Vigil of the Fates Chapter 17
We the Master Administrative Staff of Balamb Garden extend our cordial congratulations on your formal admission into the Balamb chapter of SeeD. The Garden is confident that your service for her will be long and fruitful, and that you will not fail to walk in the honored tradition of martial excellence and discipline that has distinguished SeeD worldwide. As an officer of SeeD, whose members pride themselves on being the finest combat specialists in the world, it is your foremost duty to promote and contribute to the institutes prestige through the utmost application of your abilities, expertise, and vigor
Squall rolled over onto his back on the bed, holding the letter over his eyes. The wordy document, in effect his employment contract with the Garden, had been included with the exam report that Cid had given him at the inaugural ceremony. He skipped down to the more pragmatic portions of the letter.
As a member of SeeD, you are hereby released from the constraint of compulsory discharge from Balamb Garden at the age of twenty and made a permanent resident of the Garden. This status will not change as long as you remain in the Gardens employment. You will be ordered to relocate to a new private quarter as soon as one is ready for you.
You will continue to serve alongside the noncommissioned populace of the Garden. Be it understood: in no way does your rank as an officer entitle you to ascendancy over trainees in any unofficial or private capacities. Unsanctioned assertion and exercise of senior authority for purposes of self-aggrandizement is strictly prohibited and is a ground for disciplinary action upon discovery.
On another note, the nature of your services, as well as your privileges, will be distinct from those of cadets.
According to your standing rank, you will be paid monthly salary. All facilities at Balamb Garden remain free of charge at your disposal. When acting in official capacity outside the Garden, you may draw from the Gardens account to purchase goods or services necessary for completion of the given task. If, however, the task requires that the Gardens identity be kept in secrecy, you are to assume temporary financial responsibility of the expenditure and file for reimbursement from the Garden when it is safe to do so
Knock, knock. Someone was rapping on the door.
At any time you may be dispatched in a group or as an individual to accomplish a specific mission objective. Maintenance of SeeDship, as well as promotion and demotion, depend heavily on successful execution of missions. Be advised that you may on occasions be forced to persist through considerable intervals without contacting the Garden
Knock, knock, knockety-knockety-knock.
Both in peace and in battles, you have the task of guiding Balamb Gardens trainees with examples and leadership. Despite your promotion, all articles and clauses of Garden Code that you abided as a trainee remain as the sole authoritative code of your conduct and behaviors
Hello, Squall! Youre in there, arent you?
Squall sighed and let the paper fall on his face.
Squall? came the voice again.
Just a moment. He got up from the bed. What is it? he asked the visitor, opening the door just enough to allow a narrow crack. He was promptly shoved back when Selphie, a picture of exuberance in her full gold-and-gray SeeD regalia, pushed her way into the room. She fixed the bewildered occupant of the room with a knowing, critical stare.
Hah! I knew it, she exclaimed, pointing at him. The ball is about to begin, and you arent even dressed for it. Dont you know everyones looking for you?
Why! Because the whole thing is in honor of the new SeeDs, and there are only four people this time that fit that description, thats why! Did you really think you could just not come and no one would notice?
All the same, I dont like balls.
Too bad, big guy. Youre coming, and thats an order from the headmaster. We thought it all out, see?
Squall stroked his forehead to relieve a headache that wasnt there. Fine. Ill be there in a little while, all right?
Uh-uh, I dont think so. You go put on your SeeD uniform right now. Ill wait outside.
* * * * *
I dont understand at all why you are so loath to come, Selphie said as they neared the ballroom. She cut her companion a sideway grin, at once merry and sly. I mean youve got no reason to shy away. Im telling you, you look good in that getup. Positively dashing, take my word for it. Didnt you see the looks those girls were giving youand me? They were oozing envy. I could tell.
Listen, she said after a beat. Im gonna say something, but I dont want you to freak out, okay? I just want you to listen and consider.
Squall regarded his petite companion doubtfully, unsure where she was going now. Her green eyes were large and hopeful, and they looked to him with girlish expectation. Instinctively he grew apprehensive.
Squall, will you she started hesitantly, as if she were trying to brace him for a great revelation. Squall felt trapped, helpless. For a second he considered bolting. join the Balamb Garden Festival Committee?
Befuddled, he wrinkled his brow.
Please, we really need more people! implored the girl. Memberships down to only eight people right now because so many students graduated or just fell away. The Quad hasnt hosted a concert in almost six months. I mean the stage is just sitting there gathering dust, and probably rusting, too. Its tragic! I cant bear to let things go on this way! So will you? Please? I promise itll be a lot of fun.
She groaned. Oh, well Somehow I knew youd say that, but I had to try. I must have asked fifty people this week.
She certainly is full of energy, Squall thought. She didnt seem upset in the least at his refusal.
I thought you transferred here recently, he said.
Right, just two weeks ago. What about it?
For a newcomer you seem pretty busy. Involved.
No kidding! Excitement raised her volume again. I directed the Trabia Garden Festival Committee for almost a year and Im also vying to be the next director of the committee here even though Im new and so I have to work hard, you know, to demonstrate that I am earnest and reliable and now that I am a SeeD, the only one in the committee by the way, I expect Ill be taken more seriously and maybe recruitment will become easier as well. Anyways Ive been busy renovating the committees online information page all last week and on top of that I also started an online diary for the whole campus to access and what do you suppose I wrote for todays entry? You guessed it: our sensational escapade in Dollet! I wrote all about you guys, tooyou dont mind, do you?and so thanks to me you and Zell just might find yourselves celebrities come tomorrow
In vain Squall did his best to tune out her monologue for the remainder of the short walk. He had only himself to berate for getting the chatterbox going.
* * * * *
The Gardens ballroom was awash with colors. Vibrantly clad figures moved in pairs across the polished floor gleaming golden under the innumerable chandeliers, small and large. The marble pillars appeared to cast not shadows but lights in reflection, luminescent to the point of dematerialization. Notwithstanding his disinclination for extravagance, Squall could hardly forbear to marvel at the halls grandeur that the evenings occasion enlivened. He could not remember the last time he had been in the room, but he was certain that it had not been in nearly so festive an atmosphere. It made for a strange sensation, he thought, for him to step into a chamber in his own home place, reduced to stale banality by long and unbroken years of residence, and find that he was as good as an alien in a faraway realm.
That isnt exactly an accurate statement, he then said to himself. Familiar as it was, the rounded edifice housing Balamb Garden yet retained for him remnants of the excitement and the delighted incomprehension that had overtaken a timid little boy at the first vision of his new home, over ten years ago. He had stood outside the gateways blue arch that day, nervous and uncertain, taking in the spectacle of the imposing structure and thinking that it had to the most curious-looking building he had ever seen. To his young eyes it hadnt resembled a building at all, smooth and glossy without a trace of brickwork anywhere, and curvy-spiral like an inflated conch, when he had seen no house that did not stand erect upon the earth. Its principal bulk, whence various facilities, the ballroom included, projected in smaller bulges, was a modified dome of immense proportion, with hardly a column in it for support save the single elevator shaft that connected all three levels of the structure. In sunshine the Garden was a sparkling blue jewel amid miles of pristine forest green that surrounded it, and Squall remembered how torn he had felt on that first day, torn between loving it at first sight and the sheer trepidation its scale evoked. It was nothing like what the five-year-old had ever seen, nothing at all like the shadowy solemnity of the old stone house by the oceanwhere the sound of gulls and breaking waves was never outside the earshot, and the tiny fissures on the aged granite were as much a feature of the house as the
Squall started, struck unawares by his own thought, as though he had caught a passing glimpse of something foreign and out of place inside his own head. When he tried to return to the image for a second look, it had already dissipated to formless oblivion, like an impression come and gone in sleep.
Was it some kind of a déjà vu? he wondered in bafflement. A lump of inexplicable unease settled in his chest. A waitress carrying a tray of drinks walked by, and he took a glass and a quick sip. The wine tasted terrible. It was no fault of the wines, which was excellent. He didnt like to drink.
Get over here, Leonhart, a SeeD officer called from the opposite end of the hall. With him were the others who had passed the exam, along with the headmaster and another woman. The woman was Zells mother. An arm thrown around his mothers shoulders, Zell beamed and extended his free hand in exact reiteration of the aborted handshake the day before. Squall took another sip of wine. Laughing, Zell retracted his hand without a comment. He was a happy man tonight.
Ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me your attention for a few minutes, announced the officer who had called Squall over. The music dropped off to silence. Everyone in the room turned to the small group.
Not another speech, Squall said under his breath.
Shh! Hes gonna introduce us, Selphie said.
Thank you, the officer addressed the hall with an easy grin. This evening I have the privilege of presenting these four young people, who constitute the most recent additions to our illustrious fellowship. Many of you know them personally. From left, the first is Zell Dincht, a martial arts expert, and Balamb Gardens undisputed fast food connoisseur Many burst out laughing. and grandson of the late Colonel Mosev Dincht, a renowned Balamb military figure of the Sorceress War generation. Next is Nida Fidven, who at age eighteen has already distinguished himself in military engineering as a veritable whiz.
And a veritable wimp, too! someone cut in, and another bout of mirth followed. Nida reddened and laughed.
Then we have Selphie Tilmitt, the lone female of the group and also the newest face at Balamb Garden
Whoo-hoo! a female officer in the throng shouted in mimicry of the girl. The hall erupted in laughter again. Squall was reminded of why he hated public functions.
I see that she has already made herself known during the short time shes been with us, the speaker quipped. Miss Tilmitt is the leading spokeswoman for our festival committee. I for one am looking forward to the next festival. And finally, the stone-faced fella over here is Squall Leonhart, the very first gunblade specialist to join SeeD. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you all to join me in offering our new colleagues our sincerest congratulations.
When the applause and the cheers subsided, the officer raised his glass and said, May their futures abound in troubles and ordeals, that they will have ample chances to prove themselves worthy of the name of SeeD!
My, these fellows know how to toast their comrades, dont they? observed Mrs. Dincht as even greater cheers swept the place. She graced her son with a sardonic but motherly smirk. Zell, you know Ive had my qualms about your decision to join the Garden, but I stand corrected now. Congratulations, son. There couldnt be a career more suited for you.
Behind the mother and the son, Cid overheard and shook his head, chuckling. Public bashing of new officers is something of a tradition in this place, Mrs. Dincht. No doubt your son will do very well, indeed.
Oh, no doubt at all, Mr. Kramer. Trouble is one thing this boy thrives in. She smiled at Squall and Selphie. Im so glad that both of you are graduating with Zell. Look after him, will you?
Whatever, Squall thought, looking at the two officers who had fought with him in Dollet. I dont imagine Ill be seeing either of these two much after today.
* * * * *
Whats with the gloom, Leonhart?
Leaning against a column, Squall turned to the SeeD officer that had introduced him and the others to the gathering. He had a typical jokers face that Squall disliked.
Im not gloomy, he answered.
Come, man. Mix with people a bit. No need to stand apart all brooding on a day like this, you know?
I know, I know. You probably wouldnt even bother being here but for Cids order, huh?
Squall made no response beyond raising an eyebrow at the officers casual use of the headmasters given name.
Youre a queer one, Squall. On one hand youre predictable as a mentally challenged ox, but on the other hand no one quite seems to know what to make out of you. The Master Staff had to mull over your exam performance. I was one of the grade consultants, you see.
You bet. Seifer didnt stand a chance with the staff given what he did, but there was a good deal of discussion over your decisions. There were substantial property damages to a number of Dollet districts as a result of your squads run-in with the Galbadian robot, which of course should not have occurred had you all stuck to the mission objective. Because you were smart enough to defer openly to the captains authority, the argument turned in your favor in the end. Theres no denying that your squad turned up some pretty interesting, even useful, details concerning the Galbadian intent in Dollet. But someone had to answer for the gross neglect of the order.
I hope you are not telling me that I passed thanks to Seifer. Because if so, Id have to request to be made a cadet again.
Oh, not at all, laughed the officer. An appalling thought to you, eh? But no, the three of you were exemplary in every aspect until Seifer gave the order to move to the tower. I do believe that moron wouldve passed along with you and Dincht if he only stayed put where he was damn well supposed to stay put. He considered something briefly. Still, it comes as no small surprise that half the cadets who passed the exam were under supervision of that rookie instructor of yours. Three quarters if you count the new girl. No doubt this marks the height of her instructorship, the poor girl.
Squall frowned. What are you talking about?
Huh? Oh, nothing. Nothing quite yet, anyhow. Well, then, do try to enjoy yourself, Squall. The night deserves to be remembered.
The officer departed. Squall leaned back against the column, observing the dance floor and sipping wine when he was reminded of the glass in his hand. He glanced at the wall clock above the ballroom entrance. He had been keeping his post there for the past half an hour. The ball would go on well past midnight. He would dutifully stay till eleven and quit the place.
Zell swished across his vision with his dance partner, dropping a nod in his direction. His dancing is as loud as his moves, Squall thought. Was that the library girl with him, just now? Beyond the floor, Selphie entertained a group of guests and officers, Xu among them, with her talk. The headmaster was in a conversation with a master administrator. There were a number of master administrators in the hall, all in their never-changing scarlet robes. Their forbidding still figures were an incongruous sight for the occasion. No more out of place than I am, Squall thought. He turned his eyes back to the merry dancers. Many were guests from outside the Garden. They looked eminently at home. He didnt feel at home.
A spike of self-consciousness added impatience to boredom. Squall put down the glass on the rail by his side and closed his eyes, inclining his head backward to rest against the cool marble behind. The music was a poor lullaby in his ears. He contemplated the night sky over the glass rotunda of the hall, a soothing and inviting mantle of darkness sprinkled with starry dust.
Staying till half past ten ought to be enough to make the others happy right?
Far above, a silvery arc sloped past the stars and vanished over the horizon.
Absentmindedly Squall thought of a passage from an old Centran text. Behold, the star falls; it is a thing of beauty, a fleeting joy to the eyes. Yet be warned, fellow strangers. This first flake of snow heralds a blizzard to come, a heavenly woe that will stream down upon us. Mark ye wellforsooth the star does not fall; it descendeth. And afore long the firmament shall rain not white but crimson
A presence nearby caught his attention, bringing his thought back down to the earth. Not ten steps to his left was a young woman attired in white. Her gaze was lifted to the corner of the heaven that had held him so interested. Her lips curled. She turned to him then, and the smile lingered at her mouth as she raised one delicate index finger.
Squall cocked his head, not comprehending the gesture. What, the shooting star? His puzzlement grew when the girl beganresumed?walking towards him in decisive strides, making it apparent that she intended to address him.
The girl paused in front of him. Through involuntarily narrowed eyes Squall watched her scrutinize his face, her neck, he thought, craning just a bit.
Have I met this person before? I hope I havent. Obviously shes not from the Garden, and she will take offense when she realizes I havent the foggiest idea of
You are the handsomest officer here, it seems, she declared.
Squall stared at her mutely, blinking.
I beg your pardon?
Before he could give utterance to the words, she flashed a bright smile and said, Will you dance with me?
For the first time in an appreciable while, and this only because he so rarely was obligated to give an oral reply, Squall found himself entirely at a loss for words. The girl gave him another, more sober look when his vacant expression showed no sign of relenting.
Let me guess she said slowly. You are here with someone.
I should say yes. No, he said. His own voice sounded uncomfortable to him.
In that case you must only dance with someone of your liking. Am I right? she said.
Squall didnt know how to answer that.
Fine, then. I know what to do. Animation returned to her countenance. Look into my eyes, will you?
With that odd request she stepped even closer, and Squall unconsciously moved backward before the pillars bulk on his backside surprised him. The next moment her finger, the one she had saluted him with, was inches away from his face, swirling circles between his eyes.
Youre-going-to-like-me youre-going-to-like-me she chanted. She bit back laughter. In his confusion, the boy was actually trying to follow her fingertip with his eyes! She withdrew her hand. Now, did that work? she asked.
Squall fought the urge to shake his head to get rid of the brief dizziness. He cleared his throat. He was annoyed at his own discomposure and the one responsible for it, yet he felt the need to be courteous to a guest of the Garden.
I cant I dont dance, he said.
The answer did not satisfy her at all. You will be just fine, she assured him. Im waiting for someone myself. I cant be on the dance floor alone.
So saying, she took him by hand and led the dumbfounded youth to the center of the hall.
* * * * *
Whats happening? Squall asked himself in a daze while he was being hauled towards the dance floor. Already they were in the midst of the dancing pairs, surrounded on all sides by the vivacious array of colors and motions. The girl that had abducted him there took her position and secured both his handsone grasped in her own and the other guided to her waist. Squall looked about as though seeking rescue, and only saw, to his severe embarrassment, several cadets at the edge of the hall point at him and his insistent partner. Their faces were intrigued. Preoccupied, he lurched and lost his grip when the girl commenced with a spirited tug. Promptly she reset his hands on the right spots. They began the dance. And young Squall found himself in the predicament of his life.
The music was familiar enough, yet to him the notes rang hopelessly disjointed with his movements. His feet felt ponderous and his ankles stiff, as if the tall boots that encased them were made of iron. It was all he could do to shuffle that pair of petrified weights to avoid dancing them all over the girls own sandal-clad feet. She moved with effortless grace, the fluid elegance of her figure hampered only by the clumsy hand she led. Her right hand was smartly perched on his shoulder, keeping him close. Her face was constantly in his. It was all surrealistic, and strangely remote, like a dream.
Then she spun away and pulled, raven-black hair fluttering in a silken wave. Missing the beat to loosen his clutch, Squall hurtled into her. The gentle scent of her locks filled his breath for one panicked instant.
Mortification brought him out of the daze. He awakened from the dream; he was sensible again. He did the first sensible thing that came to his mind. He walked away from the dance. She pulled him back with determination.
Look he began.
Lets try this again, she pressed on, wholly undeterred by the flop, as she manually arranged her reluctant partner into the appropriate position once again.
The girl set them in motion. Squall resigned himself to her perseverance. If he had to dance, he decided, he should make no further farce of the situation. They began moving together. His response picked up. Agility was back in his limbs, though awkwardness remained, and fingers fumbled as they met, parted, and switched hands. It was after a whileinterminable, it seemed to himof frantic jostling on his part, to keep up with the girls lead, that he oriented his movements to yield to her sways and balance their matched momentum. Between her adroitness and his assiduity, something of a rhythm arose.
Good, much better, she whispered through a pleased smile.
Squall almost smiled in return, satisfied that his body was proving to be reasonably competent in the unaccustomed endeavor. In truth few things honed ones instincts in physical interplay as thoroughly as sword training did. He was then jolted by another collision. The couple that he had bumped into looked at him and the girl in surprise. He stuttered the beginning of an apology, and shut up when he saw his companion make an indignant face at the couple. They should have known to move out of the way, her eyes said as she turned her back on the offending pair in a haughty huff. Where were we? she silently asked him with an expression considerably more affable, instantly back in excellent humor. Squall could not help a small chuckle this time.
Certain ease entered their resumed dance. The girl continued to steady him with a firm hand atop his shoulder. She was a patient partner. She waited until their shared drive strengthened before quickening the pace to the joyous beat of the music. Their steps grew freer, bolder. No longer merely swaying together, they moved apart, encircled the space between them, and met again. The new rhythm was smooth and unbroken. Very much like good swordplay, Squall thought. Yes, there was a familiar thrill herein the pattern of connection and release, of advance and retreat. Only without the urgency, and in its place a sweet, savory tension. A different sort of a thrill, but a thrill regardless.
They joined hands to come together one last time, drawing the dance to a close. Over their heads, the sky lit and bathed the hall in an iridescent glow. Squall observed the fireworks, a display he had generally thought garish. When he turned back to his partner, it was to find her rapt at something over his shoulder. She answered his inquiring look with an apologetic wink.
Ive spotted my appointment, she said. Excuse me. And I forgot to say: congratulations.
A touch on his arm, and she was gone from the dance floor. Squall watched her form disappear into the crowd. He was not upset, but he felt unsure of what had transpired shortly before, if anything of note had indeed transpired. It was after she was out of his sight that he realized they had not bothered to introduce themselves.
* * * * *
She found him alone at the terrace, gazing outward. Even his backside looks pensive, she thought.
Im surprised youre still around, even if its just by yourself as usual, she said, stepping to his side.
Squall glanced at the instructor. He turned his eyes back to the dark forest that stretched for miles below the balcony. Orders, he said.
Ah. She smiled and folded her arms. Required attendance. Just like classes, hmm? You must be happy to be done with those, at last.
Are you sure you arent sticking around hoping to see your dance partner again? she asked. Her tone was mischievous.
Squall inhaled the breezy night air. Of course shed know, he thought. Along with everyone else at the party. Come morning, he would surely have to put up with the guys inane questions about the babe who danced with him.
Whatever. Why does it always feel like Im being watched around here?
Says the man who just put on the best show of the night in front of a hundred people.
Good God, he mumbled. Tell me it did not draw that much attention.
No need to blush, now, she laughed. It was charming. I didnt realize you danced so well. And you thought Social Dancing 101 was a silly requisite, didnt you?
A low groan was the only answer she got from him.
I mean it. The dance was perfect, she said.
The boy was quiet, maintaining his sight on the scenery. Thank you, he said. After a long moment of silence, he looked sideways at the instructor, who still stood there, as though he had just noticed her. Yes? he said. What now? What else?
Quistis let her arms drop to her sides. Her voice bespoke annoyance. Whats the matter, Squallyou dont mind dancing with a total stranger but cant suffer my company for a few minutes?
Thats not it, he said. Im not used to having to figure out what youre trying to say. Normally you just give orders.
She laughed. You know what, Squall? I think youre right. Itll be strange for me as well, no longer dealing with you as a student. Rather boring, too, I imagine.
If its a troublesome student that you need, Seifer alone ought to be more than enough for any instructor.
Quistis grew quiet. She looked away. Yes. Right her words drifted off as she regarded the melancholy of the nightscape. Squall noted the shift. He made no comment.
Oh, I completely forgot, she said suddenly. I assume youre about to retire for the night?
Why do you ask?
You havent had too much to drink, have you? She gestured to the half-empty glass in his hand.
No. Whats this about? he asked, suspicious.
Since you seem to be missing taking orders from me, she said, cheery again. Ill give you just that. Go get changed and meet me in front of Training Center. This will be my last order for you.
Training Center? Squall took a better look at his former instructor, who was in her casual outfit instead of the uniform or the dressy formal attire that the staff were expected to wear to a ball. Its late. What do you want to do there?
Its important that it is late, she answered. You will accompany me to the so-called secret area inside Training Center. Its where students who want to stay out past curfew head to kill time.
And we are going there to do whatsend them back to bed?
We are going because I said we are.
And if I dont want to go? You stopped being my instructor since morning, you know.
She smiled sweetly. Dont make me pull rank on you.
Squall got to his feet.
Been a while. I hope you like this one; I spent a lot of time on it. Ive never had to describe a dancing scene in my life. Can you imagine what a hassle it is?
1. You may have noticed that Rinoa is a wee bit cooler than you remember her. I believe that Square was going for a certain angle with Rinoas character but didnt do a very good job of achieving the aforesaid angle. In fact, I think they screwed it, more than any other single element of the game. (Well, maybe with the exception of Laguna. But then we dont see him all that much in the game, do we?) In FMVs, Rinoa is radiantshe is cool, beautiful, and at once coy and elegant. In FMVs, Rinoa steals the show. In FMVs. Alas. I have given my Rinoa a modest literary facelift. I hope you dont mind, cause Im sticking with it.
2. I have purposely made it so that our duos first dance wasnt as picture perfect as it was shown in the FMV. I think it needed to be perfect on screen for visual aesthetics sake. Not so in writing, at least in my humble opinion.
3. Somebody explain to me what the heck all these weird terms are that I keep seeing in the FFVIII fandom. Yaoi? Yuri? Lemon? Shonen? What are these, tropical fruit?
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic