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Field Exam

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Quistis faced the line of stiff, frightened or swaggering students (there were always a few), clipboard in hand. "As you know, Garden was founded to train an elite mercenary force capable of taking down a sorceress. Since Sorceress Rinoa is an ally, we've had no need to carry out our primary mission. However, we have now discovered a rogue sorceress attempting to infiltrate Balamb. Xu has cornered her in the Fire Cavern—"

"Cool!" one student said, bouncing on her toes. "We get to fight a real sorceress?"

"Negative." Quistis looked stern. "Your job is to barricade the entrance and prevent the sorceress from escaping until Team Ragnarok returns to deal with the intruder."

"You've got to be kidding," said a bored-looking young man twirling a revolver. "Why don't we just go in, and...BANG!"

He had picked up some of his instructor's mannerisms, Quistis noted with an inner sigh. "Under no circumstances are you to enter the Fire Cavern. Keep in mind Unknown Level of Threat protocols. Any questions?"

Another boy raised his hand. "We've got three teams. Do we get different assignments?"

"No. You may determine shifts among yourselves. The Ragnarok is currently out of signal range, and is not expected back from Esthar until tomorrow." She scanned tense, eager faces. "Seeing that there are no further questions: dismissed! And good luck."

"Cactuar?" Lulu selected a card, inspecting it closely in the dim, ruddy light. "We have these in Spira as well."

"Needles," Xu said, sipping a drink that was two-thirds ice. "Man, I can't stand those buggers."

"The Al Bhed distill a powerful brew from them."

"Oh, really?" Xu leaned forward, eyes twinkling. "Do you know the recipe?"

"I believe they—"

A bomb chained to a nearby rock suddenly snarled out of its torpor, swelling to a third again its size.

"Drat. Motion sensor. First victims." Xu pushed her chair back from the small stone table and came around to help Lulu change back into her costume— Strip Triple Triad had seemed like the most sensible way to pass the time. The mage's leathers, belts and lace had been left back in her guest quarters, so as not to be damaged by the heat. Instead, she had squeezed into a snug cast-off of Edea's. Xu had assured her she looked fine, but the mage had her suspicions that the the woman was hoping to see the students' expressions if she popped out.

Lulu touched the elaborate spokes jutting from her shoulders, fluttering with white drapery and bells. "Are these really necessary? I feel like a window treatment."

"It will keep their eyes off your tits. Maybe." Xu laughed. "Break a leg. Or three."

Lulu arched an eyebrow. "Interesting school you have here, Xu."

"Oh, Quis is standing by outside with Hi-potions. Try not to do anything they won't cover."

"I see." The mage pivoted on one heel and marched back along the winding path towards the entrance. "I believe I know just the spell to cool off young hotheads."

"Here's the last of them." Xu dropped a stack of papers on Quistis' desk.

"Mm," the woman said, pecking rapidly at her console. "What's the final tally?"

"Two in the infirmary for bio, one being treated for burn follow-up and observation, three for frostbite, and Kinneas' prized peacock has called home to Mommy in tears. We should expect the 'rents here tomorrow with inspectors, possibly the media—"

"Here we go again. And the sorceress?"

"Enjoyed herself immensely."

"Well, I'm glad someone did." Quistis shoved the papers back towards Xu. "Enter your own damned students. I've got ten more reports to file."

"Sorry, Trepe." Xu gave her uniform a smart tug and stepped back. "I've got a hot date!"

"Let me guess: you're off to play knight and sorceress?"

"You got it!" Xu lunged for the door as Quistis reached for her whip. "Don't stay up too late with the paperwork."

"No," Quistis growled, returning to the stack of field notes as the door closed between them. "I've got to practice that trick she showed me for slow-melting ice. Toilet seat, Leung. First thing tomorrow. That should make sure you attend the 0600 debriefing."