Disclaimer: I don't own the characters...heck, I don't even own the idea* (see bottom)...but the words are all mine.
A/N: I thought this up a long time ago and originally I was going to write just a short little piece...but then I started and realized I couldn't cover everything that I wanted to in one part that was a size any reader would consider taking on. :) This also has slightly shorter chapters than I usually write.
Chapter 1: Light in the Snow
Quistis tucked her hood close to her face, ignoring how its furry rim blocked her peripheral vision. She couldn't help but wonder why anyone would want to live in Trabia. The snow swept plane in front of her gave way to craggy mountains that were riddled with hidden crevasses, ones she'd been told could be so well hidden by the snow that a person would fall down into it before even suspecting its presence. Deep under her down filled coat, her thin frame shuddered. Somehow, she'd expected Seifer to travel somewhere warmer.
Feeling for her whip, she grunted with determination and set out across the bleak, whiteness once again. Her legs ached from her snow shoes, but she knew taking them off would mean falling through six feet of snow.
"How'd I get myself into this mess?" she mused bitterly. As if in answer to her question, the wind picked up, tossing grains of sub-zero snow against her face.
The whole thing had seemed innocent enough when Cid called her to his office and made the announcement that he had a mission for her. At the time, it had seemed better than sitting around Garden, so she'd accepted without bothering to listen to the details. She was to track down a war criminal - Seifer - and bring him back to Balamb. The mission sounded simple, and Quistis had foolishly assumed that Seifer would be easy to find. His tracks, however, had led her across the world more than once over. She'd been to Galbadia, Fisherman's Horizon, Esthar, Centra, and back to Balamb before finally tackling Trabia.
"I don't know how Selphie could stand living here," she muttered, her mood dipping as low as the temperature. Under the protection of her thick mittens, which were lined with pungent snow lion fur, she flexed her fingers. The locals had sold her the snow lion coat and mittens by insisting that the hollow fur fibers would keep her warmer than anything else. However, they hadn't mentioned the strong, spicy odor.
Digging deep in search of the will to move on, she rose a hand to shield her eyes from the icy wind as she focused on the not so distant mountains. Their tops were glazed with staunch ice caps, ones that she knew for a fact never melted. There were a few low lying passes between them, game trails that were intoxicatingly beautiful in the right season. It was Quistis' luck that Seifer would chose to travel - or, rather, flee - in the midst of deep autumn.
Her eyes, which were stinging and dilated, traveled along the landscape in the direction she would take. His attempt to allude her further by hiding in terrain he felt she wouldn't risk traversing was something she felt compelled to fight. The longer she was away, the more she began to miss being home. Garden had felt tight and suffocating, but the warm company of her friends and comfort of her long unused bed seemed like Heaven in comparison to the bitter Trabia tundra.
"Shit." She muttered the curse upon looking up into the darkening sky. The already weak sunlight was being blotted out by low stratus clouds. Was she to never have a stroke of good luck? Grumbling under her breath, she picked up her pace and tried to focus on the still fresh tracks in the snow. It would just figure if I tracked him all this way only to loose the trail in a snowstorm, she thought bitterly.
She knew she couldn't be far behind, the tracks through the hard, crusted snow were still fairly fresh. Of course, if there hadn't been new snowfall in a few days, he could be a substantial distance ahead. An angry sneer made its way across her lips as she realized he could be sitting in the warm, dry interior of some little village tavern.
In that case, he would be drinking...probably in excess. Seifer was a mean drunk if she ever saw one. She wasn't sure what was preferable, finding him sober with all of his faculties intact or coming across him under the influence. Either was a toss of the dice, gambling with her life -- whatever life she had left to give anyway.
The mountains before her loomed high and heavy. She'd never spent any substantial amount of time in Trabia. Balamb was never cold, not enough to snow anyway. Consequently, she wasn't quite sure how to deal with the sudden wind chill or make her way through the drifting snow. The only advantage she had was that Seifer knew as little about surviving in the ice and snow as she did. They were on equal footing.
She breathed out and watched her breath float in front of her face.
Through the cloud of her life, she spied a distant light. Snow swept over it for a moment, making it seem to blink and waver like a distant star. Narrowing her eyes, she focused on it, trying to figure what exactly the light was. Seifer could have stopped and built a fire, or it could be a weird sort of reflection off the snow. On the other hand, the light could be from a town which, Quistis reflected, would be more than welcome.
Picking up her pace, she pulled her hood a little tighter around her face. The fur brushed her cheeks making them feel slightly oily.
The brittle snow crunched loudly but the sound was somewhat lost in the now roaring wind. Quistis could feel tears welling up in her eyes from the cold, dry air and blinked hard a few times to rid herself of them.
The light loomed closer, and she could make out the ridged outline of a small town. The thought of something warm to drink and a bed for the night forced her blood to flow a little faster. Raising a gloved hand to shield her eyes, she went toward the village at a blind run, only realizing how small the place really was as it lurched forward at her.
A small cozy looking building was the first she came across. The lattice work on the windows and flickering glow from inside reminded her distantly of Winhill. Wiping her nose on her sleeve, and hardly believing she'd done something so disgusting afterward, she knocked solidly on the door.
"We're closed," a voice barked from inside. "Can't you see we're gonna have a hell of a storm? Get back home."
Quistis stood in shock for a moment, not quite sure what to do.
"I'm a little too far from home for that," she called back, trying to ignore the sound of her teeth clacking together.
There were murmurs from inside a moment before the door swung open and light from a roaring fireplace flooded out onto the snow. A man stood in the doorway, stout with a dark beard and glasses. He looked her up and down once with his dark eyes, then stepped back and invited her in with a wave of his hand.
"What's a little thing like you doing out here?" he asked, slamming the door behind her. Quistis had never considered herself particularly petite, but in comparison to this man she may as well have been a dwarf.
She opened her mouth to answer, but he cut her off before the words even had a chance to form on her tongue.
"Never mind, it doesn't matter," he shook his head. "I suppose there's some room for you upstairs, but just for tonight. This storm's going to be driving a lot of people in and I'm going to need all the room I've got for paying customers, understand?" He narrowed his eyes and walked over to a long bar. "Drink?"
"Do you have anything warm?" she asked hopefully. The little tavern was empty except for the man and herself but was well warmed by the fire. Feeling her joints ease up once again, she pushed her hood back off of her head.
"Some cider maybe?" he bent down behind the bar and came up with a mug. "Pretty little scrap you are...traveling alone?"
"Yeah." She pulled off her mittens next and stuffed them into one of her pockets. The large coat hid her whip and she was certain he didn't even suspect that she was a SeeD, or, more appropriately, a bounty hunter.
"Got some other guests upstairs," he announced gruffly. "Probably won't bother you much, but I suggest you stay in your room anyway."
"What sort of guests?" she asked, hoping beyond hope that one of them would fit Seifer's description.
"What do you mean what sort?" he asked suspiciously. "What does it matter to you?" As he spoke he poured some steaming cider into the mug he'd set out earlier and pushed it toward her. Quistis sat down on a stool in front of the bar and carefully picked up the warm ceramic mug in her chilled hands. Tilting it to her lips she relished the feel of the hot liquid pouring into her mouth. She could still feel it in her stomach after she swallowed.
"Was just wondering," she shrugged, not sure yet if she wanted to tell him exactly who she was.
"Lucky you didn't freeze," he announced suddenly, gesturing toward the window. "Going to blizzard, can feel it."
"Really?" Quistis asked through another gulp, not really paying attention.
"Broke my leg as a kid, can always feel the blizzards coming," he shrugged. "Don't drink that too fast...let it sink in a little."
"You'll get drunk if you haven't eaten," he replied.
"Damn." Quistis almost dropped the mug. "Why didn't you tell me it was alcoholic before you gave it to me?" He only shrugged and offered her some bread. Frowning angrily, she grabbed it out of his hand and took a large bite. The last thing she needed in the morning was a hangover. If Seifer got far enough ahead of her she knew she'd probably never find him again. After all, it was only a fluke that she'd found him out in Trabia.
"How much do you want for the room?" she asked, reaching into her pocket for some money.
"Don't worry about it," the man waved a hand. "On the house...you don't have anywhere else to go anyway."
"Thanks," Quistis smiled, appreciative of his generosity.
"Not a problem," he smiled, rolling back his large shoulders and sticking his chest out like a spring robin. Almost choking on her bread, Quistis smiled. She couldn't help getting the feeling that he didn't see women very often.
"In that case, could you show me to my room?"
He nodded and she followed him up a set of old stairs that groaned loudly under his substantial weight.
"The guy next to you's a rough one," he whispered. "Been through once or twice before. Might want to avoid him." Pulling a key off a long ring of them, he unlocked a door and Quistis hesitantly stepped inside.
"Is there somewhere I can clean up?" she asked.
"No shower I'm afraid," he shrugged. "I can bring you up a basin if you want."
"I'd appreciate that."
He left, leaving Quistis alone in the darkness of her room. Tomorrow she'd set out again, up the pass and through the snow. Seifer was out there somewhere, and she was going to find him. She could almost hear the sound of his voice...he was close, and she was determined to find him.
*This is loosely based on an episode of the show Due South. Those of you who have any clue what I'm talking about when I say Fraser and Victoria...Shhh! Don't tell! This doesn't end exactly the same anyway.