We call snow that falls softly... a gift from the Faeries....

Feet crunched through the frosty grass. There was a path not ten meters away, but it was being largely ignored in the snowfall. Wind blew softly through the region, chilling everything.

Teeth braced against the cold, the man stalked forward. The jacket he was wearing did very little to block the chill wind, and his gloves were worn in all the places that actually helped. But he could stand it--he knew he could stand it. Not being able to would have been an insult to himself.

A gift from the Faeries.....

Pulling one hand out of his coat pocket, he held it out, palm up. A bunch of flakes laded on it obligingly, not even beginning to melt as he brought them close to his face to examine them. He could feet the cold wind on his skin, and he smiled. Pulling his other hand out of its pocket, he picked up the flakes between his thumb and index finger. Then, with a final grin, he ground it into water, leaving it to freeze on his exposed fingertips.

The Garden stood before him, blue as ice. Hunching against the cold, he took a moment to examine it through his unruly blonde hair. It should have hampered his depth perception that one of his eyes was completely hidden by the strands, but he had never stopped to mind.

The footsteps he left behind him were being slowly consumed by the snow, and he reasoned that if he got to Garden before the snow stopped there would be no record at all of how he got there. Inhaling a lungful of the freezing air, he tired to whistle though cold lips. It was an old tune, set with words he had mostly made up:

About and about and about he goes,
Where he stops, Nobody knows
Where he goes, Nobody cares,
And what he dares, Nobody dares.

Approaching the entrance to the Garden, he took a moment to go over his story. With luck, no one would recognize him--it had been some time since he had last seen them--and even if they did remember, no one would be able to stop him. Tapping a hand against his chest, he felt the ammo belt press into his skin. He smiled. No, no one could stop him.

Eye skipping over the building, he watched for anyone coming out. Cracking a smile, he ran over his script once more.

"Hello," he whispered into the winter wind. "My name is Nemo... Nemo Audet."

Nemo, neminis, he recited to himself silently. 'Nobody,' third declension common noun. Audeo, audere. 'Dare.' Second conjugation verb, 'Audet' third-person present tense.

What he dares, Nobody Dares.

"How fitting," he whispered to the winds.

Final Fantasy VIII

Hell for the Holidays


Selphie burst into the Cafeteria with a grin, waving a book at the pair sitting at the table. Both instinctively sighed--they figured that something enthusiastic was about to happen.

"Guys! Look what I found!" Selphie said, tossing the book at the nearest person--Nida.

"What is it, Selphie?" Quistis asked, resigned. She was probably wishing that she hadn't come.

"Read it, Nida!" Selphie demanded. Nida raised an eyebrow at her, then turned his attention to the piece.

"The Centran Winter Holidays," he read off the cover. He thought about that for a moment, then something hit him. "Geez, Selphie, you can't be serious."

"It'll be the perfect Winter Festival theme!" Selphie said. "It's so cool! There's this section about a holiday called Christmas, and--"

"You're going to make the entire Garden celebrate an ancient Centran religious holiday? And you're not afraid of some ancient god striking you down for blasphemy?"

"Blasphemy?" Selphie asked, confused.

"You're making a religious holiday into a Garden Festival," Nida explained. "Isn't that a bit of a trivialization?"

Selphie put her hands on her hips. "Back in Centra," she said authoritatively, "they had festivals to celebrate this sort of thing all the time."

"Selphie, those festivals were weeks long and involved the expenditure of most of the money in the Royal Treasury for food and games."


Nida gave a despairing look to Quistis, who shrugged. "I think it's a wonderful idea, Selphie," she said, hoping that Selphie would run off to make plans and leave her to her tea.

"I knew it!" Selphie said, grabbing the book and flipping it to a page which she had marked. "And there's so much the Festival Committee can do! You see, there's this thing called a Christmas Tree, and there are decorations, and--"

"Seems like you'll have your hands full, Selphie," Quistis remarked. Selphie nodded enthusiastically.

"That's why you're going to help me with it," she declared.

Nida choked on his coffee. "'ey?" he managed to get out by the time the liquid had stopped scalding his windpipe.

"There's too much for the Committee to do, so we're looking to get a few new members--just to help out this time around," she added hastily. "And I knew you two would help out--"

"Oh, no. No way," Nida said emphatically. "You can go convince Squall or something. I'm not in a very holiday-y mood."

"Come on!" Selphie said. "You have to help! We need you guys!"

"Selphie," Quistis began gently. "How are we supposed to help? We know nothing about--" she glanced at the page again. "--Christmas."

"I can teach you!" Selphie said. "It'll be fun. And we'll be bringing the joy of the holidays to a whole lot of people! It'll be so nice...."

Quistis sighed, deciding that giving in was probably the most painless option. "All right," she said.

"Booyaka!" Selphie yelled, probably using her pet exclamation for the first time in actual speech. "How about you, Nida?"

"Why should I help?" he asked.

Selphie grinned, clasping her hands behind her back. Nida began to get a very bad feeling.

"Er...." he started.

"If you don't, I'll tell everyone about that time you... you know, in Timber...." she trailed off. Nida turned a few shades paler.

"You're bluffing," he said.

Selphie turned to Quistis. "Hey, Quistis," she said. "Do the words Self-Sealing Stem Bolt and Galbadian Adjunct Military Data CPU mean anything to you?"

Nida jumped up. "Okay, okay!" he said, turning a deep scarlet. "I'll help."

"Great!" Selphie said, once more adopting her air of enthusiastic innocence. "I'll see you at the Committee meeting!"

Selphie jogged off, no doubt to find more unwilling victims. Nida turned to Quistis, who was raising an eye curiously at him.

"It's an episode of my life I'd prefer not to revisit," he muttered, gulping down the rest of his drink.

--- - - - ---

Commander Leonhart waited at attention, shivering slightly inside the black trenchcoat he had appropriated from the Garden equipment stores. His feet were already numbing, and the Balamb Train Station's lack of any substantial doors--or any doors at all, for that matter--at the entrance wasn't helping much. Huge heater fans dotted one of the walls separating the offices from the station proper, but all they were really managing to do was melt the snow that blew in and send it flowing back out to freeze into ice. The warm air circulating unevenly made most people waiting sweat and shiver by turns, resulting in that most of the people watching as the train pulled in were made truly miserable in a matter of minutes.

A number of transportation officials swarmed the train, making sure everything was all right before they offloaded the passengers. There was the usual general flurry of people finding their rides and liaisons, Squall being heartily ignored by most of them. Squall couldn't care less. Scanning the disembarking passengers, he carefully watched for a semifamiliar face--he had only seen it twice before, in photographs, and all he could really remember was blonde hair, brown eyes--and hoped that she hadn't been caught up in beurocratic difficulties again.

What seemed to be the last passenger had stepped off the train within ten minutes (thanks to the improved transportation practices), and Squall checked his watch. Glancing at a note he had brought, he verified that it was, indeed, the right train he was waiting for, and frowned. Dammit, the least the Garden Tribunal could do was send him a message if something went wrong--

"Thank you, sir, but I can handle my own luggage," a sharp feminine voice snapped from inside the train. There was the sound of fabric rustling and a light-haired figure appeared from within the train, muttering something about "damn social norms" and reshouldering one of her packs irately. Tall but solidly built, she gave the impression of a wolf with her graceful features and stalking gait. Long hair was tied back in a precise ponytail, and any observer would have been hard-pressed to find so much as one strand out of place.

Glancing over the dispersing crowd, the woman spotted Squall and made a beeline straight for him. Dropping her suitcase gracelessly, she raised a hand in the traditional SeeD salute.

"Denalek C. ValHalla, sent here by the SeeD Tribunal on Winter Island. I'll guess that you're Commander Leonhart."

Squall nodded, returning the salute. "I'm here to escort you back to Garden," he said. "I'll be your aide until you get to know your way around."

"Thank you," ValHalla said, extending a hand. Squall shook it firmly. "I'm sorry about the mix-ups in Trabia. The Tribunal really didn't mean to keep you waiting this long. What have you been doing for a Headmaster?"

Squall resisted the urge to grimace. "Garden has been run by myself, along with representatives from the Student Council, Instructor's Council, and Faculty."

"I hear you've been doing a good job of it," ValHalla commented. "Well, shall we get going? I have the feeling that I'll be needed in official capacity soon."

Squall nodded. Out of habit, he bent over to pick up her suitcase for her, only to have his hand close around empty air as she snatched it away.

"I'd prefer to keep track of my own materials, if you don't mind," she said as Squall awkwardly straightened up again. Do you have a car here, or do we walk?"

"One of the SeeDs should be waiting in the lot with a transport," Squall said, and ValHalla nodded and started walking. Squall fell into place beside her. "I'm sorry if it's not the transportation you're used to, but we don't have much of an extra budget for luxuries."

ValHalla laughed. "Commander, I took the sea trip from the Tribunal to Galbadia on a commandeered munitions transport left over from the Sorceress War. After that ride, a SeeD transport looks like a limousine. Come on, let's get going."

ValHalla quickened her pace, leaving Squall to hurry along behind her. He sighed, breath making a white cloud in the air. He had the feeling Headmaster ValHalla was going to be a hard one to keep up with.