Vigil of the Fates Chapter 16


By PeterEliot

            “Hey.  Hey, wake up,” someone said, shaking his shoulder.  Squall opened his eyes and saw a mirthful Selphie.

            “That’s cool—how do you do that?” she asked.


            “Sleep while you’re sitting upright.  And in a moving ship, too!  I thought you were just resting with your eyes closed.”

            The vessel was no longer moving.  “Are we docked?”

            “Mm-hmm.  Everyone already got out.”

            Shoot, Squall said to himself, rising.  The sky was quite dark when he set his feet on the docks of Balamb, and the silvery moon was in full rise. 

            Seifer was speaking with Fuujin and Raijin outside the ship.  “How’d it go?” Squall caught Raijin’s robust voice.

            Seifer exhaled a groan.  “Lordy… they were like lead weights tied to my ankles.  Even got saddled with an extra one towards the end.  Being a leader ain’t easy.”

            Seifer walked off to the parking lot with his comrades.  Restored to his proper trio, Squall thought.  No doubt it was the happy state of things for all concerned.

            “Well done,” Quistis said, stepping out of the vessel.  She cast a wry glance at the bedraggled forms of Squall, Selphie, and Zell.  “Clearly a bit worse for the wear, but fortunately you all made it back without significant injury to speak of.  Where’s Seifer?”

            Squall pointed in the direction of the parking lot.  Quistis shrugged, sighing.

            “The exam result will be announced at 1100 hours tomorrow.  You are given free time till then.  You don’t even have to return to campus tonight if you wish, but if you do return today, make sure to do so before the gate closes.  Dismissed.”

            The instructor and the cadets exchanged salutes.  As they filed out, a Garden master administrator, dressed from head to toe in a flaming robe, that had been standing by approached the instructor. 

            “We are one short,” he told her.

            “Ah, yes,” Quistis said.  “Squall?  Just a moment.”

            Squall turned back to his instructor.

            “I need you to turn in your watch.  The others have already relinquished theirs.”

            The cadet frowned at the unusual order.  “My watch?” he echoed.

            “It may sound strange, but it’s a part of your exam grade.”

            Squall undid his wristwatch.  It was a sturdy but otherwise unremarkable piece of personal gear, issued by the Garden for all field trainees.  What could they want it for…  Oh.

            “Is it bugged?” he asked, the watch in hand.

            “It has a built-in recording device, to allow the judges to know what was said during the exam.”

            A hard look, harder than usual, was on the young man’s countenance when he handed the watch to her.  Quistis felt herself growing squeamish under his subtly accusatory gaze.  He normally avoided eye contact.

            “Master staff’s decision,” she added.  She was irritated that the words sounded defensive.

            Squall turned to take his leave without a remark, then paused once more.  “Zell failed the exam, then,” he said to the instructor.

            Quistis almost smiled.  “Zell’s luck with his watches has been noted by the staff.  Consequently the device was placed elsewhere on him.”

            Nodding, Squall departed.

            “A rude one, isn’t he?” the master administrator observed from her side.

            “Whatever, sir,” Quistis said tersely as she took her own leave, pushing the watch into the administrator’s hands.  Her anger seemed to surprise him.  It surprised her, too.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            Squall regarded the two forlorn figures in the vacant parking lot.

            “Where’s Seifer?”  He found himself repeating the instructor’s earlier question.  And like her, he could easily guess the answer.

            “He left with his friends before we even got here!  Took the car with him, too,” Selphie cried.  Vexation colored her face.

            “That jackass couldn’t get rid of us fast enough once the exam was over,” followed Zell angrily.

            It figures, Squall thought.  A free night was rare luxury for Garden cadets, and Seifer never missed out on an opportunity. 

“They probably went for an all-night cruise.  We might as well walk.”

            “But it’s already so dark,” Selphie protested.  “No way we can reach the Garden before curfew.  That nasty old gatekeeper will probably make us wait outside until the morning.”

            “Yeah, hate’m,” nodded Zell.

            Squall sighed.  “Then I suppose we have no choice.  I hope you both have your hotel vouchers.”

            “I don’t need it,” Zell said.  “I’ll just go ahead and sleep at my place.”

            “No way!  You live in this town?” Selphie exclaimed.

            “I sure do.  I mean I used to, before I moved into the dorm.  It’s a bit late, but my mom should still be up.  You guys can spend the night with us if you want.”

            “That is so kind of you.  Can we do that, Squall?”

            Why is she asking me? Squall wondered grumpily.  He honestly preferred hotel.  Sleeping in someone else’s house was something he had not done in years. 

Zell started walking before Squall could speak.  “Let’s go.  It’s only a few blocks from here.”


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            “Ma, I’m home!”

            A portly woman in an apron walked out of the kitchen at Zell’s voice.

            “…Zell?  What are you doing here at this hour?  Don’t you have to be at the Garden?”

            “Sheesh… thanks a lot for the welcome.  I told you I was taking the SeeD exam today, didn’t I?”

            “And the neighbors have hardly been talking about anything else for a week.  Good grief!” she cried upon taking a good look at her son as well as the two cadets behind him.  “Zell, you are a complete mess.  I sure hope you didn’t go into the exam looking like this.”

            “Rest assured, Mom.  I only came out of it looking like this,” he replied in good humor.  

            “It was pretty tough, hmm?”

            “Nah, no sweat.  Mom, these are Squall and Selphie.”  Zell gestured to his companions, who bowed to the older woman.  “The ass—I mean our squad captain ditched us, so we’ll put in here for the night.  We are walking to the Garden in the morning.”

            “Oh, sure, sure.  It’s nice to meet both of you,” said Mrs. Dincht, undoing her apron.  Her eyebrows lifted when she noted Squall’s still-soaked uniform pants.  “Excuse me, young man, but you seem to have wet your trousers there.”

            Squall felt his face grow warm.  Selphie giggled openly.  Shooting the girl a sharp look, Squall stammered to the effect that he had had to run into the sea after his ship.

            “That rather sounds like something my boy here might do.  You seem too calm a fellow to get caught in a hurry like that,” chuckled the older woman.  “Anyways, give those clothes to me and I’ll get the salt water out of them for you.”

            Squall stared at Mrs. Dincht blankly.  Did she just tell him to strip out of his pants? 

            “Ah… well, thank you, Mrs. Dincht, but,” Squall struggled to find the words while Selphie continued to snigger, “I really don’t want to be a burden, so I’ll be sleeping at the hotel.  I’m sure they’ll be able to do something about the uniform there.”

            “What?  You’re kidding!” cried Selphie despite another look from the boy.  “Why can’t we just pass the night here?”

            “You can.”

            Selphie rolled her eyes.  “Oh, please—a girl spending a night alone at a guy’s place?  You say some really harebrained things at times.  It’ll look bad on me.”

            “She’s right; you should both stay here,” said Mrs. Dincht.

            “Thank you,” Squall said.  “I really think I shouldn’t.  The Garden issues us vouchers for this sort of situation…”

            “Ugh, that’s enough, Mr. Principle,” groaned Zell, clapping his palm to his forehead in despair.

            “Zell,” his mother called sharply.

            “Kidding, Mom!  I tell you what, Squall: we’ll all go to the hotel for the night.”

            “What for?”

            “’Cause if you won’t sleep here, then neither will Selphie, and I don’t want to split the group ‘til we get back to the Garden.  That okay with you?”

            “Sure,” said Squall, a bit uncertainly.

            “Be sure then to come back in the morning for breakfast,” said Mrs. Dincht. 

            “That we’ll do, Ma.  You two wait a minute here.  I’m gonna grab some clothes that aren’t scorched black.  You want me to get you a change of clothes, too?”

Squall declined the offer.  When Zell was back from the quick visit to his room, the three cadets bade his mother a good night and headed to the hotel.

            “We gotta do something about that diehard spoilsport attitude of yours, Squall.  It’s getting old really fast,” Selphie said as they walked.  Squall endured the comment in silence. 


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            Early next morning, the three students checked out of Balamb Hotel by the harbor and revisited the Dincht residence as promised.  The meal was a sumptuous event for a breakfast, and Zell especially appeared to enjoy himself immensely.  “Maybe I should thank Seifer when I see him today.  I’ve been getting tired of missing out on cafeteria hotdogs,” he said with a happy grin at the table. 

            They set out for Balamb Garden three hours before the due hour.  Squall was forced to relent to Selphie’s insistence that they take a small detour to test her newly acquired Guardian Force.  Zell and Selphie chattered with hardly a break on the way, and Squall wondered how people could talk so long about so many nothings.

            “Do you have an idea of what the Galbadians were trying to do in that mountain?” Zell asked abruptly at one point.  “And what was that huge thing, anyway?”

            Selphie cocked her head.  “Which huge thing?  We saw quite a number of them yesterday.  That crab was just one.”

            Squall and Zell looked at the girl.

            “…Crab?” Zell echoed, squinting.

            “Yeah.  You know, the crab.  The thing that almost killed us.  Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already.”

            “I thought it was designed after a spider,” Squall felt compelled to say in spite of himself.

            “That’s two of us,” Zell said.

            “It was a crab,” Selphie insisted.    

            “Whatever you say,” conceded Zell.  “But I was talking about the tower.  You know, after it transformed.  I’ve never seen anything like that.”

            “It’s an antenna,” Squall provided. 

            “An antenna?  For radio transmission?”

            “That’s right.”

            “I thought those were completely useless?  At least that’s what I always wrote in my exams,” said Selphie.

            “They are useless,” Squall confirmed.  “No parabolic antennas have been built or used in almost twenty years.”   

            “Why would anyone go to the trouble of reactivating an unusable machine?” Zell wondered aloud.

            “I don’t know.” 

Squall’s answer brought the discussion to a conclusion, and the more talkative of the companions moved on to other topics.

The sun was already high when the cadets found themselves under the gray gargoyle of Garden’s front gate.  There they said good-bye for the time being. 

            “Hopefully we’ll all be SeeD’s the next time we see each other!” Selphie said cheerily as they parted.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            “X-ATM092 ‘Black Widow.’  A highly versatile close combat automaton with an AI piloting computer.  Exceptional durability and combat mobility owing to titanium frame and quick-adjusting targeting system.  Developed for land warfare by the Galbadian military.  An experimental craft; deployment is sparse as of yet.  Dimension: 14.5’x17’x14’….”

            Squall gave the command to print the document and sat back, gazing at the computer screen.  He had been walking to his room to change when he passed by the library and a thought caused him to enter the facility.  By his side were a small stack of photocopies and printouts of materials containing information on the various things he had encountered in Dollet.  In the last half-hour, he had looked up the two principal opponents his team had fought in the mission, including the large bat-like creature, which he learned was called Elvoret.  He also learned that Dollet’s Communication Tower was the only remotely salvageable existing parabolic antenna capable of transmitting signals to all parts of the continent.  Lost in rumination, he was oblivious to the stares that his battle-worn figure was drawing from the immaculately attired cadets in the library.

            “Hey, Squall,” someone called, breaking his reverie.  Squall turned from his seat; three cadets were walking toward him.  The one that spoke was the same who had accosted him the day before at the cafeteria.  Oh, no, he thought.  He still didn’t remember what the guy’s name was.

            “Man, you’re still in those clothes?” the cadet asked.

“I just got back from Balamb,” Squall replied. 

“Well, wasn’t that some shocker yesterday!  Who would have thought the biggest excitement of the exam would come minutes before it ended?  Us three were in the same squad, and we blasted like hell after that robot chasing your team, and it just kept on going!  Heard you made a pretty narrow escape.”

            “Yeah, it was close.”

            “Have you heard that the Galbadians were really after Communication Tower atop Mt. Habena all along?”

            For the first time, Squall regarded the unknown cadet with interest. 

“Is that so?”

            “It certainly is.  Damnedest thing, don’t you think?  Everyone knows radio communication is obsolete.  …Look, is it actually true that Seifer dragged your squad all the way up the tower?  Everyone’s talking about it this morning.”

            “Yes.  Excuse me, I need to go get going to change.”

            Squall took the materials on the computer desk and headed       for the exit.  Several heads in the library whipped back hastily when he stood, telling him that they had been listening in on the brief exchange.  He stopped at the circulation desk to drop the books and microfilms he had perused. 


            Squall looked up.  The student librarian behind the desk averted her eyes, then forced them back up to meet his.


            “Ah… pardon me, but you were in Dollet yesterday, weren’t you?”  Hesitance was evident in her slightly stuttering voice. 


            The librarian fingered the end of her long pigtail nervously.  “I heard that your squad got into a big trouble.  Did… Zell do all right?  Was he injured or anything?”

            “Zell?  Zell Dincht?” Squall said, confounded.

            “Uh, yes.”  A blush stole across the girl’s cheeks.

            A sudden feeling of awkwardness delayed his reply, though the answer seemed plain enough.  Under his gaze, the blush quickly spread down to her neck. 

            “He’s fine,” he told her.

            “Really?  Oh, uh… well, then, thank you very much, sir.  Good day.”

            The librarian scurried away, belatedly hiding her carrot-hued face from him.


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


            Having changed in his room, Squall made his way the lobby.  In a short while they would announce the result of the field exam.  From distance, Cid’s form in shirts and crimson vest stood out in the blue and gray sea of uniforms.  He was conversing with a pair of SeeD officers.

            “…I believe we’ve done a fairly satisfactory job,” Xu said to the headmaster.  “Injuries were surprisingly low, and all candidates made it back on time.  Communication Tower, of course, was an unexpected discovery.”

            Cid nodded.  “We just received word from the dukedom.  The Galbadian Army has agreed to withdraw on the condition that the tower’s uplink remains operational.”

            “And Dollet parliament agreed to that?” Quistis said, frowning.  “This was an unprovoked invasion.  I am surprised that Dollet was willing to accept anything less than complete unconditional withdrawal of Galbadian forces.”

            “Well, this certainly was a queer move on the part of our friends the Galbadians—from beginning to finish.  Our analysts will want to delve further into this one, I’m sure.  In the meantime, Dollet parliament is just anxious to appease Galbadia as long as the policy doesn’t involve loss of territory.”   

            “Still, I agree with Quistis that we may have pulled out with unwarranted haste.  Both we and Dollet were a bit too eager to accept a truce.”  Xu then grinned.  “Of course, the same could be said of the Galbadians.  It wouldn’t have hurt our revenues for them to have put up a little feistier fight.”

            Cid matched Xu’s grin with a bland, humorless one of his own.  He rubbed the back of his head.  “Oh… You know very well, Xu, that the Garden’s interest in these matters has many aspects.  I am tempted to call them complications.  Sometimes, one of them will get in the way of the others…”

            His voice took on a contemplative, nearly private, quality that somewhat bemused the two officers.  Cid looked aside then, and smiled.

            “Ah, welcome, Squall.  I hear your squad had quite an adventure last evening.”

            Squall saluted the headmaster.  “Sir.”

            “How did it feel to be out on the battlefield at last?  You didn’t find it too intimidating, I hope.”

            The cadet considered for a second.  “It presented… different challenges.”

            “I should imagine so!” Cid chuckled.  “I’m sure you are a resourceful fellow and will adapt to them in time.  Xu here tells me you comported yourself excellently on the field.”

            And how would she know that? Squall thought.  Ah, of course.  They have the watch.  Quistis gave her student a small smile at the headmaster’s praise.  He kept his mouth shut.

            “Stick around, Squall.  Exam results are due to be announced any minute now,” Quistis said.  Squall saluted the group again and left their company.

            Seifer stood against the rail of the foyer’s water fountain, brooding.  Fuujin and Raijin were nowhere to be seen.  He looked up when he spotted Squall.

            “Squall,” he called.  “Did you hear about the tower in Dollet?”

            “What of it?”

            “What of it?  Only that that rat hole was the Galbadians’ objective in Dollet the whole time.  You hear me, Squall?  You see now what I was doing yesterday?”

            Squall turned away, swallowing a snort.

            “We would have been heroes but for that order to withdraw,” Seifer contended.

            “You were only looking for more fights.”  Quistis approached them with Xu.

            “My dear instructor,” said Seifer, slowly.  “I am aggrieved to hear you say such words against an aspiring student.  Mediocrity, clearly, has gotten in the way of your insight.”

            The instructor’s composed face flushed visibly.  Squall thought it a credit that she betrayed no other sign of anger.

            “A hero, an aspiring student…  Whatever you call yourself, you’re still the same old stuck-up misfit you’ve always been.”  The biting words were from Xu.  “You will take all responsibility for leaving your post.  Had you been a SeeD, you’d have risked the charge of desertion.”

            “I say, it’s a mighty strange ‘deserter’ that runs deeper into the enemy stronghold.”

            “I’m sorry, Seifer—were you under the impression that the Garden indulges in special exemptions for heroic disobedience?”

            “I was under the impression,” Seifer gritted out the words, “that it is a captain’s duty on the field to choose and pursue the best possible course of action.”

            Xu folded her arms, and her tone bordered on pity.  “Seifer… you will never be a SeeD.  Calling yourself a captain is but a weak joke.”

            Fists clenched at his sides, the cadet lowered his head in grim silence.  The talk was over.

            “Officers, will you excuse us?”

            It was Cid.  To the surprised SeeD’s he repeated his request with a wave of his hand.  Bowing, Quistis and Xu walked away.  Squall was about to do the same when the older man stayed him with another gesture.

            “Seifer, you will be duly disciplined for your reckless behavior,” said the headmaster.  “Xu is right.  You ought to know better than anyone that you are to follow orders to the letter in combat situations.”


            “That is not to say that I have no sympathy for you.  Or that I do not understand what you were trying to do.  I have confidence that you will one day make a valuable member of SeeD, and the same is true for you, Squall.  And I expect you to be much more than just another pair of arms with a sword.  I want you all to be able to think and act for yourselves—and hopefully you will both decide that the path of SeeD is one worthy of your destiny.”

            Seifer was quiet through the headmaster’s speech.  Cid stepped closer and placed a hand on the melancholy youth’s shoulder. 

            “You will not be a cadet forever.  Be patient, Seifer, and before you realize…”

            “Headmaster, we are ready,” a voice said.

            Cid turned to the master administrator who had interjected.  He scratched his head again. 

“Well, then, gentlemen.  I suppose the hour has come.  I will see you both later.”

            The headmaster departed after the administrator.  When he had walked a few steps, he turned back to tell the two boys in a low voice, “We’ll talk in private, someday.”

            The intercom bell dinged.  “Attention: Those who participated in yesterday’s SeeD field exam, report to the third floor hallway at this time.  I repeat: those who participated in yesterday’s SeeD field exam are to report to the third floor hallway immediately for the exam result.”

            Squall paused halfway to the elevator.  Seifer stood on his spot, unmoving. 

“Seifer?” Squall called.

            Seifer remained still.  Squall exited the lobby alone.    


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


The elevator doors opened to the hallway full of anxious-looking cadets.  Most of them were non-participants in the exam, there to cheer or console their friends depending on the outcome.  Zell’s nervous sauntering form was plain.  Selphie, appearing wholly unworried, was deep in a lively chat with others.  Fuujin and Raijin were there as well.  The latter walked up to Squall upon his entrance.

            “Fuujin was saying,” Raijin said in his unique manner of boisterous whisper, stealing glances at the snow-haired girl, “that if Seifer doesn’t pass today, it’ll be all your fault.  Watch out, man; she’s scary.  Speaking of which, why isn’t he here yet?”

            “You will have to ask him.”

            “Is everyone present?” asked a master administrator after a short while.  “Are all twelve exam participants here?”

            “We’re missing Almasy,” someone said.

            Squall saw a frown under the administrator’s heavy headdress that obscured the majority of his face.  “No matter,” he said.  “His impertinence will not bear on this meeting.  To proceed, then: of the twelve cadets who completed yesterday’s field exam for SeeD qualification, four satisfactorily demonstrated their competence and spirit.  Step forward when your name is called.  These are:

            “Zell Dincht, from Squad B.

            “Nida Fidven, from Squad D.

            “Squall Leonhart, from Squad B.

            “And lastly Selphie Tilmitt, from Squad A.

            “The four newest members of SeeD, follow me to the headmaster’s office.  The rest are dismissed.”

            The inaugural ceremony was a singularly brief affair.  One by one, the SeeD’s were awarded their ranks and initiated into the society that had long been the object of their ambition.  Busy schedule induced the attending master administrator to cut Cid’s inspirational speech short.  Squall was frankly glad for it. 

The four youths left the office, no longer cadets but officers, and their first true ranks shined in lonely glint on their uniforms.

            Squall stepped out to the hallway to see, in addition to the crowd of students that had stayed put, Seifer Almasy awaiting him, Fuujin and Raijin by his side.  He halted, finding himself in an inadvertent standoff with his long time rival.  Seifer’s expression was inscrutable as he fixed the SeeD’s—especially the ones he had himself led in the battle, the day before—with a defiant glare.

A strained hush fell upon the gathering.  All eyes were on Squall and Seifer, the two less than sociable young men whose private rivalry had somehow come to secure the perennial attention and scrutiny of the larger Garden.  Zell and Selphie tensed up beside Squall, warily watching for Seifer’s next move. 

He’s not about to do anything foolish in front of all these people… is he? Selphie thought.

            No way I’ll put up with it if he insults me again, now that I’m technically his superior! Zell said to himself.  Superior… I gotta admit, I love the way that sounds!

            Squall decided that he did not care for this childish face-off in public.  If the guy had something to say to him, he’d had plenty of time to do it.  He moved to stride around Seifer’s rigid form when the abrupt sound of clapping broke the silence, bringing him short.  To everyone’s bewilderment Seifer continued the applause wordlessly, his claps deliberate and resolute.  After a moment Fuujin and Raijin joined tentative hands after him.  The tension then swiftly dissolved away, and the rest of the cadets released their own applause, loud and open and infectious—and in no time the hallway came alive with the uproar of cheers and congratulations.  In a gush they closed upon the newly appointed officers, who fidgeted in—mostly happy—embarrassment, enveloping them.

            Amid the inundation of friendly clamors and pats on his back, Squall caught a glimpse of Seifer.  He was walking away from the crowd, accompanied by his loyal gang. 

            Much hubbub marked that morning.  An impromptu parade was put on from the third floor to the main lobby in honor of the new SeeD members.  Squall tried to extract himself discreetly from the lively procession and was detained by both arms by Selphie and Zell.  Friends teemed to greet them when they marched down the floors, and even the usually stern Garden instructors grinned as they walked by.

            “Congratualations, Zell, my man!  You get all the hotdogs you can handle today!”

            “This is so cool, Selphie!  Finally a girl SeeD in the festival committee!”  

            “Nida, you bastard…  Ditched your squad members and got picked to be a SeeD alone, eh?  We’ll beat you up good when this is over!”

            “Come on, Squall, smile for once, will ya?  This is your day!”

            “All right, so who’s giving the speech first?”

            It was a while before Squall could return to his room.

Chapter 17

Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic