Chapter 29

Crash and Bash


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She waited behind the open door, watching the rain outside. The boy was standing near the pillar, his shoulders slumped.

His voice quavered, "... I'll be ok without you, Sis. I'll be able to take care of myself."

"…Hey," called the little blonde girl with blue eyes. The boy jumped and looked behind him. The girl opened the door wider, waving for him to come in. "Come on, everyone's ready to eat. We're waiting for you."

The boy bit his lip and walked into the house.

Squall opened his eyes when the knock didn't stop. He sighed and left his bed.

Rinoa smiled at him as he opened the door. "Hey, again, Sleeping Beauty."

Squall stared at her. "I wasn't asleep."

"Oh really? I think I heard you talking in your sleep. I'm not telling you what you said." Rinoa tilted her head. "…Hey, let's go for a walk."

"You already know the place."

"You skimped on the tour! This time, it's a walk!"

"Just go by yourself. It's safe here."

"It's not that I want a guard with me. You know... You're always too deep in thought. Why don't you lighten up a little? It's not good to think too much." She grinned. "What I'm trying to say is... It would be my honour...to have your company, your highness, in hope that I may get your mind off things. How about it, your highness?"

Squall scowled. "This is stupid."

Rinoa blinked. Her smile faded. "Oh... Your highness is in a foul mood. I'll see you around then."

Squall walked out, closing the door and waiting for the lock to click into place. Rinoa stepped back, eyes watching the gunblader as the man turned and left the hall.

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The old man beside him yawned. "Heard you got in a fight with the young Cap last night?"

Seifer kept his eyes on the deck behind him, not even looking at the line cast from his rod. "Not really a fight, just a… loud preference for different opinions."

"'S that what you call a fight these days? It's good that the boy left, then, uh?"

Any minute now… he wished his straw hat hid his face from the two dumb soldiers inspecting houses near the inn. Selphie was above them on the telephone pole, mechanic helmet hiding her head, far up from the eyes of the two newcomers. Wedge watched her from the ground, said something to Biggs and the two shook their heads together before walking away.

They hadn't inspected the inn. Seifer had asked the manager to hide Irvine somehow, but a six foot tall man couldn't hide in the minuscule storage closet for that long. Martine was sitting in front of the inn, hoping that his presence would confuse the new leader. Irvine was hiding in his room, hoping the soldier wouldn't care enough to check on the occupants.

It was easy to keep Selphie and Irvine away. Now that the meddling captain had left, nobody cared enough to enforce his rules, especially because no work meant no money in for the residents. No money meant no bribe. Of course Biggs and Wedge wouldn't enforce the 'no work' rules. But one look at Seifer and they would know. Irvine told Seifer that he had to keep sitting with his head down and not drawing any attention to himself.

Right.

"What is tha…AAAHHH!"

Seifer heard the old man. He turned to the giant shadow enveloping them. He saw blue, and he looked up, and up, recognizing his Garden. Full speed on them.

"Go!" he shouted, shoving the old man up. The man wobbled up and turned to run. The Blue Garden crashed against the far deck, nearly hitting Seifer who was running behind the old man. Wooden planks and seawater flew towards him, one thick plank smashed his back. Seifer cursed and stumbled to the wobbly deck.

"Run, Silvan!" he heard Selphie. "Run!"

Seifer pushed himself and jumped, sprinting and crashing into the junk shop, leaving the quaking deck behind him. Moments later, sea water and planks smashed the remaining splinters of a door and doused inside the junk shop, baptizing the weapon counters, the weapons on the wall, the shopkeeper and the blond man in its wake. When the water saw itself out the open entrance, freshly-doused Seifer had lost his straw hat, his sandals and his patience.

"Well…" the woman manning the counter said, her hair drenched in seawater and seaweed. "I did say her weapon is done and you can pick it up, but the entrance was a little too dramatic for me."

"Just put the damage under Balamb Garden," Seifer snapped. He stood up from the slippery floor. "Kramer's pretty damn rich."

Squall looked up from the floor he was sitting on. A moment after he left the dorm hall into the main, a major quake knocked him down. Cadets and SeeDs all around him were murmuring, some cursing the waves, most were in the same position as him.

-Did this thing work? One two… I guess. Okay. Squall! This is the headmaster speaking! Please come to my office! Repeat. Please come to my office right away!-

Quistis watched the aftermath of their introduction to the little village in the centre of nowhere outside the window. The elevator to the bridge dinged on Squall's arrival as Cid said into the loudspeaker, "Everybody, please remain calm. Also, please do not leave the Garden under any circumstance until you are permitted. We will try to get things back in order A.S.A.P. Thank you for your cooperation."

He turned off the loudspeaker and grimaced to Quistis when she turned. "…As good as the damage control goes." He nodded to Squall. "Ah Squall, thank you for coming. Here are your orders. We've landed on Fisherman's Horizon. Please go ashore with the other SeeDs. Find the local mayor and apologize for this accident. Tell them that we come in peace. Take a look around the city while you're there, too."

Squall saluted. "...Yes, sir." He looked at Quistis.

"Yes, I'll go." Quistis walked to the elevator. "You'll need some kind of a diplomacy tactic with what just happened."

Squall looked around and noted there was nobody else but the three of them in the office. He came closer and whispered to Cid, "Can I ask you about NORG?"

"NORG? He's…" Cid frowned. "Come to think about it, he's not showing up anymore after two days ago…"

Squall wondered if they would be court-martialed if the principal knew the three killed the Garden Master and four Faculty members. Fujin and Zell agreed to keep it only between them, and Quistis was on the basis of knowing because she was the main cause. But telling others that they had murdered someone on the top of the Garden hierarchy wouldn't be a good idea, even if it's Kramer. Especially Kramer. Squall wasn't going to be the cause of the next war between the students. He also had a certain distaste for prison bars now that he had an experience.

"We argued our case," said Squall. "NORG let Quistis go." One way or another.

"Really? Then he's probably not as bad as I thought. He's from the Shumi Tribe. He's the black sheep of the tribe. We met decades ago and he agreed to fund the Garden. Wish I knew about his greed before we… well." Cid sighed. "I wasn't in the position to choose whose money I'd want to build something like this."

Squall nodded, understanding way too well about the orders he didn't have to like, but had to do anyway. "I understand. Thank you for the explanation, Sir." He saluted and turned to the elevator. He raised his hand to punch the close button but Quistis raised her arm slightly, surprising him.

She grinned, and pressed the button. "Surprise. I can do this just this morning. A bit stiff, but now I don't need anyone to escort me just to push the button here and there." She tried a weak clench and grimaced when her fingers merely twitched. "…Oh well."

Squall studied her fingers. "As long as it's healing well."

"Can't wait until I get my full range back. Speaking of which, my whip…"

Damn. He turned to the door, mumbling, "It's going to be ready when you're good for battle. Don't worry about it."

Zell waited for them on the second floor hall. "Hey there. What's up? Are we going to Fisherman's?"

Quistis nodded. "We'll land at Fisherman's Horizon. We'll make an official apology, then observe the town."

"The front gate's closed," Zell said. "We need to go through the second floor deck."

The elevator opened and Rinoa walked out. "Are you guys going out? Can I join you?"

"Probably not on the first contact," said Quistis. "We're supposed to represent the Garden, so I'd like to keep it SeeD's only team."

"Is it going to matter?" Rinoa said. "How will they know I'm not a SeeD unless someone says so?"

Squall folded his arms. She can't be serious.

"It's really not going to be a lot of fun," said Quistis. "There's going to be some long speeches, if the Mayor is really like what I remembered. He's… a bore."

Rinoa huffed. "Oh well. See you later then." She waved and turned back into the elevator.

"You've been here before?" Squall asked Quistis.

"Once, on an unofficial SeeD business."

"Whoa," Zell murmured when he opened the door. The deck was filled with new pathway to Fisherman's Horizon. A crane was standing above them, being used just moments ago for the elevator and console now standing nearby. Several residents from the village waited for them.

"Here they come," said one man.

"Zelly! Squally!" squealed a mechanic with a giant helmet on top of her head. She launched herself to Squall, who stepped to the side, and barreled onto Zell behind him. Both crashed to the floor next to Quistis.

"What…" Zell pushed the helmet from the small girl. Green eyes and wide smile grinned down to him. "Selphie? What are you doing here?"

"Figures," murmured Squall.

"Oh, I got so many things to tell you guys!" Selphie pushed herself up. "But I'm gonna call Seify and Irvy first so we can get back together! Can't believe how much I missed you!" She skidded past the FH residents, clicked on the elevator console, hopped down the moving elevator and entered a building.

"I'm glad they're safe and sound," said Quistis.

"Too sound," mumbled Squall.

"We've got to warn you before you go ashore," said another resident as if the episode with Selphie didn't just happen. "Do not engage in any type of armed conflict in the city. We do not tolerate belligerence here."

"How can you not tolerate belligerence with Selphie around?" said Zell.

Quistis shot him a look. "We are representatives of the Garden and we come in peace."

The man nodded, seemed satisfied. "Welcome to Fisherman's Horizon then. We just call it FH. You should go visit the mayor. His house is in the middle of the city."

"We'll do just that," said Squall.

"Good. Looks like we understand each other." The resident sighed at the damage Garden had caused the village. "Man, this is a hell of a mess."

"I'm terribly sorry," Quistis said. "It was inevitable... We lost control of the Garden."

The man waved his hand. "Nah, don't worry about it. What's important is that nobody got hurt. We love fixing stuff anyway. Kick back and enjoy your stay." He walked to the control panel for the elevator leading down to the village and asked, "So, you guys going to Esthar?"

Squall shook his head. "Esthar?"

"You know...that hi-tech city. It's just beyond the train tracks. I guess you're not going there. A lot of people who stop here go there. The trains are down, so the best way to get there is to walk from here." He laughed, but Squall didn't see what was so funny about it. "What a joke. Anyway... You guys had an accident and came here, huh? I guess I shouldn't keep you. Ok, get on." He motioned to the elevator.

Zell looked around when they reached the village. The ground was made of wooden planks and the entire city was built on a precarious-looking deck. A series of houses flanked the wide view of the ocean behind them. They could see the entire village from here. Far ahead, there was a damaged end of a deck, and a plaza with a station building, a familiar-looking junk shop, and rows of closed marketplaces. A well-maintained building just near the elevator landing point was the second biggest in the small village.

The man with chopped trousers and wet blond hair exited the building as Squall walked past it. He raised his brow as his hands combed his hair back, looking annoyed at the sight of them. "Well, I'll be damned," he drawled.

"Hey," called someone from behind him, "stop standin' in the middle of the door." Irvine pushed Seifer away and his face brightened as he saw Quistis. "You guys are really here!" He pulled Quistis into a hug. "What a coincidence!"

Seifer smirked at Quistis when Irvine released her. "Not gonna give me a kiss, Instructor?"

Quistis shrugged, rather stiffly, making Seifer frown at her. "Nice to see you again."

Squall eyed the two as Seifer blurted, "What's with your shoulders?"

"I'll tell you later. I'd like to see the Mayor first."

"That way," Seifer said, jerking his thumb to a building three houses ahead. "I'm gonna go pick up our weapons anyway."

"Oh! The Morning Star!" Selphie appeared at the door. "I almost forgot!"

"Go ahead," said Irvine. He headed back into the building. "I'm gonna get my paycheck first."

Seifer and Selphie were already walking ahead of the Garden rep. They moved past the house Seifer had identified.

"Now where're those dumb soldiers?" Squall heard Seifer said. "On the time they need to show up and show off, they just aren't."

"I think they fled to the train tracks," said Selphie. "At least it's better them than the last captain."

"Much better. You can't fool a soldier who wants nothing to do with a damn bribe."

"I'm sure there's some history here," said Zell, watching the pair enter the junk shop with the broken door. "I just can't figure out what."

"Guys!" Quistis heard Rinoa's voice. "Hey!" The three turned to see Rinoa. She ran to them. "I asked Cid if I can join you guys and he said, 'why not?' so take that!" Squall sighed when Rinoa stopped next to him. She grinned at him and swayed. "So, let's get going, shall we?"

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On the second floor of Dobe's house, Squall sat next to Quistis and accepted the tea Flo poured for them. The wife of the mayor kept her head down, focusing on the tea rather than the faces of the guests. The mayor sat in front of them.

"Allow me to get to the point," said the middle-aged man. "When are you leaving?"

He's not wasting any time, Squall thought.

"We'll leave as soon as the Garden is capable of moving," said Quistis.

"Any idea when?"

"I'm afraid not. We're still in the process of understanding everything about our mobile Garden."

"Our technicians will assist you. They should be able to repair and service everything. How does that sound? Go consult with your leader if you don't have the authority."

Rinoa put her half-empty cup down. "S'cuse me. Why do you want us to leave so bad?"

Please just keep your mouth shut! Squall drank the hot tea so she wouldn't see his scowl. They must have their reasons. Who cares?

Mayor Dobe shook his head. "We don't want military organizations in FH. You rely on force to solve problems. That is in direct defiance of our principles."

"We believe that any problem can be settled by discussion," said Flo. "If you reach a mutual understanding, there is no need to fight."

No argument there, thought Squall. Trite, and dull as hell, though.

"Violence only leads to more violence. We believe your presence here will attract violence. That's why we want you to leave as soon as possible." Mayor Dobe said nothing more, waiting for the team to counter his opinions. Rinoa opened her lips, and caught Squall's glare. She closed it and pouted.

"So you got Seifer and Selphie all this time, and you never got a fight?" Zell asked. "None at all?"

"They gave up their weapons the moment we rescued them from the pod," said Flo. "And they are peaceful. They never caused any harm to us."

Zell's face must have shown his disbelief because the next sentence Dobe said was, "They are free to go whenever they want, although I doubt the little one will want to go back to violence and destructive ways of your Garden."

"…Oh really," said Zell. "We're talking 'bout Selph, right?"

Quistis stared at Zell, stopping him from further arguments. "Let's go back to Garden."

Rinoa was the last to stand. She spent some time thanking Flo for the tea, while others headed down the stairs.

Zell barged out of the house first. "Man, that geezer pisses me off! Squall, why didn't you tell him off!"

"Forget it. You can't expect everyone to welcome us."

"More Galbadian soldiers!" shouted a voice from the plaza. The Garden team saw a kid run past them and entered the inn.

"More?" said Rinoa. "So there're already soldiers here?"

Quistis walked out last with Flo behind her. The mayor's wife said, "I get it. The Galbadians are here because of you, right? They're after you."

Quistis said nothing.

"You'd better take full responsibility! It's your fault!"

Squall sighed. Fine, we'll take care of them. I don't like the sound of her tone though.

The Mayor appeared behind Flo. He nudged his wife aside and said, "We mustn't rely on them. They won't be able to do anything without fighting." He ambled to the plaza, where several soldiers stood and waited. "I'll go talk to them."

Squall folded his arms and watched the mayor's back. He's dead.

"Let's go and help him," said Quistis.

Zell shook his head, although he followed Quistis to the plaza. "It kills me to help that old fart."

"Wait," said Squall, halting in front of the short steps down to the plaza. "Isn't that…"

"Oh great." Zell looked at Biggs and Wedge in their full-coverage armours and helmets, flanking the mayor. Five full-armoured soldiers waited behind them, as if waiting for the command to attack as soon as the two were done. "I don't get it. They're everywhere!"

"I already told you. I've never heard of this girl Ellone. There is nobody here by that name!" said Dobe.

"You guys know the soldiers?" said Rinoa.

"Probably they're zombies?" murmured Zell. "That'll explain a lot."

"Fine," said Biggs. "We can't wait another day in here. We'll just have to torch this city."

"Sounds like that's the leader," Quistis said.

"Leader of the Dumbs," supplied Zell.

"Wait a minute! I'm telling the truth!" Dobe stopped Biggs from walking away. "I've never seen this girl!"

"It doesn't matter, old man," said Biggs. "We're gonna burn this place anyway. Edea's orders. Ha ha ha."

"Does the captain know about this?" asked Dobe.

"Captain?" Biggs jerked his thumb to his chest. "I'm the captain!"

"The idiot got promoted again?" said Zell.

"No! I mean Captain Rochester!" Dobe grabbed Biggs' arm, kneeling in front of him. "No, please!"

"Rochester isn't in charge anymore," said Wedge. He jerked Dobe's arms away from Biggs and shoved him sprawling on the ground. "You have ten minutes to tell the people and leave."

"Rochester?" murmured Rinoa. "No... No way."

Dobe shook his head, and turned to Wedge. "I beg of you! Don't!"

"Don't waste any more time, Wedge!" Biggs picked Dobe up by his neck. "We'll start with you!"

"Oh, this can't be!" Rinoa said. She ran past them and waved to the soldiers. "Hey! Wait! Don't do that!"

"What the—" Zell groaned. "Rinoa!"

Wedge took a second look at the girl. "Miss Caraway? What are you doing here?"

"So you do know my father!" said Rinoa. She stopped in front of Wedge. "Stop! Don't do this!"

"…Let's go," Squall said.

"Ifrit!" called a voice from inside the open entrance of the junk shop, "Hell Fire!"

"Oy! Oy!" shouted Zell, halting his run and flopped down. "Wait!"

The red giant shoved his way out of the junk shop to the plaza. On its left hand, a ball of flaming rock appeared. It flew up past the five soldiers, who were all scattering about, past Quistis and the team, and dropped the giant rock on two soldiers running near Rinoa.

"Aaaah!"

Rinoa stepped to the side and watched the ball of flames and Ifrit disappeared in the air, leaving the burnt bodies behind.

"Catch the Caraway kid!" called Biggs amid the chaos as he dropped Dobe and took out his machine gun. Dobe crawled away, ignoring the bodies of two soldiers next to him. "She's worth thousands!"

"What? No!" Rinoa screamed as Wedge grabbed her arm. "No! Wait!"

"Sorry, Miss," said Wedge, yanking her arm and pulling her to him. "Caraway is now a wanted man."

"Carbuncle!" said Quistis.

Squall sprinted and rammed Biggs with his shoulder, causing both men to tumble down. He gripped Biggs' machine gun with one hand and punched his helmet with another. Zell kicked one of the remaining three soldiers, and wrestled another before the soldier took out his gun. The last standing soldier fell down to his front and had his helmet bashed on the ground by the blond fisherman straddling his back.

"I knew this would happen," muttered Seifer when the soldier under him went unconscious.

"Get away from me!" shouted Biggs, struggling to raise his machine gun.

Squall planted his palm to Biggs' helmet and kept his face down. "Sleep!"

Zell knocked the head of the soldier he had wrestled down. He looked back and saw the machine gun held to his face by the soldier he had kicked.

"Diablos!" summoned Selphie from the junk shop entrance. The soldier who had his gun trained on Zell screamed when the materialized purple monster charged at him. Diablos scooped him out and dove into the ocean. The soldier's machine gun catapulted into the air and dropped in front of Seifer. Seifer grabbed the gun and aimed it at Wedge, who had Rinoa in front of him. His machine gun trained on her temple.

"Why in the hell am I doing this again?" said Seifer. He scowled at Wedge. "Go ahead. Shoot her."

At that moment, green aura bathed the SeeDs and Rinoa. The little green creature sang and danced back into its realm. Quistis opened her eyes to see Squall watching her from his position above Biggs.

"That was a little too slow," he said.

"Sorry. I need to work on my compatibility with him first," replied Quistis. "I haven't had GF in a while. Unless if you want him back?"

"He's yours."

"Uh, hello, Squall?" called Zell. He pointed at Wedge and his hostage. "Not the priority."

Squall aimed his gaze to the priority of the hour. "If you kill her," he said, motioning to Wedge's snoring senior under him, "he's dead."

"I'm curious, though," said Seifer, the machine gun steady in his hand. "Can Reflect bounce back bullet? Maybe he should try…"

Rinoa glared at the blond. "I don't get it," she said to the soldier behind her. "If you want me for money, why do you do this? What can you gain by killing me?"

"I don't really want to do this, Miss Caraway."

"Why don't you let me go? Then they'll let you go."

"I don't think that's what's going to happen."

"Okay. So you want money?"

"No… I don't want this to happen either."

"I'll give you money. I have money. You want power? I know Rochester. I know his father, the General. He'll give you a promotion when you let me go," said Rinoa. "Why don't you put your gun down and then I'll…"

Wedge nudged Rinoa with his gun. "Shush."

Seifer sighed. "Negotiator, thou are not."

"Wanna bet?" Rinoa narrowed her eyes. "Can I have my last wish?"

"Miss Caraway…"

"If you are going to shoot me anyway, shoot that bastard next."

"Not gonna happen, Princess. When he drops your corpse I'm gonna shoot him."

"Thanks for the heads up. If I shoot her I'm keeping her up then."

"Truce." Quistis walked down the short stairs to the plaza. "I offer you a condition, soldier. When you walk away from Rinoa, my team will walk away from this place and leave you and your captain alive. Otherwise…"

Wedge considered it for a moment. "I'm keeping my gun up."

"Drop your gun!" Rinoa said. "Seifer, what are you doing pointing that thing at me?"

"What? I'm waiting for you to die so I can shoot your killer!"

"If you're going to point that thing at me, shoot him already!"

"It's a machine gun, Princess. It got no scope. But if you really want me to shoot him with this while you're in front of him…"

"You're going to snipe with a machine gun? Are you really her friend?" asked Wedge.

"Friend, ex, big deal."

"I have a scope," announced a voice behind Quistis. Irvine was half-hidden behind the outer wall of a house. His left eye was behind the scope, Valiant propped on his shoulder, pointer ready. "And the clearest view of the day. Nice wind, too."

"I'm not trigger-safe," said Wedge, his gun moved behind Rinoa's head hiding his fingers from Irvine. "But if you want to try and see if I can't pull when I'm dead, go ahead."

Irvine set his mouth in a grim line.

"Truce, soldier," Quistis said. "The best deal you'll ever have in this condition."

Wedge hesitated. "All guns up but the sniper's. You guys can walk away looking back."

"Deal."

"Are we really?" murmured Rinoa.

"Try nothing," said Wedge. "I have full helmet. You have your hair. Our differences are how many bullets we can take."

Rinoa nodded. Wedge released her and stepped back at the same time Irvine put his Valiant down. Wedge's machine gun still aimed at her head. Zell and Squall stood and walked to Quistis's side. Seifer motioned for Selphie to slink along the junk shop wall to the team. He ambled to them, keeping Wedge's attention to the machine gun still up at him.

"Can you spare this town?" asked Rinoa, turning to Wedge. "Please?"

"What the hell?" said Zell. "Rinoa, come here."

"Come on!" Rinoa said to the team. "We can't let the Galbadian soldiers torch this place!"

"We'll see what happens when it happens," said Wedge.

"But…!" Rinoa faltered when she saw his machine gun aimed at her. She stepped back.

"Get here, Princess," called Seifer. "The deal's not for him to listen to your babble."

Rinoa shook her head. She turned and headed to the team.

"Seifer, why don't you take Rinoa and the rest back to the Garden?" said Quistis. "I'll see you guys later."

"Wait a minute…" Rinoa said. Seifer threw the gun into the sea, grabbed her arm and hauled her away from the plaza. "Hey, listen! We can't let—"

"You can talk and walk at the same time, Rin."

Selphie looked at Squall and Quistis who stood still. Their eyes were on Wedge, who put his machine gun down. "See you guys later?"

Squall waved her away.

"How many soldiers are around except the ones here?" Quistis asked when the team had left. "I assume you only have them."

Wedge said nothing. He propped Biggs and hefted his captain up his shoulder.

"You have the command now," said Squall. "You can't burn this place all on your own."

Wedge shook his head. "That never crossed my mind. I'm going to get my captain to safety. I assume you'll keep your promise."

"We're not going to shoot you on your back," said Quistis. "Ever thought you got your loyalty on the wrong side?"

Wedge tilted his head. "...I was born in Galbadia. Raised in Galbadia. Galbadia is my whole life. I know where I'm going to die and for what."

Squall folded his arms. He watched Wedge wobble to the Galbadian sea vessel anchored behind the junk shop.

"He's almost sane," he murmured.

"You can't kill his captain anyway," said Quistis. "Make sure the enemy always keeps the fool in charge. Smart leader is dangerous."

"I'll remember that."

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Selphie nudged the broken beam on the stage with her boots. She looked around the damaged Quad, to all the broken tiles and planks around her and frowned at Seifer. He leaned on the wall beside the entrance. "This is so bad."

Seifer shrugged, keeping his shoulders flat on the wall. "I'll say. The Garden's crashing to FH at that speed. I'm surprised this place's still standing."

Selphie turned back to the broken stage. "I really wanted to see a band perform here. I even had my eyes set on a few people, too. Oh well..."

Seifer rolled his eyes. "I'm not one of them, am I?"

"Can you play an instrument?"

"Nope, let's say I can't."

"Not that it matters…" Selphie crouched and watched the damaged base of the open stage she had built months ago.

Seifer cursed when he saw her slumped shoulders. "All right." He stepped next to her. "I got no skills on rebuilding this thing, so that's out. I'm not going to play the band, cross that one out. I can offer to pick all these trashes, but Cid just told me the machines and techs from FH are all allowed in, and I'm no match for the damn crane. I can't manage the whole band and stage thing either, there's no way they're going to agree to perform if I'm the one asking."

Selphie shook her head. "Your point?"

"My point is, I can't do anything about this." Seifer took Selphie's hand into his and pulled her up. "But I got money. So let's eat."

Selphie followed the man into the hall. "And then what?"

"Then we'll go to the Training Centre, and I'll think about the rest after we kill at least three Rexs."

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"The Galbadians were searching for Ellone. That seemed to be their main objective in FH." Squall stood in front of the headmaster. Quistis, once again, had walked past Cid and stood next to the office window, watching Fisherman's Horizon from above. "I believe that Sorceress Edea is behind all this."

"Ellone has the ability to allow people to experience the past," said Quistis. "Maybe the sorceress is after her for this ability."

Cid nodded. "So now the Galbadians are working for the sorceress, and were searching for Ellone in FH..."

"They had orders to burn the city down," informed Squall.

"That would help reduce the number of potential places where she could hide. Most likely, she will not stop this onslaught until Ellone is found. She will continue to hunt her, and burn everything in her path." Cid turned to Quistis. "We can't wait any longer."

Squall looked when Cid walked to the console and turned on the loudspeaker. So he's finally going official. About time.

"This is Headmaster Cid. I have an announcement to make. The Garden is being repaired right now. We'll leave FH immediately after it's finished. We're going on a journey to defeat the sorceress. Garden will now be used as a mobile base. The administration of Garden will be run by myself and the staff, as usual. This journey will involve many battles. A well-qualified leader is needed for this."

Cid halted and looked at Quistis. She hesitated for a bit and nodded.

"I am appointing Quistis Trepe as your new leader. She will decide our destination and battle plan."

Squall gazed at Quistis.

"If there are any objections, please come see me in person." Cid switched off the loudspeaker.

"You two must have talked about this," said Squall.

"We have," said Cid. "She is knowledgeable and experienced in the battlefield. She is more than qualified for anything comes in our way."

Quistis smiled. "My track record's not that good."

"Your record is excellent," said Cid, smiling. "You always gave your best."

Quistis' eyes flew to Squall. "I'm going to need some people under my command."

Squall's brow rose.

"I appointed Squall Leonhart and Seifer Almasy as my Lieutenants."

Cid's smile grew wider. He turned to Squall. "Excellent choice. We're going to need someone who is very in control."

And someone who is so out of it he flew off the handle, thought Squall.

Cid waited. "Squall?"

"I… I accept."

"Very well!" Cid patted the gunblader's shoulder. "The three of you will make outstanding leaders!"

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The lock beeped. Seifer pushed the door open, turned on the light switch and walked in. "Here's the room."

Quistis walked into the empty room, Squall followed behind. He studied the dim bulb and peeled off plasters on the wall. The white tile was cracked on one corner. Quistis fingered the windowsill on the wall. The dirty window was big, taking almost half the space of the wall. Outside, Squall saw a familiar quiet corner of the clinic hall leading to the infirmary and the main hall. The empty room was on the corner of the dormitory.

"Can you open this?" she asked. Seifer walked over and pushed the window open. Fresh air breezed in and filled the dusty SeeD room. "Perfect."

Seifer looked around. "You really want to set up an office here? Seems too much work."

Quistis eyed Seifer and said nothing.

"Let me guess," Seifer mumbled. "We're the one who is going to set up your office here."

"I can't possibly work in the headmaster's office, can I? After all, where else is he going to change?"

Seifer was already calculating the repairs he needed to do. He groaned. "I can't fit the crane here."

Squall was staring at the broken plaster. "You know how to paint. We can move the desk without a crane."

"If you want to haul the desk, do it yourself. Me, I can outsource."

Quistis decided to pass on the comment. If Seifer wanted to blackmail some students to make sure she got her office ready in days, she'd let it slide. She was listing the furniture in her head. A big desk, a chair, sofa, several chairs, smaller than her main one, of course, a telephone, probably a television, a radio, a bookshelf, curtains for the window…

Outside of the Garden, in front of Dobe's house, Irvine stood on a ready stage. He whistled to catch everyone's attention.

"Hey everyone!" he said. "Here's our producer, Selphie."

Selphie grinned behind him. She stepped forward. "Ahem! We'll be holding the concert as planned." She pointed at Garden, and everyone followed her pointed finger. It was shining with all the lights on tonight. The technicians had fixed the lights and elevator first. "The performance is also for Quistis, Squall and Seifer. To congratulate them on their recent promotion."

Zell nodded. "Gotcha! So, who's gonna perform?"

"We are," replied Irvine.

"Yeah right."

"Let's just give it a try," said Selphie. "We have everything ready and all we need is 4 people."

"I can ask Fuu and Rai," said Zell. "I think they can play something."

"Seifer can play the guitar and harmonica. Oh, wait… he's not supposed to know." Rinoa clapped her hands. "Oh, this is gonna be fun!"

Selphie looked at her. "Oh, sorry, Rinoa, but you're not gonna be a member."

Rinoa gaped. "You're leaving me out?"

"Noo. We have something more important for you to do."

"I asked the techs and they said we're going to be here for a few more days," said Irvine. "A week max. We have until then to practice for the performance."

"Rinoa, I'm going to tell you what to do after this."

"You can count on me!"

Selphie bounced on her heels. "It's gonna be a blast!"

x-x-x-x-x

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To be continued…


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A/N: For a military school like Garden where everyone was supposedly being taught about safety and private rooms, everybody was coming in and out of Squall's room whenever they wanted. Rinoa, Selphie, Zell, Wild Chocobos, Geezards...

Weird… considering how private Squall was supposed to be, and how they must have been taught security protocols and all the safety checks they would need to perform during jobs. Well, it ain't gonna happen here. Newsflash: mercenary kids don't open up their doors to just anyone, military dorm rooms HAVE LOCKS, and it will be ON plus NOISY ALARM and LOADED GLOCK especially when they went to sleep. Real life Leonhart wouldn't wake up that calmly with Rinoa hovering above him, not already killing her with the sharp end of his Revolver before he sobered up. And this suicidal brat who didn't trust anyone slept so far from his Gunblade tucked in the case all that reach away and unlocked door was the main character in this supposedly military academy…?

Someone in Enix needed a security lesson.

A/N number two: Why would a headmaster of a military school choose someone who had botched not one but two of the only missions he had so far and with no other track records, a new fresh graduate nonetheless, with a low level SeeD skill, no social skill, no negotiation skill, nothing else but the gunblade and scowl (and leather, let's not forget the leather), when he got someone else more viable for the position? Cid's all about nepotism but he was supposed to be smart if nothing else…