Vigil of the Fates Chapter 20
Light and haze, colors muted by darkness, and the images they jump at me only to back away, sometimes in turns, and sometimes in grotesque blendI am helpless to resist the torrent of impressions.
I fly, I am taken, through a cavern of glowing crystal
Through a city of night, of monuments and soldiers on the streets
Then to another city, of radiant, unearthly splendor
And now a hillside village, with quaint brick houses beyond the pasture, a dancing ground for dandelions swaying in the winds
Through them all, a voice, calling
Laguna, where are you? Laguna
Laguna. Who is ?
Then I awaken.
I grow aware of the pressure of the eyelids, of my trunk and limbs resting limply on the bed. I open my eyes to behold the drab pattern of the ceiling.
I trudge to the table for the water pitcher. After a drink, I put on the jacket hanging from the chair. It is still dark outside, but I dont feel like going back to bed.
This is the third time since the night of graduation that the dream has plagued my sleep.
* * * * * * * *
Two days after the meeting with the headmaster, I am ordered to forgo my morning schedule and report to a briefing room on the second floor. I have been expecting something like this. The headmaster and a master faculty member wait in the room, also something Ive expected. What I have not foreseen is finding Selphie there as well. She waves from her seat.
Morning, Squall. How have you been?
Did they call you up here, too?
Why else would I be here?
Be seated. We will begin in a few minutes, the master faculty says.
What happened to your hand? Selphie inquires as I sit down, noting my bandaged left hand. I fold my arms.
An accident. I was training.
I catch the headmasters smirk across the room, and I know he has guessed the real reason that I sport the dressing, which extends up to the elbow under the uniform sleeve.
One more minute, the master faculty says, looking at the wall clock. We are expecting more people, it seems.
The door opens to admit Zell Dincht.
Hey, guys. Havent seen you two much since the commencement evening.
Zell and Selphie exchange pleasantries while I ponder on the occasion that has brought us together. I have a pretty good idea. It offers a troubling prospect.
Zell leans toward me, voice low. Squall, I hear you got whooped again. You put yourself through a lot, dont you?
You are keen on rumors, I say. I keep my arms folded.
Come on, manwas it Seifer again?
They ganged up on you, then. You know, his sidekick buddies?
It was no one. I was training.
He sneers knowingly. Thats what you told me the last time.
The master faculty steps in front of us. Let us begin. This meeting will be quite short, so pay close attention. Headmaster Kramer?
The headmaster nods. Good morning, SeeDs. To delve straight into the matter, I have called you here to announce that you are being sent on a mission. No other officers will be joining you, so I dont have to stress that close teamwork is imperative, more so than usual. I know very well that this is the first mission as members of SeeD for all of you. Having said that, I am confident that you will be up to the challenge.
I will not reveal any particulars at this time, beyond that you leave Balamb tonight via the Intercontinental Express. You are to assemble at the front foyer at 2400 hours, at which time you will receive the order proper. Your regular daily schedule is hereby canceled. Inform any necessary parties of your impending absence. Pack any personal essentials, but limit the baggage to minimum. Make certain to carry nothing that can identify you or the Garden. That means casual dress. You are free until midnight.
That is all. Any questions? He waits a moment. Then you are dismissed.
We rise to salute the officials and file out of the room. Zell clenches a fist with dramatic flourish when we are back on the hall.
All right, my first mission!
Its so weird that we are being sent together again, Selphie says.
Zell shrugs indifferently. They mustve really liked our performance in Dollet.
I just wonder about that. Ill see you both later, I say, taking leave of them.
Youre just leaving like that? Selphie says.
I turn back. What do you mean?
Shouldnt we, I dont know, get together and prepare for the mission or something? We still have a whole day.
What is the mission?
She makes a face at me. I dont know yet, naturally.
Well discuss preparations when we know. See you both at midnight.
* * * * * * * *
Dr. Kadowaki is engrossed in a card game all by herself when I knock on the door of the infirmary.
Good morning oh, its you, she says, looking up. And here I thought itd be at least two days before you reopened the wound. Whats the excuse this time?
I didnt reopen it. I show her the still-dressed arm as proof. I came by to see if the supplies were ready. I know I only requested them yesterday, but I leave on a mission tonight, and so
A mission, already? The doctor gathers the stack of cards and puts it aside. All right, lets see first how the wound is doing. Have a seat. From a desk drawer she grabs a pair of disposable gloves. I grimace.
Its fine. It hasnt bothered me all morning. But about the items
Child, its my job to see that you are in a fit condition for field assignment. Shall I recommend to the headmaster that you be excused from this operation?
I sit myself down and roll up the sleeve for the doctor. She unwraps the binding, revealing the three red parallel tracks that run up my left forearm. They still look vicious, but not half as swollen or raw as before.
Oh, its worked better than I thought. Good, she says. Have you been casting curative spells regularly?
Just about every hour. It still doesnt do much.
You should keep at it. I think it will fade in a couple of days. Wait here a minute. Im going to dress the wound again.
The doctor disappears into the back room and returns with a glass bottle containing burgundy-hued liquid. With it she soaks a strip of gauze, which she lays over the wound. The liquid feels cold and thick on the skin, and a foul odor emanates from it. I steal a glance at the undecipherable label on the bottlejust one of hundreds of unorthodox remedial articles in the doctors eclectic collection, for which she is well known. For what its worth, her stuff works pretty well.
So theyre already sending you off, hmm? she asks, hands busy.
I suppose you will be gone awhile. Does Quistis know?
She isnt my instructor anymore.
Oh, yes, thats right. Ive forgotten. The poor dearshe hasnt dropped by in some time, you see. She wraps the bandage around the forearm. Well, then, she says, taping up the bandage, Im going to give you some of this salve, to be used until the wound heals completely. Now, you said that you werent able to tame the fellow that did this.
I assume you will be trying your luck again sometime soon.
Are you going to do it while youre away?
Possibly. I dont know when well return.
In that case I am giving you two bottles.
It smells terrible.
Dr. Kadowaki grins. What did you expect from the witch-doctor? Bear it like a SeeD. Now, as to the things you asked for.
She takes off the gloves and opens one of the many labeled cabinets by the wall to retrieve a box. Opening it, she produces a utility belt and unrolls it on her desk. Tiny pouches line up along the black strap.
Thirty compressed capsules in totaleight restorative potions, eight anti-status remedies, eight dispel solutions, and six electrolyte concentrates for the GFs. There are enough extras for three full restocks.
That should be plenty. Thank you.
If you want any use out of these, be sure to remember which are which. Dont get the color codes mixed up when you replace them. Oh, and I should mention that not busting them in combat really helps.
Nodding, Dr. Kadowaki puts the belt back in the case. She pushes it towards me.
So who are going with you on this mission?
Zell Dincht, and the Tilmitt girlthe transferee, I answer as I button up the sleeve.
Oh, my thats it? The doctors gray eyebrows climb her forehead. What could that man be thinking, teaming up three greenhorns together?
I opt to dismiss the remark.
Hmm that Zell is almost as accident-prone as you are. I had better fix another kit for your team. When do you leave?
Ill pass something along to you by then. Do you need anything else?
This should do. Thank you. I take the supply box and get up.
Good luck on your mission. Youd better not show up on a stretcher the next time I see you.
Ill try, maam.
* * * * * * * *
As a custom, SeeDs are dispatched late at night regardless of the missions level of secrecy. It is to prevent their departure from creating a disturbance in the Garden community, and also to ensure that the leave-taking does not become a public occasion. The halls are deathly silent after curfew. Only a few figures stand grouped together at the lobby when I make my way over to it. Curiously enough the headmaster himself is present, in addition to a couple of master faculty members. Next to him Zell half squats on an enormous duffle bag, attired in an extraordinarily loose pair of blue denims. I set down my own baggage and join them.
Is that for your sword? Zell points to the silver-rimmed black case that contains the gunblade.
Neat! Thats some kind of a griffin, right? he says, inspecting the emblem on the lid.
Evidently charmed by the symbol, he goes on to discuss the aesthetics of the winged creature, and I tune him out. Selphie arrives in a bit. With her bright yellow dress and backpack, she looks like shes going on a vacation.
We are ready, it seems, the headmaster says after greetings are exchanged. I trust you havent forgotten anything, and youve all said farewell to friends.
We reply in the affirmative.
Good. Before I give you the order, I need you all to relinquish your combat equipments for the time being. They will be shipped separately on the train so that the boarding process will be less conspicuous.
When the weapons have been hauled away, the headmaster faces us again. Now then, here is your order for the mission.
We stand erect and alert. The headmaster takes a large envelope from a master faculty members hands.
SeeD officers Zell Dincht, Squall Leonhart, and Selphie Tilmitt: Balamb Garden hereby appoints you to execute a mission in accordance with the contractual terms agreed upon by SeeD and its hiring party. Squall, you are appointed the leader of the team. Step forward to accept the order.
I do, and the headmaster presents me with the envelope.
Do not open the order until you are outside the Garden. It is your responsibility to coordinate the team to carry out the order successfully. Now then, he addresses the team, your transport to the station is at the parking lot. Until the next time we meet, I wish you all the best of luck.
He returns our salute and leaves with the master faculty. The three of us are left alone in the empty lobby.
Get your things. Lets go, I say.
We move out. A cadet in street clothes stands by with a civilian vehicle at the parking lot. He salutes us smartly.
Balamb. Drop us off at the train station, I tell him.
The car starts without delay when we enter the passenger compartment. In a minute we are out of the building, and soon the Garden is a glow in the back window of the car.
I wonder when well be coming back, Zell mumbles, gazing out at the compound. That kinda thought puts me in a meditative moodnot a good thing.
Can we open the order now? Selphie asks me.
I dont think we should yet, with the driver in the car.
Zell gestures to the intercom switch by the seat. He cant hear us. Lets see what the order is.
I acquiesce. Inside the envelope are three train tickets, a stationery bearing the headmasters seal, and another, smaller envelope. Stamped words on the second envelope read: NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL AUTHORIZED. I run through the content of the stationery quickly.
Whats it say? Selphie asks, sitting closer.
I read the following to the others.
You are instructed to board Intercontinental Express 118 leaving Balamb Station at 0215AM on the 28th and arriving at Timber Central Station at 1120AM. Refer to the enclosed tickets for travel information.
Your mission is to assist an underground faction headquartered in Timber, which calls itself Forest Owls. A representative of the hiring party will meet you at Timber Central Station. Approach a man who has a black handkerchief tied to his right wrist. He will say to you, The forests of Timber sure have changed. You are to reply, But the owls are still around. He will conduct you to Forest Owls headquarter. Once there, you are to open the enclosed envelope and verify the terms of the contract therein with the leader of Forest Owls. After you have done so, it is your mission to follow the hiring partys orders to your fullest ability within the boundaries of the contract. For all emergency circumstances not properly covered by the contract, consult Garden Code whenever applicable and your best discretion.
Thats all for now, I tell them, putting the document back in the envelope.
Timber, huh? Zell says.
I heard its a lovely placelives up to the name, Selphie says. Im glad Im not going to someplace totally dreary. Squall, can I see my ticket? I hand it to her. She studies it with a gleeful expression. Almost ten hours on the fastest train in the world Now this Im really looking forward to; I love trains.
Thats ten hours of underground scenery for you, Zell says, sounding less than captivated with the idea. Nothing but a black tunnel all the way. I for one will be sleeping.
I dont care. Hey this ticket is a transfer pass. Says here we are from Fishermans Horizon.
The old western terminal of the Intercontinental Express railway, I explain. Must be to conceal our place of origin.
Before long, the driver informs us via the intercom that we are nearing the town. We get off at the entrance to the station. At his request I permit Zell to pay Mrs. Dincht a quick late night visit before proceeding to outdoor class, as he puts it. The team regroups at the stations lobby and heads to the platform after having the baggage checked. The trains sleek bulk rests along the platform, emitting soft mechanical hums and whistles. A conductor collects our tickets in exchange for the keys to our cabins. We board as the speaker overhead announces a half-hour until departure.
The Garden has reserved first class rooms for us; SeeD is no small business, and it is as lavish as it is expensive. The cabin Zell and I are to occupy is richly furnished and decorated despite the space constraint. Zell throws himself onto the opulent couch with a happy laugh.
Let others say what they will. Being a SeeD rocks! he declares.
Which bunk are you using?
Huh? Oh, the one by the windows fine. Thanks.
I hang my jacket and sit on the bed to unbuckle my boots. The morning promises to be busy; I should go to sleep soon.
Not bothering to knock first, Selphie bursts into the cabin. Thrill is plain on her face. This train is phenomenalmy rooms phenomenal! I mean its nothing like what I traveled in from Trabia. It pays to be a SeeD!
The sentiment is most heartily shared, Zell says. He stretches luxuriously on the couch, his head thrown back.
Oh, Squall? This was on the night table. Its for you. Selphie holds up a wrapped package. Attached to it is a delivery note with my name, from the train staff.
What is it? Zell asks.
Medicinesfrom Dr. Kadowaki. I read the memo inside the box full of vials.
Squall: These are for your teammates. Theyre the same as what I gave you this morning, with the exception of the red capsules with blue tops, labeled 421. Its a new concoction Ive synthesized for burn wounds. I havent field-tested it yet, so should you use it, tell me later how well it works. Dont be in a rush to be my guinea pig, however. Best wishes. Quistis sends her regards. Ana Kadowaki.
She is such a nice lady, Selphie remarks from behind, making me jump a little. She has snuck onto the bed and read the message over my shoulder. I scowl and shoo her off the mattress. Placing the medicine chest next to the other belongings, I lie down on the sheets. The glare of the light on the ceiling pricks my eyes, and I put an arm over them.
Youre going to sleep now? Selphie says.
As soon as the train starts moving.
Come on, so soon?
I lift the arm to look at her. Its two in the morning.
Aw, boss, its our first mission. Lets talk a bit.
A mission, not a pleasure trip. And dont call me boss.
Youre the team captain. How do we address you?
You already know my name.
I know! I know! Zell cries, raising his hand. Well call him Scarfacenah, Stoneface!
No, noStony-Squally! Selphie rejoins.
I got better: Squarface.
They both explode in laughter, and stay at it for a long while.
Good to know youre enjoying the mission already, I say tartly.
Squarface! Selphie gasps between guffaws. That just so perfect! Captain Squarface it is, then.
Sorry, man, Zell says, still chortling, but its already set. You gotta pay for that Chicken-whatever bit back in Dollet. Hey, is anyone hungry? Ive got loads of goodies Mom packed for me
* * * * * * * *
An hour and half later, I am still unable to sleep. The train has entered the subterranean track and is running somewhere under the ocean floor. The only thing visible outside the window is an unending series of dim fluorescent tubes that illuminates the tunnel. Meanwhile Zell and Selphie are having the time of their lives, laid back comfortably on the cabin floor. The carpet is littered with food and drink containers. After Zell shared his snacks, Selphienot to be outdonebrought in the stuff that her fellow committee members had given her at their farewell meeting. The two have since managed to create a nice mess in a remarkably short period of time. In resignation I recline on my bunk and munch on a biscuit Zells mother baked, half listening to their animated talk. Selphie has almost sold the festival committee idea to Zell, who appears to find himself cornered without an escape.
By the way, you guys know anything much about Timber? he says at one point.
Dont change the subject, Selphie warns. So youre decent with a guitar. Thats just finewe could use a guitar player. Cmon, you dont think itll be fun playing before a horde of admiring fans?
Ah, well Im not much of, whatdaya call it, a public personality
Overhearing, I snort all but unconsciously.
See? Even Squall thinks thats bull, Selphie says, triumphant. I tell you, this will help you with a lot of things. Youll be a star! Youll be famous! People will yield in line when you pick up food at the cafeteria! Youll never have to rack your head over how to ask out that pretty girlfriend of yours!
Wha, whatre you talkin about? Zell screeches, taken aback. What girlfriend? Whose?
Hey, you two were practically glued together at the ball. Dont even think about denying it.
Thats not true. I mean, we danced and all, sure
Uh, huh, for whatthree, four songs in a row? Your mom kept cutting meaningful glances at you two, if you know what I mean.
Really? But, she didnt mention anything afterwards
Selphie waves her hand dismissively. Your moms too smart for that. Shell wait a couple of months, and then tell you out of the blue to bring her home for dinner or something, and introduce her. You didnt introduce them to each other, did you?
Thought so. You think shes put it out of her concerns, right? Wrongshes just biding her time.
Geez, you really think shell do that?
Selphie sits back and flexes her bare toes. Undoubtedly. Why else would she keep quiet about it? Youre way too cluelessif you arent a little more decisive, things will just happen around you without you having anything to do with them. She leans forward in a mock gesture of confidentiality. Your mom said to me that night, you know, that she was glad a nice girl seemed to have taken a liking to you.
No kidding? Zell says, leaning forward as well. Hes eating this up.
Whats more, I saw them talking to each other when you werent around.
Look out, Zell boynext thing you know, those two will have your wedding planned out before you even hear about it.
Zell squints. Youre making this up.
Theyll have it planned down to the teaspoons, Selphie insists.
Get out of here. Im not listening to you anymore.
Down to the invitation design.
Cmon, quit teasing me.
I cant. Its too much fun, she says, in all seriousness. Then she breaks into a peal of laughter, and Zell makes a disgusted face. So, says the indefatigable Selphie, once she has brought her merriment under control, how about it? I can sign you up, right?
Man, cant we give this topic a rest until were back at the Garden? Were on field duties.
Look whos talking about duties now, she quips, yawning. Well, its getting late and well be working in the morning. Suppose I should go to bed.
Get the facts straight, young ladyits been late for a long time, and it already is morning. I almost speak the words out loud. Instead, I say to my blithe comrades, Theyll be expecting professionals, not sleepy-eyed youngsters. Get some sleep. I want us up and ready an hour before the meeting.
Yes, captain, Selphie says with a salute. I do not comment on her use of the title. A twinge of headache lingers near both my temples, and I just want to sleep.
What do you suppose these Forest Owls people are like? Zell says. An underground group Timbers supposed to be full of them. I hope these guys know their stuff.
We know our stuff. Itll be all right, Selphie assures him.
You know what this means, dont you? Going to Timber? Zell says, leaning back on his hands.
What does it mean? I ask.
That well be seeing our old pals Galbadians again.
Right; Timber is under Galbadian control Selphie gathers up her knees and cocks her head. This group were supposed to helpyou think its some sort of an anti-government militia?
Ill bet, Zell replies. Timbers always been isolated thanks to the geography. They liked doing things their own wayuntil eighteen years ago, when Galbadia invaded Timber. Now there are a bunch of resistance factions fighting for independence. I hear theyre mostly pretty pathetic, though. Thats what worries me.
The Garden wouldnt have approved the contract unless they believed the mission was feasible, Selphie opines. Putting a hand to her temple, she closes her eyes briefly as if holding back a pain. We just need to do the job and go home.
I agree. Frankly I dont care for a place like Timber. Hey, you all right? You dont look too good.
Thanks a lot, Selphie says, darting a look at him. A word of advice, for your girlfriends sake and your own: do not ever tell a girl that she does not look good. Next time, say along the line of you seem unwell. That said, Im going to use your bathroom, if you boys dont mind.
She gets up and trudges into the bathroom. Zell narrows his eyes after her as the door closes.
Do all women come equipped with a temper at birth? I was just asking.
You two werent drinking anything alcoholic, were you? I survey the cans and bottles on the floor. Perhaps thats what is bothering her.
Of course not. I wouldnt be surprised, though, if shes had some earlier with her pals. She seems like the type to throw a big farewell party.
Were turning out the lights when she comes out. Why dont you clean up some of that mess?
Will do, boss.
He goes around the room collecting the leftovers of the night. I fall back on the bed and rub my forehead, where the ache has settled and will not go away.
So, are you all right with this leader responsibility thing? Zell asks me, a wastebasket in hands. I mean its your first mission, too.
Besidse the silly names you two insist on calling me, Im fine with it, I reply, closing my eyes.
Still, you have to be a little nervous.
Its like what she said: well do our job and go home.
The bathroom door opens, and Selphie lurches forward. We both turn to her in surprise. She supports herself with a hand placed on the couch. Her face is pale, and her eyelids are quivering.
Guys she speaks weakly. Im not feeling well at all.
I sit up on the bed. Whats the matter?
Drowsy I I cant
She collapses on the couch. Zell runs to her side, alarmed.
Hey, hey! What the He shakes her shoulder. She remains still. Sleeping? Come on, this is the mens cabin! Go sleep in your ownugh ?
The wastebasket drops from his hands, spilling its contents onto the floor. Before I have the time to say anything, Zell himself sinks to his knees.
Wha-what is this he slurs. He blinks, and then crumples on his side without another word.
I get off the bunk to rush to them. I am startled when my own knees buckle upon setting feet on the floor. I barely hold myself from tumbling backward onto the mattress. The headache is intense now, and growing. The acute pain blurs into dizziness. My vision mists up, the world fades away before me, and I cant stay on my feet Then, darkness descends.
My last sensation is that of falling.
* * * * * * * *
How long has it been?
I recover consciousness somewhat and discover, to my wonderment, that I am back on my feet again. I look about in a daze, beholding the dense green of the forest around me. The sun, pouring through the branches, blinds my eyes.
What is happening?
Someone taps me on the shoulder. So which way is it, Laguna?
I stand mutely staring at the dark complexion of the tall, lean man who has spoken. Another figure moves at the corner of my vision. A bearded giant, his head capped by a blue bandana, watches me. Somewhere in my befuddled head, I note that both men are dressed in familiar Galbadian military uniforms.
Whats up, Laguna? the second man speaks. You got that look on your face again, partner.
1. I post this story solely for your reviews. Let me know what you think of itany part of it.
2. If you want to be notified of future updates, tell me so in a review and leave your e-mail address.
3. Some thoughts on Squalls character, or rather where Im going with it: Squall should be distant rather than rude, although the former often manifests as the latter. The two are different, and Squaresoft was not very discriminating in this regard. An example is when Squall declines for no good reason to shake hands with Zone when he first meets Forest Owls, or when he blandly tells Quistis to go talk to a wall. This kind of crudely dramatic displays of unfriendliness, which exist entirely to get a point across, take away from the complexity of his character instead of enriching it. Squalls hostility needs a believable façade. It is more than possible to be civil and detached at onceand it makes sense that Squall should possess both qualities, since he was reared in a military environment that demands both strict courtesy and cold ruthlessness. Keep this in mind when you see him acting somewhat out of line with the game script.
4. Unless someone gives me a really good reason to the contrary, Im dropping Angelo from this version FFVIII. She only shows up a couple of times in the story, excepting when Rinoa uses her limit break, which I thought was utterly silly. The thing is, Angelo is understood to be at Rinoas side the WHOLE time in the game, and yet she only appears in the script only three times or so. I will have to invent Angelos personality from scratch if I am to include her in this novel. I also think her presence will be simply distracting, unless I come up with whole new plot devices that require the animal, and thatll prolong the writing process even more. (I write very slowly, you must have noticedit usually takes me 20+ hours in front of my computer to write up a chapter.)
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic