The Orphan Chapter 19

The Burden of a Lion

By Kate Lorraine

Drew stood in the conference room of the former Galbadia Garden. The automatic door opened to reveal Garden Master Taylor and two students accompanying him. Drew smiled and walked over to welcome the old man.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Master Taylor, I trust that our new alliance will do much to strengthen the true Garden, Neo Garden."

Drew watched as the Garden master only nodded. It was impossible to see his expression behind that yellow facial piece. Drew had never been fond of the Garden Masters, they were always a nuance to him in his five years as a SeeD.

"Garden Master Taylor is in a state of mourning," on of the students informed Drew."His close companion, Master Polk was kidnaped by a band of bandits as he traveled here from Trabia. Master Gore wanted me to ask you to please respect Master Taylor's unwillingness to talk during this sad time."

Drew nodded, trying to keep his face sympathetic as he could. It annoyed him that the man could see out of that yellow facial piece and yet he cannot see in. It seemed fair though, the old man was deaf, all he had was his sight. Drew never liked the man, he had seen him without his mask once or twice in Balamb. It was a good thing that the Master kept his mask on, he was as ugly as a pile of vomit, from what Drew remembered. Now Garden Master Polk was a nuance as well. He too was ugly, with a face wrinkled as that of a dog's.

Drew turned to one of the students. "As long as Master Taylor remains by my side, I have the confidence of the rest of the garden masters, am I correct?"

The student nodded. "Master Taylor is highly respected among the Garden Masters. As long as you have his confidence, the rest of the Garden Masters are behind Neo Garden. Master Taylor will write a progress report to the other Masters each evening. They are sorry that they cannot trust you to act without his supervision. With time, they believe that this bond between the new commander and the Garden Masters will be far stronger."

Drew nodded. "I understand, I can't expect them to trust my decisions straight off the bat. Garden Master Taylor, you are welcomed to supervise me for as long as you would like."

With that Drew raised his hand to shake Garden Master Taylor's. Yet inwardly, Drew could not believe his luck. The man was deaf, it would be too easy to sneak around behind his back. What idiots the Garden Masters were to entrust their fate to such a man instead of one like Master Stern who would know that a leaf was falling from a tree three miles away. All the better for him, Drew supposed. His secret negotiations with Galbadia would not be reveled now. Little did the Garden know, how close they were to war. Now with the support of the Garden Master, Drew had no doubt that Neo Garden will prevail over Squall's pathetic excuse of a army. He would not have to fear invasion from Balamb Garden anymore.

* *

"Good evening, Mr Peterson," James said, saluting the veteran SeeD. James stood up tall and erect in effort to make a good impression on the man.

Peterson nodded. "Keep up the good work, young soldier. Are you guarding the Quad all by yourself?"

James nodded in assent. "They couldn't spare the man power to guard a wrecked aircraft. The Galbadians have retreated anyway, they didn't see the point in keeping guard here."

Peterson patted the young man on his shoulder. "You are a hard worker. Go take a break. I'll send someone else over here to guard the ship. Surely, you have a young lady you would rather spend your time with than a shredded piece of metal."

James smiled fondly. "I have one but she's a SeeD, like you. I don't see what she will want with the likes of me."

Peterson rolled his eyes. "Go, get going. Take her to the ballroom, I heard that they are celebrating tonight. The death of Wallace is a big victory for us. I'm sure that Jane will be happy to go with you."

James blushed noticeably. "Jane . . She's too high above me."

"Nonsense," Peterson said. "Go get going or you'll miss the fun."

James walked away, looking back once more, he saw Peterson leaving the Quad. What a kind man he was. If only all the snobby SeeDs were like that. James turned and did not look back anymore as he went in search of Jane.

Neither of them saw the dark figure that watched them from outside the Quad.

* *

Drew heard the quiet tapping of the Taylor's Garden Master slippers as he walked beside him to the conference room where a representative from Galbadia was waiting. Drew really did despise the man. However Drew tolerated him. If there was one thing which Drew did respect, that was his elders. He had always listened to what Cid told him. As for the garden masters, he tolerated them as well, although he never really respected them. The hierarchy of power went int terms of age. That was why Drew always despised Squall Leonhart, the little seventeen year old punk that thought he could use garden to get him more women. It was intolerable really, for Drew to allow himself to be a subordinate to that young ruffian who was barely even a SeeD.

Drew turned to Master Taylor as they stopped at the entrance of the conference room.

"Master Taylor, if I were to meet Squall Leonhart on the battle field I'll take him out in matter of seconds. I don't care what they say about him being a gifted fighter. In the end experience is all that matters. Isn't that what you used to say? That hard work makes the SeeD not the talent?"

Master Taylor merely grunted in response.

Drew leaned against the wall for a moment, glazing whimsically into his won reverie.

"I remember a five years ago when I told Cid that I would never become a SeeD because I had no talent. My father was a fisherman, I had no great lineage of fighters in my family. The headmaster then shook his head at me and told me that the greatest SeeDs he had ever seen were also the greatest workers. He had seen many a talented SeeD meet an early death due to their rashness. I passed the SeeD exam that year with his words in mind. I don't fear Squall Leonhart, if it is fate that I should die in his hands then I will do it gladly. But I have faith in Cid's advice, that perspiration will win over reckless strength."

Garden Master Taylor nodded, in quiet assent. Drew smiled. No reply was a good reply. Taylor was known for his bitter criticism. That must mean he liked my speech, Drew thought to himself as he turned and the stepped into the conference room, or maybe he just didn't hear it.

Patricia was there, with two Galbadian Soldiers. She had a frown on her face as Drew shook her hand. He took a seat opposite her. Taylor sat down beside Drew.

"I expect that you heard about the situation with Galbadia, that we lost our General in the last battle."

Drew nodded. "Yes, Wallace was a fool."

Patricia was unperturbed. "What I don't believe you heard was that the one who took him down was Seifer Almasy."

There was a silence in the room. Drew contemplated Patricia's words.

"Seifer Almasy? He was exiled from Garden. I don't understand."

With that Patricia pulled out a stack of glossy photos. She tossed them onto the small table where they landed with a flop.

"Take a look at these, Gains."

Drew looked at the photo closest to him. On it was the a blue blur. A girl, black hair, standing with her back to the camera. Drew saw a faint resemblance of a angel wing design on her back. The sorceress Rinoa. But it couldn't be. The terrace, that was in the east wing of Balamb garden. So had Garden been harboring the sorceress all along?

Beside him, Drew felt Taylor glancing over his shoulder to look at the photos.

"Looks like the knight and his sorceress have been reunited Gains." Patricia commented.

"But, I don't understand. This is insane. Garden has allowed Almasy into their mist?"

Patricia nodded sadly. "Looks like you've been had Gains. They were with the sorceress all along and now her knight has shown up. You lied to us Drew. You said that Garden was harboring the sorceress because she was in the body of their friend. Now what are you going to tell us? That Seifer Almasy is their friend too? That the sorceress just happened to show up on that terrace as Seifer Almasy was in that aircraft?"

Drew shook his head, at complete loss. "I don't understand. What do you plan to do? I swear I had no knowledge of this."

Patricia looked even more grave. "You must prove your loyalty to us Drew, and prove that your Garden is not corrupt as well. SeeD is for fighting sorceresses. Their Garden has obviously become a sorceress defender"

"Get to your point," Drew said.

Patricia smiled. "Fight Balamb Garden. Kill Almasy and the sorceress. Bring me their heads on a platter. Deling has ordered me to inform you that if you do not comply we will declare war on Neo Garden as well."

Drew looked down at the carpet. He began breathing deeply in anger and in despair. So all his efforts were in vain. They would be fighting a war anyway, a war on Garden. It was so disgustingly unfair. What was Quistis thinking? Harboring the sorceress?

"Listen," Patricia said, in effort to console the young man. "Galbadia will be behind you. We will support your men. Garden is weak, they will go down easily. Remember what you said to Wallace about Garden being weak spirited and low in confidence? With your superior leadership Garden won't stand a chance." Patricia glanced over at Master Taylor. "We will fully reimburse the Garden for all the funds required for war. I promise that you will lose no profit in this endeavor."

Master Taylor nodded.

Drew glared at him but finally turned back to Patricia, realizing that he was beaten.

"We have assurance of Galbadia's support?" Drew asked.

Patricia nodded in assent. "We will be with you every step of the way. You have my promise and Deling's."

Drew spoke bitterly "Deling's promises mean horse shit to me. I will fight Garden but I want complete support by your men. These people in this garden are my brothers and sisters. I grew up here. I won't sacrifice their lives for a worthless cause. I'm not Quistis Trepe or Squall Leonhart. I won't sacrifice the lives of a billion for that of one. I will bring you Almasy and Heartilly's heads. If Leonhart shows up I will bring you his as well."

Patricia nodded once more. "Good, that's all I need to hear. Deling wants the sorceress. He would be more than happy to leave Garden alone."

As Drew watched Patricia smile her plastic deceitful smile once more, he felt his stomach turn in disgust. The truth was however, Drew was only willing to sacrifice one life for his mistake in trusting Galbadia - his own. After Patricia left, Drew walked out of the Conference room. He didn't care anymore if the Garden master was following him. A man on the brink of death does not care about such trivial matters. Drew entered his second in command's office.

"Send a message to the Garden, Alan, tell them we are invading Garden. I'm challenging the leader of Garden to a duel to the death. Winner takes all."

* *

Quistis Trepe stood at the window of classroom looking over the fields where the war was raging on. Seifer had been right. After Wallace's death there was chaos. The Galbadians troops were a aimless mob that, some retreating over the hills, others fighting half heartily. However as she watched she noticed how artfully they managed to dodge all the mines which the Garden students had planted. It was strange really, how she didn't notice it before.

"Commander Quistis, Mr. Almasy is outside, would you like to speak to him?" a young student asked, tentatively.

Quistis looked over at the little blond girl, with large almond shaped eyes. Suddenly she felt a wave of sadness wash over her. That's what I used to be. I was young once too.

"Don't call me commander, Squall is still the commander of this garden." Quistis reminded her gently.

The girl nodded with uncertainty.

Quistis nodded, "alright I'll go talk to him."

* *

Quistis walked into the empty hallway to see Seifer standing there, his back turned to her. It was like old times again, back when she still was his teacher, and him her student. But now things were different . . and yet so much the same.

"Did you want to talk to me, Seifer?" She asked him, startling him for a second.

He turned towards her, blood stained gunblade in hand. She remembered back in the old days when she used to remind him to pull the trigger when attacking. He had laughed at her. Do you really think you could teach me anything about *my* gunblade? He had asked sarcastically. Then when she reminded Squall of the same fact he had frowned and turned away. That a pair they were.

"Yeah I wanted to make a confession," he said smirking. "Remember that time when you accused me of cheating on the test on Guardian Forces? Well, I did. I copied most of my answers off of Squall a.k.a. Mr goody two shoes, while we were passing them in."

Quistis shook her head with contempt. "We are in the middle of a war, Seifer, if you are trying to irritate me, save it for some other time."

Seifer shrugged. "Hey this is part of my redemption, admitting to all the bad things I've done."

Quistis turned to leave when Seifer interrupted her.

"You have no idea where the sorceress is, have you?" He asked.

She turned. "I thought you told me to leave finding the sorceress to you, Seifer."

Seifer grew serious. "The sorceress is a bigger threat than Galbadia. Galbadia only seeks the destruction of Garden, while she seeks the destruction of the world. If we don't find her soon, there will be no victors to this war. She's gathering her powers now, we need to find her while she's still weak. Once she is strong enough she will appear in one of the major cities and begin her conquest. It will be too late then to stop her."

Quistis thought about his words. "Do you know who she is Seifer? Edea does, as Zell told me. But Edea refuses to tell us anymore except that we must remember that she is evil. What do you know?"

Seifer tapped his gunblade against the floor. He scratched his head then he looked at her. "Her name is Alexandra. Ultimecia kept her imprisoned for most of her life because she has powers that could not only destroy the world of the living, but also that of the dead. She's not aware of her own power, that's the only advantage we have. However, when thrown into a rage, she might have access to these powers. She's young, very manipulative. Evil to the core, although she is easily able to convince others that she is lonely or helpless."

Quistis paused. "Rinoa, Squall, what do you think has become of them, Seifer? Is Squall really her knight?"

"Well I would say that if puberty boy doesn't show up within a few hours, he probably won't show up at all. Tomorrow, as you know Instructor, is the eight month of the year. The number eight has a lot of significance to sorceresses. Her powers will peak on the eighth day of the eighth month. We need to find her before then, it is perhaps too late already."

Quistis sighed and threw back her hands. "I can't take this anymore. This is ridiculous. The sorceress and Galbadia at once, what kind of disgusting situation is this?"

"Quistis! Quistis come! To the conference room." Fifi yelled as she came running down the hall, her pigtails bouncing wildly behind her.

"What now?" Quistis asked, exasperated.

Fifi leaned against a wall, breathing deeply. "Drew . . . . . Galbadia . . . . . message. Need . . to . . go . . . to . . . conference room . . now!"

* *

As Quistis stepped into the conference room she saw most of the SeeDs had already gathered there. Joe was sitting in one of the chairs near the window, the sun to his back, his expression grave. Fifi took her place near Zell who was sitting on the floor, his legs crossed under him. Irvine was standing in the corner, cowboy hat over his eyes with Selphie standing near him. A SeeD named Lindsay was sitting across from Irvine, watching him lovingly.

The SeeD named Jane, the one with the small scar across her chin who weld a powerful blade, stepped forward. Her short bob of a haircut looked almost boyish in nature, but her tiny elegant nose betrayal her attempts to appear rough. She was beautiful in her own tomboyish way.

"Quistis, we've just received word that Neo Garden has declared war on Garden." She gestured to the desk at the center of the room.

"It's all because of Seifer Almasy," Joe said as he stepped forward. "Quistis this is no time to let your emotions take control of your good judgement. He was the sorceress's knight. He tried to take your life, Squall's life and that of most of the people in this room. What right does he have to be under our protection?"

Quistis looked around the room desperately. "Irvine, Selphie? Zell? What do you think? I don't care anymore. Tell me what to do."


"It's not Seifer they are after," Zell said, after a while. "Fifi, tell Quistis what you told me and Joe this morning."

Fifi looked about in a fearful manner. Finally she looked down and spoke in a quiet voice. "I found something in the Quad this morning. It was a Galbadian ID card, like the kind that only the top officials carry. It was near the entrance, beside the small palm tree."

"Seifer is a spy for Galbadia. How else would you explain it? Why do you think after the death of Wallace that we still didn't completely annialate the Galbadians? How they manage to elude us again and again, no matter how artfully we set out traps?" Joe asked.

"How do you explain Wallace?" Jane asked.

"Easy, Seifer didn't kill Wallace, Irvine did." Zell interrupted. "It was a staged act. Seifer wanted our trust, so that was a good way to get it. Why do you think he's so goody goody all of a sudden? Did the Seifer we knew care about any sort of redemption? I say hellz no!"

"Shut up chicken wuss," a voice said, behind Quistis.

The entire room was silenced as Seifer walked in. He nodded at them all, knowingly and menacingly.

"I have a confession to make," he said "the spy -"

However he was interrupted as a few Galbadian airships flew by pelting the Garden with bullets.

"What the?" Irvine asked. "I thought they were retreating."

"Um, Quistis." Selphie said, "you better come take a look at this."

Quistis ran to the window and saw the troops coming over the hills. They were like a giant flood of oil, flowing over the landscape toward Garden. No no no no, Quistis thought. Not Neo Garden. Anything but another war, another bloody struggle.

As Quistis turned around she saw that half the SeeDs in the room had left. Selphie, Irvine, Zell and Joe were still there.

Joe smirked. "The spy has brought his upon us."

"No," Quistis whispered as she closed her eyes. "I brought this upon us."

* * *

Quistis saw Drew standing there, sword in hand as he led his troops. Garden's members opened a trail as she walked to the front of the ranks. She walked slowly, watching the faces of those she passed. How many of them will die in this battle? How many childhood friends will she lose? How many former students? How many of those faces would she sacrifice for the love of one?

At the front of the ranks she saw Seifer standing, Joe to the opposite side. Behind Drew were a row of Garden Masters. So they had gone over to Drew's side as well. It didn't surprise her. The entire population of Neo Garden was here. It would have taken more than a little persuasion by the Garden Masters to get them all here, fighting their own kind.

What kind of tragic trick was this for Garden to fight Garden? Quistis walked slowly, over the blood stained grass of the Balamb meadow. She was in no hurry to get there. Squall was gone, gone for good. She was alone in this. The composer of yet another war. The singer of yet another song of death.

Finally she reached the front of the ranks. Behind her, Student and SeeD alike filled in the path they had made for her to walk. Beside her on one side stood Seifer, on the other, Joe. She stood facing Drew, emaciated, deceitful, iron hearted Drew. He nodded at her in a gesture of mock respect.

"I didn't come here, Quistis, today, to fight a war." He told her, honestly, sincerely, lovingly.

The meadow was full of Garden members who were absolutely silent, listening to the two leaders. One who was the new puppet of Galbadia, the other a puppet of her undying faith.

"I want to settle things, Quistis, in the way that will cost the least amount of lives."

Drew watched Quistis's unmoving marble face. Would he fight her? what if she wanted to be his opponent? Drew looked past her at Almasy. Yes him, if Drew was to die at anyone's hands it would be either Almasy's or Leonhart's. Drew felt the Master Taylor stepping forward but he no longer cared. Let Taylor say anything darn thing he wanted to the other Garden Masters. Drew did not need their support anymore. Death was death. What did it matter if he died with or without the bloody acceptance of the obese one in his moth eaten red robe?

"Choose a member of your side to fight me, Quistis. We will duel to the death. That will settle things. No more helpless students will have to die. No more innocents perishing on the battlefield. Just me and one of you. Winner takes all."

Quistis watched Drew speak. She felt a sudden surge of forgiveness for him although she still hated him bitterly for what he had done. So he did care more for Garden then for his own hid. But her relief was quickly extinguished. Who would she choose to go to represent Garden?

How can she choose anyone to finish a war she started?


Drew looked at her sheepishly. "Quistis, please. Don't take out your grudge on my people. Let this duel decide the outcome of this war."

Quistis allowed her head to nodded, slowly up and down. She knew that by nodding she was not just agreeing to the duel. She was agreeing to fight him. Who else was more responsible for where they are today then her? No one.

"Drew, I accept your proposal. The representative from my side will be me."

A hush went out on all side. All the eyes were on Quistis who pulled out her Save the Queen and stepped forward.

Drew stared at her, his mouth agape. No not her, he did not want to fight Quistis. He hesitated hoping that someone would come to her rescue. Someone. She was a noble women, a good women, one who was loyal to her friend. Drew, as much as he disagreed with her, had admired her. She was the blessed virgin. The Penelope that waited fourteen years for Odysseus to come home. The Artemis with the wild hair and white arms that waited in the forest and ran with the wild deer. Come to her rescue, one of you cowardly men. Irvine, Joe, Seifer, Zell. Will you send your instructor, friend, student, leader to a bloody doom without a single word?


* *

All eyes were on Seifer Almasy as he stepped forward. He held his gunblade in his gloved hand and tossed his coat back with his old classic dramatic flair. The sun glittered off his short strands of golden hair and he was at that moment indeed as startling as any god.

"I have sometime to say, that you two might want to hear."

"Shut up Almasy," someone behind Quistis yelled.

Seifer ignored it,

"You've all been fooled. There is a spy here." Seifer stepped forward into the gape between Drew and Quistis. Seifer pulled out a wig and a folded up dress, blue with the familiar angel wing pattern on the back. He flung it onto the ground before Drew and Quistis.

"Here is your sorceress Drew. It was Fujin in Rinoa's clothing."

Seifer looked over at Quistis. He smiled suddenly, an amused smile.

"And Quistis, here is your spy," Seifer raised his gunblade in one swift motion and pointed it at Joe's throat. "Admit it, Peterson, you've been with the Galbadians all along." Seifer ordered.

Peterson erupted into laughter. "You disgusting imp, mislead child, deceitful traitor. What proof do you have that I am a spy? It's your word against mine. Shut up Almasy, we all know who is the traitor, the sorceress's lapdog, the warrior who will always be second place. Make one more accusation like that and I will make you eat that rusted gunblade of yours."

Seifer growled at Peterson.

"Do you have any proof, Seifer?" Quistis asked.

There was absolute silence as Seifer stared at Peterson without blinking. It was a staring match with Seifer's weapon still at Peterson's throat. The entire meadow held its breath. The sun stopped dead in the sky as the two men stood deadly still, as Drew did not notice that Master Taylor had stepped in front of him.

"I have the proof," the garden master said.

* *

Squall Leonhart ripped off the yellow facial piece of the Garden Master. He pulled the red robe off and tossed it aside. Inside, beneath that robe had been his well concealed gunblade.

Gasps erupted from every mouth in the meadow. The symphony of surprise was almost as loud as the shocked silence which permeated the meadow like the thickest fog. Quistis fell back in surprise. Selphie screamed in glee. Irvine smiled, unable to conceal his joy underneath his nonchalant exterior. Zell jumped backwards, knocking down a few SeeDs.

Seifer merely nodded at Squall, somewhat relieved that he had a ally among so many enemies. "What took you so long, puberty boy?" Seifer asked in mock jest.

Squall pulled his gunblade up to Peterson.

"You gave those photos of Fujin from the Falcon to the Galbadians. I saw you that night, I was outside the Quad watching you Peterson. You were their spy all along."

Squall turned and surveyed all the members of Garden with his eyes. The members of Neo Garden looked away in shame.

"And I don't think anyone here would doubt my word."

Squall drew his gunblade back to his side. His sapphire eyes burned with fury as he glared at Peterson once more. However the atmosphere of seriousness collapsed as Selphie ran out from the crowd and attacked Squall, hugging him close to her and spinning around.

"Squall! You are okay! Wheee!" She yelled laughing.

That appeared to loosen everyone up as Quistis took a few steps forward as well. For the umpteenth time that week she had tears in her eyes. But for the first time, they were tears of joy. Quistis stepped forward, drifted towards him. It was impossible to describe the emotions that were rupturing her heart. Relief, anger, love, joy, fear and hatred all merged into one to form the watery pearls that slide down her pale cheeks.

In the end the ones you love are simply. . . the ones you love.

She walked over and hugged him. Collapsing into his arms and held him so tightly that she knew she would never let go. Even when the dream was over and she woke up in her narrow bed, watching the Galbadians attack across the ruined landscape, she would never let go.

Seifer watched nearby where he still held his gunblade to the throat of Peterson. The blue fire in Squall's eyes were extinguished as the instructor, to everyone's surprise, fell into his arms.

Selphie stood back as she watched Squall awkwardly hug Quistis as she held him. For a moment there was complete silence, except the sound of Quistis's voice as she finally emerged from that long awaited embrace.

" Squall." She whispered as she looked up at his face. "Squall, is it really you?"

Quistis spoke those words softly, gently like whispers that lovers say to one another beside the ruins of the ancient castle at twilight. Like words which sleeping beauty uttered when she woke up from her centuries of sleep. Is that you? You look so familiar and yet so different, my dear prince.

"It is me," Squall assured her, as he tried to help her back onto her feet.

"Hey Instructor," Seifer called out, "Save your student molesting until you get behind closed doors for Hyne's sake. I'm about to puke."

Squall glared at Seifer. Quistis got up, brushing her hair back embarrassingly. She quickly replaced her emotions with her perpetual frown.

Seifer laughed and Peterson saw that it was his chance. He shoved Seifer back and began to run toward the cliff that overlooked the sea.

The Garden members, utterly shocked and confused, unwillingly opened up a path which he ran through. Seifer had fallen on his back. He cursed and brushed himself off. Squall, with his gunblade in hand, had started running through the crowd after Peterson, with Quistis not far behind.

Peterson stopped as he reached the edge of the cliff. The Garden members closed off the way back to the field. Squall emerged from the sea of people. He walked up to Peterson slowly.

Peterson looked like he was about to have a heart attack.

"Back off," he ordered Squall, holding his staff in both hands.

Squall did not respond as he merely walked leisurely toward Peterson. Squall was frowning, with his brows tightly knit. The scar across his forehead shown brightly against the sun. His short strands of gleaming brown hair twisted in the wind that came from over the sea.

Quistis finally emerged from the crowd. She stopped there, in front of the spectators, watching Squall walk closer and closer to the edge of the cliff where Peterson was. Quistis knew that she could not fight him, Peterson, her mentor. All she could do was watch. He would take care of things for her, Squall. There was no more need to worry. Everything was going to be okay. He knew what to do, he always did.

As Zell, Irvine and Selphie reached her, Quistis put out her arms to stop them from advancing on the cliff.

"Let him take care of it," Quistis said softly.

* *

Peterson struck first, unable to tolerate the anticipation anymore. He swing his staff at Squall's head but Squall ducked easily. Peterson was losing his nerve and in doing so his actions became more clumsy. Squall was able to dodge the man's blows with little effort.

The man swung his staff wildly, forgetting his experience and training in a desperate effort to hit his opponent. Finally, Squall caught his staff in one hand and tugged it out of Peterson's loose grasp.

Peterson was helpless he was beaten. He waited for Squall's final blow but Squall merely stood there, watching him with his acid blue eyes.

Finally Peterson broke. He began to laugh. He desisted his futile attempts to attack Squall and erupted in maniacal laughter. The wind passed through his clothing blowing him forwards as he stepped dangerously close to the edge of the cliff.

"You fool," he said to Squall, laughing some more. "Do you believe you have won? You disgusting insolent brat?"

Squall leaned against his gunblade, saying nothing. His face betraying no emotion expect annoyance.

Peterson opened his mouth and let out another string of laughter. "You . . . . you sorceress's knight. Do you think you are better than me? Do you think you are smart? Luckier? Wiser?"

Peterson turned around on that tiny inch of ground that was still supporting his weight.

"Well Leonhart, cast your eyes upon me and look into the mirror. We are one and the same. The sorceress, the sorceress will kill you all!"

Peterson looked at the garden spectators on last time. He smiled. There was no happiness in that smile, just utter fear and despair hidden and compacted for so long that it has emerged as mock joy.

"Garden fools, your leader is a sorceress's dog. A bastard mut!"

Peterson turned his glaze back to Squall. Squall was unaffected by his words.

"You don't have to do this, Joe." Squall said, watching him nonchalantly, speaking sincerely. Squall watched him with half sympathy and half irritation. It was clear that there was no more fighting to be done. This was a broken man. Squall leaned against his gunblade. The two eyed each other.

Peterson spoke at last. "Oh no, but I must Squall. I must. This is my destiny. My tragic destiny. But is better than yours Squall, better by far."

With that Peterson stepped off the edge of the cliff. Squall reached over and grabbed the man by his arm. The man's legs were dangling over the sharp rocky land a hundred feet below. He looked up at Squall with absolute terror in his eyes. But he threw back his head and laughed one last time as he pulled out a ivory handle dagger and stabbed Squall through his hand.

* *

Selphie was the first to reach him. Squall was walking back from the edge, his hand bleeding profusely. The blood trickled down his fingers in streams and dripped off the tips of his fingers. He held his gunblade with his left hand, dragging it along at a thirty degree angle to his leg. His leather jacket was bloody but it was invisible against the sun.

Squall did not react as Selphie grabbed him and cast full cure. Quistis reached him next and she let out a torrent of white wind. The mist enveloped him for a second then evaporated.

Irvine and Zell appeared next. They just stood by and watched the two women greet their old friend.

Squall glanced at his right hand. The gory red crater in the center had closed off half way. The bleeding obediently coming to an end. He grimaced as he tried to flex his hand. Healing spells weren't going to do much more for now.

Squall walked past his friends, back to the awaiting Garden spectators who were watching him with awe. Behind him, followed his friends. There, in front of everyone stood Seifer. Garden watched in anticipation as to what exchange would occur between the two rivals. However, they were disappointed as Seifer merely stepped aside to let Squall pass. His gesture did not go unnoticed as Squall nodded gratefully as his old enemy.

Following Seifer's lead, the rest of Garden, SeeD and student alike, stepped aside to open up a path for their commander to walk.

However, one person stood there, unmoving, blocking Squall's path.

Drew stood there, long katana in hand. His red hair glittered with sweat as the scar in his cheek shown evermore brightly then. He shrugged off his blue jacket and tossed it aside.

"I challenge you, Leonhart, to a duel to the death. Winner takes Garden."

Squall tightened his grip on the handle of his gunblade. He watched Drew intently.

"Is this what you really want Drew?" Squall asked.

Drew nodded, with a wicked gleam in his blue eyes. He brushed his cloud of red hair back from his forehead.

"What, Squall, scared? Are you afraid that you're not good enough for me? Peterson was just child's play. He was scared out of his wits. Well not me Squall, not me. I will prove once and for all to everyone here that persistence triumphs over talent. You and Seifer Almasy are but two conceited brats. I've had enough of this knight garbage. We are mercenaries, terrorists and warriors. This is not Camelot and you are not Richard the Lionheart. Fight me now Squall if you dare, I will destroy your grandiose illusions once and for all."

Squall nodded, seemingly sad. "Alright Drew, if this is your wish." Squall gestured for everyone to step back. Quistis caught him by his arm.

"Squall, your hand!"

Squall ignored her.

"Step back Quistis," he said once more, keeping his eye on Drew.

Irvine grabbed Quistis and pulled her away.

The crowd drew back, to form a circle about 15 feet across for Squall and Drew to duel in. Squall held his gunblade in his familiar posture, the handle at his hip with the tip at his adversary's eyes.

"Just one question, Squall," Drew said as he pulled his Katana up and pointed it at Squall.

Drew smiled, the scar on his cheek forming a semicircle. "What did you do with the real Master Taylor?"

Squall flexed his right hand painfully and wrapped it around the handle of his gunblade.

"He's in Shumi Village, drunk along with Master Polk."

Drew nodded. "I underestimated you, Squall. I thought that as soon as you returned you would come at me with your gunblade held high like some crazed angel. But I was wrong. I won't be wrong again."

Drew went for Squall's neck, Katana slashing wildy. Squall jumped aside, altered his grip on his gunblade and went for Drew's mid section. Drew blocked it and cast Ultima on Squall.

The green eruption threw Squall back against the ground but he was on his feet in a second. He raised his palm and returned with Meltdown.

Meanwhile, Quistis was watching from the side. Irvine kept his grip on her arm but she managed to wrestle her way out of it. She crossed her arms, watching the clashing of the two swords as they sent sparks into the air. It was like some lunatic ballet, a deadly dance, which Squall was not gaining the upper hand in. His hand was altering his performance considerably.

Squall slashed Drew with a downward cut, at his chest but Drew fell backwards. On his back Drew summoned his Guardian Force.

Ultima End! Drew yelled. Purple storm clouds bursted into the sky as Drew's Guardian Force Arrived. Squall immediately called Terra Flare. Bahamut, large shadow scaled dragon arose from the watery sea. His claws dug into the ground as he roared into the mid day sky. The dragon drew back a deep breath and sent a string of explosions into Drew's Guardian Force.

From behind Quistis, Zell whistled. "Wow pretty good move, but he should have boosted Bahamut. He should use Eden, Eden has a high affinity for Squall."

Quistis stared at the battlefield. "No," She whispered. "I have Eden, he gave it me before he left for Deling. He has Quezacotl, Carbuncle, and Bahamut."

Zell stared at her. "What?! Carbuncle? Are you joking? What is that little twerp going to do? He takes nearly half an hour to come for Squall anyway. He hates Squall more than he hated Ultimecia. "

Quistis shrugged. "We didn't expect him to go to Galbadia to fight a battle, Zell."

"Had enough Squall?" Drew asked as he tossed aside a empty container of potion. He tightened his grip on his Katana and watched Squall struggle with his grip on the gunblade. The boy was having a hard time holding the heavy blade with his wounded hand.

"Cid once told me Squall, that patience and discipline wins over dire strength. You may be the lion Squall, but I am the mouse. I will take you down, in the end because I use my will, not my muscle."

Squall stumbled back a step. He was obviously exhausted from the two battles. Strands of his brown hair was plastered to his forehead as he shifted the gunblade in his had again, trying to gain a better hold on it. Stretched to his limit he raised his gunblade to his waist and called fatal circle.

Bright red fire sprouted from the sides of the gunblade and enveloped Drew in a avalanche of pain. Drew recoiled back and used his own limit, ending touch, which sent a whirlwind around Squall, knocking him off his feet.

"Someone needs to help him," Quistis whispered in a frightened voice as Squall was trying to get back on his feet. Drew was stumbling back in exhaustion as well, unable to finish Squall with a last stab.

"This is his duel, Quistis, there is nothing any of us can do for him," Irvine said beside her.

Squall getting up slowly, on his knees how as he reached over for his gunblade which had fallen out of his grasp. He whispered something under his breath, ruby light.

"Had enough, Squall?" Drew asked in a mocking tone but was unable to conceal his own weariness. Drew was bleeding from a wound across his shoulder which Squall had delivered at the beginning of the battle.`Drew walked over to Squall and kicked the gunblade away. Drew raised his Katana and pointed it at Squall's throat. Squall said nothing, keeping his eyes away from Drew and at the ground near Drew's left leg.

"I won. Admit it Squall." He turned his eyes to the Garden spectators and smiled past his sweat, blood and pain. "Behold, your commander beaten! Is this the great warrior you told me about? Is this filthy dog faced commander of trash worthy of your admiration?" Drew turned his attention back to Squall. He poked Squall in the throat with the tip of his Katana.

"I want to hear it from you Squall, admit it that I've won. Say it and I will let you die quickly. Tell me that persistence has won over talent. I want to hear it from your lips!"

Squall looked up at Drew, meeting his eyes finally. Drew screamed suddenly as the ground under his left leg opened. Drew fell onto his back with his leg still dangling in the tiny hole where Carbuncle angrily appeared. Carbuncle was even more bitter when he realized that he had been kicked in the head.

Squall got back onto his feet as Carbuncle stuck his tongue out at Squall and ran in the direction of Selphie. Squall stepped forward, gunblade in hand and pointed it at Drew's pale slender throat.

"No Drew," Squall said despite his weariness. "Persistence might win over talent but ingenuity is the ruler of empty labor. I have less talent than you, Drew, and far less physical strength, your narrow mind was what I used to beat you. Remember that, Drew. Now go, get out of Cid's Garden and never return."

Squall picked up Drew's Katana and tossed it to him. He stood back as Drew grabbed his sword and ran in the direction of the mountains. The crowd opened up a path for him as he ran. He looked back only once and in doing so, tripped horribly over a protruding stone. He continued running toward the snow capped mountains as though all hell was chasing after him.

The garden members closed in around their commander. Selphie had Carbuncle sitting on her shoulder. Quistis stepped forward and up to Squall's sweat drenched face.

"Welcome home, Commander Squall."

Squall turned his face upward toward the clear blue sky.

"There is just one thing I still don't understand, Quistis," he said.

"What?" She asked curiously.

"Why the Galbadians still haven't attacked us." he said, breathing heavily still from the battle. As if on cue, a female garden student came running from over the hill. She ran into the crowd, they allowed her pass. She collapsed near Squall and Quistis. She was heaving and wheezing.

"Commander Quistis, commander Quistis!" she yelled but stopped as she caught sight of Squall. She looked absolutely embarrassed beyond belief and was shocked into silence.

Squall ignored her red face. "What is it?" He asked stepping forward.

" President Deling is dead. The sorceress has taken over Galbadia."


*Author's Note: this is a note on Chapter 16, in case you didn't know, crossing the stars means to go against fate. Romeo and Juliet were "star crossed lovers," meaning that it was written in the stars that they couldn't be together. I'm not trying to imply anything about Squall and Alex being lovers or anything, I'm just saying that they were never meant to be.

**Author's note: this chapter was based on Homer's The Odyssey. I spent a few weeks wondering how Squall will return and I came to the conclusion that he was a lot like Odysseus. Odysseus left his home to fight the Trojan war and all these evil suitors came to try to marry his wife, Penelope. Penelope is known for her loyalty since she waited so long for him to return. Also she bitterly refused the suitor's advances, like the way Quistis kept Squall's place for him while he was gone. When Odysseus came back he was disguised as a beggar, therefore, caught the suitors on surprise. He then killed them all mwhahhaa. Well I guess Squall can't kill them all, or he would be a bloodthirsty jackass. I'm not trying to make Squall into a larger than life mythical hero either, just a mythical hero will do (Lol).

So pretty much Quistis is Penelope and Squall is Odysseus. That's why the plot might have seemed strange. I went out of my way to draw this parallel.


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