Disclaimer: Square-Enix holds intellectual property over the Final Fantasy series and all of its memorable characters and stories. Was that good, guys? It was good...
FFVIII: Forging a Lionheart
Chapter Four: True Evil
A.N/So, Lunatic, any chance we'll ever see another update to "Leave, Then Return Again"?
"Ultimecia! Damn you!"
What form did the devil take that fateful night, Fuujin always questioned whenever those three words rattled around in the back of her mind, like a sudden shriek interrupting the peaceful pleasures of a quiet evening stroll. Was it her for playing the bystander that only dared to watch from afar? Was it the boy, so easily seduced by the tempting offer of strength? Was it the terrible goddess within the boy that manifested her awesome form solely for the selfish desire to be loved, or was it the noble demon that spilled her own blood so that she could enthrall the boy with her act of selflessness?
Fuujin felt very much inclined to let judgment fall to the final one in spite of her own sins to bear, as it seemed to her that another scheme was afoot this very night, and only she had the eye for the devil in the crowd. When Xu stepped out onto the balcony to take Squall's hand, Fuujin detected something in the black lion's eyes; it was the look one saw in the eyes of a hopeful prisoner that had just realized all shackles but the one around his ankles had yet to come undone. A contract had been agreed to between the boy and noble demon that night four long years prior, and it was only now, that Xu returned from her long absence to reclaim him, that Squall Leonhart realized it was still unfulfilled. Now he danced hand in hand with the devil and all within the ballroom could only stand enthralled by the performance just as Fuujin had when the last curtain had come up for Xu's grand act.
"And what good am I to you now?" The eye patched beauty spoke aloud with no one to hear her, partly obscured in the devouring shadow of a marble column that she had come to lean against when she entered earlier from the balcony to investigate the cause for everyone's excitement. Now would have been the opportune moment for her to call upon her courage and cut into the middle of the tango to replace Xu (She had some dance experience...), but even now she felt so far from Squall as he danced within her sight, and she knew that he would misunderstand her intentions, as would everyone else. Nothing had changed between them in the past four years; Xu still ran her bow through the sweetest chords in his heart and Fuujin had yet to come close to holding it.
"Did I miss my chance?" For her regrets to take hold now when her adversary was practically taunting her was a bitter taste of self-defeat, but it was difficult to fight the emotions that swelled deep in her heart as she curled her right hand into a familiar fist. She had a chance to offer her hand to him, and she instead chose to strike him down with it out of childish anger; out of her unwillingness to understand his internal struggle with something greater than himself.
It was five years ago when Fuujin came to have her first face to face meeting with Squall Leonhart. By that particular time Seifer Almasy had already befriended both her and Raijin, so it would have been more accurate to say that her first meeting with the brooding orphan was made possible through the spirited, blonde youth. As far as first impressions went–
The students dining in the cafeteria turn away from their food at the sound of commotion just as Squall tackles Seifer to the floor in the middle of the lunch line, straddling him to immobilize him. He presses a heavy left palm into Seifer's shoulder to squash any resistance and clenches his right hand into a fist, slamming it down onto the other boy's face repeatedly. Fuujin and Raijin stand by anxiously, holding off from interfering under Seifer's insistence not to.
"Mention." Punch. "Her." Punch. "Again, Seifer!" Squall screams angrily, pulling his hand back up again to deliver another punch to Seifer's bruised face. The dark haired student already sports a split lower lip and a swelling right eye from the exchanged blows of their initial scuffle.
"Ellone abandoned you, Squall!" Seifer screams back, neck muscles tightening as he does. He scores a right hook to the side of Squall's mouth with his free hand and shoves the boy off while he's still reeling from the hit to get back on his feet. "I'm all you've got now, so quit acting like you don't know me, idiot!"
Squall scrambles back get his legs beneath him again before Seifer can get the jump on him, wiping his mouth of blood with his sleeve as he takes a slightly hunched stance like a gladiator at the coliseum. The opposing boy sees the stubborn fire in his eyes and stands ready to receive his fists, beckoning him forward with two flicks of his hand.
"Just like back at the orphanage, huh?" Seifer taunts him, cracking a brief smile as if he relishes the familiarity of his brother's anger. "C'mon, let's go!"
"I don't need you!" Squall denies Seifer, moving forward to continue the fight, but Fuujin steps into his path and delivers a blindingly fast left hook to his mouth that drops him to the floor like a plank of wood. Even Seifer is left stunned by her decision to interfere, dropping his fists at his sides.
She glowers down at him as he stares up at her in a beaten daze, and she growls, "Back off."
–Fuujin liked to believe that it could have gone much worse.
Being the number two in Seifer's clique ensured that every other encounter she had with Squall held little to no probability of a productive conversation taking place. They would lock eyes every now and then from across a room, or hold eye contact as they came up close to each other in the hallway, but Fuujin figured it had less to do with him harboring any genuine interest in her as an individual and more to do with him being wary of the next sucker punch from her end. Eventually, as the months of observing him went by without any new developments to speak of in their social situation (or lack thereof), it occurred to her that the very likely possibility of Squall being repulsed by her didn't settle well in her stomach. Here she came to the conundrum as to why he began occupying the better part of her thoughts; whether it was just the guilt from punching him finally eating her up inside, or a developing sense of sympathy from seeing him all to himself most of the time (When those two older girls weren't dragging him around everywhere with them, that is), it was a real mystery.
Hyne had a queer way of letting the pieces fall into place, really.
Fuujin had developed a love for history during her stay at Balamb Garden, particularly the history of the Centra Empire before the Lunar Cry wiped the good part of the great civilization from the face of the earth and forced what was left of its people to disperse to the other continents of the world for survivals sake. What particularly inflamed her love of the Centra were their airships; specially designed crafts capable of sailing the scorching sands, tumultuous oceans, and the soaring clouds all at once. The entire globe was the Centras to claim, and had those monstrous abominations from the moon not set them back in all they worked hard to build the world would have surely been under the same empire's rule this very day. She admired the architects and engineers behind the construction of those wonderful ships, having dreams of her own to someday build an airship of her own with which to travel the world.
Captain Fuujin Kazeno of the Invincible...the Invincible MK IV! Yes, she wouldn't stop at one airship; why would she? Trains and cars would be relics of the past when she was done bringing her vision to fruition, so instead of having girlfriends to spend the afternoons with Fuujin passed the hours at the library to learn more about the Centra and feed the dreams that filled her mind. It was during one of her searches through the bookshelves in the rear section of the library that she had her chance encounter with Squall, whom apparently shared a common interest in the Centra (Under Xu's encouragement), and managed to get his hands on a particular book she had been on the lookout for before she could get to it first, "The Legend of Vascaroon". You might say that she felt entitled to it.
"That book..." Fuujin looked at Squall like a lioness staring down a piece of meat on a hook. At the slightest sign of movement she looked prepared to tackle him to the floor, and by the look on the boy's face he appeared ever so aware of his predicament.
Pulling the book halfway off the shelf as discreetly as he could, Squall inquired flatly, "What about it?"
"The Legend of Vascaroon, right?"
"Yeah, this is it." He answered her guardedly. He slipped the book off the shelf in its entirety and the atmosphere fell heavy as Fuujin appeared to grow in size before his very eyes, or maybe it was due to her taking in so much air that her chest expanded to its full capacity. He wasn't sure.
"I've been waiting for that book to be returned." She explained, not conscious of how her right hand slowly extended out toward him with an open palm as if to demand that he hand it over. "I've been waiting long."
Squall cleared his throat, now tense as a rock. "Same here, actually." He took a slow step back. "I'm going to go now."
"Halt!" Fuujin took a quick step forward and Squall's eyes narrowed like a threatened feline. "I will die right here if you take that with you." And she played it out for all it was worth, appearing at that moment quite frail. She didn't think she had it in herself to be so desperate, but the thought of cracking that book open on her bed at her dormitory was already such a high that to lose it would have been absolutely devastating.
Squall's eyes softened at her act and he sighed. "I hear there are a lot of passages in this book that allude to other works that came before it." He approached her with a slow walk to get her to relax, watching the excitement in her body language gradually make itself ever more apparent with each step he took toward her. "Some of the accounts won't make sense if you haven't read those." He leaned a shoulder on the shelf beside them and looked into Fuujin's eyes with the issue of a silent challenge. He was going to make her earn it.
Fuujin almost let a smirk slip, her scholar spirit inwardly preening at this opportunity to show off her knowledge to another avid reader. "Try me." She thought she could feel something similar in Squall, staring deep into his astonishingly blue eyes. It never occurred to her until now just how beautiful they were up close—it inspired an odd sensation of discomfort that she couldn't quite place; she could feel her skin growing hotter by the second.
Squall, on the other hand, was all business as he issued the first book. "A Spire from a Stone." His voice snapped her out of it.
"That's a compilation of written accounts from the workers and architects of the first castle constructed at the dawn of the Centra Empire. Supposedly they tore down an entire mountain to build it brick by brick." Fuujin gave it to him straight with a little hint of sass. "That book is practically a requirement for beginner researchers wanting to explore the history of the Centra."
Squall nodded his head a few times looking slightly amused by her response. "The behemoth that romped north." He issued the second book.
"It's a record of King Zebalga's young life as a prince before he took the crown. The clan of Zebalga didn't see its rise as a successful military force until King Isbalg—Zebalga's uncle—made ties with the king of the neighboring clan in the north, a decision that Zebalga's father, the previous king, had turned down before his mysterious illness took him. Relations between the two clans gradually grew turbulent the following three years and a war eventually broke out between the two, with the northern clan coming out as the victor due to its tactician's organized ambushes from the mountains that surrounded the northern kingdom. The following years after the defeat saw the southern clan under their rule. Prince Zebalga would then escape the kingdom with his mother and a handful of close friends to return ten years later with an army of his own, taking back control over his lands and expanding northward to conquer the northern clan in return."
"That was good." Squall complimented her. "But that was a warm up."
"So I should start taking you seriously now." Fuujin mocked him.
"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. "Cidolfus, the spear that—"
"Penetrated the clouds?" The silver haired girl finished for him excitedly before clearing her throat to reign herself in. "Of course I've read that book. Cidolfus Fabool was the legendary engineer that gave life to the very first airship, The Hilda Garde. It was named after his wife, whom died from an afflicting illness that crippled her ability to walk."
"It sounds like your favorite book." Squall observed, bringing a blush to her cheeks. "You're a fan of airships, aren't you?"
Fuujin gave a quiet nod, embarrassed at having been seen through so easily by him. The cute expression on her face placed Squall in a rare mood, drawing a chuckle from him that earned him a glare from the airship enthusiast.
"Is something funny?" She asked in an annoyed tone, taking his reaction as him poking fun at her.
"I just had this idea of you calling out orders on an airship sailing the skies." He lied to her, a hint of mirth in his normally monotone voice. "You'd make a fine pirate." He brushed her bangs back so he could get a better look at her left eye, which had been obscured from his view up until then. "I think an eye patch would look good on you, too."
Fuujin slapped his hand away. "Quit it." And an unexpected chill run up her arm sending all of the hairs standing at attention. She had to glance at his hand for a moment to make sure she wasn't imagining things because she could swear that it felt as though she slapped a block of ice.
Squall drew his hand back when he caught her staring at it, hiding it behind his back as if ashamed at what he had done. "...Sorry." He apologized to her, saying the word like it felt alien rolling off his tongue. "Ow!" He slapped the same hand against the side of his head immediately afterward.
Fuujin quirked a brow at his curious behavior. "What happened?"
"Nothi—OW!" He winced before he could finish, restraining himself from touching the side of his forehead this time. He recomposed himself quickly, ignoring the way she stared. "Actually, since you're into airships, did you ever catch the "Lunar Whale" documentary?"
The very mention of airships diverted Fuujin's focus away from his earlier behavior...of three seconds ago. It felt so very distant now; in fact, what?
"The what?" She leaned forward, eager to hear more about this whale. "The what whale?"
"The Lunar Whale." Squall repeated himself. "Before the Lunar Cry wiped out the empire, an unnamed airship engineer had blueprints mapped out for a new kind of airship. A woman in Esthar who turned out to be a descendant of that engineer found an old, leather bound book in her grandmother's closet full of complexly detailed notes and illustrations. Turns out that it was authentic."
"W-what?" Fuujin stared at him like he just announced the second coming of Hyne. "A new airship called the Lunar Whale? No way."
"Do you know why the airship was called that?" Squall lead her on by the nose and she was enjoying every second of it, replying with a near breathless, "I have an idea, but tell me anyway."
Squall delivered her answer in a whisper, "Because it was going to be the first airship that could travel into space."
Fuujin nearly swooned. "No way." She squeaked, biting her lip.
Squall nodded."Yes way." He got down on one knee to set the book he was holding aside, and slipped off his messenger bag to pull out a notebook. "I've got eight pages worth of notes right here, front to back." He held it up to her, and with the look she gave him any person could have walked by at that very moment and misinterpreted the whole thing as a marriage proposal. "Wanna have a look at it?"
Two grabby hands snatched the notebook from his outstretched hand. "Yes!" Fuujin clutched the notebook to her chest, nodding her head painfully slow like a damaged bobble head. "Thank you." Her gratitude was heartfelt, and for the first time in a very long time Squall Leonhart felt like he'd done something worthy of praise.
A light blush came to his cheeks. "You're...you're welco—"
"Geez, you said you'd be back by four." Quistis Trepe ruined the moment between the two, coming around the corner of the bookshelf at the end of the row with Xu. "That was almost two hours ago, just so you know. Come on, we're going to grab something for dinner." The blonde upperclassman chewed out the boy as she made her way down the row.
Squall picked the "Legend of Vascaroon" off the floor and turned to regard his room mate."I was searching for a book." He saw Xu walking up from behind Quistis, and he held the book up like a hard earned trophy. "It finally came in, Xu." Addressing the other girl brought a twitch to the blonde SeeD cadet's brow.
"Great." Quistis spoke before Xu could open her mouth to reply. "Get it checked out at the librarian's desk so we can get out of here." She placed a hand on Squall's shoulder to lead him on his way, allowing herself a fleeting glance of Fuujin before turning away with the boy to leave.
Xu chose to hang back, taking stock of the airship enthusiast before offering her a friendly smile. "Fuujin Kazeno." Her address of the girl pulled Fuujin's eyes away from Squall's fleeting form to settle upon her.
"Yes." Fuujin responded, still holding the notebook to her chest gingerly. It could have been her imagination, but even with Xu standing there in front of her, she now felt quite lonely. "That's my name."
"Yes, I know." The chuckle that left Xu's mouth sounded amused for the wrong reasons. "Though, I must say, seeing you with Squall is thought provoking. I have a feeling I know how this little encounter came to be. Mind if I gave it a shot?"
"Why?" The younger girl felt Xu's presence to be decidedly unpleasant.
"Just a hobby of mine, really." Xu answered, turning her back of Fuujin before she went on, "You came here to find that book Squall was holding in his hand. You, just like him, had been waiting for it to be returned for quite some time now, so you stopped him before he could leave with it, which started the whole interaction." Xu turned to face her again. "As it turns out, you both share a fascination for the Centra so to decide who would walk away with the prize a trivia game was held, which would explain why Squall took longer than expected to leave."
Fuujin remained silent.
"This doesn't make you two friends, you know." Xu told the younger girl, still sounding playful in spite of the cruel words that left her mouth. "Squall doesn't have friends; doesn't believe in them, to be honest."
"What do you mean?" Fuujin's hands gripped the notebook, her expression noting an unwillingness to accept Xu's words. "He seemed...happy to speak with me. I don't think I've ever seen him talk so much."
"Oh, so you've been watching him." Xu didn't let that one slip by her. "How cute."
"Oh..." Fuujin's eyes went wide with mortification. "...Well..I..."
"But let us not forget," Xu pointed a finger to the notebook that the younger girl held to her chest, "He just walked away with the book, didn't he?" She watched as it slowly dawned on Fuujin, that something had been stolen right under her nose, and delivered the final stab, "If he really thought of you as a friend, wouldn't he have at least offered for the two of you to read it together?"
Fuujin felt her heart sink. "...He didn't even say goodbye."
Xu shrugged her shoulders and turned to walk away, but not without a parting zinger of, "Well, what purpose would it serve?"
Now Fuujin wasn't the type of girl to take someone else's word as gospel without supporting evidence. True, Xu's words were very affecting, hurtful even, but Fuujin couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps that was the older girl's intention when she stopped to speak with her; to make it hurt so she wouldn't think to pursue a friendship with Squall. The only problem with that hunch was that in the following days nothing really changed between her and Squall—every now and then they would lock eyes from across a room, or sometimes even hold eye contact when they passed each other on the way to classes, but he wouldn't stop to speak with her, or offer a friendly greeting. It was almost as if he'd forgotten that the encounter at the library ever happened. She sometimes entertained the idea that perhaps he would stop her one day and ask for her to return his notebook at the very least, but days turned into weeks, and when the first month rolled by the feelings she had for that one, fun night together curled up and died inside of her, as did any hope of anything changing for the better between them.
Xu's words burned into her mind like a white hot brand, but as with all brands the pain eventually went away and Fuujin forgot about how much it hurt, with time. Well, that's how brands were supposed to work anyway.
Being Seifer's number two meant that Fuujin was never short of emotional experiences, the explosive ones mostly, because the young Almasy was passion incarnate. If the boy wasn't fighting with his fists then he did so with his words, and she was convinced that he could only find satisfaction in one or the other. Staying close to Seifer also ensured that she saw Squall when he was at his very worst, which only seemed to manifest itself when Seifer was feeling at his best, ironically enough. What this was all leading to, since you're undoubtedly curious to know, was the afternoon that arguably brought the worst out of everyone.
It started with lunch.
To Be Continued...