Grazhir :: Crossover :: Convergence :: 04 :: Griever

04 • Griever

‘It’s kind of boring now that we’ve cleaned all the extraneous monsters out of Garden, and we’ve been drifting for ages. There’s not much of anything to do,’ he thought as he sprawled on his bed.

‘You could report to the headmaster,’ Griever suggested.

‘Hn, yeah. There’s a lot of things I want to ask about, too. He’s probably busy, though, trying to reestablish order. And I’m worried about the girls. Did I do the right thing in letting Selphie and them go there?’

‘I think . . . she’d have gone anyway. She seemed incredibly determined, and she was driving the other car. For all you know she would have capitulated to your face, then driven there anyway.’

‘Possibly. I know I was the squad leader, but everything just got so messed up, so. . . .’

‘Stop that. Yes, the situation with the original mission was a mess. It’s not your fault you ended up trying to work on something practically impossible to accomplish. As for the assassination attempt, you showed real compassion and empathy toward Irvine, before and after the attempt. You helped him through it, and didn’t blame him when things went sour. I’m not sure I could have handled it that well, had I come to realize that my target was a mother-figure for me.’

Squall rolled over onto his side and tucked a hand under his head. ‘I wish . . . I could see you.’

‘I’m not much of a physical fighter, you know. What use would I be?’

He snorted. ‘Use? I could use you as a shield against intrusive females, for one thing.’

‘Hey now! I charge extra for that level of service.’

‘Really? And what would you charge?’

‘Oh, well. . . . I don’t know if you could afford it. Maybe . . . maybe I should like a kiss. But, that might set tongues to wagging for other reasons, and prompt even more intrusive questions.’

Squall froze for a moment, barely daring to believe he had heard correctly. ‘I don’t think I’d mind,’ he admitted.

There was a startled pause before Griever said, ‘Even though I’m male? Even though you’ve never seen me?’

‘But I have seen you, the you that counts. I’ve never said it, have I. To anyone. I. . . .’

Griever hummed and responded in a curious tone, ‘I wonder, Squall, if you would recognize me.’ After a brief pause he said, ‘You know, I think I’ll check into a couple of things when I have a moment. Something that would come in handy if things lead where I think they might. It’s a possibility, anyway.’

Squall stifled a sigh, both at the change of subject and the vagueness. ‘Can you tell me? Or hint?’

‘I’m curious about Esthar. By the way, you said something back in Deling that made me wonder.’

‘What?’

‘When you were trying to help Irvine, in the clock tower. You said that Edea didn’t sound like herself. And I spent some time thinking about that, and what she said before the parade. Now, I know that people fear sorceresses, but the only one in recent history that caused any trouble was Adel, in Esthar. So why would Edea imply that she herself had been condemned for generations? Maybe I’m misremembering, but it seems very odd and out of place.’

He rolled onto his back again and stared blindly at the ceiling. ‘Supposedly Adel was the focus of the Second Sorceress War. For all I know, Hyne was the first, except Hyne was male. Doesn’t make for a good record of generations of hatred for a woman maybe forty years old.’

Griever snorted. ‘Hyne? I think time has shrouded the truth on that matter. Remember, history is written by the victors. Hey, this is getting maudlin. Why don’t you see if the headmaster is available, or at least walk around. You haven’t even eaten lately.’

Squall sat up and got to his feet. ‘I suppose so. If I lie here for much longer I’ll fall asleep.’

‘Are you accusing me of being boring?’ Griever teased.

‘Hardly.’ He grabbed his gunblade just in case and strapped it in place, then strolled out of his room, the vague notion in his mind to circle the core, and decide as he approached the cafeteria on the way back if he was actually hungry. He made it halfway around when he was hailed by a faculty member.

“Student ID No. 41269, Squall?”

“Yes,” he affirmed, a bit wary considering who was asking.

“The garden master wishes to see you. Report to the master’s room right away.”

“Where is the master’s room?”

“Take the elevator to level B1. You have permission.”

‘Oookay.’ Squall headed for the lift and was surprised to see Irvine and Zell also approaching. He stepped in, waiting for them to board, then asked, “Don’t suppose you two are headed to. . . ?”

“B1,” they both said.

“Right.” He pushed that button and frowned. “I wonder why?” He exited when the door slid open and had a look around, noticing that the room curved around to his right.

“Please! Listen to me!” a man pleaded.

“The headmaster. . . ?”

“Let go of me! I’m not finished!”

“Eh, come on!” He headed for the voice at a fast walk, coming around the curve to see the headmaster getting manhandled by several faculty members.

“Greedy son of a bitch! Why did I even bother talking to you! SeeDs were brought up for the future, and that future is now! Why can’t you understand!?” Cid was pushed back by a faculty member, nearly falling over. “Damn it! I should never have trusted you! I wish I could go back in time. To tell myself that you’re nothing but a money grubbing son of a bitch! Then I would’ve never built this place.”

When they got there Cid looked utterly shocked by their appearance. “Squall!? You . . . heard everything?”

What was there to say but, “Yes.”

“I’m embarrassed, but sometimes even old men like me lose their temper. Let’s get out of here.”

“Sir, I still have to give you my report.”

“Please come to my office later,” Cid said, then retreated to the lift.

As soon as he was gone a faculty member walked up to them. “You’re the SeeDs who returned from Galbadia, correct?”

‘Well, Irvine isn’t a SeeD, and this isn’t all of us, but. . . .’ He nodded.

“It’s about time. Master Norg has been waiting for you. Come.” They were led further around, to a large, pod-like structure. “Whenever Master Norg calls you, be sure to be there within three seconds.”

“Fushururu. . . . Three seconds are up.” The pod split open to reveal an incredibly ugly creature with flipper-like arms.

‘This is the garden master? The proprietor of Garden? He’s not human? Come to think of it, we’ve never been told anything about him.’

“FushifuruFushifuru. . . . Give your report on the sorceress.”

“Answer him quickly,” said a faculty member. “Be concise.”

‘It’s going to be a sad report. . . .’ He came to attention and said, “Confirmation of Headmaster Cid’s order was made at Galbadia Garden. After Irvine Kinneas of Galbadia Garden joined our party we set off to carry out the mission, a joint operation between Balamb Garden and Galbadia Garden, to assassinate Sorceress Edea. However, we failed to—”

“Bujurururu! Balamb and Galbadia’s orders!? Bujurururu! You were fooled!”

“I . . . don’t understand.”

“Fushurururu. . . . Explain to them.”

The faculty member promptly said, “Master Norg has known about the alliance between the president of Galbadia and the sorceress. He heard it from the Galbadia garden master himself.”

“The Galbadian garden master. . . ?” The more they said, the less he understood.

“Fushururu. . . . The master of Galbadia Garden is a subordinate of mine named Martine.”

‘I thought he was their headmaster?’

“Yes,” the faculty member said. “In fact, the sorceress and Garden are closely connected. That is why the sorceress will definitely try to gain hold of all Gardens. So, Master Norg sent an official order to Galbadia Garden. It was to kill the sorceress. An assassination was thought to be the best means. But. . . .”

“Bujurururu! That sly weasel Martine used you as a last resort for the assassination. He gave that order to place the blame on me, that bastard.”

“Are you saying that Balamb Garden had nothing to do with that order?”

“You just happened to show up just before the mission was to be carried out. They used you,” explained the faculty member.

‘But that means. . . .’ He darted a glance at Irvine. “The operation failed. The sorceress is still alive.”

“And the sorceress retaliated. Just as we suspected. No doubt, it was the sorceress who ordered the missile attacks. Something must be done to calm her anger.”

“Wait a minute, that’s—”

“In order to do so, we needed to hand over those involved in the assassination attempt to the sorceress. We had to show Balamb Garden’s sincerity.”

“Bujurururu! Offer the SeeD’s head on a silver platter and pretend we obey the sorceress!”

“Eh? Why aren’t we fighting the sorceress? What about all the training we endure everyday? What good is it!?”

“What did you say!? You lost to the sorceress! Quit your whining!”

“Headmaster Cid was saying the same thing—”

“Bujurururu! Cid!? That idiot Cid would dispatch SeeD to kill the sorceress. And if you fail? This Garden will be done for! My Garden! It will all be over! That idiot Cid. Has he forgotten that it was I who put up the money to establish Garden!? I wanted to offer the sorceress Cid’s head along with the SeeDs. I ordered the students to find Cid but they sided with him! Bujurururu! Bujurururu! This is my Garden!”

Squall slashed a hand down in negation. “No! It’s not just yours.”

“Bujurururu! Then what is it!? Is it Cid’s and Edea’s!? That pathetic married couple’s!?”

“What. . . ?”

“Bushurururu. . . . Now I understand. Cid and Edea are trying to take Garden away from me. You’re one of Cid’s followers aren’t you!? Prepare to die!”

Squall readied his gunblade as Norg retreated into his pod, and attacked a moment later, Irvine and Zell following suit. They eventually noticed a pattern to when Norg would attack with magic and worked to prevent that even as they rained down blows on the pod itself. After a time the top of the pod cracked off, revealing Norg.

“Damn those SeeDs! This is my Garden! You can’t do as you please!”

Squall ignored its babblings and checked it again with scan, then drew to extract, and a short time later saw Norg cowering in fear. “Fushururu. . . . I’m done for! I’m afraid of you! Me, why me. . . ?” He retreated deeper into his pod, until none of them could see him.

“What the hell was that?” Zell asked.

“Not here. We need to see Cid. He might have answers.” Squall looked around one more time before heading for the lift. ‘Used? Then it would have been Galbadia only, Irvine and who knows. I guess I understand why Norg was upset, but. . . .’ The headmaster wasn’t in his office so they backtracked to the first level and began checking there, starting with the infirmary.

Kadowaki seemed to know why they had come, asking, “Do you need to see the headmaster?”

“Yes, now.”

“Well, the headmaster is kind of. . . .”

“I’m okay now, doctor,” Cid said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I believe I’m done crying.”

Kadowaki gave a resigned sigh and faced Squall. “Just take it easy, okay? He’s got a lot on his mind,” she said and discreetly made herself scarce.

“You all see me in such an embarrassing state. Well, what shall we talk about?”

He decided to start at the start. “I want to make a report.”

“No, no,” Cid said with a slow shake of his head. “It’s not necessary. I can guess what must have happened.”

Squall gritted his teeth for a moment and said, “During a conflict in D-District Prison, the sorceress’s knight said that Edea demanded to know the real meaning behind Garden and SeeD. Norg and his people also stated that Edea is already connected to Garden, which makes her earlier demand senseless. Will you please tell us?”

“That . . . is a complicated thing. SeeD, as you know, is the elite mercenary force of Balamb Garden. However . . . the many missions around the world are only training for the final battle against the sorceress. That has always been the true purpose behind SeeD. And, now that the sorceress has become a major threat, our mission has begun. As for why Edea is connected to Garden. . . .”

“She’s your wife,” Squall stated.

“Yes,” Cid said with a nod. “She has been a sorceress since childhood, and I married her knowing that. We worked together, the two of us, and we were happy. One day Edea began talking about building Garden and training SeeD. I became obsessed with the plan, but I was very concerned with SeeD’s goal, that one day SeeD might fight Edea. She laughed and told me that would never happen. . . .”

“Then you have no idea why she might now have no knowledge of something she helped to start?”

“No, I’m afraid not. That is as much a mystery to me as to you.”

He hadn’t thought it would be so easy. With a mental shrug he said, “Norg wanted to hand us over to Galbadia, to Edea. You as well. We were forced to fight for our freedom, and he kept insisting that Garden belonged to him, that he funded it.”

“Ah, he is from the Shumi tribe. A black sheep of the tribe, one might say. We met while I was running around trying to find funds to build Garden. He became interested himself and we hit it off. Thanks to his funding it was completed. However, we needed an enormous amount of funds to run it, so we began dispatching SeeDs around the world as a means of supporting Garden. And of course, it simply meant that SeeDs would receive more real-world training.

“Norg’s idea was right on the money. An enormous amount of capital began flowing in. Garden began to change. Lost sight of our high ideals, the truth was covered up. . . . In the end it was my fault, for giving up so much control. But that’s probably enough on that subject. Surely we’ll stop drifting around soon. I only hope that we can get things back to the way they were.”

Squall nodded at the implied dismissal and said, “Yes, sir,” then quit the room and headed back out to the core. He was still deciding whether or not to head to the cafeteria when Xu ran up to them.

“Have you seen the headmaster around?” she asked breathlessly.

“He’s in the infirmary.”

“Is something wrong?” Irvine asked.

“Go to the second floor deck—the balcony past the classrooms—and see for yourselves. There’s a ship approaching. It could be Galbadians, or worse—the sorceress might be aboard, coming to attack us! I have to tell the headmaster right away,” she said, then ran off again.

Squall arched a brow at Irvine and Zell, then made for the elevator. Up on the deck he could see that a large white ship had already come up next to them. ‘Everything’s white. . . . No Galbadian symbols. . . .’

Three people emerged onto the deck of the ship, one of which yelled to them, “Is Headmaster Cid here!?”

“No, he’s not here,” he equivocated, thinking they reminded him of people he’d seen earlier, somewhere. . . . “Are you from . . . Galbadia?”

“We are SeeDs! This is Edea’s ship. We are Sorceress Edea’s SeeD!”

‘SeeD!?’

“We’re coming aboard! We’re unarmed!” The three jumped up and landed on the balcony to meet three armed and ready defenders. “Please. We come in peace. We must speak to Headmaster Cid. Where is he?”

“I’m right here,” came Cid’s voice from behind them, appearing a moment later with Xu.

“Headmaster, we’ve come for Ellone. It’s too dangerous here now.”

‘She’s still here!?’

“Yes,” said Cid. “I’m afraid it is. Squall? Do you know where she is? Please go find her. She’s somewhere in Garden.”

‘How are these guys connected?’

“Squall?”

“Yes, sir.” He did an about-face and went back inside.

“Ellone’s that girl, huh? You know, that little girl Laguna was taking care of?” Zell asked.

“I expect so.”

“So she’s in Garden? Let’s split up and find her!” Zell barreled off without waiting for an answer.

He glanced at Irvine, who nodded, and they set off for the lift. Chances were she was somewhere on the ground floor. They found her in the library, reading a book. She looked up as they came near. “Yes, Squall?”

“You are Ellone.”

“Yes. . . .”

“The Ellone who knows Laguna, correct?” He tilted his head to the side.

“Yes. I really love Uncle Laguna.”

“Then are you able to explain why we. . . . That experience? Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“I’m sorry, Squall. It’s hard to explain. But, one thing. . . . It’s about the past. People say you can’t change the past. But even still, if there’s a possibility, it’s worth a try, right?”

“Are you the one who’s been taking us there?”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s a yes. Did you involve me because—”

“Squall! Did you find Ellone?”

He backed up and looked over his shoulder to see Xu.

“I’m Ellone.”

Xu brightened. “You’re needed. Please come with me.”

Ellone rose and started forward, pausing beside him. “You’re my only hope,” she whispered before continuing on and leaving with Xu.

Squall pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “So much for that. I didn’t even have a chance to. . . . Irvine, sorry, but I think I’m going to go lie down.”

“No problem, man,” Irvine said easily. “Get some rest.”

*

‘Why did she say that? What does she want so badly to change? How can I be anyone’s only hope?’

‘The only people I can think of that matter in this are Ellone, you, Laguna, and Raine. Perhaps she wants to change things so you two ended up with Laguna rather than in an orphanage?’

‘Way too many things happened seventeen years ago. And damn it, she’s been here all this time, while we’ve been anywhere but. I’m such an idiot for not remembering earlier, while I was whining about being bored.’

‘Hey, hey. One acquires perfect vision in hindsight. You really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I spent a lot of time, too, kicking myself for what I thought was idiotic behavior, but really . . . I was being an ass to be so enthusiastic about it. I had to learn that there are some things you just can’t control or change, so there’s no sense borrowing guilt.’

He smiled faintly. ‘You always seem to know what to say. It’s just . . . I don’t know.’

‘I don’t know what Ellone wants, but I think she’s in for a disappointment. In my experience, changing the past is impossible, except obliquely. I remember once seeing a movie. . . . A young man went back in time, I think by accident, and ended up screwing up the moment when his parents became a couple. It had the effect of him slowly starting to vanish from existence, so he had to engineer a different moment to get them back on track. But . . . I thought it was a paradox and completely nuts.’

‘How so?’

‘Well, if he screwed things up and wasn’t able to fix it, he wouldn’t exist, so he never could have gone back in time to screw things up and threaten his own existence, right? It’s like the puzzle of the man who goes back in time and accidentally kills his grandfather. But if he did that, he wouldn’t have existed in the first place, so how could he go back to begin with? Paradox. Now, if a man went back in time and was killed by his earlier self, or by anyone else for that matter . . . that I could accept.’

‘I think I understand.’

‘Now, the real brain mangler is this. A man goes into the past and meets his grandfather. At that point, it’s the present for the grandfather, and the grandson is from his future, right? So just how far ahead is the future fixed? Is everything we do fated because it’s all already played out? Are we really all just living in chained together moments of the past?’

‘Uh. . . .’

‘I’m not trying to give you a headache,’ Griever said apologetically. ‘Just to point out that there’s no sense borrowing trouble. Still, Ellone seems to have a very interesting ability, wouldn’t you say? I wonder what the actual limitations are.’

The PA system suddenly chimed. “Hello, everyone,” came Cid’s voice. “This is the headmaster speaking. The lines have been fixed, and I’m glad to be back on the air. Hurrah! Um!? Whoa!!” There was a brief pause, then, “Squall! This is the headmaster speaking! Please come to my office! Repeat. Please come to my office right away!”

Squall stood up and bolted for the door, curious, but having become somewhat accustomed to walking around in a haze of confusion. When he arrived at the office Cid was starting a new announcement.

“Everybody, please remain calm. Also, please do not leave the Garden under any circumstances until you are permitted. We will try to get things back in order ASAP. Thank you for your cooperation.” He spotted Squall as he clicked off the microphone.

“Ah, Squall, thank you for coming. Here are your orders. We’ve ‘landed’ at Fishermans Horizon. Please go ashore with Zell and Irvine. Find the local mayor and apologize for this accident. Tell them that we come in peace. Oh, and take a look around the city while you’re there, too.”

“Yes, sir,” he said slowly, wondering why him again. He felt like he was being groomed for something.

“SeeD is not just a special force for combat,” Cid added. “I want you to see the world, to broaden your horizons. I have high expectations for you, Squall. Now off you go.”

‘High expectations? Not just a special combat force? I’m beginning to wonder about his memory.’ He took the elevator down and exited, coming face to face with Irvine and Zell.

“What’s up? Are we going to Fishermans?” asked Irvine.

“Yes. We’re to make an official apology, then observe the town.”

“Yo, the gate’s closed, so we’ll need to use the second floor deck,” Zell informed him.

On reaching the deck they discovered that Garden had apparently attempted to mate with a crane, which now formed a walkway between Garden and what looked like metal scaffolding or half-finished construction. Two men were waiting.

“We’ve got to warn you before you come ashore,” said one. “Do not engage in any type of armed conflict in the city. We do not tolerate belligerence here. Do you understand?”

“Yes. We are representatives of Garden and we come in peace.”

The second man stared at them, then said, “Welcome to Fishermans Horizon. We just call it FH. You should go visit the mayor. His house is at the middle of the city.”

“Thank you. We’ll do that.”

“Good. Looks like we understand each other. Man, this is one hell of a mess.”

“I’m terribly sorry. It was inevitable. We lost control of Garden.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” the second man said. “What’s important is that nobody got hurt. We love fixing stuff, anyway. Kick back and enjoy your stay. You can follow us to the lift.”

There the second man took position at a set of controls and said, “So, you guys going to Esthar?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You know, that high-tech city. It’s just beyond the train tracks. I guess you’re not going there? A lot of people who stop here do. The trains are down, so the best way to get there is to walk from here. What a joke, huh? Anyway. . . . You guys had an accident and came here, huh? I guess I shouldn’t keep you.” He checked to see that everyone was properly on the platform, then worked the controls, sending them down to the city itself. “To get to Mayor Dobe’s house, just head straight and down. You can’t miss it.”

Squall nodded as they got off, then proceeded. He understood what the man meant as they stepped onto a set of tracks. Straight ahead was an enormous inverted hemisphere, lined with what appeared to be solar panels. A walkway descended to the center—a fair-sized circular platform, on which stood a house with plenty of room to spare around it. Off to their right the tracks split, and he could see a number of people and buildings heading off quite a ways. They found the mayor on the second floor of his house, along with a woman.

“Allow me to get straight to the point,” said the mayor. “When are you leaving?”

“We’ll leave as soon as Garden is capable of moving.”

“Any idea when?”

Squall shook his head. “I’m afraid not. We only discovered that our Garden is mobile a short while ago. Therefore, we don’t even know how to move it. We’re still in the process of understanding everything.”

“Our technicians will assist you. They should be able to repair and service everything. How does that sound?” When Squall hesitated he said, “Go consult with your leader if you don’t have the authority. And just to be crystal clear, we don’t want military organizations in FH. You rely on strength to solve problems, and that’s in direct defiance of our principles.”

The woman spoke as well. “We believe that any problem can be settled by discussion. If you reach a mutual understanding, there is no need to fight.”

‘These people are hopelessly naïve.’

“Violence only leads to more violence,” Dobe said. “We believe your presence here will attract violence. That’s why we want you to leave as soon as possible, and why we’re willing to use our resources to assist you on your way.”

Squall nodded. “We must consult with our leader.”

Back outside Zell started bouncing in agitation. “Man, that geezer pisses me off! Squall, why didn’t you tell him off?”

“There would be no point. Forget it. You can’t expect everyone to welcome us, and you know there are people out there who despise SeeD.” He started back up the walkway.

From somewhere up above came a frightened, “G—Galbadian soldiers!”

He kept right on walking. If these people required them to remain peaceful, so be it. And then from behind them came the woman’s voice, so he stopped.

“Wait! The Galbadians are here because of you, right? They’re after you.”

‘Maybe. Maybe not.’

“You’d better take full responsibility! It’s your fault!”

‘Look, lady, make up your damn mind. You said not to fight, but now we’re supposed to?’

“We mustn’t rely on them,” came Dobe’s voice. “They won’t be able to do anything without fighting.”

‘Ah, hell. Don’t tell me he’s going to try to reason with them.’ He glanced sidelong at Irvine to see a pained expression on the sniper’s face.

“I’ll go talk to them.”

‘He’s so dead.’

Dobe pushed past them and scurried up the walkway, then took a sharp turn left into the city.

“Opinions?”

“I hate to say it, but I think we should follow him,” said Irvine. “At least maybe we can find out why Galbadian forces are here.”

“Aw, man,” Zell whined.

Squall resumed walking, only stopping when he spotted the mayor. To their left was a courtyard of sorts, fronting a train station. As the mayor was there, he moved a bit farther up the track and crouched at the edge. His teammates quickly crouched to either side of him.

‘Are they even after you?’

“I already told you,” said Dobe. “I’ve never heard of this girl Ellone. There is nobody here by that name.”

‘Ellone!?’

“Fine,” said the soldier. “We’ll just have to torch this city.”

“Wait a minute!” cried Dobe. “I’m telling the truth! I’ve never seen the girl!”

“It doesn’t matter, old man. We’re gonna burn this place anyway. Edea’s orders,” the soldier said and laughed.

“No, please! I beg of you! Don’t!”

“I’ll start with you,” the soldier said, then reached out and grabbed the mayor by the neck and lifted.

Squall exchanged looks with his teammates and nodded. “Let’s go.” They leapt down and advanced, catching the soldier’s attention, and causing him to drop the mayor on his ass.

“Who the hell are you?”

“We’re SeeDs.”

“SeeDs!? Get the Iron Clad over here!”

Squall glanced at the mayor and said, “I’m sorry, but we have no choice,” then spun around at the sound of footsteps directly behind them, quickly taking down the two encroaching soldiers with the help of Zell and Irvine.

“Squall, something’s coming,” Irvine said, his gazed aimed back the other way. “There!”

Farther up the track they had been on was a battered tank, which dropped down into the courtyard.

“We got a big one on our hands, baby!”

“A tank!? Let’s destroy this thing!” Squall darted into range and readied himself. He felt relief when they managed to damage it so much that it shot backward and toppled over. As it teetered at the periphery of the courtyard, three figures leapt out, which pushed it over the edge and into the sea.

“Squall!”

‘The hell?’ He looked closer, not believing his eyes. “It’s really great to see you’re all safe, but what were you doing in that thing?”

“We, uh, hitched a ride,” Selphie said cheerfully, twirling around in place. “What happened to Garden?”

“Garden is safe. It’s fine.”

“Really!? Whoo-hoo!!!”

“What happened to you guys?” he persisted.

“Let’s talk about that later, okay?” Quistis said, giving him a meaningful look.

He nodded, unhappy, but understanding. “Irvine, Zell, why don’t you guys take them back to Garden? I’ll see you all later, after I take a look around.”

But Rinoa hung back. “You know, you just surprised me. You looked and sounded so happy just then.”

“Surprised? Did you knock your head during that trip? Of course I’m relieved to see that you three are all right. Is there something wrong with that?”

“No, no! There’s nothing wrong. They’re your comrades, but moreover, they’re your friends.”

“I’m sorry, did I just get volunteered for a psych session without being warned ahead of time? I thought we went over this already. Look, I don’t have time for this right now. Please, let Irvine and Zell show you to Garden.”

“I—aurrgh! Fine!” Rinoa flounced away in a huff.

Squall strapped his gunblade back into place and cradled his head in both hands. ‘For the love of Hyne, what is with that woman!?’ A deep breath later he straightened back up and walked over to the mayor, who had stood up some time in the interim.

“I guess you saved my life.”

“Sorry for butting in, but even though they weren’t here because of us, we couldn’t just stand by as they carried out that threat.”

“No . . . but I’m not thanking you.”

“You don’t have to. It’s just that . . . I wish you could understand that we’re not just a bunch of warmongers.”

“Oh?”

“It’s hard for me to explain. I wish . . . everything could be settled without resorting to violence. And there would be no need for battles. Like with your philosophy, it would be wonderful if things could be settled with discussion. The problem with that is not everyone is willing to listen, or take the time to talk things out, especially if you aren’t dealing with the one in charge. So I believe that fighting is inevitable at times, which is sad. I think the world needs people both like you and us. Anyway, thank you for all your help. I’ll leave you alone now.”

He retreated back to the tracks and wandered around to see what amenities were available, but found nothing particularly appealing, so he shook his head and prepared to return to Garden.

Irvine was waiting for him at the top of the lift. “The headmaster gave the okay to let the technicians into Garden. They’re in there right now.”

“All right.”

“Say. . . .”

“Yeah?”

“I was wondering. . . . Those technicians seem very handy. Do you think . . . it’d be all right if I asked them to fix some other stuff?”

He blinked. “Uh, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the work on Garden, I suppose so. But I wouldn’t ask for too much. If you’re really unsure, though, I think you need to ask Cid.”

“Mm.”

On the walk over the remaining distance to Garden, Squall realized that Irvine was giving him sidelong looks. “What is it?”

“Well, Selphie’s feeling down right now. I thought I should let you know, since you’re . . . kind of like everybody’s leader. You think maybe you could go talk to her? I’ll come with you, to back you up.”

‘Ah, what the hell.’ “Where is she?”

“She’s hanging out at the stage in the quad.”

Which is exactly where they found her. “Whew, this is sooooo bad.”

“Yeah. But it’s been crazy. Crashing into FH. . . .”

“You know, I really wanted to see a band perform on this stage,” she said sadly. “I even had my eyes set on a few people, too. Oh well. . . .”

“I’m sure you can still do something,” he said, trying to be supportive.

Selphie shot him an odd look. “Squall . . . being sensitive? That’s so weird. You’re the last person I expected to cheer me up. I must really look depressed.”

He frowned. “Well, the way I see it, you have a choice. Mope and accomplish absolutely nothing, or figure out a way to reach your goal, right?”

“Now that’s more like it!” Selphie said with a grin.

“Whatever. Irvine, have fun. I’m outta here.” He quickly removed himself, considering the idea of food yet again.

“Squall,” Cid’s voice came over the speakers, “this is the headmaster. Please come to my office.”

‘What now?’

It took several minutes reporting to Cid before he was finished.

“I see. . . . I also heard a report from Selphie just a little while ago. She said the diary is open to everyone to see. Maybe you should have a look.”

‘Diary?’ Then he remembered. “Sir, one more thing. It appears that the Galbadians were searching for Ellone. That seemed to be their main objective in FH. I believe that Sorceress Edea is behind it.”

Cid nodded, a thoughtful look on his face.

“And regardless of whether or not they found her, they had orders to burn down the city.”

“That would reduce the number of potential places where she could hide,” Cid observed. “Most likely, then, the sorceress will not stop this onslaught until Ellone is found. She will continue to hunt her, burning everything in her path. We can’t wait any longer.”

Cid moved to the microphone and switched it on. “This is Headmaster Cid. I have an announcement to make, important news I must share with all of you. Garden is being repaired right now, and we’ll leave Fishermans Horizon when it’s complete. We’re going on a journey, a journey to defeat the sorceress, and Garden will now be used as a mobile base. The administration of Garden will be run by myself and the staff, as usual.

“However, this journey will involve many battles, and a well qualified leader is needed for this. Therefore, I am appointing Squall as the commander of the Balamb Garden forces. I repeat, from now on, Squall will be the commander of the Balamb Garden forces. He will decide our destination and battle plans.”

‘The hell? Is he serious?’

“Everyone, please follow his orders. If there are any objections, please come see me in person.”

‘I don’t even have a choice?’

Cid switched the microphone back off and faced him. “Squall, we’re under your command from now on. This is your fate. It is your destiny to lead the way in defeating the sorceress.”

Squall slashed a hand down in an angry gesture. “Don’t talk about this like it’s been decided since my birth! I don’t mind fighting the sorceress, but what qualified me for the role of commander? There are many more experienced SeeD than I.”

Cid heaved a sigh and said, “I’m sorry, Squall, but that’s something I can’t answer.”

“Can’t? Or won’t?” On seeing that he would get no answer he left, back to his room.

*

He reached the end of the book and sighed. He knew he shouldn’t complain; at least he currently had the time to waste while trying to keep his mind off other things. Sighing again he set it aside and got up, deciding to walk around instead, or maybe even visit the training center.

As he emerged he spotted Zell, Quistis, and Rinoa, and while Rinoa stayed put, the other two dashed off.

“So what’s up?” she asked. “You look so down. Come on, Squall, how old are you? You’re still a teenager. Why don’t you act like one for a change?”

‘Is she for real? And why is she all dressed up?’

“Okay, come on. Let’s go to the concert.”

‘Concert?’ “I don’t really feel like it.”

She placed her hands on her hips. “Fine. I guess I’ll have to bug you for the rest of the night. I’ll keep chanting ‘concert’ over and over and over again and drive you nuts. Is that what you want?”

He stifled a groan, suffering through a flashback of the SeeD ball.

“I’m getting to you already, huh? Looks like you have no choice!” She latched onto his arm and led him away.

When they got to the tracks Irvine looked over and smiled. “So she convinced you, eh?” The sniper pulled him off to the side and smirked, then whispered, “So like, I found this place. It’s perfect for you guys.”

Squall shot him a look of mild horror.

“It’s by the stage,” Irvine continued. “You can’t miss it. I left an old magazine there. You can thank me later. Have fun. Just let it all out tonight.”

“Are you quite done?”

“I might be there later with a special someone, too,” Irvine confided, before strolling over to Selphie.

Squall touched his forehead and sighed. ‘Urge to kill . . . rising. Well, let’s get this over with. I’m sure they mean well, after all.’ He headed down the walkway, adroitly avoiding Rinoa’s grabby hands, and drifted to a stop in front of a newly constructed stage.

“Squall, you big stud!” Selphie yelled from center stage. “This is all for you! Congratulations! Enjoy the show! Rinoa, don’t let him get away! Ready!? A-one, two, three. . . .”

He listened for a little while, but the urge to be somewhere crept up on him like fog. Squall made a casual scan of the area, his gaze backtracking when he realized there was someone standing not so far away, almost completely hidden in the shadows. He started to walk toward the person, but jerked to a halt when Rinoa grabbed his arm.

“Squall? Where are you going? They only just started.”

He shook her hand off. “I’m not going far. There’s something I need to do.”

“Well what is it?”

“Rinoa, it’s none of your concern, all right? Please enjoy the concert.”

“But—”

He shook his head and stalked off, toward that shadowy figure. Up close he was able to study the person, a man. Longish dark hair, pale skin, and . . . were those green eyes? Whatever colour they were, those eyes blinked slowly at him, almost sleepily. The features meant absolutely nothing to him, but the sense of being near him . . . that was achingly familiar. “Can it be. . . ?”

A brow arched questioningly.

‘Griever?’

The man smirked.

“Is it really you?” he asked, reaching out hesitantly with one hand.

“You needed me,” Griever said simply, his voice just like his mental one, lacking only the strange echoing quality.

Squall reached out and pulled Griever to him, enfolding him in a hug, emotions all over the place, and was overjoyed when Griever’s arms came up to hug him back. “I . . . can’t believe it. Everything is so messed up, but you’re here? You’re really here?”

“I assure you, I’m real.” Griever pulled back a bit so he could look him in the eye. “You needed me, so I came. And I’ll stay, if you’ll have me.”

“Yes,” he breathed.

“How do you think people will react? Granted, you’re the commander now.”

“I don’t care what they think. If they have a problem with you coming along, they can bite their tongues or find a new commander.”

Griever laughed softly, sending a shiver up Squall’s spine. “Well, it’s not like I can go back to where I was. I’ve been paroled.”

Squall furrowed his brow in confusion. “Huh?”

“It’s a very long story. I will tell you, but you have to promise to keep an open mind. However, I should point out that I can’t access my sources any longer. That’s lost to me.”

“Why?”

Griever glanced off to the side for a moment. “I’d prefer to talk about those sorts of things in a more private place. How about we just enjoy the concert for now? They did manage to pull this together on really short notice.”

Squall snorted softly and nodded. “Yeah, all right. I won’t push for the moment, but later . . . this time. . . .”

“Whatever you say, my dear Squall.”

He couldn’t help the smile that erupted, which abruptly vanished on hearing Rinoa call, “Squall? What are you doing!?”

‘Was there a part in the contract that specifically forbade murdering the client?’

Griever smirked again. ‘Sorry, but I think that would count as breech of contract, at the very least.’ His eyes narrowed suddenly.

“Squall? What—who is this?”

He badly, badly wanted to lash out at her. ‘Can I. . . ?’

‘Introduce me in an absolutely scandalizing way? You bet.’

Squall grinned wickedly for a second, then looked over his shoulder. “Griever, this is Rinoa, a current client of Garden. Rinoa, this is Griever, my long-time lover.”

She paled and started backing away, then turned and fled.

‘Hm. Either she’s against that sort of thing, or she was just bludgeoned over the head that you’re really not available,’ Griever commented. “Sorry, I’m not altogether used to speaking out loud.”

“I don’t care which you use, but people might give us some peculiar looks.” He shrugged and reluctantly let go. “I guess, we should go listen where Selphie and the gang can actually see that I’m listening?”

“Lead on.”

Back in front of the stage they folded themselves down to the ground rather than stand for so long. “Is there anything you’d need to pick up?”

“Hm? Oh, not really. I wasn’t too keen on leaving anything important at the hotel. Besides, that’s what portable pocket voids are for. I could keep a dragon in there and have room for plenty more.”

He eyed Griever sidelong, trying to see if he was joking. “A dragon I could handle. A tonberry, however, we might have our first argument over.”

Griever snickered and reached over to squeeze his knee. ‘You’re sure about this? Us?’

‘Yes. I’ve felt like this for a long while.’

‘I’ve loved you for years, Squall. I just didn’t expect you to come to feel the same way. It makes me happy.’

He smiled unreservedly. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy before.’

Griever angled his head away from the stage to look at him. ‘Don’t think it’ll all be terribly easy, though. I might snore, you know, or leave the cap off the toothpaste. Maybe I steal the covers? Oh, the horror!’

Squall laughed openly and shook his head. ‘Then I’d have something to whine about that isn’t related to Cid saying stuff like I was fated to be the commander and lead the way to victory against the sorceress. You know, I so wanted to yell at him. I know, it’s got to be tearing him up to order people to hunt down his wife. I know he understands reality, that if she’s become evil something needs to be done. I wanted so badly to let him know that I know who Edea is, that she’s matron, but I thought . . . it’d really be cruel of me, dumping that additional guilt on his shoulders. I just feel overwhelmed. This is a lot of people to take care of, and I have no idea where to start.’

Griever leaned against him comfortingly. ‘Well, to start, remember that you’ve all been going through the same training, so that aspect of things isn’t as big a concern. The headmaster has been overseeing training for a long time now, and he did say the administration would continue as usual, right? Perhaps there are some mundane things you should double-check, but. . . .’

‘Mundane?’ he asked as he slipped an arm around Griever’s shoulders. The music hiccupped as one of the roving spotlights passed over them, but then continued on normally.

‘Oh, you know, stuff like checking the inventory of consumables. Garden drifted for days. Is there enough food for another journey? Medical supplies? Hell, paper for the bathrooms!’

He laughed again. ‘Okay, I see. Xu seems to be something like Cid’s assistant, so I could check with her. I can’t imagine that FH would fail to have anything normal.’

‘Right. And you know, you’re not alone in this. You do realize that? Each of the people around you has specialties. Xu’s might be administrative. Maybe Nida is an excellent spy or information specialist? Zell seems to have a mechanical bent. Do you see what I’m saying? If you know what your people can do, you can delegate wisely, and not think you have to do everything personally. I mean, you didn’t try to do the sniper shot yourself! You trusted Quistis’s team with the gate.’

‘I hear you, I hear you. And I think we might be able to add munitions expert to the list with Selphie, though really, I think she just likes causing explosions.’

Griever grinned. ‘That’s the spirit.’

‘And what are you good at? Besides keeping me sane and being an incredible voice of wisdom.’

‘I, uh, inherited a set of poisoned daggers, and I’m pretty quick on my feet, but I tend to favor using magic. Habit, really, and I can do more damage that way. I have a sword, too, but I’m not very good with it. That one’s kind of an heirloom blade, anyway.’

Squall frowned as the music came to a close and did not start up again. “Well, looks like the concert is over. Prepare for incoming,” he said as he stood up, reaching out a hand to assist Griever. When the team approached he aimed a smile at them and said, “That was great, guys.”

They all seemed a bit shell-shocked, but Selphie recovered first and said, “Thanks, Squall! And . . . who’s this?”

He slipped an arm around Griever’s shoulders again and pulled him close. “This is Griever.”

“Hello,” Griever said softly. “Squall has told me much about you all. I’m pleased to finally meet you, but I admit, I feel almost like I already know you.”

Quistis shifted her gaze to the hand Squall had placed on Griever’s shoulder, her eyes widening a second later. “So. . . ?”

Squall nodded. “Yes.”

Zell had evidently caught up when he said, “Whoa! Griever’s a person!?”

“The last time I checked,” Griever said lightly. “Oh . . . you recognize the ring.”

‘Never mind that I bought it, and named it and you at the same time.’

Griever flashed a grin at him, then said, “You guys were really great! I wish I could do stuff like that, but I’m just awful when it comes to music.”

“Come on, guys,” Squall said. “It’s late. We could always stop by the cafeteria and grab something to eat.”

That occasioned another round of disbelieving looks, but everyone nodded and no one thought to object to Griever actually entering Garden, so off they went, crowding around the concession to place their orders. It wasn’t until they were seated at one of the larger tables that Quistis suddenly frowned and said, “Where’s Rinoa?”

“I thought she was still at the concert, but I don’t know. The last time I saw her was when I introduced her to Griever.” He shrugged and had a sip of his drink. ‘I’m actually hungry for once,’ he thought as he unwrapped his sandwich and took a hearty bite.

“Hm, maybe she went to bed?” Quistis mused.

“So!” Selphie said. “How long. . . ?” She waggled her brows suggestively.

“Years, really,” Griever said, not admitting and not denying.

Squall nodded and swallowed. “Seems like forever.”

Griever snickered and busied himself with his own food, plucking a french fry out of the basket and popping it into his mouth.

“Quistis . . . now that the headmaster has lost his mind and promoted me to commander, do you know who I’d talk to about mundane stuff, like supply and procurement? As Griever pointed out we were drifting for days, so I wanted to check to make sure that we’re not lacking any essentials. It seemed a good time to check, while the repairs were ongoing.”

“I, ah, I’m not really sure. But I would check with Xu. If anyone would know, she would.”

“All right. I’ll find her tomorrow, I guess. It might not be my direct concern, but it was on my mind. Anyway, it seems that the sorceress is after Ellone for some reason. I can’t really figure why she’d have sent soldiers to FH, though, but Cid just nodded when I told him they were planning to torch the city. He said it would mean she had one less place to hide.”

“Ellone . . . that girl from before, in the training center?” Quistis asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, she went off with Edea’s SeeDs, on their ship,” Irvine said.

Selphie paused with her drink halfway to her mouth. “Huh!? Edea, as in Sorceress Edea?”

“Yeah,” Zell said. “We found out earlier that Cid and Edea are married, and it was her idea to create Garden and SeeD. I guess she had a special group of SeeD, too, that none of us knew about until just now.”

“And . . . and . . . she went batshit insane at some point and lost her memory? And, oh! Poor Headmaster Cid! He must be in terrible pain!”

“Don’t bug him about it, okay?” Squall said. “He’s having a really hard time because of all this. I think it’d only make him feel worse if any of us were to try to make him talk about it. He’s doing what he must, even if it breaks his heart.”

Quistis turned a teary-eyed gaze on him. “You really do care. . . .”

Squall frowned and had another bite of his sandwich, then relaxed when Griever’s hand patted his thigh under the table.

“Oh, Squall cares all right,” Irvine said lazily. “You just have to know how to interpret what you’re seeing and hearing.”

“That’s right!” Selphie chimed in. “But I don’t know about this smiling stuff, Squall. It’s kind of scary.”

He snorted and nodded at Griever. “Blame him. He brings out the worst in me.”

Griever cuffed him playfully, then got a wicked gleam in his eyes. “I’ll take any blame if it means I get to see you smile.”

Squall groaned softly and palmed his forehead in embarrassment. “Whatever.” He concentrated on finishing off his sandwich as Griever began asking the others various questions, taking their attention away from him. Eventually, though, he had to stifle a yawn and realized it was time to have a long overdue conversation. “Hey, we have unfinished business to take care of.” Selphie squealed, which puzzled him, but he ignored that and stood up, sliding his tray off the table.

Griever nodded and rose as well. “I guess I’ll see you all again later. It was fun.”