Grazhir :: Crossover :: Convergence :: 02 :: Mandatum

02 • Mandatum

He was brought to consciousness, not by his alarm, but by the sound of someone pounding on his door. “What!”

“Squall!” Selphie shouted. “It’s our first SeeD mission! Looks like we’re headed to Timber. Meet by the front gate, hurry!”

He hauled himself out of bed and got dressed, then checked to make sure he had the necessities before heading for the gate. There waiting for him were Selphie, Cid, and one of the faculty.

“One more minute,” the faculty member said gratingly.

Squall propped himself up against the wall and stifled a yawn.

Zell arrived a minute later, vaulting over the turnstiles and landing on a hoverboard, which he used to bring him the rest of the distance. “Made it!”

The faculty member turned to Zell. “T-boards are prohibited within Garden. Have you forgotten?”

“Oops, sorry! But this is really cool. It may come in handy on a SeeD mission, someday.”

“We’ll be the judges of that. Confiscate it,” it ordered.

Squall always had wondered exactly what was under those flowing robes and floppy caps, and their voices were curiously androgynous. Another faculty member appeared to snatch the T-board away and left, much to Zell’s disappointment.

“All of you are members of SeeD, but. . . . Nevertheless, you’re still students at this Garden. Furthermore, because you are SeeDs, you must set an example to all others and abide by Garden’s rules. Understood!?”

Cid stepped forward to speak his piece. “Well, about your first mission. You are to go to Timber. There you will be supporting a resistance faction. That is your mission. A member of the faction will contact you at Timber Station.”

The faculty member continued, “This person will talk to you and say, ‘The forests of Timber sure have changed.’ At this time you must reply, ‘But the owls are still around.’ That is the password.”

‘Bloody hell. That sounds positively juvenile.’

“Just follow the faction’s orders,” Cid said.

“Uh, just us three?” Zell asked.

“Correct,” said the faculty member. “We have agreed to do this mission for very little money. Normally we would never accept such requests, but. . . .”

“Enough talk about that.” Cid gestured vaguely. “Well, Squall, you are the squad leader. Use your best judgment based on the situation. Zell and Selphie, you are to support Squall and give your all to carry out the faction’s plans.”

As the faculty member started the walk back inside Cid sidled up to Squall and said quietly, “Oh, by the way, I have something for you. Take this”—he handed over what looked to be a lamp of sorts—“and see if you can’t do something with it, all right? I’m told great rewards can come of solving the mystery it presents.”

Squall tucked it away so he could salute, then gestured to the others and made for the main gate. Outside he pulled the lamp back out and examined it with Scan, then arched a brow. “Hmm.”

“What is it?”

“If I’m not mistaken,” he replied, “I think there’s a Guardian Force trapped inside.”

“Like a genie in a lamp?”

“Something like that. Care to give it a shot?”

Selphie and Zell exchanged a look, then nodded eagerly.

“Okay. Remember, don’t attack until we see how it attacks and what we can draw from it. You’re prepped?”

They nodded again, so Squall rubbed the lamp, dropping it and stepping back when something huge emerged in a cloud of thick, dark smoke. Then the creature spoke, its voice scratchy and strained. “Who dares disturb my sleep?” Quite a while later, after blinding the GF and much drawing of magic, they made a concerted effort to subdue it. Squall knew they had succeeded when it said, “Too much sleep. . . . Too weak. . . .”

After that, it was a rather boring trip along the road to Balamb, with Squall junctioning the new GF to see what it was capable of. At the station they paid for their tickets (at a whopping thousand gil each) and boarded the next train for Timber.

“This train is awesome,” Selphie burbled in excitement as they pulled out of the station.

“An intercontinental railroad, baby! It even runs through an underwater tunnel to get to Timber. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Sure.” It was a train, not a rocket ship. He moved farther inside, into the hallway, to gaze out one of the large windows.

Zell came up beside him and gave him a disappointed look. “Guess you’re not interested. By the way, Squall, you have to use your ID to get inside the SeeD cabin.”

“I assume they all work the same,” he replied evenly.

Zell shrugged and walked over to the panel by the wall, swiping his ID through the reader.

“Confirming. . . . Access granted,” said an artificial voice.

“I’m gonna stay here for a while,” Selphie said, her attention avidly on the scenery.

“Yo, check it out,” Zell said loudly as the cabin door slid open. “This is awesome!”

Squall entered as well, looking around to see a well appointed interior. For long distance travel it would be ideal, with an en suite and multiple beds, even if they were stacked bunks. “I’m glad you’re so excited.”

“They even have magazines here!” Zell fished one off the table at the end of the long sofa and waved it around. After sitting down he said, “This is pretty damn amazing. It pays to be a member of SeeD! Hey, Squall, y’know anything about Timber?”

“Yes. Timber fell to Galbadian control eighteen years ago and is now under their occupation. Resistance factions fighting to restore the country’s original government flourish, though most of them don’t seem that effective.”

“Wow,” Zell said, obviously impressed.

“It’s all in the database, and we did cover this in World History,” Squall said quietly.

“Yeah, but, you remembered! It’s all so dry, man!”

The door slid open to reveal a wan-looking Selphie. “I don’t feel so good.”

“You should rest if you feel unwell,” he advised, wondering if she was subject to motion sickness.

“I’m really sleepy,” she said faintly and made for the couch.

“Hey, I don’t feel so good, either,” Zell said. “Somethin’s . . . wrong?”

Selphie collapsed onto the sofa, unconscious, and Zell began snoring. Squall, meanwhile, clutched at his head as dizziness swept through him. And then things went black.

He woke up an indeterminate time later to the sound of an announcement. “Next stop, Timber. Timber, next stop. . . .”

“Were we . . . all asleep?” he asked as he slowly hauled himself up from the floor. That had been one really strange dream, a nightmare in his eyes because he had been unable to escape it.

“Maybe someone released some sleeping gas?” Zell suggested. “There’s lots of people who resent SeeD.”

‘That’s not so outrageous an idea,’ he thought, then said, “Be on your guards.”

“Am I missing anything,” Selphie said as she checked her supplies. “Anyone hurt?”

“Unless someone found a way to override the door controls, I doubt it,” Squall said reasonably.

“What a relief! Everything’s cool with me! Hee! I had such a nice dream!”

Squall spared her a disgruntled glance. ‘I had a dream, too. It wasn’t nice, though. I dreamt I was a moron.’

“We will be arriving in Timber shortly. For those disembarking, please be sure to have all your belongings,” came another announcement.

“But seriously, Sir Laguna was soooo cool!” Selphie burbled.

“Hey!” Zell leapt to his feet. “There was a Laguna in my dream, too! He’s a Galbadian soldier, right!?”

“Laguna, Kiros, and Ward. . . .” Since when was it possible to share dreams? He felt a moment of discomfort in the back of his mind, but decided not to question it. “Forget about it for now, it’s not like we’re in a position to understand what happened. I’ll report it to the headmaster once we’re back at Garden.”

“Let’s just concentrate on our first mission!” Selphie enthused, obviously not the least bit bothered by the implications, and quit the cabin, Zell moments behind her.

Squall touched his forehead and sighed. ‘I don’t know whether to be reassured or not that you were still with me, there.’

‘Squall?’

He went on full alert; it was almost unheard of that Griever ever used his name. ‘Yes?’

‘Try not . . . to be too harsh in your assessments? Those people, they might be real, and you might meet them someday.’

“Squall!”

He frowned and headed for the door. ‘We’re talking about this later. You know something.’

Squall disembarked, immediately spotting a suspicious-looking loiterer on the steps down from the platform. He motioned to his team and descended, pausing when the man oh-so casually lamented, “Oh, the forests of Timber sure have changed!”

“But the owls are still around,” he murmured.

“Welcome to Timber, sir. Come with me, sir. Please, please, this way, sir!” the man said expansively, gesturing toward a train car arriving on a different track, then scampered off to meet it.

‘Ooookay.’ Squall led his team to the train and boarded at the invitation of their contact.

Inside they were treated to the appraising gaze of someone new. “So, you guys are SeeDs?”

Squall nodded, already swamped with misgivings, and planted a hand on one hip. “Squall, the squad leader. This is Zell, and Selphie.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m the leader of the Forest Owls, Zone.”

“So, let’s get on with it. What’s the mission?”

“Hey, hey, take it easy there. You’ve already met Watts, so I guess it’s just our princess, then.”

“It’s the princess’s nap time, sir.”

“Ah, man. Hey, Squall, sorry, but could you go get her? She’s in the last room, up those stairs. Some of the other guys are in the room along the way.”

“We were hired to run errands?” he asked coldly. “Well?”

“A-are you angry!?” Zone stuttered.

“Selphie, you’re on it,” he ordered. To Zone he said, “This is the last time for this kind of thing.”

Selphie flitted off up the steps while Zone let out a pained groan and crouched in the corner, clutching his stomach. Selphie returned a few minutes later with a girl in tow, the same one from the SeeD Ball.

“Hey, you’re—! You know, from the party? So, does that mean . . . you’re a SeeD?” she asked him.

“Yes. Squall, squad leader. You’ve met Selphie, and this is Zell.”

“Yeeees! SeeD is here!” she squealed, then launched herself forward to hug him.

“Hey,” he said, carefully pushing her off him. “Take it easy.”

“It’s just that I’m so happy! I’ve been sending requests to Garden forever, but nothing. I’m so glad I spoke to Cid directly! You know Seifer?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he’s the one who introduced me to Cid. Cid is such a nice man. I really didn’t think SeeD would come out to help a measly little group like us. But after explaining our situation to him, Cid gave the go ahead right away! Now that you guys are here we’ll be able to carry out all kinds of plans!”

He wondered if the previously rejected requests were due to the faculty members, and had never been seen by Cid in the first place.

“Is he here?”

Squall stared at her, brow furrowed slightly.

“Seifer,” she clarified.

“No, he’s not a SeeD.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I’m Rinoa Heartilly. Very pleased to meet you. SeeD members dance quite well, don’t they?”

“It’s expected of a SeeD,” he replied, wondering what in hell that had to do with anything.

“Oh. So it’s work related. That’s too bad. . . .” She glanced behind her as a clicking sound became louder, which resolved to be a mixed-breed dog. “That’s my partner, Angelo. He’s really smart, and helps me a lot! Well, this way!” She headed through the only internal door visible, just to the left of the steps.

“Just stand anywhere you want,” Zone said. “This is a full-scale operation. Our resistance, the Forest Owls, will be forever known in the pages of Timber’s independence! Exciting, huh? It all started when we got ahold of top secret info from Galbadia.”

“I got the info, sir!” Watts chimed in.

“There’s a VIP from Galbadia coming to Timber.”

“Super V-I-P!!”

“The guy’s name is Vinzer Deling, our archenemy and the president of Galbadia!”

“He’s a scoundrel!” Watts shouted. “He’s a dictator, not a president, sir. Not even popular in Galbadia, sir!”

Squall touched his forehead and struggled to keep his mouth shut. His first official mission, and he was working under the orders of a bunch of whackos.

“President Deling is taking a private train from the Galbadian capital,” Rinoa informed them.

Zone continued, “Our plan is to—”

“Blow it to smithereens with a rocket launcher!?” Selphie suggested, appearing entirely too excited about the idea.

“Ah, not quite,” Zone said, looking at her a bit strangely.

“So get to the point!” Zell cried. “Just tell us what to do!”

‘Not only lunatic clients, but overemotional and explosion-happy team members. Joy. Way to go on looking professional, on either side.’

‘Hopefully this’ll only be a short mission.’

“Shall we begin?” Rinoa gestured to a table that took up most of the room, atop which was a scale model. “First, I’ll go over the model. The yellow train in the top right is our base. We’re riding in it right now. Right next to it is the dummy car. We made it to look just like the president’s car, and their train has three cars, the locomotive, followed by the first escort, the president’s car, and the second escort.”

‘Want to bet she’s abysmal with money?’ he joked to Griever, who laughed in return.

“Once we get to the second escort we begin the mission. Our ultimate goal is to seize the president in the red car using our base. That means, we’ll have to switch our dummy car with the president’s car. We’ll use two switch points leading up to Timber to carry out this operation. All in all, it should take seven steps. One, we’ll get on the roof of the second escort by jumping from our dummy car.”

She moved the cars around to demonstrate as she explained. “Two, we’ll proceed across to get to the president’s car, avoiding the sensors, which I’ll talk about in just a minute. Three, we’ll proceed across the president’s car. Deling hates the company of his guards and being surrounded by sensors, and keeps them away from his car. Four, we’ll uncouple the president’s car from the first escort. We have to do this before we reach the first switch point. If we don’t. . . .”

“Boom! Game over, right?” Selphie asked.

“Yeah. So we’ll have to move fast. I’ll explain the uncoupling process in just a minute. Now, five, our dummy car and base will move into place. At this point our train and their train will be linked and moving together. Six, we uncouple the second escort. And seven, we escape with the president’s car and our base car.

“If all goes well, we’ll return to our base and prepare to confront Deling. We have exactly five minutes to complete the seven procedures. If we fail our train will collide with theirs at the switch point and it’ll be all over.”

“Five minutes?” questioned Zell. “You sure that’s enough?”

Zone responded, “According to the simulation we ran it should only take three minutes to complete the operation. Piece of cake for SeeDs, right?”

“Of course,” Selphie agreed. “Too easy!”

‘Ah, youth,’ commented Griever dryly.

“Okay, let’s talk about the sensors,” said Rinoa. “Watts?”

Squall let the explanations wash over him, taking in run for red, stop for blue, and further along through Rinoa’s spiel on how to force the uncoupling of moving cars. She volunteered him to be the one to enter the codes for that, but somehow, that wasn’t really surprising. He could only hope the information was solid, and not a red herring. Rinoa finished up by saying, “Don’t forget, in the real thing there’s a strict time limit leading up to the switch points. And . . . that’s it.”

“By the way,” Selphie said, eyeing the table, “this model’s nice, but the president’s car looks kinda shabby. Why is that?”

“Yeah, Rinoa made it,” Watts supplied. “That’s why. We bought everything else at the gift store.”

“Oh, I thought some kid made it,” Zell said. “The paint job sucks, too.”

And while Squall had to agree with their comments, he sighed over the fact that they were irrelevant and rude.

“Oh, shut up! I made it to look like that on purpose. It represents my hatred toward Deling.”

“Hatred, eh? Yeah . . . right.”

“It’s one of the . . . ugliest things that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Selphie added. “You must really hate him.”

“Are you guys finished? Enough about the model! Are we clear on the plan? Yes? Then let’s decide on the party!”

“Gathering information is my specialty, sir!” Watts snapped out before fleeing.

Zone chose that moment to crouch in the corner, groaning and holding his stomach. Were it not for the fact that his actions were comically exaggerated, one might think he suffered from ulcers.

“Oh,” Rinoa said, looking not the least bit surprised, “we’re moving, so I’ll go take a look. Come on out when you’re ready to go.”

Watts was waiting outside and immediately asked, “Are you ready, sir?”

“Yes.”

Rinoa reappeared and clapped. “Let’s go! We’re just about there!”

A very long three and a half minutes later they were crouched on top of the base car, speeding away with the president’s car in tow, splitting away from the other train as they followed separate tracks. A quick trip down a bolted-on ladder provided access back into the base car.

“Finally,” Zone exalted. “We’ve waited so long for this encounter with Vinzer.”

“That was amazing, sir! You’re the best, sir!” Watts added.

“Well—”

“Leave the intelligence to me, sir!” Watts said and disappeared.

Zone staggered off clutching his stomach and groaning.

Rinoa planted her hands on her hips. After a brief pause she said, “You three! Tell me when you’re ready to go, and then we can begin ‘serious negotiations’ with the president!”

‘Serious negotiations . . . out of this bunch?’ He waited for nods from his two teammates, then faced Rinoa. “We’re ready.”

Into the president’s car they went, Rinoa in the lead. “President Deling! As long as you . . . don’t resist, you won’t get hurt.”

“And if I do resist?” came a reply. “What would you do? Young lady?”

Rinoa gasped for no reason Squall could discern. Well, aside from the president inconveniently failing to cooperate with her. “What is it?” he asked in a low voice.

“Boo-hoo,” the man said mockingly. “Too bad . . . I’m not the president. I’m what they call . . . a body double.” He got up and turned, then approached Rinoa. “All those rumors about the many resistance groups in Timber. You pass along a little false information and they fall for it. How pathetic. Seems like there are only amateurs around here.”

“Ama—teurs!?”

The double stepped backward, his movements strangely uncoordinated. “Ah. . . . All this sitting. . . . Young lady, ah, so what did you have in store for me had I resisted?” he asked, voice jerking around in pitch. “Why don’t you tell me. Quite amusing, though . . . for being such amateurs! How dare you insult the president!” And with that he attacked.

They had barely done any real damage when the man transformed into something else entirely.

“What the. . . ?” Squall quickly scanned it, then informed them, “It’s undead.”

Selphie responded by hitting it with a phoenix down and that was that.

Squall looked at Rinoa and arched a brow, then led his people back to the base car. Rinoa swept by and through the door into the meeting room, so they followed.

“Man, I can’t believe the president was a fake!” Zone said.

I can’t believe we fell for it!” Rinoa added.

“Info, sir! New info! It’s big news! I found out the real reason why the president’s here, sir! The president’s going to the TV station! Security’s super tight, sir!”

“The TV station? Why in Timber?” Rinoa mused. “They can broadcast just as easily from Galbadia.”

Selphie turned to Squall. “Do you think the Dollet communication tower has any connection?”

“What’s that?” Zone inquired.

“Dollet has a communication tower that can transmit and receive radio waves. It had been abandoned for a long time, but the Galbadian Army got it up and running yesterday,” he supplied.

“Oh, I get it,” Zone replied. “The only TV station that can handle broadcasts over the air is in Timber. Other stations use HD cable, which only supports online broadcasting.”

Rinoa asked, “So, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“They’re planning on using radio waves. This way they can transmit to regions without cable.”

“I know that! What I mean is, what is the president going to broadcast!?” she shot back. “Why use radio waves? There must be something they want to say to the whole world, but what can it be?”

“Everybody!” Selphie exclaimed. “Love! And peace!”

Squall sighed as the others gave her an odd look, then Zone said, “If I remember correctly, radio waves haven’t been used in seventeen years.”

“It’s been that long?” Rinoa asked. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first broadcast could be the declaration of Timber’s independence!?”

“Hey, that might be possible!”

“Let’s come up with a plan, then!” She and the other two went into a huddle, Rinoa saying over her shoulder, “Can you guys give us a minute?”

‘This is a nightmare. What the hell were we hired for, then, exactly? These people are a joke. It’s no wonder their requests were always rejected in the past. The stench of naïvety is overwhelming.’

‘I think . . . maybe you should ask to see the contract?’

‘Yeah. What horrors await.’ Squall pulled away from the window and approached Rinoa, who seemed to be in charge despite Zone having claimed to be the leader.

“Oh, good timing!” she responded chirpily. “We’ve come up with a plan!”

“Before we get into that, can I see your contract with our Garden?”

“Oh, sure.” She fetched out a contract and handed it over.

He scanned the contents, trying to decipher the legalese, and trying to ignore Zell’s complaints about his lack of comprehension. His view was obstructed when a second sheet covered the first, so he started over.

To the Forest Owls,

This SeeD deployment contract will last until Timber achieves independence. Please make good use of each SeeD member.

I wish you the best with your objective. Please understand that this contract is an exception, and no replacement of any SeeD members can be made.

Balamb Garden Headmaster Cid Kramer

Zell sounded rightfully incredulous when he said, “Until Timber’s independence!?”

“That’s so vague,” Selphie added.

“Hey!” Rinoa flipped her hair back. “You’re paid professionals. No complaining! Okay, let’s decide on the parties.”

Squall zoned out while her cohorts went through their usual routine, tuning back in when Rinoa stated the obvious, and from there they exited the train. Watts was on hand to provide useful information, which was less than useful. “The TV station is quite close if you take the local train, but that and the transcontinental lines have stopped running, sir. Oh, we’re here!”

Watts waited until they disembarked before saying, “Say, I remember now, sir! I think the TV station is located behind the old Timber Maniacs building! Please head in that direction, sir!”

Squall nodded and turned away, his gaze alighting on what looked suspiciously like a transmission dish. ‘Like that? A map would have been more helpful. How long have these people lived here, anyway? Are they weekend warriors?’

“Watts!” came from inside the train. “C’mon! The Galbadian Soldiers are comin’!”

“Let’s go.” He set off as best he could in the direction of that dish after Rinoa merely nodded, cursing Cid in the relative privacy of his own head. How in the name of Hyne could the man have essentially given them an endless task? Were they expected to be fighting for Timber until death or old age?

‘Try not to think about it for now,’ Griever advised. ‘Worst case, you quit SeeD and find a home elsewhere. And besides, unless you become an instructor, you’d leave Garden at twenty anyway. As it is, it seems like Galbadia is gearing up for something big, and that might mean a world war. There’s something very wrong about all of this, and that contract is just the start of it.’

He worried that over until he led them down a curved staircase, one that led to several buildings right in front of what could be seen of the station. Two soldiers were there, gloating over having bullied one of the locals. They shut up abruptly once they spotted Squall’s team and attacked, but were quickly beaten.

“Eh? What’s this?” Selphie crouched down long enough to score a Triple Triad card.

“Whatever.” He led them inside the bar right before them, to be treated to the rantings of a drunk propped up in front of a door at the back.

“Had enough of this city! Came from Dollet to have me a good time. And now . . . trains no longer running. Can’t even stay in a hotel because of some stupid official! Harassed, my precious card stolen . . . S’not my day. Stupid town, stupid resistance trying to kidnap the president, stopping the trains. . . . Soldiers everywhere . . . all because of them! Don’t they understand I’m the one suffering from their reckless actions? Stupid, boneheaded, good for nothing resistance! You can just kiss my—”

“Hey!” One of the people seated at an actual table jumped up. “You don’t understand anything! The resistance is fighting for Timber’s future! They’re doing the best they can. It’s the Galbadian soldiers and their leader who are at fault!”

“Pshhh,” the drunk said rudely.

Squall thought about what the man had said, then turned to Selphie. “That card? Hand it over.” Once he had it he approached the drunk and crouched down. “This yours?”

The man took a bleary look at it and brightened. “Hey, punk, you’re all right. That’s the one, but you can keep it. And hey, this too. . . .”

Squall accepted a different card and tucked both in his pocket.

“Hey, owner. I can’t stand up. Can ya help me?”

A short time later they were able to exit via the unblocked door, and ended up in a narrow alley. Squall headed the only way he could, and was quickly in an area that contained a series of metal staircases leading up. Part way up Selphie squealed.

“Heeey, an outdoor TV!”

“This is creepy,” Rinoa said. “What is that?”

Squall paused to take a look, then explained what he thought was obvious. “It’s noise, broadcast over most of the frequencies. Something would have to be done about this before they could broadcast over the air.” He squinted, not quite believing what he thought he was seeing, words flashing in the static.

‘No, I see them, too. Words, sentences.’

‘I’m alive. Bring me back there. I’ll never let you forget me.’

‘Sounds almost like a bad romance novel, or soap opera,’ Griever commented. ‘I wonder. . . .’

He was broken from his study by Watts dashing up the steps. “The president’s in the studio now, sir. Too many guards now, so we won’t be able to storm the place, sir!” he reported, then dashed off again.

“So, we can’t just rush in. . . .” Rinoa mused. “We’ve gotta come up with a new plan now! If the president leaves, maybe the guards will be gone, too? That’s when we do our broadcast. It might not be as influential, but it’s better than nothing, right? We don’t stand a chance if we take them head on, correct?”

Biting his tongue against reflex, Squall said, “Don’t worry about us. We’ll fight your enemies based on your decision. That’s our duty.”

Zell added, “You tell us to go, we go. Even if it is a losing battle.”

“How sad. Act on my decision? That’s your duty? Oh, what an easy life it must be, just to follow orders.”

He would have to visit a dentist if this kept up. “Call it what you want. All we want is for you to achieve your goal using our help.”

Evidence of his skepticism must have showed in his expression, for Rinoa said, “What? If you have something to say, just say it!”

“All right. How serious are you? Really. The three of you plop down on the floor to discuss strategy? On top of that, you can’t seem to make a decision without our input now, so what do you plan to do in there? What sort of speech are you going to make for the world to hear—that Timber is free? Do you believe that by doing so, Galbadia will just pull back like the word is gospel? How do you think we feel, working for such an organization?”

Rinoa stared at him, fists clenched and eyes shiny. “You know, maybe this was all just a big mistake. I thought everything would work out fine once SeeD came to help us. But, I guess it’s not that easy. You were all hired. It’s not like you’re one of us.” She blinked and looked away. “Um, let’s see. . . . We’ll cancel the plan, and we’ll disperse for now. We don’t stand a chance if take them head on, right? So . . . you guys probably think this is all a game to us. Well it’s not! We’re serious. So serious . . . it hurts.” She whipped around and fled down the stairs, back toward the alley.

‘Do you suppose that nickname of hers goes deeper than just the obvious?’ Griever asked quietly. ‘The spunky, naïve girl from a privileged background rebels against the corruption she suddenly sees, drawing together a band of misfits to do battle in the name of freedom. . . .’

Squall suppressed a smile. ‘Thanks. I think I might go crazy without you.’

‘The people you keep meeting up with seem to be entirely too excitable. And I don’t know, I think everyone is a little bit crazy. You must be, to put up with me.’

He paused at that, then smirked internally. ‘Stop fishing for compliments.’

‘I would never. Hm, let me see. . . .’ After a short pause Griever said, ‘Oh my. Would you prefer to be surprised, or shall I ease you into this?’

Squall bit the inside of his cheek in contemplation. ‘I’m not going to like whatever it is, I suppose?’

‘I’m not actually sure. Here’s a hint, though. You’ve ‘met’ Rinoa’s mother just recently.’

He felt no guilt at the mental exercise seeing as how their client had fled after ordering them to disperse. Until she showed up again, they had all the free time in the world. Speaking of which. . . . ‘Rinoa . . . Heartilly? As in Julia Heartilly?’

‘Give the man a free weapon upgrade! Mother and daughter, though it seems Julia died when Rinoa was five years old.’

‘So is that Laguna fellow her father?’

He was mildly surprised when Griever sounded like he was choking. ‘Ah, no. Her father does give rise to the princess nickname, though, in an oblique way.’

“Heeey! Are they starting?”

He reluctantly focused on the screen again as the static cleared up entirely, revealing several people in plain uniforms moving around in the revealed room. A sharply-dressed man entered from the side and walked to the podium. “Testing . . . one . . . two . . . testing . . . testing. . . . Oooh! People of the world! Can you see me!? Oh, this is incredible! Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a recording! This is an actual broadcast over the air! Yes, it’s been seventeen years since a live broadcast has been possible! Oh, please excuse me, I seem to have lost my composure. We would like to present to you today a message from lifelong president of Galbadia, Vinzer Deling. Ladies and gentlemen, President Deling.”

The announcer stepped away to allow for the president and disappeared back off-screen.

“Greetings, I am Vinzer Deling, lifelong president of Galbadia. Today I stand before you to make the following proposition. We, the people of the world, have the power to end all wars.”

“See, see!” Selphie yelled. “It’s a peace proposal to the world. I knew it!”

“Unfortunately,” Deling continued, “there are some trifling problems standing between Galbadia and other nations, and they must be resolved. I plan to convene with other nations’ leaders immediately to resolve those problems. At this time, allow me to introduce the ambassador who will be my representative for the conference.”

“Man! All this just to introduce an ambassador,” Zell commented.

“The ambassador is the Sorceress. . . .” Deling trailed off as something distracted him.

“Sorceress?” Squall mused. He was shocked when Seifer, of all people, appeared on the screen, easily knocking out the soldiers attempting to restrain him as he made for Deling. The camera was knocked on its side during the scuffle, and next to appear was Quistis, who stared in dismay at the sight of Seifer holding the president hostage, the edge of his blade sharp against the man’s neck.

Selphie and Zell set up a questioning clamor as more guards appeared to menace Seifer. “Stay back!” Quistis warned.

“Squall,” Zell asked him seriously, “what are we gonna do?”

“For the last time, stay back!” Quistis cried. “You’re only going to provoke him.”

Squall was silent for a moment, then said, “We do nothing. Our mission is to assist the Owls.”

Quistis glanced toward the camera. “Timber Team, are you watching? Get over here right now! You have permission! I need your help!”

He nodded and said, “Let’s go,” then ran up the stairs. The walkway was blessedly free of any guards or soldiers, so they made good time into the studio.

“We need to restrain him!” Quistis said.

Squall took a few steps toward his sparring partner. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“It’s obvious, ain’t it? What are you planning to do with this guy?”

“Planning to do. . . ?” ‘He’s here because of Rinoa?’

“I get it!” Zell said. “You’re Rinoa’s—”

“Shut your damn mouth, chicken-wuss!”

“He broke out of the disciplinary room, injuring many in the process,” Quistis told them.

Squall thought that was too much information during what was still a live broadcast.

“You stupid idiot!” Zell bellowed.

“Be quiet,” he ordered.

“Instructor, I know! You’re going to take this stupid idiot back to Garden, right!?”

“Shut up! No!” But it was pointless to even bother.

“I see,” said Deling. “So you’re all from Garden. Should anything happen to me, the entire Galbadian military will undoubtedly crush Garden. You can let go of me now.”

“Nice going, chicken-wuss! You and your big mouth! Take care of this mess, will ya?” He backed out of the room, blade still at Deling’s throat, and Quistis followed with utmost care.

Squall stepped over and slashed his blade through a veritable thicket of cabling, hoping to get them off the air, then said, “From now on ‘be quiet’ means be quiet. Got it?”

The blond hung his head, evidently ashamed.

“We follow,” he ordered and did so, arriving in a small circular room a short time later. He barely had time to notice that Quistis was frozen in place when he was as well, and got the barest glimpse of Seifer disappearing with what he assumed must be the sorceress.

A minute later they were released from their invisible bonds, and Quistis made a beeline for the spot where Seifer had last stood to examine it carefully. Rinoa rushed in, cause for Squall to bite back a groan and consider early retirement.

“Hey, guys! Where’s Seifer?”

Quistis shrugged, so Squall answered, “We don’t know.”

“He’ll be okay . . . right?”

No one seemed to want to answer that. After a fruitless investigation of the room, they left, pausing in front of the outdoor screen when Rinoa sighed and said, “They found our base. It’s completely destroyed.”

“And everyone else?” Selphie asked.

“They’re fine. They’re good at escaping. We have to get away from Timber for a while. Is there a safe place you can take me? This is an order, an order from your client, remember?”

“Whatever.” He continued on down the stairs and into the alley, holding the door open so everyone could file into the bar.

One of the bartenders looked up at their arrival. “Rinoa! I heard your base is in serious trouble. Come over to my place until things settle down.”

“I appreciate it, thank you.”

“What are you waiting for, Squall?” Quistis prodded unnecessarily. “Come on!”

“I’ll show you,” Rinoa said, taking the lead on the way out of the bar. “It’s this way!” She only went a short distance, pausing in front of a house next to a building with a Timber Maniacs sign. “This is it,” she added, then pulled open the door and headed in.

The woman who had accompanied them said, once they were all inside, “I’ll let you know if anything changes. ‘Til then, make yourselves at home.”

“Thanks, chief,” Rinoa said as the woman made to depart.

Squall eyed Rinoa. “Chief?”

“She’s the leader of the Forest Fox. Almost everyone’s a resistance member in this town. But right now, we’re the only ones that are really active. Let’s stay for a while.”

“I don’t get it,” Selphie said. “What did Seifer come here for?”

“I think,” offered Rinoa, “he came to help us, the Forest Owls. I talked about it a lot with him. So please, don’t think too badly of him.”

Loud knocking sounded at the door, along with, “Anybody in here!?”

“What is this!?” a woman walking down the stairs shouted back. “I have two small children in here. Don’t do anything to frighten them!” She looked at the group and hissed, “Upstairs, hurry!”

The regrouped in a sitting room, choosing places to sit or walls to prop themselves against. Quistis sighed and restarted the conversation. “He was so angry when he found out it was only the three of you dispatched to Timber. ‘What!? They might end up fighting the whole Galbadian force! And all they dispatch are three rookie SeeD members!? Damn it! I’m going to Timber!’ I never would have guessed he was serious about it.” She threw her hands up in the air. “What’s going to happen to him?”

‘Seifer is always serious, and she’d know that if she spent more time really observing, and less time prodding people for reactions.’ “He may already be dead.”

Rinoa rounded on him in a huff. “How can you be so casual? I feel . . . sorry for him.”

‘Even I know better than to feel pity for Seifer,’ Griever said scornfully, provoking the barest hint of a smile out of Squall.

“What’s so funny!? You’re terrible!” Rinoa paused, dropping her gaze. “So . . . why do you think Seifer may already be dead?”

“The president of Galbadia and the sorceress joined forces, and Seifer attacked the president. It’s no surprise that Seifer may have been killed because of it,” he explained patiently.

“Even so! I still hope he’s alive.”

‘Let me guess, she used to date him.’

“Reality doesn’t conform so nicely to wishes and dreams.”

Rinoa’s gaze flew back to him. “You’re mean! Cruel!”

‘No, I just don’t live in your fantasy world. And false hope is more cruel than I could ever be.’

Footsteps alerted them to an arrival, and Squall glanced over to see the ‘Chief’ entering the room. “The Galbadian forces are withdrawing. Only the soldiers normally stationed here will remain. If you’re going to leave town, now’s your chance. You know how persistent those soldiers can be.” She turned and retreated back down the stairs.

Squall pushed away from his section of the wall and followed her, expecting the others would, too.

“Squall, any thought on where to go?” Quistis asked, her expression expectant. “Garden code. . . .”

He considered that, mentally reviewing the code they all had to memorize, then nodded. “We head for the nearest Garden, which should be Galbadia.”

“Very good!” Quistis praised.

“We can take the train from here and get off at East Academy station,” Rinoa offered.

“And from there,” Quistis added, “we go through the forest west of the station. I’ve been to Galbadia Garden several times. We should be okay.”

“All right. Everyone, check your supplies and preparations. Then we’ll head out.”

A short time later they had made their way to the station hub, where Squall spotted a suspiciously familiar individual, who brightened on seeing them.

“Hssst! Rinoa! Squall! It’s me!”

“Zone!”

“You need to go to East Academy, right? There’s no more tickets left; a lot of people are leaving. But, I managed to get tickets for everyone.” He glanced at Quistis. “Even you. Here,” he said, handing them out.

“You’re . . . not coming?” Rinoa asked incredulously.

Zone shook his head. “I can’t leave Watts by himself, and there were only so many tickets I could get. We’ll be fine! Just get going! The train’s leaving soon.”

“Zone. . . . We’re gonna see each other again, okay?” Rinoa said passionately. “No matter what, you have to survive. We have to liberate Timber together, remember?”

“I know, I know. Now get going, before you can’t.” He groaned and clutched his stomach again, then staggered off.

Rinoa sighed and slouched into the station, leading them to the appropriate train.

‘What about the other members of the Forest Owls? It wasn’t just those three.’

‘That’s borrowing trouble to even think about,’ Griever replied.

‘Then she personally must have some connections if Zone arranged for just her to leave. She might be ransomable . . . or maybe they’d just like a break from her.’

A series of chimes sounded followed by, “This train is bound for Dollet, stopping at East Academy. This is the last train for today. We will be departing in one minute.”

Squall propped himself against a wall as Selphie bounced into the hallway so she could indulge in her desire to watch the scenery fly by. Zell followed her, and Squall could see that he entered one of the compartments. Quistis seemed indecisive for several moments, then shrugged and joined Zell, taking Rinoa with her, probably to learn more about the girl.

‘I should never have gotten out of bed this morning. I know I’m whining, but this whole mission is a nightmare. Liberate Timber!? What are we supposed to do, waltz up to Deling and ask nicely for him to return Timber to its rightful government? And then there’s that sorceress to be worried about. Rinoa is essentially asking for a war, with Galbadia the loser.’

‘I doubt she understands that. She had to have been watching the broadcast in order to have known to come back, but I don’t think she comprehends the implications of what she witnessed. She’s focused on the minutiae, to the exclusion of the larger picture.’

‘I just don’t get why Cid agreed to her request. I also wonder why Nida was left out of this. He passed, too. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that we three were all at the orphanage?’

‘Nida might have skills better suited for other things,’ Griever pointed out. ‘He may be a SeeD, but his specialty. . . .’

‘Hn, good point. It’s still bugging me, though. Why radio broadcasts?’ He sensed hesitation on the part of Griever, firing his curiosity. ‘And what was with those words?’

‘It is true that monsters frequently break the HD cables, cutting off parts of the world. Radio wave broadcast would be the only way to reach everyone, but that assumes the average person’s equipment is even set up to accept, decode, and display them. It’s been seventeen years.’

Memories of accessing the Garden database surfaced, along with his history lessons. ‘Seventeen years since radio stopped working, since Esthar abruptly closed its borders and ended the war with Galbadia. They had a sorceress leading them then. Galbadia has one now. A connection?’

He cursed the break in his line of thought as the train began to slow and a voice announced, “This stop, East Academy. Passengers leaving the train please check to make sure you have all your belongings. This stop, East Academy, with continuing service to Dollet.”

The others filed out to join him, and they disembarked as soon as the external door opened. Squall got his bearings thanks to the handy compass in his watch and faced west, spotting the forest they were bound for. “Right.”

Once within its cool interior Quistis said, “We’re not too far now from Galbadia Garden.”

Selphie adopted a thoughtful look. “Heeey, I was just thinking. . . . There might be some bad news from the Galbadian government. What if we get caught and then get broadcast to the whole world..!?”

“Whatever happens, happens, baby! Now come on! Let’s just keep going! I—I’m worried about Balamb Garden. If anything happens to Garden, then it’s all my fault. I’m the one with the big mouth, who said we were all from Garden. Do . . . do you think the president will retaliate on Garden?”

“It’s possible,” Squall said.

“Figures. . . . But, we have a whole bunch of SeeDs at Balamb Garden! They won’t lose to the Galbadian army . . . would they?”

Squall gave him a steady look. “That would depend on how large a force and how well trained they are.”

“I know, but. . . .”

“Oh,” Rinoa said scathingly, “you’re just a great leader, aren’t you. Do you actually have fun acting so callously toward your comrades?”

‘Not again.’

“Zell wants your support.”

‘Duh. And the award for Captain Obvious goes to. . . .’

“Any kind of encouragement will make—don’t you ever worry about or even think about the well-being of your comrades!? Don’t you understand!? Are you even listening?”

He was prevented from telling her exactly what he thought when that awful dizziness returned, causing him to clutch his head. ‘Not again, not another one. Not in the middle of a damn forest!’

He woke up some time later from the enforced dream, thankful that the reasonably soft ground had cushioned his fall. Zell was darting back and forth, checking on each of them as they awoke.

“Was it Laguna again?”

“Sir Laguna’s in big trouble!” Selphie answered. “I hope he’ll be okay.”

“This . . . doesn’t seem like the first time for you all,” Quistis said slowly. “What was that?”

Squall stood up and shrugged. “It’s not something we have any way of understanding right now. Let’s not waste time, and keep going.”

“Yeah, let’s go!” Zell enthused, back to his normal self.

“Um, Squall?” Rinoa looked puzzled, and a shade guilty. “I think I may have said too much. I’m sorry.”

He took a deep breath, trying to decide if a confrontation was wise, especially after he had just ordered them to keep going. He shook his head. “Whatever. Let’s go.”

Galbadia Garden was different, that was for sure. Oh, it wasn’t the colour, red to Balamb’s blue, but rather the sight of students flying through the air thanks to some mechanical devices he had never before seen. Jet packs, he decided. The gate inside was almost a carbon copy of the one at Balamb, the turnstiles set up exactly the same way. He suspected, though, that the interior layout would be vastly different, based on the view of it from outside.

“Sure is quiet,” Zell commented.

“I like it,” he responded.

For some reason that made Rinoa giggle. He mentally shrugged it off as Quistis said, “Could you leave this one up to me? I’ve been here several times, and I know the headmaster pretty well. I’ll go and explain our situation.”

Squall headed deeper inside, gazing curiously at the structure, and the people that inhabited it. ‘I never really thought about it before, but is Balamb the premiere Garden? It seems like Rinoa should have requested help from this one, not Balamb. We’re mercenaries, supposed to be independent of any government. I get why we ended up with the Dollet mission—there were candidates to be tested, but. . . .’

‘Balamb Garden was the first established, as you know, and is the only one to administer the SeeD exam. Those who wish to become SeeD must transfer if not already there, while those who do not can still graduate and find high placement in various militia due to their training. Rinoa may have tried here for help and was turned away, then decided to try for SeeD instead. Seifer may be the only reason she eventually got a foot in the door at Balamb.’

‘Yeah. I’ve heard they don’t train with GFs here, either.’

‘That’s because of the potential memory loss.’

‘Which I don’t suffer, in part thanks to you.’ He glanced up on hearing an announcement requesting them to report to the second floor reception room, and searched out the nearest stairs to comply. Once inside he propped himself against a handy wall. Quistis walked in less than a minute later, so he asked her, “How’d it go?”

“They understand our situation. And, Balamb Garden is safe. The attack on the president in Timber was classified as an independent action. There was an official notice from the Galbadian government saying that Balamb Garden is not being held responsible.”

“So, Seifer’s taking all the blame?” Zell asked.

Quistis nodded, almost regretfully. “The trial’s over, and the sentence has been carried out.”

“He was . . . executed?” Rinoa whispered. “Of course he was. He attacked the president. He sacrificed himself for the Forest Owls. . . .”

‘Quistis said nothing about an execution.’

Quistis fixed her gaze on Rinoa and said, “It was your group that got Seifer involved in all this. You’re a resistance faction, right? You must have been prepared for the worst. I’m sure Seifer was, too. So don’t think of it as Seifer sacrificing himself for you. I’m sorry if that’s not much consolation.”

Rinoa brought her legs up so her heels could rest on the sofa, and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I . . . really liked him. He was always full of confidence, smart. Just by talking to him I felt like I could take on the world.”

“Your boyfriend?” Selphie inquired.

“I don’t really know. I . . . I think it was love. I wonder how he felt. . . ?”

“Do you still like him?” Selphie persisted.

“If I didn’t I wouldn’t be talking about it. It was last summer, I was sixteen. Lots of fond memories. . . .”

Selphie turned her attention to Zell. “You really hated Seifer, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t like the guy, but executed? He was from Garden, one of us. If I can, I wanna get revenge.”

“I don’t have any good memories of him,” Quistis said quietly. “I’ve seen some troubled children, but he was beyond troubled. Well, he wasn’t really a bad guy.”

‘We don’t even know for sure what the sentence was, and he’s already become just a memory to them. Someone to dissect in the past tense, to say whatever they want about him, waffling in their feelings and unable to even speak with conviction.’

‘If he is dead, well, the living have to find a way to cope. I remember when the headmaster of my school died. I was so torn before then between love and hate, and when he died I was so angry with him. I couldn’t say the things I wanted to say, not to him, anyway. So you indulge in futility. It’s considered rude to speak ill of the dead, but. . . .’

‘And so Rinoa wonders if it was love, and Quistis reflects on her perceived failures, while Zell is torn between dislike or even hatred and a sense of . . . community? Brotherhood?’

‘Something like that, yes. I wonder, though. Selphie doesn’t seem to have any kind of a reaction but curiosity. Trabia doesn’t use GFs, either, from what I understood. Was she just too young for the memories to hold, or. . . ?’

‘I have no idea, but standing around in here seems pointless.’ He pushed away from the wall.

“Is something wrong, Squall?” Quistis asked.

“I’m going for a walk.”

“What?” Rinoa said, dropping her feet to the floor. “Don’t you care what’s happened to Seifer? Don’t you care how your comrades feel? You haven’t said a word!”

‘Ah, go for it,’ Griever prompted with a faint chuckle.

“All right, that’s it. You hired SeeD to do a job, then you mock us—me especially—for being exactly what you hired. How dare you sit there, safe in your little fantasy world, and yell in outrage because some of us happen to prefer to deal with reality. You know, things like consequences for our actions? The implications that keep being shoved in our faces? You didn’t hire us to sit in a circle and discuss our feelings over cups of hot cocoa, and you sure as hell didn’t hire us with the understanding that we’d parrot your feelings about anything and everything.

“You think me cruel, but that’s what the world can be, the one you don’t seem to be living in. I’m a mercenary, lady, and you’re the client. I’m not here to give you chapter and verse on my thoughts about things that don’t even concern you, so save it for someone who cares, and let me get on with my job.” He stalked out of the room feeling a little bit better, and immediately skipped down the stairs to the ground level with the thought, perhaps, of heading outside to vent his frustration on some hostile creatures.

He barely made it halfway to the exit when a shout halted his progress. A look over his shoulder revealed Raijin on the next level balcony, who quickly ducked out of sight, only to appear a minute later with Fujin in tow.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“What am I doin’? I’m a messenger, you know? Brought you a new order from Headmaster Cid.”

“Which is?”

“I dunno. Gave it to the head honcho here. Just did what Headmaster Cid wanted, you know?”

Fujin barked, “Explain.”

“We were suppose’ta go to Timber. But the trains have all stopped, so we had no other choice but to come here. Kinda relieved to see you guys here.”

“Seifer?” Fujin demanded.

“Oh yeah! Wasn’t Seifer with you?”

“He was captured and placed on trial. Word is that the sentence has already been enacted. The possibility exists that he’s dead, but we don’t know that for sure.”

“Lies!” Fujin barked.

Raijin, however, burst out laughing. “That’s gotta be a lie, you know!? There’s no way he’d put up with a trial, you know!? Or an execution for that matter. It’s just so not Seifer, you know!?”

“Find!”

“Oh . . . what? We’re gonna meet up with Seifer? Well, see ya, Squall. We’re gonna head off to Galbadia to look for Seifer.” He waved and took off at a run, Fujin at his side.

Another announcement sounded, this time directing him to the main gate. He arrived there not much before the others, so he assumed the announcement had been for him specifically.

“He should be here soon,” Quistis said vaguely.

‘The headmaster?’

“Oh, is that him?” Rinoa said as a car came into view. “Just pretend I’m a SeeD, too? It’ll be less complicated that way.”

The car came to a stop and a man got out; the SeeDs quickly formed a line and saluted, Rinoa being a few beats behind.

“Good day. I am Headmaster Martine. I have official orders from Headmaster Cid addressed to you. Following regulations, I have gone over these orders. After careful consideration of our options, we have decided to fully assist and cooperate with Headmaster Cid. Actually, we too have been planning this for quite some time now. In order to stress the importance of this mission, I must first brief you on the current situation. At ease.

“You all know about the sorceress being appointed as the peace ambassador for the Galbadian government. However, this ambassador thing is just a cover up. There will be no peace talks, only threats. The sorceress creates fear among people. Therefore, peace talks are impossible. Galbadia is planning to use fear to negotiate favorable conditions for itself.

“It is clear that Galbadia’s ultimate goal is world domination. Garden is no exception, either. It is a fact that the sorceress is planning to use this Garden as her base.” He paused briefly. “We have very few options available to us. We entrust world peace, and the future, to you. Details of the mission are enclosed in these official orders.” Martine offered them to Squall, then asked, “Any questions?”

Squall took the time to peruse the document, then looked up and said, “The orders say by means of a sniper. We have no one with that skill.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Martine responded. “Let me introduce an elite sharpshooter from Galbadia Garden. Kinneas! Irvine Kinneas!”

Movement caught Squall’s attention in his peripheral vision; he turned. A young man who looked to be too attached to old westerns slowly stood up and walked toward them.

“This is Irvine Kinneas,” Martine said. “He will be your sharpshooter. Leave whenever you’re ready. Failure is not an option.” He then returned to his car and drove away as Irvine mock shot at him with a finger.

At such close proximity Squall recognized Irvine from the orphanage, and wondered. Galbadia didn’t use GFs, so did Irvine remember?

‘Try to be subtle, hm?’

Quistis stepped in front of him. “What’s our mission?”

Squall took a good look around to see if any ‘outsiders’ were nearby, then spoke in a low voice. “Our next mission. . . .” He shook his head. “This is no ordinary mission. It’s a direct order from both Balamb and Galbadia Gardens. We’re to . . . assassinate the sorceress. We’re to shoot her from afar, with Kinneas as the sniper. We’re to support him to our fullest, and, should the sniper fail, we are to attack head on.”

Irvine tilted his hat back a skosh and said, “Thanks for the support, but I never miss my target.”

Squall continued as though he hadn’t heard. “We’re going to the capital of Galbadia, Deling City. There we’ll meet up with General Caraway to go over the details of the plan.” He paused and eyed each of them. “None of us has seen decent rest in some time. I want your opinions. Delay a day, or go now?”

He left them to hash it out amongst themselves. True, three of them had been subjected to that dream, but he wasn’t sure it counted as real sleep, and Irvine was probably rested enough actually being from Galbadia Garden. Eventually Quistis suggested they make the journey and rest in Deling City, then seek out the general.

“All right. Two teams of three. We’ll switch teams between offense and support to keep ourselves fresher during the journey to the station.”

Irvine immediately went to stand between Selphie and Rinoa. “How’s this?”

As much as he might want to subtly probe Irvine for information, he was just as happy at the idea of having Rinoa out of his personal space for the time being. Quistis was steady in a fight and Zell was actually a very good martial artist. Hopefully Selphie and Irvine could balance out Rinoa’s decided lack of battle skill. “Whatever.”

Rinoa huffed like she’d just been insulted and latched onto Irvine’s arm. “Come on, Mr Kinneas!”

“Call me Irvine! I’m a pretty lucky guy. Hand in hand with two beautiful girls!”

“Irvy Kinnepooo! I’ll make you happy!” Selphie burbled.

‘I think I might be ill,’ Griever said in disgust.

“I think I feel sick,” Quistis echoed. “Let’s go?”