"And boyhood is a summer sun
Whose waning is the dreariest one.
For all we live to know is known
And all we seek to keep hath flown."
--E.A. Poe

Kamalyn rolled over in bed, yawning broadly. The sunlight was beginning to penetrate the curtains, and it seemed as if he had woken a bit early, for whatever reason.

Glancing toward the clock on his desk, he groaned and got up. A piece of paper seemed to have fallen across it, obscuring the face. Picking it up, he glanced at it to see where it had come from.

After scanning the lines, his brain nearly froze up. After blinking at it a few times and discovering that the words on the paper wouldn't go away as soon as he thought he was awake, his hindbrain began to panic.

...I have to go tell Commander Leonhart...!

He got halfway to the door of the suite before he remembered to go back and change into his uniform.

Early mornings were always quiet in the office, since most of the staff didn't arrive until the office officially opened. Squall, however, was perpetually up early, and could almost always be found in the Office well before opening time. He came here for the solitude, more often than not--a solitude which was instantly encroached upon by a loud, pounding knock on the other side of the door.

Squall glanced up, tiredly irritable. "It isn't locked," he called, devoting most of his attention to the forms on the desk. The door opened, and he glanced up to see--


--he clamped down on the instinctive response, gritting his teeth and searching for the SeeD's name again--the one he could never seem to remember. He reasoned that it must have been the events of the previous night that were triggering those cues--usually he didn't have that moment of disorientation. Not any more, at least.

"The office isn't open for another hour," he informed him cooly, thinking Kamalyn. I think that's his name.

"I know, sir," the SeeD replied--and there was a hint of something a bit more than unease welling behind the words. "I--it's--" He took a breath, eyes locked on the Commander's face. "Aya, sir. She--"

Squall suppressed an annoyed groan in the interests of preserving an official appearance. "What?"

"She's gone, sir. She left Garden--"

"...what?" Oh, no...

Squall lurched out of his chair, staring at Kamalyn. The junior SeeD was trying to keep up an appearance of calm and control, but it was easy to see that underneath he was almost more scared than Squall had become. "I don't know, sir," he tried to explain. "When I woke up, there was a note for me on my console, and it said that she had left." Kamalyn pulled something out of his pocket, and his hand shook as he held it out to the Commander. "I thought I should report to you as soon as I found out. I don't know where she's going, or what she plans to do."

Squall took the note quickly, unfolding the paper. Quickly, he scanned the lines which Aya had written.


Damn it all. Damn the Lunar Cry, damn the Dead Continent, damn the DSRC, just damn everything. The world is getting screwed up, and I'm not going to sit around and not know why.

I'm leaving this note at 1:14 in the morning--you really need to get a better lock on your door. By the time you wake up, I'm going to be gone--I wouldn't worry too much about trying to go after me, if I were you. I'm taking Hyperion, but I've turned in all of my SeeD-issued GFs. Make sure that that Gansarro kid doesn't get Gigas--that would be way too satisfying for him.

Don't try to look for me--I'm going to be damnably hard to trace. Not quite sure where I'm going yet, anyway. And 'Leonhart' isn't going to stay--it's strangling me, and I need to get out, to breathe. I'm just "Aya" from this point forward.

Oh. I thought up a new poem fragment; complete with archaic terminology and that damn Late Centran form. Instructor Jemi would be proud. Take a look at this--

"O give me more a noble death

Than any sleeping cosset take
Or that may please a timid soul
Or may a coward's terrors slake
For by my final hour's end
What I have left behind will fade
And that what rot takes in embrace
Is in its rigid coffin laid;
While life doth our adventure hold
Our sleep puts forth our precious dreams:
Who calls us up in memory
Recalls what by our deaths we seem."

Not a single comma in the entire thing! If only I thought of it sooner. I could have aced that Lit course.

Oh, and about leaving--I'll leave it up to your discretion to judge who to tell.

What to say...? I'll see you again after I've done something BIG. Good luck on any assignments you get, and you had better have some interesting stories to tell when I get home.

- - Flying into history on the wings of scientific curiosity (and a good dose of combat aptitude),


Squall handed the paper back, dumbfoundedness and grimness pressing against each other inside him. '...I'll see you again after I've done something BIG?' ...where did she learn that expression? Is she trying to--

Taking a slow breath, he glanced at Kamalyn again. "Thank you for alerting me," he said as calmly as he could. "You're dismissed."

Kamalyn saluted, but hesitated. "...sir?" he asked.

Squall watched him for a moment. Everything he knew about this boy said that he would have wanted to get away as soon as Squall let him. "Yes?"

"...is there anything I can do?"

He--what? Squall watched him for a moment. ...oh... He had never bothered to keep track of Aya's friends--the only reason that he knew Kamalyn was her friend was that his adoptive parents were Fujin and Raijin. But, if he was a close enough friend for Aya to leave her message for him as opposed to for anyone else, it might follow that there was some feeling on his side for her, as well. "I'll contact you if there's anything," he said, still a bit too rattled to analyze what that meant. "Dismissed."

Kamalyn looked as if he was about to hesitate, but thought better of it and left the room with a quick salute. Squall sat back into the chair heavily, hand going up to massage the spot just between his eyes where a headache was building up.

She is going to get herself killed.

"Not quite," whispered something into his mind.

Long experience with the GFs kept him from jumping in surprise, but the fact that he couldn't recognize the mental voice was a bit odd. Who is this? he thought back.

"Come home, Black Knight," the voice murmured to him. "We have a lot to discuss, and I've always preferred my conversations to be face-to-face. I'll tell you all you need to know."

The mental presence disappeared, and left him to walk toward the door to the office in anticipation of what he might find.

"I told you I would see you again, Black Knight. Do you remember?"

The door hissed shut behind him, leaving him facing the black dragon who reclined in the middle of the common area of the suite. "Tiamat."

"It's been a long time." Tiamat stretched. "I told you I would see you again. I saw you sooner than I thought I would, though, and I wonder if you forgot about me afterward? But I'm here again, and I wanted to inform you that I'll be looking after Aya from here on out. You shouldn't worry."

"What's the meaning of all this?" Squall crossed his arms, glaring at her. "Are you the one orchestrating this?"

"Do you believe in reincarnation?" Tiamat asked, eyes aglow.

Squall pondered for a bare moment. "I'm not sure."

"I don't. Not really. But if I did..." Tiamat's eyes caught the Griever medallion that hung about Squall's neck, and the light gleamed off it. "If I did, I would almost swear that that girl is Seifer come back, trying to make things right, and just as lost and confused as ever."

Squall jumped internally. "Seifer?" he demanded, and then, a second later, "...make things right?" He wasn't sure which question he wanted to ask more.

"She is doing all that she can," Tiamat answered, and flashed her teeth in a grin. "As for Seifer? You needn't worry. Humans don't come back as humans. Seifer is... gone. Parts of him may remain somewhere--the whole of him, even--but he is none the less gone past any hope of your recall."

"Why are you doing this?"

Tiamat shook her head. "I said that I would tell you what you needed to know. You don't need to know that.

"Oh?" Squall frowned. "What do I need to know?"

Tiamat chuckled, eyes narrowing. "Listen to me, and listen to me well. You want to hunt her down. You want to take up arms and go after her. But you can't, Black Knight, and you know you can't. Time has passed; the days of your freedom are over. You were always one for growing up too swiftly, and now you look around and see something--you've gotten old, and the world is beginning to pass you by, drop you on the wayside because you can't keep up. You're realizing that the lifespan in front of you isn't as long as the lifespan behind you, and time is pulling you down into the depths like an iron ball and chain. It's not your world any more. It's time for the young to inherit what you've left behind."

Tiamat had risen and approached him, forcing him backward until he backed into a wall and stood there pinned by the power of the dragon's eyes. There was a soft hiss from behind the Guardian, and two pairs of eyes turned to see Rinoa entering from the bedroom, dressed in casual day clothes but luminous with the light of sorcery. Her eyes fixed on Tiamat's, stern and commanding in a way she was unused to looking.

"Get out."

Tiamat seemed to shrink infinitesimally, then nodded and slipped away into the netherworld through which GFs could travel. Rinoa moved to Squall's side, placing a hand lightly on his arm.

"She's gone, isn't she?" she asked, and it was clear she wasn't referring to the dragon.

Squall bowed his head--then caught her in an embrace and came to the very verge of tears. Off in the next room he could hear the orderly tick, tock of the clock on the wall--progressing forward slowly, and leaving him behind.

"You can come out from there, now. We're on the high seas."

Aya glanced out from the pile of shipboard supplies, meeting a pair of brown eyes. Standing stiffly, she glanced down at her hiding place. "How'd you find me?"

"I know every square centimetre of my ship," the man informed her. "I know when something is out of place."

Aya shrugged. "You White SeeDs don't miss a trick, do you?"

The man shrugged. "We try not to." He extended a hand, taking hers warmly when she responded. "Majon Bariel. I'm the captain of the Argent."

Aya nodded. "I'm called Aya."

Majon seemed to accept that. "Care to tell me why you wanted to stow away?"

Aya shrugged. "I needed to get away from Garden. I couldn't find the answers I needed there, and I couldn't easily leave."

Majon nodded thoughtfully. "Well, we have an empty bunk, and you're welcome to it as long as you want to stay with us. We're not going to be a ferry service, though; if you stay you help, and you go where we go."

Aya shrugged. "That's all right. I understand you're looking into the Lunar Cry?"

Majon nodded. "That's right."

Aya grinned. "That's exactly where I want to be."

Majon motioned to the doorway. "Well, no reason for you to stay cooped up in the hold any longer. Come up on deck. It's going to be a lovely day."

Unable to repress a grin, Aya followed as Majon lead the way up the short flight of stairs onto the deck. The early-morning light dazzled her for a moment, and she paused in her steps until her eyes could clear.

The view of the sea was incredible--a vast, glimmering expanse whose surface belied its real depth, gently rising and falling like the breath of a sleeping god. Above it the sky was a pale reflection of the watery blue, and the air was clear--at least, as far as she could see.

--End of Part One--

(Stay tuned for the continuation--right here, on a computer near you!)