Vigil of the Fates Chapter 6
Squall found Quistis waiting just outside the front gate. Having shed her spectacles and SeeD uniform, the youngest instructor at Balamb Garden was hardly recognizable as a combat specialist in her casual gear.
I have a few things to explain before we head off, she said upon his arrival. Guardian Forces are the sources of our power. Without the GFs help, a SeeDs physical or magical strength suffers from severe limitations. Your job in Fire Cavern will be to locate and enlist a GF. You will do so by defeating the GF in combat. From this point on until the end of the test, I will support and advise you in combat, but all other decisions will be entirely yours to handle. These include the decisions to initiate or withdraw from any battles as well as the route we will take to reach our destination. We must return here with spare time before 1600 hours, or taking the test will have been pointless. Do you understand?
Very well. The cavern is located east of the Garden. Lead the way, Squall.
* * * * * * * *
The pair traveled on foot through the forest. On the way they encountered a few minor monsters and beasts, and Quistis was impressed to see that her student hardly broke a sweat in exterminating them. It had been a long time since she had seen him in actual combat instead of training sessions, and this was the first time she fought alongside him. The guy is gifted, all right, she thought to herself.
The weapon of his choice was a rare breed of sword called gunblade, which had a hilt shaped in the form of a large pistol handle, complete with a trigger and revolving ammunition slots. Its mechanism involved charging the magically treated blade with massive energy and unleashing it by pulling the trigger as the wielder struck at an enemy. For untrained hands, it was a supremely clumsy weapon, heavy and unbalanced due to its bent shape. Even an accomplished swordsman would find it useless, for while the gunblade resembled a sword, it worked in ways that had little to do with ordinary swordsmanship. One had to be specifically trained to handle a gunblade for months before even wielding it properly, and mastering it generally required many more years of practice.
Quistis vividly remembered the times, scarcely three years prior, when the reticent youth could hardly land an accurate hit on a moving target without getting himself knocked back from the reverberation of the energy surge. She had not been an instructor or even a SeeD then, but that had not kept her from noticing his dogged persistency. Fiercely he committed himself to mastery of the powerful sword, a weapon that few other cadets ever even attempted to specialize in, for it was quite possible that they would reach the dreaded age of twenty before attaining proficiency.
Squall Leonhart was seventeen. He was one of the only two gunblade specialists that Balamb Garden had yet produced. Seifer Almasy was the other expert.
Such supremely rare talents, Quistis mused, and they had to be each others nemeses. I wonder how those two will get along once their skills are put to real use?
* * * * * * * *
It was shortly before noon that they reached Fire Cavern. The gaping black opening was an ominous presence at the base of an otherwise plain rocky hill. The faint but unmistakable scent of molten minerals was detectable even from some distance, and Squall saw that the blurry quality of the atmosphere visible over and around the hill was the work of the ever-present heat emanating from earth. Two members of the Garden master staff, who wore monk-like robes that covered them from head to toes, awaited them at the entrance to the cavern.
This is Squall Leonhart, Student No. 41269, Quistis stated. He is a SeeD candidate.
One of the officials nodded. The objective is to obtain a low-level Guardian Force inside the cavern. A SeeD member must support. Are you ready?
Placing an upright hand before his torso, Squall saluted the staff members. I am ready, he said.
I am his support, Quistis followed, saluting as well. Instructor No. 14, Quistis Trepe.
Do not tarry inside or you may be overcome by the fume of the cavern. Good luck.
* * * * * * * *
Remember, Quistis said as she followed Squall into the cavern, whose rugged walls glowed in reflection of the heated red of lava that flowed all around their path. My job is to support you in battle. Everything else is up to you.
Fine, Squall replied, not looking back or slowing down his running pace.
You know, the boys often choke on this test when I come along, Quistis quipped from behind. I guess my charm is something of a distraction for them.
That stopped the cadet. He turned around and gave his instructor a funny look.
Im kidding! Just trying to keep you relaxed, thats all.
Squall resumed his run.
* * * * * * * *
Not forty yards into the cavern, they encountered their first enemy.
The monsters in this cave are mostly fire elemental, said Quistis, assuming battle stance with her trusted metal whip. You know what to do, Squall?
Ice attack, Squall replied as he cast blizzard, crushing the fiery flying monster under an onslaught of charged frost.
I guess I was right, Quistis declared after five minutes and eight dead beasts. You and Seifer are in a class of your own in battle potentials. You both have astonishing strength and stamina.
Now why do you have to fight all the time?
* * * * * * * *
Its formidable appearance notwithstanding, Fire Caverns interior had actually been modified by the Garden to prevent the participating cadets from getting lost in it, for doing so would mean certain doom for them. Diverging paths were either blocked or cut off, leaving unobstructed only the main path to the prearranged destination at the heart of the cavern. Still, the intense natural heat and the eerie scarlet lighting, plus its abundance of less than friendly inhabitants, made the cavern an excellent place to try the fortitude of fledgling warriors. With seven minutes left on the timer, Squall thus found himself before a well-like depression of the ground at the end of the road.
All right, this is it. Are you ready? Quistis asked from behind.
The cadet replied with a wave of his hand, not taking his eyes off the chasm in front of him.
You seem confident enough, the instructor observed.
A roaring noise issued from the depth of the pit. Burning fragments of the earth flew out from below, and amid their flames leaped the figure of a crimson giant onto the surface.
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