Vigil of the Fates Chapter 8


By PeterEliot

On the way back to the Garden, I try summoning Ifrit against a few monsters. Though at this point it takes a great deal of concentration on my part to summon him, his power is remarkable. With training he will soon grow to be a formidable ally in battle.

“I am surprised that they made you battle Ifrit,” the instructor tells me as we walk back. “His level is low, but that’ll of course be fixed in due time. But regardless of his level, he is an extremely strong opponent for a cadet—especially in Fire Cavern, where the environment adds to his already considerable strength. The Garden must have high expectations of you, Squall. Ifrit was their gift to you as well as their means of testing you.”

* * * * * * * *

We make it back to the Garden’s front gate with good two hours left till the field exam begins. As we part, the instructor orders me to change into my uniform and report to the front foyer on time. Returning to my shared quarter in the dormitory complex, I take an hour to rest up. Curative spells are useful in battle, but ironically that sort of forcible, radical restoration of the body can become rather taxing on its own when repeated. Sleeping while curative magic is junctioned is a gentler, more thorough way of recovering with the aid of magic. I hope that punch I got from Ifrit doesn’t hinder me in the field exam.

I get up at 1500 hours sharp and don the cadet’s uniform. A final checkup on the gunblade, to make sure it is set at maximum capacity, completes my preparation for the exam. Ready to leave, I step up in front of the bathroom mirror and undo the bandage around my head, taking the first look at Seifer’s gift between my eyes. The wound looks disturbingly similar to the one I gave him—a sharp diagonal slash, a little shy of two inches in length, that runs from above the brow down to the upper end of the bridge of my nose. Thanks to the effect of magic, it is more than half healed, already more a scar than a wound. It is no longer painful, but I find myself depressed over the thought that I will long bear Seifer’s vile mark.

* * * * * * * *

I make my way to the front foyer ten minutes ahead of time. A good number of students as well as uniformed SeeD and faculty members are already gathered there, talking in groups. Although some faces look nervous and anxious, the general atmosphere is lively as giggles and laughter ring out all over the place; how could it not be, when you have a bunch of excited teenagers gathered at one place? One would have thought the group was meeting for a field trip or something. There are actually too many cadets present—I think many of them are there to see their friends off. Instructor Trepe, back in her uniform, is present as well. She waves me over upon noticing me from distance.

“I’ll be announcing the squad assignments for the field exam shortly,” she tells me as I arrive. “Let’s see... Squall, you will be with...” She checks the list of candidates in her hands. “...Zell Dincht. Quite a lively fellow. Over here, Zell!”

I follow the instructor’s gaze and behold a blond-haired cadet engaged in solo practice of some kind of martial arts moves. He seems proficient at what he does, smoothly executing a series of elaborate if somewhat arbitrary kicks and hooks. Wait a second, isn’t that... the chicken-headed hotdog maniac, from the cafeteria this morning?

“Lively, did you say?” I say darkly to the instructor in a sudden premonition of doom. “Loud is what he is. Can’t I switch squads?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

The premonition grows stronger.

Mr. Zell Dincht is now rounding up his practice with a double back flip, making an exemplary landing on both feet near where the instructor and I stand. The gymnastic performance concluded, he turns toward us and, I think, greets the instructor with a confident thumbs-up and a cocky smile. Yep, the hair is still there—definitely deliberate.

“Whoa! I’m with you?” he exclaims upon seeing me. This guy knows me? Maybe I took classes with him, too. Remembering people never was my strong suit. ...Now, what is he doing? He is vigorously rubbing his hand on his uniform pants, as if wiping something off his palm... and he extends in my direction said hand, wrapped in combat glove, inviting me to shake it. No thanks, pal. I don’t do kiddie shakes.

After a few seconds, Zell retracts his hand awkwardly. His spirit undeterred, he immediately goes on to say: “You don’t get along with Seifer, do you? Heard he whooped you pretty bad this morning.”

Zell, why do you do this? Why do you have to mention that jerk’s name when I’m already irked as it is at being paired with you? What good could you possibly think this will do either of us?

“We weren’t fighting. We were training.”

“I betcha he doesn’t think so,” Zell opines. And suddenly he becomes sympathetic, of all things. “Look, Seifer’s just being a pain in the ass, the way he was born. All you gotta do is pay no attention to him.”

Ah, so that’s what the deal is. I recall witnessing the Student Disciplinary Committee in action earlier today. Sounds like Mr. Zell got into a little trouble with the respected chairman of the committee. Maybe it wasn’t even his first time. Great—now I may have to endure this guy bellyaching about Seifer in some wretched attempt at male bonding for the duration of the exam. Can this get worse?

Ahem, excuse me, but...,” the instructor interjects, “that Seifer you two are talking about—I should let you know that he happens to have been named the leader of your squad.”

No, no, no.

“What did you say?” Zell roars, eyes threatening to pop out of the sockets.

“And before you ask: you can’t switch squads.” The instructor’s tone is apologetic.

And that’s when Seifer, tagging with him the rest of the Disciplinary Committee as usual, chooses to make his entrance. Flanked by his menacing friends, he walks as if he owns the place, and the knowing cadets reinforce that woeful imagery by voluntarily clearing a path at the sight of his naked gunblade slung over his shoulder. The others, SeeD and especially the faculty people, look at him distastefully as his party passes by them.

Instructor Trepe gives him a polite smile. “Seifer, meet your squad members; I believe you already know them. You are the squad captain. Good luck to you.”

“...Instructor,” Seifer says smoothly. “I hate it when people wish me luck.” Raijin guffaws behind him. “Save words like that for the struggling cadets who need them, eh?”

The instructor does not lose the smile. “All right, then—Good luck, Seifer.”

Seifer blinks, then scowls. It is Zell’s turn to let out a laughter. Turning to Fuujin, Seifer growls none too softly, “Add Instructor Trepe to the list.”

The list?

“Well, then,” continues the instructor, unfazed. “The three of you—Seifer, Squall, and Zell—are assigned to Squad B. I will be the instructor in charge of the squad, however, the captain will have the responsibility of leading the squad in combat. Teamwork is of the utmost importance in this mission. Let’s get through the exam together, everyone!”

“Listen up,” Seifer growls once again, this time to Zell and me. “Teamwork means following my orders—and staying out of my way. It’s the Squad B rule. Don’t you forget it!”

Zell appears about ready to blow his head, clenching his fists while his face turns an interesting shade of pink-purple. Then the Headmaster approaches us.

* * * * * * * *

Cid Kramer is a courteous, bespectacled, mild-mannered man in his forties. He is in fact much too pleasant to be the headmaster of an academy that trains professional mercenaries—or so I think. How he even got to have that position, I will never understand. But as long as Balamb Garden has existed in my memory, so has Headmaster Cid.

“Is everyone present?” he inquires, facing the assembly. “It’s been a while. How’s everyone doing?” Polite murmurs from several people; Cid is not known for his insistence on strict interpersonal formality. The Headmaster continues:

“Today’s field exam will involve twelve cadets from Squads A to D. As you know, the rather unpredictable schedule, frequency, and scale of exams such as this stem from the fact that they involve actual military situations as they arise all over the planet. You will be proceeding to a real battlefield where you will engage in bona fide battles against enemies who will do their best to annihilate you. Life and death, victory and defeat, honor and disgrace... only one of each pair may prevail at any given moment, yet the pair itself always goes hand in hand, making it impossible for one to eliminate the other permanently. Make use of your training, future SeeD’s, and be sure to keep yourselves on the right side of the line of balance. How about it? Are you still up for it?”

The Headmaster pauses, sweeping the group with his gaze. “You will be accompanied by veteran SeeD members, some of them your own instructors. Should you fail in your mission, these will get the job done. They always do.

“The pride of Balamb Garden—the elite mercenary force, SeeD! Learn from them, obey their orders, and accomplish the mission. Prove yourselves worthy of becoming members of SeeD. Best of luck to you all.”

We are dismissed. I move to follow the others to the parking lot, where cars are ready to take us from campus, but then I hear the headmaster’s voice calling my name from behind. I turn back to find him regarding me seriously.

“We’ve yet to have a gunblade specialist in the Balamb branch of SeeD,” he says, placing one chubby hand on my shoulder. “That is why I am hoping that Seifer and you will join us. Put your rivalry aside, and cooperate with him. Together you two will become valuable assets to the force. Now go.”

In the car, I think about his words and do not like what he might have meant by them.

Chapter 9

Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic