Vigil of the Fates Chapter 19
Cid watched while the master administrator read the document. He could tell that the thin frown at the officials mouth was not merely one of concentration. He had expected this. Cid waited. None but the soft sound of pages turning perturbed the quiet of the office.
The master administrator put down the slight stack of papers. No doubt you anticipate my words, headmaster, he said. Norg will not be pleased with this.
Cid lifted his chin from the hand he had been leaning on. Galbadian aggression is beginning to take unpredictable turns. It requires our attention. This could be an opportunity. I believe he will understand.
I am aware that Galbadian agendas create significant sources of Gardens income, the administrator said. However, we are no government. We do not dabble in diplomatic operations. We intervene when all diplomacy has been abandonedprovided force stands a chance to prevail where diplomacy failed. Timber is hopeless.
That does not mean we should put her out of our thoughts. Galbadia is enough of a reason for us to maintain interest in Timber.
Precisely my thoughts, Headmaster Kramer, the administrator said. Galbadia is the one to be considered, not Timber. We are already at the top of the Deling regimes list of unfriendly forces. This, he put his finger on the document, will not alleviate the situation.
Cid leaned across his desk. We will be out of favor with Deling as long as his policy remains what it has been for the past twenty years. We must proceed with that understanding where Galbadia is concerned.
I dont understand, headmaster. Suppose they are found out? What then? No one knows what it may provoke the Galbadians to do.
As the contract assures, all involvement will be in secret, Cid replied patiently. They will not be found out. You speak as though we were sending out an invasion force against Galbadia.
Because it could very well be perceived as such, headmaster. We battled Galbadians only days ago.
Yes, Cid said with emphasis. We did.
Its different from Dollet, sir. Timber is an established Galbadian colony, occupied before any Garden existed. Danger of retaliation is high. And it will be us, not them, who will be branded aggressor. They will see to it.
They will not know.
The master administrator sighed and sat back. Timber is hopeless, he said.
It is an important Galbadian territory, and the one most fervently opposed to the regime. We must aid it when we can.
There is no profit in this.
Consider it an investment.
You say it easily. The master administrator sounded fatigued. You arent the one who has to sell it all to Norg.
It is a small operation.
The master administrator regarded the papers on the desk. Flipping to the last page, he wrote at the bottom. He then rolled up the document and banded it. We shall see what happens, he said, rising.
Cid rose after him, and they exchanged bows. There was a knock on the door.
Come in, Cid said.
Xu stepped in and saluted the men. He is here, sir, as ordered, she informed.
Thank you, Xu. Please send him in.
I will likely talk to you again this afternoon, sir, the master administrator said.
I will be waiting. Thank you for your patience.
He took leave just as Squall entered the office. Holding the door open for the master administrator, the young SeeD bowed. The bureaucrat acknowledged him with a glance and exited.
Good morning, Squall. Come in and have a seat. Cid motioned, smiling, to the chair his last visitor had vacated.
Good morning, sir, Squall saluted. He seated himself in front of the headmasters bulky wooden desk. On it documents and portfolios of all sizes and colors were arrayed in such chaotic heaps that the mahogany underneath was hardly visible.
Cid grinned embarrassedly. Im sorry, son, but allow me a minute to exhume my desk before we talk. He began to stack the papers into neater but no less haphazard piles. Things came up unexpectedly, and Ive been busy this morning. I just know Xu will not be happy with me today, tidying up all this mess.
Squall looked about the office. He seldom saw it, and the occasions when he talked alone with the headmaster in it were still rarer. As always the room was sunlit through the glass ceiling; it was situated at the very top of the conic building. Here the headmaster of Balamb Garden worked and resided. It was his exclusive domain, and the place abounded with reminders of Cid. Everything from the abundance of wide-branched plants to the dusty paintings on the wall, the distinct ties and jackets hanging from the coat rack, and even the smell of the air proclaimed the quarters sole occupant.
I didnt get to speak to you much at the ball. Did you have a good time? Cid asked as he shoved a handful of documents into a wall safe behind the desk.
Yes, sir, Squall said to the older man who had his back turned to him. On the desk, a tiny square frame of bronze among the office paraphernalia caught his eyes.
So, Squall. Cid settled into his chair. How has it been for you, the first week as a member of SeeD?
Not much has happened, sir. Ive enrolled in some seminars. I have been training much.
You sound somewhat bored.
Not at all, sir.
Well, the boy paused, I just am not, sir. I dont have to be occupied particularly to avoid boredom. I can usually find something to do. Ive been training much, he repeated.
That is a peculiar answer, from a young man like you, Cid said, curious. I imagine Seifer, for instance, would have been howling by now for an excuse to get off the island.
Cid observed Squalls reaction. He betrayed none and did not say anything.
I know things were never very smooth between you two, the headmaster added. But I had hoped that he would pass the field exam alongside the rest of you this time round. Hell be nineteen in no time, you see. He cant afford to go on being a rogue cadet for much longer. Have you seen how he is lately?
He hasnt bothered me since Dollet. Squall coughed lightly. Sir, did you call for me to discuss Seifer Almasy?
Oh, no. Pardon me, Squall, Cid chuckled. Its a bad habit of mineof anyone, really, that is laden with many concerns at once. I tend to let my talks wander.
The SeeD nodded, and waited for him to go on.
Well, then, Cid resumed, I notice on your papers, Squall, that you hardly ever leave Balamb, even during breaks. In fact, Dollet was the first foreign soil you saw in almost two years, wasnt it?
Yes, sir, Squall answered.
Is there some reason for your reluctance to travel?
There is no reluctance, sir. Its only that I have no ties outside the Garden.
Is that all?
You see, Squall. Cid considered his words. The critical margin between an officer of SeeD and a trainee lies in that the former makes the globe his field. We dispatch SeeDs to distant corners of the earth in the assurance that they will discharge their duties abroad with equal competence and judiciousness as they were inside the walls of the Garden.
I understand, sir.
I have the highest of hopes for your future with us.
I understand, sir. Is it a mission?
Nothing is certain yet, Cid replied, holding up a hand. As I have told you, this is only an overdue talk that Ive been meaning to have with you. But things have come up unexpectedly. I want you to know that you may be asked to embark on the path of a true SeeD without the time to build much field experience first.
I understand, sir, Squall repeated. In actuality Cids talk had more than slightly mystified him. The boy did not let it on. The headmaster would explain himself when he felt the need for it.
I am not trying to alarm you, Squall. Just be prepared for any eventuality. Cid winced at his own words. Goodness, Im not being very reassuring, am I?
Thats all right, sir. Be preparedI understand perfectly.
Im sure you do. Now then, what did you really think of the battle in Dollet? You already told me, he smiled, that it was a different sort of challenge. Different, but not too daunting, I should think?
It was reasonable.
And the enemies?
They were only foot soldiers. Most of the time, Squall added, thinking of the spider.
In combat, certainly, your squad was unmatched. You couldnt help what happened with the Galbadian mobile craft, unfortunately.
I hope to be able to handle such an enemy in near future.
There was a resolve in his statement that surprised the headmaster. A hint of emotion had accentuated his monotone momentarily. Cid sat back in his chair and studied the boys face. It remained impassive.
You desire strength, Squall, he observed. What other aspirations might you have?
Squall took a minute before answering. I will carry out the Gardens orders, he said.
That is all, sir. I will be a SeeD.
That you will. Cid looked down, nodding. That you will. Well, Squall, I thank you for coming. Good dayoh, wait; just one more thing before you go. He arose and opened the cabinet behind him. He stooped to reach something deep therein, rummaging through the articles inside.
Squalls gaze fell once again on the bronze frame on the desk. It held the picture of a dark-haired woman. He had not noticed it before. Though he was far from being a frequent visitor to the headmasters office, the portrait struck him as an oddly incongruous presence.
Here it is, said Cid. He placed a rudely cloth-wrapped package on the desk. This is for you. Its a gift from me.
Squall eyed it questioningly. What is it, sir?
Its a lantern. A very old one.
Squall waited for elaboration from the older man; none came. He took the package in his hands and fathomed its weight. He paused.
You feel it, Cid noted.
Is it sealed?
To unseal it temporarily, you only need to light the lantern.
Why only temporarily, sir?
You will know when you light it. I recommend a warm-up beforehand, however. Good day, Squall. We may speak again soon. Please tell Xu to come in on your way out.
Squall stood to salute the headmaster and left, the package tucked under his arm. Xu entered shortly.
Did you want these, headmaster? she said, producing a pair of hefty files.
You know it. Thank you.
You are welcome, sir. She handed them to him. They are perfectly sorted. I dont expect much, sir, but do try at least to keep the pages in the right filesthese are personal files.
All right, all right.
How was the interview, sir? The boy is something curious, isnt he?
Cid stretched back in his seat. Hes inscrutable. Im thinking that Ive left him that way for too long.
I know hes a project of yours, like Seifer, Xu noted with amusement, folding her arms. You just never got to talk to him much because he hasnt been as big a troublemaker as Seifer.
Yes. Well, he sighed, Seifer is Squalls trouble, it seems. I dont know what you will say to this, Xu, but I was responsible for their being assigned together in Dollet.
Is that true? she said, genuinely surprised. Thats a revelation, sir. What did you intend to achieve?
Well, I figured Squall would pass regardless. He tapped on the desk with a finger. I couldnt be so sure of Seifer. I thought, perhaps, if I put them together, their combined strength would ensure that their squad excelledin battle if nothing else.
And Seifer, being the captain, would have been credited with the squads success, she followed.
As it turned out, his squad did neutralize more Galbadians than any others, but
Xu shook her head. Seifers a misfit.
He deserves attention. He will become valuable to the Garden.
Valuable Perhaps, sir. I just hope he will become worthy of the Garden as well.
I share that hope, Xu.
Adjusting his reading glasses, Cid opened the first of the files she had brought. She moved to leave the office, but then paused at the doorway.
You are thinking of dispatching them together, she said.
Whats that? He looked up from reading.
The files, sir. You plan to send them as a team.
I am considering it.
I dont mean to be over the line, headmasterbut why not send more seasoned officers?
Because, Xu, Cid replied, meeting her eyes over the rim of the spectacles, their inexperience demands that they become experienced as expeditiously as possible.
Xu reflected on the answer for a moment. Ill say this much, headmaster, she said before exiting. If one were to dwell on inscrutability, you arewith all due respectfar ahead of anyone at Balamb Garden.
It comes with the job, Im afraid.
1. I write for your reviews. I mean it. Please tell me what you think of this chapter.
2. If you want to be notified of updates in future, say so in a review. Dont forget to add your e-mail address.
3. How do you like my Cid? I think hes a cool if unjustly downplayed minor character. As you no doubt noticed, he will be neither downplayed nor quite so minor in my reinterpretation. :)
4. Next chapter will see the return of Squalls narrative. Just to warn you all.
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