The Fourth Universe Chapter 3
By Soul Hunter
Good morning, Mr. President. How are you doing today?
Morning, Vlade. Well, you know me. Always peachy keen. A lively Laguna returned his Aides greeting. Oh, by the way, have you seen Kiros and Ward yet?
I dont believe I have, sir. However, General Caraway is already up. I believe hes waiting for you at the reception hall, sir.
Ahh yes. I suppose hell be glad when he learns about what happened in Deling City last night. Anyways, carry on Vlade.
Yes sir. Have a nice day, your Excellency.
Oh, and one more thing
Umm, like how do you think the Estharians will react if I propose to abolish the requirement of wearing those long gowns everyday? I mean, dont you find that outfit uncomfortable?
The Aide flashed a wide grin. Honestly, sir? I would love that. Ive always wanted to try wearing something more groovy uhh, is that the right word, sir?
Heh, I believe the term youre looking for is preppy. Laguna replied.
What does that word mean, sir?
Beats the hell out of me, Vlade. Anyway, Ill see you around.
Laguna scratched his head. For the last week he had been convening with Galbadias acting president in their effort to draw up a series of political and economic treatises that they believed will improve diplomatic ties between Galbadia and Esthar. Their conversations had been characterized as generally formal and direct. The two never really had the chance to engage in casual small talk.
Until now. With the official summit nearing a successful conclusion, the only real reason General Caraway was still in Esthar was the isolated incident of mutiny back in Deling City, which the SeeDs he hired had successfully vanquished. Now, for the first time, he will be facing the Galbadian leader on easier terms. Laguna somewhat felt apprehensive with the prospect; the conversation just might wander toward a subject involving Julia. And he wondered how would it feel for a man to face his deceased wifes former beau?
He paused just before entering the reception room.
Ahh, what the heck. Its all in the past. Muttered the former Galbadian soldier before finally stepping in.
Good morning, President Loire. A high-spirited General Caraway echoed.
It couldnt be a more pleasant morning, General. Laguna responded with equal fervor. Have you heard the news?
What? Oh yeah. Those impressive kids they got the job done Caraway trailed off before falling into a state of melancholy.
Uh, I was expecting youd take the news in with more levity, General. Anything bothering you?
Oh, nothing. Its nothing, really except that
Laguna hesitated. He had a pretty good idea why the General would display a less than sanguine reaction toward the good tidings. Those kids that Caraway referred to also happened to be the friends and comrades of his estranged daughter, Rinoa.
I sure wish I can talk to her. Caraway suddenly followed up, to which Laguna effortlessly caught on.
Why dont you try? Ive met Rinoa, and she seems to be a really nice girl.
Nice? Heh, thats an understatement. Rinoa is the epitome of ardor. She is passion AND compassion personified. Ive never really met anyone who didnt immediately develop a liking for her. Said Caraway, positively beaming. Laguna just smiled.
And sadly, this same passion led to the road of severe misunderstanding between the two of us. The General furthered, referring to the falling away he had with Rinoa because of his former position as the late President Delings right hand man. And he knew only too well how she detested the late Galbadian presidents dictatorial policies, which led her to join Timbers resistance group, the Forest Owls, in the first place.
Ahh, enough about that. Caraway said to change the subject. Laguna didnt utter a word out of respect for the Galbadian rulers wish. President Loire, why didnt you tell me?
Tell you what?
That you were a Galbadian soldier. What command were you stationed in?
Uhh I used to be in the infantry. Laguna softly answered. But I was transferred to the panzer division during the Timber occupation.
Oh, that explains it.
Why you werent able to return to Deling City eighteen years ago.
Uh-oh, here we go.
She was nearly devastated waiting for you to come back. And I felt so sorry for her. General Caraway said, drawing a concerned look from the Esthar president. Laguna opted to remain silent. For one of the very rare instances in his life, he found himself totally at a loss for words.
I Im sorry, President Loire, maybe we shouldnt be talking about this.
Actually, Im more concerned about you. Laguna replied with a forced smile on his lips. The two momentarily fell silent, not knowing what to say next. Then Laguna somehow found the strength to further the subject. So, were you two happy?
Well, I reckon we were. Especially after Rinoa was born. You know Julia is, all things considered, a very strong woman. It really didnt take that long for her to accept that you two werent meant for each other.
Yeah Was all Laguna could say. He was almost tempted to follow up with a remark about Raine, yet relented with a thought of how irrelevant it might turn out to be. Besides, it still hurt to remember. It had been more than eighteen years, and yet it still stung to think about it.
So how about you? Caraway followed up. You dont seem to be a guy likely to spend the rest of his life being alone. Have you well, you know
Laguna knew a subject regarding Raine was inevitable. He had no choice but to brave the topic and choke down the sting. Me? Oh yes, as a matter of fact, I have met someone. But shes gone now
Im sorry to hear that. But I guess that makes us truly two of a kind. General Caraway remarked, which evoked a questioning look from Laguna. Two pathetic, lonely widowers, that is. The two laughed resoundingly at the Generals repartee.
Whats going on inside? Kiros asked the Aide stationed by the door of the reception room when he heard the loud guffaws emanating from inside it.
President Laguna and General Caraway are in there. Why theyre laughing? I dont know.
.. Ward gestured.
What did he say? The Aide returned a question to Kiros.
Oh. Ward says he hopes theyre not laughing at one of Lagunas jokes. Honestly, I hope so too. The last thing Galbadia needs right now is a leader with the same sense of humor as Lagunas.
Squall heaved a deep breath before stepping inside the Balamb Garden gala room. How long had it been since he last saw this place? Roughly a year ago, he estimated. Everyone was in a festive mood then after the six of them returned from the future and that life-and-death battle against Ultimecia. During that time, he still didnt feel like socializing with the other students, opting as usual to post himself by the entrance until he saw Rinoa walk towards the porch. Squall smiled in lieu of where his train of thought led him: that memorable moment when his lips met Rinoas for the first time. It was perhaps one of the sweetest moments of his life.
He snappily brushed off some dust particles from the chest area of his SeeD uniform before proceeding inside. There, Squall immediately caught sight of Irvine, showing off his SeeD uniform to Selphie.
Sefie, my beloved. Now, you cant possibly resist the new and more debonair me inside these dashing threads.
Hmm, not bad, Irvy. But can you lose the ponytail? I dont think it goes well with the uniform.
Heh, youd have a much easier time telling me to fight ten Malboros instead.
Squall wandered his eyes some more, as if looking for someone. It didnt take long before his sight locked on to the stately figure of Rinoa, likewise wearing a SeeD uniform identical to the one garbing Quistis. Squall beamed, feeling immensely proud of the woman he loved, as he just stood there staring at Rinoa, who was at that time engaged in a lively chat with Zell, Quistis, Cid and the woman whom they all fondly called Matron, the former sorceress Edea.
Hey, Squall. How do I look? A voice from behind broke the SeeD commanders trance. Behind him stood another newly appointed SeeD: Marcus Derlini, president of the Balamb Garden-wide Quistis Trepe fan club known as the Trepe Groupies, or Trepies for short.
Hey Marcus. Congratulations.
Thanks man. And oh, have you by any chance seen Tom? I just wanna show off my uniform. You know, Tom and I had a bet. He always insisted that Ill never be a SeeD because Im always too preoccupied thinking about Instructor Trepe. Heh heh, I wanna see the look in his face now when he fights that T-Rexaur in the monsters lair.
Really. Well, just be careful, okay? Squall promptly replied before turning his back on Marcus.
Quistis suddenly fell silent when she saw him approaching. Knowing only too well what kind of scene will unfold once he and Rinoa got together, the long-suffering instructor chose to make herself scarce, not wanting to once more go through the perennial experience of having to watch the object of her affection cuddle up with another girl who also happened to be her friend.
Headmaster, Matron, I just remembered something that I need to do. Please excuse me.
Yo, Quisty. Where you off to? Said Zell.
Have to run an errand. Zell, Rinoa, Ill see you later. And before they could say anything more, she had already walked out.
Half-questioning herself for what she thought as a somewhat infantile behavior, Quistis hesitantly looked back at the gala room. She nevertheless decided to continue walking slowly along the quiet hallway, all the while shaking her head in apparent disappointment. Although she had given up a long time ago on her fervent wish of having a more intimate relationship with the elusive Squall Leonhart, Quistis still couldnt seem to muster the strength to let go of her lingering feelings as well. If only she could meet someone who would somehow tear her hopeless affection away from her former student, Quistis thought.
However, the prospect of finding a man of her own seemed somewhat remote, to say the least. Of course, men with promising characteristics abounded in Balamb Garden. How many times had she received beautifully arranged bouquets of flowers in her room, or found romantic notes from some not-so-anonymous admirers, tucked inside her instructors planner? But why hadnt anyone caught her fancy yet? Was it due to some subconscious albeit unreasonably high criteria that she held? Or was it because no matter how hard she tried, she still cant help but use Squall as the ultimate yardstick in screening her hopeful admirers.
Unable to find answers to her nagging self-inquiries, the pretty instructor just sighed as she trained her gaze toward the emptied front hall of the Garden. Her eyes consequently caught sight of a solitary figure examining the Balamb Garden central directory. Quistis eyebrows drew closer upon recognizing the individual as the man who fearlessly wrestled a T-Rexaur to submission at the training center two days ago. Curiosity getting the better of her, Quistis opted to approach the man, though unsure of what good her action could possibly accomplish.
Hello. The instructor opened with a smile.
Huh? Oh, uh hi. The stranger stuttered back with a start. I was just browsing through this board directory. This is really a pretty huge school you got here.
Uh-huh uh say, I never got to thank you for coming to my aid last time. So thank you, I really appreciate it.
The mans face assumed a slight frown after hearing Quistis expression of gratitude, which the perceptive SeeD didnt fail to notice. Hey, did I say something wrong?
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and took on a more formal stance, moving to face the comely SeeD squarely. Perhaps you failed to comprehend. I didnt rescue you from the T-Rex. I rescued it from you and your trigger-happy friend.
Oh, is that so. The instructors voice faded, reminding herself that she was presently having a conversation with a resident of FH. And as such, he was expected to have a hostile attitude toward soldiers and mercenaries like her. Not that it didnt show, anyway, as Quistis easily took note of how adamant he pronounced the word trigger-happy,
Perhaps you dont desire company. The dejected SeeD softly replied. Im sorry for having intruded on you. Ill be on my way now.
Despite his firm conviction that provided for a strong repugnance for anything that connoted armed conflict, the FH resident felt a tinge of guilt for displaying such gross effrontery before Quistis. He may be an obstinate pacifist, the man thought. But he will not ever develop the habit of treating women the way he did, whether they be SeeDs, professional mercenaries or soldiers.
I Im sorry. I didnt mean to be so rude. He called out to Quistis. My names Siegfried. Siegfried Waller. And you are ?
Quistis turned around, and eyed Siegfried intently, assessing if he was sincere in his sudden change of attitude. She then went back and offered her hand. Mines Quistis. Quistis Trepe. Im a SeeD here in Balamb Garden.
Yes, Im quite aware of that. He replied. So, I thought youre having a party. What are you doing here all by your lonesome?
Oh, I just felt like getting some fresh air. Its becoming a bit stifling in there. Quistis echoed, followed by an absent-minded grooming of her blonde hair. How about you? I thought I saw some of your friends in there. Dont you wish to join them and have some fun?
Im not the partying type. Siegfried shot back as he fidgeted visibly in front of Quistis. For some unknown reason, the FH technician felt an uncanny warmth setting over his face as he stared at Quistis gentle and alluring visage. A feeling that suddenly gave him a fit of alien discomfort.
Uh, yes? Said Quistis, noticing his uneasiness.
Is there something wrong with my face? She smilingly followed up, half teasing the obviously beleaguered Siegfried. Youve been staring at me for the last ten seconds or so.
Oh, Im terribly sorry. I never meant to He cracked, unable to finish his apology due to the sudden bout of embarrassment. I I have to go and check on something.
Quistis clutched her mouth in an effort to keep herself from laughing. Okay, Im gonna call it a day as well. Its been nice talking to you, Siegfried. After which she turned her back on him and headed for the dormitory section.
Will I be seeing you again?
The instructors eyes squinted as she tossed a gaze toward Siegfried. His face turned pale white, reflecting tremendous anxiety, thinking that he might have said something wrong. But his fears just as quickly diminished when Quistis flashed a most enchanting smile.
Of course you will. I live here, you know. Good night.
Siegfried didnt utter a single word and just stood there, staring at Quistis as she made her way down the circular pathway before turning left toward the dorm. He finally heaved a deep breath when she disappeared from his sight. Shaking his head, Siegfried smiled, half-appreciating the moment and yet half-scorning himself, realizing that this turn of event he allowed himself to be caught up with could easily escalate into a major conflict in his otherwise quiet and simplistic life.
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