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At an Arm's Length. . .

A Final Fantasy VIII Story

Chapter 26: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

"Hey!" the jostled, junior SeeD cadet exclaimed before he realized who comprised the loud, giggling, hyper-powered flash that unintentionally pounded him into the corridor's wall.

"Sorry, dude," drawled Irvine, who followed behind at a slightly more leisurely pace. He continued with a note of annoyance in his voice, "We all know how much my Selphie likes to cast 'Haste' on herself."

"IRVINE!!"

"Sorry, gotta go!"

The cowboy was off.

And before I could get their autographs. Damn it! Nobody back at the dorm is going to believe this.

*****

The petite, yellow-clad girl stomped her foot impatiently. "IRVINE! Hurry up!"

"Selphie, why did you have to do that? We only made it here slightly before him anyway," Quistis fussed between gasps for air.

"IR-"

"Hey! I had to apologize to the junior you almost killed in your rush to get here," he answered shortly. "Besides, what was the big rush anyway? Tara's shift doesn't end for another two hours."

"But Irvine."

Quistis rolled her eyes and quietly backed away from the couple, whose little argument was starting to take on a life of its own. I might as well give them some privacy and go ahead into the library.

They'll come in once they're done, anyway, she thought as she made her way through the main hall to the research rooms. All the way in the back.

"Good afternoon, is Tara in?"

"Oh! Hello, Miss Trepe," the flustered intern responded. "Why don't you wait in her office, and I'll get her."

"Thank you," she responded, but the young girl had already scurried from the small room.

Quistis sat down in one of the chairs across from her acquaintance's desk. This is a little too like the detention rooms for me to get comfortable.

"Quistis!"

She stood up and received an enthusiastic hug from Zell's steady.

"I'm so sorry we haven't had time to meet about the book," Tara started digging through her file cabinet. "I mean, I haven't found much more information since what I mentioned in October, and - oh, Hyne! - could you help me with this?"

"Sure!" The blonde moved to accept the big box the librarian was now lifting down from on top of the file cabinet, her knees almost buckling under the package's unexpected heft.

"It's just not very much!"

Quistis looked at her in disbelief. "You call all of this 'not very much?'" She set the box down and opened it to reveal a report just inside. "You even wrote me an executive summary!"

As the two young women sat down on their respective sides of the desk, Tara frowned. "That's just the thing: It may look like a lot, but Quistis. there's nothing concrete.

"There's no publisher, no international catalog number, nothing. So I snipped a corner from one of its back pages and sent it to be aged."

Quistis shifted to the edge of her seat.

"What did they say?" questioned a masculine voice, as Irvine and a slightly subdued Selphie entered the office and also pulled up chairs.

"It's at least 100 years old, but it might be a great deal older," Tara sighed. "So I decided to take a slightly more anthropological approach."

"Thatta girl!" "Yay!"

Those two are just about back to their normal selves, Quistis smiled. Her attention returned back to the "girl" who was now unearthing a map out from under the small mountain of research materials.

"Here." Tara spread out the map and pointed to the peninsula that had been their childhood home. "This is where it starts. I tracked the incidences and frequency of this story about the blue lights. How it traveled throughout our world. The first known occurrence took place near where the orphanage was, but it happened so long ago that I couldn't find a firm date, just a timeframe."

She paused for effect. "One thousand years ago."

The look of disbelief on her guests' faces caused her to chuckle. "Come on. Is it really that hard to believe that this would happen around the same time as the first recorded Sorceress?"

Quistis silently clenched and unclenched her hands, until she realized they were all staring at her. "What? The thought of more sorceresses makes me a little tense."

"Testy Trepe," giggled Tara. "Although considering what all of you have been through, it's to be expected.

"It started here. Then every 30 to 50 years or so, the story and reports of a written version pop up in various countries, but none of the actual texts are in libraries. Or anywhere else, for that matter."

Quistis frowned slightly and cleared her throat. "So you're saying that these books are - or this book is - reported to appear. The story is then shared via storytellers or disseminated in some way. And then the original text seems to disappear?"

"From what I can tell. yes?"

"So where was the most recent sighting? How long ago?"

"About 22 years ago. In Esthar."

The former instructor slumped back into her seat. "I'm sorry for the interrogation."

"That's O.K. There's one more interesting thing, though," Tara said, pulling the book out of the box and opening it up to an illustration. "What does this look like to you?"

The threesome stood up and pored over the brightly illuminated artwork. A chipper voice piped up from over Irvine's shoulder, "Omigosh! It looks like SHIVA!"

"How did I never see this?" Quistis muttered, half to herself.

"Oh, but it gets BETTER," Tara continued. She fiddled with some more papers and shoved one in front of the SeeDs. "This is just a hunch, after seeing that drawing."

Quistis went pale as she read the carefully prepared chart. "The book's appearance could be linked to sightings of Shiva and the other GFs!"

*****

It was the first time in what seemed like forever that he had traveled through a populated location in the daylight.

SeeD training comes in handy yet again, thought Seifer as he walked briskly through the bustling streets of the tourist trap just north of Esthar's Sorceress Memorial. He adjusted the visor of his cap. Just one more traveler passing through.

"How many times do I have to tell you that you're not old enough to not hold my hand, kiddo?"

"I know, Mom. The bad men are around here."

Seifer's mouth set itself into a grim line. There's a slight chance they're talking about me, but I *did* read that there had been a string of kidna-

"Kira???!! KIRA!" A frantic shriek was heard from across the street. "THAT MAN HAS MY DAUGHTER!!"

His eyes looked up to meet those of a pregnant woman and just as quickly they shot in the direction toward which she was attempting, unsuccessfully, to run.

Toward a dark figure dragging a screaming and yelling girl. She can't be more than eight years old! CRAP!

He took off running and easily passed the young mother. "Get the police! I won't lose them!" Come on, kid. Keep fighting. Buy me some time. I'm coming.

As they turned the corner into an alley, her screams grew a little more faint. Come on. Hold on. Damn it. Almost there. He dumped his bag and Hyperion. Just a little -

A dead end. Kid, we're both lucky this one's a moron.

Seifer watched the trapped man frantically look for another means of escape. "Let the girl go, NOW."

The creep looked up and sneered. "Or what."

Famous last words.

Seifer efficiently swept the perp's feet out from under him. The child went flying, but the creep was now in a headlock.

"You O.K., sweetie?" Seifer shouted across to the dazed little girl, who responded by nodding. "All right. Now go - RUN - to your Mommy and have her bring the police right back here. Do you understand?"

Another nod.

"Good girl," he smiled at her. "Now GO!"

Seifer waited until she had turned the corner to safety. His eyes then narrowed as he looked back down at the grungy, middle-aged man he was restraining. "Go ahead. Try it," he sneered. "I'm always in the mood for a good fight."

The would-be kidnapper settled down and accepted that this was one he wouldn't and couldn't win.

Damn. Damn! DAMN! And I was trying to be inconspicuous.

A scuffling could be heard in the distance a few minutes later. "Over here!"

Members of the town's volunteer police force made their way around the corner to find one man had pinned the other down with one of those fancy headlocks they teach in officer training camp.

"FREEZE! Back away from each other."

The girl's mother was close behind. "But officer, the gentleman in the hat is who rescued -"

"Ma'am. It's procedure to cuff everyone up and take'em back to the station." The officer-in-charge continued, "You and Kira are coming -"

"JACKPOT!" 

"Too."

He shot a condescending look at the rookie, who had just pulled the hat off of the tall young man who had allegedly rescued the child. "Jeez! You interrupt me when I'm trying to explain the procedure to Mrs. Zabac - "

"But Sarg, look who we have here: It's SEIFER ALMASY!"

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Next chapter: Chapter 27 - Title yet undecided.

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Author's Notes: Hi, again! The updates might be few and far between, but I will NEVER abandon this baby. (The entire story is plotted out. It's just hard finding the time to write it.) ^_^'

If you feel so inclined, please hit the review button or send me an e-mail (aligator@projectsurlygirl.com). Knowing that people besides me are actually reading this gives me added incentive to keep it up.

Thanks, again! Be sure to check out my sites if you get a chance .

- Absolute-0.com: Anime, manga, movie and music reviews (plus my professional portfolio)

- ProjectSurlyGirl.com: My fiction site. Bookmark it. If ff.net ever has problems, all installments of my stories will be posted - without interruption - on this site.