Vigil of the Fates Chapter 18
The instructor awaited him at the entrance to Training Center.
We havent trained together here in a while, she said as they walked down the long hallway towards the reinforced gate. Lets see how well you do today.
Some jokingly called Training Center an evil garden inside the Garden, and with fair reasons. It was an artificially constructed area of jungle and swamps where a carefully chosen selection of vicious creatures roamed free. It was the only major facility that was removed afar from the main building of the Garden. It was also the only facility besides the infirmary that was open round the clock, and Squall had spent many late hours there whenever sleep was not a welcome nightly companion.
Though surveillance apparatuses monitored the place, anyone who stepped into Training Center was responsible for his or her own safety. It was the Gardens way of disciplining SeeDs to fend for themselves under pressure. All residents in training were required to complete a given number of hours at the center each term. Serious injuries were frequent. As an unwritten rule, cadets did not venture alone into the jungle. Squall was in the habit of disregarding that rule ever since he was marginally competent with the gunblade. The few recent times he had been accompanied in Training Center was by a faculty member in observation of his progress, and more often than not it was his instructor who performed that duty.
It being late at night, and the Garden preoccupied with celebration, the center was devoid of human presence. Its nonhuman population was all but invisible, lost in the shadows of the rich tropical undergrowth. The SeeDs proceeded, weapons drawn, along the circular route, well aware that stalkers eyes followed them closely.
The training began with the assault of a pair of grats. Foul-smelling plantlike creatures of minimal intelligence, grats were highly unpopular with trainees for their penchant for discharging gastric contents at the opponents. With two rounds of scorcher the SeeDs dispatched the botanical anomalies.
Squall studied the woman at his side, wondering why she had called him there. He was never one to refuse an opportunity to train and regularly exceeded his quota of training hours. Even so, he was surprised that the instructor did not advise to retreat when they ran into the giant reptile that the cadets had nicknamed T-Rexaurthe most lethal species to be found in the Garden compound. He had thought this would only be light exercise. Clearly the instructor had something different in mind.
Are you sure? he asked, gunblade held steady at the creature. It had sighted them, and its approaching strides shook the earth.
Why, afraid? Quistis returned. She flexed her steel whip in the air with expert ease, and tested it once against the ground, sharply.
This is an unscheduled training session.
Theyll want to know in the morning whos responsible for leaving a ten-ton carcass lying around.
Her laughter was close to a snort, but good-natured. Confident, arent we? I will take any responsibility. Shall we then see if youre as good as your words?
She charged ahead. Squall followed, and the reptiles roar tore through the jungle.
* * * * * * *
I must say, Quistis said, that was a lot quicker than I expected.
Squall stepped to the swampy pond nearby and dipped the gunblade for cleaning. The creature was a lifeless mound of flesh behind him. True to its notoriety, it had put up a fierce fight, but in the end its reptilian blood had not been able to withstand Shivas icy blasts. Below the dulled eyes, crimson streaks marked where Quistis deathblow had torn into the throat. She stood gazing at the kill.
Have you fought one of these alone before, Squall? she asked.
Twice, he said, wiping his sword.
Did you win both times?
I can see why the headmaster was anxious to see you join us, she said, tucking an errant lock of golden hair behind an ear. You are a rare student. Ill miss teaching you.
Squall shrugged. Sure.
She smiled in spite of herself. The boy certainly had a knack for monosyllabic answers. You up for another round?
After this? Squall looked at the dead creature. Its bound to be pretty dull. Unless youre thinking another T-Rexaur, and I dont think the center staff will let us get away with that.
A different opponent, then, she said, stepping back. Facing him at some distance, she outstretched her right hand and let the barbed end of her whip drop onto the ground. Do you accept the challenge?
Squall was nonplussed. You want a match against me?
Sure, she said.
Youre my instructor.
No, Im not.
He considered for a second, still reluctant. No regrets? he said.
Go on; come at me. Her defiant stance remained unchanged, and her grin was mocking.
Sighing, Squall readied the sword once more. He deliberated on his options. Caution was evidently critical. The whip commanded a substantially greater sphere than the sword, and Quistis was a master of the weapon. Only minutes before, he had witnessed her slash the throat of a much taller adversary while keeping herself well beyond its reachsomething not possible with sword attacks. She could make mincemeat, proverbial and literal, of any poor devil that rushed headlong against her.
Ready? she asked.
Squall withdrew his left hand from the hilt and grasped the sword with the right alone. He held the gunblade at his side, the tip pointing the earth at a downward angle.
Good thinking, she said.
Here I come.
Squall sprang at his opponent. The knife-edged whip came flying his way. He slapped it away with a counter swing of the gunblade, and was surprised at the force of the resistance he metthough slim, the whip was far from flimsy. He moved to thrust at her. Her weapon-wielding arm flung back, and Squall aborted the strike and ducked forward instinctively. The whip dashed by his ear, barely missing his shoulder. He rolled sideways on the forest floor, and in another instant he was back on his feet. She had already retracted and rolled the whip, and its gleaming, jagged tip dangled from her left hand.
You rolled instead of breaking the fall with your hands. Good, she said. Otherwise Id have had you knocked flaton your stomach.
This is a match, not a lesson, he growled. It had been a close call. Whatever her reasons, the lady meant business.
True, she said. A deceptively delicate movement of her forearm and wrist, and the steel lash was within threatening proximity again. He leapt back momentarily to block it, then pushed forward into her space. She retracted the whip, aiming again for his backside. He rotated. The gunblade drew a full circle in the air, and in one smooth stroke it batted off the whip and brought itself down upon the wielder of the whip.
Quistis spiraled out of the swords path. Squall pursued her. Quickly she reestablished the advantageous gap of fifteen steps between them. She unleashed the whip. Squall blocked it deftly. Maintaining distance, she followed with a barrage of quick, ferocious lashes. He met each blow with his own. Each was growing impressed with the others dexterity. While Quistis manipulated the snaky instrument as effortlessly as if it were her own limb, Squalls brisk strokes intercepted the fluid movements of her whip with singular precision.
She applied a stir, ever so subtle, to her stroke. The lash skipped and danced mischievously in front of his eyes. For one panicked moment, Squall thought he was about to get a second scar on his face. With a grunt and a savage yank of the sword he knocked away the lash. The blade snagged the lash, and the metallic clang of the impact ended in a dull snap as the whip straightened instantly to a taut line. Quistis pulled, nearly depriving Squall of his weapon. He held onto it with both hands. The two opponents stared each other off in a deadlock, her whip noosed tightly around his sword.
Looks like Ive disabled your weapon. She grinned, and jerked the whip again a bit.
Ditto. He did not give way. His former instructor was oddly reckless tonight. He was beginning to wonder if she hadnt had a little drink herself at the party.
The face-off lasted a long moment. Then she flicked a wrist. The lash uncoiled, releasing the sword, and darted at him. He swung the gunblade in a counterstrike. There was a flash, and a shrill crack, upon the clash. Quistis cried out sharply, stunned by the jolt of shock that coursed through the arm controlling the whip. She staggered back and stumbled. The next moment found her on the ground and his sword poised at her neck.
Squall withdrew the gunblade. Thats a round, he said.
Yes, she agreed, rubbing her paralyzed hand, which still clutched the whip. Rising, she examined the grip of the whip. The leather was warm, and mild singe marks dappled it; it had borne the brunt of the electrocution. Her fingers throbbed as senses slowly returned to them. Thunder junction? she asked.
He nodded. Sorry if I hurt you. Was that against the rules?
Since you didnt actually cast any spell, I would say no. She rolled up her whip. That was something new, Squallto apply an attack elemental junction to a defense maneuver. Its the first time my own weapon has betrayed me like this.
Consider different metal for the whip. Steel is too vulnerable to electrocution.
I think just coating it with a less conductive alloy will do.
Do you want to continue?
No, you win today. Mind youI said today. Lets take a break and cool off, and well head in.
Squall frowned. Break? Here? They were deep inside Training Center, and they could be attacked any moment.
Yes. You know, in the secret area. She turned curious eyes on him. Squall, have you never been there before?
I assumed it was somewhere right outside the center. Its actually in here? I thought I knew all about this place, he thought.
She stared at him. Youre incredible.
He shrugged. How is it a secret area anyway, if an instructor knows about it?
Well, I wasnt an instructor till last year. And .
She paused, looking down. She began walking towards the densely wooded northern recess of the center. Never mind. Come on, its this way.
* * * * * * *
The secret area was a secluded corner of Training Centers rooftop, where steam vents and other temperature regulation equipments were located. The tall trees of the jungle below rose around it, and their wide, supple leaves and branches enclosed the spot, giving it the feel of a cozy alcove. The night sky unrolled before the rooftop, and the phosphorescent glow of the Garden dominated the simple skyline.
A number of cadets were scattered about in small groups. In very small groups, Squall noted. In fact, mostly in twos, with a suspiciously high concentration of male-female pairs. Talks were hushed, and even the low hum of the vents seemed to dissolve into the ever-present sound of the forest, of winds and leaves.
Quistis walked to the roofs rail and leaned over it. Her chin came to rest on her folded arms. I havent been here for quite a while. For over a year, in fact, she said. She turned to him briefly. I still cant believe youve never been here. No one ever told you about it?
Someone probably did, he said. Seeing the crowd that hangs out here, I can see why I might have forgotten.
Hmm. A wan smile played at her mouth, and she was quiet. Squall followed suit and rested his arms over the rail, looking outward at the blue Garden.
After a minute she spoke, almost offhandedly. I havent said anything about your exam result. Congratulations, Squall.
They did not speak then for some time. Squall found the ambience curiously lulling. The leisurely rustle of the leaves and the chirping insects produced a fetching sort of calm. It was a quiet less dull, somehow, than the quiet of his own room. He contemplated the view ahead.
What time is it? Quistis asked from his side.
Squall started somewhat. He had almost begun to fancy that he was alone. Head nearly buried in her arms, the instructor seemed reluctant to consult her own timepiece.
Just past midnight, he told her.
Hmm, she said again, grimly. She entered another interval of silence.
Whats with her tonight? Squall thought. She almost sounded like him.
Did anyone ask for me at the ball? she asked.
Yes. Your fan club people. One after anotherquite tired me out.
Figures, she said. I dont know what they see in me. But I didnt want to see them. They will be so disappointed.
She was not making any sense to him. What are you talking about?
Quistis raised her head and stretched her arms. As of now, she declared, I am no longer an instructor.
It was an unforeseen morsel of information. He was unsure of how to digest it.
Her laugh was small and brittle. No. Ive been relieved of my instructors duties. I am a regular member of SeeD once again, just like you.
Oh. Squall tried to think of some words he should say. He came up with nothing.
Who knows, we may even end up working together sometime.
She threw him a sour glance. Is that all? You can do better than that, Squall.
I dont know what you want me to say, he said. But if thats how it was decided, I suppose you must abide by it.
They took care to sugarcoat their words, she said, turning back to the nightscape. But they basically told me that I havent met the expectations as a leader. That I was too young She sighed. I was only fifteen when I passed the SeeD exam, seventeen when I taught my first class. It was such a rushI felt that I had finally achieved something worthwhile. Its only been a year since then Where did it all go wrong? When did it all happen?
With growing despair Squall listened. Before he knew it the conversation had become a monologue, and he the sole audience. It was the most abject human situation imaginable to him.
This whole past year is surreal in hindsight, she went on. One day I am an up-and-coming prodigy of the Garden, and the next Im the rookie instructor, the new girl, the baby, and the home Ive known for years is suddenly a very different place. Even the people.
His head drooped. He was slipping into a depression of his own. What did she expect him to say about all this? What could she hope to find in him that would make any of this any better for her?
Im boring you, arent I, Squall?
Squall turned to her. She was watching him intently, blue eyes wide and serious in the moonlight. He found himself reiterating his earlier words; they were the only honest words he could think of. I dont know what you want me to say.
Lowering her gaze, she sighed. Maybe Im not asking you to say anything. Maybe I just want you to listen.
Quistis, he said. I dont know how to listen. I dont know what to feel, when you tell me these things.
That is sad to hear, she said, sincerely. Im sorry.
For an obscure reason, Squall was angry. Hang it all, Quistis, youre missing the point. Im not trying to make you feel sorry for me. Dont feel bad for me.
Why does it bother you that I care?
Because I dont know how to return it. Because you have your own problems. Dont concern yourself with mine, or what you fancy to be mine. Its needless, and its foolish.
Dont you at all feel sometimesfeel the need to confide in someone? To have your sentiments understood by another?
We all carry our burdens. No one may carry mine but I.
And the same, for me?
The same for everyone.
She continued to fix him with her gaze, earnest and grave. His short outburst over, Squall was uneasy again before her eyes.
Did I hurt you? she asked abruptly.
What? he said, puzzled.
She pointed to his right shoulder, calling his attention to a tear on his jacket.
That looks like a nick. Did I do that?
Oh. Its nothing, he said. Mustve got it when I rolled.
I wouldnt have cut you, you know. I only attacked with the blunt edge of the lash.
She nodded. Another minute, then well head in.
They watched the dark heavens, each silent with thoughts. Increasingly Squall felt as though he had done something wretched and despicable against the woman beside him. But then he was not so sure; it was absurd, the idea that he was at any fault here. There were few things in the world as disconcerting as an uncertain guilt.
* * * * * * *
They were near the exit when the scream reached their ears.
A trainee? Squall wondered aloud. He looked about to determine the source. The scream came again from the west, and with it a savage, strident cry that could not have issued from a human throat.
Over there. Come on! cried Quistis, breaking into a sprint.
What fool had walked in here alone at this hour? Squall thought as he ran through the shrubbery. But then what had that other noise been? It had not sounded like any beast he knew at Training Center.
They soon found the young woman who had called for help, terrified and backed up against the fence. Before her hovered a large golden creature. With each flap its translucent wings hissed threateningly.
What is that? Squall exclaimed. Since when were there flying creatures here?
The call was from the woman. Both Squall and Quistis turned to her in surprise. She looked familiar, he realized.
Who was she?
Squall! Quisty? she shouted again, relief flooding her fear-stricken face.
The creature lunged towards the stranger.
Its the girl I saw at the infirmary yesterday. Get low! he cried in warning, casting fire.
The flame impacted against the creatures side and pushed it away from its prey. The beast screeched amid the smoke, but it remained airborne. Its green eyes flashed furiously at the interlopers.
Can you hold it down? I just need a second, Squall said.
Got it, Quistis replied.
The creature swooped down upon them. The SeeDs leapt apart in opposite directions. Turning, Quistis let her whip fly, and the creature was secured around the segmented abdomen. It grunted, trying to pull itself free. Squall was already upon it. The gunblade crashed through its skull. The creature fell, headless, to the ground.
Squall put away his weapon and ran to the girl, who got up on unsteady legs. He supported her by the arm.
Thank you, Squall. She smiled shakily.
How do you know my name? he asked. It was you at the infirmary yesterday morning, wasnt it?
Is she all right? Quistis said, approaching.
Im fine, the girl assured them. Thank you both very much. I didnt realize what this place was when I wandered in.
Youre not a trainee here, Squall observed.
No, I am not.
Pardon us, then, but who are you? How do you know us? Quistis asked.
Miss Loire, there you are!
They turned to the owner of the voice. Two men in white combat gear were running toward them.
Now, who are these fellows? Quistis said.
They are with me, the woman told her. She moved to meet the newcomers.
Are you all right, Miss Loire? one of the men asked.
Yes, thanks to these officers. Im terribly sorry. I was tired of the party, and I ended up wandering in
Its not safe here. Please, let us go.
The men moved to her sides, each taking an arm protectively. The one who had spoken made a stiff bow to the SeeDs. Thank you both for your help. We will escort her out.
Squall and Quistis watched them leave. The young woman looked back briefly and waved at them. They nodded back.
Who was she? Quistis asked as they disappeared from sight.
A guest, it seems. But I saw her yesterday, too, Squall replied.
She knew you.
Youre the one she called Quisty.
I cant remember anyone calling me that. Not since my parents. A troubled look shadowed her face.
We should get going, Squall said.
* * * * * * *
They said good-night upon entering the main compound.
Be sure and have that wound cleaned before you go to bed, Quistis told him.
Sorry for keeping you up so late on your big night.
Squall nodded. Sure.
Her lips curled in a rueful, but not humorless, smile. She leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to the boys cheek.
Sleep tight. Life of SeeD begins for you in the morning.
1. So Squalls not quite the tactless SOB he is in the game. Get over it.
2. Quistis is a saint in this chapter. Get over that, too.
3. I know the kiss isnt in the game. But, hey, its the guys graduation night. Consider it a gift to our heronot that hell ever appreciate it.
4. No, there will not a Quall in the story. I still say Quistis rocks.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic