know, Elle?
Because even now I doubt it.
You were just as lost as me.)
...and here is the third part of the story! This part seemed more serious and introspective than the first two, but it was still good, right? I hope so. XD