Whitehot burning you have failed tumbling through coldspace.Worthless boy.
You're losing it.
I am her lap dog Knight.
You're just a coward boy.
Do not injure failure your partner.
The lion roars.
I am silence empty.
The abyss rises.The maelstrom beckons.
Screaming from the sky.
Poor child not a child we shall have time compression
All the time memory we need.Past present
He clutched his head in his
hands, praying for the roaring to stop.Oblivious
to the presence of onlookers, he fell to his knees, slamming his head against
the floor with brutal force.Writhing on
the floor in agony, his hands scrabbled to find purchase on the tile, as if he
would burrow into the ground in search of sanctuary.Abandoning his efforts at digging, he began
to cry.Great, wracking sobs convulsed
his lean body, paroxysms so fierce, they looked strong enough to rip him in
The man watching from behind the
glass could remain idle no longer.With
infinite sadness in his eyes, he nodded to the men next to him.The four of them -- the strongest available
-- entered the small cell to restrain the anguished man.While three of them held him down, a task
that required all of their strength, the fourth administered a shot.
Within moments, the man's spasms
began to subside.His body began to
straighten itself and stillness began to overtake him.Having seen his torment before, in all its
fury, this seeming placidity was all the more terrifying, for it resembled
nothing so much as rigor mortis.The
difference, the observer noted, was that this
corpse's eyes were moving, darting back and forth behind closed eyelids,
and signaling the onset of dream-laden sleep.
This, the man behind the glass
knew, might serve only to torment the patient more.For while his body was now free from its
unthinking rampage, Seifer's mind could not escape his nightmares.Until the medicine wore off, Seifer had to
confront his demons alone.
"Let me know if there's any
change," said the observer, his voice quavering with sympathy.
President," answered the attendants as one.
"Please.Don't call me that.I'm not feeling very presidential right
And with that, Laguna walked
slowly away from the room where Seifer lay prostrate, trapped within the vortex
of his own imagining.
When the knock on his door came,
Laguna looked up from the papers he'd made a pretext of studying.The door to his office opened, admitting
Kiros into the room.The lean man paused
briefly and gave Laguna an odd look.
"What's the matter,
Kiros?Do I have a stain on my
shirt?"Laguna began inspecting his
shirt for a stain that, thankfully, didn't exist.
"No.It's just that I'm still not used to seeing
you with glasses," Kiros said.At
this, Laguna removed his reading glasses and leaned back in his chair, rubbing
his eyes briefly.
"Well, we're hardly as young
now as we were when we got here.That
was -- what -- eighteen years ago?"When they arrived in Esthar, Laguna's black hair didn't have its few
streaks of gray, nor did he have so many wrinkles around his eyes.Kiros, meanwhile, gained some weight in the
intervening years, but due to rigorous exercise, his muscles had not turned to
Kiros smiled softly as he stepped
closer to Laguna's desk.He stopped
behind one of the chairs and, considering his choice of words carefully, took a
breath before opening his mouth.
"Don't give me that look,
Kiros," Laguna shot out."Whenever you give me that look, nothing good comes out of your
"Dr. Odine is here to see
you about the Almasy boy."
Laguna groaned and covered his
face in his hands.The dark-skinned man
waited for Laguna to give him some further form of response.
"Send him away, Kiros.I don't want to speak with that guy.He gives me the creeps."
"Well, he's sort of… in the
next room.He wants to give you his
report in person.And he says he won't
go away until you talk to him."
"Kiros, you're the
chancellor, you think of something.Threaten an Ethics Committee investigation, or threaten to pull his
grant funding.I don't care; just make
him go away."
"But, Laguna, what about the
report?We need to know what's going on
with that kid."
"Get the report from him,
and you read it to me," Laguna
said, before sitting forward and heaving a sigh.Kiros nodded curtly and began walking to the
door."And, Kiros?" Laguna
called after him."He is not, under any circumstances, to go near Seifer until I tell him otherwise.Personally."
Kiros went into the outer office,
and Laguna could hear the thick voice of Odine in the hallway, arguing."But I am ze great Odine!He must zee me!"
By the time Kiros finished
arguing with Odine, Laguna had left his desk to stretch out on a couch.He'd slipped an ice mask over his face, to
try to relieve some of the tension he felt building in his skull.Kiros had taken a seat at Laguna's desk, and
began flipping through the papers in front of him.As he turned one page, he gave a long, low
whistle.Laguna didn't even have time to
inquire before Kiros put the sheet on a projector.Laguna squinted through the ice mask and
tried to interpret the picture before him.
"Okay, I give.What am I looking at?It just looks like a big red blob."
"This is a map of Seifer's
brain.Or, more accurately, his brain's
"So… this tells us what,
exactly?"Laguna glanced away from
the display and looked back at Kiros, raising one eyebrow quizzically.
Kiros sighed, and tried to interpret
Odine's technical writing."It
means all of his neurons are firing at once.Every memory that he has is replaying at the same time.His senses, used to gather information about
the world around him and understand the present, are hyperstimulated.And the cognitive areas of the brain --
particularly those areas used to piece together information, and make
predictions about the consequences of future events -- can't switch themselves
off.In essence, his brain is undergoing
time compression and it can't escape."
"Ouch.No wonder he's a wreck."Laguna sat up and removed his ice mask,
running a hand through his long, dark hair.Suddenly, the tension headache that had been drumming away inside his
skull didn't seem so bad.
"There's more," Kiros
said, flipping a page."It seems
that, in trying to make Seifer her Knight, Edea -- by which I mean Ultimecia --
put a piece of her consciousness into his mind…"
"What do you mean by
that?'Put a piece of her
"Well, as near as anyone can
tell, she tried to… junction herself onto Seifer, so she would always have a
way to make her will manifest.Now that
Ultimecia is dead, that last part of her willpower is still trying to assert
control over Seifer, but it's also feeding off of him, trying to stay
Laguna began, dreading the words he knew would come next.
"She will either control him
or kill him."
"This is bad," Laguna
said, speaking to no one in particular."This is really bad."
Kiros and Ward watched as their
longtime friend paced the length of his office.Periodically, Laguna would flop into one of the chairs, jumping up and
continuing to pace the room only moments later.
"I mean, we've gotta do
something, right?"He paused for a
second, seeming to invite a reply."Of course we do!" he exclaimed, answering his own
question.Ward turned to look at Kiros,
the giant's expressive face telling the smaller man exactly what he wanted to
"Ward wants to know,"
Kiros began, acting as translator for his speechless friend, "why you're
making this kid your personal charity case."
Laguna whirled around."Because he's not a bad kid.He isn't a
war criminal, like everyone seems to think he is.Because he got tangled up with the Sorceress,
and she played him for a fool, just like she played everyone else.Because she promised him everything he ever
wanted and he, not surprisingly, jumped at her offer.Because he's already endured whatever awful
torments she saw fit to inflict on him and even though it's all over, he still
can't get away from her.Because no one
else has ever bothered to take a chance on this kid before, and maybe that's
why things happened the way they did.Maybe… maybe all he was looking for was… a place or a person that needed
him and he thought he'd finally found it."
"Because… what does it say
about us if our bloodlust is so strong that we can't offer impartial justice to
an eighteen-year-old kid who's been ruthlessly manipulated?Because… well, because what if it were Squall
in that room?What if my son had been the one the Sorceress
chose to take advantage of?"
Laguna paused to catch his
breath.Up until Squall's name flew out
of his mouth, Laguna hadn't realized how strongly he felt about the issue.Kiros and Ward continued to watch him with
such nonchalance that, for a moment, Laguna began to wonder if he'd actually
spoken or just imagined it.He felt
something inside him click, almost like the turning of a switch and Laguna knew
he'd just committed himself totally towards pulling Seifer out of that waking
"And because I'm the
President, damn it, and I say we're
going to help him.So you can either
stand with me, like old times, or you can walk out that door and go your own
way, but my mind is made up.So which is
Ward looked at Kiros and nodded
"Ward says you're our
leader.He says you always have been,
and that he'd follow you anywhere."
"And you, Kiros?What do you say?"
"I say Ward's got the right
"Laguna, she's here."
Laguna left the room where Seifer
lay howling on the floor to go see the Sorceress Edea.Draped in black, she exuded elegance, with a
network of intricate tattoos by her eyes.Laguna felt a familiar burning in one leg and gritted his teeth against
it, not wanting to appear like an idiot.
"Sorceress Edea, thank you
for coming on such short notice," Laguna said, unsure of how to properly
What do I do?Am I supposed to
shake her hand?Bow to her?
"It's okay, President
Loire.You don't need to worry about
being so formal with me."
Ah! Laguna thought, taking in a quick breath of air.She's
reading my thoughts!
The pain in Laguna's leg
intensified, and he could feel the muscles starting to twitch.
"I, um… that is to say… I would
appreciate it… please… uh… don't read my mind!"
This awkward statement made,
Laguna's leg cramped up fully, nearly pulling him to the ground with its
force.Edea reached out to help him, but
Laguna held up one hand to stop her.After a moment or two spent massaging the muscles, he began taking
tentative steps around the room, limping as he did so, in an effort to walk off
the cramp.Off to one side of the room,
he heard Kiros and Ward snickering at him.
"You know, guys,"
Laguna growled, "one would think that after the last, say, two decades or
so, the novelty of my leg cramps would wear off."
"Yeah," Kiros said,
making no effort to conceal his amusement, "you'd think that, but your
little limp is so damn funny that it never fails to make me laugh."
Ward looked over at Kiros and
raised an eyebrow, prompting the smaller man to burst out into hysterical
asked."What did he say?"Kiros and Ward exchanged another glance and
shook their heads simultaneously.
"Trust me, boss, you're
better off not knowing."
His cramp starting to ease up,
Laguna gathered the pieces of his shattered ego and turned back to Edea.
"Sorry about that," he
said, "I get these… leg cramps sometimes… when I'm nervous."
"Let me apologize, President
Loire," Edea said, her contralto voice rolling through the room."I don't wish to make you nervous.And I promise I wasn't reading your mind.I don't have that kind of power.You just looked so… uncomfortably formal -- I
made a guess.My comment was meant to
put you at ease."
"Well.Okay.Let's forget all that.Down to
business."Laguna started to
sputter in an effort to move the conversation forward.
"Yes," Edea said."You wanted to speak to me about Seifer
"Right.Did Kiros brief you on the situation?"
"He explained everything to
me on the flight over.May I see
Laguna glanced over her shoulder
at Kiros and Ward, both wearing inscrutable -- and therefore useless --
"I don't see why not.He's in the next room."
Laguna led the way into the room
that the staff quickly dubbed "The Asylum."Seifer huddled in the corner, whimpering
softly.As Edea approached, he moved out
of the corner and into the center of his cell.Edea approached the cell and Seifer turned to look at her with closed
eyes.Accidentally, Edea's hand brushed
the glass that served as the outermost layer of his prison.In that moment, with almost feline dexterity,
he lunged at her, eyes still closed, crashing into the barrier between them.
He stood back up, panting, and
opened his eyes slowly.Seifer stared at
the floor and his mouth began to move.His lips formed words, but he produced no sound.
"What…?"Edea said, putting one hand to her temple.
"What's wrong?" Laguna
asked, starting to reconsider banning Dr. Odine from seeing Seifer.
"It's like… static,"
she said, "inside my head.But it's
angry.I can feel her.She's trapped inside him, and she isn't happy
about it.She's as much a prisoner as he
Seifer's mouth moved ever more
quickly, his mouth forming soundless words with increasing fury.When it seemed he could go no faster, he
stopped abruptly.Then, with great care,
he looked up, directly at Edea.
Still, he produced no sound, but
everyone heard the scream
mentally.The scream personified rage
and hatred, so oppressive that it seemed to attack the air around them.This horrid non-sound combined all the worst
characteristics of a wailing infant and the shriek of metal-on-metal.Laguna at once covered his ears with his
hands, but the sound continued to echo inside his head.
Edea, though, received the brunt
of this psychic assault.It slammed into
her with the force of a sledgehammer, throwing her against the wall with
vicious force.As she slid down the wall,
she saw an aura surrounding Seifer, a hypnotic miasma of red and purple, with
thick black veins running through it.In
her mouth, Edea faintly tasted the coppery tang of blood.
And everything went dark around
As Doctor Odine strutted around
the room, Laguna regarded the little man distastefully.Odine's only loyalty was to his research --
when Laguna and the resistance faction fought to overthrow the Sorceress Adel,
Odine immediately defected to the side of the resistance as soon as he felt
Adel had no chance of victory.Laguna
wanted to prosecute Odine for the heinous experiments he conducted under Adel's
regime, but the other members of the resistance group convinced him that they
could use Odine to research ways to seal Adel's power.
Now, despite his strongest moral
objections, Laguna reluctantly allowed the Doctor to return to work on
"Project Almasy." This clearly overjoyed Odine and the smirk on his
face made Laguna -- usually a hesitant warrior -- want to knock out a few of
the teeth in the scientist's mouth.
"…And zo," Odine said,
"Ultimecia reacted to ze presence of Edea, trying to take her power by
killing her.If zhe accomplished zis, ze
result would have been ze complete resurrection of Ultimecia, within Zeifer's
body.All ze power of ze two
Zorceresses, in ze body of a young man.Unless you want to zee zis happen, you might wish to keep zem
Laguna couldn't tell for certain,
but he almost detected a note of excitement in Odine's voice.Whether he spoke from scientific curiosity or
some darker motive, Laguna couldn't be sure, but he definitely didn't feel
comfortable with Odine's barely contained glee.
Laguna said."What do we do for
"I zuggest at least zix
months of intenzive research, electroshock, drug therapy, gradual exposure to
ze presence of Zorceresses, and hypnoziz.If all else fails, ve perform brain surgery."
"Out of the question,"
Laguna snapped."We are not here to
further your research, provide you with entertainment, or fulfill any other
personal objectives.We are here to cure
Seifer, and we are going to do so immediately.So either make a suggestion or stop wasting
The entire situation with Seifer
weighed heavily on Laguna's mind.He'd
tried to maintain objectivity, but the fact that Seifer grew up with the son
that -- until recently -- Laguna did not even know existed, made him
personalize the entire matter.He also
felt tremendous political pressure to mete out justice to Seifer.Additionally, his headaches had steadily
worsened, occasionally escalating to the level where he could barely stand
exposure to light.Seifer/Ultimecia's
psychic attack was most certainly unwelcome -- not in a scientific light,
perhaps, but certainly in a neurological one.
"…I am afraid," Odine
said, "zat zere are certain things we simply cannot do.One of zem would be to remove Ultimecia from
Zeifer's brain.Ze best we can do is to
equip him with ze tools to fight her off."
"How do you suggest we do
"Zince his brain is
receiving too much stimulation, he is incapable of placing the pieces of his
mind into any order.Perhaps if we
placed him in zome zort of zenzory deprivation, he would be able to martial his
willpower and fight Ultimecia.Perhaps
if we zealed him in the Zorceress Memorial zat we used to zeal Adel's power, it
would give him ze chance to fight her off, and zen we could release him if he
wins.If he loses, we zimply leave him
"Finally!"Laguna exclaimed."We can take some action!"
"Zere is, I think, a certain
element of risk involved."
"If Zeifer loses -- if
Ultimecia wins ze battle -- her control over his body will be absolute.He will zimply… cease to be, and Ultimecia
will be reborn."
Laguna nodded, considering the
magnitude of the decision placed before him.Seifer would live or die, depending on the choice Laguna made.The rebirth of Ultimecia would mean atrocities
beyond imagining, the waging of another Sorceress War, the death of any number
of innocents, and cataclysmic destruction.Still, Laguna had sworn that he would fight wholeheartedly against
whatever evils the Sorceress Adel could invent, and Seifer counted, ultimately,
as another victim.
"Make whatever preparations
you need to, Odine.We start
immediately, and the hell with Ultimecia."
Laguna stood with Kiros and Ward,
watching the technicians preparing to freeze Seifer.Systematically, they clamped restraints onto
the young man, restraints that Odine developed with the specific purpose of
dampening the power of Sorceresses.
Those who built the Sorceress
Memorial had no intention to commemorate the life or death of any
Sorceress.Rather, it employed numerous
measures to ensure that a Sorceress, once frozen, would remain that way
forever, and would no longer be a threat to the world.Following Adel's release -- engineered in
part by Seifer -- Laguna insisted on installing even more strict
countermeasures for such an occasion.
The first level would desensitize
Seifer -- a relatively uncomplicated technique.The technicians at the Memorial would place Seifer into a deep
hibernation, strong enough to shut off the majority of his senses and allow him
to focus his mind on the battle with Ultimecia, a battle that he seemed
destined to lose.
In the event of that loss, the
technicians had instructions to remove all life support from Seifer's
body.By pulling a lever, the
technicians released a large quantity of cement, which would fill Seifer's
chamber and encase him in a layer of concrete.Following that, the Esthar military would supervise his transfer to the
launching facility, whereupon the staff there would launch him into the
furthest reaches of space, hopefully never to return.
Laguna glanced up at the clock,
wishing, not for the first time, that they'd picked a more reasonable hour to
begin the procedure.
"Kiros?"Laguna asked, knowing that Kiros wouldn't
have gone very far.
"Yeah, boss?" Kiros
"I'm gonna go outside for
awhile.Take in the sunrise.Sort out my thoughts.Take up smoking and then have a
cigarette.Page me if anything important
As Kiros acknowledged the
request, Laguna stood up and exited the Memorial.All around him, technicians bustled and
scurried, anxious to complete their tasks, nervous at the presence of both
Odine and the President of Esthar.
As Laguna opened the door to the
Memorial, his heart sank.Half a dozen
news agencies had sent representatives, all eager to obtain a quote, much less
the full story.He groaned internally.
Aww, come on! The whole point of getting up this early was to avoid you
"Mister President…Can you
confirm…Is it true that…What do you make of the allegations…" The voices
all blended in Laguna's sleep-deprived brain.
"Go home, guys.Get some sleep.There's no story here."
The chorus of voices started up
again, all demanding a claim on Laguna's time, all claiming to have
information, but wanting more of it.And
at the core of their concerns, he knew, was the issue of Seifer Almasy, and
whether or not Laguna was trying to rescue him.
"Ward," Laguna said,
feeling the presence of the giant man behind him, "as of 30 seconds from
now, this is an A-level secure facility.Anyone present without the proper clearance is to be shot on sight.Anyone recording, whether in pictures, sound,
or words, anything that happened here, will also be shot.Understood?"
Laguna turned to see a slow smile
creep over Ward's massive face.Ward
nodded slowly, and reached for the button summoning all armed personnel to the
front of the Memorial.
By the time the 30 seconds
elapsed, the phalanx of reporters shrank in size to a small speck of dust on
the horizon.Laguna leaned against the
wall and sighed, deeply.The sun had
barely risen, and already he could tell it would be a long day -- the throbbing
on the left side of his head told him that.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and
glanced up to see Ward regarding him with a look of infinite compassion.Laguna could see the message of friendship
and support in the giant's face.
"Thanks, old friend,"
Laguna said.Ward's features darkened
and he nodded curtly at Laguna, who interpreted the signal immediately.
Back inside the facility, the
technicians were busy making the final preparations and adjustments.Seifer hung suspended by a series of wires
over a vat of a viscous light green liquid.Cobalt blue metal bands encircled his body, restraining his arms and
legs, and wrapping around his torso.Laguna couldn't help but notice how loosely Seifer's skin hung on his
body; Seifer's tortuous struggle made it nearly impossible to consume any
food.They'd done their best to keep
Seifer nourished, feeding him intravenously while he lingered under the
influence of sedatives, but it was not enough to maintain his muscular form.
Everything seemed to grind to a
stop as one of Odine's chief assistants fixed an oxygen mask to Seifer's
face.This final step completed,
everyone stepped back and appraised the morning's work.They all knew the danger inherent in the
experiment and most of them very clearly wished to vacate the building.Laguna didn't know how he felt.Nervous?Scared?Hopeful?The only one who displayed a single clear
emotion was Odine, who clapped his hands together with glee and giggled
periodically.Once again, Laguna burned
with the urge to assault the demented little creep.Wanting to get the project underway, Laguna
"Okay, everyone.Thank you for your work today.As you know, we're taking a big risk with
this, but we are doing the right thing.Never lose sight of that.Never
lose sight that Seifer is a person, not a lab animal, and we are here to save
him, not to study him."
This said, Laguna sat back down
and nodded to the technicians, who began manipulating the various controls
needed to start the process.The wires
lowered Seifer into the vat.The clamps
holding him by the shoulders unlocked and retracted.Bubbles rose from the oxygen mask to the
surface.Metal plates slid down around
the vat, blocking it from outside light and sound.
And Seifer's war began.
A mountain cliff, reverberating
with the roar of thunder.Clouds roil
overhead, warning of the impending storm.Two warriors clash, each a master of technique, moving with an economy
of motion best described as purity.Repeatedly, their weapons meet, causing sparks to play and dance along
the blades.Both men grit their teeth,
struggling to stave off exhaustion, for in this martial ballet, one they've
enacted many times, neither can gain an advantage over the other.The wind whips through their ears, but their
deep concentration forbids them from noticing this.
The taller one gains a moment of
superiority, knocking the other to the ground.With a malicious smile sweeping across his features, he slashes his
opponent's face, causing blood to splatter the rocky ground.A feral snarl overtakes the bloodied fighter,
for they have now crossed an invisible line.This fight, like all their fights to come, no longer serves as
training.Blood is the purpose of this
fight, the purpose and the end result.
The shorter man rises to his
feet, rushing his attacker.His blade
drops low, scraping against the ground, leaving a row of sparks on its way
upward.The blonde man tries to defend
himself, but the impassioned strength of the blood-soaked warrior overtakes
him, knocking his blade out of its defensive position.Now blood flows from both of their faces, and
Seifer finds himself on a
mountain cliff, gunblade in hand.Something about the scene plagues him, and he struggles to understand
the situation.A crash of thunder
startles him from his reverie and he barely manages to lift Hyperion into a
defensive position before Squall's blade crashes into his own.
This, Seifer remembers.His body begins to move again, the memories
flooding back into his brain.
Parry and feint.Thrust and riposte.
Hyperion no longer feels like an
extension of his arm, though.It is too
heavy, his muscles too unresponsive, the blade's balance wrong.Squall's attacks come faster and faster, and
each time Seifer defends himself with less time to spare.Soon enough, it is all Seifer can do to
protect himself; he no longer attempts to attack in return.For all it matters, Seifer might as well be
Squall fights easily,
fluidly.He advances on Seifer from all
sides at once, surrounds him.Every time
Seifer attempts to retreat, to breathe, to marshal his strength, Squall moves
closer, strikes harder.Seifer's arm
starts to go numb and his skull resounds from the force of Squall's attacks.
Seifer notices that something
seems wrong with Squall.He no longer
fights with his customary calculated precision.He seems wild, taking more risks.Seifer no longer recognizes Squall's style.After years of fighting together, learning
about each other, studying each other's moves, Squall has become an entirely
Seifer finds himself pressed
back, eventually falling to the ground.
No!This is all wrong.
Squall towers over him, a
demon.A cruel smile spreads across
Squall's face.A figure rises behind
Squall, the towering outline of a person.This person, though, is empty.Nothing exists beyond the outline, save a
vortex, seeking to engulf everything.Squall raises his blade and his rich blue eyes gleam.The blade tears across Seifer's face.
Squall's eyes aren't blue.They're gray.
Seifer looks down at his hand,
and the ground beyond it.Both are
stained with blood…
…and gunpowder and death fill the
air, their scents mingling together.Bodies litter the ground and the screams of the dying are
everywhere.Seifer wanders among the
corpses, and their eyes accuse him.Some
of the faces he recognizes, some he does not, but all scream out in death.In the distance, an enormous city burns.Once it gleamed like a jewel, but now it sits
dying, the center of a vast crater.Seifer sees forms moving in and around the rubble.The lucky ones, he realizes, are those
already dead.The living will forage for
food, killing each other in an effort to preserve themselves, but eventually,
they too will die.No living thing can
survive this wasteland, let alone eke a living out of it.
A flash of light flickers through
the corner of Seifer's vision.He turns
to follow it and notices a man standing by himself, in the midst of the
carnage.He has, somehow, escaped all
injury.His armor gleams in the light of
the burning sky as he surveys the scene.
His work.He created this
destruction, and he is proud.
Who are you?Seifer calls,
but the figure does not acknowledge him.
Struggling over the broken
terrain, Seifer draws near.The armor
gleams, but Seifer makes out the shape of a cruciform sword engraved on the
Who are you?He asks
again.Why did you do this?
The man still does not
react.Seifer has drawn close enough, by
this time, to touch the man.He extends
a hand out to do so, and the figure turns to face him.The man's armor covers him from head to toe
-- his whole body invisible.The armor,
though, shines, like a mirror.In the
man's helmet, Seifer sees his own face reflected.
He gasps and turns to flee, but
finds himself surrounded by mirrored knights.In the distance, Seifer's voice comes back to him as an echo, asking, Why did you do this?
As one, they lift their visors,
revealing empty suits of armor.When
they speak, they use Seifer's voice, answering, Because I am…
…The Sorceress' Knight, and I when I speak, I speak with her
voice.When I act, I act as an extension
of her will.
The people cheer.Their voices and bodies blur together in an
ecstatic frenzy.One man, though, stands
almost perfectly still.From his vantage
atop the parade vehicle, he savors the reverence he instills in the
masses.Although his face wears a mask
of icy contempt, inside, he burns.He
feels the fire of his power, the awe he inspires in those around him, the
grandeur of being a Knight.
They respect me.They respect me
and they fear me.
He stands to the right of the
Sorceress, ready to do her bidding.She
is a creature of flawless beauty, pale white skin and raven hair, ivory and
obsidian, a goddess crafted from marble.As long as he draws breath, no harm can come to her.She loves him, and that love is no mere
romance, but a thing of transcendental magnificence, the courtly passion that
can exist only between a Sorceress and her Knight.She needs him to protect her, to defend her,
to carry out her will.His life, his very
existence centers on those needs, and no force can bar him from fulfilling this
duty.With but the slightest thought, he
stands ready to die for her, or to kill for her.
He does not need to wait
long.As the massive parade vehicle
crosses beneath the arch, its ancient gates slam shut.The Sorceress leaps to her feet, but Seifer,
moving beyond the speed of impulse, reacts more quickly.He immediately barks orders to the military
personnel surrounding them, making certain of his Sorceress' safety.Above the sound of chaos and confusion, the
panicked mob, his ears prick up, and he hears a single, cold shot resound
through the night.His heart sinks as he
lunges towards the Sorceress, attempting to insert himself in the path of the
assassin's bullet, but the distance between them yawns impossibly wide.He screams a warning, hoping that she, with
her inscrutable powers, can compensate for his negligence in protecting her.
With masterful élan, she raises a
hand, scarcely deigning to notice the attack on her life.As the bullet nears her statuesque figure, it
encounters a bright blue field of resistance, slowing its momentum.Seifer allows himself a breath of relief,
before he notices that the bullet has stubbornly refused to stop, despite the
Sorceress forcing all of her power into the protective spell.The projectile continues its inexorable
progress towards her, until the final moment when it pierces her shield.Even at a greatly reduced speed, the bullet
still slams into her with a frightening force.Seifer's world explodes with the impact and he feels, as much as hears,
the bullet tearing through her perfect white flesh, spilling her life's blood
and shattering her bones.
As Seifer's head spins, he sees
that his blood, too, has been spilt, a sympathetic wound gained from the
special link they share.The night is
awash with blood, and Seifer fights to stay conscious.He struggles to stand, equilibrium devastated
by the pain blossoming within him.He
reaches for Hyperion, the muscles in his side tearing audibly as it slides from
its sheath.Staggering backwards, he
knocks over one of the immense braziers atop the vehicle, spilling fire, ash,
and coal everywhere.As the vehicle
ignites, grim laughter escapes his lips, brought on by the certainty that he
will die this night, a victim of his own folly and ineptitude.Each laugh pierces his side like a lance, and
blood bubbles forth from his lips.
Seifer's laughter dominates the
parade ground, which has suddenly fallen silent.He sees a group of three figures cutting a
swath through the crowd.The scar on his
face burns with anticipation as its brother nears.The blood in his mouth boils with his thirst
Squall ascends the parade
vehicle, silent, resolute.Flanking him
is a man in a long coat, rifle in hand -- the assassin, no doubt.On Squall's other side walks a young woman,
dark-haired and beautiful.He recognizes
this girl as a figure from his past: Rinoa.
Of course, Squall.You always
tried to take everything that belonged to me.
Squall stands before Seifer and
draws his gunblade.Once again, their
blades meet in a clash of sparks.Seifer
grits his teeth in agony, the pain from his wounds almost unbearable.His blood covers the ground, causing Hyperion
to slide from his grip, preventing his feet from finding purchase.
Squall moves like a spirit of the
wind, and Seifer loses the battle in the span of a few heartbeats.Choking on his own blood, Seifer watches in
horror as Squall approaches the wounded Sorceress.Her Knight fallen, she kneels, exposing her
elegant neck, eyes pleading with Seifer, imploring him to save her.He tries to stand, but loss of blood has
weakened him.His body has betrayed him,
failed him, just as he has betrayed and failed his Sorceress.
Squall's blade shoots sharply
into the air and neatly severs her head from her neck.Her delicate body crumples to the ground,
lifeless.Squall disdainfully wipes the
blood on her gown, and kicks her body over.Her severed head rolls toward Seifer and comes to rest facing him, the
empty eyes transformed in death from beseeching to accusing.
Squall stands over him,
illuminated by the raging fire.He
raises his blade, as before, only now it trickles blood.Seifer smiles weakly, waiting to accompany
his Sorceress into death.As Seifer
waits for the dolorous stroke, Squall offers him a cold salute, before
shouldering his blade and casually walking away.
This display of contempt enrages
Seifer, but he cannot find the strength to protest.The accusing eyes of the Sorceress haunt him
as the world fades to red.He can hear
her cold voice now, lyrically mocking him.
Foolish boy, playing at being a Knight.You are no Knight, child, you are a…
…failure is not an option.
The SeeD mantra rings in Seifer's
ears, as he surveys the small group before him: Squall, Zell, and the little
brown-haired messenger girl. This small cadet, so eager to please, has just
conveyed the order to retreat, signaling the end of the field exam.Seifer has not yet finished his crusade --
there are still soldiers to drive off, battles to be won -- but he reluctantly
conveys the order.
Seifer has exited the CommunicationsTower and started to sprint towards
the transport ships when he hears the sounds of battle behind him.Turning, he sees the other three cadets being
pursued by a massive war machine, a hideous contrivance of pistons and gears,
built to emulate a spider.He pauses to
watch as the machine, moving incomprehensibly fast, catches up to them.Although the better part of the day has been
spent fighting, their training serves them well, and they never falter.Squall moves with all his customary ability,
and Seifer idly runs a hand across the scar he received earlier that day.The messenger girl, too, fights skillfully,
and Seifer notices that her bubbly demeanor has vanished, replaced with a cold
mask of concentration.
The most impressive force,
though, is Zell, his entire body functioning as a perfect weapon.His hands and feet slam into the machine
repeatedly, and it is the machine's metal exoskeleton that suffers from the
collision. He instinctively, intuitively, seeks out the machine's weakest
points and pummels them with a berserker's rage and fury.Soon Zell is a blur of motion, striking the
machine some 15 times in a matter of seconds.With a final sputter, it crashes to the ground, immobile.
Seifer applauds mockingly as the
three turn away from the machine.He
waits for them to start telling him that the entire fight is his fault, a
result of his order to abandon their assigned position.Not that he cares.Before they have a chance to speak, though, a
look of horror crosses his face though, when, over their shoulders, he sees the
unholy spider repairing itself.Torn
metal mends, dents smooth over, and bit by bit, all the damage done to the
machine vanishes.They notice it too,
and waste no time in fleeing the scene, the horrible clanking sound moving ever
closer.Occasionally, Seifer glances
behind them, checking on the machine's progress.
By the time they reach the shore,
Squall and the messenger girl are keeping pace with Seifer, and once they reach
the transport vessel, he breathes a sigh of relief before noticing Zell's
Zell is still on the beach, his
small frame almost entirely dwarfed by the enormous automaton.A sharp cry of pain escapes Zell's lips as he
grips his leg, falling to the ground with a fiercely cramping muscle.This is all the advantage the machine needs,
and it raises one wickedly barbed leg, preparing to impale the small man.
With a speed born of desperation,
Seifer climbs the ladder to the gunner's turret of the vessel, shoving Quistis
out of her seat behind the cannon.Barely taking the time to aim, he points the massive weapon at the robot
and squeezes both triggers, hoping at least to buy the struggling Zell time to
reach his feet.
The triggers, rather than giving
way, merely hold their positions, and Seifer feels his heart sink.Frantically, he checks the chambers of both
barrels, only to find that the gun has not jammed.A quick glance down at the control panel
reveals the safety mechanism, still locked.His fingers struggle to release the catch, but to no avail.
Zell scurries frantically away
from the machine as its leg, glinting in the harsh sunlight, flies
downwards.It pierces Zell's body in the
stomach, striking him with such force that his body nearly splits in half.Zell writhes on the beach in torment, lips
unable to form a scream. As he flails under the machine's weight, Zell's eyes
catch Seifer's and damn him with their pain.The force of Zell's hatred is tangible.Not only has Seifer spent years taunting, mocking, and bullying him, he
has cut Zell's life short through recklessness and bravado.
Seifer screams, sinking to the
deck as the vessel's engines roar to life.The machine on the beach recedes from view, but not before Seifer sees
it scraping Zell against the rocks, trying to free its leg from his body.
A shadow falls over Seifer as Quistis
looks down at him, arms crossed over her chest.Tears are welling up in her eyes, but she stoically holds them
back.Her silence frightens Seifer more
than her anger ever could, and he knows the accusations that face him.If he had obeyed orders, merely by staying in
one place, Zell would still be alive.
Seifer descends the ladder,
trying to turn invisible, trying to avoid the reproachful glares of Squall and
the messenger girl.She only knew Zell
for a fraction of an hour, and in that time proved a better friend than Seifer
ever had.Instead of the relieved
chatter of victorious comrades, a pall hangs over the ship as it speeds away
from Dollet, leaving Zell's blood to mingle with the softly lapping…
…waves of energy pour from the
machine as the Sorceress Adel's bonds snap, one at a time.Seifer fiercely shoves Rinoa towards the
towering monstrosity that is Adel. The Sorceress has become a mockery of the
human form.Her powers have made the
darkness within her manifest.
Adel, still partially sealed,
stands well over eight feet tall.Her
face has twisted into a permanent expression of rage and her skin has a mottled
gray hue.Her arms eagerly reach for
Rinoa, sharp talons clacking together as they reach for the precious girl.As Rinoa draws close, tentacles stretch
forward to caress the dark-haired girl's face.Vestigial wings, leathery, like a bat's, twitch with excitement.The gills on the side of Adel's neck flutter
as she breathes in.Her legs are still
fused together, joined into one from years of stasis. As she struggles to free
herself, the long-unused muscles pop audibly.
Seifer delivers Rinoa to the
waiting monster, and Adel leers at this willing service.They have all but abandoned the pretense of
Sorceress and Knight.No true Knight
would offer up an innocent for sacrifice, but Seifer no longer cares.The duty of a Knight is to protect his
Sorceress, from both physical harm and from the temptation to abuse her power.He has failed in both of these regards,
Seifer knows, but he stubbornly refuses to accept defeat.
You've taken everything from me, Squall.My hopes of becoming a SeeD, my dream of
being a Knight.You even made Fujin and
Raijin desert me.Well I know you,
Squall, and I can tell how you feel about Rinoa,so let's see how you handle having the one thing that matters to you stripped away.
Adel holds Rinoa to her and their
bodies fuse.The joining complete, Adel
begins to sap Rinoa's power.As her strength
increases, Adel's veins become prominent, running close to the surface, thick
with black blood.Rinoa attempts to
struggle, but her energy fades too quickly.All too soon, Rinoa is dead, and Adel casts her aside, a desiccated
husk, the shell of a seventeen-year-old who looks eighty.Her corpse lands at Squall's feet, and he
stares on, dumbfounded.
In a single mighty surge, Adel's
bonds snap and she steps out of the containment chamber.The threat this motion represents stirs
Squall back to activity.He draws his
gunblade, but seems unable to turn his gaze away from Rinoa's body.By the time he can focus enough to look at
Adel, vengeance on his face, his fate is sealed.
With one hand, Adel lashes out,
grabbing Squall by the shoulder.Absorbing
Rinoa's essence has given her the strength of a titan, and she sends Squall
hurtling to the other end of the room, where he collides forcibly with the
There.Think you can kill him now,
Her mocking voice echoes in his
head.To strike Squall dead would be to
abandon completely any hopes of being a Knight.Still, Adel's siren song, the promise of revenge, proves too great to
His heart races uncontrollably as
he walks over to Squall.He tries to
remain calm, but the chance to prove his superiority to the world overwhelms
him.As he stands over Squall, his mind
races back to the day when they'd scarred each other.He can feel his wound opening and hot blood
running down his face.
This is it, Squall.Admit
defeat.Bow before me.
Squall looks up at Seifer, the
storm in his eyes raging like never before.Without ever taking his eyes off Seifer, Squall slowly stands up,
leaning against the wall for support.Those bones that have not already broken snap as he moves.Seifer can see bones piercing Squall's flesh
in several places, and they both know that his internal organs are in no better
Arms crossed over his chest,
Seifer grins in malevolent triumph.A
weak gurgling emanates from Squall's throat, but his shattered jaw prevents him
from speaking.Seifer leans in to
listen, and Squall spits, a gout of blood spattering Seifer's face and
clothes.Snarling, Seifer plunges a fist
into one of Squall's gaping wounds.The
strength of the pain is enough to drive the dark-haired man back to the ground,
where Seifer kicks him viciously.
Well done, my Knight.Now
sacrifice him to me.Show me your
He turns to face the
Sorceress.Adel's form has gone,
replaced by a massive emptiness, a great hungry vacuum waiting to feast on the
life of her enemies.
Give him to me, and we will show the world what it truly means to be Sorceress and Knight.You, my child, will be the first of a line
of Knights that will scourge the world for centuries.
Seifer raises his blade to
strike, the chance for revenge, for a place in history glittering before him
like a prize.As Squall's strength ebbs,
the venomous energies of the Sorceress grow.Seifer starts to lose himself within the all-encompassing darkness.Seifer turns again to look at Squall.Where Squall's body came to rest, now Seifer
lays on the ground, broken, almost every bone in his body shattered.One Seifer struggles to form a word, and the
other Seifer almost loses the sound amid the gurgle of blood.
Memories come flooding back to
him.He remembers growing up in the
orphanage by the sea, setting off firecrackers at night, playing at the old
lighthouse.He remembers his childhood
friends, the kids he used to pick on, but still considered friends anyway: bossy
Quisty, Irvine -- who always wanted
to play cowboys, cheerful Selphie, Crybaby Zell, and even quiet Squall.
He remembered all the things
Matron -- the Sorceress Edea -- taught them.The stories she used to tell at bedtime.He remembered her teaching him about honor, about what it really meant to be a Knight.
Matron, can I be a Knight too?
Not yet, Seifer.You're too
young, and besides, it's bedtime.
I wanna be your Knight, Matron.I'd beat up anyone who tried to hurt you.
I'm not a Sorceress, Seifer.And
besides, being a Knight isn't about beating people up.It's about protecting people, especially
people who can't protect themselves.It's about facing up to your fears.It's about acting with courage, honor, and compassion, and about living
as an example to others.
Seifer looks down at his own
bloodied form, and knows that he will not survive.He looks up at the Adel-void and senses her
rage.This death will truly free her,
and she is most displeased with Seifer's hesitation.
Seifer's memory, once triggered,
continues to rush through the events of his life.Suddenly, he begins to understand. He
remembers the ceremony, the Sorceress investing him with a portion of her
power, that they might always be together.
This is a dream.None of this is
Seifer stands in a field, a
massive flower garden.The rainbow of
color explodes in all directions around him, and he shields his eyes from the
sudden sunlight.As he grows accustomed
to the brightness, he sees, in the distance, a tree on a hill.Eager to survey his surroundings, he sets off
in that direction.
The constant struggle of the
dream has sapped his strength, but this field revitalizes him.Every breath of the clean air fills his lungs
and purges the exhaustion from him.By
the time he reaches the tree he feels healthy again.He sits down beneath the tree and closes his
eyes.For the first time in what seems
like ages, he feels rested and peaceful.
A noise before him catches his
attention and he opens his eyes, jumping to his feet and reaching for a weapon
that isn't there.He finds himself eye
to eye with an enormous lion, its mane brilliant and golden.The lion sits on its haunches, and coolly
regards Seifer.Its face betrays no
expression of intent, but Seifer does not feel threatened by the creature.It is waiting for him to make the first move.
An owl alights on a branch over
his head.Its gaze is piercing, and it
looks through Seifer as much as at him.Its sharp talons grip the branch but it, too, makes no threatening
overtures.The owl continues to
scrutinize him, and Seifer can sense its evaluating him.
A coyote bounds on the scene,
jumping in circles around the lion, eager and exuberant.The lion, still watching Seifer, makes no notice
of the dog, which suddenly begins chasing its own tail.The creature spins in circles, whirling ever
faster.It comes to a crashing halt when
it accidentally runs into Seifer.The
creature stands back up and sniffs at Seifer's hand.Charmed by the creature, Seifer cannot help
but scratching the coyote's ears.It
revels in the affection, licking Seifer's hand eagerly.
The lion spoils their interaction
by standing up.It stretches slowly,
graceful, and Seifer can see the long, lean muscles that move the great
cat.With deliberate steps, the lion
begins walking away.It turns to look
over its shoulder, and Seifer realizes that he should follow the beast.Seifer rises too, and sets out after the
creature.The owl follows from the sky,
making lazy circles in the air but always moving forward.The coyote circles Seifer, jumping playfully
around him.Rather than playing a game,
though, Seifer realizes that the coyote is herding him, moving him to follow
After a time, they reach a precipice.All three animals watch Seifer as he steps
close to the cliff.Looking over the
edge, he sees a thick gray liquid.It
bubbles and oozes with a life of its own.Creatures seem to rise out of the muck, humanoid figures writhing in
agony.Some of them attempt to climb up
the cliff face, to escape the viscous substance, but it always rises up to
claim them back again.
Seifer turns to look at the
animals that brought him here.They all
watch him, staring intently.He knows
what they want him to do: plunge into this murky pool.He does not know if he will survive the fall
or be consumed by the stuff, or become one of those horrid broken creatures
Finally, the coyote moves over to
him, and nuzzles his hand.It looks up
at Seifer with imploring eyes.The other
two creatures display no emotion, but the mixture of sympathy, sorrow, and
compassion in the coyote's eyes convince him.Seifer, without allowing himself the time to think twice, dives off the
cliff and into the bubbling gray waste.
The stuff fills his ears, mouth,
and nose.He desperately wants to
scream, but fears wasting the air in his lungs.With no light to guide him, he begins swimming, attempting to find a way
out of this pool.Occasionally,
something unseen brushes past him.
He surfaces in Adel's chamber,
holding Hyperion, and the weapon feels perfect in his hand.It crackles with energy and the blade seems
sharp enough to cut the air.The two
have joined, linked by a unity of purpose.
Seifer feels awake and alive, energized
as never before.He whirls on Adel, whom
he now recognizes as Ultimecia, with his gunblade at the ready.She lashes out, a tentacle of pure blue
energy whipping through the air at him.
You've failed so many times, child.Do you really think you can stop me?
The voice in his head resonates,
and his mind flashes back to Squall, standing victorious over him.Cid, lecturing him, promising that Seifer
would never become a SeeD.
Seifer jumps in the air, throwing
himself directly at her lash.They meet
in the air, and he cuts cleanly through the whip.
Do you really think anyone cares if you live or die?After everything you've done, do you think
you have a friend left in the world?
Raijin and Fujin walking out on
him.Squall, suffering interrogation and
torture at Seifer's command.The
innocent victims killed in the missile strike on TrabiaGarden.The city of Esthar,
decimated under the Lunar Cry.
Ultimecia's lash catches him this
time, and he barely manages to muster the will to free himself.The pain rages around him, and she forces on
him the memory of every moment of weakness Seifer ever had, every cruel or
unkind act he perpetrated.Every
negative emotion he ever experienced, she hurls at him, the mental anguish
magnified a hundred-fold.
Gritting his teeth, he throws
himself at the enormous vortex.He
plunges into the darkness, blade drawn and readied.Inside, he finds another Seifer, bound hand
and foot, starved, malnourished, tortured.He reaches out for this other Seifer, and the world explodes.
Suddenly, his soul is on
fire.The two Seifers merge, and he
feels the long months of pain recede before him. The Ultimecia parts of his
soul burn, scorched away as Seifer heals.
His eyes fly open, and his vision
is blocked by darkness.He struggles to
move, and finds himself floating in some kind of jelly.He tries to scream, but cannot, the mask
forcing oxygen into his lungs.
The tank empties, and Seifer
sinks slowly to the floor.He lies there,
panting, fingers struggling to remove the mask.
The darkness melts away, and
Seifer sees a vast room around him.People are everywhere, staring at him.They're speaking, but he cannot understand the sounds they make.He pushes forward in distress, crashing into
A man rushes forward, compassion
in his eyes.He holds one hand up to the
glass, and his presence serves to calm Seifer.
His long battle over, Seifer
allows sleep -- true, restful sleep -- to overcome him.As he drifts gently into unconsciousness, it
occurs to Seifer that he has seen this man before, in a movie that he watched
countless times in his childhood.
I've been saved, Seifer thought, by the Sorceress' Knight…
Seifer sat on the edge of his
bed, looking out the window at the brilliant golden sunset.The buildings of Esthar, with their
magnificent glass and crystal facades, played with the sunlight as it streaked
across the sky.The beauty of the
dazzling prismatic display awed Seifer, but his current situation didn't allow
him much time to reflect on the wondrous city. His mind raced in circles,
trying to figure out how he'd come to be a prisoner in Esthar.A well-treated prisoner, true, but a prisoner
Years of training at Garden
served him well.His warrior's
discipline returned to him as he took a series of deep breaths.Slowly, deliberately, he calmed his nerves,
found his center, and reviewed the facts for the hundredth time.
He remembered participating in
the sack of Esthar, watching the monsters from the Lunar Cry engulf the
city.He remembered fighting with
Squall, and losing.He remembered
handing Rinoa over to Adel, and watching Squall rescue the girl.After that, his memories turned hazy and
He had a fleeting memory of
waking up in a vat of liquid, and seeing Laguna Loire, the actor from the Sorceress' Knight films watching
he wrote off as a hallucination.
Then he awakened in this room,
overlooking the city of Esthar.The guards posted outside his door clearly
didn't view talking to him as part of their duty.So, without their help, Seifer assumed that
someone incarcerated him for his actions in service of the Sorceress.And those actions, he surmised, would render
him a war criminal.
Still, he found his confinement
quite luxurious.The massive room had a
dazzling view of the Esthar skyline, a moderately diverse library, and a host
of other amenities.Seifer found himself
wishing for a television, just so he could start to figure out the state of
current events, but other than that, and, of course, his restricted freedom, he
had no complaints.The conspicuous
absence of a television, though, did indicate to Seifer that his captors didn't
want him to see his face all over the news.
Besides, how many hours had he
spent in BalambGarden's
detention center for one infraction or another?If he could stand that, he'd be damned if this… hotel room could break
For want of anything better to do,
Seifer flopped back on the bed and began mentally compiling a list of the
crimes he would have to answer for.He
approached the issue several different ways, but in the end, found it simplest
to break the list down by individual jurisdictions that would want his head.
BalambGarden.GalbadiaGarden.TrabiaGarden, if there's anything left standing.Deling City.BalambTown.Esthar.Timber.
Which leaves three places for me to hide: Fisherman's Horizon, Winhill,
Fisherman's Horizon will be glad to extradite me to Esthar, and Dollet
is too close to DelingCity.That leaves Winhill.
With this in mind, Seifer began
planning his escape route.He began with
Esthar, proceeding from the assumption that he would not be able to secure an escape
vehicle.From Esthar, he'd have to move
up the railroad track to Fisherman's Horizon, where he'd have to maintain a low
profile until he could return to the mainland.He proceeded through a half-dozen contingencies before he felt
satisfied.This done, he started reverse
engineering plans, beginning with Winhill, and tracking his steps back to
Of course, this all assumes I escape.I'll probably be executed before I even get the chance.
A knock on the door snapped him
out of his reverie. The sound surprised
him, as he normally only expected it at mealtime.The fact that someone knocked at his door
outside of the routine indicated that it could well be a visitor, or, at least,
At any rate, it's time to get some answers.With any luck, whoever it is will have a
weapon, or be of sufficient rank to make a passable hostage.
Seifer stood up and crossed the
room, so he stood directly in front of the window.This way, he reasoned, anyone entering the
room would have to look directly into the brilliant sunlight, hopefully
blinding them long enough for him to spring into action.He needed nothing more than a fraction of a
second.Not only had he spent many years
detention center, he also spent many years breaking out of BalambGarden's detention center.A well-honed skill, which, he hoped, would
serve him here.
"Come in," he called
out, tensing his muscles so he could make his move the moment the door opened.
The door slid open, and Seifer's
hallucination confronted him again:Laguna Loire.Dumbfounded,
Seifer's escape plans slipped quietly out of his mind.
"Hi," Laguna said,
walking over to Seifer and extending a hand, "Laguna…"
Seifer finished."I know who you
are, but why'd they send you?"
"Pardon?"Laguna asked."Why'd who send me?"
"My captors.Why would they send a movie star?"
"I see," Laguna said,
beginning to get the picture."I
suppose, technically, I'm your
captor.I'm the President of
"So Esthar won the coin
toss?When's the execution?"
"Whoa!Who said anything about an execution?"
"Well, what do you normally do with war criminals?Let them linger in some inaccessible
political prison?That option is a
perennial favorite in Galbadia.Do I get
a trial?I've always loved courtroom
Seifer found himself pleased with
the conversation thus far.He'd managed
to steer it almost point-for-point.Seifer missed his opportunity to assault Laguna -- President Loire, if
he spoke the truth -- physically.In his
weakened state, Seifer knew, he didn't dare attack without the advantage of
surprise in his favor.With that avenue
closed to him, Seifer settled for attempting to disorient Laguna into revealing
something that might prove useful.
"Who said anything about war
criminals?You aren't a war
"So why do you have me
locked up here?"
"For your own
"Ha!" Seifer snorted.
"Listen," Laguna said,
speaking slowly and deliberately in order to keep his explanation cogent. "This is the Presidential Palace of
Esthar.You are here, as per my request,
in protective custody.There are,
however, a number of people -- both inside and outside Esthar -- who would like to see you executed for war
crimes.I'm trying to keep that from
happening.I just need to buy some time
until I can figure out what we're going to do with you, and then you'll be
"And why, exactly, do you
want to help me?"
Laguna rolled his eyes."Why does everyone keep on asking me
that question?Don't you know you're not
supposed to punch a gift horse in the mouth?"
"It's 'look,'" Seifer
said, "you're not supposed to 'look' a gift horse in the mouth."
"Anyway," Laguna said, "that's hardly the
point.The bottom line is that I don't
want to see you torn apart by an angry mob.If I wanted that, I wouldn't have wasted my time with bringing you back
to your senses."
Seifer shot back a question."What do you mean by that?"
"Do you remember anything
after you offered Rinoa up to Adel?"
"No."He squinted, trying to call the pictures back
into his mind."I remember Squall
grabbing Rinoa away from Adel.Then
everything started to… melt.Like
wax.Then… nothing.So either something major happened or you've
been slipping some heavy drugs into my food."
"Time Compression.We all experienced it a little differently,
but that's what you remember.What you aren't remembering though, is the time
you spent hospitalized here in Esthar."
"Why was I…?"Seifer asked.
"After getting trounced by
Squall and his friends, Ultimecia made one last bid for power, and she did so
by possessing you."
"The ceremony…" Seifer
whispered, almost to himself.
He blinked, turning to
Laguna."She said we'd always be
together.That I'd never be out of her
reach.That she'd never let me go.It was my reward, for being her loyal
"It was her escape
plan.She almost managed to take total
control of your body."Seifer
nodded gravely at this.
"You should have just killed
me.It would have saved everyone a lot
"What?"Suicide seemed like a foreign notion to
Laguna. "How can you say that?"
"Think about it?Where exactly am I supposed to go?Even if I leave Esthar alive, there's still
no shortage of people who'd like the chance to spit on my grave.You may as well execute me now.I'm sure it would do wonders for your
"No one is executing
anyone!" Laguna finally exclaimed."I need a little time to come up with a plan."
"Laguna?"Kiros' voice filtered through the door as he
knocked."You're needed in your
As he stood up, Laguna looked
over at Seifer "Don't do anything foolish, okay?I don't know how long this will take, but I
need you to wait here."
"I hardly think I'm in a
position to go anywhere."The
cynical expression on Seifer's face vanished when he saw the intensity in
"Say the words."Laguna commanded.
"The oath.I want to hear it."
Seifer bowed his head, and called
up the words he knew so well.He spoke
them clearly, as he had a hundred times before.He'd spent hours in front of the mirror, practicing.He'd recorded himself on tape, so he could
study every syllable of every word.He'd
recited the words with a mouthful of marbles to perfect his enunciation.He'd shouted down thunderstorms, to master
"A Knight's honor is his
armor.It protects him and it demands
his constant care.He must remain
vigilant, and on guard against the smallest flaw.A Knight's honor is his sword.It is the weapon he wields to protect his
Sorceress, it is the torch he carries to drive back the darkness.A Knight's honor is his essence.A Knight without honor is without his reason,
his purpose, his breath, or his blood.
"On my honor as a Knight, I
swear this oath with you and the heavens as my witness.Should I break this oath, may the road always
wind beneath my feet, never leading me home, until the darkness comes to claim
Laguna nodded curtly and walked
towards the door.
"Of course, your
realize," Seifer said, feeling a weight closing in on him, "that I
traded away whatever honor I had to curry Adel's favor.After what I've done, you can't consider me
any kind of a Knight."
Laguna paused in the
doorway."Sounds like it's time to
Laguna moved through the halls of
the Presidential Palace, following close behind Kiros.
"So what's this all about,
Kiros?What's so important it couldn't
"Squall's on the line.He insists on speaking to you, and won't tell
anyone why.Your secretary refused to
interrupt you, at which point he demanded to speak to me.I didn't really want to interrupt you either,
but something about his manner…I don't
know.I think it's really
"Do you think he's in some
sort of trouble?"Laguna asked,
concerned.The two men breezed right by
Laguna's secretary without acknowledging her presence.
"I think he might be
sick," Kiros responded as they stopped in front of the door.
"What gives you that
"Well, anyone who wants to
speak to you thatbadly has to have something wrong with them."
Laguna shook his head and entered
his office, closing the door behind him.He took a seat behind his desk, and flipped on the monitor.
The screen flared the SeeD
insignia, and Laguna stared at it idly for a few moments, waiting, he knew,
while Squall checked to make sure their conversation transmitted over a secure
When Squall's face finally
appeared, it struck Laguna once more how much the boy resembled his
mother.He nearly made a remark to that
effect, but Squall's demeanor, even more severe than usual, stopped him at
"Well, I can tell by your
expression that this isn't a social call, so what's on your mind, son?"
Squall didn't answer for a few
moments.He simply sat and stared,
thinking how best to give his words their proper weight.
"Seifer," he said,
without anything more.
"Excuse me?"Laguna said, beginning to rise to his feet.
"It sounded like you said 'Seifer.'"
"I did," Squall
answered."I know that you've
managed to revive him.What do you
intend to do with him?"
This statement stunned
Laguna.Only a few people in the palace
had access to that information.Enough people
that he'd never be able to pinpoint the informant, but few enough to make him
suspicious of everyone around him.
"Well," Squall asked,
startling him, "have you decided yet?"
"Not exactly, no.But how did you…"
"You know I can't answer
that question.Are you going to send him
to trial?Because we've decided to claim
"What?" Laguna asked,
"Upon receiving word that
Seifer's condition improved, we went into conference over the matter. Seifer
was spending time in the detention facility when he broke out and made his
assault on Timber.And since no one ever
pursued further disciplinary action after that point, he's still a cadet, and
therefore our responsibility."
"And you, Squall?Where do you stand on this issue?I mean, I don't doubt for a moment that you
were consulted on this decision."
"My personal feelings have
no bearing here," Squall said."What does matter is the fact that I'm under orders to oversee
Seifer's return to Garden."
"Damn it, Squall, this isn't
about orders!You and Seifer grew up
together.I mean, maybe you don't like
him, but surely you don't want to see him executed!"
"What I want is of no
consequence here.He led a full-scale
assault on BalambGarden,
an action that killed a number of cadets and SeeDs.I grew up with them, too. "Squall's voice remained flat and unemotional
the entire time.He might as well have
read a grocery list for all the passion he expressed.Laguna felt his temperature start to
rise.Squall's mother, Raine, had the
same talent – the ability to detach from any situation, meeting heartfelt
arguments with cold, icy logic.Of
course, the trait expressed itself more strongly in Squall, but it seemed a
poignant reminder of Raine.
"And what about the fact
that he was controlled by the Sorceress?Doesn't that mitigate the circumstances at all?"
"That's not for me to
decide.I am merely assigned to bring
him back to BalambGarden."
"What if I refuse to
surrender him?" Laguna asked, crossing his arms over his chest in
satisfaction, thinking he'd stumped his son.
Squall paused for a moment, and
Laguna thought he saw the flicker of a grimace crossing the young man's face.
"Please don't make me
explore that option."Laguna heard
the veiled threat implicit in Squall's words, along with his son's desire not
to resort to violence.
"Fine," he said."If SeeD is willing to use force to
retrieve Seifer, than the government of Esthar will – reluctantly, and only in
the interest of peace – comply.However,
we take umbrage with your Garden's strong-arm tactics."
"Understood."Squall nodded his head curtly."I will be sending the Ragnarok to pick up the prisoner
immediately.Please have him ready for
transport by that time."
Laguna nodded, feeling defeated,
and moved to turn off the screen.
"Laguna?" Squall asked,
almost as an afterthought.
Laguna looked up."Yeah?"
"I'm… sorry it has to be
this way," Squall said, the pained look on his face bearing witness to the
fact that it took great effort even to utter this simple confession.
"So am I, Squall,"
Laguna replied.He wanted to say more,
to give Squall some sort of lecture on the difference between duty and
humanity, but held back.All the moralizing
in the world wouldn't change Squall's mind, Laguna reasoned, especially not
coming from the father he'd never known.Squall's peers at BalambGarden
represented his only true family, whether Laguna liked it or not.
They exchanged a few words in
parting and then signed off.Laguna's
office suddenly seemed far too large.He
felt small and alone, a sensation intensified by the news he now had to deliver
As the door to his cell swung
open, Seifer turned around to see Laguna entering, hands in pockets.
"That bad, huh?" he
Laguna nodded slowly, unsure of
how to proceed.Once he started
speaking, though, he found himself incapable of stopping."That was Squall.He said that BalambGarden wants you back.I wouldn't have done it, but Squall said –
okay, he didn't say so much as he implied
– that Garden was willing to use force to bring you back…"
Seifer held up his hand, nodding
in comprehension.He looked out the
window for a long moment, and then turned back to Laguna.
"It's probably best this
way.Cid hates to let an infraction go
unpunished.He'll get to prove his
point.Everyone else gets their villain;
my death will prove that the good guys always win.And we all sleep a little better at night,
knowing blame has been properly assigned."
"Don't you even care if you live
or die?I mean, are you willing to throw
your life away just like that?"
This time Seifer's eyes fixed on
a patch of carpet.He noticed the signs
of wear on it, from where the door opened and closed over it, and found himself
hypnotized by this trivial fact as he spoke.
"Don't you see?Even if SeeD doesn't get me, someone else
will.I've made enough enemies by now to
know that they'll never let me rest.I'll spend the remainder of my life on the run, wolves always at my
heels…It's not that I'm not grateful to
you.It's just that… right now, I'm so…
Seifer paused for a moment, and
he took several slow breaths.
"It sounds crazy, but when I
was coming out of my… coma, it was like I was on some vision quest.It made me understand the whole
situation.I got greedy.I started lusting after the power and
authority Ultimecia granted me.And,
sure, I partially acted the way I did because she was… nudging me, but really,
she never forced me to do anything.
I wanted power, and respect, and I
did some bad things to get them.I feel
terrible about what I did, but I knew what I was doing the entire time."
Laguna let Seifer's words hang in
the air.No response seemed
adequate.Still, he felt obligated to
fill the awkward silence.
"Well.If this is what you want to do, I can't stop
you, especially since the Ragnarok is
on its way here."
"Thank you for
understanding.If I can make one
"What?" Laguna asked,
all the fight out of him.
"Can I have my old clothes
back?They're expecting to see me in my
trench coat, and I wouldn't want to disappoint my fans."
Galen sat down on one of the
benches in the Quad and allowed himself a moment to rest.Even at the young age of twelve, the life of
a SeeD cadet granted little in the way of free time.On this particular day, he didn't have a
break as such.However, Instructor
Dincht announced that he'd give an impromptu lecture in the Quad, on fighting
an armed assailant barehanded, and, owing to Zell's popularity, a number of
Instructors consented to release their students into his charge for the
So he sat, waiting and watching
the assembling crowd, when he heard a menacing voice from behind him.
"Well… what have we
here?"Galen whirled around to find
Instructor Petrosian towering over him.Petrosian stood nearly two meters tall, had jet-black hair, and one
thick eyebrow that joined in the center of his forehead.In his hands, the Instructor held Galen's
"All cadets, fall in!"
Petrosian barked, and everyone scrambled to comply.After the cadets hastily assembled before
him, he eyed them for a moment.As the
only student currently not holding a weapon, Galen felt very out of place.
"Can anyone tell me whose
weapon this is?"Petrosian asked,
holding out the sword.
"It belongs to me,
sir." Galen said, stepping forward.
"That can't be right,"
the Instructor replied, turning the sword over and examining it closely."Because it certainly wasn't within
arm's reach, was it, cadet?"
"No sir," Galen said, bowing
his head slightly in shame.
"You'll look at me when I'm
addressing you, cadet," Petrosian yelled, stepping closer to Galen."I'll tell you when you can look
away.Now, what's the rule on placement
"If your weapon is drawn, it
must remain within arm's reach," all the cadets answered in unison.
"That's right, cadets,"
Petrosian said, "but I think it's time to teach you all a lesson.Place your weapons at two arm's
distances.When I give the signal, go for
your weapons.I'll be moving down the
line.First cadet to deliver a hit on me
with their weapon wins."
The cadets did as Petrosian
instructed.He took a step back from
Galen, and looked the young man right in the eye.
"Go!" he bellowed.
Instantly, all the cadets dove
for their weapons.Petrosian's arm
lashed out and smashed Galen in the stomach, doubling the boy over in
pain.Continuing his motion, he whirled
around and struck the next cadet in the nose.He continued down the line, pummeling one cadet after another, until the
eighth student in line managed to protect himself with his quarterstaff.
"Good."Petrosian said."Have you all learned your lesson?"
"Yes, sir!" the cadets
responded, some of them through blood-filled mouths.
"You know, kids," he
sneered, "I'm just not convinced.Same drill."
Once again, the students placed
their weapons out of reach.Petrosian
started at the other end of the line, attacking each cadet with brutal
force.The second time, he only made it
as far as the sixth student before he stopped.
screamed.This time, he began in the
middle of the line.He repeated this
drill until the cadets were little more than a bloodstained mass.As he worked his way down the line again, a
voice cut through the crowd.
He halted in the middle of his
attack, and turned to face the interloper.The cadets, all fearing the Instructor's wrath, stood at rigid
attention, not even facing the newcomer.
snarled."Is there something you
want, or may I resume my lesson?"
"This isn't a lesson.You're just beating them up."Zell and Selphie stood on the stairs, taking
in the scene.Her face registered deep
concern for the students, but Zell locked his gaze on Petrosian, anger visible
in his eyes.
"I'm proving a point,
Dincht," Petrosian said, speaking slowly, "a point about leaving
their weapons too far away."
"What you're proving is that
you're a sadistic asshole who gets his jollies by picking on junior cadets
because he can't find a date on Saturday night."
Some of the cadets snickered at
this, despite trying to contain their laughter.Petrosian immediately reddened at this humiliation.He reached behind him and pulled a pair of butterfly
knives from their sheaths.As he twirled
them, he hissed at Zell."You'd
better hope Dr. Kadowaki knows a good plastic surgeon, runt, because I'm going
to ruin that pretty face of yours."
Petrosian towered over Zell,
standing nearly a foot taller than the blond man did.Zell smiled and turned to Selphie.He carefully unzipped his jacket and handed
it to her, exposing his well-defined muscles and the intricate network of
tattoos lining his back.Bare-chested
now, he bounced on the balls of his feet a few times and punched the air
Turning back to Petrosian, he
grinned, taking up his fighting stance."Ready when you are."
The two men circled each other,
Petrosian deadly serious, Zell with a perpetual grin on his face.When the larger man lunged forward, Zell
grabbed his arm, smashing his fist directly into the Instructor's nose.Using Petrosian's momentum against him, Zell
pulled his assailant forward, spinning around once the man cleared him and
punching the Instructor firmly in his right kidney.Petrosian crumpled to the ground.
By this point, the students had
gathered into a circle, all spectators eager to see their tormentor receive his
punishment.Selphie stood to one side,
ready to intervene if she felt the situation escalated beyond Zell's control.
Zell walked over to where Petrosian
lay on the ground, and extended a hand to the fallen man, graciously offering
to help him up.Petrosian reached for
the hand, seeming to accept the offer, but instead brought one of his knives
around, slicing Zell's palm open.The
assembled crowd reacted with surprise – fights at Garden took place on
occasion, but the unspoken prohibition against deliberately wounding your
partner occupied a nearly sacred position among the students.Petrosian had crossed the line, and he knew
it.His eyes burned with a wild
fire.As Zell observed the mania on the
other man's face, his smile just widened.
Zell brought his wounded hand
behind him, tucked it into the small of his back, and resumed his fighting
stance.Petrosian struck again, and Zell
neatly sidestepped the blow, moving closer to his attacker.He kneed Petrosian in the groin, doubling the
man over and causing him to drop one of his knives.Zell followed up with a roundhouse to the
stomach and a high kick to the face that probably broke Petrosian's jaw.This sent Petrosian sprawling to the
ground.Zell closed with him and
Petrosian, from his prone position, made one last effort to slash at Zell.He kicked the knife out of Petrosian's grasp
and brought his foot down on the Instructor's hand.The audible crunch, combined with Petrosian's
strangled scream, testified to his now-broken hand.
Without removing his foot from
Petrosian's hand, Zell placed his other foot onto Petrosian's throat.
"Who can tell me what I'm
about to do?" Zell asked the assembled students.
"You're about to stomp on
his throat!" one exclaimed.
"To make his trachea expand
so he won't be able to breathe," chimed in another.
"Right.And why did I break his hand?"
"Because he deserved
it!"The students laughed aloud at
this answer.Petrosian started
struggling again, causing Zell to grind his foot down on the already broken
"Why else?" he asked,
"Which of the principles of combat am I illustrating?"
"Number 14: if an opponent
has a material advantage, use whatever means are necessary to equalize the
"That's the one," Zell
said, nodding."Now, if Instructor
Petrosian here promises to behave, maybe I won't kill him.Whaddya say, Petro?"
At this point, the combined pain
from his broken hand and jaw took the fight out of Petrosian.He nodded and Zell allowed him to stand up,
not extending a hand to him this time.Petrosian had to use both hands to push himself off the ground, and he
screamed at the pain.
called Zell, looking at the bloodied but grinning cadets, "I think that's
enough for today.Now, if my lovely
assistant," here he indicated Selphie, who performed a small curtsey,
"would be so kind as to escort you all to the infirmary, Dr. Kadowaki will
see to your wounds while I pursue the necessary disciplinary measures."
one student asked."What about
Instructor Petrosian?He's wounded
Zell grinned back at the
student."I'm sure he knows where
the Infirmary is.Perhaps Dr. Kadowaki can
recommend a good plastic surgeon."
"We're here to discuss is this business
with Instructors Petrosian and Dincht.Xu, can you provide us with a brief overview of the situation?"For once, Headmaster Cid spoke quickly and
Xu stood up and scanned the
meeting room.Squall, Cid, Dr. Kadowaki,
and several other staff members had gathered to address the incident.News of the fight spread rapidly, and, true to
his word, Zell submitted a claim seeking disciplinary action against Petrosian.Xu punched a few buttons on her handlink,
bringing up the profiles of the men on the panels in front of each person.She gave a quick synopsis of the incident and
sat back down.
"Thank you, Xu.Is that what you believe happened?"
"It is," she replied."I spoke to both Selphie and Zell, and
their narratives match."
"And Petrosian?What does he have to say?"
"Well, Headmaster," Dr.
Kadowaki said, chiming in for Xu, "he's not really in a position to say
much of anything.We had to wire his jaw
shut, and even with curative magic, it'll take a while before he can
"From what we were able to
discern, though" Xu said, "he was harmlessly teaching the students in
the Quad when Zell came in looking a fight."
"I treated those
students," Kadowaki said."He
wasn't teaching them.It's a good thing
Zell stepped in when he did."
"I see," said the
Headmaster."Dr. Kadowaki, what's
your assessment of Petrosian, psychologically?Can he continue as an Instructor?"
"He's gone off the deep
end.He's always been hungry for
violence, but it seems to have escalated recently.Additionally, I think he's showing signs of
borderline personality disorder.He's
only going to get worse from here on in.To let him continue to work with the students would be courting
disaster, especially after today."
Squall sat with his gloved hands
linked in front of him.He detested
these meetings, and more than once thought of resigning his command in order to
escape them."He's due for
retirement," Squall said, voicing the inevitable.
"You're certain about
"His mission history shows a
continual deterioration in his skills.As of today, he's rendered himself unfit for duty.I have no further use for him."
"Does anyone see a reason to
dispute Commander Leonhart's decision?" Cid asked, looking around the
room.No one raised a hand."It's settled, then.Xu, send word along that Instructor Petrosian
is to be retired.Don't bother trying to
conceal it – he'll make a fine example."
Xu nodded, punching the order
into her handlink.
"Next item of
business," Cid began, "with the retirement of Petrosian, we need a
"How about Selphie?"
said Kadowaki."She did a great job
with the students in the infirmary today, and it's obvious they all love
"The other day, she
mentioned that she'd been thinking of testing for an Instructor's license.This works out perfectly," added Xu.
asked.Again, no one moved."Excellent.Inform Selphie, and schedule her to take an
exam.Finally," Cid took a deep
breath here, and everyone knew the issue he intended to touch upon,
"there's the question of what to do with Seifer.Squall, where do we currently stand?"
"The Ragnarok is en route to Esthar to pick him up.He'll be here by the end of the day."
"Good.Well, everyone, let me tell you what I'm
thinking.I think we need to deal with
him in a Tribunal."
Time seemed to stop.A Tribunal constituted SeeD's most extensive
disciplinary measure, a trial conducted in the presence of everyone at
Garden.It required the complete
cessation of all Garden's other activities.
"We won't be able to begin a
Tribunal for another two weeks," Xu said."We still have contracts we need to close out."
"I know," Cid
replied."This is necessary.We have to show that SeeD will not tolerate
betrayal.Does anyone disagree with my
Once again, no one spoke against
"Good.We're done here."
And with that, Cid dismissed
The Ragnarok blasted its way through the sky, the speed of the dragon
ship reducing all scenery to an indistinct blur.Not that Seifer had much of an interest in
looking out the window anyway.
He couldn't keep his mind off his
inevitable return to Garden.If the two
SeeDs sent to retrieve him served as any kind of indication, Seifer would meet
with a chilly reception at best.
Bored, Seifer stood up and
stretched, as much as his handcuffs would allow him.One of the two guards immediately sprang to
"What are you doing?Sit down at once!" he exclaimed, drawing
out his sidearm.
"Oh, relax," Seifer
said, a languid smile crossing his face."I know Leonhart likes his dogs energetic, but he isn't around
now.Even if he's never figured it out,
it is permissible to remove the stick
from your ass on occasion."
Surprisingly, the guard didn't
seem to find this funny.He stood ramrod
still, with his weapon pointing at Seifer.By this point, the exchange aroused the interest of the other guard,
positioned behind Seifer.He drew his
baton and pointed it at Seifer's chest.
"Do what he says,
Almasy.We're under orders to bring you
in alive, but my little brother died during your assault on BalambGarden.He was seven years old, and I'd like to beat
about seven years off your lifespan."
"Which one was your
brother?Was he dumb and ugly, just like
you?Did he bleed much?I killed so many puking brats that day it's
hard to remember."Seifer didn't
seriously expect this response to elicit a reaction, but decided it might prove
worth a try.
"Sit down and shut up,"
said the first guard, the one holding the gun.Seifer cocked his head quizzically and dropped his hands to one of his
hips, as if reaching for a concealed weapon.
Both guards reacted at the same time,
the one with the baton lunging directly at Seifer, trying to tackle him.Seifer, in turn, dove forward at the guard
with the gun.Distracted by the motion
of his companion, this guard hesitated to fire, and that millisecond gave
Seifer the advantage he needed.Running
low, he slammed his shoulder into the first guard's stomach.Using that energy to his advantage, he used
both hands to throw the guard into the other SeeD.Without hesitating, Seifer grabbed the
discarded pistol and shot both guards in the head twice.He thought for a moment about rearranging the
bodies, but decided to leave them in their current state – a grisly tableau
serving as testament to the poor quality of the current generation of SeeDs.
Squall's going to love this, he thought.
Moving quickly, Seifer found the
security camera overlooking the passenger compartment.Standing on one of the chairs, he pulled one
of the wires connecting the unit to the wall, breaking the circuit and putting
the camera out of commission.After checking
the guard's corpse for an extra clip of ammunition, he continued to move
through the ship.In one of the rooms
near the engine, he found a high-energy plasma torch, one small enough to tuck
into the pocket of his trench coat.
Seifer didn't know his way around
the ship, but eventually found his way into the cockpit, where the pilot
chatted idly with ground control at Garden.Seifer crept up behind her and threw his handcuffed hands over her
head.He pulled back with all his weight
and listened for the sound of her throat crumpling.She didn't have time to scream, and he killed
her in complete silence, setting the cockpit radio to a non-existent channel,
so that the Ragnarok broadcast
nothing but static.That completed, he
used the torch to break the chain on his handcuffs.The cuffs themselves chafed his wrists, but
he could stand the pain until he found a more appropriate moment to break them.
He cracked open the emergency
panel on the back wall, removing the last item he needed to complete his
hastily devised escape.He tapped a few
coordinates on the Ragnarok's navigation
system, flipped a switch to override the autopilot, and pressed the panic
All this done, he hurried to the
cargo compartment and donned the hoversuit he'd found in the cockpit.The suits functioned best as an aerial
assault device – Seifer employed them to great effect during his attack on BalambGarden – but could also function as
parachutes.Judging from the battle
marks on the suit, SeeD captured this unit during that assault, an irony that
Seifer truly enjoyed.
He slammed a button on the wall
and the cargo door gaped wide before him.Without hesitation, Seifer threw himself into space, delighted when the
hoversuit began slowing his descent.As
he drifted towards the ground, he looked up at the Ragnarok, the ship speeding towards an inescapable collision with a
mountain.Eventually, some enterprising
member of SeeD, seeking, no doubt, to curry favor with Squall, would sift
through the wreckage and inventory it.At that point, he would discover that the body of a certain
prisoner-in-transit had disappeared.Until that discovery, Seifer had a considerable window of opportunity to
go to ground.
Watching the Ragnarok streak towards its doom, he smiled.
"And so," he said,
quoting one of his beloved storybooks, "having lured the dragon to its
death, the Knight makes good his escape."
As if on cue, the ship impacted
at that point, like fireworks commemorating Seifer's escape.
"Hey…Wake up!"Seifer felt someone jostle him sharply, and
he looked around, rapidly trying to assess the situation.
"Sorry guys," he said
to the two sour-faced guards as they led him away from the passenger section of
the Ragnarok."I was having the most wonderful
Seifer strode down the gangplank
of the Ragnarok, head held high, a
contemptuous smirk on his face.He
entered his former home, proud, defiant, and flanked by two armed guards.His coat flared around him as he moved
between the ship and the building.The
few students near the door stared openly as he entered, and Seifer knew word of
his return would reach every person in Garden by curfew.
The guards herded Seifer past the
onlookers and onto the elevator.One of
them fed his access card into the slot, allowing the elevator to travel to the
third floor, which housed all of the administrative offices.
When the glass elevator stopped,
Seifer assumed the glass doors would slide open on the side of Cid's office,
the site of countless lectures.When the
doors opened on the other side, it served as a stark reminder: the
circumstances of his return dwarfed any disciplinary infraction.
They exited the elevator, and the
guards led him down the hallway, past the offices of the various
Instructors.To one side, Seifer noticed
a cleaning crew ransacking an office, removing the personal effects of its
former occupant.He wanted to discover
which Instructor vacated their post, but the guards pushed him onward before he
had the chance.
They paused in front of one of
the doors, and one of the guards pressed the buzzer.Almost immediately, they heard the answering
buzz, and the door slid open.The two
guards escorted him inside.Squall stood
up from behind his desk.
"Remove his restraints and
leave," he said, without even waiting for the guards to stop moving.
One of the guards started to
protest."Commander…"Squall silenced the younger man with a cold
When the guards turned to Seifer,
he moved his hands with a quick flourish.He held them up, letting the handcuffs dangle from one of his
fingers.As they stared blankly at him,
astounded, he casually tossed the handcuffs to the nearest guard.The two young SeeDs seethed, feeling
humiliated in front of their commander.By way of answer, Seifer merely smiled innocently, watching them leave
"Sit," Squall ordered,
his face as inscrutable as ever.
'Commander,'" Seifer replied, taking a seat and massaging his wrists."By the way, I suppose congratulations
are in order.It's a pretty nice deal
you've got going here."
Seifer took a moment to glance
around the room.The office, he noted,
had Squall's trademark design sensibilities.No posters adorned the walls, no potted plants in the corner, no
aquariums teeming with fish.Squall
simply adopted the room as his own, effecting minimal change.He'd chosen black as the only color in the
room, with the occasional spot of white, as on the hands on the clock, or
chrome, like the arms of the chairs.
"Cid's calling for a
Tribunal," Squall said, after staring at Seifer for a moment.
"I figured he would,"
Seifer answered."He's always had
it in for me."
"This isn't a normal
situation, Seifer.Desertion we can
handle – it's in the rule book.But
waging an all-out war against us?That's
"I know.And I'm…"The sound of the buzzer interrupted
Seifer.Squall pressed the button to
open the door, clearly displeased at the interruption.He sat behind his desk and stared at the
messenger with cold eyes.She held a
piece of paper out to him and then stood at rigid attention, waiting for Squall
to finish with it.Hastily, he produced
a pen and signed it, saying nothing as she took it back out of the room.
said after the door had closed, knowing the question on Seifer's mind.
"What about him?Don't tell he's been nominated for Instructor
of the Year or something stupid like that."
"No.He'll be retired by curfew tonight."
mean, he was a vicious bastard, but his survival classes were always
"He was giving one of his
'lessons' in the Quad and Zell happened upon it.Zell instructed him to stop, and Petrosian
attacked Zell instead.Zell defended
himself, but Petrosian took a beating.We discussed the issue while you were in transit and opted to retire
"What about Zell?"
Seifer asked."What are they going
to do to him?"
"Cid decided that Zell
"What do you believe?Remember how Petrosian used to treat Zell
when we were younger?I've never seen
anyone run that many laps around Garden.There was that one day, after lunch, when Petrosian made Zell run laps
until he vomited up his hot dogs.And we
all had to stand there and watch."
"Cid took that into account
and put Zell on probation.He's two
ranks lower for the next six weeks."
"Okay.So why are you telling me all this?I doubt you brought me here for a casual
"I'm telling you this,"
Squall said, slowly and deliberately, "because I want you to understand
the gravity of your situation.Cid's
cleaning house.And as it stands, you're
next in line."
"I know.Like I was going to say earlier, I'm prepared
to face whatever justice the Tribunal metes out.That's why I came back willingly."
"Sure," Seifer shot
back."Don't you remember our
simulations?I got near-perfect scores
on my Improvised Escape exams."
A faint smile of recognition
moved across Squall's face.
"I liked the sim where
Quistis had to plant the bomb and you were supposed to stop her."
"I know you were going to
mention that one!" Seifer exclaimed."Why does everyone remember that?"
"Because the fact that a
girl that small could kick your ass so
thoroughly and leave you tied to the very bomb you were supposed to defuse is
nothing if not memorable.And it didn't
help that Zell took pictures and posted them all over Garden."
said, quickly changing the subject, "your errand boys did a pretty poor
job.I counted nine times I could have
escaped without killing either of them, and another eleven if I killed one or
"If you want to stay alive,
don't advertise that fact.Stay in the
detention facility until the Tribunal and act penitent."
"What's to stop me from
escaping again?" Seifer said, grinning.
certainty" Squall said, unsmiling, "that if you do, Cid will assign
me to bring you back, using whatever means necessary.Which I will do.This time, though, he won't care if I bring
you back in handcuffs or in a body bag."
The faint scratching sound at the
door woke him up.When, out of instinct,
Seifer searched for the source of the noise, he could see nothing but
white.White walls.White ceiling.White tile on the floor.White sheets on the bed.No windows to offer a view on the outside
world, and no variation in the room's light to differentiate night from
day.Only unrelenting, unremitting
Seifer had no idea how much time
he'd already spent in the detention facility, and no idea how much longer he
would have to stay there.That
indicated, of course, that the design of the room had fulfilled its
purpose.The constant whiteness of the
room served as a psychic battering ram, one that would, in theory, break the
will of its occupants.Whether errant
student or political prisoner, SeeD's detention facility usually accomplished
its purpose, given enough time.Rumor
had it that a similar room existed, deep within the Garden, designed to succeed
should the holding chamber failed – by assaulting the body instead of the
mind.No one, to Seifer's knowledge, had
ever seen this torture chamber, but that never stopped the speculation.
The scratching sound at the door
caught his attention again.Without
moving, he closed his eyes and tried to discern the cause of the noise.The delicate scratch of metal picking at
metal sounded like someone working to pick the lock.A half-dozen scenarios, mostly reprises of
previous escapes, ran through his head, but before he could act, the door swung
After spending so much time
absorbing the whiteness of the room, the color of other human beings blasted
his senses, and Seifer's eyes struggled to recognize the figures for him.Fortunately, one of them spoke, and Seifer
immediately recognized the voice.
"SEIFER."Fujin's voice called to him, strong and
clear, even though she whispered.
"Yeah!We found you!We're like secret agents, ya know?"Raijin, always the less subtle of the two, didn't have the sense to
whisper.Rather, he practically crowed
in triumph, prompting Fujin to kick him viciously in the shin.Her good eye narrowed and she glared at her
Moving quickly, Seifer pulled his
friends through the door.This done, he
closed the door to the point where it would look locked to anyone not examining
"What are you two doing
here?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
"We're here to bust ya out,
ya know?We heard they're gonna put you on
trial, so Fujin said we should come to the rescue, ya know?"
"Did anyone see you?If you get caught in here, they'll execute
all of us."
"Totally!We're like ninjas, ya know? "
"She's right, Seifer, we
gotta get moving, ya know?"
guys, you shouldn't have come.I can't
run from this my entire life.They found
me once, and they'll find me again."
Seifer!We're a posse, ya know?You're our leader.We gotta stick together, ya know?"
warning, the door swung open behind them.Squall stood, framed in the doorway, one eyebrow raised.Fujin and Raijin automatically reached for
their weapons, while Squall watched them.In less than a few seconds, they had readied themselves for battle.Squall still had not moved.
want to do that," he said, voice neutral.
taking Seifer, ya know?" Raijin exclaimed, "Even if we have to bust
over, Raijin," Squall said."How's
it going to look when everyone notices that Seifer's gone and I'm dead?Do you think they'll just let Seifer walk
he's right," Seifer added.Then,
turning to Squall, "Look, Squall, I won't try to escape.Just let them go."Fujin opened her mouth to protest, but Seifer
silenced her with a look."They
came here to help me.Just let them
finished, Seifer sat on the edge of his bed, hoping Squall would listen to
him.Wordlessly, Squall nodded.
for the door, head hanging in defeat.Fujin stood her ground and looked at Seifer with defiance in her eye.
Fujin.I'll be fine," he said,
trying to sound believable.
Seifer's gaze coldly for a moment."LIAR," she spat, venom evident in her voice.Without another moment's hesitation, she
turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.
Squall," Seifer said, breathing a sigh of relief when his friends had
gone.Squall stood, listening to the
sound of their footsteps retreating in the hall."For what it's worth," Seifer
added, "I really didn't have anything to do with their coming here."
know," Squall replied."I
"Wha--?You mean you had the room bugged?Where?"Seifer scrutinized the room, trying to figure out where Squall could
have hidden a bug.
slightly, Squall knelt down by Seifer's bed, and put one hand underneath.He fished around for a moment, until he found
the object of his search.He produced a
simple walkie-talkie, with a rubber band holding the "transmit"
button down.Setting it on the bed, he
removed its twin from his belt.
do you stay up at night listening to me snore, just in case something like this
light sleeper," Squall answered."I figured someone would come for you sooner or later."
you opted for this cheap-ass walkie-talkie?What, were baby monitors too expensive?"
Squall sat down
on the bed next to Seifer."Do you
know where I learned this?"
the contents of his memory, trying to remember their years of training.In the furthest corner of his mind, something
began to stir.
orphanage!" he exclaimed.Squall
nodded in affirmation. "We used to listen to the prospective parents talking
about us!It would have worked, too, if
Zell hadn't told on us."
you went and hung him up by his underwear."Squall smiled inwardly at the image of the
chubby young Zell, flailing and screaming to be let down while Seifer watched
"Yeah!And then the little brat went and got adopted
to spend at least a few moments with Squall, reminiscing to pass the time, but
that urge died when Squall stood up and smoothed the wrinkles out of the
t-shirt he'd thrown on before leaving his room.The gesture had nothing to do with maintaining his appearance, rather it
served more to place him back in his official capacity as Seifer's warder.The brief moment of reminiscence over, he
turned to Seifer.
the right thing by not going with them.It will make things easier for everyone.It will show you're serious about this Tribunal."
Seifer asked, hesitant to venture the question."What do you think the Tribunal will be like?"
know," Squall answered."I'll
do my best to make sure that it's fair, though."
more than I hoped for," Seifer said, pessimism evident in his voice."And certainly more than I deserve.Thank you, Squall."
blankly at Seifer, unsure how to react.Appropriate
behavior in such situations generally eluded him.Squall nodded solemnly and left the room,
closing the door behind him.
back on the bed, staring at the white ceiling.He glanced over at the walkie-talkie, briefly, then grabbed the rubber
band and threw it on the floor.He
forced himself to breathe slowly, and within moments had fallen back to sleep.
through the hallway of Garden, enjoying the silence.The fountains that circled the central column
of the building provided the only clearly audible sound.Occasionally, he came across the robed figure
of a Garden faculty member on the hunt, no doubt, for individuals breaking
curfew.Squall ignored the faculty
members, knowing that not one of them would dare challenge his presence.Although not normally subject to power trips,
he found that his position as commander had its advantages.
He heard the
"click" as Seifer's walkie-talkie stopped transmitting and reached
the door to his room not long after.He let
himself in, throwing the walkie-talkie on the floor and shedding articles of
clothing as he moved across the room.
Rinoa lay in his bed, pale and
bewitching in the moonlight.The silver
glow coming through the window turned her ivory skin almost transparent, and
made her dark hair ripple and shine with every movement.He slid under the covers next to her, and
heard her murmur, "Welcome back," still partially asleep.Squall pulled her close to him and kissed her
delicately on the nape of her neck, causing a shiver to run down her
spine.In response, she snuggled closer
to him, and soon he, too, had fallen soundly asleep.
The faint sound of the door opening woke him up, again.Annoyed at the inability of his friends to
follow instructions, Seifer immediately began swearing.
"Damn it, guys," he cursed, warming up a
particularly foul invective, "I thought I told you to forget about
"Now that wouldn't be any fun," an unfamiliar
voice called as the door swung open.Not
after all the trouble we went to in order to pay you this little 'visit'
Three SeeDs stood on the other side of the door, all looking
quite displeased with Seifer, and all armed with swords.Seifer noted that only the one in front, the
short one, held his as if he had extensive training with it.The other two probably focused on other
weapons, but opted for the swords, which would prove more effective in close
of people breaking into my room in one night.I must be getting quite popular."
"That's right.Think of us as… successors to your Disciplinary Committee.And we've come to offer you our thanks."
"Seriously, to what do I owe the pleasure of this
The shorter one, who, by now, Seifer had determined acted as
the leader for this vigilante group, snarled."Everyone's talking about how you're gonna get a trial.We're here to make sure that doesn't
happen.You sold us all out.You didn't just desert us, you betrayed
us.I saw my friends die in the attack
you led, and it was all so you could have your moment of glory.And I'm not going to sell them out…"
As the man spoke, Seifer's felt his mind travel back to the
days of his training, and he could hear Quistis in his thoughts.
Do not simply strike
not before your enemy.Strike before he
knows you intend to strike.Let your
body remain neutral, your gaze steady, your breath regulated, and your heart
calm.Watch and wait for the perfect
moment of attack, without betraying your intention.If no part of him perceives that you still
posses the will to fight, then, attacking at the correct moment, you will have
truly surprised him.
Seifer never learned the full content of the man's diatribe,
for he used that moment to seize initiative.He flung himself off the bed and pounced on one of the two followers,
bringing all his weight down to slam the man's head onto the hard floor.
You will have ample
time to stay still once you have died.For now: Keep Moving.Motion is
life.Stillness is death.Motion is change; stillness, stagnation.If you move, there exists a chance that you
may survive.If you stay still, there
exists the certainty that you will die.
All the years of combat training had endowed Seifer with an
almost superhuman sense for the flow of combat and he felt, rather than saw,
one of the blades slicing down at him.He rolled off the man to one side, letting him receive the downward
swing of the blade, which cut deep into his shoulder.
Seifer jumped up and grabbed the other man's head, smashing
it into the wall three times, causing him to crumple like a rag doll.He reached down, grabbing for the blade still
imbedded in the first SeeD's shoulder.Despite his considerable strength, Seifer couldn't free the blade, which
had sunk deep into the bone and remained stuck there.
The leader saw this as his moment to attack.He swung his sword around and it bit into
Seifer's side, sending lances of pain through his entire body.His teeth clenching, he spun away from the
blade, freeing himself and grabbing the short SeeD by the throat.The man began grabbing at Seifer's hand,
trying to free himself from what he perceived as a chokehold.Seifer did not intend to choke him, though.
In combat, the will to
power separates the living from the dead.Prove to your opponent that you will go to any lengths to destroy
him.You do not need to break his
body.Merely to break his soul.If you can shatter his resolve, killing him
becomes moot.Prove yourself a monster,
prove yourself a soulless mercenary, and the damage you do will prove as
effective as any sword.
Seifer pressed the man up against the wall and with
deliberate malice, showed the shorter man his index finger, in a rather vague
gesture.Without warning, Seifer plunged
the finger deep into the SeeD's eyeball.He pushed in as far as he could, and then seized the optic nerve between
his thumb and forefinger, pulling back out.The man, already howling at the unbelievable pain, began screaming even
more when Seifer showed him the eye, dangling from the remnants of the
nerve.Seifer let the eyeball drop to
the fall and ground it beneath his heel.
He shoved the SeeD into the hall and let the man run.Wincing in pain, he leaned up against the
wall, closing his eyes to assess the damage.As his eyes closed, he could feel himself slipping away.He fought to maintain his hold, and his mind
fluttered, once more, back to training.
He sat in Quistis'
classroom, watching the elegant blonde-haired woman sitting on the edge of her
desk.She brushed a strand of hair back
behind her ear and picked up a candle, lighting it.
organs are receptors, much like a computer," she said, "and all
sensation constitutes information.This
applies to pain.Especially to
Without missing a
beat, she thrust her hand into the flame and held it there.Her face never registered a trace of
computer, you understand the information being put into the system, you master
the output.Master your pain.Learn to use it.Let it drive you, not control you.If you fear pain, the door is right behind
me.If you're planning to be a SeeD,
you'll have to be intimately acquainted with pain – other people's pain, and
your own.Do not rely on curative
magic," she added."If you do,
you will no doubt find yourself without it at the worst possible moment.If you have to use it, save it for wounds
that will affect your performance, not wounds that merely discomfort you.Questions?"
She scanned the room
without removing her hand from the flame.When no one raised their hand, she took her hand out of the flame and
extinguished it by pinching the wick.Looking at the deeply burned patches of skin, she mumbled a few words in
the language of magic and the blackened skin fell off, revealing perfectly
formed new skin underneath.
Trepe?" one of the students asked, grinning at trapping his teacher."What was that about not relying on
curative magic?I must have missed that
sweetly."I said to save it for
wounds that incapacitate you.If I
didn't heal my hand, how could I grade the essays you're all going to
Seifer heard the students groaning at the idea of another
essay, and their voices merged with his own groan of pain.He forced himself up the wall and grabbed a
pillow, shoving it into his side to try to staunch the blood flow.Staggering, he exited the detention facility
and lurched into the hallway.
He moved as quietly as possible, trying to stay in the
shadows.The pain that coursed through
him with every breath and step indicated that Seifer's only hope for survival
lay in the infirmary.He pushed himself
in that direction, forcing his body to take one step after another.
Slowly, he made his way across BalambGarden's main concourse.Nearing the door to the infirmary, he pressed
one hand on the emergency call button, leaving a bloody handprint as he sank to
Dr. Kadowaki threw open the infirmary doors and saw Seifer
collapsed on the floor.She brought him
into the medical bay and helped him up onto a table.
"Seifer, what happened to you?" she asked.
He could barely hear her question as consciousness slipped
away from him.He looked at her and
tried to smirk, but only managed to whisper through bloodstained lips.
Squall stood next to the
infirmary bed, listening to Seifer's ragged breathing.The readings on the monitors reflected the
uncertain status of the wounded man.As
Dr. Kadowaki entered the room, Squall met her gaze.
"Don't ask me, Squall.I don't know now any more than I did ten
minutes ago."Seifer's precarious
condition had the doctor feeling more than a little anxious."If you really want to be useful, go put
some coffee on.I have a feeling I'll
Squall turned, moving towards the
coffee pot, but never reached the other side of the room.The doors to the infirmary flew open and
Headmaster Cid stormed in, looking quite displeased at having his sleep
interrupted.He looked at Dr. Kadowaki,
at Squall, at Seifer's unconscious form, and then back to Squall again.
"What the hell is going
on?" he yelled."I thought he
was supposed to be in lockup."
"Cid, you'll have to lower
your voice," Dr. Kadowaki said."There are other patients trying to sleep."
"I don't care about your
other patients, Kadowaki," Cid said, screaming now."You shut up and… and… fix him!"
"He was in lockup,
sir," Squall said evenly, "but…"
"Then how the hell did
someone get to him?Did you just forget
to close the door?"
"No, sir.The attackers had an access card."
"They had access?"Cid's rage seemed boundless."Who were the attackers?How many of them were there?Are they out of Garden now?Are you doing anything except standing around?"
"An investigation is underway,
"It damn well better be,
Leonhart.You may be Commander, but
remember this: I own you.You work for
me.This Tribunal is going to happen, or
you'll be out on your ass so fast it will make your head spin."
"Understood, sir."Squall started to salute, but Cid had already
left the room, heading down the hall, swearing to himself.
Dr. Kadowaki merely shook her
head and resumed tending to Seifer's wounds, secretly hoping Cid forgot to take
his heart medication.
The man sat in the darkness,
fingers interlocked before him.The only
light in the room came from the flickering computer screen before him.He bowed his head in deep concentration,
focusing the weeks ahead.Recent events
upset him, deeply, and meant that his entire timetable would need
adjustment.He analyzed, plotted,
reevaluated.Finally, coming to a
decision, he tapped the monitor, opening his messaging program.Typing quickly, he composed the brief
statement he needed.
he wrote."Target survived. You have become redundant, and will be removed
from the equation by ."
He sent the message, smiling at
the terror it would instill in its recipients.That finished, he stood up, turned off his computer, and left the room,
hoping to salvage a few hours of sleep.
Glancing around the empty
courtroom, he briefly allowed a smile to cross his face.When he closed his eyes, he could see the
trial unfolding before him.BalambGarden, from the Headmaster on
down, in one place, focusing their attention on Seifer and his guilt.His misdeeds revisited, his entire character
called into question.All the students
he'd ever bullied could watch him writhe in agony as the court ripped him
apart.The victims of his sadism could
finally see justice served.All the
administrators he'd ever crossed free to fling accusations at him.The recipients of his insolence would finally
see him truly punished.
Other events would come into
play, those acts Seifer undertook in service of Ultimecia.The missile launch he orchestrated that
destroyed TrabiaGarden.The hours he spent torturing Squall in
Galbadia's D-District Prison.His famous
attack on BalambGarden,
resulting in so many deaths.And under
the weight of so much testimony, Seifer could do nothing but crumple.
Without realizing it, he licked
his lips in delicious anticipation of the upcoming event.Seifer would stand before the bench,
classically proud and defiant.One by
one, the shreds of his world would fall away and everyone would see him exposed
as a simpering coward.
His proxies failed to kill
Seifer.This, too, played a part in his
plan.He had selected those three SeeDs,
wooed them carefully.Systematically, he
allowed them to think they had entered his inner circle, joined the ranks of
those privileged SeeDs to know his mind.He proposed ideas to them, ideas that hinted at intrinsic flaws in the
structure of Garden.The stagnant state
of the administration.The growing
bureaucracy that threatened to strangle SeeD.And then, with great care, he led them to the notion that a violent
shock could begin to balance out the scales.From there, the notion to assassinate Seifer came naturally.He sent them in, expressly hoping they would
perish.That two died, and one managed
to escape -- albeit horribly maimed – only furthered his agenda.
This day would see his ultimate
triumph.The final movement in his
delicately orchestrated symphony.Under
his guidance, all the pieces had moved to their starting positions, and the
game would play out before him.In order
to get to this point, he had exerted his considerable influence at all levels,
gently nudging some individuals and overtly threatening others.
Yes, seeing his plans come to
fruition after working in secret for so long thrilled him.He could not tell which of his victories
would taste sweeter: seeing the power within Garden restored to its rightful
executors, or seeing the grisly demise of Seifer Almasy.
The day of the Tribunal dawned
with great solemnity.An eerie stillness
pervaded BalambGarden.The silence reminded some of the rigorously
policed halls of GalbadiaGarden.Others thought of it as a tomb.
Squall and Seifer stood together
in the annex, waiting for the Tribunal to start.Seifer, impatient and more than a little
anxious, began pacing the length of the room.He glanced over at Squall, who stood immaculate in his dress
uniform.He glanced up at Seifer,
watching the taller man pace.Seifer
came to an abrupt halt and turned to face Squall.
"How can you stay so calm at
a time like this?"
Squall shrugged."It's not my trial."
"You know," Seifer
said, "you never were any help at times like this."
"What do you mean, 'like
this?'" Squall asked, one eyebrow arching upwards.
"How many times did we wind
up outside Cid's office, waiting for him to call us on the carpet?"
replied."We did cause more than
our fair share of trouble."
Seifer went to lean against a
wall, careful, as he did so, not to wrinkle his dark brown suit.He fiddled with the gold buttons on his
jacket, all emblazoned with the cruciform sword.
"You know," he said,
looking over at Squall, "I'll always have this image of you, sitting on
the bench outside Cid's office.It
didn't matter what we were there for, you always sat there, just staring at the
ground.Cid could lecture us for hours,
and all you ever did was nod at him when he was through."
"And as I recall,"
Squall answered, "my punishments were considerably less severe than
"Yeah, well that's because
you never did anything.You just fought back.I had transgressions of my own."
"Like the time Quistis wrote
'unacceptable' on your homework and you wrote 'tough' on it, handed it back to
her, and left class?"
"Yeah," Seifer said,
nodding, "exactly like that."A brief moment of silence passed."You know," he ventured, his voice low, "I always felt
bad about what happened with Quistis.I
always felt like I was the reason Cid revoked her instructor's license."
"Why is that?" Squall
asked, not entirely sure how he should react.
"Think about it,"
Seifer countered."The day of the
field exam, I decided to disobey orders and you almost got killed by that
spider-robot.Later that evening, Quistis
gets her license revoked, theoretically, because she lacks leadership
qualities.You and I both know that
Quistis is the best SeeD ever to pass through Garden, as well as one of the
best instructors.I hardly think it's a
"I don't know," Squall
said."It never really occurred to
"Is she going to be at the
replied."When we got back from
fighting Ultimecia, Cid sent her on some sort of secret mission.No one knows the details, not even Xu.We haven't heard anything from her since she
"So who is going to be there?"
Almost on cue, the doors swung
wide open.Seifer looked into the
cavernous room before him and a shudder ran down his spine, as if he were
looking into the gaping jaws of some great creature.A small woman in the doorway, her features
devoid of emotion.Like Squall, Xu
allowed nothing to interfere with her work.
"Hello, Seifer."The words slid out of her mouth with detached
Seifer moved away from the wall and
straightened his jacket once last time.He nodded at Squall and moved to the door.Squall and Xu followed him, each maintaining
a cautious distance.Seifer kept his
breathing regular and did his best to moderate the pounding of his heart.Still, he found the Tribunal Room very
The former Garden Master's room,
no longer occupied by the creature known as NORG, had undergone a
transformation, as per Cid's orders, and now changed into the room where all
Tribunals would take place.
The entire Garden had emptied
itself into this tremendous room.One on
side sat the junior cadets, the youngest members of Garden, ranging in age from
5 to 12.Behind them sat the cadets
themselves, followed by the SeeDs, seated in order of rank.Everyone wore, as mandated by the
circumstances of the Tribunal, their dress uniforms.By tradition, the SeeDs left a few seats in
their section empty.This custom served
to honor those rare individuals, like Quistis, who had attained the highest
rank possible but could not attend the Tribunal.The residents of Garden, always eager to find
heroes, idolized these warriors.Seifer's eyes roamed over the section, and he quickly noticed Selphie and
Zell, seated in the back row.Selphie
leaned over to whisper something in Zell's ear, but stopped when she noticed
Seifer watching them.
The opposite side of the room
provided seating for students – those attending classes at Garden, but for
purposes other than receiving a commission as a SeeD.Many of the students simply sought education
beyond that mandated by their home countries.For these hardy souls, the strict discipline required to succeed at BalambGarden resulted in impressive
credentials when applying for jobs.
Behind the students sat the
enigmatically robed Garden Faculty, those responsible for the more academic end
of Garden's curriculum.The Instructors,
culled from the ranks of the most skilled and qualified SeeDs, taught the
martial classes such as field tactics, weapons, and the usage of Guardian
Forces.This left the Faculty members to
teach history, philosophy, mathematics, and other, more theoretical courses.
The support staff of Garden sat
in the gallery, looking down over the courtroom.Tribunals, epic in scope, involved the
presence of as many people as possible: Dr. Kadowaki and the staff of the
infirmary the workers in the cafeteria, the janitors, and the mechanics from
the various repair bays.This also
included those individuals working as adjunct staff members of Garden –
fighters under extended contract, like Irvine
– or academic tutors like Rinoa.Seifer
allowed himself a brief glance at the gallery and noticed Laguna looking down
at him, Kiros and Ward flanking him.Laguna did his best to offer Seifer an encouraging smile, but Seifer
could read the worry in the older man's eyes.Edea sat off to one side, by herself, concern etched on her marble face.
The grave nature of the proceedings registered on the faces of even the
youngest child present.The normally
high-spirited junior cadets sat perfectly still, apprehension engraved on their
faces.For the littlest ones, the
proceedings had no meaning, other than the tall tales their classmates told
them: that Seifer stood eight feet tall, could kill with a glance, and
swallowed small children whole.The
older ones remembered the attack, remembered seeing their friends and playmates
dying all around them, and they knew who to hold responsible for those deaths.
As he moved in the room, Seifer
could feel the eyes passing over him.Cid sat at the far end of the room, a judge presiding over his
courtroom.Squall and Xu moved away from
him, heading to their assigned places.Seifer seated himself at the table before the bench, crossing his hands
in front of him and trying to stay calm.
"Seifer Almasy."Cid's voice echoed through the cavernous
"Do you understand why you
are before this court?"
"And do you acknowledge its
"I do, and I submit myself
to its judgment."
"Be seated.Xu, you may proceed."
As Seifer took his seat, Xu stood
up and crossed to a lectern at the side of the room.She pressed a button on her handlink and the
ceiling-mounted holographic display came to life.A life-sized projection of Seifer appeared
before her, rotating slowly so all could see it in detail.
"Presented for the court's
review, Seifer Almasy, student number 30127, cadet of the first rank, gunblade
specialist, candidate for SeeD," she said, her voice still level.Xu pressed another button, and the next image
in the three-dimensional slide show winked into existence.Seifer sighed under his breath and slid down
in his chair, knowing that the worst lay ahead of him.
Image:Seifer at seven years old, upon his entrance
to Garden.His face looks a little more childish,
perhaps, but the smirk serves as a dead giveaway.
"Seifer arrived at Garden at
the age of seven, on a recommendation from Edea Kramer.Early psychological profiles indicated
several traits that recur throughout his dossier.Highly intelligent, but prone to acting on
impulse.Extremely competitive.Some antisocial tendencies, often manifesting
as cruelty to others.A deep-seated need
to be the center of attention.Potential
psychological anomalies include antisocial personality disorder and delusions
Image:Seifer at seven years old, not long after his
entrance to Garden.This picture
resembles the previous one, only now Seifer has some scrapes and bruises
marring his face.The smirk remains.
A second image appears next to it:Zell, six years old and considerably rounder
than Zell at eighteen.Zell's eyes have
turned red from crying, and one has swollen shut in an angry bruise.
"Twenty-seven minutes after
arriving at BalambGarden,
Seifer engaged in a fistfight with another cadet.According to the report, Seifer entered the
junior cadet's commons, where another cadet, Zell Dincht, was watching 'The
Adventures of Pupurun.'Seifer insisted
on watching one of his 'Sorceress' Knight' videotapes and, when Zell refused to
cooperate, Seifer attacked him.Seifer
made no attempt to dispute Zell's account and, in fact, failed to see how he
had done anything wrong."
Seifer turned to look at Zell,
who, by this point, had his arms crossed over his chest.Seifer tried to mouth an apology, hoping Zell
could read lips, but Zell just scowled at him.
He listened in rapt attention as
Xu detailed Seifer's history at Garden.She kept her words cold, mechanical, detached, but he found himself
delighting in every syllable, torn between wanting to hear the next accusing
word and wanting to savor each separate indictment.
Every time he glanced at Seifer,
he felt a slow rage burning inside him, the stirrings of a long-dormant
volcano.Glancing around the room,
though, buoyed his spirits, by letting him look at the faces of others shared
in his contempt for Seifer.The few who
didn't hate Seifer at the start of the Tribunal seemed to change their minds
without much convincing.
He leaned back a little in his
seat, suppressing the urge to stretch.He had no idea how much longer Xu's presentation would last, but the
file in front of her seemed rather extensive.And although he desperately craved a cigarette, he had no intention of
leaving.Not now, when the pieces had
just started to move.
Image:Seifer, ten years old.He looks out at the camera, challenging the
photographer.Fujin and Raijin flank
him.They stand with Seifer, the three
of them defiant, and a slight smile runs across Seifer's face.In his own antagonistic way, he seems almost
"At the age of ten, Seifer
became the chairman of the Junior Disciplinary Committee.As was his prerogative, he appointed his
friends Fujin and Raijin to the committee.The committee received frequent commendations for their zealousness in
enforcing the rules.However, they
received an equal number of demerits for their inability to follow those same
Image:Seifer at twelve years old.His features have hardened considerably in
the five years since his arrival at Garden.He has acquired a lean grace, exempting him from the awkwardness so
common at that age.
Second image:Squall at twelve years old.His face has an eerie stillness about it, a
gravity unbecoming someone so young.He
regards the camera through cold, guarded eyes.
"When called upon to choose
his primary weapon, Seifer opted to become a gunblade specialist, the same
choice made by Commander Leonhart.This
added one more dimension to their already extensive rivalry, which, the court
will note, became the common denominator in their respective disciplinary
"Shortly after receiving
their gunblades, Seifer and Squall received citations for recklessly using
their weapons.Specifically, they were
found fighting in the central concourse of BalambGarden.According to the report, filed by Quistis
Trepe, and undisputed by both parties, Seifer attempted to taunt Squall into
fighting a duel with him.This having
failed, Seifer began physically shoving Squall until he retaliated.After this incident, the two were slightly
more judicious regarding their weapons, but further scuffles occurred
"At the age of thirteen,
Seifer assumed the role as chairman of the Disciplinary Committee proper.The results were much the same as his service
on the JDC: he received an impressive number of demerits, but remained chairman
due to his efficacy in that role.
Although he provoked Squall to
violence on numerous occasions, others did not escape Seifer's attention."
Image:BalambGarden's cafeteria, in
shambles.Tables overturned.Food on the floor.Two SeeDs lead Seifer out of the cafeteria,
his arms restrained.
"This picture was taken
after Seifer attacked Nida Nomura for sitting at 'the Disciplinary Committee's
table.'Ultimately, it took three SeeDs
to separate the two of them.
"Other fights took place
inside the Training Center, several classrooms, the parking garage, the hallway
outside Headmaster Kramer's office, the library and, perhaps most noteworthy,
in the infirmary.He was a patient at
the time, recovering from a fight earlier that afternoon.The court is advised that I have only
presented a partial list of such incidents."
Image: The detention facility,
door wide open.A SeeD stands inside,
looking up at the camera, dumbfounded.
"All conventional methods of
punishment failed.Almost every time he
was placed in the detention facility, he escaped, usually without the camera
picking up how he broke free.The
majority of the times, he simply returned to his room, or resumed his class
schedule.When questioned about this
behavior, he indicated that he only bothered escaping to prove that he could do
so.He never made a serious effort to
flee Garden, the closest exception being the time he rented a room in the
Balamb Hotel under the name 'Cid Kramer.'Following an intense search of BalambTown and the surrounding area,
Seifer mailed a Balamb Hotel postcard to Garden, complete with his room number
A few cautious eyes darted up to Cid,
unsure of how to react.Cid smiled and
laughed a little, shaking his head ruefully.He leaned forward to the microphone in front of him.
"On that note," he
said, "let's take an hour's recess.I'm feeling hungry, and I'm sure we could all use a chance to stretch
our legs.Does anyone object to
this?"Cid glanced around briefly
before pressing one of the buttons near his seat.Instantly, the lights switched to full power
and the doors opened.
As Seifer stood and buttoned his
jacket, Squall walked across the room to him.
"What now, Squall?" he
asked."I mean, I doubt I'd be very
welcome in the cafeteria right now."
"No.You wouldn't be," Squall said, his eyes
glittering slightly."I have the
feeling Zell would defend those hot dogs to the death.Anyway, we've set a room aside where you can
have lunch.It's not much, though."
"Am I to presume that you'll
be dining with me?I mean, someone has
to keep me from escaping again."
Squall nodded, and pointed
towards a door to the side of the courtroom.At Squall's approach, the door slid open.
"Wow," Seifer said,
looking into the room."When you
said it wasn't much, you weren't kidding.A table and two folding chairs?That's what I'm worth?"
"Plus gray paint and a light
bulb.What did you expect?"
They sat at the table, and ate in
silence for a few minutes.After he
finished his first sandwich, Seifer looked up at Squall.
"How do you think it's going
"I couldn't tell you,"
Squall answered, setting his apple down on the plate before him."Cid hasn't been very forthcoming with
information about this trial.He hasn't
even told me the procedure for rendering a verdict."
Seifer took a deep breath and
held it in for a while, before expelling it in a deep sigh.
"Hell of a day, I can tell
you that," he said.
"I don't think anyone's
enjoying this," Squall said.
"Oh, please, Squall.Since when do you sugarcoat the truth?Do you have any idea how many people are
hoping I'll be executed?I might as well
just hand the gun to Xu and save us all the trouble."
"Xu's just doing her
job.She didn't get a choice in this,
which she wanted me to tell you.Cid
'asked' her to volunteer, and you know how that works.Just like he 'asked' me to be your
something," Seifer said, more to fill the silence than anything else."I guess."
Xu approached the podium again,
and straightened her notes, ready to resume her lecture.She took one final sip of water from the
glass in front of her before beginning.
"Despite his disciplinary
problems, Garden opted to retain Seifer due to his outstanding potential as a
SeeD.On those rare occasions when he
opted to do his homework, he received excellent marks.All of the standard diagnostic tests placed
him in the ninety-fifth percentile or higher.This indicates that he is either extremely gifted in those areas that we
routinely measure, or that he has an outstanding grasp of our methodology and
how to subvert it.Both scenarios
presented a compelling case to keep Seifer on hand, and the administration
repeatedly decided to do so.
"Seifer took his first field
exam the year he turned sixteen.The
mission was codenamed 'Beta Syndicate' and was a counter-insurgency operation
in DelingCity.Faced with a popular uprising and unwilling
to use their own troops, a coalition of generals within the Galbadian military
hired SeeD to restore order to the increasingly lawless city.The mission profile assigned Seifer to Squad
B, charged with capturing the leaders of the resistance.Squad B did so, but when a child was injured
in the crossfire, Seifer refused to leave her behind.Ultimately, Squad B's captain shot the girl
in order to facilitate the squadron's withdrawal.Once aboard the transport vessel, Seifer
engaged him in a fistfight.Needless to
say, Seifer failed that exam.
"He also failed the next
field exam, codenamed 'Cobalt Lightning.'This mission was apart of the
larger campaign known as 'Ghost Blaze,' the extended action financed by the various
Timber resistance factions in an effort to expel Galbadian forces.'Cobalt Lightning' was a special
reconnaissance assignment.We assigned
each squad of SeeD candidates to one of the resistance groups.The candidates would infiltrate various facilities
deemed to be of importance to the Galbadian military, and provide intel to
their group, who would carry out the actual assault on that location.The candidates were not, however, to engage
in any combat themselves, unless attacked.Seifer, assigned to Squad D, was to work with the 'Forest Owls.'Again, the mission went largely as planned,
until Seifer deviated from the profile.
He saw the leader of the 'Owls,'
Rinoa Heartily, captured by the Galbadians.When they tried to use her as a hostage, to force the faction to
surrender, Seifer ignored orders and attacked the Galbadians.As a result, he exposed the location of his
squad members, forcing them to join the attack.No casualties resulted, but Seifer's grievous noncompliance earned him
another failed field exam."
Xu took another sip of water from
her glass, setting it down gently.
"If the court is satisfied,
this marks the conclusion of my introductory summary.We may now begin presenting evidence dealing
with the Dollet mission, 'Crimson Shark' and the events subsequent to that
"The court is satisfied, and
thanks you for your efforts, Xu."Cid looked down at her and smiled obligingly, as she left the podium and
went to her seat."We are now ready
to begin the trial."
Seifer felt a lead weight in his
stomach and ran a hand through his hair.That the trial had not yet begun in earnest did nothing to calm
him.A SeeD Seifer didn't recognize
approached the podium and cleared his throat.
"I am Lieutenant Beckett, and
I will be presenting the prosecution's case for the duration of this
trial," he said, his voice less pleasant than Xu's "and will
demonstrate to the court that Seifer Almasy is guilty, among other things, of
treason and war crimes…"
The mild throbbing at Seifer's
temples had, by this point, increased to a sharp stabbing.He rubbed his temples and wished his would-be
assassins had succeeded in their mission.
"In closing, the court can
see that Seifer Almasy has proven himself a significant detriment to the
well-being of BalambGarden.The court should deal with him in a swift and
decisive manner, applying the harshest penalties possible."
Beckett collected his notes and
walked away from the podium, offering a smug glance to Seifer as he passed.
Although he would not have
guessed it at the time, Xu's opening remarks proved to be the least painful
part of the trial.Beckett spent three
days presenting his case.Three days
covering a period of Seifer's life that he would have preferred never to revisit.Mercifully, in an effort to streamline the
trial, Cid decreed that no witnesses would take the stand.Beckett simply quoted from the depositions he
had on file.
Lieutenant," Cid's voice filled the silence of the room as he addressed the
assemblage."Having heard all the
evidence, I'm ready to take this matter under advisement.I thank you all for your attention, and I
expect to render a verdict by the end of the week."
"What?"Seifer spat out the word without realizing
he'd spoken.He looked at Squall in
disbelief, and then back to Cid.
"Yes, Seifer?" the
Headmaster asked, taking off his glasses."Is there a problem?"
"Do I get any kind of
"I remind you, Seifer, that
this is not a court of law.This is a
disciplinary hearing, and operates under its own set of rules.One would think you'd know that by now."
"So you'll just
pass…"Seifer could feel his blood
boiling and his voice raising.
"Seifer, let me warn you
that you aren't helping your case."
"This isn't a trial!You're just providing justification for
whatever you want to do to me!"
"Seifer, I suggest you lower
"Sir," a voice shot out
from the side.Seifer turned his head in
time to see Squall stand up, hands clasped behind his back."Given the gravity of…"
"You're out of line,
Squall.Sit down at once."Cid punctuated his order by stabbing the air
with a finger.
"No, sir," Squall
replied."I think that…"Squall's voice halted suddenly.His lips kept moving but he produced no sound.His head whipped around, trying to find the
source of the spell.He followed Cid's
gaze, which focused on the back of the room, in the gallery.
Edea stood there, coolly
regarding Cid, an outstretched finger pointed at Squall.She simply watched Cid for a moment, before
titling her head slightly and raising an eyebrow.This done, she sat back down, without saying
a word.No one could tell if she and Cid
communicated telepathically, or if they simply knew each other's thoughts from
years of marriage.Whatever the case,
her actions clearly affected Cid.
"Very well, Seifer," he
said."You may speak in your own
defense.I'll consider any evidence you
present with the same weight I afford the prosecution's case.I trust you find that sufficiently fair."
"Yes, sir," Seifer
replied, restoring a measure of civility to his voice.He stood up slowly and buttoned his jacket,
passing his fingers over the cruciform swords for luck.He bowed his head for a moment, both hands on
the back of his chair while he composed himself.He took a long look around the courtroom,
making eye contact with those people he considered friends, or whom he'd called
friends back at the orphanage – his "old life."
"You might not know this,
but after the Time Compression, I entered a… waking coma, of sorts.Thanks to Laguna Loire, President of Esthar,
I managed to fight my way out of Ultimecia's grasp, as she made one last bid to
control me.This event opened my
eyes.I began to see things more clearly
than I ever had before.So I know now what I have to say.
"I don't know if there are
any words that can exonerate me.You've
heard the charges, you've heard about my record here at Garden.And I can't deny any of it.Everything you've heard over the last few
days is true.When I was a student here,
I undermined authority wherever I could.I repeatedly defied orders, substituting my own judgment for the
judgment of my superiors."
Seifer walked away from his
table, moving into the center of the courtroom.He could feel Cid's eyes burning into his back.When he spoke, his voice encompassed the vast
room, without the use of a microphone.
"What's more, I betrayed
this Garden.It's the only place I could
truly call 'home,' and I repaid it with violence and bloodshed.I endangered Garden and compromised a mission
by assaulting President Deling.I led an
assault on this Garden, an assault which cost the lives of people I've known
since I was a child."
By this point, Seifer had found
his rhythm.The words came quickly and
easily to him, without effort.He didn't
know if the people believed his sincerity, but he felt a calm wash over him as
he gave his confession.
"It would be easy for me to
stand here and say that I committed these acts because I was under Ultimecia's
sway.Ultimecia makes an easy
scapegoat.By this point, she hardly
seems human.She's achieved a mythical
quality – an alien entity bent on undoing reality as we know it.She manipulated everyone, and she did so from
a point countless years in the future.Yes,
it's tempting to blame her.
"However, that would only be
a partial truth.She did use magic to
influence me.But that influence
extended only as far as bringing me into her service.Once I devoted myself to her, she showed me
the abyss, and I flung myself into it wholeheartedly.I take full responsibility for all the acts
"I am, perhaps, responsible
for more deaths than anyone since the Sorceress Wars.My hands are stained with blood.The blood of all those who perished in the Garden
Wars.The blood of the citizens of
Esthar, slaughtered during the Lunar Cry.The blood of those at TrabiaGarden,
eradicated in a missile attack I ordered.This Garden would have been destroyed in a
similar attack, if not for the skills and ingenuity of Selphie and Squall.You owe your lives to them, and I hope
they're proud of their actions.They
saved you from me.
"I take responsibility for
all these acts.I wish I could find the
words to express the profound regret I feel.I know that no words, though, can ever assuage the grief I've
caused.The only thing I can do, now, is
to offer myself to the justice of this court.First, though, I need to address the people that I've wronged – at
least, those who are still alive.
"Headmaster Kramer, I'm
sorry for all the times I defied you.Your wisdom and vision have made this Garden everything it is.This school trains the strongest soldiers in
the world.It's served as a home for
countless students, even those who could never afford to study here.I know, because I'm one of them.You took me from the orphanage and, seeing
potential, let me stay here without cost.Despite my atrocious behavior, you kept me here, hoping that one day I'd
come around.You probably thought I
ignored you when you lectured me.I
didn't.I heard every word you said, and
now I appreciate all you've done for me.I'm just sorry it happened too late.
"Matron, I'm sorry to have
strayed so far from everything you tried to teach me.At the orphanage, you raised us to be
honorable, kind, and willing to stick together in a crisis.At the first sign of pressure, I bolted,
running to pursue my dream, never knowing that everything I wanted was here.You know what my dream is, Matron, and you
know why I succumbed to Ultimecia's will.I hope you know that you never failed as a surrogate mother.Even though I went astray, you can look
around the room and see the overwhelming evidence of your success.Squall's courage.Selphie's warmth.Quistis' – and I wish she were here –
cheer.Zell's loyalty.You can look in their eyes and see that your
lessons did not go unheeded.
"I have to apologize to
everyone I bullied.There are a lot of
you out of there.I'm sorry I made your
lives so much worse.I know this isn't
any consolation, but I hope you'll know that my apology is heartfelt, and I
hope that some day, you'll forget what I did.That's what I wish.That you will
not forgive, but forget.I don't deserve
forgiveness.It's far more fitting that
I recede into the distant past.If GFs truly cause memory loss, I hope I am one such memory.
"I apologize to Squall.The words don't exist to convey my apology to
knows what I mean.Squall is the closest
thing I will ever have to a brother.There's a bond between us, something I can't define.I've only run one mission with him – the
field exam in Dollet -- but there's no one I would sooner choose to watch my
"I apologize to
Quistis.Even though she isn't here, I
want to make my peace with her.She was
a good instructor – one of the best.No
one can dispute her ability as a warrior.Moreover, she was a good friend.I always thought she was bossy, and that she was an obnoxious
meddler.I see now that she was a
friend. Concerned for my
well-being.She tried to help me, and
every time, I pushed her away.
"Finally, I apologize to
Zell."Seifer turned his eyes to
Zell, making eye contact.Zell looked
back at Seifer, tempted to turn away, but something prevented him from doing
so."I tormented him more than I
tormented anyone else.Any thing I could
do to embarrass, insult, or humiliate him, I did.I pummeled him physically and assaulted him
psychologically.Nothing I can ever say
can justify my actions towards him. However, after much self-examination, I know
why I did so.I won't explain it here,
but if you ever wish to know the reason, Zell, and I'm alive to talk, I'll tell
you, and you can be rid of me.
"I don't have much left to
say.I've said my apologies.I know they can never heal the wounds I've
caused, but I hope they're a start."
Silence engulfed the courtroom as
Seifer resumed his seat.No one dared breath, waiting for Cid to make the first move.
Seifer."Cid spoke into the
microphone, his voice sounding mechanical compared to Seifer's unamplified speech."If no one else has anything to add, I think I'm prepared to
"Wait."Squall's voice tore through the air like a
"Yes, Squall?"Cid's face mouth twisted into a smile of
"I want to render the
"What?"Cid's smile widened."Are you serious?"
"I am, sir."Squall replied."I'm entitled to render the
me."Cid sat back in his chair, folding
his hands over his stomach.
For perhaps the first moment
since Seifer's arrival at Garden, he and Cid finally saw eye-to-eye on
something: that Squall, for whatever reason, had finally cracked.
"I'm entitled to make this
decision because Seifer has, contrary to his testimony, wronged me more than
The lead weight in Seifer's
stomach returned, and this time, it brought a friend, a hollow reverberation
that he could only interpret as the sound of Squall hammering the first nail
into Seifer's coffin.
"It's true that Seifer
fought with Zell more than he fought with me." Squall began, addressing
his words directly to Cid."That's
because I didn't let Seifer provoke me.I only fought with him when he presented me with no physical alternative.Did that keep me out of the Infirmary?No.Did that keep me out of your office?No.
"Maybe Seifer made Zell who
he is today.I can't presume to
one look at my face, and you know what Seifer's done to me.He's on trial here for the events following
our field exam.I received this scar the
same day.I will never look in a mirror
again without remembering Seifer.How we
fought before the field exam, and how he waged war on me after it.He compromised the Timber mission in an
effort to show me up.
"He brutally tortured me in
Galbadia's D-District Prison.Zell's torment consisted of bullying.My torture
consisted of thousands of volts of energy coursing through my body.
"He instigated the Garden
Wars to strike at me.That
was a battle I never wanted to fight.He and I, as opposing commanders, share responsibility
for every death in that conflict.That's a
responsibility I never wanted.
"He endangered the life of
someone very special to me, and he did so on multiple occasions.He tried to hand her over to the Sorceress
Adel.He tried, repeatedly, to take my
"There are a lot of people
here that he's hurt.But I take my place
at the head of the line, and when I say that I'm entitled to sentence him, I
speak both as Commander of this Garden, and as someone he's tormented for
Cid nodded slowly, looking at
Squall.His eyes narrowed, almost as if
he were trying to see within Squall's mind.Gradually, by degrees, he leaned forward in his chair.
"I'm convinced," he
began, and Seifer could feel the noose tightening around his neck."Squall, you may proceed."
"Thank you, sir,"
Squall said, turning to Seifer."My
verdict is this: that Seifer resume his status as a cadet, beginning next
Stunned silence.No one dared to breath.No one so much as moved.
"Squall.I'm afraid I don't find your joke very
funny.I suggest you sit down at
"I'm not joking,
Headmaster.Garden will benefit from
Seifer's return.His attack was as
precise an operation as I've ever seen.It was as well planned and executed as any SeeD
"He proved that Garden is
vulnerable to an outside assault.We
need to secure the Garden and Seifer is the best possible troubleshooter.
"I defeated Seifer three
times during the Neo-Sorceress War.In
two of those battles, I had Quistis and Zell supporting me.Three SeeDs should be more than a match for
"You can't deny Seifer's
ability.He's more useful working for
this Garden than against it and executing him would be a waste."
When Cid spoke, his voice sounded
heavy."So you want to ignore all
the evidence of this trial, and just restore him to his former status?Should we give him a medal as well?"
"Sir, I suggest reinstating
Seifer as a first-rank cadet, on the fifth degree of probation.One mistake and he's gone.He'll follow the rules, and I'll take
responsibility for his actions."
"Squall," Cid began,
leaning forward once more, "I really don't think that you've
"I agree with Squall!"Selphie piped up from her seat."Give Seifer one more chance."Without waiting for his consent, Selphie
grabbed Zell by the arm and hauled him to his feet.He looked around uncomfortably for a while,
clearly wanting to sit back down.When
he saw that Selphie wouldn't let him off the hook, Zell turned to Cid and
"Seifer's a royal pain in
the ass and all, but I trust Squall's judgment.If Squall says Seifer'll behave, I believe
"And you, Squall," Cid
replied, "are you willing to stake your career on a single throw of the
dice?More importantly, are you willing
to risk the safety of everyone here on your hunch that Seifer has
"I'd ask that you trust my
judgment in this matter, sir.As
commander of this Garden, I think this is in our best interests."
Cid took another long look around
the room.Squall stood at perfect
attention, his face deadly serious.Seifer sat in his chair, stunned, looking from Squall to Cid and back to
Squall again.In the back of the room,
Edea met Cid's gaze once more.She
smiled at him gently, and Cid knew what he had to do.
"I'm not entirely
comfortable with this, Squall.Your
arguments, while sound, do not fully convince me.However, I've seen fit to rely on your
judgment in the past.If not for you,
this Garden would be a pile of rubble sitting on top of a bit of scorched
earth.You earned your title, and if
you're willing to stand in Seifer's defense, I have no compelling reason to
disagree with you."
Cid turned, making his announcement
to the entire courtroom."As such,
Seifer Almasy is reinstated to his position as a first-rank cadet.His disciplinary record is marked to the
fifth degree.I'm going to hand out some
further disciplinary sanctions, since I cannot, in good conscience, allow his
actions to go unpunished.However, that
is a matter for another time.
"There is, I'm aware, a
somewhat thornier issue.I realize that
many of you have grudges against Seifer.If you need to settle them physically, you may do so in one of the
sparring rooms, but I hope we can accomplish this transition with a minimum of
violence.This is an official
decision.It has my full backing, and I
expect you all to comply with it as you would any other such decision.However, as Commander Leonhart has so
graciously agreed to take responsibility for Seifer, you may address all your
complaints or concerns to him.He's
available to you, be it in his office, or around the Garden in general.You can talk to him at any time."Cid looked down at Squall, smiling as he did
so.Squall seemed frozen in place,
horrified at the prospect of a line of cadets at his office door, clamoring for
his attention in the cafeteria, or interrupting him in the TrainingCenter.
"If no one else has any more
dramatic surprises," Cid paused here, taking a long look around the room,
making sure that no one intended to stand up, "I believe this matter is
adjourned."He pressed one of the
buttons near him and, as before, the doors to the room swung open and the
lights raised to full power, eliminating the spotlight over Seifer's chair.
The room exploded into
sound.Seifer, through the haze of his
disbelief, struggled to pick up individual voices.Over the din, he heard Selphie yell a
triumphant, "Whoo-hoo!"The next thing he knew, she'd tackled him
with one of her hugs and bellowed, "Welcome home, Seifer!" in his
ear.Before he could react, the
five-foot bundle of energy hurtled across the room, assaulting Squall in the
same way.She caught Squall off-guard,
and he toppled to the ground with Selphie on top of him."Boy, Squall," she said, her grin
threatening to split her face in half, "I could get used to seeing you
from this angle."She planted a
kiss on his surprised cheek before jumping to her feet and running off to find Irvine.
Squall, shaking his head, rose to
his feet, automatically smoothing the wrinkles out of his uniform.Seifer walked over to him, still stunned by
the events of the last few minutes.All
around him, people filed out of the courtroom, discussing the decision that
would dominate their conversations for weeks to come.
"What," he asked,
"the hell was that?Do you mind
explaining what just happened?"
"You heard what I
said," Squall replied."I'm
not doing you any personal favors.You'll do less damage here where I can keep an eye on you."
grinned, "I think that's about as close to a compliment as I've ever heard
Zell ran up, looking somewhat
uncomfortable after he arrived.He put
one hand behind his head and extended his other hand to Seifer."Welcome back."
Seifer took Zell's hand, smiling
softly."Thanks, Zell.Look, I really am sorry about
"So… umm… do you want to get
together some time and talk?You said
you had something you wanted to talk about."
"Yeah," Seifer replied,
his voice oddly soft, "that'd be nice."
"Cool!"Zell turned and started to jog in the other
direction."Oh, Squall!Lunch in the cafeteria
today.They're serving hot
dogs!"With that, Zell ran out the door,
no doubt to ensure he had an ample supply of hot dogs to himself.
Squall shook his head, his face
wearing an almost pained expression at Zell's one-track mind.
"The more things
change…" Squall began.
"…the more they stay the
same," Seifer answered, finishing the sentence for him.
"Yeah."Squall nodded."Welcome back."
sun crept slowly into the Quad, the sun shining down on the tranquility of the
forested park.Seifer sat on one of the
benches, listening to the water as it moved in its beautifully crafted
streams.He glanced around him, a motion
that had become habitual during the three days since his trial.Most people simply ignored him, but a few stared
at him as he passed.So far, though, no
one had voiced an open objection to his presence.
Zell came loping down the steps,
crossing over to Seifer, who stood as the uniformed man approached.Seifer took a long look at the medals
adorning Zell's jacket and whistled admiringly.
"Yeah," Zell said,
"they gave all of us a bunch of medals when we got back from fighting
Ultimecia.You should see Squall's
"I did, Zell.He was in uniform at the trial."Zell titled his head back and laughed.
"Oh, that wasn't Squall's
collection.He refuses to wear all of
them at once.He says that all the
jingling pisses him off."
"And what's this?"
Seifer asked, noting a gold-and-silver SeeD emblem."They made you an instructor?"
yeah!" Zell exclaimed."My kickboxing class just got out.Being an instructor is great!"
"What about this one?"
Seifer inquired, thumbing a small silver coyote."I don't recognize it."
"Oh, Ma went to a craft show
in Dollet, and she knows I like coyotes, so she got that for me.She gets a big kick out of me wearing it on
filled his voice, whereas the old Seifer would have followed the comment by
ripping the pin off Zell's jacket and throwing it in the stream."Anyway, you didn't come here so I could
indulge my fixation for shiny objects."Seifer gestured for Zell to sit at one of the benches.Zell promptly sat cross-legged on the ground.
Seifer turned away from Zell and
retreated to within himself, trying in vain to find the right words.A vague buzzing sound took up residence in
Seifer's skull, distracting him from his thoughts.He turned back and started to speak, avoiding
Zell's gaze as he did so.He stared be
on Zell, his eyes fixed at some unknown point on the horizon.
"When I came out of my…
fugue, it was as if a veil lifted. I was
able to see things I'd never noticed before.I was suddenly able to see things about myself that I'd never noticed
before… to ask questions I'd never thought of asking.Like why I'd always picked on you."
The buzzing sound in Seifer's
head increased, drowning out the sound of his voice.He stopped speaking and put a hand to his
"What's wrong?"Zell jumped to his feet and extended a hand
to help stabilize Seifer.As Zell's hand
touched Seifer's arm, a vision entered Seifer's head.
A wolf, feral and magnificent, running through a forest.Blood and terror filled the air, their fragrance a heady mixture that
made his senses whirl.A single word
slammed into Seifer with the force of a bullet: Alpha.Then, as quickly as
it came, the vision fled, and Seifer found himself back in the Quad, with Zell
helping him to one of the benches.
"Are you okay?"Zell asked."What happened?"
"I don't know," Seifer answered."I just… went away."
"Do you need to go to the
Infirmary?Because I can go get Dr.
"Trust me, Zell, I'm
fine," Seifer said, smiling a little."Let me say what I need to and then
let's worry about my health."Zell sat back down and nodded for Seifer to continue.
"Okay," Seifer said,
hating the need to start over. "Have you ever noticed how a person can seem one way, and maybe, right then, they really are that way?That quality then becomes the standard by
which you define the person, right?And then, something
happens, and the person becomes an entirely different person, and you have to
completely redefine who they are and what they mean to you.Do you see what I mean?"
Zell, sitting there with his
mouth open, shook his head."Not at all."
"Like Squall.I mean, I know I wasn't around when it all
went down, but the difference was obvious.He was always… you know… Squall.We could count on him to be… Squall-ish."
"If I may," Zell
interjected, eyes glittering, "you could say he was squalid.That he lived in squalor."
Seifer shook his head at Zell's lame
attempt at humor."Moving
on.Anyway, we could always count
on him to act in a certain way.And then he met Rinoa and he wasn't Squall any more.He was like, well… like Squall with a
girlfriend.All of a sudden, he's doing
the protective boyfriend routine, what with the springing to the rescue and
not the Squall we grew up with.So we have to take this new Squall, and figure out how he
fits in with what we know about old Squall.Does that make any sense?"
"So… you picked on me because
Squall didn't have a girlfriend?"
Seifer sighed again and tried a
different approach."What if a
person had always thought of himself one way, but only because he'd never
stopped to think if there was another way?Like if you spent all of your life walking down one road, but only
because you never looked left or right to see if there's another road?"
Zell sat there in silence as
Seifer's words sunk in.His eyes grew
wide in amazement."You're talking
about being gay, aren't you?"
"Yes," Seifer said,
relieved at last."I am."
practically screamed these last two words.Seifer dove forward, trying to clap his hand over Zell's mouth, but he
couldn't move quickly enough.The words
had already escaped.
"Good God, Zell," Seifer
said, rolling his eyes."I don't
think the people in Esthar heard you.No, I'm not talking about
Squall."Seifer took a deep breath
and went the direct route."I'm
talking about me, Zell.I'm talking…
Zell nodded softly."I see.So you were a bully because…"
"Yeah," Seifer responded, his voice little more than a whisper."Call it compensating.And I picked on you because…"
"Because you couldn't tell
me how you really felt."
Seifer nodded slowly."Yeah."
A long silence filled the
air.Time slowed to a crawl for
Seifer.Just as he couldn't bring
himself to look at Zell, he couldn't bear to look away.He leaned forward in his seat, bending over
and putting his face in his hands.He
felt broken inside, knowing that in his carelessness, he'd damaged the person
who really mattered to him.He heard
Zell stand up, and waited to hear his footsteps retreating into the
distance.Instead, he suddenly found Zell
next to him, sitting down and placing a hand on Seifer's back.
"You know," Zell said "you do a pretty credible imitation of
Seifer laughed despite himself,
amazed at the sheer incongruity of Zell's remark.Soon, both men found themselves roaring
uproariously, laughter feeding off laughter, drawing stares from other people
in the Quad.
A pair of cadets passed by,
looking scornfully at the hysterical duo.They fixed Seifer with a harsh glare, cramming as much disinterested
malice as possible into their thirteen-year-old faces.Seifer glared right back, barely containing
his mirth.He fired directly into their
midst, offering up a hearty "Whatever."This set the men laughing again.
By the time their laughter
subsided, thoughts of loss and rejection had departed Seifer's mind. He wiped a tear out of his eye, glancing over
at Zell.Seifer barely had time to blink
before he felt Zell's lips pressed up against his, one of Zell's hands in
Seifer's hair.The spontaneity of the
act startled him, and he barely had the presence of mind to kiss back.
They held for a moment and Zell
broke away."Whaddya think?"
Zell asked."Did it feel okay to
responded, somewhat lost for words."Definitely okay."
"I concur," Zell said,
nodding his head sharply and grinning one of his lopsided grins.
"But Zell, are you…?"
"I don't know," Zell
replied."I mean, I've sort of
wondered before.Because, you know,
there were all those rumors about me and Squall…"
"Yeah," Seifer broke
out grinning at that."I remember
"And sometime when I'm
wearing my Ergheiz gloves, remind me to thank you for
that.Do you remember Callo?"
"She was on the Library
Committee, right?Pony-tail, used to
follow you around all the time?"
"That's her.Well, we dated for a while, and there was
never really anything there.It was cool
and all that she had such a thing for me, but I think that was the only reason
I was into her."
about me?Why did you just kiss
Zell shrugged."I wanted to know what it would be like.And it wasn't all that bad."
"Does that mean…?"Seifer found it impossible to disguise the
note of hope in his voice.
"I'm willing to see what
happens," Zell said, shrugging amicably."I mean, the idea doesn't upset me or anything, so maybe it'll lead
Seifer shook his head in
disbelief, thrilled at this sudden development.Zell simply grinned, until the alarm on his watch sounded.His face lit up with all the glee of a child
opening birthday presents.
"Come on!" he exclaimed,
jumping to his feet and pulling Seifer with him."We gotta get to the cafeteria!Do you know what they're serving today?"
Seifer nodded, realizing that, if
they maintained a relationship, this would quickly become its leitmotif."Hot dogs?" he said, knowing the
answer even as he spoke.
"Yeah!Last time I was first in line, and I scored a
huge pile of them.Rosa
– one of the workers there – knows Ma, so she always gives me extra."
Seifer pulled Zell close to him,
kissing him softly on the lips."Your life is a never-ending quest for hotdogs, Chicken-Wuss, and yet they let you train the next generation of
SeeDs.Heaven help us all."
The camera mounted in the Quad
captured the entire interchange between Seifer and Zell.It didn't pick up the sound, but he didn't
need the audio feed to know what happened.Mentally, he added Zell to his list.When he broke Seifer, he'd also have to break Zell.Not something he'd counted on doing, but a
necessity nevertheless.He certainly
hadn't counted on Squall's intervention.That act, the man decided, earned Squall a particularly nasty fate.He had yet to decide the nature of the
punishment, but knew that he wanted it to be something lingering.
The cigarette between his fingers
burned an angry hole in the air.He
placed it between his lips, inhaling deeply.Flipping off the monitor, he folded his coat over his arm and left the
She waited for him in the lobby,
a raven-haired beauty with flawless alabaster skin.He felt the crackle of magic that always
surrounded her, part of her inheritance as a Sorceress.
"Darling," he said,
bowing slightly, "how are you today?"
She pouted slightly, casually
outstretching a hand, the cigarette flew from between
his lips.It landed in her hand and
immediately turned to ice.He watched it
tumble to the ground and shatter into countless pieces.
"I thought you were going to
quit smoking," she said, her voice filled with equal parts annoyance and
"I know, I know," he
replied, ushering her towards the elevator.They stepped on board and he pressed the button for the ground floor,
beneath him."I've been promising
that since our wedding day."